Defense industry giant Raytheon unveiled its newest weapon, the Peregrine air-to-air missile, Sept. 16, 2019.
The weapon, designed for use on fourth-and fifth-generation fighter aircraft — anything from an F-16 to an F-35 — is about 150 pounds and 6 feet long, making “the most efficient use of the real estate on a fighter aircraft,” according to Mark Noyes, business development executive at Raytheon.
“Peregrine will allow U.S. and allied fighter pilots to carry more missiles into battle to maintain air dominance,” Thomas Bussing, the vice president of Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems, said in a statement.
The new missile will combat a number of airborne threats, including other missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) and other aircraft, while saving space. The AMRAAM missile, for example, is 335 pounds and 12 feet long.
Mockup of the Peregrine air-to-air missile.
“With its advanced sensor, guidance and propulsion systems packed into a much smaller airframe, this new weapon represents a significant leap forward in air-to-air missile development,” Bussing said.
The missile’s guidance and sensor systems allow it to “detect and track moving or stationary targets at any time of day and in challenging weather conditions,” according to the release.
The Peregrine combines “the autonomy of AMRAAM [Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile]” with the maneuverability of the 9X Sidewinder missile, Noyes told Insider. The three weapons together, he said, provide warfighters with “just an incredibly potent and catastrophic capability against the enemy.”
The Peregrine incorporates already available materials, military off-the-shelf components, and additive manufacturing processes, making it a low-cost option for militaries facing increased air threats, particularly missiles and UAVs.
Noyes praised the Peregrine’s ability to “autonomously track and destroy a target,” saying, “The ability of this new seeker is just incredible for all weather, day and night.”
The Peregrine’s small size, combined with its high-performance propulsion system, allows airfighters to fire more rounds, faster, as well — enabling it to “overwhelm the enemy with affordable mass.”
As Defense News points out, the Peregrine announcement dovetails with a Raytheon executive’s comments about the proliferation of counter-drone technology, indicating that the company’s focus on defeating drones won’t stop any time soon.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Almost seven years ago, Spc. Dakota Williams lost more than his stepbrother. He lost his hero.
His stepbrother, Spc. Dylan Johnson, had been deployed in Iraq’s Diyala Province just north of Baghdad for less than a month when a bomb detonated next to his vehicle. The explosion killed him.
Inspired by his service to the country, Williams later joined the Army to follow in his footsteps.
On May 24, 2018, he personally honored his stepbrother when he placed an American flag at his headstone in Section 60 of the Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags In event.
“He’s not here, but he’s here,” said Williams, 23, of Salina, Oklahoma. “He’s still such an important part of my life.”
All Soldiers, including Williams, in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” participated in some way in 2018’s Flags In. The regiment has conducted the event before every Memorial Day since 1948. It was then when the regiment was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
Over a course of four hours, more than 234,000 small flags were laid in front of headstones across the 624-acre cemetery. Flags were also placed inside the Columbarium as well, where the cremated remains of service members reside. In all, enough flags were placed to account for the more than 400,000 interred or inurned within the cemetery. Regiment Soldiers also placed about 11,500 flags at the nearby Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
“It’s a great commitment by these Soldiers to do this, to place them at the hundreds of thousands of graves here,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “What it does is it pays respect and homage to those who served before them, going all the way back to the Civil War and signals the importance of their service and that they will never be forgotten for what they did. So that they know, these young Soldiers today, much as I knew when I was in uniform, that should I have to pay that ultimate price, I would not be forgotten either in America’s hearts and minds.”
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
Col. Jason Garkey, the regiment commander, said Flags In is also a time of reflection for the Soldiers who participate.
“For every one of those headstones where we put a flag at, we have the solemn honor to put that flag in for a family member who can’t be here to do it themselves,” he said. “That’s a privilege.”
Each Soldier who took part in the event had the opportunity to place hundreds of flags into the ground, about 1 foot centered in front of every headstone.
When doing so, Garkey encouraged his Soldiers to read the name engraved onto the headstone.
