The U.S. Navy Research team published a video on Wednesday showing off the capabilities of its new “Laser Weapon System” or LaWS, and it’s terrifying. It shoots a 30 kilowatt blast within 2 nanometers of its target according to Defense One.
Simply put, it’s an oversized laser pointer on steroids.
The video starts with a time lapse of the weapon aboard a Navy ship while a boat appears over the horizon. It quickly cuts to an operator housed somewhere within the vessel. He’s standing in front of several screens holding what looks like a glorified X-Box controller. A blast is fired but there’s no bang, no smoke, no projectile, and no tracer, all you see is an explosion.
The video switches to a camera aboard the approaching boat for a close-up of the target. It’s a small stack of shells next to a cut-out of a human. The stack is precisely destroyed without damaging the wooden dummy.
Maybe I’ve seen too many comic book movies, but this is like X-Men’s Cyclops with an invisible laser beam.
Defense One reported that this is the Navy’s answer to drone attacks. Drones are becoming cheaper and more accessible, we’ve had them for years, but now American adversaries have begun to roll out their own versions. The LaWS will hopefully help the Navy keep drones at bay.
According to the Office of Naval Research, this isn’t the final version of the weapon. A more powerful 150-kilowatt version is scheduled for testing in 2016.
Most people are familiar with the basics: Slap together enough uranium or plutonium and — kaboom! — you have a nuclear blast. But the details of how these complex devices are made, delivered, and controlled can make the difference between keeping the peace and sparking a cataclysm.
It doesn’t help that there’s more than 60 years’ worth of convoluted terminology surrounding the complex policies and politics of nuclear weapons. There are words like isotopes, tritium, and yellowcake; abbreviations such as HEU, LEU, SSBN, and CVID; and the subtle yet striking difference between uranium-235 and uranium-238.
As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resumes talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, we’ve defined some of the most important (and misunderstood) words, phrases, and acronyms here.
That effort could take years to pan out, and it’s guaranteed to get very, very complicated.
A mockup of the Fat Man nuclear device.
(U.S. Department of Defense photo)
1. Nuclear weapon
A conventional explosive device rapidly burns up a chemical to cause a blast. A nuclear weapon, meanwhile — such as a bomb or warhead — splits atoms to release thousands of times more energy.
Yet the term “nuclear weapon” can also refer to a vehicle that’s able to deliver a nuclear attack, such as missiles, fighter jets, stealth bombers, and truck-like mobile launchers. (If flying dinosaurs were alive today and trained to drop nuclear bombs, the creatures may be considered nuclear weapons.)
During weapons inspections like the ones between the US and Russia, nuclear warheads are actually concealed with a piece of cloth; it’s the vehicles, missiles, and launch or bombing bays that are the focus. Without them, a warhead can’t get anywhere quickly.
A Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, launching from North Korea.
Technically speaking, an ICBM is any missile capable of delivering a warhead from more than 3,415 miles away. The missile silos in the US in which they’re stored are sprinkled around the country, with most stationed in middle America.
Fallout describes the dangerous leftovers of a nuclear weapon: a cloud of dust, dirt, sand, pebbles, and bits of debris that an explosion has irradiated.
Bombs or warheads detonated near the ground vastly increase the amount of fallout by sucking up soil and debris, irradiating it, and spreading it for dozens if not hundreds of miles. Very fine particles can circle the globe and be detected by special airplanes.
Part of CNO cycle diagram, made just to be illustrative for nuclear reactions in general.
Each element on the Periodic Table has a unique chemical identity but can have different weights, or isotopes.
For example, hydrogen is the smallest atom and is usually made of just one positively-charged proton in its nucleus, or core. Its shorthand name, H-1, specifies its atomic weight. If a chargeless neutron gets added, you get the isotope deuterium, or H-2. Add two neutrons and you have the isotope tritium, or H-3.
All three forms of hydrogen have nearly identical chemistry and can, say, bond with oxygen to form water. But their nuclear properties differ significantly: deuterium and tritium can fuel thermonuclear explosions because their extra neutrons can encourage helium atoms (which have two protons) to fuse together far more easily than H-1 alone.
