The 17 coolest DARPA projects - We Are The Mighty
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The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Since its founding in 1958, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has kept the United States as a technological leader in robotics, electronics, communications, and combat. President Eisenhower first authorized what was then known as ARPA as a response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, and the Agency quickly became known for its far-fetched research,  its startling advances, and its secrecy.


Inventions by DARPA have changed the way we communicate, work, and travel – both in peace and war. Our list of DARPA projects includes concepts crucial to the internet, GPS, interactive maps, advanced computing, and transportation. And DARPA researchers are currently working on an astounding array of projects, everything from robotic dogs to healing microchips. Much of it won’t work, and some of it won’t ever see the light of day – but everything DARPA does keeps the US on the forefront of technological dominance.

This DARPA projects list features some of the coolest, most attention-getting innovations DARPA has been involved with. Which inventions and breakthroughs do you think are the coolest in DARPA history? Vote them up below!

The Coolest DARPA Projects

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This epic video game’s ‘ultimate edition’ facelift paid off

As we endure the long wait for titles like “No Man’s Sky,” “Battlefield 1,” and “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” We Are The Mighty decided to dust off some old games in the archives.


“Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” is the re-mastered version of the 2006 game known for its chainsaw kills, ‘roided up characters, and brutal gameplay. It allows players to fight as Delta Squad soldiers against the dreaded Locusts, an army of bug-like monsters, in H.D. Players control Marcus Fenix or Dominic Santiago in a mission to map Locust tunnels and deploy a Lightmass Bomb – imagine a cross between napalm and a nuclear bomb.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
The Lightmass bomb would be pretty useful in real life. (GIF: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox 1)

For most of the game, Delta squad consists of four members which the player can give simple orders to as they face off against Boomers – massive infantrymen who fire explosive grenades, Berserkers – unstoppable linebackers who will charge players, Locust Drones – standard infantrymen, and others.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

The fights progress from the ruins of major cities and through underground tunnels and mines before culminating on a moving train. Features of the different areas, such as whether or not the area is exposed to satellites or is lit by the sun, change the combat mechanics and keep the player on their toes.

The main antagonist, General RAAM, is the head of all Locust forces and is known for his ruthlessness. He executes one human after another in brutal ways and is able to control a flock of krill, bat-like creatures that will attack Delta soldiers en mass and tear them apart.

Considering how far out the game’s plot and enemies are, it features surprisingly realistic combat mechanics. Players need to maneuver carefully and use cover to bring down the Locust grunts and massive monsters. In two-player mode, players can support each other during attacks, even when the map forces them to use two different routes.

Players have to endure a number of different scenarios in the main game, everything from defending a stranded outpost like they’re on a firebase being overrun to assaulting an enemy strongpoint defended by elite warriors.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Players need to support each other in multiplayer mode. Despite the small teams, the fighting is still intense. (GIF: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox 1)

In multiplayer mode, modern gamers may be surprised that most game types support four versus four multiplayer, and one only supports two versus two. But, these smaller teams make the fighting feel less hectic and more personal, creating less chaos and supporting tactical play.

Of course, the re-mastered graphics make everything in “Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” look more realistic and prettier than in the original. While this breaks from the aesthetic of the 2006 version, a notoriously gritty experience, it still feels like Delta Squad is in the suck.

For gamers who haven’t gotten into “Gears of War” yet or who want a refresher before the release of “Gears of War 4” in October, the Ultimate Edition is great fun.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here are the changes to the M16 since ‘Black Hawk Down’

About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.

Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.


The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Blast from the past

As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.

Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …

As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.

While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.

Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.

Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.

Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.

For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.

Latest and greatest

As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.

The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.

When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.

All the small things

While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.

The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.

The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.

Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

Articles

Will Trump’s tweets shoot down the Lightning?

Fresh off a tweet targeting the climbing costs of the new Air Force One, President-elect Donald Trump has now turned his attention to a much bigger program: The F-35 Lightning II.


The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America and F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps personnel prepare to equip the aircraft with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations. (US Navy)

In a tweet sent out at 8:26 AM, Trump wrote, “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”

 

The tweet is not much of a surprise. Aviation Week and Space Technology, sometimes referred to as “Aviation Leak,” noted during the Air Force One controversy that Trump had been critical of the F-35’s costs during his successful presidential campaign.

Last week, after Trump tweeted about the rising costs of the planned replacement for the VC-25, CNN reported that the CEO of Boeing contacted Trump to assure the president-elect that he would work to keep costs down.

The program — which has been so delayed that the Marines had to pull legacy F/A-18 Hornets out of the “boneyard” at Davis Monthan Air Force Base to have enough planes to do its mission — has seen costs climb to roughly $100 million per aircraft. The plane is slated to replace F-16 Fighting Falcons, legacy F/A-18 Hornets, A-10 Thunderbolts, and the AV-8B Harriers in U.S. military service.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Mission planners could risk four airmen in fifth-generation planes or up to 75 in legacy aircraft when embarking on dangerous missions. US Air Force

The state of the Marine Corps F/A-18 inventory may preclude a complete cancellation of the F-35 buy, however. Since Oct. 1, four Marine F/A-18 Hornets have crashed. In the most recent crash, the pilot was killed despite ejecting from his plane.

Trump’s tweet comes as news emerged of the Pentagon concealing a report of $125 billion in “administrative waste” over the last five years.

The money wasted could have funded a number of weapon systems that the Pentagon had cut over the last eight years.

popular

M202 FLASH: The Army’s man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher

The Army’s recent order of a four-bore rifle prototype made some waves. It’s a pretty exciting piece of technology, but if it gets picked up, it won’t be the first four-barrel weapon that American troops have fielded. And while this new prototype rifle fires 6mm rounds at an impressive rate, the older system packed a bigger wallop.