“I tell them that the cemetery is alive,” Garkey said. “If you pay attention, it will tell you things.”
Buried throughout the cemetery are Medal of Honor recipients, young service members who were killed in war, retirees and spouses — all with a story to share.
Garkey, who took part in his sixth Flags In, recalled one time seeing two graves next to each other with the same last name. From the dates on the headstones, he believed they belonged to a father who had served much of his adult life in the military and his son who had died in combat years before him.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
“There’s no worst thing than for a parent to bury their child,” he said. “But they ended up there for eternity.”
When his Soldiers recognize those sacrifices, he said, it helps put things into perspective while they perform their ceremonial duties.
“You realize there are many stories in the cemetery and that brings the cemetery to something more than just a place where we go to work,” the colonel said. “It makes it a living, breathing entity where we honor our fallen.”
For Sgt. Kevin Roman, who serves with Williams in the regiment’s Presidential Salute Battery that is responsible for firing blank howitzer rounds during ceremonies, Flags In gives him the chance to appreciate those who came before him.
“Memorial Day is a day to pay your respects to the [service members] who have made the ultimate sacrifice or who have served honorably,” said Roman, 23, of Bronx, New York. “For some people, it’s just a holiday and the unofficial start of summer.”
Before he participated in his fourth Flags In, he said every time he gets to place flags it is still meaningful to him.
“When you get out there and start reading tombstones, you gain that respect back that you may have lost during those hard days in the cemetery,” he said. “Everything comes flooding into you and you get that sense of proudness and that American spirit.”
Some gravesites are even more significant to other Soldiers in the regiment, whether they belong to a family member or a service member they once served with.
Garkey places a flag at the headstone of retired Lt. Col. Toby Runyon, a Vietnam War veteran and a family friend who died two years ago.
“I’ll take a photo and send it to his spouse just to say that we were thinking of Toby today,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the regiment’s sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will stop at the gravesites of former sentinels.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
“Everybody has got their specific places that they go to,” Garkey said. “There’s a healing aspect that goes into it for us. It’s more than just a task, it’s an experience.”
Esper also placed flags at gravesites in the cemetery. A former Soldier himself, he said, he knows comrades in arms who have died in service to their country.
“On a day like this, I think about also my West Point classmates,” Esper said. “I know one for sure who passed away during my war, Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I had another one who was killed when the Twin Towers were felled on 9/11. And another one killed in Afghanistan. And I think about them as well, because they are peers, and like me, I can relate more to their point in life, where they got married or had children, or maybe never had the opportunity to do either. I think about them especially.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, Esper said, he hopes that Soldiers, family members, and Americans across the country will be thinking about those who fought for and died to secure freedom for the United States.
“Hopefully they will all reflect upon the great sacrifices that America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines make in defense of our country and in defense of our liberties,” Esper said. “Particularly those fallen heroes that are here in Arlington National Cemetery.”
I was lucky enough to fly a JET-O (Jet Orientation) flight as a cadet in a T-37, and while my pilot was generous enough to take me on some thrilling barrel rolls (I did *not* throw up, thank you very much), that sortie was nothing compared to this aerial demonstration.
Anyone with VR sets can take this video to awesome heights, but even without, it’s pretty breathtaking.
Blue Angels fly fighter aircraft that are maintained to near combat-ready status — except for the paint scheme and the removal of weapons. More specific modifications include the use of a specific smoke-oil for demonstrations and a more precise control stick.
“Precise” is the operative word here. Check out the video below to see for yourself — butt clenching begins around 2:10. You can drag your mouse or move your phone to look around.
The first war film ever, D.W. Griffith’s silent picture, “The Fugitive” was made over a century ago. The intensity and drama of war films caught on quickly, and the best ones have been huge hits at the box office. As thrilling as they are, even movies portrayed as historically accurate rarely get the details of war just right. We can’t blame them entirely; war movies would be a lot less thrilling and suspenseful if they skipped all the theatrics. Here’s the scoop about what movie directors get wrong, and what war is really like.
