How the hunt for alien life is about to get real - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

NASA and other agencies are building a handful of telescopes to probe the universe’s most puzzling mysteries.

From vantage points on Earth and in space, the upcoming telescopes will rely on next-generation technologies in their attempts to answer some of scientists’ biggest questions about dark matter, the expansion of the universe, and alien life.

Some will provide 100 times more information than today’s most powerful tools for observing the skies.

The first of these telescopes, NASA’s highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, is slated to launch in 2021, then start scanning the atmospheres of distant worlds for clues about extraterrestrial life. As early as 2022, other new telescopes in space will take unprecedented observations of the skies, while observatories on Earth peer back into the ancient universe.

Here’s what’s in the pipeline and what these new tools could reveal.


How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The Hubble space telescope in 2002.

(NASA/ESA)

Since its launch in 1990, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered new planets, revealed strange galaxies, and provided new insights into the nature of black holes.

It also found that the universe is expanding more quickly than scientists imagined.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Nine years’ worth of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed about 10,000 galaxies in one of the deepest, darkest patches of night sky in the universe.

(NASA/ESA/IPAC/Caltech/STScI/Arizona State University)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

In February 2010, the Hubble Space Telescope captured the chaos atop a pillar of gas and dust, three light-years tall, which is being eaten away by the light of nearby bright stars.

(NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

(NASA/Chris Gunn)

First, NASA is building the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to peer into the history of the universe.

It will study how the first stars and galaxies formed, how planets are born, and where there might be life in the universe.

The upcoming telescope is fully assembled and now faces a long testing process in Northrop Grumman’s California facilities before its launch date on March 30, 2021.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

NASA engineers unveil the giant golden mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

(NASA Goddard)

A 21-foot-wide beryllium mirror will help the James Webb telescope observe faraway galaxies in detail and capture extremely faint signals within our own galaxy.

The farther it looks out into space, the more the telescope will look back in time, so it could even detect the first glows of the Big Bang.

JWST will also observe distant, young galaxies in detail we’ve never seen before.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) detecting infrared light in space.

(NASA)

Thanks to new infrared technology, the telescope could provide an unprecedented view of the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s center.

Such imaging could help answer questions about how the galaxy and its black hole formed.

“Does the black hole come first and stars form around it? Do stars gather together and collide to form the black hole? These are questions we want to answer,” Jay Anderson, a JWST scientist, said in an October press release.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The artist concept depicts Kepler-62e, a super-Earth in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.

(NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

JWST will also search for signs of alien life in the atmospheres of exoplanets (the term for planets outside our solar system) — but only those larger than Earth.

By measuring the intensity of star light passing through a planet’s atmosphere, the telescope could calculate the composition of that atmosphere.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An illustration of what it might look like on the surface of TRAPPIST-1f, a rocky planet 39 light-years away from Earth.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists have already identified over 4,000 exoplanets.

But as of yet, they haven’t been able to study most of those planets’ atmospheres to look for signs of life, also known as “biosignatures.”

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth.

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)

If an exoplanet’s atmosphere contains both methane and carbon dioxide, for example, those are clues that there could be life there. JWST will look for signs like that.

Earth’s atmosphere has a lot of oxygen because life has been producing it for billions of years. Oxygen isn’t stable enough to last long on its own, so it must be constantly produced in order to be so abundant.

The combination of carbon dioxide and methane (like in Earth’s atmosphere) is even more telling, especially if there’s no carbon monoxide.

That’s because carbon dioxide and methane would normally react with each other to produce new compounds. So if they exist separately, something is probably constantly producing them. That something could be a volcano, but as far as we know, only a lifeform could release that much methane without also belching out carbon monoxide.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Dave Sime works on the WFIRST primary mirror.

(Harris Corporation / TJT Photography)

To pick up where Hubble left off, NASA is also building the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

The agency plans to launch it into Earth’s orbit in the mid-2020s. Over its five-year lifetime, the space telescope will measure light from a billion galaxies and survey the inner Milky Way with the hope of finding about 2,600 new planets.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The field of view of the Hubble Space telescope compared to WFIRST.

(NASA)

WFIRST will have a field of view 100 times greater than Hubble’s. Each of its photos will be worth 100 Hubble images.

That breadth will help scientists probe questions about what the universe is made of and how it works — starting with dark matter.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The foggy haze is astronomer’s interpretation of where dark matter is located in this cluster of 1,000 galaxies.

(NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Artist’s illustration of the WFIRST spacecraft.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

WFIRST will get around this issue by measuring the effects of dark matter and its counterpart, an unknown force called dark energy.

The entire universe is comprised of 27% dark matter and 68% dark energy. Everything we can see and observe with scientific instruments accounts for less than 5%.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

A pair of interacting galaxies, spotted by Hubble.

(NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Our current model of the universe.

(NASA)

Dark energy is winning, and that’s why the universe is expanding.

WFIRST will attempt to map the mysterious workings of dark matter and energy by measuring the universe’s expansion over time.

“It will lead to a very robust and rich interpretation of the effects of dark energy and will allow us to make a definite statement about the nature of dark energy,” Olivier Doré, a NASA scientist working on WFIRST, said in a press release.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Artist’s concept of the Euclid spacecraft.

(ESA/C. Carreau)

The European Space Agency (ESA) is designing the Euclid telescope for similar purposes.

Euclid will peer into deep space to see ancient light and study how the universe has evolved over the last 10 billion years. It’s slated to launch in 2022.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An illustration of the European Space Agency’s Euclid “dark universe” telescope.

(ESA/C. Carreau)

Both telescopes will attempt to resolve a growing dispute in cosmology: How fast is the universe expanding?

Modern-day measurements contradict the predictions scientists have made based on the ancient past. The mismatch indicates that something big is missing from the standard model of the universe, but nobody knows what.

“Therein lies the crisis in cosmology,” astrophysicist Chris Fassnacht said in an October press release.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at sunset in Cerro Pachón, Chile.

(LSST Project/NSF/AURA)

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will seek to address this conflict from its location in the mountains of Chile. It will spend 10 years scanning the entire sky.

Scheduled for completion in 2022, the LSST will measure the universe’s expansion. The telescope will also chart the movements of potentially hazardous asteroids that could fly dangerously close to Earth.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An artist’s depiction of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) on Cerro Armazones in northern Chile.

(ESO/L. Calçada/ACe Consortium)

On another Chilean mountaintop, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will search for biosignatures in the atmospheres of rocky super-Earths.

At 39 meters (128 feet), it will be the largest optical telescope in the world once it’s completed in 2025.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An artist’s rendering of the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) at night while observations are in progress.

(ESO/L. Calçada)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

A star’s habitable zone is the orbital range in which a planet’s surface might be the right temperature to support liquid water.

(NASA)

But there’s something missing from this planned lineup of telescopes: A tool that can look for biosignatures on exoplanets that have the highest chance of hosting alien life.

That’s because the planets most likely to be habitable are usually Earth-sized, and that’s very small.

“We need to wait for the next generation of instruments — the next generation of space-based and ground-based instruments — to really start to do this for properly habitable Earth-like planets,” Jessie Christiansen, an exoplanet researcher at NASA, told Business Insider.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An artist’s concept of a planetary lineup shows habitable-zone planets with similarities to Earth: from left, Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, the just announced Kepler-452b, Kepler-62f and Kepler-186f. Last in line is Earth itself.

(NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The LUVOIR telescope design.

(NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Theoretically, the proposed LUVOIR and HabEx telescopes could block out stars’ light enough to examine the Earth-sized planets circling them.

The LUVOIR proposal relies on a design similar to that of the JWST. Estimates suggest it could image 50 Earth-sized exoplanets over four years, studying their atmospheres, seasons, and even surfaces.

If chosen for funding and construction, these telescopes could launch in the 2030s.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Drone Dogfight: Air Force plans to pit manned fighter against a drone next year

The United States Air Force says they intend to pit an artificial intelligence-enabled drone against a manned fighter jet in a dogfight as soon as next year.

Although drones have become an essential part of America’s air power apparatus, these platforms have long had their combat capabilities hampered by both the limitations of existing technology and our own concerns about allowing a computer to make the decision to fire ordnance that will likely result in a loss of life. In theory, a drone equipped with artificial intelligence could alleviate both of those limiting factors significantly, without allowing that life or death decisions to be made by a machine.


As any gamer will tell you, lag can get you killed. In this context, lag refers to the delay in action created by the time it takes for the machine to relay the situation to a human operator, followed the the time it takes for the operator to make a decision, transmit the command, where it must then be received once again by the computer, where those orders translate into action. Even with the most advanced secure data transmission systems on the planet, lag is an ever-present threat to the survivability of a drone in a fast paced engagement.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Unmanned aerial vehicle operators in training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman BreeAnn Sachs)

Because of that lag limitation, drones are primarily used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and air strikes, but have never been used to enforce no-fly zones or to posture in the face of enemy fighters. In 2017, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone successfully shot down another, smaller drone using an air-to-air missile. That success was the first of its kind, but even those responsible for it were quick to point out that such a success was in no way indicative of that or any other drone platform now having real dogfighting capabilities.

“We develop those tactics, techniques and procedures to make us survivable in those types of environments and, if we do this correctly, we can survive against some serious threats against normal air players out there,” Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, said at the time.

Artificial intelligence, however, could very feasibly change this. By using some level of artificial intelligence in a combat drone, operators could give the platform orders, rather than specific step-by-step instructions. In effect, the drone operator wouldn’t need to physically control the drone to dogfight, but could rather command the drone to engage an air asset and allow it to make rapid decisions locally to respond to the evolving threat and properly engage. Put simply, the operator could tell the drone to dogfight, but then allow the drone to somewhat autonomously decide how best to proceed.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
A hawk for hunters

The challenges here are significant, but as experts have pointed out, the implications of such technology would be far reaching. U.S. military pilots receive more training and flight time than any other nation on the planet, but even so, the most qualified aviators can only call on the breadth of their own experiences in a fight.

Drones enabled with some degree of artificial intelligence aren’t limited to their own experiences, and could rather pull from the collective experiences of millions of flight hours conducted by multiple drone platforms. To give you a (perhaps inappropriately threatening) analogy, you could think of these drones as the Borg from Star Trek. Each drone represents the collected sum of all experiences had by others within its network. This technology could be leveraged not just in drones, but also in manned aircraft to provide a highly capable pilot support or auto-pilot system.

“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple thousand hours of experience,” explains Steve Rogers, the Team Leader for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Autonomy Capability Team 3 (ACT3).
“What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?”

As Rogers points out, such a system could assess a dangerous situation and respond faster than the reaction time of even highly trained pilots, deploying countermeasures or even redirecting the aircraft out of harm’s way. Of course, even the most capable autopilot would still need the thinking, reasoning, and directing of human beings–either in the cockpit or far away. So, even with this technology in mind, it appears that the days of manned fighters are still far from over. Instead, AI enabled drones and autopilot systems within jets could both serve as direct support for manned aircraft in the area.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)

By incorporating multiple developing drone technologies into such an initiative, such as the drone wingman program called Skyborg, drone swarm initiatives aimed at using a large volume of cooperatively operating drones, and low-cost, high capability drones like the XQ-58A Valkyrie, such a system could fundamentally change the way America engages in warfare.

Ultimately, it may not be this specific drone program that ushers in an era of semi-autonomous dogfighting, but it’s not alone. From the aforementioned Skyborg program to the DARPA’s artificial intelligence driven Air Combat Evolution program, the race is on to expand the role of drones in air combat until they’re seen as nearly comparable to manned platforms.

Of course, that likely won’t happen by next year. The first training engagement between a drone and a human pilot will likely end in the pilot’s favor… but artificial intelligence can learn from its mistakes, and those failures may not be all that long lived.

“[Steve Rogers] is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said during a June 4 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event. “If he does it, great.”

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


MIGHTY TACTICAL

How Marines of the future will get their heavy vehicles to the beach

The Navy’s first newly built Ship-to-Shore Connector maritime warfare craft launched on the water in early 2018, paving the way for stepped up production and introducing a new era in modern amphibious warfare for the Marines.

Naval Sea Systems Command recently awarded a deal to Ship-to-Shore connector-maker Textron to acquire long-lead early procurement materials for the new fleet of watercraft. The new SSC mobile amphibious connectors are able to transport larger armored vehicles, such as an Abrams tank, from amphibious assault ships to combat ashore.

The new SSCs are designed to replace the existing fleet of Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) able to move Marines, weapons and supplies from ship to shore for amphibious operations. The connectors will integrate emerging computer technology able to reduce the needed crew size and perform more functions independently.


The upgraded amphibious ship-to-shore craft includes lighter weight composite materials, Increased payload capacity, modernized engines, and computer automated flight controls, Textron Systems Vice President of Marine Systems Scott Allen told Warrior Maven in an interview in early 2018.

The SSC’s new Rolls Royce engines will have more horsepower and specialized aluminum to help prevent corrosion. The lighter weight be enable a better lift capacity, allowing the craft to transport up to 74-tons — enough to transport heavy armored vehicles from ship to shore for an amphibious assault, Allen said.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Textron Ship-to-Shore Connector.

The Navy’s 72 existing LCACs, in service since the 80s, can only transport up to 60-tons, reach speeds of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles from amphibious vehicles, Navy officials explained.

Textron engineers also say the SSC is built with digital flight controls and computer automation to replace the traditional yoke and pedals used by current connectors. As a result, on-board computers will quickly calculate relevant details such as wind speed and navigational information, they explained.

The new SSC’s have also moved to a lower frequency for ship electronics, moving from 400 Hertz down to 60 Hertz in order to better synchronize ship systems with Navy common standards, Textron developers explained. Along with these properties, the new craft reduces the number of gear boxes from eight to two.

With some of the existing fleet of LCACs approaching 30-years of service, the Navy needs to begin replacing them with new ones, service officials have told Warrior Maven.

The new Rolls Royce engine is the same one currently used in an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, Textron developers said. The new SSCs also increases the strength of the deck and improve the propellers when compared with existing LCACs.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An amphibious assault vehicle assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, embarks the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20).

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Williamson)

LCACs can access over 70-percent of the shoreline across the world, something the new SSCs will be able to do as well, service officials said.

Designed with over-the-horizon high-speed and maneuverability, LCACs are able to travel long distances and land on rocky terrain — even driving right up onto the shore.