5. Uranium — including U-238, U-235, and U-233
Uranium is a dense element and a key ingredient in nuclear weapons production. It occurs naturally in ores and minerals and has a few important isotopes.
U-238 makes up about 99.27% of natural uranium and is inert. Less than 1% of the uranium in ore is U-235 — the “active ingredient” that can be used for nuclear reactor fuel or bombs.
U-235 is special because it becomes very unstable when it catches a flying neutron. This capture causes it to split (known as fission), release a huge amount of energy, and shoot out more neutrons. Those neutrons can then split other atoms of U-235 in a chain reaction.
Although plutonium (which we’ll describe in a moment) is now the favored bomb-making material, U-235 was used in the Little Boy bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
U-233 is another isotope that’s weapons-ready, but it’s only made inside special reactors that no longer exist (for now).
6. Plutonium, including Pu-238, Pu-239, and Pu-240
Plutonium is a metallic element that doesn’t occur in nature, and it most often refers to the isotope Pu-239: the go-to material for modern nuclear weapons.
Only nuclear reactors can make Pu-239. They do so by irradiating U-238 with neutrons. The plutonium can then be separated from the uranium, concentrated, and formed into weapons pits — the cores of nuclear weapons.
Pu-239 can more easily trigger a nuclear explosion than uranium, and with less material; as little as about 10 lbs can be enough.
Plutonium-240 is an unwanted and pretty radioactive byproduct of making Pu-239. It can make bombs prematurely explode and fizzle because it’s fairly radioactive. Pu-238 is a byproduct of Cold War weapons production that generates a lot of warmth and powers NASA’s most adventurous robots in the cold, dark depths of space.
7. Yellowcake uranium
Yellowcake is a powder of uranium oxide that’s made by leaching uranium from natural ores and chemically treating it. Despite its name, it’s most often brown or black in color.
The powder is a concentrated form of natural uranium — about 99.72% U-238 and 0.72% U-235. It’s an important commodity because it can be stockpiled and later processed to extract and enrich U-235.
The U-235 and U-238 isotopes are chemically identical and nearly the same weight — so they’re very hard to separate. However, one of the easiest ways to separate uranium is a centrifuge.
The process starts with converting yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF 6), then heating the compound into a gas. The gas then enters a centrifuge: a tall, hollow tube that spins faster than the speed of sound. The rotation pulls heavier U-238 toward the centrifuge’s outer wall while leaving more U-235 near the middle.
Cascades of centrifuges — one linked to another in long chains — further separate and concentrate each isotope. U-235-rich gas moves through an “upstream” line of centrifuges, growing until a desired level of concentration is reached. Meanwhile, U-238 moves “downstream” until it’s mostly depleted of U-235.
9. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) and low-enriched uranium (LEU)
Highly enriched uranium is any amount of uranium with 20% or more U-235 — the kind that can spur a nuclear detonation.
HEU with a concentration of 85% or more U-235 is considered “weapons-grade,” since that is enough to cause a large and efficient nuclear explosion. But it’s rarely used anymore: It most often goes into special reactors that power naval ships and submarines, can make plutonium, or create medically important isotopes (such as molybdenum-99, which can help diagnose certain heart diseases and cancers).
10. Lithium deuteride (sometimes called lithium hydride)
Lithium deuteride is a whitish salt made of one lithium atom and one deuterium atom (hydrogen-2).
It’s a key ingredient in thermonuclear weapons, also called hydrogen bombs — the most powerful type of nuclear arms. (Russia’s Tzar Bomba thermonuclear weapon, detonated in 1961, was about 3,300 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb in 1945.)
A thermonuclear weapon is actually two bombs in one. Energy from the first explosion is absorbed by and “ignites” the lithium deuteride, leading to fusion — where two atoms combine — and creating a plasma many times hotter than the sun.
The process also creates a lot of neutrons. These bullet-like particles can then ram into and split a lot of nearby U-238 in the bomb, vastly multiplying the weapon’s destructive energy.
A UGM-96 Trident I clears the water after launch from a US Navy submarine in 1984
11. Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)
An SLBM is a nuclear-tipped rocket that shoots out of launch tubes in an underwater attack submarine.
Unlike most land-based missiles, SLBMs are mobile and very difficult to track. Some models can fly nearly 7,500 miles, which is about 30% of Earth’s circumference. That’s plenty of range to strike any inland target from a coast.
12. Ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN or SSB)
Attack submarines that can launch ballistic missiles are known as SSBs or SSBNs. The “SS” stands for “submersible ship,” the “B” for ballistic” (as in ballistic missile), and the “N,” if present, means “nuclear” (as in powered by a nuclear reactor).
These vessels can stay underwater for 90 days and carry more than a dozen nuclear-warhead-tipped SLBMs — each of which can strike targets thousands of miles inland.
13. Complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)
CVID is the strategy that was pursued in disarming Libya of its nuclear weapons. The Trump administration pursued it in initial talks with Kim Jong Un and North Korea.
The approach allows inspectors into a country to count weapons, witness their destruction, disable nuclear reactors, prevent the development of missiles, and perform other watchdog work.
Weapons experts think North Korea will reject CVID, mostly because it’d bar the use of nuclear reactors to produce energy and rule out the development of rockets, which can launch satellites and people into space.
Experts also point out that the strategy has a nasty historical precedent: Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi followed through on a US-led CVID program but ultimately ended up dead in the streets.
Deterrence is the idea that if countries have nuclear weapons, the threat of an overwhelming retaliation in response to an attack will keep the peace.
In 1995, a few years after the Cold War ended, Reagan-era government officials wrote:
“Deterrence must create fear in the mind of the adversary — fear that he will not achieve his objectives, fear that his losses and pain will far outweigh any potential gains, fear that he will be punished. It should ultimately create the fear of extinction — extinction of either the adversary’s leaders themselves or their national independence, or both. Yet, there must always appear to be a ‘door to salvation’ open to them should they reverse course.”
Some nuclear weapons experts worry that deterrence will only keep the peace for so long. They also think belief in deterrence encourages the development and spread of nuclear weapons— so if and when nuclear conflict does break out, the catastrophe will be much worse.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Current servicemembers and veterans are some of the most remarkable individuals representing the best of our country.
The beauty of the people who serve in the military is that they hail from all across the nation, have diverse backgrounds and interesting stories about their time in service. Many of these individuals are not just warriors, but they are also storytellers.
For many military members, writing is a powerful tool. This generation’s men and women in uniform have a lot to share and writing about their service gives them the ability to discuss many subjects, display their knowledge and express ideas on current military affairs and strategies that can spark a dialogue.
Writing allows a space for people to illustrate unique perspectives and opinions on topics such as leadership, military books and history, movies and of course personal “war stories.”
Whether you are a young service member who just enlisted or a retired veteran, here are seven websites or blogs that you should definitely bookmark and follow on social media.
1. Angry Staff Officer
Writing under the persona “Angry Staff Officer,” the site’s author focuses on several topics in his blog. From historical events and foreign policy to personal experiences and an examination of current Army doctrine, Angry Staff Officer’s writing is both fun and snarky — but ultimately insightful. Along with running his own site, Angry Staff Officer serves as a contributor to several other outlets, sharing his unique view on several themes. Visit his site and you’ll get a good look at what he’s all about, but his sense of humor really shines on Twitter, so make sure to follow him @pptsapper.
2. Bourbon and Battles
If you are looking for a site that offers lessons on life, current military affairs, history and of course reviews on great bourbon, then Bourbon and Battles is for you. Hosted by U.S. Army officer Johnathon Parker, Bourbon and Battles offers readers firsthand advice on writing, his life as a graduate student, military leadership, and offers new writers a platform to have their work featured. This site is perfect for new military writers to build their prosaic chops. You can also follow Bourbon Battles on Twitter @BourbonBattles and on Facebook.
3. From the Green Notebook
The ubiquitous military green notebook has become the stuff of legend. For Army Maj. Joe Byerly, it is also a source of inspiration for his personal blog called From the Green Notebook. The site serves as a means for the combat arms officer to share his perspective about his time in service and as a way to help develop young military leaders in the digital age. The author dives into a variety of topics such as history, military leadership, and professional development that gives military personnel sound advice on how to to make it in the service. You can also follow him on Twitter @jbyerly81.