The sound effects
In the movies, battles start with the sound of gunfire, before bullets come flying past. That’s not a thing. Rifles are actually supersonic, so the bullets arrive before the sound does. Soldiers do hear a whistling sound as the bullets pass by, but the actual sound of the gun firing arrives after the fact.
The actual sounds are pretty far off, too. The sound of mortars firing is something like the sound of a tennis ball launcher in most war films, but it’s infinitely louder in real life. The blast is so powerful it can be felt, shaking the ground and causing intense vibrations. That’s one reason veterans are prone to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. It’s THAT loud.
Some movies do a better job of this than others, but more often than not, a detail or two of the dress code is missed. Military dress uniforms are incredibly precise, so anyone other than a veteran would be hard-pressed to get every nuance right. Untucked lapels on a Marine service alpha uniform is a small one, but some movies dress actors in the wrong uniforms entirely. Come on, directors. You can do better.
Ever seen a movie with soldiers all in one place, hashing it out in close combat? That’s rarely how it works. No one arranges a battle on a conveniently located open field where everyone meets up to shoot each other, with helicopters and planes joining in at random. In a real war, dispersing troops is critical. Distance is kept between military personnel to prevent the enemy from wiping out a massive chunk of your forces all at once.
How aerial attacks work
Most movies make it seem like planes swoop down nearly to the ground before attacking. It’s dramatic for sure, but it’s not realistic. Low-level flying is only used in specific scenarios. For the most part, planes fly as high as possible to maximize safety and ensure adequate maneuverability. More space, more chances to get out of there if necessary. Low-level flying does happen, but generally, pilots try to drop to low altitudes as briefly as possible.
While movie soldiers do wear camo, they rarely use it well. When used correctly, camouflage can make soldiers and even vehicles seemingly vanish. The movies just skip that part because it’s a lot less fun to watch a battlefield with nothing but sand and a few tumbleweeds on it.
In movies, the characters always know what’s going on. The details of the battle are clear. The enemy starts shooting, and the hero instantly knows where the gunfire is coming from, how large the enemy forces are, and how to retaliate. In a real battle, it’s much more confusing. No one is familiar with the area, so someone is studying a map while someone else is trying to figure out what’s happening and what to do next. It’s confusing! Radios aren’t usually as clear as they are in the movies, either. It might take four tries to hear the order coming in.
How much shooting actually occurs
A shot rings out in the night. There’s a moment of stillness, and then utter chaos breaks loose. Shots fly everywhere. It’s a gunfire free for all. There’s a cut and dry good side and a bad side, and they shoot at each other with abandon until one (usually the good side) reigns victorious.
Real battles are much more calculated. There’s rarely indiscriminate shooting. Most soldiers never fire their weapons, and if they do it’s usually under the direction of a senior ranking officer. Everyone’s heard the phrase “all is fair in love and war”, but that’s not quite the case. War has rules. You can’t just shoot whomever you want.
Ammo doesn’t last forever, so automatic fire doesn’t happen nearly as often as the movies would lead you to believe. Military rifles are more than capable of the task, but automatic fire is rarely used in real battles. That would be both expensive and unnecessary.
How bad it really gets
Movies hype up the drama but tone down the horror. They do show some blood, injuries and casualties, but they keep the gore in check to avoid completely scarring the audience. People go to the movies to be entertained, not legitimately traumatized. Real war can be much more horrific. The gore, suffering, and emotional trauma exceeds what the movie industry dares to sell.
The darkly peaceful aftermath
It’s a classic scene. The battle is over. The field is quiet and still, and dead men lie silently amongst weapons and shredded, muddied flags. That would be a more peaceful end than what really happens. The chaos isn’t over after the battle is won. The wounded are in severe pain as medics rush to treat them. Soldiers scramble to collect weapons and usable ammunition. The scattered flags? Not a thing. The victorious would never leave their own flags behind, and enemy flags are often kept as trophies.
