According to DARPA researchers at the University of Maryland, funded by the agency’s Mathematics of Sensing, Exploitation and Execution (MSEE) program, recently developed a system that enabled robots to process visual data from a series of “how to” cooking videos on YouTube. “Based on what was shown on a video, robots were able to recognize, grab and manipulate the correct kitchen utensil or object and perform the demonstrated task with high accuracy – without additional human input or programming,” DARPA said.
These scientists throwing the calculus of “cooking is as much of an art as it is a science” way off. Perhaps one day having a personal robot chef will be as commonplace as having a toaster, microwave or blender.
“If we have robots that are humanoid and they have hands, that will be the next industrial revolution,” said Yiannis Aloimonos, University of Maryland computer scientist. “I am particularly very happy to be participating in this revolution because it will change fundamentally our societies.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine Chef Ramsay getting any satisfaction out of yelling at a robot on an episode of Hell’s Kitchen . . .
A Royal Air Force Reaper MQ9A remote piloted aircraft interrupted a planned public execution that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attempted to carry out earlier this month, giving the would-be victims of the terrorist group a chance to escape.
According to a May 19, 2017 British Ministry of Defence release, the Reaper was over the Syrian village of Abu Kamal on May 9 when it noticed ISIS fighters gathering civilians in the village. When the crew saw that the ISIS fighters were removing two prisoners from a van, they chose to act.
Unable to directly target the would-be executioners due to the British rules of engagement that require the minimization of civilian casualties, the Reaper crew instead fired a single AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the roof of a building where two other ISIS terrorists were acting as sentries. The missile killed one of the tangos outright, and sent both the crowd of civilians and ISIS scrambling for cover.
The ultimate fate of the would-be victims is not known.
AmericanMilitaryNews.com reports that such executions are becoming more common as ISIS loses ground to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. ISIS was known for a series of beheading videos released since 2014, including one earlier this month of an alleged spy for Russia. A British subject, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” was one of the more notorious executioners until he was killed by a strike carried out by American and British UAVs.
According to the RAF’s web site, the British Reaper MQ9A, which is assigned to XIII Squadron, 39 Squadron, and 54 Squadron, is usually armed with four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. The MQ-9 is also used by the United States Air Force, the Italian Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, French Air Force, and United States Customs and Border Protection.
In 1999, U.S. military planners had to solve a tricky problem: How do you stop a ruthless dictator from breaking the rules without resorting to ruthless tactics yourself?
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was ignoring “no-fly zones” established to keep him from attacking Kurdish and Sunni minorities in his own country. American and allied air forces were able to force Iraqi jets to stay on the ground, but Hussein ordered his anti-air units to antagonize the U.S. fighters from civilian areas. He also stationed other units in areas they weren’t allowed to be in, but made sure they were surrounded by civilians as well.
To hit the targets without causing collateral damage, the U.S. turned to “concrete bombs.” The bombs were training aids repurposed to destroy actual targets. Weighing 500, 1,000, or 2,000 pounds, they wouldn’t explode when they struck an enemy vehicle but would transfer their kinetic energy into it. This would destroy even large vehicles like tanks without harming people nearby. If the crew was lucky, they might even survive a bomb that struck outside of the crew area of a vehicle.
France used the bombs in 2011, dropping concrete bombs during the liberation of Libya. Concrete bombs are still used by America in both training and real world missions. To see a simulated concrete bomb destroy a car, check out the National Geographic video below.
Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero in World War II, downing 23 German aircraft, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, and being named the 5th deadliest fighter ace in the RAF.
Making his feats even more impressive was the fact that he did these things without legs.
Two years later, Bader graduated and began flying in aerobatic displays for the RAF. In a 1931 show, he attempted a low-level display and crashed into the ground, sustaining severe injuries. Doctors decided they would have to amputate both of his legs beneath the knees to save him.
Bader was forced out of the RAF by the injury but was promised that he could come back if war was declared. He spent the next few years learning to play sports with his tin prosthetics.
