How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below

Every evening from late spring to early fall, two planes lift off from airports in the western United States and fly through the sunset, each headed for an active wildfire, and then another, and another. From 10,000 feet above ground, the pilots can spot the glow of a fire, and occasionally the smoke enters the cabin, burning the eyes and throat.

The pilots fly a straight line over the flames, then U-turn and fly back in an adjacent but overlapping path, like they’re mowing a lawn. When fire activity is at its peak, it’s not uncommon for the crew to map 30 fires in one night. The resulting aerial view of the country’s most dangerous wildfires helps establish the edges of those fires and identify areas thick with flames, scattered fires and isolated hotspots.

A large global constellation of satellites, operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), combined with a small fleet of planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) help detect and map the extent, spread and impact of forest fires. As technology has advanced, so has the value of remote sensing, the science of scanning the Earth from a distance using satellites and high-flying airplanes.


Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

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Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

The most immediate, life-or-death decisions in fighting forest fires – sending smokejumpers to a ridge, for example, or calling an evacuation order when flames leap a river – are made by firefighters and chiefs in command centers and on the fire line. Data from satellites and aircraft provide situational awareness with a strategic, big-picture view.

“We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression. “When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.”

It’s not uncommon for an Earth-observing satellite to be the first to detect a wildfire, especially in remote regions like the Alaskan wilderness. And at the height of the fire season, when there are more fires than planes to map them, data from satellites are used to estimate the fire’s evolution, capturing burned areas, the changing perimeter and potential damage, like in the case of Montana’s Howe Ridge Fire, which burned for nearly two months in Glacier National Park last summer.

Global fire picture from space

In January 1980, two scientists, Michael Matson and Jeff Dozier, who were working at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service building in Camp Springs, Maryland, detected tiny bright spots on a satellite image of the Persian Gulf. The image had been captured by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument on the NOAA-6 satellite, and the spots, they discovered, were campfire-sized flares caused by the burning of methane in oil wells. It marked the first time that such a small fire had been seen from space. Dozier, who would become the founding dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California at Santa Barbara, was “intrigued by the possibilities,” and he went on to develop, within a year, a mathematical method to distinguish small fires from other sources of heat. This method would become the foundation for nearly all subsequent satellite fire-detection algorithms.

What was learned from AVHRR informed the design of the first instrument with spectral bands explicitly designed to detect fires, NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, launched on the Terra satellite in 1999, and a second MODIS instrument on Aqua in 2002. MODIS in turn informed the design of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, which flies on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 satellites. Each new instrument represented a major step forward in fire detection technology.

“Without MODIS, we wouldn’t have the VIIRS algorithm,” said Ivan Csiszar, active fire product lead for the Joint Polar Satellite System calibration validation team. “We built on that heritage.”

The instruments on polar-orbiting satellites, like Terra, Aqua, Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20, typically observe a wildfire at a given location a few times a day as they orbit the Earth from pole to pole. Meanwhile, NOAA’s GOES-16 and GOES-17 geostationary satellites, which launched in November 2016 and March 2018, respectively, provide continuous updates, though at a coarser resolution and for fixed portions of the planet.

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below

On the left is an imager of a cockpit of the National Infrared Operations Citation Bravo jet N144Z. On the right is a night vision picture of a fire.

(NISROPS image)

“You can’t get a global picture with an aircraft, you can’t do it from a ground station,” said Ralph Kahn, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “To get a global picture, you need satellites.”

The MODIS instrument mapped fires and burn scars with an accuracy that far surpassed AVHRR. And after nearly 20 years in orbit, the optical and thermal bands on MODIS, which detect reflected and radiated energy, continue to provide daytime visible imagery and night-time information on active fires.

From space, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor observed expansive smoke and aerosol plumes over California’s Central Valley on Nov. 8 and coast soon after the Camp Fire began.Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Aqua/MODIS

VIIRS has improved fire detection capabilities. Unlike MODIS, the VIIRS imager band has higher spatial resolution, at 375 meters per pixel, which allows it to detect smaller, lower temperature fires. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires.

The first moments after a fire ignites are critical, said Everett Hinkley, National Remote Sensing Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. In California, for example, when intense winds combine with dry fuel conditions, the response time can mean the difference between a catastrophic fire, like the Camp Fire that consumed nearly the entire town of Paradise, and one that is quickly contained.

“Those firefighters who are first responders don’t always know the precise location of the fire, how fast it’s moving or in what direction,” Hinkley said. “We’re working to try to give them real-time or near-real-time information to help them better understand the fire behavior in those early critical hours.”

Responders increasingly turn to the GOES satellites for early, precise geolocation of fires in remote areas. On July 2, 2018, for example, after smoke was reported in a wooded area near Central Colorado’s Custer County, GOES East detected a hotspot there. Forecasters in Pueblo visually inspected the data and provided the exact coordinates of what would become the Adobe Fire, and crews were sent quickly to the scene. The fire detection and characterization algorithm, the latest version of NOAA’s operational fire detection algorithm, is in the process of being updated and is expected to further improve early fire detection and reduce false positives.

“The holy grail is that firefighters want to be able to get on a fire in the first few hours or even within the first hour so they can take action to put it out,” said Vince Ambrosia, a wildfires remote-sensing scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “So it’s critical to have regular and frequent coverage.”

Remote sensing data on wildfires is accessed in many different ways. Among them, NASA’sFire Information for Resource Management System, or FIRMS, uses MODIS and VIIRS data to provide updates on active fires throughout the world, including a rough location of a detected hotspot. Imagery is available within four to five hours.

Smoke and public health

Of course, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and knowing how wildfire smoke travels through the atmosphere is important for air quality, visibility and human health. Like other particulate matter in the atmosphere, smoke from wildfires can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Satellites can give us important information on the movement and thickness of that smoke.

Terra carries the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, a sensor that uses nine fixed cameras, each viewing Earth at a different angle. MISR measures the motion and height of a fire’s smoke plume, as well as the amount of smoke particles coming from that fire, and gives some clues about the plume’s composition. For example, during the Camp Fire, MISR measurements showed a plume made of large, non-spherical particles over Paradise, California, an indication that buildings were burning. Researchers have established that building smoke leads to larger and more irregularly shaped particles than wildfires. Smoke particles from the burning of the surrounding forest, on the other hand, were smaller and mostly spherical. MISR’s measurements also showed the fire had lofted smoke nearly 2 miles into the atmosphere and carried it about 180 miles downwind, toward the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists also closely monitor whether the height of the smoke has exceeded the “near surface boundary layer,” where pollution tends to concentrate. Wildfires with the most energy, such as boreal forest fires, are the most likely to produce smoke that goes above the boundary layer. At that height, “smoke can typically travel farther, stay in the atmosphere longer, and have an impact further downwind,” Kahn said.