That said, while the reality of war is pretty dark, let’s remember that many members of our armed forces never fight in combat, never fire their weapon and return home safely. To end on a lighter, helpful note, here’s a quick pro-tip: You know all those overpriced phone cases that claim to offer “military-grade protection?” Much like the glamourous battle scenes from Hollywood, it’s not real. There’s no official military-grade certification. It’s just a well-disguised excuse to jack up the price. But you won’t fall for it, because you know the real story.
The United States Marine Corps gave its final goodbye to one of its most famous and most revered alums, actor and Vietnam veteran R. Lee Ermey, on Jan. 18, 2018 as his remains were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. The revered Gunny died on Apr. 15, 2018 at age 74 from complications during pneumonia treatment.
His body was cremated after death, and his ashes were buried with full military honors.
Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in 1987’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
There was more to R. Lee Ermey’s life than just the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film that made his career while defining the image of the Marine Corps Drill Instructor. He was the living embodiment of a Marine who never gives up, being forced into the military, working a bar and brothel after leaving the service, and taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
The man we know as “Gunny” was medically discharged in 1972, and didn’t even make the rank of Gunnery Sgt. until after his military career. That’s how important his image is to the Corps. Even though his Hollywood career began to flag as he aged, he was always a vocal supporter of the military and the troops who comprise it.
His internment at Arlington was delayed due to the backlog of funeral services there. The backlog for eligible veterans to be buried there is so great that even a veteran of Ermey’s stature – a Vietnam War-era Marine who served in aviation and training – must wait several months before the services can be performed.
It was a day like any other day. Dwight Johnson was on his way to the nearby corner store to get some food for his infant son. When he walked in the store that day in April 1971, he accidentally walked in on the store being robbed. That’s when the storekeeper shot him to death.
While he was in Vietnam, he seemed impervious to bullets. Dwight Hal Johnson wasn’t gunned down until he left his home to go to the nearby liquor store at the wrong time.
President Lyndon Johnson puts the Medal of Honor around the neck of Sgt. Dwight H. Johnson.
In 1968, Army tank driver Spc. Dwight Johnson was part of a reaction force near Dak To, in Vietnam’s Kontum Province. With his platoon in the middle of fierce combat with North Vietnamese regulars, Johnson’s tank threw a track. It would not move. With friendly forces to his rear, and a heavily entrenched enemy coming at him, a regular person might have told Johnson not to leave the safety of the tank and just wait. That wasn’t Dwight Johnson’s style.
Since Johnson was unable to drive the tank, he figured it was time to stop being a driver. He grabbed his pistol and hopped out of it. He cleared away some of the enemy from the perimeter, and then hopped back into the tank, somehow not getting hit by the hail of enemy gunfire and rockets. He had just run out of ammo.
He tossed his pistol down and grabbed a submachine gun. Returning to his former position, he began to take out more of the oncoming enemy fighters. Unconcerned with the situation being a well-planned and well-placed ambush, he stayed put, killing the enemy until he ran out of ammo again. After he used the stock of his rifle to kill one more, he moved to his platoon sergeant’s tank, carried a wounded crewman to a nearby armored personnel carrier, then went back to the tank to get a pistol so he could fight his way back to his own tank. Again.
Instead of hopping in, however, he mounted the .50-cal on the back of the tank, using the heavy machine gun to force the enemy back and put an end to the ambush while protecting his wounded comrades in arms. For most of the time he was engaged in close quarters combat, vastly outnumbered by an often-unseen enemy, Spc. Johnson was carrying only a Colt .45 pistol to defend himself.
Having grown up in some of Detroit’s rough neighborhoods gave Dwight Johnson an edge in keeping his cool under fire. Johnson never quit, never left anyone behind and fought an enemy who outnumbered him ten to one while restoring American dominance to a situation that got out of hand. Sadly, it was those same mean streets that would do him in just a few years after coming home from Vietnam.