This older four-barrel system wasn’t a rifle, however, it was a rocket launcher called the M202 FLASH. “FLASH,” in this case, stood for FLame Assault SHoulder weapon. It packed four 66-millimeter M74 rockets that were held together by a clip.


As the full name of the rocket launcher suggests, the rockets were equipped with incendiary warheads. It replaced the traditional flamethrowers that had seen a lot of action in World War II, much to the relief of the grunts who once carried them.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Traditional flamethrowers, like this M2 being used in the Pacific Theater, were effective, but had a lot of drawbacks. (US Army)

Traditional flamethrowers were backpack-mounted. The canisters on their backs were filled with what was, essentially, jellied gasoline. To make matters worse for the GI carrying a large, flammable target on their back, they had to get within 47 yards of the enemy to use a traditional flamethrower.

While flamethrowers were devastating to enemy positions and extremely effective at clearing terrain, the guy who carried it on his back was in danger of becoming a very crispy critter should his flamethrower get hit. And there’s no hiding who’s carrying a flamethrower. This made the specially-trained operators a target.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
The M202 entered service in 1978 and has seen action in the Global War on Terror. (US Army)

The M202A1 eliminated a lot of those drawbacks. Any number of grunts could be trained to use the system. The weapon is still distinctive but, according to U.S. Army Training Circular 23-2, it has a maximum range of just over 800 yards. While you’re not always going to be firing from maximum range, it’s a lot better than being within a stone’s throw.

Each of the M74 rockets fired by the M202 packed about 1.3 pounds of what the Army called a “thickened pyrophoric agent,” called triethylaluminum. This burned at temperatures of up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to white phosphorus (“Willie Pete”).

The M202 has been obscured — largely because it had its share of hiccups. Still, it’s seen some action in the War on Terror — and in a few of our favorite movies and games. The M202 made an appearance in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Capcom’s Resident Evil, and Overkill Software’s Payday 2.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Take that, T-Virus. (Capcom)

-Feature image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Articles

This powerful fighter plane could destroy enemy satellites in space

In 1985, the Cold War turned 40 years old. Though the Space Race had been over for more than a decade by then, the competition between the Americans and Soviets for the domination of Earth’s orbit was intense.


Each side used spy satellites to track the military movements of their rival. The Soviet Union became so proficient at the use of satellites, it could launch many rockets into orbit, sometimes in a matter of hours.

The number of satellites the Soviet Union could produce and their ability to place them in orbit so quickly was considered a dangerous threat. Figuring out how to mitigate the threat of an object in low Earth orbit was the order of the day.

Enter the F-15.

The F-15 carried an ASM-135 ASAT anti-satellite missile, a 3,000-pound, 18-foot-long projectile that the pilot would carry to the edge of space before firing at a target 345 miles above the surface of the Earth, moving at 23,000 feet per second.

They tested the tactic on P78-1, an obsolete American research satellite, in orbit since 1979.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Maj. Wilbert ‘Doug’ Pearson successfully launched an anti-satellite, or ASAT, missile from a highly modified F-15A on Sept. 13, 1985 in the Pacific Missile Test Range. He scored a direct hit on the Solwind P78-1 satellite orbiting 340 miles above. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul E. Reynolds)

On Sept. 13, 1985, then-Maj. Wilbert “Doug” Pearson took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., bound for the edge of the the atmosphere. Once he reached 30,000 feet, he would have 10 seconds to fire his weapon.

The Smithsonian has actual video from the fight of then-Maj. Pearson’s F-15.

Flying at just above Mach 1.2, Pearson pulled up into a 3.8 G, 65-degree climb that reduced the speed of his F-15A to just below the speed of sound. He fired the guided missile at 38,100 feet. The 2,700-pound, three-stage missile used an infrared sensor to strike its target, hitting the one-ton satellite at 15,000 miles per hour.

The flight was dubbed the”Celestial Eagle Flight” and made Pearson “the first and only space ace.”

Lists

7 Christmas gift ideas for the Marines

So far, we’ve covered what the Army, Navy, and Air Force would probably like to find under their Christmas trees this year, but what about the Marines? Well, we think they’re looking forward to a few good gifts this year, too. These aren’t exactly Toys for Tots, if you know what we mean.


7. Super Hornets to go with Lightnings

The Marines’ Hornet fleet is so old that they needed to be bailed out by the boneyard earlier this year. While the first squadron of Marine F-35B Lightning is deploying, there’s another way to modernize Marine Corps aviation: Give ’em the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, too. This would let the legacy F/A-18 Hornets coast into a well-deserved retirement.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

6. More amphibious ships

We put the A-10 on the Army’s wishlist, even though it’s an Air Force asset. Along those same lines, we think more amphibious ships would make a great present for the Marine Corps, even though they’re Navy equipment. Marines are meant for amphibious warfare, but they can’t do that if the sealift isn’t there.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263, Marine Aircraft Group 29, prepare for flight on the deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary L. Borden)

5. More operations and maintenance funding

According to the Heritage Foundation, only 41 percent of Marine aviation assets are capable of flying if needed. This is clearly not a satisfactory situation, and it places both aviators and Marines on the ground at risk.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