In 1939, he got his chance to re-enter the service and took it. He attended a pilot refresher course and was sent to Duxford, England in 1940. At Duxford, he was introduced to the Spitfire which he described as “the aeroplane of one’s dreams.”
Soon, he was flying combat missions. He participated in the evacuation at Dunkirk where he scored his first victory over a German aircraft.
With the English kicked out of Europe, Hitler quickly began laying the groundwork for an invasion of the kingdom and Bader was called on to help keep the Nazis out of England. In Jul. 1940, the Battle of Britain was on. Bader and his commander, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, pioneered the Big Wing strategy that summer which envisioned squadrons of fighters descending on German bombers and their fighter escorts.
It was credited at the time with forcing the Nazis to cease daytime bombing missions and postponing the potential invasion of Britain from 1940 to 1941. RAF pilots were heralded as heroes, Bader especially. Bader had racked up a stunning 23 aircraft kills, counting the one at Dunkirk. This made him the 5th most lethal pilot in the RAF.
Unfortunately for Bader, his luck ran out Aug. 9 when he was hit over northern France and forced to bail out. At the time, Bader thought it was due to a collision with a Messerschmitt 109, but historical research decades later pointed to the possibility that another British pilot may have shot him down on accident.
Regardless, Bader found himself in a plane going down but was stuck in the cockpit because a prosthetic had become trapped under the rudder pedal. Bader made it out of the plane, but his right prosthetic was torn off in the process.
When he hit the ground, he was quickly captured by a group of Germans. In the United Kingdom, the Battle of Britain pilots had become famous and the double amputee/wing commander/fighter ace was one of the best-known pilots on the Allied side. The Germans quickly realized who they had captured and attempted to give Bader a pretty easy run of it. They recovered his wrecked leg and repaired it as best as they could.
Bader immediately attempted to escape on the repaired leg, climbing down a rope made of blankets and running away. He was soon recaptured.
Despite Bader’s escape attempt, the Germans offered safe passage for a British bomber to drop a replacement prosthetic for the damaged leg, but the RAF knew that the Germans would use it for publicity. Instead, they sent the leg on a bombing mission and had a Blenheim bomber drop the leg onto the camp during an otherwise normal bombing mission.
Bader again attempted to escape once he got his new leg. The pilot was transferred from one camp to another, attempting to escape whenever he could until the Nazis finally sent him to Colditz Castle, a prison that was considered inescapable.
There, Bader’s attempts to escape slowed but he found ways to make life miserable for the guards. One day, he refused to go to the formation to be counted. When the guards arrived at his room to order him out, he engaged in a shouting match with the guards and eventually told them, “My feet would get cold in the snow. If you want to count me, come to my room and do it.”
The guard then drew his pistol on Bader who immediately changed his tact and infuriated the guard further. “Well, of course I’ll go if you really want me to,” Bader said before picking up a stool, dragging it out to formation, and sitting on it to be counted.
In 1946 he turned to a civilian career. He was knighted in 1973 for his work to help other amputees before dying in 1982 of a heart attack. His story was featured in the 1956 movie, “Reach for the Sky.”
This new ground vehicle concept is way outside the box.
For over 100 years, protection for ground vehicles has always meant adding more armor, but that’s not the case with DARPA’s new concept vehicle. While the practice of adding armor yields more mass, cost, and protection, this vehicle’s approach is to be much faster and utilize interesting technology to stop potential threats.
Meanwhile, modern weapons have significantly outpaced armor improvements. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to break the “more armor equals more protection” cycle by introducing the Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program.
According to DARPA, the program’s mission is to:
Reduce vehicle size and weight by 50 percent
Reduce onboard crew needed to operate vehicle by 50 percent
Increase vehicle speed by 100 percent
Access 95 percent of terrain
Reduce signatures that enable adversaries to detect and engage vehicles
To accomplish these goals, DARPA will develop advanced technologies in the following areas:
Stealth – Reducing all traces that a vehicle is present. This includes visibility and other detection methods such as infrared and electromagnetic traces.