4. The Military Leader
Hosted by an Army Infantry officer, The Military Leader is a website that offers resources for both military and civilians to guide their development as leaders and help grow their organizations. From simple articles about helpful tips to help start conversations with subordinates to complex topics such as toxic leadership, the page offers great insight for people of all levels. Be sure to also follow the Military Leader on Twitter @mil_LEADER and on Facebook.
5. Military Writers Guild
A collective of writers lend their years of experience and expertise as a means to share ideas and start a dialogue. The purpose of the Military Writers Guild is to “advocate, collaborate and promote” the current crop of military thinkers. The site features writing and podcasts from brilliant military minds. The individuals who are a part of the Military Writers Guild are so smart, in high school they probably sat at the nerd table in the cafeteria. All kidding aside, this is a fantastic group of people writing about the national security space. You can also follow them on Twitter @MilWritersGuild.
6. War on the Rocks
War on the Rocks is medium for in-depth analysis, commentary, and content on geo-politics and national security. The page features articles and podcasts from a number of collaborators with years of expertise in warfare. If you want to put your thinking cap on and see where U.S. military strategy and organization should go in the next 10 or 20 years, sit back and get smarter.
7. Your Stories, Your Wall
Serving as the official blog if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, this site features personal stories of those who served in the Vietnam conflict. The blog has great aspects of storytelling and compelling imagery that really conveys the hardships of the men and women who served as well as the family members who were affected by the death of a loved one in that war. Many of these stories on the blog are also centered on the Vietnam memorial itself. This site reminds all of us about the sacrifices of our Vietnam era servicememebrs. Check it out here: https://vvmf.wordpress.com/
Joseph Maguire was, until very recently, the U.S. Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. This was a fitting position, because, in a past life, Maguire was Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire, a Navy SEAL and former commander of SEAL Team Two, bringing American counterterrorism policy home to the bad guys. Now, he’s temporarily taken over the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
Not only did Maguire command one of the teams to take the storied moniker SEAL Team Two, he also would one day command the entire Naval Special Warfare Command based in San Diego, Calif. From there, he oversaw eight Navy SEAL teams, three special boat teams, and their support units, just short of 10,000 people at a time when the United States was engaged in two wars abroad and U.S. special operators were finally beginning to infiltrate and destroy the insurgent networks operating inside Iraq.
But even after his 36 years in the Navy came to a close, he didn’t stop serving the special warfare community. He put his command and administration skills to work, helping the warfighters affected by the wars he oversaw.
One of Maguire’s first post-military jobs was as President and CEO of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in helping special operators and their families get help funding their college tuition. The foundation also works to help the families of fallen warriors in the special operations community get an education by providing scholarships of their own, as well as grants and educational counseling. Maguire is not just a brass hat – he knows a thing or two about getting an education through hard work. He didn’t go to Annapolis, he went to Manhattan College, a small liberal arts college in his NYC hometown.
During his career, he also attended the Naval Postgraduate School and became a Harvard National Security Fellow, where he no doubt brought his hands-on experience in keeping America secure to the cohort.
What you’ll read about Maguire is that his assignment to the post of acting Director of National Intelligence comes “as a surprise to the intelligence community.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean Maguire isn’t qualified to hold the post, only that his ascendance to acting DNI was unexpected. Besides his national security fellowship, the former SEAL and Vice Admiral has worked at the National Counterterrorism Center as Deputy Director for Strategic Operational Planning from 2007 to 2010. This means he was a part of National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Security Group that entire time.
But just because he’s acting in the post of DNI doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll stay there. Many temporary appointments have been very temporary in recent weeks, including the former acting Secretary of Defense.
Army and Air Force veteran Wil Willis arrived in Los Angeles in 2009 to pursue a job as a TV show host for the Discovery Channel. His time as an Air Force pararescueman and the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion qualified him to debut in the military reality show “Special Ops Mission.”
Willis recounts his unusual transition during a photo shoot with photographer Cedric Terrell:
In the 1990s, China was looking to upgrade its military. Seeing what the United States Military had done in Operation Desert Storm was a huge motivator for the growing nation. They had a problem, though. After the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, the plans to modernize with technology from the West were shelved. As you might imagine, having massacres aired on CNN brought about a number of sanctions and embargoes.