4. Resume the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program

The Marines are trying to replace the ancient AAV-7 with the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Marine Personnel Carrier. Problem is, the ACV doesn’t quite live up to the “Amphibious” part, per the Heritage Foundation’s Assessment of U.S. military strength. Why not scrap those programs and bring back the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle? The EFV was a superb design that was inexplicably cancelled — a replacement the AAV-7 and the LAV-25 would look good under the tree.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
A prototype of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, planned for deployment to the United States Marine Corps before it was cancelled. (USMC photo)

3. A few good aggressors

The Marines currently use the F-5 Tiger for aggressor training. That’s not a bad plane, but when Marine pilots could be facing Su-27/30/33/35 Flankers, a Tiger may not be enough plane to do the job. The Navy once had F-16s as aggressors — perhaps the Marines can get some late-model Falcons to supplement or replace the Tigers.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

2. A lot more Ospreys, Lightnings, Cobras, King Stallions, and, well, everything…

The MV-22 Osprey, once targeted for cancellation by former Vice President Dick Cheney, is now in high demand. The problem is that procurement’s not keeping up with said demand. The same can be said for a lot of other airframes in the Marine Corps inventory.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys fly over the Arabian Sea. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Keonaona C. Paulo)

1. Put the SAW back in the fire team

The Marines have been replacing the M249 SAW with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. We’re not saying that the M27 is a bad rifle, but the SAW just brings more ammo capacity to the fight. So, why not put the SAW back in the fire team, but keep the IAR as well to replace the rifleman without the M203. Win-win, right?

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
A U.S. Marine fires an M249 light machine gun. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)

What do you think the Marine Corps needs to see under its tree for a Merry Christmas? Let us know in the comments.

Lists

5 animals that became paratroopers

What, you think only humans can become paratroopers? Okay, so humans do lead most airborne operations but the military often brings along animals — everything from bats to bears — they think might be helpful in a target area.


Check out this list of animals who have conducted jump operations:

1. Dogs

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Rob the Paradog was another heroic parachuting dog of World War II awarded the Dickin Medal. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Being “man’s best friend” is a double-edged sword. While domestication has allowed dogs to spread across the entire planet and cohabitate with humans while other species were pushed out of our sprawling cities, it has also resulted in dogs having to help defend those habitations.

And since nearly the invention of airborne operations, dogs have defended those habitations via paratrooper insertions. The British brought parachuting dogs with them on D-Day and Navy SEALs and other special operators bring dogs with them on missions today.

2. Bears

Yeah, airborne bears. Bet no one knew that was something they had to worry about. Luckily, bear paratroopers are pretty rare. Engineers working on the ejection capsules for B-58 Hustlers needed something to simulate a living human for tests after a bunch of bleeding hearts protested their use of poor people.

They settled on bears since their weight and dimensions were close enough to humans for the capsules to work similarly. At least six bears and one chimpanzee took the flight.

3. Beta fish

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Tattersall)

 

The “beta fish” title is singular for a reason. The military never sanctioned a beta fish airborne operation but Army Spc. Matthew Tattersall took “Willie Makeit” with him on a jump anyway, took a selfie in the air with the fish, and then landed. Willie was granted a meritorious name change to “Willie Did Makeit.”

Tattersall got extra duty. Sheesh, you would figure the man who single-handedly stood up the Airborne Beta Fish program would get more respect than that.

4. Bats

 

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
(Photo: National Park Service Nick Hristov)

 

Bats are probably the only animal on this list capable of conducting an entire airborne operation on their own (except for piloting the aircraft). The Army, then Navy, then Marine Corps experimented with dropping bats in specialized bomb casings that carried up to 1,040 bats a piece.

These bomb casings, and the bats inside, would parachute down to 1,000 feet before the bats disperse across the target area and begin actions on the objective. Their “actions on the objective” were to find a nice place to sleep and then go up in flames thanks to the incendiary devices on their legs.

5. Beavers

Beaver airborne operations were not military affairs, unlike these other entries. The idea to teach beavers to parachute started with a few researchers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game which needed to establish new beaver colonies for fur production and watershed conservation in remote areas.

After horse and mule trains proved to be an expensive way to transport the beavers, the department decided to experiment with parachute operations. Seventy-five beavers ended up taking single-flights, but one beaver had to act as his species’ version of the test platoon. “Geronimo” conducted many experimental jumps before making his final, operational jump with three females to establish a colony.

So, yeah, there’s a decent chance that a polygamist beaver in Idaho had more jumps than you do.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is how the Air Force plans to ‘sail’ its airmen through space

Sun Tzu advised in The Art of War, “When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him.”


This is why, since the advent of flight, all battlefield commanders have sought to control the airspace above the battlefield – the “ground” above the high ground.

Control of the airspace grants its occupant a clearer view of an enemy’s movements, better communications with friendly forces and the freedom to move quickly and unpredictably to attack downhill well behind the enemy’s front lines.

Forces on land, at sea and in the air all reap the advantages of the establishment of air superiority – the keystone to victories from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just as important, occupying that high ground denies those same advantages to the enemy.

Research into lasers may offer advancement in propulsion technology to get us into deep space and beyond for a fraction of the cost. The geniuses at the Air Force Research Laboratory are developing multiple ways to utilize laser power to enhance weapons, mining in space and electrolyze water.

In peacetime, maintaining air superiority provides a deterrent to those potential adversaries who heed the warning of Sun Tzu.

That is why the Air Force and its researchers are constantly looking far beyond the horizon of the current battlefield to develop new technologies enabling access to the highest ground possible – space.

Even before the Soviet Union successfully launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in October 1957, the United States was developing its own top-secret satellites to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) of potential adversaries – Project Corona.