The satellites have limitations. Among them, the heat signatures the instruments detect are averaged over pixels, which makes it difficult to precisely pinpoint fire location and size. Interpreting data from satellites has additional challenges. Although thermal signals give an indication of fire intensity, smoke above the fire can diminish that signal, and smoldering fires might not radiate as much energy as flaming fires at the observed spectral bands.

Up close with airborne ‘heat’ sensors

That’s where the instruments on the Forest Service aircraft come in. Data from these flights contribute to the National Infrared Operations Program (NIROPS), which uses tools developed with NASA to visualize wildfire information in web mapping services, including Google Earth. NASA works closely with the Forest Service to develop new technologies for the kind of thermal sensing systems these planes carry.

Each NIROPS plane is equipped with an infrared sensor that sees a six-mile swath of land below and can map 300,000 acres of terrain per hour. From an altitude of 10,000 feet, the sensor can detect a hotspot just 6 inches across, and place it within 12.5 feet on a map. The data from each pass are recorded, compressed and immediately downlinked to an FTP site, where analysts create maps that firefighters can access directly on a phone or tablet in the field. They fly at night when there’s no sun glint to compromise their measurements, the background is cooler, and the fires are less aggressive.

“Every time we’re scanning, we’re ‘truthing’ that fire,” says Charles “Kaz” Kazimir, an infrared technician with NIROPS, who has flown fires with the program for 10 years. “On the ground, they may have ideas of how that fire is behaving, but when they get the image, that’s the truth. It either validates or invalidates their assumption since the last time they had intel.”

The infrared aircraft instruments fill some of the gaps in the satellite data. Field campaigns, such as the NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ, now underway, are designed to address these issues too. But scientists are also looking to new technology. In 2003, representatives from NASA and the Forest Service formed a tactical fire remote sensing committee, which meets twice annually to discuss ways to harness new and existing remote sensing technology as it relates to wildfires. For example, a new infrared sensor is being developed that scans a swath three times wider than the existing system. That would mean fewer flight lines and less time spent over an individual fire, Hinkley said.

“The takeaway really is that we are actively investigating and developing capabilities that will aid decision-makers on the ground, especially in the early phases of dynamic fires,” Hinkley said. “We’re not just resting on our laurels here. We understand that we need to better leverage new technologies to help keep people safe.”

More information on the role of NASA and NOAA satellites and instruments in active fires can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-covers-wildfires-from-many-sources

Learn more about freely available NASA fire data and related resources: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/learn/toolkits/wildfires

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s powerful new frigate is rebuilding its Black Sea Fleet

While the Russian Navy has been a basket case both on the surface and down below since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago, in recent years, we’ve seen an attempted comeback. There are plans to build few ships to fill out the fleet.


However, the budget has been a problem. Russia just simply hasn’t been able to build ships in the same quantity or as quickly as the Soviet Union used to. The Soviet Union built 17 Sovremennyy-class guided-missile destroyers. When production was in full swing, it took about four years from laying down the ship to commissioning. Today, a smaller Steregushchiy-class frigate takes as many as eleven years to build.

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below
Russia built the Talwar-class frigates for India, then decided to get a few for the Russian Navy as well, (Indian Navy photo)

So, Russia sought to cut down on its RD time and expenses. After the Cold War, Russia started building some ships for other countries. China, for example, acquired four Sovremenny-class destroyers (two incomplete at the time the Soviet Union fell, two newly-built from Russia). But Russia’s biggest naval customer is India, who got a modified version of the Krivak called the Talwar-class guided-missile frigate. Six of those vessels were built for India, but it didn’t take long for Russia to want a few of their own.

In Russian service, the vessel is called the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate. It is equipped with a single launcher for the SA-N-7 surface-to-air missile, an eight-cell launcher for the SS-N-27 Sizzler surface-to-surface missile, a single 100mm gun, two CADS-N-1 point-defense systems, and two twin-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes. These frigates can also operate a Ka-27 Helix helicopter, giving them additional anti-submarine weaponry.

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below
The Admiral Essen, one of the three Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates currently in service with the Russian Navy. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Rubin16)

The production of these vessels, however, has come to a screeching halt. This is because Russia sourced the propulsion plants from Ukraine, which halted deliveries after the Russian takeover of Crimea.

Learn more about these ships in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqXPIkTkOdc
Lists

6 things CIF wants back that make no sense

When you first enlist and are given loads of new gear, it’s a pretty great feeling — until you realize that you’ll have to return most of it eventually. Not all of it, but most. Obviously, you keep your well-worn and dirty uniforms and plenty of small, inconsequential things, like IR beacons.

Although each Central Issuing Facility of each branch at each duty station as their own standard operating procedures, in general, they all follow a guideline of “if it’s touched a troop’s skin or it’s basically worthless, then the troop keeps it.” But if you stop and think about it, what doesn’t get dirty and worn just from regular use?


With that in mind, here’s a rundown of things that would be better off left in a troop’s hands as they head into the civilian world — or to their next duty station.

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I mean, you guys really want it THAT bad…

(Photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck)

Sleeping bag sets

Here’s a fact: The only way to get comfortable in one of these sleeping systems is to strip butt-naked so your body heat is evenly distributed. Still want it back?

These things get nasty after they’ve soaked in so much body odor and sweat that it’s like CIF asking for your field socks back.

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No one wants to put their mouth on the Camelback that some nervous private was chewing on…

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

Camelback, canteens, and water systems

As you can imagine, these directly touch your mouth. If you’re required to return it, that means others returned it before you. Now, we’re sure it’s been cleaned time and time again, but we still can’t help but wonder about what kind of nasty germs have lived on it.

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“Those would look so great as civilian attire!” said no veteran ever.

(Photo by Rob Schuette)

Outdated uniforms

It seems like every branch swaps out their service uniform faster than you can blink. Generally speaking, the military wants their old uniforms back before you can get a new set.