China still wanted modern tech. The collapse of the Soviet Union was the answer to their “situation.” The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized both the Soviet Union’s demise and a sudden availability of dirt-cheap military technology. At the time, this was exactly what a dictatorship like China needed, given their position on the world’s crap-list for shooting peaceful demonstrators.
One of the big-ticket items China acquired was a license for the Su-27/Su-30/Su-33 family of Flankers. While China initially deployed planes built in Russia, they quickly started making their own versions. The Chinese variant of the Su-30MKK is the J-16 Flanker.
Like the Su-30, the J-16 is a two-seat, multi-role fighter. It has a top speed of 1,522 miles per hour, a maximum range of 1,864 miles, and can carry a wide variety of ordnance, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, rocket pods, and bombs. The J-16 also has a single 30mm cannon. Currently, an electronic-warfare version of this plane is also in the works.
There aren’t many J-16s in service — roughly two dozen according to a 2014 Want China Times article — but this Chinese copy of Russia’s answer to the F-15E Strike Eagle looks to be a capable opponent to the United States. Learn more about this plane in the video below:
No military aircraft – past or present – can beat the altitude and airspeed performance of the SR-71 Blackbird.
It’s design and performance evolved out of necessity: “We had a need to know what was going on in other countries,” Jeff Duford, a historian at the National Museum of the US Air Force, said. “And the way that we were going to do that was having a photographic aircraft that could fly very high and very fast. And much faster than the U2, which proceeded it. The SR-71 was that answer for the US Air Force and for the United States.”
Here’s the remarkable story of the SR-71 in a 3 minute mini-doc:
The US Air Force was forced to terminate an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile July 31, 2018, in response to an unsafe “anomaly” that emerged during a test, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.
The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California ordered the destruction of the $7 million ICBM early July 31, 2018, eliminating it over the Pacific Ocean. Global Strike Command refused to comment as the incident is under investigation.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, described the test as “perfect,” at least until “somewhere in flight, we saw an anomaly.”
“The anomaly was going to create an unsafe flight condition, so we destroyed the rocket before it reached its destination,” he said at the 2018 STRATCOM Symposium on Aug. 1, 2018, according to Military.com. “It was the smart thing to do.”
Tests occur regularly, but failures are much more infrequent. Hyten told his audience that the last failure happened in 2011, with the one before that occurring in 2009.
Explaining that this is a “rare thing that is in the missile business,” Hyten said that “now we have to go figure out what happened.”
An unarmed U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Monday, May 14, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Aubree Milks)
One possibility, and potentially the most likely given the STRATCOM’s chief’s characterization of the incident as the emergence of an “unsafe flight condition,” is that the missile veered off course, forcing a Mission Flight Control Officer’s hand. The motto among the MFCOs is reportedly “track ’em or crack ’em,” according to Popular Mechanics, which sent reporters to observe one of these tests firsthand.
In the initial phase of flight, the MFCO may have only a matter of seconds to make the critical decision to terminate a missile, making that individual the sole decision maker for the weapon’s fate. In the later phases, the officer might act on the consent of his/her superiors.
If the officer detects that the missile will cross any predetermined safety lines, that individual will reportedly “send a function,” causing the missile to crack and spiral into the ocean.
While July 31, 2018’s decision to destroy the ICBM was purportedly “smart,” not every executed self-destruct sequence is intentional.
Human error, specifically the pressing of the wrong button, caused a test of a US missile defense system to end in failure July 2017. A tactical datalink controller on the destroyer USS John Paul Jones accidentally identified an incoming ballistic missile as a friendly system, resulting in the initiation of a self-destruct sequence for the SM-3 interceptor, Defense News reported at the time.
The initial report from the US Missile Defense Agency said that the interceptor missed the target, revealing that the “planned intercept was not achieved.” During a later test in January 2018, an SM-3 Block IIA interceptor fired from an Aegis Ashore missile defense facility in Hawaii also failed to achieve the desired intercept.
Hyten said that July 31, 2018’s test failure is exactly why the US tests its systems. “We have to make sure that things work. We learn more from failures than we do successes,” he said, adding that the unsuccessful test does not weaken America’s offensive capabilities.
“I have a full complement of ICBMs on alert,” he explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is now a master photographer, cartoonist, and storyteller.