He struggled with regular life when he returned home, as most veterans did and still do. He struggled with debt and depression until he walked into the Open Pantry Market on April 30, 1971, just one mile from his home. There are conflicting reports of what happened next – some say Johnson had a gun at his side and was robbing the store, other sources say that Johnson was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While we can’t be sure what motivated the store owner to open fire, we can say he shot one of America’s heroes four times, killing him. Dwight Hal Johnson was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Britain’s royals are guarded by the best London’s Metropolitan Police have to offer — a special unit known as Protection Command. These officers, trained as armed bodyguards for the royal family, can often be seen escorting the Queen, Prince Philip, and other members of the family with steely gazes in blacked-out Land Rovers.
However, especially in this day and age of modern terrorism, there will likely be situations in which Protection Command finds itself hard-pressed to deal with appropriately on their own. That’s when the British Army steps up to the plate with the most elite soldiers they have to offer — the men of the Special Air Service, the oldest active special missions unit in the world.
Should the unthinkable happen where Protection Command’s agents find themselves overrun and outgunned in a fight against terrorists, hostage-takers, or other hostiles, the SAS is prepared to mobilize at a moment’s notice, arriving on-site, locked and loaded to end the situation decisively.
Though the British military and those charged with guarding the royals don’t particularly see such an incident happening anytime soon (or at all, for that matter), the British Army still rigidly maintains that informing and demonstrating their procedures to members of the royal family is an extremely important step in keeping them safe.
To that end, royals are brought up to Stirling Lines, Hereford, the home of 22 Special Air Service Regiment, and given a crash course in special operations and counter-terrorism… at least in the ways it would directly relate to them. Donning black coveralls with “His” and “Hers” stenciled on the back, each royal couple gets an unparalleled look into the SAS’s operational capabilities and strengths.
The royals, especially the younger ones, are given a lot of leniency in terms of their personal transportation. This means that they can fly commercial (generally on British Airways) and drive their own vehicles with an escort or a small protection team always nearby. However, should a vehicular ambush occur, the SAS teaches princes, princesses, duchesses, and dukes alike how to drive tactically, using their cars as battering rams to escape the area to safety while larger protective teams are scrambled to pick them up.
Of particular note was the time Prince Charles and Princess Diana underwent their training course and a hot fragment from a stun grenade landed in Diana’s hair, singeing it. The new princess had her hair trimmed immediately after, so that members of the press would be completely unaware.
Interestingly enough, vehicular ambushes are among the more tame scenarios the royals are put through when they train with the SAS at Stirling Lines. The fun really begins when young royal couples are sent to the Killing House for an up close and personal look at the SAS in action.
The Killing House is a legendary facility in the special operations community, where SAS candidates and active troopers all train on entering and clearing buildings full of terrorists and hostages. The building is replete with rubber-coated walls, large fans to ventilate smoke, fire suppression systems, and closed-circuit cameras that monitor all the action and record them for debriefing and review.
Metal targets with scorch marks and indents represent enemies to be terminated with extreme prejudice. None of the training that goes on in the Killing House is hypothetical with troopers yelling “bang!” or firing blanks to simulate combat. Instead, the SAS uses live ammunition and sometimes, live hostages, to make every training evolution as realistic as possible.
Occasionally, these live hostages happen to have blue blood in them.
That’s right — the royals are brought into the Killing House and told to sit down on chairs or couches, as though being held captive by hostage-takers. SAS operators then storm the House with stun grenades, quickly shooting and killing all enemy combatants without harming the hostages.
Prince Charles famously scribbled a personal note during his training course, saying, “Should this demonstration go wrong I, the undersigned Prince of Wales, will not commit B Squadron 22 Special Air Service Regiment to the Tower of London. Charles.”
The note still sits framed at Hereford to this very day.
According to former members of the SAS, the royals generally handle the shock and awe of the Killing House take-down well, though they’re understandably stunned at first by the brutal noises and the explosions that occur during the assault.