Just to toss salt on the already pointless wound, they’ll raise hell if the old uniform you’re turning in isn’t perfectly clean.. you know, for the next troop who definitely won’t be wearing it.

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Even if you don’t spray paint it, it’ll still get worn the hell out.

(Photo by Spc. Brianna Saville)

Duffel bags with your name stenciled on

Duffel bags are cheap. They’re just a bit of canvas made into a bag. Everyone in the military has the exact same O.D. green bag, so units ask troops to spray paint their name, last 4, and unit onto the bottom.

Here’s the problem: that paint isn’t coming off any time soon. Good luck trying to find another “Milzarski” in that that exact same unit after I leave.

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What’s worse is when the CIF clerk gets hostile with you and questions you why parts are missing. Because, you know, we needed to save a life?

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs)

First-aid kits

Instead of asking troops to turn in a partly-used first-aid kit, why not let them keep it and stash it in their vehicle in case of emergencies? Sure, it puts the military out a whole (according to Amazon), but wouldn’t it be nice to have a bunch of medical supplies out there in the hands of people trained to use them?

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It’s really not uncommon for troops to just buy a cheapo woobie off-post at some surplus store…

(Photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck)

The poncho liner

There’s one item that every troop holds dear above the rest — their poncho liner, affectionately called a “woobie.”

Troops sleep with it, it’s fairly cheap, the camo pattern is quickly outdated, and they’re perfect for emergency situations. Long after troops get out, if they managed to sneak one past supply, they’ll cuddle up with it on the couch and fondly recall their service.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How forensics experts help in counterinsurgency warfare

A relatively new weapon to combat the enemy is being used in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. It’s been around a little more than a decade and fits into the counterinsurgency warfare necessity of being able to identify who the enemy is by person versus just identifying an enemy organization.

The Afghanistan Captured Material Exploitation Laboratory is aiding combat commanders in their need to know who is building and setting off the enemy’s choice weapon — Improvised Explosive Devices. With this positive identification of enemy personnel, coalition units working within NATO’s Resolute Support mission can then hunt down the enemy for detention or destroy if need be.


“The commanders are starting to understand it more and seeing the capability and asset it provides,” said Kim Perusse, incoming ACME lab manager at BAF.

Perusse said commanders are embracing it and wanting more forensics exploitation.

Personnel from ACME deploy from the Forensic Exploitation Directorate which is part of the Defense Forensics Science Center located at the Gillem Enclave, Forest Park, Ga. DFSC also contains the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, and the Office of Quality Initiatives and Training.

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Shown is an RFT2 device which consists of a CWC-11 A/0 receiver module with a custom switching circuit. The RFT2 functions as a receiver and switch of IED’s initiators.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The DFSC’s mission is to provide full-service forensic support — traditional, expeditionary, and reachback — to Army and Department of Defense entities worldwide; to provide specialized forensic training and research capabilities; serve as executive agent for DOD Convicted Offender DNA Databasing Program; and to provide forensic support to other federal departments and agencies when appropriate, its website stated.

ACME provides forensic/technical intelligence, analysis, and exploitation of captured enemy material. The findings are then provided to coalition forces and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to counter the IED threat, attack the counterinsurgent networks, advise the Afghanistan government’s exploitation labs, and provide prosecutorial support to the Afghan justice system, an ACME slide presentation stated.

ACME capabilities include latent print examination; explosive/drug chemistry; electronic engineering; explosive triage; DNA; firearm/toolmark analysis; weapons technical intelligence analysis; and, provide assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security, and Afghan National Security Forces.

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Triage, the first stop for all evidence, tests an unknown substance on the HazMatID for any hazards.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As part of employment with DFSC, FXD, personnel must deploy every 18 months to a deployed lab for six months, as there are currently two, one here and one in Kuwait.

The Forensic Exploitation Laboratory — CENTCOM in Kuwait supports military operations in Iraq and Syria, and is located at Camp Arifjan.

ACME’s primary mission “is to allow the commanders on the ground to understand who’s within the battlespace,” said Lateisha Tiller, outgoing ACME lab manager.

Whether this is people coming onto the coalition locations as part of employment or those building the IEDS, forensics exploitation results in positive identification of such individuals.

“Our mission is to identify nefarious actors that are in the CJOA [Combined/Joint Operations Area] right now,” Tiller said.

“We don’t want them putting IEDs in the road, and blowing up the road, blowing up the bridge. We want that type of activity to stop,” Tiller said. ” ‘How do you stop it?’ You identify who’s doing it; identify the network of people who’s doing it. Eliminate them from the battlespace” as evidence collected is then shared with military intelligence, she said.

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X-rays are taken of all evidence in Triage to ensure no hazards such as Trojan horses are observed. This x-ray shows a pressure plate containing a hazard.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

“It’s never just one person; identify the network,” she said. By taking people out, the network “eventually is going to dismantle itself.”

“The secondary mission is the Rule of Law,” Perusse said. “Helping get the information out to the Afghans to potentially prosecute those nefarious actors that we may identify” through biometrics, chemistry, firearms, and toolmarks.

The conclusive findings and evidence — criminal activity analysis reports — is then shared with the Afghan laboratories as they work to build a case against alleged personnel who could be tried in an Afghan court.

The reports are also shared with military intelligence — U.S. and NATO — and also sent to the Justice Center in Parwan to assist in the prosecution of the enemy. The JCIP is located in the Parwan Province where BAF is located too in east-central Afghanistan.

The justice center was a joint U.S.-Afghan project to establish Afghanistan’s first national security court. Established in June 2010, the JCIP exists to ensure fair and impartial justice for those defendants alleged of committing national security crimes in the Afghan criminal justice system. Coalition forces provide technical assistance and operate in an advisory capacity.

The reports are accepted in the Afghans courts because the Afghans understand and trust the findings of ACME. “Building that alliance is absolutely part of the mission,” Tiller said. “The lines of communication are definitely open.”

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The evidence room is the hub of the lab that distributes and stores the evidence while located at ACME.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

Because of this fairly new application of forensics to counterinsurgency warfare, the Afghans initially didn’t understand it, the lab managers said.

“They didn’t understand forensics. They didn’t trust it,” Perusse said. “Especially DNA, it was like magic to them.”

But as she explained, the U.S. also took a long time to accept DNA as factual and evidential versus something like latent prints. Latent prints are impressions produced by the ridged skin, known as friction ridges, on human fingers, palms, and soles of the feet. Examiners analyze and compare latent prints to known prints of individuals in an effort to make identifications or exclusions, internet sources stated.