In order to bridge the gap from existing LCACs to the new SSCs, the Navy implemented a special service life extension program for the LCACs — many of which are now approaching three decades of service.

The LCACs were re-engined with new engines, given new rotating machinery, new command and control systems, new skirts and fixes to corrosion issues. The effort is designed to put another 10 years of life back into the LCAC, Navy officials described.

The idea with the service life extension is to bridge the time-lapse or gap until the new SSCs are ready to enter the force in larger numbers, senior Navy officials explained.

Some of the enhancements being engineered into the SSCs are designed to address the changing threat landscape in a modern environment, a scenario that is expected to change how amphibious operations will be conducted in the future.

Since potential adversaries now have longer-range weapons, better sensors and targeting technologies and computers with faster processing speeds, amphibious forces approaching the shore may need to disperse in order to make it harder for enemy forces to target them. This phenomenon, wherein potential adversaries have advanced weaponry designed to make it harder for U.S. forces to operate in certain areas such as closer to the shore, is described by Pentagon analysts as “anti-access/area-denial.”

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US has been losing simulated war games against Russia & China

In war games simulating a high-end fight against Russia or China, the US often loses, two experienced military war-gamers have revealed.

“In our games, when we fight Russia and China, ‘blue’ gets its ass handed to it,” David Ochmanek, a RAND warfare analyst, explained at the Center for a New American Security on March 7, 2019, Breaking Defense first reported. US forces are typically color-coded blue in these simulations.

“We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he said.


US stealth fighters die on the runway

At the outset of these conflicts, all five battlefield domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace — are contested, meaning the US could struggle to achieve the superiority it has enjoyed in the past.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

An F-35A joint strike fighter crew chief watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, July 14, 2011.

(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

In these simulated fights, the “red” aggressor force often obliterates US stealth fighters on the runway, sends US warships to the depths, destroys US bases, and takes out critical US military systems.

“In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky,” Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense and an experienced war-gamer, said March 7, 2019. “But it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

Neither China nor Russia has developed a fifth-generation fighter as capable as the F-35, but even the best aircraft have to land. That leaves them vulnerable to attack.

US warships are wiped off the board

“Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said.

Aircraft carriers, traditional beacons of American military might, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They may be hard to kill, but they are significantly less difficult to take out of the fight.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

USS Enterprise is underway with its strike group in the Atlantic Ocean.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Harry Andrew D. Gordon)

Naval experts estimate that US aircraft carriers now need to operate at least 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland to keep out of range of China’s anti-ship missiles, according to USNI News.

US bases burn

“If we went to war in Europe, there would be one Patriot battery moving, and it would go to Ramstein [in Germany]. And that’s it,” Work explained, according to Breaking Defense. “We have 58 Brigade Combat Teams, but we don’t have anything to protect our bases. So what difference does it make?”

Simply put, the US military bases scattered across Europe and the Pacific don’t have the anti-air and missile-defense capabilities required to handle the overwhelming volume of fire they would face in a high-end conflict.

US networks and systems crumble

In a conflict against a near-peer threat, US communications satellites, command-and-control systems, and wireless networks would be crippled.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Marines participate in Hatch Mounted Satellite Communication Antenna System training on an MV-22B Osprey at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, Feb. 12, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gumchol Cho)

“The brain and the nervous system that connects all of these pieces is suppressed, if not shattered,” Ochmanek said of this scenario. Work said the Chinese call this type of attack “system destruction warfare.”

The Chinese would “attack the American battle network at all levels, relentlessly, and they practice it all the time,” Work said. “On our side, whenever we have an exercise, when the red force really destroys our command and control, we stop the exercise and say, ‘let’s restart.'”

A sobering assessment

“These are the things that the war games show over and over and over, so we need a new American way of war without question,” Work stressed.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Six High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems conduct a live-fire exercise as part of pre-deployment training at Ft. Bliss, Texas.

(Wisconsin National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Baum)

Ochmanek and Work have both seen US war games play out undesirably, and their damning observations reflect the findings of an assessment done from fall 2018.

“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the National Defense Strategy Commission — a bipartisan panel of experts picked by Congress to evaluate the National Defense Strategy — said in a November 2018 report.

The report called attention to the erosion of the US’s military edge by rival powers, namely Russia and China, which have developed a “suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.”

The commission concluded the US is “at greater risk than at any time in decades.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The U.S. Air Force’s venerable F-22 Raptor is widely seen as the world’s most capable air superiority fighter, but for a short time, it was nearly joined by a sister platform modified specifically for the Navy in the NATF-22.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor came about as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program that aimed to field an all-new aircraft that could not only compete with advanced Soviet jets like the Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29, but dominate them. The Su-27 and MiG-29 had both been developed with America’s F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon squarely in their sights, and although the Soviet Union was on its last leg by the late 1980s, the Air Force remained steadfast in their need for a new generation of fighter.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies in formation with a Polish MiG-29 during exercise Sentry White Falcon (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shaun Kerr)

Ultimately, the F-22 Raptor won out over its (arguably more capable) Northrop YF-23 competition, thanks in no small part to Lockheed’s flair for dramatic presentations and Northrop’s troubled reputation at the time. While the YF-23 boasted better range and stealth, the YF-22 and its operational F-22 successor offered a combination of solid capability and Lockheed Martin’s reputation for delivering highly capable military aircraft. While the YF-22 ultimately won the decision, either aircraft would have gone on to become the world’s first stealth fighter, establishing a new generation of fighters to come. Had the YF-23 won out, it would have been the defacto choice for a Navy fighter variant for consideration.

While some still contend that an F-23 could have been the superior fighter, the F-22 quickly separated itself from its operational competition thanks to a combination of low observability, high speed, and acrobatic performance. The Raptor was not only able to reach and sustain speeds as high as Mach 2.25, it also offered the ability to “supercruise,” or to maintain supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburners on its pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans. The thrust pouring out of those engines was managed by the aircraft’s Thrust Vector Control surfaces, which allowed the pilot to orient the outflow of the engines independent of the direction the aircraft was pointed. In other words, an F-22 pilot can point its nose (and weapons) down at you while it continues to push forward through the sky.

Related: COULD THE YF-23 HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN THE F-22?

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
F-22 Raptors during testing (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-22 proved so capable, in fact, that Congress pressed the Navy to consider adopting a sweep-wing version of the new fighter under the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program that began in 1988. In return for the Navy considering the NATF as a potentially lower-cost alternative to developing their own replacement carrier-based fighter, the U.S. Air Force agreed to evaluate a modified version of the carrier-based stealth bomber being developed under the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program as a replacement for their own aging F-111.

In theory, this agreement would allow the Air Force to leverage Navy R&D for their new bomber, while the Navy leveraged the Air Force’s for their new fighter. This approach to sharing development costs across branches, one could argue, would reach its zenith when multiple combat aircraft programs across the Navy, Air Force, and Marines were merged to create what would go on to become the (incredibly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Related: AN F-35 PILOT EXPLAINS WHY THE JET’S BAD PRESS MISSES THE POINT

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
F-35 Joing Strike Fighter (USAF Photo)

In a prelude of things to come, the NATF program, and its associated plans for an NATF-22, were soon seen as prohibitively expensive. By 1990, some seven years before the F-22 would first take to the sky, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, the man responsible for outlining the Navy’s requirements for a new fighter, was quoted as saying that he didn’t see any way the F-22 could be incorporated into an affordable plan for Naval aviation. As a result, the NATF-22 concept was dropped in early 1991.

