The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

Lists

5 leadership skills all service members should learn

From a troop’s first day in the military to their last, they’ll pick up various leadership traits that will (hopefully) propel them into a positive, productive future. Although most of us won’t ever know what it’s like to lead a whole platoon or battalion, we’re often thrown into temporary leadership roles as we take boots under our wings, showing them how sh*t gets done while fostering a level of respect.

Leadership can be taught during training, but it’s not truly understood until you’re in the field. The following skills are the cornerstones of leadership.


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Refrain from micro-managing

We’ve all experienced first-hand how infuriating it is when someone constantly feels the need to put in their two cents — just because they can. Many young leaders, eager to meaningfully contribute, will feel compelled to change something to their liking, even if it won’t help better complete the mission at hand.

It’s an important to know when you should back away.

Show one, do one, teach one

It’s up to the military’s leaders to impart their knowledge onto junior troops. As essential part of the military is training troops to win battles. When a troop doesn’t know how to pass a certain test, it’s up to their leader to teach them.

The winning strategy here is, “show one, do one, teach one.” The leader will first show a troop how to do something, that troop will then do it for themselves, and then, finally, that troop will go teach another how to complete the task.

They say that teaching is the best way to learn — this method benefits both a leader and his troops.

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Lead from the front

All too often, we see orders get passed down by people who wouldn’t dare complete the task themselves. These so-called leaders tell you, “good luck,” and then show up in the end to take all the credit.

Don’t do this. Instead, lead from the front. Help with the dangerous missions you helped plan.

Know your team’s strength and weakness

When you walk onto the battlefield, either literally or metaphorically, it’s important to know what each individual in the team is best at in the event something pops off. We’ve encountered leaders who don’t know elbows from as*holes when it comes to their squad.

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Individual success is a team accomplishment

We’d all like to be appreciated for our hard work, but victories are rarely due to a single act. Recognize that the military is a team environment. Each member plays an important role in achieving victory. Taking all the credit for a group’s hard work only makes you look dumb.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. prepares to win the peace against violent extremists

“It’s not about winning the war. It’s about winning the peace,” was an expression heard often at the Counter Violent Extremist Organizations Chiefs of Defense Conference on Oct. 16, 2018.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering, which drew representatives from 83 nations, including all the U.S. combatant commanders and commanders of counter terrorism operations from around the world.

Dunford and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, spoke to Pentagon reporters during a break.


This was the third chiefs of defense conference. It started in 2016 with 40 countries. “Last year we had 71 [countries] and this year 83, so we are pleased with the turnout,” the general said.

Combating violent extremism

Over the past two years there has been real and quantifiable military progress against violent extremism. But that does not mean the campaign is over. Nations now must particularly address the underlying conditions that lead to radicalization, and that requires a whole-of-government approach, the chairman said.

There is a military dimension and chiefs of defense play an important role. The chiefs generally deal with the counterterrorism fight and mass migration. But getting after the underlying conditions – building economies, establishing schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and improving legitimate governance is a broader issue.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, brief the press at the Counter Violent Extremist Organization Chiefs of Defense Conference held at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Oct. 16, 2018.

DOD photo by Jim Garamone

“What we’ve tried to do throughout the day is ensure that we have in context the role of the chiefs of defense,” Dunford said. “One of the things that I think most of them will be more empowered to do when they return to their countries is describe the nature of the challenges we face and help craft more comprehensive solutions to deal with violent extremism.”

The military can deal with the symptoms of terrorism, but it cannot solve the root cause.

The chiefs of defense themselves are a network aimed at taking on a network. The chiefs’ network opens up opportunities to share information, share intelligence and share best practices and then, where appropriate, to take collective action, the chairman said.

The chiefs discussed countering violent extremism around the world, from West Africa and the Sahel to Libya and the maritime operation the European Union is conducting there. They discussed the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida. They discussed the operations in Afghanistan. They also talked about the Sulu Sea and the challenges in Southeast Asia.

Dunford said he was pleased with the good dialogue at the meeting. The chiefs “came prepared to engage and have a discussion,” he added.

Stabilization, sustainment effort

McGurk called the defeat-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria a microcosm of the counter violent extremist organizations campaign worldwide. “The theme of the day is the conventional fight. While not over, we can see the endpoint,” he said. “But that is not the end of the campaign. We talked about transitioning to a new phase really focusing on the stabilization and sustainment effort.”

He noted that nations have announced 0 million in contributions just over the last five months enabling stabilization initiatives in Syria. This is giving hope in even in very difficult places like Raqqa – the former capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate – where 150,000 Syrians have returned to their homes.

In Iraq, the U.S.-led effort has now trained over 170,000 members of the security forces. “We had a good presentation today from the commander of the new NATO Training Mission to Iraq that will continue to professionalize the force,” McGurk said. The United States announced 8 million will go to vulnerable communities in Iraq that were so damaged by the fight and campaign and the genocidal acts of ISIS.