The younger royals aren’t exempt from these specialized protection courses. Actress Meghan Markle recently had to undergo such training due to her engagement to Prince Harry. Kate Middleton and Prince William were also put through a similar course run by the SAS.
All in all, the members of the British royal family can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their nation’s best are an alert away from coming to the rescue, should the need ever arise.
The M1 Abrams main battle tank gets a lot of attention and respect. As well it should; it has a very enviable combat record — not to mention a reputation that is simply fearsome.
After all, if you were facing them and knew that enemy shells fired from 400 yards away bounced off the armor of an M1, you’d want to find some sort of white fabric to wave to keep it from shooting at you.
But the Abrams doesn’t operate alone. Often, it works with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, or BFV. The “B” could also stand for “badass” because the Bradley has done its share of kicking butt alongside the Abrams, including during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A former Russian official whose background matches descriptions of a high-level CIA spy hurriedly extracted from Russia has been living openly outside Washington, DC, under his own name.
According to documents from a 2017 real-estate purchase reviewed by Insider, Oleg Smolenkov bought a house in the DC area in 2018 for $925,000.
Intelligence sources told Insider that such a situation — a former agent living under his own name — was less unusual than it might at first appear, partly because of precedent and the unique personality type of high-level sources.
Smolenkov was named in Russian media Sep. 10, 2019, as a possible identity of the extracted spy. Reuters and the BBC were among Western outlets to also report the name.
A spokesman for the Kremlin said Smolenkov had worked for the Russian state but reportedly dismissed reports that a high-level spy had been extracted as “pulp fiction.”
Smolenkov was named in the wake of reports by The New York Times and CNN that described an unnamed Russian official who worked for the CIA for decades before fleeing to the US in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.
The descriptions from Russia of Smolenkov’s work for the Kremlin, the timing of his disappearance in 2017, and his presence in the suburbs of Washington, DC, appear to match the reports.
Two former FBI officials told NBC News that they thought the man in Virginia was the intelligence asset.
That asset is reported to have supplied critical information that helped shape the US government’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The asset’s identity remains unconfirmed. Among assets in a similar position, however, the practice of living openly in a Western country under a real name would not be unusual, according to a former US Drug Enforcement Agency agent who regularly ran intelligence and drug-cartel sources.
“Not shocking at all to those of us who have been there,” said the former member of the DEA’s special-operations division, which handles high-level investigations and sources.
“A guy like Smolenkov spent decades working his way to the top of the Russian government and succeeded while also being an asset for the CIA,” the source said. He asked for anonymity to protect former sources and assets around the world.
“That level of political success at the same time he knew every day for decades he could be revealed and arrested usually requires a special level of ego and appetite for risk,” the source said.
“So it’s not shocking that the first reports said he turned down a chance in 2016 to escape before being convinced by the media coverage that he finally had to go in 2017. Getting him to give up that level of status inside his own homeland along with the status he secretly held with the CIA … it’s a powerful combination.”
Three other former intelligence agents contacted by Insider were less willing to talk about the story, which immediately grabbed the attention of the media and intelligence circles Sep. 9, 2019.
But all three noted that Russian intelligence assets tended to keep their identities intact after defection despite usual pleas from their handlers to adopt fake names and go into hiding.
All three noted that the Russian defectors Sergei Skripal and Alexander Litvinenko lived openly in the UK after fleeing Russia and continued to consult for intelligence services and private companies under their own names.
Footage of Sergei Skripal’s 2006 trial.
Both men were poisoned in cases where UK has blamed the Russian state.
Skripal and his daughter narrowly survived a nerve-agent poisoning in 2018, while Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive poison.
“It’s unlikely that someone with the level of ambition to rise that high in the Kremlin while working as an agent for the Americans would want to easily drop the social status that came with both sides of their double life,” the former DEA agent said.
“And it gets even harder to convince them they’re actually threatened and need to go into deep witness-protection programs if they have families that probably didn’t know they were working for another country on the side.
“Then you add that these are people rather used to risk and living off their wits and so ego plays a huge role.”