Eyes roll at the sight of yet another transition story. We all get it; it’s hard to transition from military to civilian life. I have read many a story myself and note positively that everyone brings up a new eureka moment for me that I didn’t experience myself, but that I totally get. My transition story doesn’t boast any novel epiphany though it does come from the aspect of a career SMU pipe-hitter.
“You’re not on the pods anymore, Geo… you need to get off the pods and throttle back a bit. I mean not a bit but a whole, whole lot!” explained my boss, Conan, also from my same SMU in Fort Bragg, NC.
Pods refer to the two benches on the exterior of the MH-6 Little Bird helicopter on which two men on each side of the aircraft can ride into an assault scenario. To many of us, riding the pods into an assault objective hanging on with one arm and lighting up targets on the ground with the other arm was the penultimate of brash aggression and acute excitement of living life on the very edge.
(A complex brown-water insertion of a Klepper kayak. Photo courtesy of the author)
“SMUs will always be around, because no amount of technology will ever replace raw unadulterated aggression.” (SMU Squadron Commander)
I stood tall in my new office cubicle at my new job as a civilian, having just separated from the Service. My job/title was Project Manager. This was my new life, this square. “This is going to be great!” I pallidly promised my psyche. I fervently thanked the creator for the “shower door” on my cube that I could slide closed to prove to the world that I was not really there.
It was plastic, but it was translucent rather than transparent; that is, you could see through it, but only gross shapes rather than defined detail like… a shower door does. If a body were to remain very quiet and still, nobody could detect your presence in the cube. This thing I did fancy.
Carol from HR then stood in my open doorway in her blue office dress to welcome me and list the ground rules — the corporate culture of life in office cube city. She recited those edicts as they appeared chiseled in granite:
• “No, singing or playing of music;
• no cooking food;
• avoid speaker phones
• watch your voice volume
• deal with gas in the restroom
• always knock before entering a cubicle
• no “prairie-dogging”
In fact, whatever it is you find yourself doing in your cube for the moment just stop it!
“Er… no prairie-dogging? Yeah, so… what might prairie dogging be?” I posed.
“Well Mr. Hand, prairie dogging involves the poking of ones head over the top of one’s cubicle walls and… and looking around!” Blue-dressed Carol from HR became a blurred and indistinct pattern from the other side of my show door as I closed it in her incredulous face.
“Well, I never… I AM NOT FINISHED MR. HAND!”
I popped one’s head up over the top of one’s cubicle and explained: “Yes, yes you are finished, Ms. Carol from HR… and please watch your voice volume — TSK!”
Within the hour my shower door flew open and there stood Conan, face awash with concern.
“Woah, now that is a great, big, fat, bulbous-assed no-go here in cube city—entering without knocking… tremendous transgression, Conan!” I warned.
“There was a complaint about you from HR, geo…”
We talked. Conan was right, and there was no dispelling that. I apologized and thanked him. We shook hands as we always did when we parted or met. So with a crappy first morning behind me, I vowed to make the best of the rest. I headed to the break room for a cup of coffee to calm myself down.
(Low-profile office cubicles offer no substantial privacy)
I embraced the notion that there might be nobody in the break room, but my crest fell for there were a man and woman seated at a table enjoying lunch. The noon hour had crept up on me though I scarce remarked. I held my breath and went about for that cup of Joe.
Men are great around just each other, but they get stupid and inclined to comport themselves like jackasses whenever a woman is around too. This fellow saw that I was engaged in an action that was somewhat contrary to break room policy, and he began:
“Excuuuuse me there, partner… but you’re not supposed to…”
“SHUT UP; SHUT THE PHUQ UP, PARTNER!!” I delivered to the man without even turning to look at him, not fully knowing from whence my outburst came.
“I’m screwed!” I thought, “I didn’t check the volume of my voice!” unable to sort through the gravity of which coffee offense I had committed just then. It was not the volume that was the greater offense, rather the content of my delivery.
The woman left the break room immediately at a cantor. Partner remained for the mandatory tough-guy extra seconds, me leaning against the counter, staring at him all the while sipping my incorrect procedurally-obtained break room coffee. He then sauntered out with backless bravado.