Getting information and intelligence to the countries that can act upon it is important, as well. Dunford said nations in Africa and Southeast Asia are looking at establishing fusion centers where regional nations can share this vital information.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Heroic US Army soldier saves life of drowning man

While on a typical morning run in Smithfield, Virginia, a soldier witnesses a small boat capsize in the local Pagan River, then hears yelling and screaming coming from the area. As he looks around trying to pinpoint the sound, he takes off into a sprint to the end of the bridge, and with no hesitation he dives into the water.

He proceeds to swim 75 meters when he comes across a man struggling to stay afloat gripping onto the side of the boat. The men successfully turned the boat upright, but couldn’t get the excess water out and in a split decision U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Decker, operations officer for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, had to make the decision on how he would save 82 year-old George Gray.


“Once we couldn’t get the boat drained, I decided to have him hold on to it like a flotation device as I swam and pulled him and the boat,” Decker said. “After about a minute of trying that I realized we wasn’t making any progress to get closer to the shore line.”

Decker attempted to swim back to the same location he dove in, until he realized he was swimming against the current and was in the same spot he started just moments ago.

“I quickly changed directions and started swimming perpendicular to the current,” Decker said. “I was extremely exhausted, but I could see we were making progress, so I just pushed ahead. It took us five to seven minutes to reach a dock.”

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Decker, operations officer for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, poses for a picture with George Gray in Smithfield, Va., Nov. 5, 2019.

(Photo by Bert Blanchette)

Throughout the whole process Decker explained how Gray maintained his composure and remained calm throughout the incident.

“It was pretty instantaneous from when he stepped foot on to the dock; he broke down in tears and gave me a big hug,” Decker said. “It was a very humbling experience.”

Shortly after, the police and ambulance were waiting to ensure both men were safe.

“I think anyone would have done what I did if they were in that situation,” Decker said. “I’m just happy I was there to help.”

Because of his actions on Oct. 5, 2019, when Decker saved Gray from drowning, Smithfield Police Department awarded him with the city’s Life Saving Award.

The Life Saving Award is issued to anyone whose actions saved the life of a fellow citizen in an emergency.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” Gray said. “I was hanging on to the boat and I had on a really heavy coat and if it wasn’t for this gentlemen [Decker] I wouldn’t be here today.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Dunford talks about how to keep US ahead of China, Russia

Near-peer competition and the United States retaining its military competitive edge were among the issues the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed in an interview with Washington Post associate editor David Ignatius.

The interview — broadcast as part of the Post’s “Transformers” series — looked at the ways warfare and security are changing.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford addressed the challenges coming from Russia and China first off, using the Russian seizure of Ukrainian boats off Crimea as an example. “What took place in the Sea of Azov is consistent with a pattern of behavior that really goes back to Georgia, then Crimea and then Donbass in Ukraine,” he said.


Russia is stopping short of open conflict, the general said. Instead, he explained, Russian leaders push right to the edge. “What the Russians are really doing is testing the international community’s resolve in enforcing the rules that exist,” Dunford said.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Army Sgt. Samuel Benton observes and mentors soldiers during the Bull Run V training exercise with Battle Group Poland in Olecko, Poland, May 22, 2018.

(Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III)

In this case, he said, clear violations of sovereignty and signed agreements have taken place. The international community “has got to respond diplomatically, economically or in the security space,” he added, or Russia “will continue what it’s been doing.”

No discussion of military response

The chairman stressed there has been no discussion about a military response to the Sea of Azov incident. The United States has assisted Ukraine in defending its sovereignty, he said, and will continue to do so.

Russia is in material breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987, and the United States will withdraw from the treaty if Russia does not get into compliance with it, Dunford said, noting that the arms-control treaties negotiated starting in the 1980s have provided strategic stability.

“In a perfect world,” he said, “what I would say would be best is if Russia would comply with the INF, it would set the conditions for broader conversations about other arms-control agreements, to include the extension of [the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty].”

Ignatius asked Dunford about China, and more specifically, how China is challenging U.S. military dominance. America’s greatest military advantages are its network of allies and the ability to project military power worldwide, the chairman said. Both China and Russia understand that, he added, and Russia is seeking to undermine NATO while China is seeking to undermine America’s network of allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the military side, China is working on capabilities that would stop American power projection capabilities in the Pacific in all domains: sea, land, air, space, and cyberspace. “China has developed capabilities in all those domains to challenge us,” Dunford said. “The outcome of challenging us in those domains is challenging our ability to project power in support of our interests and alliances in the region.”

China’s clear aspirations

Reading China is tough, he acknowledged. The nation has been “opaque” with what it spends on defense, the chairman said, but Chinese leaders have not been opaque with their aspirations. “[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] was very clear last year … where he wants China to be a global power with global power-projection capability,” Dunford said. “Among the capabilities they are developing is aircraft carriers, which would certainly indicate a desire to project power beyond their territorial waters.”

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China’s technological advances concern U.S. officials. China has sunk enormous sums into artificial intelligence research, and Dunford said the nation that has an advantage in AI will have an overall competitive advantage. Speed of decision is key in today’s warfare, he said, and a usable man-machine interface would give the country that perfects it an advantage.