While Sputnik was little more than a beeping aluminum ball orbiting the Earth, it was an undeniable Soviet flag planted on the global high ground. The U.S. government knew that ceding that high ground greatly increased the chances of defeat should the Cold War with the Soviet Union turn hot.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, who oversaw the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), firmly acknowledged the national security benefits of advancing the peaceful exploration of space in 1963.

“I, for one, don’t want to go to bed by the light of a Communist moon,” said Johnson.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Today, the Air Force operates the largest GPS constellation in history with more than 30 satellites. Originally developed and implemented as a military navigation system, today we share it with the rest of the world while still relying on it for a variety of tasks from guiding precision weapons to delivering humanitarian supplies on the other side of the planet. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

To this day the U.S. Air Force has remained at the forefront of pushing farther into space, from launching communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to providing astronaut Airmen who first ventured into Earth orbit during Project Mercury, walked on the Moon during Project Apollo to Col. Jack D. Fischer currently aboard the International Space Station.

It is a legacy that surrounds and drives Dr. Wellesley Pereira, a senior research physical scientist with the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The very site at which Pereira conducts his research is named for an Airman who led the charge to put an American on the Moon.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
Col. Buzz Aldrin was one of the first two humans to land on the Moon, and the second person to walk on it. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

The Phillips Research Site is named for Air Force Gen. Samuel Phillips, who served as Director of NASA’s Apollo manned lunar landing program from 1964 to 1969. That program culminated in the first humans, Neil Armstrong and then Air Force Lt. Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, landing on the moon in 1969 as Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 Command Module overhead. It was the kind of aggressive manned exploration of space that Pereira would not only like to see continue, but accelerate.

“The Air Force and its Airmen are seen as trendsetters, as in the case with GPS, benefiting all humanity, or with technologically-inspired precision airdrops from 30,000 feet of lifesaving supplies during humanitarian crises,” said Pereira. “In doing this the Air Force establishes itself as a global power in which it does not cede higher ground to anyone… It pays dividends to be at the leading edge of that technology as opposed to playing catch up all the time. The Air Force can really send a very positive message by being that trendsetter in space.”

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The Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) is an American military airdrop system which uses the GPS, steerable parachutes, and an onboard computer to steer loads to a designated point of impact (PI) on a drop zone (DZ). (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

Pereira is currently researching infrared physics and hyper-spectral imaging as a means to provide ISR data over a wide range of light not visible to the human eye.

“We simulate cloud scenes viewed from spacecraft,” said Pereira. ” (Examining) all the aspects that affect an image from space like the artifacts caused by movement in the space platform; trying to process signals, trying to process information. We try to simulate these things in our lab just to understand spacecraft processes and how we can deal with this in post-processing.”

Pereira’s current position at AFRL as a research scientist coupled with a background in astronomy, physics and space research gives him the opportunity to think deeply about space and human space flight.

“As a research scientist, I’ve been involved in building payloads for the Air Force on satellites,” said Pereira. “This has led me to think about satellites in general; launch, orbits, moving in and out of orbits, the mechanics of orbits and the optimization of orbits.”

Those contemplations have led Pereira to envision an Air Force of the future that will propel its assets and Airmen to increasingly higher ground in space in a cost-effective way that combines technology old and new – sails and lasers.

“Up until now, we’ve been using chemical propulsion to get into space. Chemical propulsion is limited in what it can do for us in the future. We cannot go very far. We have to take resources from the Earth into space, which is a big issue considering we only can carry so much mass, we only have so much power, and so on. It is limited by chemical bond, but it is also limited by size, weight, power,” said Pereira.

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Description Here (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

The concept of solar sails has existed for quite a while. A solar sail uses photons, or energy from the sun to propel a spacecraft. Photons have energy and momentum. That energy transfers to a sail upon impact, pushing the sail and spacecraft to which it is attached, farther into space, according to Pereira.

“The Japanese have already proven that we can fly stuff with a solar sail. In 2010, they sent up an experiment called IKAROS, Interplanetary Kite-raft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. This was a very successful project,” said Pereira.

“In the same vein as solar sails, futurists have also thought about laser sails. I think this is an area where the Air Force can develop an ability for us to propel spacecraft farther using lasers, either in the form of laser arrays on Earth or taking a laser array and putting it on the moon, to propel spacecraft without the cost of lifting spacecraft and chemical propellant from the Earth’s surface.”

In the near future, Pereira sees this method as a cost-effective way the Air Force can lift satellites into higher Earth orbit.

“You have spacecraft go into orbits that are just about 300 to 600 kilometers above the Earth. We call those Low Earth Orbits or LEO. Likewise, you have orbits that could be about 36,000 to 40,000 kilometers above the Earth. We call them Geostationary Earth Orbits or GEO orbits. Many communications satellites, as well as, a few other satellites are in Geostationary orbit…the way of the future, would be to use laser based arrays, instead of chemical propulsion, to fire at a satellite’s sail to push it to a higher orbit,” said Pereira.

“Our goal is to try and minimize taking resources from earth to space. We can literally just launch a rocket using a catapult that could boost to about 100 meters per second and, once we get it to a certain altitude, we can have an array of lasers focus on the sail on the rocket, propel it out farther, whether it’s intended for a LEO orbit or whether it’s intended for a GEO orbit. As long as you can build material that can endure the laser energy without tearing, I think this is a far cheaper way to go and it could save the Air Force a lot of money.”

According to Pereira, developing this technology would naturally lead to the ability to propel spacecraft carrying Airmen farther into the solar system where they could establish self-sustaining outposts on ever higher ground.