“Latent prints you can visualize, DNA you can’t,” she said.

The application of forensics exploitation as part of the battle plan started in the latter years Operation Iraqi Freedom, the lab managers said. OIF began in March 2003 and lasted until December 2011.

This type of warfare — counterinsurgency — required a determination of who — by person — was the enemy in an effort to combat their terrorist acts.

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A latent print examiner develops a latent print on the neck of a plastic bottle with Superglue Fuming and Rhodamine 6G processing, then visualized with a forensic laser.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

“I think there was a point where the DOD realized that they weren’t utilizing forensics to help with the fight,” Tiller said.

The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not big units fighting other big units, with mass casualties, but much smaller units engaging each other with an enemy using more terrorist-like tactics of killing.

Forensics told you “who you were fighting. You kind of knew the person in a more intimate way,” Tiller said, adding, it put a face on the enemy.

Forensics exploitation goes hand-in-hand with counterinsurgency warfare, Perusse said. “They’re (Taliban/ISIS) not organized like a foreign military were in the past” but instead have individuals and groups fighting back in a shared ideology, she said.

Because of the eventual drawdown in NATO troop strength in Afghanistan, the ACME labs at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar Province, and Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, were closed and some assets were relocated to BAF’s ACME in 2013.

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A DNA analyst prepares DNA samples for analysis on the Lifetech 3500XL Genetic Analyzer.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The evidence is collected at the sites of detonation by conventional forces — explosive ordnance personnel, route clearance personnel — through personnel working in the Ministry of Interior’s National Directorate of Security, and other Afghan partners, Perusse said.

From January 2018 to December 2018, the ACME lab was responsible for:

  • 1,145 cases processed based on 36,667 individual exhibits
  • 3,402 latent prints uploaded; 69 associations made from unknown to known
  • 3,090 DNA profiles uploaded; 59 unique identifications made from unknown to known
  • 209 explosive samples, 121 precursors, 167 non-explosives/other, and 40 controlled substances analyzed
  • 55 firearms/toolmarks microscopic identifications

Adding credibility to ACME was that it became accredited by the International Organization of Standard in 2015. Both lab managers said they believe that ACME is probably the only deployed Defense Department lab accredited — besides the FXL-C in Kuwait — in the forensics field.

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Forensic chemist conducts a single-step extraction to prepare the samples for analysis by Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations comprised of members from 168 countries. It is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards and facilitates world trade by providing common standards between nations. It was founded in 1947.

Tiller and Perusse said this accreditation is quite meaningful, personally and professionally.

Interestingly, both lab managers offer extensive deployment experience to the ACME lab.

Tiller has deployed four times for FXD — three times to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait — for a total of 26 months. Likewise, Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience too with FXD, with now four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait. And, because of mission requirements, no rest and relaxation periods — vacations — are allowed during their deployments. The reason is because most positions are one-person deep and the mission cannot continue without all sections working collectively, they said.

Currently, there are 17 people working at the BAF ACME lab.

FXD’s mandatory deployment policy can be viewed as positive and negative depending on a person’s particular situation.

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An electronic exploitation examiner uses the Advanced Aggregate Data Extractor test equipment to perform testing on an RFT2 device. The AADE produces the following tests: Filter Analyzer, Emissions Analyzer, Peak Harmonic Distortion and Bit Error Rate.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As Perusse points out, there are plenty of other places to work that do not require mandatory deployments which require forensic skills such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security to name several.

So those who do work at ACME do so because they want to be.

“There is nowhere else in the world where you’re going to get a [final] forensic result of the quality that you’re going to get from the ACME as quickly as you do,” Tiller said, which often brings immediate gratification to one’s work.

Whether it’s producing a DNA profile or finding a latent print on some material, finding this evidence within two days is a big reason why people at ACME find their work rewarding.

“It happens nowhere else,” Tiller said, describing it as the “ultimate satisfaction,” knowing the evidence produced will ultimately save lives.

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Shown are incoming ACME lab manager Kim Perusse (left) and outgoing ACME lab manager Lateisha Tiller. Tiller has deployed four times for FXD for a total of 26 months. Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience with FXD, with four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As Perusse put it, there is no place like ACME’s lab in Afghanistan.

“We are in war zone. We are around everything, we get IDFed,” she said, referencing the periodic indirect fire of mortar attacks at BAF. She said it is much different type of deployment than at the Kuwait lab where examiners can “have more freedom to include going into the city and shop at the mall.”

“There’s a reason why we’re doing this,” Perusse said, of identifying the enemy, which leads to saving lives and helping the NATO coalition.

“It’s very powerful to be able to see that and be with the people who are going out the field and risking their lives,” she said of those who look for and submit items for evidence.

As Tiller redeploys back to her normal duty station in Georgia, she knows ACME will continue in experienced hands with Perusse who will now take over as lab manager for a third time.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

If it’s not ethical, they won’t field it: Pentagon release new A.I. guidelines

The Pentagon has vowed that if it cannot use artificial intelligence on the battlefield in an ethical or responsible way, it will simply not field it, a top general said Monday.


Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), made that promise as the Defense Department unveiled new A.I. guidelines, including five main pillars for its principled execution of A.I.: to be responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable and governable.

“We will not field an algorithm until we are convinced it meets our level of performance and our standard, and if we don’t believe it can be used in a safe and ethical manner, we won’t field it,” Shanahan told reporters during a briefing. Algorithms often offer the calculation or data processing instruction for an A.I. system. The guidelines will govern A.I. in both combat and non-combat functions that aid U.S. military use.

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The general, who has held various intelligence posts, including overseeing the algorithmic warfare cross-functional team for Google’s Project Maven, said the new effort is indicative of the U.S.’s intent to stand apart from Russia and China. Both of those countries are testing their uses of A.I. technology for military purposes, but raise “serious concerns about human rights, ethics, and international norms.”

For example, China has been building several digital artificial intelligence cities in a military-civilian partnership as it looks to understand how A.I. will be propagated and become a global leader in technology. The cities track human movement through artificial facial recognition software, watching citizens’ every move as they go about their day.

While Shanahan stressed the U.S. should be aggressive in its pursuits to harness accurate data to stay ahead, he said it will not go down the same path of Russia and China as they neglect the principles that dictate how humans should use A.I.