The U.S. competitive advantage has reduced over the past decade, the chairman said. “I am confident in saying we can defend the homeland and our way of life, we can meet our alliance commitments today, and we have an aggregate competitive advantage over any potential adversary,” he said. “I am equally confident in saying that if we don’t change the trajectory we are on, … whoever is sitting in my seat five or seven years from now will not be as confident as I am.”

The U.S. military depends of private firms to provide the military advantage. Today, that means getting the best in the world to get behind artificial intelligence research. Yet, employees at Google — arguably the best in the world — protested and backed away from engaging with the Defense Department. Ignatius asked Dunford what he would say to those employees.

“If they were all sitting her right now, I would say, ‘Hey, we’re the good guys,'” he said. “It is inexplicable to me that we would make compromises to make advances in China where we know that freedom is restrained, where we know China will take intellectual property from companies and strip it away.”

The United States has led the free world since the end of World War II, and even with some failings, the values of the United States infuse the free and open world order today, the general said, and if the United States were to withdraw, someone would fill that gap. “I am not sure that the people at Google would enjoy a world order that is informed by the norms and standards of Russia or China,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Keep Women’s History Month alive with these 10 books

When you open a history book, you’re usually confronted with the faces and stories of white men of the past. And while we’re not here to diminish the accomplishments of those men, it’s also high time we shine a brighter light on the women who fought tirelessly in their shadows. Their bravery paved the way for the Michelle Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens of our present-day—an era in which female voices are finally being heard through movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.


Also read: 11 classic banned books written by veterans

March is Women’s History Month, so we’ve curated a list of insightful reads about the powerful ladies who came before us. From tales about “witches” to those of female war correspondents, these books tell the stories of women who changed history and thus shaped the future.

1. Daughters of the Inquisition

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Seven Springs Press)

By Christina Crawford

After years of suffering, the author of Mommie Dearest rose above past traumas by connecting with—and harnessing—an inner fortitude. But what exactly are the origins of this strength, and what was its legacy? This is the question that forms the soul of Crawford’s latest book, Daughters of the Inquisition, which examines the colorful history and indefatigable spirit of womanhood. From the Goddess-worshipping Neolithic period to the violent misogyny of the 12th century, Crawford peels back 10,000 years to reveal the roles, battles, and unique powers of the female kind.

2. The Gentle Tamers

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Open Road Media)

By Dee Brown

Our perception of the Old West is clouded by gun-slinging cowboys, saloon brawls, and John Wayne, but its history is far richer—and far more female—than we’ve been told. In The Gentle Tamers, the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee wipes the dust from our eyes, revealing the forgotten but indelible marks left by the female adventurers and pioneers of the region.

3. The Women Who Wrote the War

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Skyhorse)

By Nancy Caldwell Sorel

Take a trip back to the Second World War, and discover the astonishing tales of its courageous female correspondents. One-hundred writers are covered in The Women Who Wrote the War, and author Nancy Caldwell Sorel draws multi-dimensional portraits of familiar faces—reporter Martha Gellhorn, for example—but never overlooks the accomplishments of more under-the-radar heroines. It’s a comprehensive and inspiring chronicle of the fiercely independent ladies who were soldiers armed with mighty pens.

Related: 6 women just earned the Expert Infantryman Badge

4. To Believe in Women

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(HMH)

By Lillian Faderman Professor

Female trailblazers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony were “women who lived in committed relationships with other women”—and, according to Lillian Faderman, were likely lesbians. In her book, Faderman argues that it was these women who, bolstered by the unique power of their sexual orientation, were able to instigate the social and feminist movements of the past two centuries. Featuring the recovered, eye-opening correspondence of Faderman’s subjects, To Believe in Women is an unmissable tribute to the lesbians who changed America.

5. The Peabody Sisters

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(HMH)

By Megan Marshall

While we’re all familiar with the Brontë brood, there’s another trio of sisters worth your attention: the Peabodys. Elizabeth, the eldest, matriculated in the same social circles as Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and ultimately sparked the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century. Mary, next in line, was a notable writer and the wife of Horace Mann, a major player in U.S. educational reform. Meanwhile the youngest, Sophia, found fame as a painter and a husband in author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each Peabody woman comes alive in Megan Marshall’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, which is at once a three-part biography as well as an overall study of a remarkable sisterhood.

6. Once Upon a Pedestal

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Open Road Media)

By Emily Hahn

If you don’t know the name “Emily Hahn,” it’s high-time you do. As a young woman, Hahn briefly left the arts to pursue an education in engineering. After becoming her university program’s first female graduate, Hahn traveled America disguised as a man, established herself as a writer, hiked across Central Africa, and taught English in Shanghai. Once Upon a Pedestal is Hahn’s account of these extraordinary adventures which, though not widely known, informed her novels and reshaped our perception of Asia and Africa.

7. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Originally published in 1973, this feminist classic examines the complex relationship between women and the medicine. Of particular focus is the infamous persecution of “witches”—or, rather, the demonization of women healers—by male doctors wanting to maintain absolute control over the field. Thus, Ehrenreich’s book not only provides a fascinating history of female oppression in the medical community, but also sheds light on how these practices continue to effect the modern-day healthcare system.