Had the U.S. Navy opted to pursue a carrier-capable variant of the F-22, there would have been a number of significant technical hurdles to overcome. Aircraft designed for carrier operations have to manage a very different set of take-off and landing challenges than their land-based counterparts. The aircraft fuselage needs to be more physically robust to withstand the incredible forces applied to it during catapult launches and short-distance landings supported by a tailhook at the rear of the aircraft. The NATF-22 would also have to leverage the same sort of variable-sweep wing approach found on the F-14 to grant the aircraft the ability to fly slowly enough to safely land aboard a carrier.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
Artist’s rendering of the NATF-22

That variable-sweep wing design itself brought a slew of its own problems engineers would need to solve. First and foremost, the Navy was already dealing with the high cost of maintaining the sweep wing apparatus on the F-14 Tomcat. A new sweep wing design likely wouldn’t alleviate the high operational costs associated with the Tomcat. As the Air Force has gone on to prove, the Navy’s decision was probably right. Even with fixed wings, the F-22 remains one of the most expensive fighter platforms to operate.

It also stands to reason that the variable sweep wing design would compromise some degree of the aircraft’s stealth. If the connecting surfaces of the moveable wings produced a high enough return on radar to secure a weapons grade lock on the aircraft, the value of such a fighter would be fundamentally compromised. The F-22 may be fast and maneuverable, but the Navy’s existing F-14 Tomcats were faster — and despite their high maintenance costs, still significantly cheaper than building a new stealth fighter for the Navy’s flattops, even if it was borrowing heavily from the Air Force’s program.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
The F-14 utilized a variable-sweep wing design to offer it the ability to manage both low and high speed flight effectively. (U.S. Navy photo)

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why the U.S. Navy opted not to pursue the NATF-22. It was complicated, expensive, and may have only offered a slight improvement over the Navy’s existing carrier-based platforms if any at all. But, nonsensical as it may be in practical use, the very concept of a variable-sweep wing F-22 carrying on the legacy of the fan-favorite F-14 Tomcat aboard America’s super carriers is just too cool not to look back on a bit wistfully.

After all, with only 186 F-22 Raptors ever rolling out of Lockheed Martin’s factories, this king of sky combat is destined to have a painfully short reign. One has to wonder… could a Navy variant of the F-22 have been enough to save this program from the budgetary ax?

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The truth is, probably not — but the pictures sure are cool to look at.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy used to have nuclear-powered cruisers

While nuclear-powered carriers and submarines are all the rage in the U.S. Navy today, the sea-going service used to have a much wider nuclear portfolio with nuclear-powered destroyers and cruisers that could sail around the world with no need to refuel, protecting carrier and projecting American power ashore with missiles and guns.


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The USS Long Beach fires a Terrier missile in 1961. (U.S. Navy)

 

The first nuclear surface combatant in the world wasn’t a carrier, it was the USS Long Beach, a cruiser launched in 1959. That ship was followed by eight other nuclear cruisers, Truxtun, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Arkansas was the last nuclear-powered cruiser launched, coming to sea in 1980.

During the same period, a nuclear-powered destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, took to the seas as well. Due to changes in ship nomenclature over the period, it was a frigate when designed, a destroyer when launched, but would be classified as a cruiser by the time the ship retired.

The head of the Navy’s nuclear program for decades was Adm. Hyman G. Rickover who had a vision for an entirely nuclear-powered carrier battle group. This would maximize the benefits of nuclear vessels and create a lethal American presence in the ocean that could run forever with just an occasional shipment of food, spare parts, and replacement personnel.

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The Navy launched Operation Sea Orbit where nuclear-powered ships sailed together in 1964. This is the USS Enterprise, a carrier; the USS Long Beach, a cruiser; and the USS Bainbridge, classified at the time as a destroyer. (U.S. Navy)

 

The big advantage of nuclear vessels, which required many more highly trained personnel as well as a lot of hull space for the reactor, was that they could sail forever at their top speed. The speed thing was a big advantage. They weren’t necessarily faster than their conventionally fueled counterparts, but gas and diesel ships had to time their sprints for maximum effect since going fast churned through fuel.

That meant conventional vessels couldn’t sail too fast for submarines to catch them, couldn’t sprint from one side of the ocean to the other during contingency operations, and relied on tankers to remain on station for extended periods of time.

Nuclear vessels got around all these problems, but their great speed and endurance only really helped them if they weren’t accompanied by conventional ships. After all, the cruisers and destroyer can’t sprint across the ocean if that means they are outrunning the rest of the fleet in dangerous waters.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
The Navy detonates an explosive charge off the starboard side of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered cruiser, during sea trials. (U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Toon)

 

That’s why Rickover wanted a full nuclear battle group. It could move as a single unit and enjoy its numerous advantages without being slowed down by other ships.

And the ships were quite lethal when they arrived. Nuclear carriers at the time were similar to those today, sailing at a decent clip of about 39 mph (33.6 knots) while carrying interceptor aircraft and bombers.

The 10 nuclear cruisers (counting the Bainbridge as a cruiser), were guided-missile cruisers. Four ships were Virginia-Class ships focused on air defense but also featuring weapons needed to attack enemy submarines and ships as well as to bombard enemy shores.

The other most common nuclear cruiser was the California Class with three ships. The California Class was focused on offensive weaponry, capable of taking the fight to enemy ships with Harpoon missiles, subs with anti-submarine rockets and torpedoes, and enemy shores with missiles and guns. But, it could defend itself and its fleet with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
Ticonderoga-class cruisers like the USS Hue City, front, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers like the USS Oscar Austin, rear, replaced the nuclear cruisers. (U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Wilson)

 

But the nuclear fleet had one crippling problem: expense. Rickover knew that to ensure that the larger Navy and America would continue to embrace nuclear power at sea, the ships had to be extremely dependable and secure. To do this, ships needed good shielding and a highly capable, highly trained crew.

Nuclear cruisers had about 600 sailors in each crew, while the Ticonderoga-class that took to the sea in 1983 required 350. And the Ticonderoga crew could be more quickly and cheaply trained since those sailors didn’t need to go through nuclear training.

Also, the reactors took up a lot of space within the hull, requiring larger ships than conventional ones with the same battle capabilities. So, when budget constraints came up in the 1990s, the nuclear fleet was sent to mothballs except for the carriers.

And even at that stage, the nuclear cruisers cost more than their counterparts. Conventional cruisers can be sold to allied navies, commercial interests, or sent to common scrap yards after their service. Nuclear cruisers require expensive decommissioning and specially trained personnel to deal with the reactors and irradiated steel.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Failed test of Putin’s doomsday missile causes deadly explosion

A deadly explosion at a missile test site last week appears to have been caused by a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although Russia has yet to say what its engineers were working on at the time of the blast.

Five Russian nuclear scientists were buried on Aug. 12, 2019, after they were killed in an explosion last week. Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp., Russia’s state nuclear agency, said they were testing a nuclear-powered engine at the time the blast occurred, BBC reported.