Augmentation – This technology is what pilots have been using in cockpits for decades. It overlays graphics over their line of sight to enhance situation awareness. Augmentation technology has also found its way to cell phones and tablets, here and example of augmented reality in mobile devices.
Agility – Naturally, anything that’s lighter can move faster. But, DARPA plans to take it a step further by implementing technologies that will deploy without driver assistance, such as active repositioning of armor (0:30 of video) and dodging maneuvers (0:35 of video).
Enhanced Mobility – The ability to navigate through rough terrain.
The following video of DARPA’s concept vehicle focuses on agility rather than armor and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Check it out:
How does director Joss Whedon follow the success of the first Avengers movie, that $220 million budget ensemble cast epic that grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide?
“With the smallest thing I can think of,” Whedon said at a recent gathering of the cast at the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. “What little moments are there between these characters that I haven’t gotten to do yet? What conversations have they not had? It’s never the big picture stuff – although that’s cool too – it’s how can I get inside their hearts? What’s funny about them? I write reams and reams of paper just thinking about the tiniest part.”
But “tiny” is not the first word one might use to describe the sequel, “Avengers – Age of Ultron.” It is a big movie in most ways that picks up where “Avengers” left off, taking the interpersonal and witty aspects of the team to the next level while hurtling full tilt across the screen for the duration.
“I read the script, and I said, ‘This is great; let’s go shoot it,'” said Robert Downey, Jr., who returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man. “It’s a Swiss watch to begin with, and Josh really created some great new situations for Tony to be in.”
James Spader plays Ultron – the evil robot who’s trying to use artificial intelligence to destroy the world – and the actor found the Whedon’s production process a challenge to keep up with.
“I really was just trying to hold on and stay on the train that was moving very quickly,” Spader said. “I arrived in London and within the first half hour they put on a suit and all this gear and I went through a range of motion and within 15 minutes I was watching me on a monitor move around this big room as Ultron. That pace was what it was throughout the entire project.”
Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, a character who many fans felt got short shrift in terms of screen time in the first movie. But that’s not the case in “Age of Ultron.”
“I speak in this movie, which is awesome,” joked Renner. “And I become part of the team, which is awesome, and dive into some killer aspects of the character.”
As Renner’s Hawkeye role grew so too did that of Black Widow, played once again by Scarlett Johansson.
“There some sense of normal in a way at the beginning of Avengers 2,” Johansson said. “But at the end she let her guard down. . . She had this moment of false hope. She put in the work and there should be some kind of personal pay off, but she realizes her calling is a greater one. That’s not something she’s necessarily thrilled about, but that’s what’s most heroic about her.”
Johansson (who was pregnant during the shooting of the film) also allowed that her action sequences were the result of a multi-person effort. “There’s a team around me that is super supportive in helping all of Widow’s fight moves and badass motorcycle riding happen. All that work being seamless takes a lot of choreography and team spirit.”
Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Dr. Banner who turns into The Hulk when provoked, and when asked what methods he draws on acting-wise to differentiate between the two forms, he joked, “I was helped out by the fact that I’m green and huge. That helped with the distinction between the two characters. I can’t take full credit for that except for the accent I was using, maybe.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige summed up the state of the Avengers brand by reflecting on how far it’s come in the last ten years or so: “It started with the notion of making these movies ourselves and becoming Marvel Studios, and then it continued with Robert in ‘Iron Man 1’ and having Samuel L. Jackson come in in the end and say, ‘You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet,’ thinking that most people wouldn’t know what that meant . . . but the world got it much more quickly than I anticipated.”
Feige pointed down the table at the cast and said, “It’s the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history, and it just keeps getting better and better.”
Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rejoiced when retired Gen. James “Warrior Monk” Mattis was picked for the top job at the Pentagon by President-elect Donald Trump.
The hard-charging Marine is known for his tenacity both on and off the battlefield. He expects the same tenacity among those who serve under him (just ask Col. Joe Dowdy).