More: The 9 best nonfiction history audiobooks you can get right now

8. When and Where I Enter

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(HarperCollins)

By Paula J. Giddings

When and Where I Enter explores black women’s contribution to the creation and evolution of present-day America—and boy, is it a large one. From activist Ida B. Wells to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, these women instigated major social and political reform by bucking against the racism and sexism of their time. Giddings’ discussion of “white feminism” also feels especially prevalent today.

9. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Princeton University Press)

By Adrienne Mayor

Amazons have recently come into mainstream consciousness thanks to the blockbuster film, Wonder Woman — but did the likes of Hippolyta and Antiope exist outside of Greek mythology? Adrienne Mayor’s book offers a resounding “yes.” Through an analysis of archaeological findings, cultural traditions, and ancient myths, Mayor highlights how real-life warrior women from Egypt, India, and more inspired your favorite Amazonian war and love stories.

10. The Woman’s Hour

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
(Penguin Publishing Group)

By Elaine Weiss

It’s 1920, and all of America is waiting to see if women will finally be granted the right to vote—a decision that lies in the hands of swing-state Tennessee. But the country is divided: The suffragettes stand on one side while their enemy is a smattering of big-wig politicians and fearful moralists. Elaine Weiss studies this landmark moment in The Woman’s Hour, following a diverse group of women as they fight for their freedom and change the course of American history.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Bellingcat IDs poisoning suspect as Russian intel officer

One of the men accused of poisoning a former Russian spy in England has been identified as a high-ranking member of Russia’s intelligence service.

The UK in early September 2018 accused two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, of attempting to assassinate Sergei Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury in March 2018. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the names were most likely aliases.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has long denied having any knowledge of the attack, initially claimed that the two men’s names “mean nothing to us,” then said that they were civilians.


Petrov and Boshirov also appeared on Russian TV to say they were visiting Salisbury as tourists.

But according to an article by the investigative-journalism site Bellingcat, Boshirov is actually Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated officer with the GRU, Russia’s intelligence service.

Chepiga, 39, had been assigned the alter ego of Boshirov by 2010, Bellingcat said. This was the name used in his passport when he traveled to the UK in early 2018.

Bellingcat said it confirmed Chepiga’s identity after speaking to multiple sources familiar with Chepiga or the investigation.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant also cited Chepiga’s acquaintances in his home village, Berezovka, saying of Bellingcat’s findings, “That’s him … 100% of it.”

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Ruslan Boshirov, one of the men accused of poisoning the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

According to Bellingcat, throughout his career, Chepiga had been given multiple rewards for his services, including the title of Hero of the Russian Federation — the highest award in the state, typically given by the president to a handful of people in a secret ceremony, according to the BBC.

The award was confirmed by Chepiga’s military school, the Far Eastern Higher Military Command School.

It suggests Putin was aware of Chepiga’s identity, which would seem to disprove the Russian president’s claim that he didn’t know who Boshirov and Petrov were.

Bellingcat’s findings also cast doubt on Russia’s claims that Boshirov and Petrov were civilians and that the government had no knowledge of the Skripal attack.

The findings are also in line with the British government’s claim, citing security and intelligence agencies’ investigations, that Boshirov and Petrov were officers from Russia’s intelligence services.

May has also said that authorization for the attack “almost certainly” came from senior members of the Russian government.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, called Bellingcat’s findings “a new portion of fake news.”

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Surveillance footage of Alexander Petrov and Boshirov in Salisbury, England, on the day Skripal collapsed.

Zakharova said on Facebook, according to a translation by Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency, “There is no evidence, so they” — the UK — “continue the information campaign, the main task of which is to divert attention from the main question: ‘What happened in Salisbury?'”

The UK has issued international arrest warrants for the two men, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed in a statement to Business Insider. However, Russia does not extradite its nationals.

Gavin Williamson, the UK’s defense secretary, appeared to confirm Bellingcat’s findings in a tweet on Sept. 26, 2018 that he appears to have later deleted.

“The true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel,” he wrote. “I want to thank all the people who are working so tirelessly on this case.”

A spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defense told Business Insider that Williamson’s tweet, which was posted on his constituency’s account, was unrelated to his role as defense secretary. Williamson’s constituency office did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The British Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Defense, Foreign Office, and Metropolitan Police all declined to comment on Bellingcat’s findings.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is how GPS actually works – and why some devices might stop working

Developed over the course of decades, GPS has become far more ubiquitous than most people realize. Not just for navigation, its extreme accuracy in time keeping (+/- 10 billionths of a second) has been used by countless businesses the world over for everything from aiding in power grid management to helping manage stock market and other banking transactions. The GPS system essentially allows for companies to have near atomic clock level precision in their systems, including easy time synchronization across the globe, without actually needing to have an atomic clock or come up with their own systems for global synchronization. The problem is that, owing to a quirk of the original specifications, on April 6, 2019 many GPS receivers are about to stop working correctly unless the firmware for them is updated promptly. So what’s going on here, how exactly does the GPS system work, and who first got the idea for such a system?