“The rocket tests were carried out on the offshore platform,” Rosatom said in a statement over the weekend, according to Foreign Policy magazine. “After the tests were completed, the rocket fuel ignited, followed by detonation. After the explosion, several employees were thrown into the sea.”


Rosatom did not clarify what exactly went wrong during testing, saying only that “there was a confluence of factors, which often happens when testing new technologies,” according to Foreign Policy.

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Burevestnik nuclear unit.

(YouTube)

The Russian defense ministry, by way of Russian state media, said earlier that only two people were killed when a liquid-propellant rocket engine blew up. The story has changed as the death toll has risen.

The scientists and engineers “tragically died while testing a new special device,” Alexey Likhachev, the head of Rosatom, said at the funeral on Aug. 12, 2019.

The men were buried in Sarov, a city known for nuclear research, Bloomberg reported, saying that experts suspect that what blew up might have been a compact nuclear reactor. Three other people were injured by the explosion at Russia’s Nyonoksa test range.

“The best thing for their memory will be our further work on the new weapons,” Likhachev said at Aug. 12, 2019’s funeral. “We are fulfilling the task of the motherland. Its security will be reliably ensured.”

US intelligence officials, The New York Times reported, believe that last week’s explosion involved a prototype of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a kind of doomsday missile that NATO refers to as SSC-X-9 Skyfall. Several experts have arrived at the same conclusion.

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This video grab shows the launch of what Russian President Vladimir Putin said was Russia’s new nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile.

(YouTube)

Tweeting Aug. 12, 2019, President Donald Trump referred to what he called the “failed missile explosion in Russia” as the “‘Skyfall’ explosion.”

In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that the missile was “invincible,” asserting that the weapon has “an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception.” But, so far, Russia has struggled to get the weapon to fly.

No country has ever fielded a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although the US briefly flirted with the idea decades ago.

“Was this stupid missile worth getting these young men killed?” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, rhetorically asked Aug. 12, 2019, in a Foreign Policy article on the incident.

In the article, he concluded that the weapon tested last week was likely the Burevestnik and said that an escalating arms race between the US and Russia could lead to more nuclear accidents.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 reasons why the Winged Hussars are among the greatest fighters of all time

Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.

Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.


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Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”

They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them

When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.

The Ottomans? The Hussars charged through Vienna like it was nothing. The Russians? They toppled Ivan the Terrible in the dead of winter. The Khanates? There’s a reason the Mongols, and, eventually, the succeeding khanates, never made it past Poland and into Europe.

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Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.

Their wings weren’t just for decoration

It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.

Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?

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Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.

They adapted extremely well to firearms

As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.

Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.

The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?

They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.

Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.

Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.

A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.

The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.

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The famous winged banners weren’t needed.

They never really went away

As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.

Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.

Today, their spirit lives on with the Polish Land Forces’ 11th Armored Cavalry Division.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Meet North Korea’s most powerful woman, Kim Yo Jong: Kim Jong Un’s 30-something sister who could lead the country if something happens to him

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sought to raise his international standing, a figure seen by his side almost constantly during his meetings with world leaders is none other than his younger sister Kim Yo Jong.

Those frequent appearances have taken on a new significance in recent days, as rumors swirl that the dictator is gravely ill after a surgery. Kim Jong Un’s line of succession is hazy — he is believed to have three children, but they are too young to take control over the country, and his brother has reportedly been deemed unfit to lead.


That has prompted speculation that Kim Yo Jong is next in line, though the country has never had a female leader.

During the two summits between the US and North Korea, Kim Yo Jong was front and center during the historic show of diplomacy between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

She also traveled to South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics, becoming the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the south since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Like her brother, and much of the rest of their family, few details are known about Kim Yo Jong and the life she lived before reaching a prime leadership role in the North Korean government.

Here’s what we know about her so far.

Like many of Kim’s family members, Kim Yo Jong’s exact age is difficult to pin down. But she’s believed to be in her early 30s, likely born in 1989.

Kim Yo Jong as a girl: this is the earliest photo we have of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, taken while she was at school in Switzerland.pic.twitter.com/LrDFgGBzdt

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She’s the youngest child of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Yong Hui, a former dancer.

She was partly educated in Switzerland at the same school Kim Jong Un attended. But she returned to North Korea in 2000 after completing the US equivalent of the sixth grade.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5c76d86b2628981e0e185319%3Fwidth%3D1300%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=327&h=f892c8a2729aafffe7a2825c410497bf48761ebcad11d2871036e6f55e3653b1&size=980x&c=3282151137 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5c76d86b2628981e0e185319%253Fwidth%253D1300%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D327%26h%3Df892c8a2729aafffe7a2825c410497bf48761ebcad11d2871036e6f55e3653b1%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3282151137%22%7D” expand=1]

The Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Köniz, Switzerland.

Sandstein/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Yo Jong appeared destined for a powerful career from a young age. Kim Jong Il once bragged to foreign interlocutors in 2002 that his youngest daughter was interested in politics and eager to work in North Korea’s government.

It’s completely unclear where she was or what she was up to between 2000 and 2007.

In the following years, she conducted a lot of behind-the-scenes work for her father, Kim Jong Il, and brother Kim Jong Un. She played a particularly significant role in helping Kim Jong Un take over instead of his older brothers.

Her first public appearance was in 2011 at Kim Jong Il’s funeral.

Kim Yo Jong’s first recorded public appearance: The North Korean princess appeared among the mourners at her father’s funeral at the end of 2011.pic.twitter.com/GWPw4dgbZU

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Kim Yo Jong made headlines in 2017 after she was promoted to a top position in her brother’s government: the head of the propaganda department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

That’s not just a fancy title — Kim Yo Jong plays a crucial role in controlling her brother’s public image.

Kim Yo Jong’s role in the North Korean regime is not just ceremonial. She’s actually working, protecting the image of her brother Kim Jong Un and making sure that everything runs smoothly.pic.twitter.com/hWsQnPIZzr

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In public, Kim Yo Jong appears to have greater freedom than other top government officials in North Korea, occasionally appearing in photographs unaccompanied, rather than constantly being in the presence of Kim Jong Un.

Some have speculated that she was promoted partly in an effort to continue Kim Jong Un’s dynasty. While she’s out of the line of succession, some believe she could take over the country’s leadership if something happens to Kim Jong Un before his kids are old enough to rule.

It wouldn’t be an unprecedented role for her, either. Kim Yo Jong once briefly took control of the country’s affairs while her brother was ill in 2014, according to a South Korean think tank run by North Korean defectors.

She stepped onto the world stage in February 2018. In a rare show of diplomacy between the two Koreas, Kim Yo Jong traveled to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Everyone’s eyes were on Kim Yo Jong at the start of the games. She shared a historic handshake with South Korean President Moon Jae In, and both broke out in smiles.

During the opening ceremony, she sat right behind US Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Kim Yo Jong and Pence did not speak with each other.

Her interaction with South Korean leaders was a rare show of diplomacy and warmth. Given her experience in propaganda, she likely knew exactly what she was doing to try and curry favorable attention.

In April 2018, she played a crucial role in the peace talks between the two Koreas. Leaders from the two nations met at the Demilitarized Zone, and Kim Yo Jong was notably the only woman at the table.