But the Mattis love can get a little out of hand.
So we tried to come up with a few ideas of what the Pentagon employees might expect now that Mattis could be next Secretary of Defense.
1. The “Run, Hide, Fight” active shooter policy will be simplified.
The Department of Homeland Security prepares citizens to respond to an active shooter scenario using the phrase “Run. Hide. Fight.” Which is great… for DHS. James Mattis’ DoD won’t run. And they definitely won’t hide.
2. Incoming employees must submit a plan to kill everyone in their work section.
One of the former General’s most colorful quotes goes:
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Mattis isn’t going to be the kind of SECDEF that won’t put his money where his mouth is.
And it’s unwise to continue to use a nickname for someone who doesn’t like it, especially when that person is known to enjoy shooting “some assholes in the world who just need to be shot.”
6. No more sauerkraut in the cafeteria.
The place still stinks to high hell from Robert Gates’ Reuben sandwiches. From now on, everyone will be required to drink three small glasses of fruit punch-flavored pre-workout drink Mattis invented, known as “The Blood of Our Enemies.”
The Pentagon’s emerging “Arsenal Plane” or “flying bomb truck” is likely to be a modified, high-tech adaptation of the iconic B-52 bomber designed to fire air-to-air weapons, release swarms of mini-drones and provide additional fire-power to 5th generation stealth fighters such as the F-35 and F-22, Pentagon officials and analysts said.
It is also possible that the emerging arsenal plane could be a modified C-130 or combined version of a B-52 and C-130 drawing from elements of each, Pentagon officials said.
Using a B-52, which is already being modernized with new radios and an expanded internal weapons bay, would provide an existing “militarized” platform already engineered with electronic warfare ability and countermeasures designed to thwart enemy air defenses.
“You are using a jet that already has a military capability. The B-52 is a military asset, whereas all the alternatives would have to be created. It has already been weaponized and has less of a radar cross-section compared to a large Air Force cargo plane. It is not a penetrating bomber, but it does have some kind of jamming and countermeasures meant to cope with enemy air defenses. It is wired for a combat mission,” said Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultancy.
Flying as a large, non-stealthy bomber airplane, a B-52 would still present a large target to potential adversaries; however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said part of the rationale for the “Arsenal Plane” would be to work closely with stealthy fighter jets such as an F-22 and F-35, with increased networking technology designed to increase their firepower and weapons load.
An “Arsenal Plane” networked to F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters would enable the fighter aircraft to maintain their stealth properties while still having substantial offensive bombing capability. If stealth fighters attach weapons to their external pylons, they change their radar signature and therefore become more vulnerable to enemy air defenses. If networked to a large “flying bomb truck,” they could use stealth capability to defeat enemy air defenses and still have an ability to drop large amounts of bombs on targets.
Such a scenario could also likely rely upon now-in-development manned-unmanned teaming wherein emerging algorithms and computer technology enable fighter jets to control the sensor payload and weapons capability of nearby drones from the cockpit of the aircraft. This would enable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to more quickly relay strategic or targeting information between fighter jets, drones and “Arsenal Planes.”
Aboulafia explained that air fighters being developed by potential adversaries, such as the Chinese J-20 and other fighters, could exist in larger numbers than a US force, underscoring the current US strategy to maintain a technological edge even if their conventional forces are smaller. An “Arsenal Plane” could extend range and lethality for US fighters, in the event they were facing an enemy force with more sheer numbers of assets.
“There is a concern about numbers of potential enemies and range. When you are dealing with a potential adversary with thousands of jets and you’ve got limited assets with limited weapons payloads, you have got to be concerned about the numbers,” he said.
An effort to be more high-tech, if smaller in terms of sheer numbers, than rival militaries is a key part of the current Pentagon force modernization strategy.
“In practice, the “Arsenal Plane” will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities,” Carter told reporters. Aboulafia added that an idea for an “Arsenal Plane” emerged in the 1980s as a Cold War strategy designed to have large jets carry missiles able to attack Soviet targets.