On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. As you might imagine, this tiny satellite, along with subsequent satellites in the line, were closely monitored by scientists the world over. Most pertinent to the topic at hand today were two physicists at Johns Hopkins University named William Guier and George Weiffenbach.

As they studied the orbits and signals coming from the Sputnik satellites the pair realized that, thanks to how fast the satellites were going and the nature of their broadcasts, they could use the Doppler shift of the signal to very accurately determine the satellite’s position.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

A replica of Sputnik 1.

(NASA)

Not long after, one Frank McClure, also of Johns Hopkins University, asked the pair to study whether it would be possible to do this the other way around. They soon found that, indeed, using the satellite’s known orbit and studying the signal from it as it moved, the observer on the ground could in a relatively short time span determine their own location.

This got the wheels turning.

Various systems were proposed and, in some cases, developed. Most notable to the eventual evolution of GPS was the Navy’s Navigation Satellite System (also known as the Navy Transit Program), which was up and running fully by 1964. This system could, in theory, tell a submarine or ship crew where they were within about 25 meters, though location could only be updated about once per hour and took about 10-15 minutes to acquire. Further, if the ship was moving, the precision would be off by about one nautical mile per 5 knots of speed.

Another critical system to the ultimate development of GPS was known as Timation, which initially used quartz clocks synchronized on the ground and on the satellites as a key component of how the system determined where the ground observer was located. However, with such relatively imprecise clocks, the first tests resulted in an accuracy of only about 0.3 nautical miles and took about 15 minutes of receiving data to nail down that location. Subsequent advancements in Timation improved things, even testing using an atomic clock for increased accuracy. But Timation was about to go the way of the Dodo.

By the early 1970s, the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging (Navstar, eventually Navstar-GPS) was proposed, essentially combining elements from systems like Transit, Timation, and a few other similar systems in an attempt to make a better system from what was learned in those projects.

Fast-forward to 1983 and while the U.S. didn’t yet have a fully operational GPS system, the first prototype satellites were up and the system was being slowly tested and implemented. It was at this point that Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which originally departed from New York, refueled and took off from Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, South Korea.

What does this have to do with ubiquitous GPS as we know it today?

On its way, the pilots had an unnoticed autopilot issue, resulting in them unknowingly straying into Soviet airspace.

Convinced the passenger plane was actually a spy plane, the Soviets launched Su-15 jets to intercept the (apparently) most poorly crafted spy plane in history — the old “It’s so overt, it’s covert” approach to spying.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor.

Warning shots were fired, though the pilot who did it stated in a later interview, “I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armor piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It’s doubtful whether anyone could see them.”

Not long after, the pilots of Korean Air 007 called Tokyo Area Control Center, requesting to climb to Flight Level 350 (35,000 feet) from Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet). This resulted in the aircraft slowing below the speed the tracking high speed interceptors normally operated at, and thus, them blowing right by the plane. This was interpreted as an evasive maneuver, even though it was actually just done for fuel economy reasons.

A heated debate among the Soviet brass ensued over whether more time should be taken to identify the plane in case it was simply a passenger airliner as it appeared. But as it was about to fly into international waters, and may in fact already have been at that point, the decision was made to shoot first and ask questions later.

The attacking pilot described what happened next:

“Destroy the target…!” That was easy to say. But how? With shells? I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about two thousand metres… afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on.

Two missiles were fired and exploded near the Boeing plane causing significant damage, though in a testament to how safe commercial airplanes typically are, the pilots were able to regain control over the aircraft, even for a time able to maintain level and stable flight. However, they eventually found themselves in a slow spiral which ended in a crash killing all 269 aboard.

As a direct result of this tragedy, President Ronald Reagan announced on Sept. 16, 1983, that the GPS system that had previously been intended for U.S. military use only would now be made available for everyone to use, with the initial idea being the numerous safety benefits such a system would have in civil aviation over using then available navigation tools.

This brings us to how exactly the GPS system works in the first place. Amazingly complex on some levels, the actual nuts and bolts of the system are relatively straightforward to understand.

To begin with, consider what happens if you’re standing in an unknown location and you ask someone where you are. They reply simply — “You are 212 miles from Seattle, Washington.”

You now can draw a circle on a map with radius 212 miles from Seattle. Assuming the person giving you that information is correct, you know you’re somewhere along that circular line.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Not super helpful at this point by itself, you then ask someone else, and they say, “You are 150 miles from Vancouver BC.” Now you’re getting somewhere. When you draw that circle on the map, you’ll see it intersects at two points. You are standing on one of those two points. Noticing that you are not, in fact, floating in the ocean, you could at this point deduce which point you are on, but work with us here people.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Instead of making such an assumption, you decide your senses are never to be trusted and, after all, Jesus stood on water, so why not you? Thus, you ask a third person — they say, “You are 500 miles from Boise, Idaho.” That circle drawn, you now know exactly where you are in two dimensional space. Near Kamloops, Canada, as it turns out.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

This is more or less what’s happening with GPS, except in the case of GPS you need to think in terms of 3D spheres instead of 2D circles. Further, how the system tells you your exact distance from a reference point, in this case each of the satellites, is via transmitting the satellites’ exact locations in orbit and a timestamp of the exact time when said transmission was sent. This time is synchronized across the various satellites in the GPS constellation.