Though she stayed well away from the spotlight, leaving that to her brother, it was clear Kim Yo Jong played a significant role in orchestrating the talks and ensuring the day ran smoothly.

She was her brother’s right-hand woman when he and Trump signed the agreement acknowledging North Korea’s intentions to denuclearize.

Kim Yo Jong sparked curiosity at one point, when she switched out the pen that was provided for the summit with her own ballpoint pen. It’s unclear why she swapped the pens, but some have speculated that it was for security reasons.

Anyone else spot this? There were two “Donald Trump” signing pens, NK official came in and shined up the one for Kim, then at the last minute Kim Yo Jong pulled out her own per to use instead of the one provided. Kim used that and back it went in her blazer. (Pool video)pic.twitter.com/dZWEK22IdF

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She made headlines in February 2019 when she was seen holding her brother’s ashtray while he smoked during their train journey to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Kim Jong Un takes smoking break on way to Summit

www.youtube.com

Kim Yo Jong was featured prominently in the preparations for her brother’s talks with Trump, often rushing ahead to make sure everything was ready.

She even went viral at one point when she seemed to be hiding in the plants as Kim Jong Un met with the US president at the Metropole Hotel.

An incredible addition to annals of “Where’s Kim Yo Jong?” from @nknewsorg’s @chadocl.pic.twitter.com/9zZSUAnsL2

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It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that Kim Yo Jong was one of her brother’s most trusted officials, and her power in the regime was only growing.

But in the Hermit Kingdom, no one’s position is ever truly secure under the mercurial leadership of Kim Jong Un. He’s known for turning on family members quickly when they fall out of favor — and it remains to be seen whether Kim Yo Jong is an exception.

Kim Yo Jong was not listed as an alternate member of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea politburo — the party’s top decision-making body — and did not appear at any high-profile events during an important party gathering in April 2019.

She also missed a meeting between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin later that month, fueling speculation that she had been demoted.

One theory is that Kim Jong Un ordered her to lie low after his failed summit with Trump in February 2019.

But in early June 2019, Kim Yo Jong was spotted for the first time in 52 days, suggesting she was back in her brother’s good graces.

In October 2019, North Korean media released strange photos of Kim Jong Un riding a white horse atop a mountain with historic and symbolic significance.

Experts told Business Insider that the photos are packed with political meaning — and could foreshadow a frightening military advancement.

Since then, her profile has only grown. In March 2020, Kim Yo Jong made her first-ever public statement, insulting South Korea as a “frightened dog barking” after the country condemned one of North Korea’s live-fire military drills.

“Such incoherent assertion and actions… only magnify our distrust, hatred and scorn for the South side as a whole,” Kim Yo Jong said in the statement.

The following month, Kim Yo Jong was reinstated as an alternate member of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo, suggesting that all has been forgiven since the collapse of last year’s summit.

Given these recent developments, it’s clear that Kim Yo Jong’s power has grown tremendously in recent years, fueling speculation that no other family members besides her could take over.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why a TBI is so dangerous — and how to treat it

Brain injuries are the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with more than 380,000 service members experiencing them between 2001 and 2017, according to the Department of Defense. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can have devastating effects on those who experience them, such as vomiting, seizures, speech disorders, and aggression. Long after initial impact, the resulting injuries can leave sufferers with invisible wounds that are tough to pinpoint or treat.


According to the Military Health System guidelines, a TBI is a traumatically induced structural injury or physiological disruption of brain function, the result of an external force. It’s indicated by an altered mental state, such as disorientation or a decrease in cognitive functions, as well any loss of memory for events immediately before or after the injury, or the loss of or a decreased level of consciousness.

Equally challenging for medical providers is the stigma victims often feel when it comes to seeking help. But researchers say awareness and advances in the DoD’s treatment and prevention strategies have changed for the better the way patients recover.

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“There has been an increase of awareness about TBI, and that has made a great difference in early identification and intervention. Even in the past few years, we’ve seen a greater willingness to seek treatment for both TBI and psychological health concerns,” said Dr. Louis French, deputy director of operations and a clinical psychologist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) located in Bethesda, Maryland.

Opened in 2010, NICoE helps active duty members, reservists, veterans, retirees, and their families manage TBIs and other associated conditions while providing diagnostic evaluation, comprehensive treatment planning, outpatient clinical care, and TBI research and education.

According to French, understanding the relationship between the mind and the brain is important because psychological and emotional health can influence TBI recovery.

A TBI can impact a person’s physical, cognitive, and behavioral or emotional functions. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including headache, nausea, dizziness, difficulty with concentration, memory, and language, and feelings of depression and anxiety.

“We continue to grow our understanding of the various factors that go into a person’s recovery from TBI, including physical, emotional, sensory, cognitive and other aspects,” said French. “Family involvement is also now recognized as an important part of the recovery process, and for those who may have complicated recoveries.”

At the NICoE, patients and their families have access to traditional medical specialties like primary care, advanced neurology and neuropsychology, as well as complementary holistic approaches, including wellness and creative arts therapy.

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Alyson Rhodes, a yoga therapist, leads patients through the rest pose portion of a therapeutic yoga session, Dec. 11, 2017.

One of many reasons the center was created, said Capt. Walter Greenhalgh, director of NICoE, is to provide support to patients and their families.

“NICoE treatment programs are designed to encourage family-member involvement in the patient care plan by attending appointments and participating in programs like family therapy, family education classes, and Spouse and Caregiver Support groups. Our social workers provide education and skills training for all family members and connect them with resources to help them cope as a family unit,” Greenhalgh explained.

Group therapy for those coping with similar injuries can also show patients they aren’t alone and allow families the opportunity to interact with other family members.

Although TBIs are widely viewed as combat injuries, service members can still be at risk during day-to-day activities. Research conducted by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center shows TBIs are more commonly the result of operational training, falls and motor vehicle accidents.

“TBI is not just a military injury. It’s easy to forget that it was only 10 years ago that we wrote the first in-theater guidelines for TBI, and now we have standardized assessment and treatment protocols across the entire Defense Department,” said French.

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The National Intrepid Center of Excellence, or NICoE, a directorate of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The majority of traumatic brain injuries — 82 percent — are classified as mild TBIs or concussions. Mild TBIs:

– Can leave sufferers in a confused or disoriented state for less than 24 hours
– Can cause loss of consciousness for up to 30 minutes
– May result in memory loss lasting less than 24 hours

Moderate TBIs:

– Can create a confused or disorientated state that lasts more than 24 hours
– Can cause loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes, but less than 24 hours
– May result in memory loss lasting more than 24 hours but less than seven days
– Can appear to be a mild TBI, but with abnormal CT scan results

Severe TBIs:

– Can create a confused or disoriented state that lasts more than 24 hours
– Can cause loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours
– May result in memory loss for more than seven days

A penetrating TBI, or an open head injury, is the most severe type of TBI:

– The scalp, skull and dura mater (the outer membrane encasing the brain and spinal cord) are penetrated by a foreign object.
– Penetrating injuries can be caused by high-velocity projectiles.
– Objects of lower velocity, such as knives or bone fragments from a skull fracture, can also be driven into the brain.

The current definition of TBI was updated in 2015 to be consistent with military and civilian guidelines, and a later review showed that many previously “unclassifiable” cases were likely moderate TBIs.