Carter unveiled the “Arsenal Plane” concept during a recent 2017 budget drop discussion at the Pentagon wherein he, for the first time, revealed the existence of a “Strategic Capabilities Office” aimed at connecting and leveraging emerging weapons and technology with existing platforms. This effort is aimed at saving money, increasing the military’s high-tech lethality and bringing new assets to the force faster than the many years it would take to engineer entirely new technologies.
“I created the SCO (Strategic Capabilities Office) in 2012, when I was Deputy Secretary of defense to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs,” he said.
Carter said “Arsenal Plane” development would be funded through a $71 billion research and development 2017 budget request.
While Carter did not specify a B-52 during his public discussion of the new asset now in-development, he did say it would likely be an “older” aircraft designed to function as a “flying launchpad.”
“The last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the “Arsenal Plane,” which takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” Carter added.
The Air Force is already surging forward with a massive, fleet-wide modernization overhaul of the battle-tested, Vietnam-era B-52 bomber, an iconic airborne workhorse for the US military dating back to the 1960s.
Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.
The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons and technologies.
Aboulafia said the new B-52 “Arsenal Plane” could, for the first time, configure a primarily air-to-ground bomber as a platform able to fire air-to-air weapons as well – such as the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM.
The integration of air-to-air weapons on the B-52 does not seem inconceivable given the weapons upgrades already underway with the aircraft. Air Force is also making progress with a technology-inspired effort to increase the weapons payload for the workhorse bomber, Eric Single, Chief of the Global Strike Division, Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing, he explained.
B-52s have previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting edge precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.
“It is about a 66 percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52, which is huge. You can imagine the increased number of targets you can reach, and you can strike the same number of targets with significantly less sorties,” said Single.
Single also added that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.
The first increment of IWBU, slated to be finished by 2017, will integrate an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well, Single said.
IWBU, which uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, is expected to cost roughly $313 million, service officials said.
The B-52 has a massive, 185-foot wingspan, a weight of about 185,000 pounds and an ability to reach high sub-sonic speeds and altitudes of 50,000 feet, Air Force officials said.
Communications, Avionics Upgrades
Two distinct, yet interwoven B-52 modernization efforts will increase the electronics, communications technology, computing and avionics available in the cockpit while simultaneously configuring the aircraft with the ability to carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” precision-guided weapons internally – in addition to carrying six weapons on each wing, Single said.
Eight B-52s have already received a communications (coms systems) upgrade called Combat Network Communication Technology, or CONECT – a radio, electronics and data-link upgrade which, among other things, allows aircraft crews to transfer mission and targeting data directly to aircraft systems while in flight (machine to machine), Single explained.
“It installs a digital architecture in the airplane,” Single explained. “Instead of using data that was captured during the mission planning phase prior to your take off 15 to 20 hours ago – you are getting near real-time intelligence updates in flight.”
Single described it key attribute in terms of “machine-to-machine” data-transfer technology which allows for more efficient, seamless and rapid communication of combat-relevant information.
Using what’s called an ARC 210 Warrior software-programmable voice and data radio, pilots can now send and receive targeting data, mapping information or intelligence with ground stations, command centers and other aircraft.
“The crew gets the ability to communicate digitally outside the airplane which enables you to import not just voice but data for mission changes, threat notifications, targeting….all those different types of things you would need to get,” Single said.
An ability to receive real-time targeting updates is of great relevance to the B-52s close-air-support mission because fluid, fast-moving or dynamic combat situations often mean ground targets appear, change or disappear quickly.
Alongside moving much of the avionics from analogue to digital technology, CONECT also integrates new servers, modems, colored display screens in place of old green monochrome and provides pilots with digital moving-map displays which can be populated with real-time threat and mission data, Single said.
The new digital screens also show colored graphics highlighting the aircraft’s flight path, he added.
Single explained that being able to update key combat-relevant information while in transit will substantially help the aircraft more effectively travel longer distances for missions, as needed.