The receiver then subtracts the current known time upon receiving the data from that transmission time to determine the time it took for that signal to be transmitted from the satellites to its location.

Combining that with the known satellite locations and the known speed of light with which the radio signal was propagated, it can then crunch the numbers to determine with remarkable accuracy its location, with margins of error owing to things like the ionosphere interfering with the propagation of the signal, and various other real world factors such as this potentially throwing things off a little.

Even with these potential issues, however, the latest generation of the GPS system can, in theory, pinpoint your location within about a foot or about 30 centimeters.

You may have spotted a problem here, however. While the GPS satellites are using extremely precise and synchronized atomic clocks, the GPS system in your car, for example, has no such synchronized atomic clock. So how does it accurately determine how long it took for the signal to get from the satellite to itself?

It simply uses at least four, instead of three, satellites, giving it the extra data point it needs to solve the necessary equations to get the appropriate missing time variable. In a nutshell, there is only one point in time that will match the edge of all four spheres intersecting in one point in space on Earth. Thus, once the variables are solved for, the receiver can adjust its own time keeping appropriately to be almost perfectly synchronized, at least momentarily, with the much more precise GPS atomic clocks. In some sense, this makes GPS something of a 4D system, in that, with it, you can know your precise point in not only space, but time.

By continually updating its own internal clock in this way, the receiver on the ground ends up being nearly as accurate as an atomic clock and is a time keeping device that is then almost perfectly synchronized with other such receivers across the globe, all for almost no cost at all to the end users because the U.S. government is footing the bill for all the expensive bits of the system and maintaining it.

Speaking of that maintanence, another problem you may have spotted is that various factors can, and do, continually move the GPS satellites off their original orbits. So how is this accounted for?

Tracking stations on Earth continually monitor the exact orbits of the various GPS satellites, with this information, along with any needed time corrections to account for things like Relatively, frequently updated in the GPS almanac and ephemeris. These two data sets are used for holding satellite status and positional information and are regularly broadcast to receivers, which is how said receivers know exact positions of the satellites in the first place.

The satellites themselves can also have their orbits adjusted if necessary, with this process simply being to mark the satellite as “unhealthy” so receivers will ignore it, then move it to its new position, track that orbit, and once that is accurately known, update the almanac and ephemeris and mark the satellite as “healthy” again.

So that’s more or less how GPS came to be and how it works at a high level. What about the part where we said many GPS devices may potentially stop working very soon if not updated?

Near the turn of the century something happened that had never happened before in the GPS world — dubbed a “dress rehearsal for the Y2K bug”. You see, as a part of the time stamp sent by the GPS satellites, there is something known as the Week Number — literally just the number of weeks that have passed since an epoch, originally set to Jan. 6, 1980. Along with this Week Number the number of seconds since midnight on the previous Saturday evening is sent, thus allowing the GPS receiver to calculate the exact date.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Artist’s conception of GPS Block II-F satellite in Earth orbit.

So what’s the problem with this? It turns out every 1024 weeks (about every 19 years and 8 months) from the epoch, the number rolls back to 0 owing to this integer information being in 10 bit format.

Thus, when this happens, any GPS receiver that doesn’t account for the Week Number Rollover, will likely stop functioning correctly, though the nature of the malfunction varies from vendor to vendor and device, depending on how said vendor implemented their system.

For some, the bug might manifest as a simple benign date reporting error. For others, such a date reporting error might mean everything from incorrect positioning to even a full system crash.

If you’ve done the math, you’ve probably deduced that this issue first popped up in August of 1999, only about four years after the GPS system itself was fully operational.

At this point, of course, GPS wasn’t something that was so ubiquitously depended on as it is today, with only 10-15 million GPS receivers in use worldwide in 1999 according to a 1999 report by the the United States Department of Commerce’s Office of Telecommunications. Today, of course, that number is in the billions of devices.

Thankfully, when the next Week Number Rollover event happens on April 6, 2019, it would seem most companies that rely on GPS for critical systems, like airlines, banking institutions, cell networks, power grids, etc., have already taken the necessary steps to account for the problem.

The more realistic problems with this second Week Number Rollover event will probably mostly occur at the consumer level, as most people simply are not aware of the issue at all.

Thankfully, if you’ve updated your firmware on your GPS device recently or simply own a GPS device purchased in the last few years, you’re probably going to be fine here.

However, should you own a GPS device that is several years old, that may not be the case and you’ll most definitely want to go to the manufacturer’s website and download any relevant updates before the second GPS epoch.

That public service announcement out of the way, if you’re now wondering why somebody doesn’t just change the specification altogether to stop using a 10 bit Week Number, well, you’re not the first to think of this. Under the latest GPS interface specifications, a 13 bit Week Number is now used, meaning in newer devices that support this, the issue won’t come up again for about a century and a half. As the machines are bound to rise up and enslave humanity long before that occurs, that’s really their issue to solve at that point.