My shower door flew open without a knock. Once more, I reeled at Conan’s blatant disregard for cube rules. I endured the pod speech strewn with constant “I’m sorry, Conan” interrupts. This time his speech contained a threat annex to it. I needed to take that seriously. We two shook hands, as we always did when we parted or met.
A few months ago I was riding on the pods doing 90 MPH hanging on with one arm like a rodeo rider, spitting jacketed lead at targets on the ground, sprinting from the touched-down chopper at full speed smashing through doors and lighting up all contents… now I was born again into a world where the penultimate cringe comes from the shrimp platter at the buffet not being chilled down to the proper 54-degrees (Fahrenheit).
I had to turn this thing around, but wasn’t sure how. I accepted my plight with this eight-word phrase, one that I came to lean on in countless occasions: “We’ll just have to figure it out tomorrow.” And so it went for the next 16 years there at that same job.
I didn’t have to re-invent myself as I feared, but I did develop a set of guidelines that would steer my path over the next more than a decade and a half. There were the company rules, and then there were my rules. My rules were better than the company rules. They were simple. Though I never formally wrote them down, I can list them still for the most part:
1. Don’t ever tell anybody what the real rules are
2. Don’t ever hurt anybody in the company or customer base
3. Don’t ever damage any company or customer property
4. Don’t ever wear corduroy pants on a day you might have to run many miles.
5. Don’t ever allow yourself to be stuck in a position with a boss who sucks.
6. Don’t ever cheat entering time into your pay invoice
7. Never litter
8. Never threaten another employee within earshot of a witness
9. Remotely bury any items that could get you fired or that you just don’t want to deal with
10. Never reveal the locations of buried items
11. Eventually, return all clandestinely-acquired tools and equipment
12. (most important of all rules) ALWAYS WORK ALONE!
(The author on left and teammate on right, lift off with an MH-6 for more gun runs, not giving one-tenth of a rat’s ass about the temperature of the shrimp platter.
(Photo courtesy of SMU Operator MSG Gaetano Cutino, KIA)
Do you have that buddy who scratches messages into his M4 rounds? Or maybe you’re the sailor who Sharpies “This one’s for you” onto JDAMs destined for a flight over the Gulf. Regardless, it turns out that you’re part of a tradition that dates back to a few hundred years before Jesus.
Yeah, we’re all comedians.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Nolan)
Writing messages on bombs, missiles, and other munitions is a common and long-standing tradition. After the 9/11 Attacks, messages of solidarity for New York and vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban started popping up on bombs headed for Afghanistan. Hussein and the Ba’ath party were favorite targets for graffiti over Iraq in the early 2000s.
More recently, bombs headed for Iraq and Syria have had messages for ISIS and Baghdadi, and messages supporting Paris were popular after the attacks in 2015.
Obviously, there’s about zero chance in Hell that anyone on the receiving end will actually read the messages. After all, the bomb casings will get obliterated when they go off. But it’s fun for the troops and lets them get a little steam out. Most service members will never fire a weapon, drop a bomb, or throw a grenade in anger.
(Imperial War Museum)
So it can sometimes be hard for support troops to connect their actions to dismantling ISIS, defeating Saddam, or destroying al Qaeda. It helps the ordnance crews reinforce their part of the mission, and they can imagine their Sharpie-soaked pieces of shrapnel shredding enemy fighters.
But this tradition really dates back. In World War II, British troops designated bombs to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. And these Americans were hoping their bombs would be great party favors for the Third Reich.
The Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) is one of the most versatile armored vehicles on the market. It’s size, armor, and various configurations make it perfect for hostile urban environments.
Case in point is the BearCat’s use to rescue victims from the ISIS-inspired terror attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. — the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil. The vehicle was used as a battering ram to breach the side of the building to rescue patrons hiding in the bathroom, according to USA Today.
While its use during the Ferguson unrest was considered heavy-handed by many observers, the vehicle’s use in Orlando saved lives, rekindling the debate about whether or not police enforcement should have military grade gear in its arsenal.
Despite the excessive force debate, there’s no question about the BearCat’s effectiveness. It’s designed to withstand small arms, explosives, and IEDs. It’s primarily used to transport people to and from hostile situations and assist with the recovery and protection of victims during terrorist attacks, hostage situations, and riots.