“The key to this is that this is part of the long-range strike family of systems — so if you take off out of Barksdale Air Force Base and you go to your target area, it could take 15 or 16 hours to get there. By the time you get there, all the threat information has changed,” said Single. “Things move, pop up or go away and the targeting data may be different.”
The upgrades will also improve the ability of the airplane to receive key intelligence information through a data link called the Intelligence Broadcast Receiver. In addition, the B-52s will be able to receive information through a LINK-16-like high-speed digital data link able to transmit targeting and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR information.
The CONECT effort, slated to cost $1.1 billion overall, will continue to unfold over the next several years, Single explained.
Twelve B-52 will be operational with CONECT by the end of this year and the entire fleet will be ready by 2021, Single said.
Known for massive bombing missions during the Vietnam War, the 159-foot long B-52s have in recent years been operating over Afghanistan in support of military actions there from a base in Guam.
The B-52 also served in Operation Desert Storm, Air Force statements said. “B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard,” an Air Force statement said.
In 2001, the B-52 provided close-air support to forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, service officials said. The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 21, 2003, B-52Hs launched approximately 100 CALCMs (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles) during a night mission.
Given the B-52s historic role in precision-bombing and close air support, next-generation avionics and technologies are expected to greatly increase potential missions for the platform in coming years, service officials said.
Air Force Special Operations Command is taking the mantra of “you can never have too much firepower” to heart.
The AC-130 — a modified cargo plane-turned-close air support platform outfitted with a deadly array of weaponry — is about to get a big weapons upgrade, to include another 105mm cannon added to the rear of the plane.
“I want to have two guns,” AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold said at a recent Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla, while also calling it “the ultimate battle plane,” according to the Air Force Times.
AFSOC plans to add a 105mm cannon to the rear of the plane. That is in addition to the weapons the aircraft is already slated to carry — dual electro-optical infrared sensors, a 30mm cannon, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, all-weather synthetic aperture radar and GBU-30 small diameter bombs. The package was developed to let the gunship identify friendlies and targets at night and in adverse weather.
The upgraded AC-130J “Ghostrider” is currently in the test phase and is slated to replace the AC-130H “Spectre,” AC-130U “Spooky,” and the AC-130W “Stinger II.”
With sophisticated sensors and electronics, the plane is a favorite among ground troops in need of close air support. The AC-130 was used extensively over the skies of Fallujah in 2004, where a reporter embedded with the Marines there remarked: “It’s the air power that really [tipped] the balance towards the Marines.”
He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.
But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.
The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.
The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.
These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.
But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.
It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.
The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.
“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”
After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.
The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)
“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”
So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.
The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.
The Cold War was a great time for NASA and the U.S. Air Force. It seemed like they were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted in the interest of just seeing if they could do it. But the X-15 was much more than just a power play. Even though the Air Force already had the perfect spy plane, capable of flying across the planet at Mach 3, they still decided to up the game just a little further and came away with some important discoveries, discoveries that led to the creation of the Space Shuttle.
Not to mention the world’s speed record for manned, powered flight – Mach 6.7.
The craft had to be drop launched from the wing of a specially modified B-52 Stratofortress but could reach the very edge of space, setting altitude records for winged aircraft. Once dropped from the wing of the “mother ship” the X-15 launched its XLR-99 rocket engine to propel the craft at hypersonic speeds. It was a unique plane because it was designed to operate in an environment where there was less air than other aircraft.
It was the world’s first spaceplane, thus it used rocket thrusters to control its altitude at times. It could switch back and forth between conventional flight controls as needed for exoatmospheric flight as well as landing the craft.
There were three different X-15 airframes. One suffered from a landing accident in 1962 that injured pilot John McKay. As a result of this flight and the damage suffered to the airframe, the fuselage was lengthened, it was given extra drop tanks for fuel beneath the wings and was given an ablative coating to protect its pilot from the heat of hypersonic flight.