Bonus Facts:

  • Ever notice that your cell phone tends to lock on to your GPS position extremely quickly, even after having been powered off for a long time? How does it do this when other GPS devices must wait to potentially receive a fresh copy of the almanac and ephemeris? It turns out cell phones tend to use something called Assisted GPS, where rather than wait to receive that data from the currently orbiting GPS satellites, they will instead get it from a central server somewhere. The phone may also simply use its position in the cell phone network (using signals from towers around) to get an approximate location to start while it waits to acquire the signal from the GPS satellites, partially masking further delay there. Of course, assisted GPS doesn’t work if you don’t have a cell signal, and if you try to use your GPS on your phone in such a scenario you’ll find that if you turn off the GPS for a while and then later turn it back on, it will take a while to acquire a signal like any other GPS device.
  • Starting just before the first Gulf War, the military degraded the GPS signal for civilian use in order to keep the full accuracy of the system as a U.S. military advantage. However, in May of 2000, this policy was reversed by President Bill Clinton and civilian GPS got approximately ten times more accurate basically overnight.
  • The military also created the ability to selectively stop others from using GPS at all, as India discovered thanks to the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. During the conflict, the U.S. blocked access to the GPS system from India owing to, at the time, better longstanding relations between the U.S. and Pakistan than the U.S. had with India. Thus, the U.S. didn’t want to seem like it was helping India in the war.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Articles

This is how the U2 spy plane is taking the fight to the enemy

Nicknamed the “Dragon Lady” and developed by Lockheed Martin, the U-2 spy plane was made famous in the 1960s when one was shot down conducting a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union.


Today, the surveillance jet continues its duty as it searches for threats in Afghanistan. Once the pilot detects a potential hazard to coalition forces, it locks onto the attacker’s location and sends the signal 7,000 miles away to Beale Air Force Base in California. Once the base receives the incoming traffic, the surveillance analysts decode the information and track the enemy movement.

As the analysts locate the threat, the surveillance team quickly intervenes and relays the vital information down to ground troops. With the highly sophisticated onboard radio system, the U-2 spy plane can then assist in choreographing with nearby fighter jets to initiate a strike tactic on enemy forces below before they manage to assault allied forces.

With its incredible versatility, the spy plane can conduct its mission from an altitude of 70,000 feet.

Related: Here is the spectacular view from a U2 spy plane

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness how the U-2 Dragon Lady fights the enemy from high above the clouds.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

Also Read: Here is how Russia could shoot down a North Korean missile

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs drank from a fountain in France

Civilians and members of other military branches might have been surprised to see Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drinking from a fountain during World War I commemoration ceremonies in France. Well, it wasn’t just a case of Marines being Marines at any rank — that fountain is a part one of the Corps’ most time-honored traditions.


Veterans Day 2018 was the centennial anniversary of the end of World War I. The day before it was the Marine Corps’ 243rd birthday, that’s when Dunford and retired-Marine-turned-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly walked the grounds of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where nearly 3,000 U.S. troops are buried – many of those interred there are Marines killed at the WWI Battle of Belleau Wood.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

You might have heard of it — the Germans sure did.

Marine Corps lore says the brutal fighting against the Germans at Belleau Wood is where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs” from the German enemy, who sent wave after wave of infantry attacks into the dense wood in an attempt to take it from the U.S. Marines, to no avail, of course.

German high command, flush with a full 50 fresh divisions from the east after the capitulation of the Soviet Union, planned to overwhelm the Entente powers on the Western Front. They wanted to end the war before the United States could bring the full power of its men and materiel to bear. By May, 1918, it was too late. The Germans were facing American units in combat already. By June, 1918, five German infantry divisions faced off against the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade and the Marines’ 4th Marine Brigade.

The Marines stopped the German advance and forced them back into the Woods. To follow them meant facing thousands of entrenched and hidden veteran German troops. The battle lasted a full month and was defined by bloody slaughter, using everything from poison gas to hand-to-hand combat and featured some of the Corps most legendary names, like Capt. Lloyd Williams, Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daley, and future Commandant of the Marine Corps, John Lejeune.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Lance Cpl. Seth H. Capps, a member of the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, drinks out of Devil Dog Fountain following the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood May 30, 2010.

(Photo By Cpl. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

As one might imagine, winning a battle that couldn’t be won against all odds is going to be remembered as one of the most heroic feats in Marine Corps history. France later renamed the forest Bois de la Brigade de Marine and, according to lore, the name the Germans gave the Marines – Teufel Hunden or “Devil Dogs” – is how bulldogs became the Corps mascot.

For Marines, a visit to the battlefield and the cemetery is a pilgrimage, a rite of passage. This trip includes a visit to the nearby village of Belleau and its bulldog fountain, continuously spitting water from its mouth. Marines like Dunford and Gen. Robert Neller all the way down to the lowest Lance Corporal will drink from the fountain to remember the Battle of Belleau Wood and the Marines who never left.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, gets water from the Devil Dog fountain after the American Memorial Day ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery, Belleau Wood, France, May 29, 2016. Each Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Marines, French service members, family members, and locals gather to honor the memory of the Marines killed during the battle of Belleau Wood.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia)

Articles

Army Legend Hal Moore Dies at 94

Legendary retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame died Feb. 10. The commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Ia Drang was days short of his 95th birthday.