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NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the MPCV, is essentially a spacecraft designed to take astronauts farther than any human has ever gone before. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

“NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the MPCV, is essentially a spacecraft designed to take astronauts farther than any human has ever gone before. One test flight concept is to visit an asteroid called 1999 AO10, in around 2025,” said Pereira. “This asteroid does not have a lot of gravity and not a lot of surface area, so rather than walking on the asteroid, the idea is for the spacecraft to connect itself to the asteroid, and for the astronauts to do spacewalks to mine materials, so that they can bring them back to Earth for analysis.”

Past and current Air Force research during manned space flight has led to increased understanding of human physiological response to microgravity and exposure to radiation, development of life support systems, nutritious food packaging, sophisticated positioning, navigation and timing software and systems that could one day enable Airmen to routinely fly to and mine asteroids and planetary moons for needed resources.

Pereira also sees Air Force cooperation with commercial companies developing space flight technologies as a benefit to both, from developing suborbital space planes, manned capsules and space waypoints, or “hotels”, to projects as ambitious as Breakthrough Starshot, a proposed mission to send a microchip all the way to Proxima B, an exo-planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, and transmit data back to Earth.

“They want to do this at about 20 percent of the speed of light, meaning it will take five times as long as it would take light to travel between the Earth and Proxima Centauri, approximately four light years away. So it could take only about 20 years for this chip to get to Proxima Centauri. Then if it beams images back at the speed of light, it would take another four years for that data to come back. In about 24 years, we would get data from Proxima Centauri, our nearest star,” said Pereira.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
To this day the U.S. Air Force has remained at the forefront of pushing farther into space, from launching communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to providing astronaut Airmen who first ventured into Earth orbit, walked on the Moon and are currently aboard the International Space Station. The future holds promises of laser-based sails and self-sustained space outposts. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

Pereira believes that the Air Force participating in such ventures into the space domain could lead to technologies that could send Airmen to the moons of outer planets in our solar system within a person’s lifetime, benefiting the human race and keeping the Air Force firmly atop the high ground.

“First and foremost, Airmen, as many times in the past, can serve in the capacity of professional astronauts: providing services in scouting and setting up breakthrough scientific missions, establishing colonies for repair and mining in order to reduce or avoid having to take materials from Earth to space…enabling safe pathways, providing in-flight maintenance, refueling crews, more effectively than machines might be able to do.”

“There are so many wonderful things about space that are so fascinating that we can explore and learn so much more if we just keep that aspect of space exploration going. We can achieve this by having our Airmen lead the way to an era of exploration enabled by human space flight.”

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CIA deflects criticism after live-Tweeting bin-Laden raid to mark 5th anniversary

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Quick . . . how many WATM board members are in this picture? (Photo: White House)


The Central Intelligence Agency on Monday defended live-tweeting the U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the covert mission.

The Langley, Virginia-based agency the day before had posted a series of tweets chronicling key moments during the May 2, 2011, raid by Navy SEALs on the terrorist leader’s home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“1:25 pm EDT-@POTUS, DCIA Panetta, JSOC commander Admiral McRaven approve execution of op in Abbottabad,” it tweeted, referring to the local time the go-ahead was given by President Barack Obama, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and then-Joint Special Operations Commander Navy Adm. William McRaven.

The agency’s decision to do so came under fire from many observers on Twitter and other social media sites.

One of those was Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who served in Iraq and now works as a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, D.C., where he directs the organization’s military, veterans and society research program.

“I get @CIA desire to take victory lap but tweeting #UBLRaid seems contrary to Intel Community ethos good judgment,” Carter tweeted.

But the intelligence agency defended the move.

“The takedown of bin Ladin [sic] stands as one of the great intelligence successes of all time,” Glenn Miller, a spokesman for the CIA, said in an emailed statement to Military.com, using a different spelling for bin Laden. “History has been a key element of CIA’s social media efforts. On the fifth anniversary, it is appropriate to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement.”

Miller added, “In the past we have done postings to note other historical events including the Glomar operation, Argo, U-2 shootdown, and the evacuation of Saigon.”

In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show, CIA Director John Brennan said the raid on bin Laden’s compound less than a mile from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy represented “the culmination of a lot of very hard work by some very good people at CIA and other agencies.”

He added, “We have destroyed a large part of al-Qaeda. It is not completely eliminated, so we have to stay focused on what it can do. But now with this new phenomenon of ISIL, this is going to continue to challenge us in the counterterrorism community for years to come.”

He was referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which overtook large parts of both countries following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011 and the start of civilian uprisings in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

Brennan said killing bin Laden was an important victory for the U.S. in both a symbolic and strategic sense, given that he was the founder of the terrorist group and a key player in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

“It was important after 9/11 that we remove the person responsible for that,” he said.

While Brennan said eliminating ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “would have a great impact on the organization,” he also called the al-Qaeda offshoot a “phenomenon” that appeals to tens of thousands of followers in not only Syria and Iraq, but also Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere in part because of endemic corruption and a lack of governance and economic opportunity in those regions.

“Although the counterterrorism community has an important obligation to try to prevent these attacks, we need to give the diplomats and other government officials both here in this country and other countries the time and space they need to address some of these underlying factors and conditions that facilitate and contribute to the growth of these organizations,” he said.

Brennan also pushed back against a recommendation from former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida who helped lead a congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, to release a 28-page chapter from the investigation that may help determine whether the attackers received Saudi support.

“I think there’s a combination of things that are accurate and inaccurate,” Brennan said of information in the pages in question. “I think that the 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry and those 28 pages or so and followed through on the investigation and they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution or Saudi officials individually had provided financial support to al Qaeda.”