When asked how often high-level defectors refused to completely abandon their old life and identity, the former DEA agent said “far more often than people would think.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Recently, we delved into the 5 best military movies of the 1990s, so it only seemed right that we give the 1980’s the same treatment, especially now that most of us are stuck in our houses without much else to do than take a trip down cinema’s memory lane.
Whenever you’re compiling a list of movies like this, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss some really good picks. In a decade like the 1980s, when there was a laundry list of great films depicting military service or a time of war, the chances that you’ll miss a doozy becomes that much more significant. After all, how do you choose between Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge,” and Robin Williams’ “Good Morning Vietnam?” Easy, I didn’t include either — and I’m sure that’ll ruffle some feathers.
That’s what’s so great about film and analyzing its value or impact. A movie that means the world to you may not have had any impact at all on the next guy. It’s value to you isn’t diminished by his opinion and it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can have their own favorites.
So with the understanding that this list won’t be exhaustive and will probably make some folks mad — here’s my list of the best military movies of the 1980s.
Right out of the gate, including this movie on the list requires a disclaimer: In order to be a good military movie, you don’t need to be realistic. “Iron Eagle” is a lot of things, but realistic isn’t one of them.
For those who haven’t seen it, “Iron Eagle” is the story of a young man named Doug Masters who aspires to be a pilot like his father, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. Ted Masters. When Col. Masters is shot down over the fictional Arab nation of Bilya, Doug enlists the help of another fighter pilot, Colonel “Chappy” Sinclair. The two hatch a scheme to steal two F-16 Fighting Falcons and somehow fly them all the way to the Middle East, take on an entire Air Force, land on an enemy airstrip, and fly Doug’s dad home.
This movie is about as realistic as my chances of being elected president in 2020, but that doesn’t matter. This silly romp is a blast to watch, especially if you enjoy ironically watching ridiculous movies.
While it maybe a bit slow paced compared to high budget action movies of today, “Red Dawn” earns its spot on this list thanks to solid acting from its young cast (some of whom went on to successful careers in Hollywood) and its semi-serious approach to depicting an America that’s not only at war… but losing it.
“Red Dawn” can certainly be categorized as pro-American propaganda, but if you ask me, that just makes it all the more fun. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of America’s primary diplomatic opponents on the world’s stage, making it that much easier to revel in the Wolverine’s efforts to take back their town from the combined Cuban and Soviet occupational forces.
If you can watch this movie and not scream “Wolverines” at the top of your lungs, you’re a better movie-goer than I am.
What do you get when you take two future governors, a Hollywood script writer, and Apollo Creed and stick them in the jungle with a bunch of guns? You get what is perhaps the greatest piece of action satire of all time.
You might be surprised to hear me refer to “Predator” as a satire film, but when you take a step back and really look at the framework of this movie, you’ll realize that it is a pretty clever deconstruction of the big-budget action movies of the 80’s. It’s got all the same ingredients of an 80’s thrill ride, but delivered in a way that takes the wind right out our action hero’s sails. After using traditional action movie tactics to easily wipe out a village of bad guys, Dutch’s vaguely special operations crew are then faced with a far worthier opponent: a monster that doesn’t yield to the tropes of action movie heroes.
What follows is a rapid transition from action movie to slasher flick, and a movie that doesn’t just hold up over time, but offers an insightful critique of movie culture in general.
While “Top Gun” may take the number two spot on this list, it’s ranked number one in terms of recruiting. “Top Gun” offered many Americans their first glimpse into the world of Naval aviation, and in particular, the Navy’s very real Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program.
With a long awaited sequel slated to drop later this year, Top Gun’s appeal clearly stands the test of time, even if Maverick is admittedly a pretty bad pilot that has no place in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat. This movie led to a boon in Navy recruiting, with some recruiters setting up tables right outside cinema doors to engage with excited young aspiring pilots while their blood pressure was still high.