The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

According to a report by the Opelika-Auburn Tribune, Lt. Gen. Moore had suffered a stroke on the evening of Feb. 9 and was “hanging tough,” according to a family member.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
Then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley in Vietnam. Plumley died in 2012.

Moore gained immortality from the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” co-written with reporter Joe Galloway, about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The book was used as the basis for the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers,” in which Academy Award-winning actor Mel Gibson portrayed Moore.

Moore served 32 years in the Army after graduating from West Point, and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross and four Bronze Stars.

According to an official after-action report, the three-day battle left 79 Americans killed in action, and another 121 wounded. None were left behind or missing after the battle. American forces killed 634 enemy troops, and wounded at least 1,200.

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British
Soldiers of the U.S. Amry 1/7th Cavalry disembark from a Bell UH-1D Huey at LZ X-Ray during the battle of Ia Drang. (US Army photo)

While preparing to film the epic movie — which made over $78 million at the United States box office, according to Box Office Mojo — Gibson would develop a deep friendship with Moore. This past summer, while headlines noted that Gibson and Vince Vaughn had eaten at Hamilton’s, an Auburn-area restaurant, what hadn’t been known then was that Moore’s family had recommended the eatery to the A-list superstars.

Below, here are some of the more iconic moments from “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Hal Moore.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force finally has plans to test a laser weapon on its AC-130J gunship

For the last five years, Air Force Special Operations Command has been working toward incorporating a high-energy laser weapon on its newest AC-130J gunship. It now plans to test-fire a 60-kilowatt laser in 2022, according to a program officer affiliated with the program.

“If it is successful — and we are planning for success — then it will feed into our new requirements and potentially a new program down the road,” said Air Force Col. Melissa Johnson, program executive officer for fixed-wing programs at Special Operations Command. She spoke during last week’s Virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.


“If this goes forward past the demo … we’ll have an additional [research, development, test and evaluation] program going forward,” Johnson said, as reported by NDIA‘s National Defense Magazine.

Johnson explained that previous tests have largely been ground-based and done in conjunction with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia. The next, scheduled for fiscal 2022, will be onboard the AC-130 aircraft, she said.

The J-model aircraft achieved initial operational capability in September 2017.

The fourth-generation AC-130 is slated to replace the AC-130H/U/W models, with delivery of the final J-variant sometime in 2021, according to the Air Force.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, received its first J-model with the Block 30 software upgrade in March 2019.

Along with the 105mm cannon sported by its cousin, the AC-130U model, the AC-130J is equipped with a 30mm cannon “almost like a sniper rifle. … It’s that precise; it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill,” Col. Tom Palenske, then-commander of 1st SOW, told Military.com during a trip to Hurlburt in 2018.

Palenske said that a laser would be the ultimate ace in the hole, making disabling other weapons systems easier.

“If you’re flying along and your mission is to disable an airplane or a car, like when we took down Noriega back in the day, now, as opposed to sending a Navy SEAL team to go disable [aircraft] on the ground, you make a pass over that thing with an airborne laser and burn a hole through its engine,” he said.

Palenske was referring to 1989’s Operation Nifty Package mission to capture and remove Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega from power, during which a SEAL team “disable[d] his aircraft so he couldn’t escape.”

With a laser, “it’s just like that. And you just keep going on, and there’s no noise, no fuss, nobody knows it happened. They don’t know the thing’s broken until they go and try to fire it up,” he said at the time.

AFSOC had hoped to incorporate the laser onto the aircraft this year. Johnson said gaps in funding, not technological maturity, were behind the delay.

“After several years of seeking stable funding, we are there,” she said.

Then-AFSOC commander Gen. Brad Webb made a similar remark in 2018.

“The challenge on having the laser is funding,” Webb said during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium that year. “And then, of course, you have the end-all, be-all laser questions: ‘Are you going to be able to focus a beam, with the appropriate amount of energy for the appropriate amount of time for an effect?’

“We can hypothesize about that all we want. My petition is, ‘Let’s get it on the plane. Let’s do it. Let’s say we can — or we can’t,” Webb said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch this awesome video of the world’s largest airplane take off

The Antonov An-225 Mriya (“Dream” in Ukrainian language) is the world’s largest airplane. Designed at the end of Cold War, its main purpose was to carry the Soviet “Buran” space shuttle and parts of the “Energia” rocket. Currently, the sole existing example (UR-82060) is used commercially, as an international cargo transporter.


Mriya is not the largest aircraft ever built: this title belongs to the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose hydroplane, that made only a single flight.

The An-225 is performing a series of flights to deliver boilers for thermal power plant of Bolivia from Iquique, Chile, to Chimore, Bolivia. In each flight Mriya carries the cargo weighing up to 160 tons. This video shows a take off from Chimore.

Enjoy!

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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