“Having standardized assessment and treatment guidelines pushed out to an entire military health system and being able to track people through an integrated medical record is amazing,” said French. “Then you have the development of places like NICoE and the Intrepid Spirit Centers that provide intensive, integrative treatment.

“The military and academia are working hand-in-hand to answer questions and improve assessment and care. There are a lot of things that have been done in support of TBI advancement — any of my civilian colleagues look at what the Defense Department achieved in this amount of time, and it’s phenomenal.”

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

Articles

This is what a broom tied to a mast means in the U.S. Navy

When the USS Wahoo sailed into Pear Harbor on Feb. 7, 1943, she had an odd ornament on her periscope: a common broom. But that broom was one of the most impressive symbols a crew could aspire to earn because it symbolized that the boat had destroyed an entire enemy convoy, sweeping it from the seas.


Historians aren’t certain where the tradition originated, but the story cited most often was that a Dutch admiral in the 1650s began the practice after sweeping the British from the seas at the Battle of Dungeness.

(Video: YouTube/Smithsonian Channel)

For the crew of the Wahoo, their great victory came in the middle of five tense days of fighting. It all began on Jan. 24 when the sub was mapping a forward Japanese base on a small island near Papua New Guinea. During the reconnaissance mission, the sailors spotted a destroyer in the water.

Flush with torpedoes and no other threats in sight, the Wahoo decided to engage. It fired a spread of three torpedoes but had underestimated the destroyer’s speed. The Wahoo fired another torpedo with the speed taken into account, but the destroyer turned out of the weapon’s path.

And then it bore down on the Wahoo, seeking to destroy the American sub. The crew played a high-stakes game of chicken by holding the sub in position. When the destroyer reached 1,200 yards, the crew fired the fifth torpedo, which the destroyer again avoided.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
The Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Hayate undergoes sea trials in 1925. Destroyers are relatively small and weak ships, but are well-suited to destroying submarines and protecting friendly ships. (Photo: Public Domain)

At 800 yards they fired their sixth and last forward torpedo, barely enough range for the torpedo to arm. The risk of failure was so great that Lt. Cmdr. Dudley Morton ordered a crash dive immediately after firing, putting as much water in the way of enemy depth charges as possible.

But the last torpedo swam true and hit the Japanese ship in the middle, breaking its keel and causing its boilers to burst.

The next day, Jan. 25, was relatively uneventful, but Jan. 26 would be the Wahoo’s date with destiny. Just over an hour after sunrise, the third officer spotted smoke over the horizon and Morton ordered an intercept course.

They found a four-ship convoy consisting of a tanker, a troop transport, and two freighters. All four were valuable targets, but sinking the troop transport could save thousands of lives and sinking tankers would slow the Japanese war machine by starving ships of fuel.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
The USS Wahoo was one of the most successful and famous submarines in World War II, but it wouldn’t survive the war. (Photo: Public Domain)

There was no escort, but the Wahoo still had to watch for enemy deck guns and ramming maneuvers. The sub fired a four-torpedo spread at the two freighters, scoring three hits. The first target sank and the second was wounded. Wahoo then turned its attention to the tanker and the troop transport.

The troop transport attempted a ram, sailing straight at the Wahoo. Morton ordered a risky gambit, firing a torpedo at the transport after it drew close rather than taking evasive actions.

After the torpedo was launched, the transport took its own evasive action and abandoned its ramming maneuver. In doing so, the transport presented the sub with its broad sides, a prime target.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
Imperial Japanese Navy tankers steam in a convoy in World War II. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Wahoo fired two more torpedoes and dove to avoid another attack. It was still diving when both torpedoes struck home. Eight minutes later, the Wahoo surfaced and saw that the transport was dead in the water. It fired a torpedo that failed to detonate and then a carefully aimed final shot that triggered a massive explosion and doomed the Japanese vessel.

As the tanker and the damaged freighter attempted to escape, Morton gave the controversial order to sink all manned boats launched from the dying transport. His rationale was that a manned, seaworthy vessel was a legal target and any survivors of the battle would go on to kill American soldiers and Marines during land battles.

A few hours later, the Wahoo was able to find and re-engage the two survivors of her earlier action. The tanker and the wounded freighter had steamed north but couldn’t move fast enough to escape the American sub.

The Wahoo waited for nightfall and then fired two torpedoes at the undamaged tanker. One hit, but the ship was still able to sail quickly. With only four torpedoes left and the Japanese ships taking evasive action, Wahoo waited and studied their movements.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
A U.S. Navy Helldiver flies past a burning Japanese tanker in January 1945. The tankers allowed the Imperial Japanese Navy to refuel ships at far-flung bases and at sea. Sinking them crippled the navy. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

When certain they could predict the Japanese ships, the crew attacked again. The first pair of torpedoes were fired at the tanker just after it turned. One of them slammed into its middle, breaking the keel and quickly sending it to the depths.

The crippled freighter was firing what weapons it had at the sub and almost hit it with a shell, forcing it to dive. Then, a searchlight appeared from over the horizon, possibly signaling a Japanese warship that could save the freighter.

The Wahoo carefully lined up its final shot at 2,900 and fired both torpedoes at once with no spread, a sort of final Hail-Mary to try and sink the freighter before it could find safety with the warship.

The final pair of torpedoes both hit, their warheads tearing open the freighter and quickly sinking it before the Japanese ship, which turned out to be a destroyer, cleared the horizon.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

The American crew escaped and continued their patrol, attempting to attack another convoy with just their deck guns on Jan. 27 and mapping a Japanese explosives facility on Jan. 28 before returning to Pearl Harbor with the triumphant broom flying high on Feb. 7.

Other ships have used brooms to symbolize great success, such as in 2003 when the USS Cheyenne flew one to celebrate that every Tomahawk it launched in Operation Iraqi Freedom landing on target with zero duds or failures.

MIGHTY FIT

ACFT PREP: Why you should be power cleaning

I’m not surprised; I’m actually just interested in the fact that the standing power throw is proving to be quite difficult for some soldiers. It makes sense, really. Service members haven’t ever been asked to be explosive before.

The U.S. military used to want members that rivaled its speed and ability to move and make change…But a new day has dawned, and with it, a new type of hero is being called on. The kind of hero that doesn’t slip a disc every time they get up too fast from their office chair.

Explosive power is important, especially for combat-ready troops. Let’s see how the standing power throw is doing at measuring power and how you should actually train for it.


ACFT Prep: Power Cleans for the Standing Power Throw

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What is the standing power throw and why is it useful?

The SPT measures how much explosive power you have.

The new ACFT is designed to test 6 different aspects of fitness:

  1. Strength- Deadlift
  2. Power- Power Throw
  3. Anaerobic conditioning- Sprint Drag Carry
  4. Upper Body Muscular Endurance- Hand Release Push-ups
  5. Core Control- Leg Tucks (For my caveat on the effectiveness of this choice, check this out.)
  6. Aerobic conditioning- 2-mile run

Power is a legitimate fitness variable that should be tested, especially considering that there’s a ton of actions that Soldiers perform that take quick, explosive bursts of strength… like shoulder throwing an E-2 to the ground for bad mouthin’ the ACFT.