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The 13 Funniest Military Memes Of The Week

After another arduous week of combing the internetz for good lulz, here are our picks for great military memes.


It wouldn’t sting so much if it weren’t true.

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If you poop on the carpet, you’ll change ranks quickly too.

Ah, the beautiful colors of fall.

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‘Playing’ means different things to different people.

If enlisting didn’t teach you not to volunteer, this cleaning detail will.

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When you see what first sergeant has everyone else doing, you’ll wish you volunteered.

The sun was in his eyes …

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… right before that fist was in his eye.

I’d love to see this guy at the promotion board.

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Seeing a panel of sergeants major assess him for proper uniform fit would be amazing.

One way to fix a fat neck? Destroy it.

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Throat punch is also a good solution for uppity privates or hovering officers.

Falling asleep at staff duty is a pretty quick ticket to this.

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Pilots have so many switches and buttons to worry about.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects

Just because you’re at war, that’s no reason to be uncivilized.

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Marines don’t always understand how airborne works.

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Airborne wings are just a uniform thing. You can’t actually fly, Marine.

Hurry up and clean!

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Ok, now wait. Keep waiting. Keep waiting …

A-10s have a one-track mind.

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And on that track, they rain destruction on a Biblical scale.

Yeah, that’ll show those lazy airmen.

The 17 coolest DARPA projects
You should take them outside and teach them how to PT.

NOW: 7 Interesting Facts About The Javelin Missile System

And: Soldiers Record Catchy Beatles Cover From A Snowbank 

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The last surviving liberator of the Auschwitz death camp just died

Time marches on and with it goes some of history’s greatest heroes. The history of World War II reached a sad but inevitable milestone in June 2021. The last surviving soldier who liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz has died at age 98. The Munich Jewish Community Organization that confirmed his death gave no cause.

David Aleksandrovich Dushman drove his Soviet T-34 tank through the electrified fence of the concentration camp on January 27, 1945. He was a soldier of the Soviet Union’s Red Army, part of a force moving through Poland on its way to Berlin. 

Like much of the world, the Soviet troops knew little of the camps set up by the Germans who occupied Poland or what happened in the camps. But unlike much of the world, they found out very quickly. In a 2015 interview with a German newspaper, he described seeing skeletons everywhere. 

Still, he only saw what was in front of him and the rumors he heard among his fellow soldiers. It was only after the end of the war that he learned the magnitude of what happened in the string of Nazi camps across Europe. 

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“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, May/June 1944, during the final phase of the Holocaust. Jews were sent either to work or to the gas chamber.
The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album, which was donated to Yad Vashem by Lili Jacob, a survivor, who found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1945. See Auschwitz Album, Yad Vashem: “The Auschwitz Album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

“They staggered out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists,” he said.

Dushman was a Russian Jew from the Free City of Danzig, later a Polish possession. He was just 21 years old that day but he knew all too well what Jewish people faced, even inside the Soviet Union. 

Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of the most notorious death camps in Germany and its occupied territories, famous for its gas chambers that ended the lives of an estimated one million Jewish prisoners from across Europe. But Jews weren’t the only ones sent there to die.

The death camps at Auschwitz were the final destination for many of Europe’s homosexuals, much of its Roma population and Soviet prisoners of war. If captured by the Wehrmacht, it’s very likely Dushman would have met his end there. 

Instead, he was the first liberator to enter the grounds (if you don’t count his T-34 as a liberator). 

Dushman was only one of 69 Red Army soldiers from his unit who survived World War II, from a unit of 12,000. He was wounded at least three times on the brutal Eastern Front, but it could have been worse for him– much worse. He and his comrades fought in some of the most intense battles of World War II, including the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.

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Hungarian Jews march toward a gas chamber. The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album, which was donated to Yad Vashem by Lili Jacob, a survivor, who found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1945. Auschwitz Album, Yad Vashem: “The Auschwitz Album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

After the war, Dushman became a doctor at the behest of his mother, carrying on the family profession. But he really wanted to be a champion fencer and studied the sport intensely. He became one of the USSR’s top fencing athletes. 

The Soviet team, along with Dushman went on to win Olympic gold in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. The decorated World War II veteran would later urge the International Olympic Committee to use its games as an instrument of international peace. 

“My biggest dream and hope for future generations is to live in a world where there is no war,” Dushman said “… use sport as a way to spread peace and reconciliation around the world. War is something that should never happen again.”

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The soldier who voluntarily became a prisoner in Auschwitz

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Nazi troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, despite the best efforts of Captain Witold Pilecki and his fellow Polish soldiers. On November 9th of that same year, Witold and Major Wlodarkiewicz founded the Tajna Armia Polska (TAP or Polish Secret Army), an underground organization that eventually became consolidated with other resistance forces into The Home Army.


Not long after the formation of organized widespread Polish Resistance, its members began hearing reports of the conditions within the newly constructed Auschwitz Concentration Camp put into operation in the Spring of 1940. Those first reports originated with prisoners released from the camp and from civilians such as railroad employees and local residents.

In order to cut through the very troubling rumors and figure out exactly what was going on there, Pilecki came up with a bold plan- become a prisoner at Auschwitz. With a little convincing, his superiors eventually agreed to allow him to go.

In order to help protect his wife and children after he was captured, he took on the alias Tomasz Serafinski, much to the chagrin of the real Tomasz Serafinski who was thought to be dead at the time (hence why his papers and identity were chosen), but was not. Later, the real Tomasz had some trouble because of Pilecki using his papers and name (more on this in the Bonus Facts below).