The battering ram attachment is ideal for breaching walls.
But it could also be used to smoke out the bad guys from a building.
It can transport and protect up to ten people in the rear passenger bay.
It provides excellent fire cover.
In 2012, Jay Leno visited the LAPD S.W.A.T. office to film an episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” featuring the Lenco BearCat. During the episode, Leno takes viewers inside and out of the revolving turret, under the hood, and a test ride.
A number of American planes have become classics. We know them off the top of our head: the P-51 Mustang, the F4U Corsair, the B-17 Flying Fortress. We can go on and on, and even debate amongst ourselves which planes were the coolest.
Some, though, are just plain crazy. You have to wonder Whiskey Tango Foxtrot were they thinking when they tried to fly `em. Was there ever any hope of them working? Here’s a look at a few — but just because they look crazy doesn’t mean some of them didn’t work.
McDonnell F-85 Goblin
Early jet fighters were a lot like sprinters. They were fast, but they didn’t have a lot of range. So some folks had the bright idea of having the bomber bring along its fighter escort. The “parasite fighter” was intended to be carried in by a bomber, be discharged, fight off enemy planes, then hook back up with the bomber.
The ultimate expression was the F-85 Goblin. This plane weighed less than 5,000 pounds, and was armed with four .50-caliber machine guns. It made a total of seven flights before the program was cancelled. Why? Aerial refueling was perfected, and making bombers trade off a lot of their payload to carry their fighter escort was no longer necessary.
Northrop B-35 and B-49
We see the B-2 today as perhaps the ultimate high-tech bomber. But Northrop had been trying to make a flying wing work since World War II. The B-35 and B-49 looked futuristic — and indeed they were decades ahead of their time. In this case, that was literally their problem.
The flying wing had its benefits, but the problem was the technology wasn’t there yet. The crash of a YB-49 prototype helped put the flying wing into limbo, not to return until the B-2 program, when computers enabled the flying wing to fly.
In one sense, the B-36 arguably made the legendary B-52 Stratofortress look puny. However, that plane took a lot of fuel to get off the ground, and to keep flying. Fuel can get expensive, and its flammable. So, they decided to see if they could use nuclear power. The NB-36H was built to test the concept.
The reactor weighed 35,000 pounds. But after test flights, the Air Force decided that jet fuel was still a better option. Besides, they were buying some of the first of 732 KC-135 tankers.
The C-5 Galaxy is crazy, all right. Crazy huge. The Air Force fact sheet on this plane lays it all out: It is 247 feet long, 65 feet high, and has a wingspan of just under 223 feet. The Air Force built 126 of these planes: 76 C-5As from 1968-1973, and 50 C-5Bs from 1985-1989.
It can be refueled while flying, but even when carrying 60 tons, it can fly 4,800 nautical miles. Currently the Air Force has 78 C-5s on inventory. But when you have something that can haul as much as 135 tons of cargo in one go, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to build more.
This plane falls into the crazy-enough-to-work category. Just looking at it, you think it wouldn’t even fly. Well, it could, and it is one of the crown jewels to emerge from that famous Lockheed refinery known as the “Skunk Works.”
Often called the “Wobblin’ Goblin,” the F-117 was designed to have a very low radar cross-section. It ended up working very well for American pilots, easily penetrating Iraq’s vaunted air defense system. One was lost over Yugoslavia during Operation Allied Force in 1999, but the F-117 served well, and the planes have still been flying despite having been “retired” in 2007.
The U.S. Marine Corps bills itself as the “few and the proud,” but in the 1970s it was the “few and the proud who drive Corvettes and hang out at the beach with babes.”
At least that’s the message from this 30-second U.S. Marine Corps Reserve recruiting commercial from the decade of disco.
“Sure the United States Marine Reserve teaches you a lot,” the narrator of the video says, “like how to take a beachhead.” Except what’s depicted onscreen is a buff Marine running out of the ocean to his girlfriend tanning on the beach.
And well, he continues, “some Marines even get to drive tanks.” The ‘tank’ that’s depicted: A Chevy Corvette.
Talk about clever marketing. I think I want to re-enlist in the Reserves now.