I’ll even double down on power training being important since the majority of back, hip, and neck injuries I saw while on active duty almost always included a crusty 35+ service member doing some dumb quick twisting jerking maneuver. You know who you are.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Add a full combat load to the ACFT then you’ll get a real eyeopening experience.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew J. Marcellus)

How to train for the standing power throw

Train for power.

Training for power roughly translates to: incrementally loading an explosive movement in order to translate strength gains into power.

The key above is the incremental loading part. You can’t develop more power by using submaximal loads. ESPECIALLY when you only have two attempts at the standing power throw. Power Jumps and Tuck Jumps can only be effective at making you more powerful if you are some way able to increase your first two jumps. After that point, especially for purposes of the test, you’re training your muscular power endurance (if that’s even a thing…I think that’s just cardio).

The same is true of a long HIIT workout. A HIIT workout by definition requires you to be putting out at greater than 90% of your Heart Rate Max. If you’re no longer putting out at that level of intensity, you’re essentially just doing Medium Intensity Steady State (MISS) with weights. A REAL HIIT workout lasts 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes if you’re an elite athlete.

In order to throw further, you need to do three things.

  • Get stronger
  • Translate that strength to power
  • Perfect your form

Lucky for you, I have an exercise that will help you with two of these, and in conjunction with training for the deadlift, you’ll have all three covered.

How to: Power Clean

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The power clean

The power clean is the superior clean variation for the purposes of the ACFT. I’ll even make the argument that it beats out the snatch because there is a minimum drop of the hips in the power clean. All the Olympic lifts and their clean variations involve ‘getting under’ the weight so that you don’t have to pull the weight off the ground as high.

The power clean, on the other hand, has you only dropping the hips to roughly the quarter squat position. It has the longest pull, from the floor to the collarbone, of the lifts. That’s why it’s named the power clean. It requires the most amount of power to get the weight up.

For all his faults, I think Mark Rippetoe correctly categorized the power clean in his book Starting Strength when he said this of the power clean:

“The power clean by training the athlete’s ability to move heavy weight quickly, is the glue that cements the strength training program to sports performance”

Beyond Triple Extension : The Underlying Benefits of “Olympic” Weightlifting

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It’ll help your form too

The form of the standing power throw has a very striking similarity to the pull used in the power clean. They both make use of ‘triple extension,’ which, if performed efficiently, will allow you to transfer the most amount of your power through the ball and barbell to allow you to exhibit the most power possible.

Triple extension is when the ankles, knees, and hips are completely extended. It’s a complete transfer of all your power into the implement in hand.

It’s a skill. It’s not something that you’ll be able to do perfectly the first time, especially if you have a significant amount of weight on the barbell or if your nerves are really tweakin’ during the test.

The power clean trains nearly the entire movement for the standing power throw. The only part it misses is extending your arms overhead and releasing the ball. Lucky for you, that’s the easy part, the arms will follow the chain of kinetic energy traveling upward that started at your feet.

You still need to train actually throwing the ball, though.

For more on the power clean check out Starting Strength.

For more on form and training for power exercises and the Olympic lifts, check out Zack Telander’s Youtube channel (above).

For more on the various events of the ACFT, check out my author page.

For training plans on the ACFT, have a look here.

For more Mighty Fit Greatness join our Facebook Group here.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real
MIGHTY CULTURE

Actually, the military probably needs these beerbots

The Pentagon’s funding of MIT’s “beerbots” is getting some attention lately. Congress, reasonably, has posed the question of, “Why is the Pentagon researching beer delivery robots, especially while hotels and bars are already deploying robot bartenders?”

Well, the answer is a little more logical than you might think. So, Alexa, crack open a cold one and let’s talk about beerbots.


How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Waiters that are part of MIT’s “beerbot” program go into an office to work with humans.

(MITCSAIL)

First off, we think it’s awesome that Congress accepted the possibility that the military was researching beer-delivery robots in order to distribute cold beers more cheaply (and was seemingly okay with it so long as it wasn’t redundant). That being said, the actual MIT program is focused on figuring out how to get robots to best coordinate their actions in uncertain environments, something that could prove vital for everything from future hospitals to underground fighting.

See, MIT was building a system of cooperative robots, robots which could communicate with each other and share sensor data and other observations to work more efficiently. When they designed a complex, real-world situation to test them in, one obvious angle was to have them serve drinks in an office. And, surprise, the drink that graduates students want is beer.

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And so, the “beerbots” were born. There’s a “PR2” robot that picks up drinks and places them in coolers which are carried by the “turtle bots,” and the turtle bots act as waiters. The turtle bots move from room to room, taking orders and either filling the orders or marking that the room has no orders.

And here’s the key part: The robots share their data with each other. The PR2 doesn’t know what orders are placed until the turtles get close, and the turtles rely on each other to map out routes and obstacles and to share drink orders to figure out the most efficient path to fill them.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, take part in an Army Asymmetric Warfare Group program designed to improve military tactics, techniques, and procedures while fighting underground.

(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Sonise Lumbaca)

This is actually a complex logic problem for the bots when they also have to deal with humans moving from room to room and constantly creating and changing obstacles in the office.

And this is basically the starter level for robots that could help humans on battlefields of the future. Take subterranean warfare, an area so important that the U.S. is considering naming it as a new warfighting domain, for example. Robots helping humans underground will be physically limited in how they can communicate with one another as concrete or subterranean rocks block electromagnetic signals and lasers. So, robots will need to aid the humans there by carrying loads or ferrying supplies, and then communicate directly with one another to determine what’s going on in each section of the underground network.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

Paratroopers with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, fire during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, March 14, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. John Lytle)

Or, take a battle above ground. The Marines think they may be denied conventional radio communications in a war with China or Russia. Any robots helping them will only be able to communicate within a short range or by using lasers. Lasers, obviously, become short range communications when there are a lot of obstructions, like dense foliage or hills, in the way.

So, these robots will also need to complete moment-by-moment tasks while also coordinating their actions whenever they can communicate. All of this requires that the robots keep a constantly updating list of what tasks need completed, what humans haven’t been checked on in a while, and what areas are safe or unsafe for the robots to operate in.

How the hunt for alien life is about to get real

MIT’s PR2 robot loads beers into the cooler of a “turtle” waiter bot as part of a program to improve robots’ ability to coordinate their actions in challenging environments.

(MITCSAIL)

Or, as MIT graduate student Ariel Anders said, “These limitations mean that the robots don’t know what the other robots are doing or what the other orders are. It forced us to work on more complex planning algorithms that allow the robots to engage in higher-level reasoning about their location, status, and behavior.”

From an MIT article about the team’s paper:

“These uncertainties were reflected in the team’s delivery task: among other things, the supply robot could serve only one waiter robot at a time, and the robots were unable to communicate with one another unless they were in close proximity. Communication difficulties such as this are a particular risk in disaster-relief or battlefield scenarios.”

So, yeah, at MIT, a beerbot is never just about beer. And the actual tech underlying these social-media-friendly beerbots is actually necessary for the less sexy but more vital missions, like disaster relief. And, potentially, it could even save the lives of troops under fire or wounded service members in the next few years or decades.

Let the military have its beerbots. And, if they sometimes use them for beer instead of medical supplies, well, they would’ve found a way to get drunk anyways.

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