Instead, the steps put in place by the Pentagon can hold someone accountable for a bad action, he said.

“What I worry about with both countries is they move so fast that they’re not adhering to what we would say are mandatory principles of A.I. adoption and integration,” he said.

The recommendations came after 15 months of consultation with commercial, academic and government A.I. experts as well as the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) and the JAIC. The DIB, which is chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, made the recommendations last October, according to a statement. The JAIC will be the “focal point” in coordinating implementation of the principles for the department, the statement said.

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Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer, said the guidelines will become a blueprint for other agencies, such as the intelligence community, that will be able to use it “as they roll out their appropriate adoption of A.I. ethics.” Shanahan added the guidelines are a “good scene setter” for also collaborating alongside the robust tech sector, especially Silicon Valley.

Within the broader Pentagon A.I. executive committee, a specific subgroup of people will be responsible for formulating how the guidelines get put in place, Deasy said. Part of that, he said, depends on the technology itself.

“They’re broad principles for a reason,” Shanahan added. “Tech adapts, tech evolves; the last thing we wanted to do was put handcuffs on the department to say what you could and could not do. So the principles now have to be translated into implementation guidance,” he said.

That guidance is currently under development. A 2012 military doctrine already requires a “human in the loop” to control automated weapons, but does not delineate how broader uses for A.I. fits within the decision authority.

The Monday announcement comes roughly one year after DoD unveiled its artificial intelligence strategy in concert with the White House executive order that created the American Artificial Intelligence Strategy.

“We firmly believe that the nation that masters A.I. first will prevail on the battlefield for many years,” Shanahan said, reiterating previous U.S. officials positions on the leap in technology.

Similarly in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised event that, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

An animated look at Carlos Hathcock, the legendary Marine

Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock was the kind of Marine that would inspire generations of warfighters. He engaged in sniper duels and came out on top every time. He hunted Viet Cong and North Vietnamese officers through the jungles and grasses of Vietnam. And a new animation from The Infographics Show tells his story as a cartoon.


Most Hard Core American Sniper – The White Feather

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Hathcock was an Arkansas native who grew up hunting in order to help feed his poor family. He aspired to military service, and specifically the Marine Corps, and enlisted soon after he turned 17. He was soon competing in marksmanship competitions with the Marine Corps and won some prestigious competitions including the Wimbledon Cup.

So, when he was deployed to Vietnam, he could’ve stuck to his military police job but opted to volunteer as a sniper instead. His hard-earned ability to sneak up on game combined with his talent for shooting made him a natural in the brush and jungle, and he quickly proved himself one of the most lethal men in theater.

From a base in Vietnam, he achieved the longest sniper shot up to that point in history, and he did it with a .50-cal. machine gun in single-shot mode. He waged an extended sniper duel against the “The Apache,” a female Viet Cong platoon leader who tortured Marines, eventually dropping her from 700 yards when she got lazy and peed in the open.

He hit her with his first shot even though he had been switching rifles when he spotted her. After the first shot dropped her, he scored a second hit, just to be certain.

In another engagement, Hathcock and a spotter saw a green platoon of North Vietnamese Army troops. Hathcock hit the lead officer, and his spotter dropped the officer at the back. There was a third leader who tried to escape across a rice paddy, and so the Americans dropped him too. In order to protect their position from discovery, the sniper team stopped firing.

Instead, Hathcock and his partner called artillery, moved positions, and wiped out the enemy force.

He killed an enemy officer after four days of crawling to the target. (Hathcock believed it was an enemy general, though the NVA never acknowledged losing a general at the time and place that Hathcock scored his kill.)

He hunted down an enemy sniper sent to kill him, shooting his foe through the scope just moments before the Vietnamese sniper would’ve hit him.

So, yeah, there were lots of reasons that he was a legend. Check out the cartoon at top to learn more.

Articles

The devastating 105mm cannon is back on the AC-130 gunship

The AC-130 just got its signature weapon back – and many in the public may not have known it was gone.


According to a report by Strategypage.com, the decision ends a 12-year hiatus on the powerful cannon, which has been used on versions of the Spectre gunship since 1972 – along with two 20mm Vulcan cannon and a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun in the AC-130H. The AC-130U replaces the two 20mm guns with the 25mm GAU-12 used on the AV-8B Harrier.

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An AC-130U gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron, flies near Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 20. The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

The decision had been made to halt use of the 105mm gun in favor of missiles like the AGM-114 Hellfire and AGM-176 Griffin as well as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The problem was, the need for guns didn’t go away. The Air Force started out by adding the 30mm Bushmaster II chain gun. This helped out, especially when troops were in close contact or there was a need to avoid collateral damage.

The gun’s rounds were also a lot cheaper than the missiles – even though the guns are only really useful at night.

The “boots on the ground” and the crews, though, kept making the case to bring the 105mm gun back. So, the Air Force tested a new mount for the 105mm gun. While previous incarnations of the AC-130 had the gun mounted to the side, now the gun will be fired from the rear of the plane.

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AC-130W Stinger II gunship (USAF photo)

While this puts an end to the famous pylon turn, it also means the AC-130 can hold twice as many 105mm howitzer rounds as it used to.

Testing of the new mount was finished in 2017, and will go on the new AC-130J Ghostrider, which will replace older AC-130H, AC-130U, and AC-130W aircraft by 2021.

popular

This is the ironic reason the Spitfire beat the Bf 109

Every student of history knows that the British won the Battle of Britain in August and September of 1940, and that the Spitfire played a key role. But why was that the case?


The answer is stunningly ironic, and it requires us to look at what both the Spitfire and the Bf 109 were supposed to do.

(Yes, I said Bf 109. Believe it or not, calling Willy Messerschmidt’s signature design a Me 109 isn’t accurate. Messerschmidt worked for the Bavarian Aircraft Works, or Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Now, Messerschmidt bought the company in 1938, but planes designed before the purchase, like the Bf 109, kept the old designation.)

 

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So, with that out of the way, let’s look at the Bf 109 and Spitfire.

Both planes were really designed to fulfill the same mission profile: that of a short-range interceptor.

The Spitfire Mk VB had a top speed of 370 miles per hour, could climb 2,600 feet per minute, and had a combat radius of 470 miles. The Bf 109G had a top speed of 398 miles per hour, a range of 621 miles with a drop tank, and could climb 3,345 feet per minute.