According to Eleonora Ostrowska, owner of an apartment Pilecki was at when he was taken, when a Nazi roundup began (lapanka, where a city block would suddenly be closed off and most of the civilians inside would be rounded up and sent to slave labor camps and sometimes even just mass-executed on the spot), a member of the resistance came to help Pilecki hide. Instead, Ostrowska said “Witold rejected those opportunities and didn’t even try to hide in my flat.” She reported that soon, a German soldier knocked at the door and Pilecki whispered to her “Report that I have fulfilled the order,” and then opened the door and was taken by the soldier along with about 2,000 other Poles in Warsaw on September 19, 1940.

It is important to note here that he didn’t really know if he’d be sent to Auschwitz at this point. As Dr. Daniel Paliwoda noted of Pilecki’s capture, “Since the AB Aktion and roundups were still going on, the Nazis could have tortured and executed him in

occupied Warsaw’s Pawiak, Mokotów, or any other Gestapo-run prison. They could have taken him to Palmiry to murder him in the forest. At the very least, they could have sent him to a forced labor colony somewhere in Germany.”

While he was willingly surrendering with the hope of being sent to Auschwitz, Pilecki lamented the behavior of his fellow countrymen during the roundup. “What really annoyed me the most was the passivity of this group of Poles. All those picked up were already showing signs of crowd psychology, the result being that our whole crowd behaved like a herd of passive sheep. A simple thought kept nagging me: stir up everyone and get this mass of people moving.”

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Photo: Wikicommons

As he had hoped (perhaps the only person to ever hope such a thing), he was sent to Auschwitz. He later described his experience upon arrival:

We gave everything away into bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers – I wore the number 4859…

We were struck over the head not only by SS rifle butts, but by something far greater. Our concepts of law and order and of what was normal, all those ideas to which we had become accustomed on this Earth, were given a brutal kicking.

Pilecki also noted that one of the first indications that he observed that Auschwitz was not just a normal prison camp was the lack of food given to prisoners; in his estimate, the rations given to prisoners were “calculated in such a way that people would live for six weeks.” He also noted that a guard at the camp told him, “Whoever will live longer — it means he steals.”

Assessing the conditions inside Auschwitz was only part of Pilecki’s mission. He also took on responsibility for organizing a resistance force within the camp, the Zwiazek Organizacji Wojskowej (ZOW). The goals of ZOW included- improving inmate morale, distributing any extra food and clothing, setting up an intelligence network within the camp, training prisoners to eventually rise up against their guards and liberate Auschwitz, and getting news in and out of Auschwitz. Ensuring secrecy of the ZOW led Pilecki to create cells within the organization. He trusted the leaders of each cell to withstand interrogation by the guards, but even so each leader only knew the names of the handful of people under his command. This limited the risk to the entire organization should an informant tip off a guard or if a member was caught.

Pilecki’s first reports to the Polish government and Allied forces left the camp with released prisoners. But when releases became less common, passing reports on to the outside world depended largely on the success of prisoner escapes, such as one that occurred on June 20, 1942 where four Poles managed to dress up as members of the SS, weapons and all, and steal an SS car which they boldly drove out of the main gate of the camp.

A cobbled-together radio, built over the course of seven months as parts could be acquired, was used for a while in 1942 to transmit reports until “one of our fellow’s big mouth” resulted in the Nazis learning of the radio, forcing the group to dismantle it before they were caught red handed and executed.

Pilecki’s reports were the first to mention the use of Zyklon B gas, a poisonous hydrogen cyanide gas, and gas chambers used at the camp. He saw the first use of Zyklon B gas in early September 1941 when the Nazis used it to kill 850 Soviet POWs and Poles in Block 11 of Auschwitz I. He also learned of the gas chambers at Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, from other resistance members after construction of the camp began in October 1941. ZOW also managed to keep a pretty good running log of roughly the number of inmates being brought in to the camp and the estimated number of deaths, noting at one point, “Over a thousand a day from the new transports were gassed. The corpses were burnt in the new crematoria.”

All of the reports were sent to the Polish Government in Exile in London, and they in turn forwarded the information to other Allied forces. However, on the whole, the Allies thought the reports of mass killings, starvation, brutal and systemic torture, gas chambers, medical experimentation, etc. were wildly exaggerated and questioned the reliability of Pilecki’s reports. (Note: During Pilecki’s nearly three years there, several hundred thousand people were killed at Auschwitz and, beyond the death and horrific tortures, countless others were experimented on in a variety of ways by such individuals as the “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele. All total, it is estimated that somewhere between 1 to 1.5 million people were killed at the camp.)

Significant doubt surrounding the accuracy of his reports meant Pilecki’s plan to bring about an uprising inside Auschwitz never came to fruition. Pilecki had managed to convince his network of resistance fighters inside the camp that they could successfully take control for a short while and escape if the Allies and Polish Underground provided support. He had envisioned airdrops of weapons and possibly even Allied soldiers invading the camp. However, the Allies never had any intention of such an operation and the local Polish resistance in Warsaw refused to attack due to the large number of German troops stationed nearby.

The Nazi guards began systematically eliminating members of the ZOW resistance in 1943 and so, with his reports being ignored, Pilecki decided he needed to plead his case in person for intervention in Auschwitz.

In April of 1943, he got his chance. After handing over leadership of ZOW to his top deputies, he and two others were assigned the night shift at a bakery which was located outside the camp’s perimeter fence. At an opportune moment on the night of the 26th, they managed to overpower a guard and cut the phone lines. The three men then made a run for it out of the back of the bakery. As they ran, Pilecki stated, “Shots were fired behind us. How fast we were running, it is hard to describe. We were tearing the air into rags by quick movements of our hands.”