A second one was lost in 1967, just minutes after its launch. The craft had taken a video of the horizon at the edge of space and began its descent to the world below. As the craft descended, it entered a hypersonic spin. Even though its pilot, Michael J. Adams, was able to recover the plane at 36,000 feet, it then went into an inverted dive at Mach 4.7. The plane broke up under the stress and Adams was killed.
Pilots who flew the X-15 to its highest altitudes were eventually given astronaut wings by the U.S. Air Force, considering the craft broke the USAF threshold for the edge of space at 50 miles above the surface of the earth. The craft would also make faster and faster hypersonic flights until Oct.3, 1967 when William J. “Pete” Knight took the craft to its maximum speed of 4,520 miles per hour.
Aside from these two achievements, the X-15 also had a number of notable firsts, including being the first restartable, throttle-controlled and man-rated rocket engine. It also tested the first spaceflight stellar navigation system and advanced pressure suits. The X-15 program was a direct ancestor of the modern Space Shuttle program, and without it, many notable achievements would not have happened.
Comedy greats Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Drew Carey, and Rob Riggle all started their working lives in the military, and all of them have credited their service for giving them unique perspectives that shaped their routines or approaches to roles they played. And now a new generation of veterans are finding success in comedy.
Here are 15 veterans currently making names for themselves on stages and elsewhere around the country:
1. Julia Lillis
Julia is a Naval Academy graduate who has had great success as a stand up comedian and writer. She has appeared on E! and MTV and is a recurring guest on the Dennis Miller show. Julia has also done multiple tours entertaining the troops overseas.
2. James Connolly
James is a veteran of Desert Storm and Harvard graduate. He has appeared on VH1, HBO, Comedy Central, and is one of the most played comedians on Sirius XM. In addition, he has done multiple tours entertaining the troops and holds an annual “Cocktails and Camouflage” comedy show that raises money for veterans organizations.
3. Jose Sarduy
Jose is currently an aviator in the Air Force reserves. He’s made a big impact with comedy festivals, has toured overseas with the GI’s of Comedy, and currently co-hosts NUVOtv’s “Stand up and Deliver.”
Jon is a veteran of the Army infantry and founder of Operation Comedy, recruiting some of the biggest comedians in the industry to give free shows to veterans at signature venues like the Improv in Hollywood.
6. Justin Wood
An Army veteran turned stand up comic, Justin has performed at major venues throughout Los Angeles, toured with the GI’s of Comedy, and founded “Comics that Care” recruiting comedians to perform for homeless veterans. He recently made a viral satire video of him committing “stolen valor” (posted above).
7. Benari Poulten
Benari is currently a Master Sergeant in the Army Reserve and a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a comic he has toured with the GI’s of Comedy and was hired this year as a writer on “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore.
8. Shawn Halpin
After serving in the Marine Corps infantry, Halpin has had success as a comedian opening for Pauley Shore, Tom Green, and as a regular at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. He has entertained the troops performing with Operation Comedy, GI’s of Comedy, and Comics on Duty.
9. PJ Walsh
After serving in the Navy, Walsh has shared the stage with many comedy greats including Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. He has performed for troops in several countries including Iraq and Afghanistan and is committed to raising funds for veteran organizations.
10. Jody Fuller
Fuller currently serves as a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve with three tours overseas. His performance highlights include a opening gig in front of comedy great Jeff Foxworthy.
11. Will C
Will C served in the Marine Corps, Army, and the Air Force. He has had great success as a comedian touring across the country and has appeared in numerous television roles. He founded The Veterans of Comedy, a group that tours nationally to entertain active duty military and veterans.
12. Tom Irwin
A U.S. Army veteran, Tom’s success as a comedian includes an invitation to perform at The White House. He has done multiple tours overseas entertaining troops and created a “25 Days in Iraq” show about his tour in Iraq.
13. Erik Knowles
Knowles is a Marine Corps veteran turned stand up who was a finalist at the California Comedy Festival and The World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas. He has worked with Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and also tours with The Veterans of Comedy.