In 1940, the Germans needed a plane to escort their bombers, and the Bf 109 was their only option. They tried the Bf 110, a twin-engine plane with long range and heavy firepower. The problem was, the Bf 110 was easily killed by the more maneuverable Spitfires, so the Bf 109 found itself pressed into service.

But even with a drop tank, the Bf 109 just didn’t have the endurance to be a good bomber escort.

 

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A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

The Spitfire was also plagued with short endurance, but during the Battle of Britain — and even over Dunkirk earlier in the summer of 1940 — it was fulfilling its role as a short-range interceptor.

In essence, it was doing what it was designed to do. The Bf 109 was also a short-range interceptor…but it was pressed into service as a bomber escort, and it just couldn’t hack it.

When the United States entered the war, one thing they were truly successful at was coming up with the perfect escort fighter, the P-51 Mustang. You could say they had learned from Nazi Germany’s mistake.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-16XL: The F-16 with hardpoints for 27 weapons

For more than forty years, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has served as the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet, but one year before the first F-16 entered service, the team behind its development had already developed a better F-16, in the F-16XL. The fighter was so capable, in fact, that it went from being nothing more than a technology demonstrator to serving as legitimate competition for the venerable F-15E in the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Ultimately, it would lose out to the F-15E based on production cost and redundancy of systems, but many still contend that the F-16XL was actually the better platform.

While that assertion may be subject to debate, there’s little debate as to whether the F-16XL could have been one of the most capable 4th generation fighters on the planet.

SCAMP: The Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype

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Model 400 design team, starting left: Harry Hillaker, Andrew Lewis, Kenny Barnes, Jim Gordon (WikiMedia Commons)

In 1977, some three years after the first F-16 took to the skies and one year before it would enter service, its designer began work on what would come to be called the F-16 SCAMP, or the Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype. The effort wasn’t about fielding another production fighter–General Dynamics had no intention of trying to sell SCAMP once it was complete. Instead, the entire premise behind the program was to quickly (and cheaply) field a platform they could use to test the concept behind supersonic cruising, or as we’ve come to call it today, “supercruising.”

While that may sound like a capability found only on Transformers or Harleys so expensive only lawyers can buy them, the idea behind supercruising was simple, even if its execution was complex. Modern fighters like the F-16 all come equipped with afterburners they can use to dramatically increase the amount of thrust their engine produces, but it comes at a serious cost. Using the afterburner to break the sound barrier and then sustain that speed depletes an aircraft’s fuel very quickly, but if a jet could kill the afterburner at supersonic speeds and still maintain them, it would mean covering more ground at high speed, while still having enough fuel left over for a fight and the return trip home.

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Like literally riding an explosion. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“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,” F-16 and F-35 pilot Justin “Hasard” Lee explained in a piece for Sandboxx News.

“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.”

In order to accomplish their goal, the F-16 design would require a pretty thorough revamp. First, the wings were modified to incorporate a cranked-arrow wing shape, creating 25% more lift while allowing for effective control at both high and low speeds. Working in conjunction with NASA (and using the company’s own funds), engineer Harry Hillaker, the same man responsible for the original F-16 design, experimented repeatedly with slightly different iterations of the wings until they came to a version they referred to as Model 400.

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(WikiMedia Commons)

This new wing design, which saw a 50-degree angle near the root of the wing for supersonic performance and a 70-degree angle where the wings extended for subsonic handling, offered more than double the surface area of the F-16’s wings. Incredibly, Hillaker and his team were able to manage that without any increase in drag on the airframe–thanks to more than 3,600 hours of wind tunnel testing.

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An F-16 SCAMP model at 4% scale being tested in the NASA Basic Aerodynamics Research Tunnel (Facility 1214) at the Langley Research Center. (WikiMedia Commons)

This new design wasn’t necessarily practical, with all-moving wingtips and an all-moving vertical tail meant for control that performed poorly at low speeds. The wing design also didn’t allow for any hardpoints to mount bombs or missiles.

However, impractical as it may have been for a tactical fighter, the new wing design led to a significant increase in fuel range–and that increase could be further bolstered by leveraging the massive amount of internal space these new wings offered.

The F-16 SCAMP becomes the F-16XL

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An F-16XL (top) flies alongside a conventional F-16 (WikiMedia Commons)

Citing the promising results of the F-16 SCAMP effort, the U.S. Air Force chose to buy into the idea of an even-more capable version of the F-16. They provided Hillaker with two early F-16 airframes for conversion into a SCAMP-like design they dubbed the F-16XL. Although this new jet would be largely based on the existing F-16, the changes were dramatic, including two fuselage sections added near the front and back of the aircraft, increasing its length by some 56 inches. The cranked-arrow wings that had proven so effective in SCAMP were also added, along with a new form of wing skin made using carbon fiber that saved some 600 pounds in the design.

Those massive wings, now fully realized, gave the F-16XL a nearly doubled fuel capacity, and the additional lift coupled with 633 square feet of underwing space to leverage allowed for the addition of an astonishing 27 hardpoints for ordnance. Remarkably, the F-16XL seemed to outperform its smaller predecessor in nearly every way, prompting the Air Force to take an interest in the idea of actually building this new iteration fighter.

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An air to air left underside view of an F-16XL aircraft. The aircraft is armed with two wing tip mounted AIM-9 Sidewinder and four fuselage mounted AIM-7 Sparrow missiles along with 12 500-pound bombs. (WikiMedia Commons)

“To say that Hillaker’s design team achieved its objectives is an understatement,” wrote F. Clifton Berry Jr. in 1983. Berry was an Air Force veteran and the editor-in-chief of Air Force Magazine at the time.

As Berry pointed out, an F-16XL conducting an air-to-surface mission could carry twice the payload of the standard F-16 and still fly as much as 44% further–all without external fuel tanks and while carrying a full suite of air-to-air weapons (four AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders) for the fighter to defend itself. If you were to equip the F-16XL with the exact same payload as an F-16A on such a mission, the F-16XL could fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor.

But it wasn’t just about extended range and added payload. The F-16XL was capable of supersonic speeds at high or low altitudes, all while carrying its mighty payload, and had no trouble climbing quickly with bombs underwing. And even despite the added wing, fuel, and ordnance loads, the aircraft still somehow managed to fly 83 knots faster than the F-16 using military power at sea level, and more than 300 knots faster on afterburner at high altitudes, even while carrying a full bomb load.