Once again, “Top Gun” proved that you don’t have to be realistic to be great. Here’s hoping the new one can do the same.
After the massive hit that was “Alien,” the much anticipated sequel somehow managed to add a platoon of Space Marines and still retain the chilling vibe the “Alien” universe is known for. Now, this movie may not take place in a fictional Arab nation or involve existing military branches, but who doesn’t love a story about Space Marines fighting alien monsters?
This movie might be the least “military” of the lot, but it’s also the most fun to re-watch again and again, which earns it a whole lot of extra credit in my book. For Marines like me, we may not want to associate with the cowardly yelps of Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson, but let’s all be honest with ourselves… a few yelps are warranted when you’re being hunted by a slimy space monster with acid for blood.
That does it for my list of the best military movies of the 1980s, so the question is: what’s on your list?
John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?
A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?
The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…
Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.
To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.
Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.
You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.
Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.
And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.
Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.
It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.
Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.
All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.
In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.
As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).
Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.
Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.
Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.
Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.
If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.
Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.
This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:
In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.
Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.
A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.
Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.
Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
A US service member died in a non-combat incident in Afghanistan Sept. 4, 2018, marking the second American death in two days in the war-torn country.
The incident is currently under investigation, according to an Operation Resolute Support press statement that was decidedly short on details. The fallen’s name will be released 24 hours after the individual’s next of kin have been notified.
When America needs to break its way into an enemy country, these are the people who slip, kick, or explode their way past the defenses and blaze the way for follow-on forces.
1. Marine Raiders
Marine Raiders are the rank and file of the Marine Special Operations Command. MARSOC fields three Raider battalions that conduct special reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, and direct action missions. The Raiders trace their lineage to World War II where Marine Raiders led beach assaults, conducted raids, and used guerrilla tactics against Japanese defenders.
2. Green Berets
The Army’s special forces soldiers were famously some of the first troops in Afghanistan where they rode horses to get to the enemy. They guarded Hamid Karzai when he was an unknown politician putting together a militia to aid an American invasion, and they’ve served in dozens of unpublicized conflicts around the world.
They got Bin Laden in Pakistan, saved Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, and produced “American Sniper” legend Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle. Navy SEALs are the sea services’ most capable fighters on terra firma.
5. Army Rangers
U.S. Army Rangers first led the way into combat in 1775. These elite infantrymen took out key positions on D-Day, led the way into Panama in Operation Just Cause, played a huge role in Somalia, and conducted airborne assaults into both Afghanistan and Iraq.
6. Force Recon Marines
Recon Marines work for Marine ground commanders, moving ahead of other forces into any area where the commander needs “eyes on” but can’t otherwise get them.
The popular miniseries “Generation Kill” followed a group of these Marines spearheading the invasion of Iraq and feeding information up the chain to Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis and other senior leaders.
7. Carrier-based aircraft
The Navy’s carrier groups provide an awesome platform for launching jets against American enemies, quickly conducting air strikes when the wars opened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and then Syria. This is done primarily by Navy Super Hornet air wings, though Marine Corps Harriers fly missions from carriers as well.
8. F-22 fighter wings
While the F-22 has not yet fought in the first wave of an invasion, it’s proven that it’s capable in Syria. When it entered the fight about a month after airstrikes against ISIS began, it slipped past enemy air defenses to take out protected targets. It now escorts other jets past enemy air defenses, using its sensors to detect threats and targets.
9. Naval ships
While U.S. ships rarely get to mix it up with enemy navies these days, they still get to launch the opening blows in a fight by using long range cruise missiles, especially the Tomahawk Block IV. Navy destroyers, cruisers, and submarines have launched Tomahawks against Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Kosovo … ( actually, just see the full list at the Naval History Blog).
10. 509th Bomb Wing
The 509th Bomb Wing operates most of America’s B-2s, the stealth bomber that can slip into enemy airspace, destroy air defenses and runways, and then leave without the enemy knowing what happened. The B-2 has been used in strikes in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq and flew many of its missions from Missouri to the target and back, taking about 30 hours for each mission.