14. Katie Robinson
Katie is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns where she worked as a chem-bio-radiation officer. Known as “Comedy Katie” she is a regular at The World FamousComedy Store in Hollywood and won critical acclaim at MiniFest: Los Angeles.
The Army plans to arm its force with more than 500 medium-weight Mobile Protected Firepower combat vehicles engineered to bring heavy fire support, high-speed mobility, and warzone protection for fast-maneuvering infantry.
The service plans to pick two vendors in the next few months to build prototype vehicles as an initial step toward having one vendor start full-rate production in 2025.
“Our plan is to award up to two contracts. Each vendor will build 12 vehicles and the we will down select from two to one. When we go into production, we will build 504 vehicles,” David Dopp, Army Program Manager, Mobile Protected Firepower, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints — such as deploying rapidly by air or crossing bridges in a heavy firefight.
Senior Army leaders say that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support. Service and industry developers say the MPF is being engineered with a medium-class, yet strong 105mm cannon; this will enable attack units to destroy some enemy tactical and combat vehicles as well as infantry formations and some buildings or support structures.
Also, while likely not able to match the speed of a wheeled Stryker vehicle, a “tracked” MPF can better enable “off-road” combat.
An M1A2 Abrams tank can typically be pushed to speeds just above 40mph — yet wheeled Strykers, Humvees and other combat vehicles can easily travel faster than 60mph. Therefore, engineering a vehicle which does not slow down a time-sensitive infantry assault is of paramount importance to MPF developers.
“MPF has to keep up with infantry. We did a lot of tracked and wheeled vehicle studies, and that is what led us to identify it as a tracked vehicle,” Dopp said.
The Army has a near-term and longer-range plan for the vehicle, which Dopp said still needs to integrate the best available Active Protection Systems. Service leaders
“We have a two pronged approach. We are trying to develop systems for the next fight and the fight after next with Next-Gen Combat Vehicle. At the same time, we want to modernize our current fleet to fight any war until we get there,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Also, rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to US or NATO forces.
Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy.
On mobile protected firepower the Army said it wanted a 105 they were really interested in having alot of firepower down range for those light skinned medium kinds of tactical vehicles.
General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin I MPF Demonstrator.
General Dynamics Land Systems, is one of several industry offerings for the Army to consider. GDLS weapons developers tell Warrior Maven their offering is an evolution of its MPF Griffin I demonstrator vehicle unveiled several years ago.
“We did it with Griffin 1 for Mobile Protected Firepower it was a powerful tool for us to go back and redesign what we thought the Army really wanted,” Michael Peck, GDLS Director of Business Development, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Other industry bidders include BAE Systems and SAIC. BAE’s offering is based upon improvements to the Army’s M8 Armored Gun System.
“Our infantry fights in close terrain, urban areas and remote locations, so a smaller lightweight vehicle that still provides superior protection was essential to the design of our MPF offering,” Jim Miller, director of Business Development at BAE Systems Combat Vehicles business, said in a company written statement.
For its vehicle, SAIC has formed an industry partnership; its offering includes an ST Kinetics armored vehicle chassis and a CMI Defense turret, SAIC data says.
The Army’s new lightweight MPF armored vehicle is expected to change land war by outmatching Russian equivalents and bringing a new dimension to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack.
Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering US Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain.
Smith did not elaborate on any precise weight, but did stress that the effort intends to find the optimal blend of lethality, mobility and survivability. Senior Army leaders, however, ,do say that the new MPF will be more survivable and superior than its Russian equivalent.
The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD air transportable light tank, according to Russian news reports, weighs roughly 20 tons and fires a 125mm smoothbore gun. It is designed to attack tanks and support amphibious, air or ground operations. The vehicle has been in service since 2005. US Army weapons developers have said their MPF will likely be heavier to ensure a higher level of protection for US soldiers.
When asked if the MPF deployment plans will mirror Army plans to send Strykers to Europe as a deterrent against Russia, Dopp did not rule out the possibility.
“MPF will go to support IBCTs….whatever they encounter,” Dopp said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.