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The two F-16XL prototypes carrying different weapon loadouts. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“With the heavy bomb load aboard, the F-16XL is cleared for maneuvers up to +7.2 Gs, compared with 5.58 Gs in the F-16A,” Berry wrote. “This demonstrates how the designers were able to increase the aircraft weight while maintaining structural integrity and mission performance.”

All that time in the wind tunnel clearly paid off for the F-16XL design.

The F-16XL takes on the F-15E

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(U.S. Air Force photo)

General Dynamics ultimately built two prototype F-16XLs for testing, but as testing progressed, it was clear that this new iteration of the F-16 design was worth more than simply demonstrating technology. In search of a useful place to put the new jet’s capabilities, the Air Force decided to enter it into the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) competition, which aimed to field a capable replacement for the F-111 Aardvark.

“The F-16XL flight-test program has conclusively demonstrated that the XL performs as predicted. This performance level represents a significant increase in mission capability for USAF,” D. Randall Kent, Vice President and Program Director for the General Dynamics F-16XL program, said at the time.

“Coupling this with the affordability and low risk of the F-16XL presents USAF with a viable way to increase mission capability while simultaneously growing to a forty-wing TAC force structure.”

Soon, the ETF program changed names to the Dual-Role Fighter program–but despite the shift in titles, the goal was the same: To field an aircraft capable of penetrating deep into enemy airspace for interdiction missions without the need for fighter escorts. The F-16XL, with its significant fuel range, good performance, and hardpoints for 27 weapons, seemed like a perfect fit for the job… But it wasn’t the only aircraft competing for the contract. Standing between the F-16XL and operational service was another highly capable platform: The F-15E Strike Eagle.

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The second TF-15A, AF Ser. No. 71-0291, used as an F-15E demonstrator (WikiMedia Commons)

Like the F-16XL, the Strike Eagle was a modified version of an existing fighter: The F-15 Eagle. The Eagle represented America’s top-of-the-line air superiority fighter, boasting an undefeated record in dogfights that holds to this very day. Unlike the F-16XL, however, the F-15E shared the vast majority of its design with the two-seater F-15D that was already in production.

There was no doubt that the F-16XL would likely be the more expensive option, thanks to its significant design departure from the F-16 it was based on. But it also offered a great deal of capability. Its massive wings made it more stable than the F-16 it was based on, while its wind-tunnel-tested design made all that wing area serve no detriment to the fighter’s handling.

“We climbed at more than 20,000 feet per minute, leaping from 4,000 to 27,000 feet in sixty-seven seconds. Jim eased the power back while turning into the supersonic corridor and getting cleared by Edwards Control to begin a supersonic run,” F. Clifton Berry wrote after riding in the F-16XL.

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General Dynamics F-16XL (S/N 75-0749) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“Jim applied afterburner and the aircraft accelerated smoothly from Mach 0.95 through 1.0 and to 1.2 in seconds. Even with the heavy bomb load aboard, the aircraft went supersonic without a tremble. Handling characteristics at mach 1.2 with the heavy ordnance load were remarkably similar to those of the standard F-16 without bombs.”

The F-15E, on the other hand, offered only 15 hardpoints–which it’s important to note, is still a lot. The F-15E also delivered a higher top speed (Mach 2.5 versus 2.05) and a higher service ceiling at 60,000 feet (compared to the F-16XL’s 50,000). Most importantly, however, the F-15E leveraged not one, but two engines. Because these aircraft were intended to fly deep into enemy airspace without much support, the Air Force believed it was likely that these planes would see a great deal of anti-aircraft fire. Having two engines meant one could be damaged by enemy fire, but the aircraft could still limp home on the other.

The F-16XL may have been one of the most capable fighters to never make it into production

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(WikiMedia Commons)

It was likely the perceived survivability of two engines, in conjunction with the lower cost of development, that saw the F-15E win the contract. But many within the Air Force saw the F-15E’s win as bittersweet. The Strike Eagle was indeed an incredibly capable platform, but the F-16XL’s fans felt as though the fighter wasn’t meant to compete with the Strike Eagle, so much as support it–much like the F-16 and F-15 support one another today. Like the YF-23 that lost to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the F-16XL has since been remembered as an aircraft that might have been better than the jet we ultimately got… with concerns about dollars and cents making the decision, rather than maximum capability.

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(U.S. Air Force photo)

Of course, that may not be an entirely fair assessment. The F-16XL was indeed a capable aircraft, but the F-15E has since proven itself in combat time and time again. The Strike Eagle was clearly not a bad choice, but with the F-16XL’s incredible chops in mind, there could be little doubt that the Air Force would have been better off with both of these capable fighters in their stable… if only money truly were no object.

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The F-16XL flying under NASA (NASA photo)

Instead of fighting alongside the Strike Eagle as many hoped, the F-16XL program found its way to NASA, where both prototypes participated in a number of aeronautical research projects. In fact, some of the tests conducted using the F-16XL would go on to play a role in developing the supercruise capability for America’s top-tier air superiority fighter of today, the F-22 Raptor.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.

A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.

If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.


Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.

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The veterans of Detachment A today.

“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”

Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.

“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
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(Courtesy Photo)

That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.

“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
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This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.

During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.

“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”

Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.

“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
MIGHTY TACTICAL

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The U.S. Army Research Lab recently paired a human Soldier with a battlefield robot in the first real-world demonstration of how robots can give American troops the edge in a 21st century fight.

The new Army robot being tested as a sort of battle-buddy can sense small changes in a Soldier’s environment that may indicate a threat. Those subtle changes are then relayed to the Soldier’s eye glasses, using state-of-the-art augmented reality to display the information in a quick and easily digestible way.


“This could let robots inform their Soldier teammates of changes in the environment that might be overlooked by or not perceptible to the Soldier, giving them increased situational awareness and offset from potential adversaries,” said Dr. Christopher Reardon, a researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
“This could detect anything from camouflaged enemy soldiers to IEDs.”

The idea behind the Army’s newest robot is pretty simple. Researchers took a small, autonomous ground robot and equipped it with a variety of (LIDAR) laser-ranging sensors. Using those sensors, the robot is able to build a virtual representation of the environment the robot and Soldier occupy. That baseline environment is then constantly compared to the real-time data flowing through the robot’s sensors. When something in the environment changes, the robot identifies the change and transmits the data to the Soldier’s glasses, where the changes are visible in a 3D augmented reality view of the environment.