It should be noted that anyone caught helping an Auschwitz escapee would be killed along with the escaped prisoner, something the local populace knew well. Further, the 40 square kilometers around Auschwitz were extremely heavily patrolled and the escapees’ shaved heads, tattered clothes, and gaunt appearance would give them away in a second to anyone who saw them. Despite this, all three not only survived the initial escape, but managed to get to safety without being recaptured.

Unfortunately, Pilecki’s plan to garner support for liberating Auschwitz never materialized. After arriving at the headquarters of the Home Army on August 25, 1943 and desperately pleading his case for the Home Army to put all efforts into liberating Auschwitz, he left feeling “bitter and disappointed” when the idea was discarded as being too risky. In his final report on Auschwitz, he further vented his frustration on his superiors “cowardliness.”

After this, Pilecki continued to fight for the Home Army, as well as trying to aid ZOW in any way he could from the outside. He also played a role in the Warsaw Uprising that began in August of 1944, during which he was captured by German troops in October of that year and spent the rest of World War II as a POW.

Pilecki wrote his final version of his report on Auschwitz (later published in a book titled:The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery) after the war while spending time in Italy under the 2nd Polish Corps before being ordered back to Poland by General Wladyslaw Anders to gather intelligence on communist activities in Poland. You see, the invading Germans had been replaced by another occupying power- the Soviet backed Polish Committee of National Liberation. This was a puppet provisional government setup on July 22, 1944 in opposition to the Polish Government in Exile, the latter of which was supported by the majority of Polish people and the West.

During his two years at this post, he managed to, among many other things, gather documented proof that the voting results of the People’s Referendum of 1946 were heavily falsified by the communists. Unfortunately, there was little the Polish Government in Exile could do. Even when his cover was blown in July of 1946, Pilecki soldiered on and refused to leave the country, continuing his work collecting documented evidence of the many atrocities against the Polish people being committed by the Soviets and their puppet government in Poland.

For this, he was ultimately arrested on May 7, 1947 by the Ministry of Public Security. He was extensively tortured for many months after, including having his fingernails ripped off and ribs and nose broken. He later told his wife of his life in this particular prison, “Oświęcim [Auschwitz] compared with them was just a trifle.”

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Witold Pilecki during his trial in 1948. Photo: Wikicommons

Finally, he was given a show trial. When fellow survivors of Auschwitz pled with then Prime Minister of Poland, Józef Cyrankiewicz (himself a survivor of Auschwitz and member of a resistance in the prison), for the release of Pilecki, instead he went the other way and wrote to the judge, telling him to throw out record of Pilecki’s time as a prisoner in Auschwitz. This was a key piece of evidence in Pilecki’s favor given one of the things he was being accused of was being a German collaborator during the war.

And so it was that as part of a crackdown by the new Polish government against former members of the Home Army resistance, Pilecki was convicted of being a German collaborator and a spy for the West, among many other charges, ultimately sentenced to death via a gunshot to his head. The sentence was carried out on May 25, 1948 by Sergeant Piotr Smietanski, “The Butcher of Mokotow Prison.” From then on, mention of Pilecki’s name and numerous heroic acts were censored in Poland, something that wasn’t changed until 1989 when the communist Polish government was overthrown.

Witold Pilecki’s last known words were reportedly, “Long live free Poland.”

Bonus Facts:

  • You might think it strange that Pilecki frequently, quite willingly, threw himself into incredibly dangerous situations despite the fact that he had a wife and kids back home. Polish actor Marek Probosz, who studied Pilecki extensively before portraying him in The Death of Captain Pilecki, stated of this, “Human beings were the most precious thing for Pilecki, and especially those who were oppressed. He would do anything to liberate them, to help them.” Mirroring this sentiment, Pilecki’s son, Andrzej later said his father “would write that we should live worthwhile lives, to respect others and nature. He wrote to my sister to watch out for every little ladybug, to not step on it but place it instead on a leaf because everything has been created for a reason. ‘Love nature.’ He instructed us like this in his letters.” It wasn’t just his children he taught to respect life at all levels. Two years after Pilecki was executed, and at a time when his family was struggling because of it, a man approached Pilecki’s teenage son and stated, “I was in prison [as a guard] with your father. I want to help you because your father was a saint.. Under his influence, I changed my life. I do not harm anyone anymore.”
  • As mentioned, the real Tomasz Serafinski was not dead, as Pilecki had thought when he took his papers and assumed Tomasz’ identity to be captured. After Pilecki’s escape from Auschwitz, the real Tomasz was arrested on December 25, 1943 for having escaped from Auschwitz.  He was then investigated for a few weeks, including a fair amount of pretty brutal strong arming, but was finally released on January 14, 1944 when it was determined he was not, in fact, the same individual who had escaped from Auschwitz. Afterwards, Pilecki and Tomasz actually became friends, and though Pilecki was killed, according to Jacek Pawlowicz, “That friendship is alive to this day, because Andrzej Pilecki visits their family and is very welcome there.”
  • In the early 2000s, certain surviving officials who were involved in Pilecki’s trial, including the prosecutor, Czeslaw Lapinski, were put up on charges for being accomplices in the murder of Witold Pilecki.
  • Pilecki also fought in WWI in the then newly formed Polish army. After that, he fought in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921).
  • At one point while within Auschwitz, Pilecki and his fellow ZOW members managed to cultivate typhus and infect various SS-personnel.
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