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The two robots used in the experiments are identically equipped, with the exception of Velodyne VLP-16 LiDAR (left) and Ouster OS1 LiDAR (right). (U.S. Army)

“Incorporating mixed reality into Soldiers’ eye protection is inevitable,” Reardon said. “This research aims to fill gaps by incorporating useful information from robot teammates into the Soldier-worn visual augmentation ecosystem, while simultaneously making the robots better teammates to the Soldier.”

In other words, the nearby robot is constantly scanning the area, and when something changes — whether it’s a nearby enemy combatant adjusting his footing or moving the leaves on a bush — that change is highlighted visibly in the Soldier’s field of view (thanks to the system glasses). This will allow troops to immediately identify hidden threats in their environment.

This robot is a part of the broader Army Artificial Intelligence for Mobility and Maneuver Essential Research Program, which seeks to better equip artificial intelligence systems with contextual awareness of its surroundings — particularly as they pertain to maneuverability. By combining such a sensor system with an AI equipped robot, the robot could choose its own path over difficult terrain. Many current robotic systems, including Boston Dynamic’s ever-popular “Spot,” need to be manually put on different settings when traversing a loose, rocky hill, as opposed to a flat bit of field.

Spot Launch

www.youtube.com

In a further bit of good news, the Army team running the experiment swapped out the sensor loads on the robot to test the efficacy of the system using higher and lower resolution sensors, and found that human operators were still able to discern environmental changes fed through the augmented reality glasses while using even low-resolution sensors. That realization means that these robot battle buddies could be produced with low-cost, low-resolution sensors that are not only more cost-effective, but can reduce the computational power (and in turn, battery requirements) of these systems as they explore ways to leverage them in combat.

It may be some time before we start seeing the U.S. Army deploy Soldiers with AI-enabled robots, but it seems more clear than ever that AI will play an active role in the combat operations of the 21st century. Last week, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot lost five straight dogfights to an AI pilot developed by Heron Systems, and just recently, Australia unveiled their first “Loyal Wingman” drone that is intended to accompany manned fighter jets into combat once complete.

Russia and China have both boasted development of their own infantry support robots in recent years. Russia’s, known as the Uran-9, is a larger tracked vehicle that, despite its fanfare, went on to grossly underperform while deployed to Syria. China opted instead to develop a flying quad-copter drone intended for use in urban environments for infantry support, thanks to its quick maneuverability and standard rocket payload.

Russian robot tank in action: Uran-9 performs fire drill

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The Army’s own robot AI initiatives are both benefitting from this Soldier/Robot pairing, as it offers vital information about how robots and humans might interact on the battlefield, while also bolstering efforts to improve the autonomy of these robots so they serve as more of an asset than a potential liability on the battlefield. It seems likely that human beings will always play an essential part of warfare, whether in the skies or on the ground; but AI will be along for the ride, every step of the way.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Intimidation: Army crew names their howitzer ‘Coronavirus’

The U.S. military is famous for several things. The food in the DFACs, early morning PT and extreme grooming standards, just to name a few. One of the most underrated things about the military though is the sense of humor amongst troops in the field.


One gun crew from the 1st Armored Division certainly lived up to that legacy of laughs this week after a picture was posted on the division’s website showing that soldiers had named their M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer “Coronavirus.”

ALWAYS VIGILANT! We’re taking preventative measures in the field as we continue to train and protect the safety of our Soldiers and Leaders. As a force we must stay alert as we train to be lethal in combat. #IronSoldiers #BulldogBrigade #COVIDー19 #IIICorpsCOVID19pic.twitter.com/V79CftGvf1

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Yes, the virus currently circling its way around the globe and through the media has made its way into the psyche of a few soldiers.

But these 13Bs are hardly the first to christen their weapons with names. Earlier this year, an M1 Abrams belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division, was spotted sporting the name “Baby Yoda.” Other colorful names include “Change of Regime,” “Bull Dog II”, and “New Testament.”

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The traditional isn’t limited to U.S. soldiers either.

In fact, soldiers have been naming their weapons since at least medieval times, when knights gave names to their trebuchets. And today, visitors to historic battlefields like Gettysburg can still make out the names etched on the back of a few artillery pieces.

As for the coronavirus, of COVID 19 as it is officially called, at press time, there are currently 11,500 cases in the U.S., according to a report from the Washington Post.

The U.S. military is on the frontlines of the country’s pandemic response. In addition to the thousands of National Guardsmen currently activated, President Donald Trump recently tasked the U.S. Navy to deploy both of its hospital ships to treat COVID 19 patients, reports Reuters.

The Navy operates two hospital ships, the U.S.N.S. Comfort and the U.S.N.S. Mercy. Although the ships belong to the Navy, the deck crew is usually manned by civilian members of Military Sealift Command, while the health care staff is comprised of military personnel.

The two ships, which were converted to floating hospitals from oil tankers in the 1970s, are the military’s only such vessels, with one covering the Atlantic and the other the Pacific.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Navy may look to this Army workhorse for special ops

For years, the Navy has been planning to buy Lockheed’s newest version of the Sea Stallion helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. In fact, they’ve already pre-ordered 200 of the new helicopter. But Lockheed’s new bird is running into a lot of stumbling blocks, ones that have the Navy careening toward a tried-and-true Army favorite: The Chinook.


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The Chinook took its first flight with the U.S. Military in 1961.

The Pentagon has directed the Navy to look at buying maritime versions of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a version that is protected against the corrosive seaborne environment of aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships. Lockheed’s billion King Stallion program has run into a series of technical problems and delays over the past few months. The program is delayed by more than a year and still has “100 outstanding deficiencies that require resolution,” according to Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Since one of the missions for the new King Stallion is moving heavy cargo, not just any replacement will do. That’s where the Chinook comes in.

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The CH-53K King Stallion.

“There is simply no other helicopter that comes close to the performance of the CH-53K or that can meet Marine Corps requirements,” said Bill Falk, Lockheed’s King Stallion program director. The Marine Corps agrees, saying adapting the CH-47 for maritime operations is no simple fix or easy upgrade. The Marines believe the Chinook can’t provide the heavy lift necessary for future operations.

Boeing, of course, disagrees, saying the helicopter already “conducts ship-based operations for U.S. Special Forces and international operators, and enjoys a strong reputation among all the U.S. services.”

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