The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been a cornerstone of American military firepower for nearly 100 years. Its long range capability coupled with a heavy round combine for a devastating mixture on the battlefield — a weapon powerful enough to destroy a building or shoot down aircraft.
But for troops on the ground, the M2’s advantages come at a severe cost — namely weight. The typical M2 weighs in at a crushing 84 pounds, not to mention the weight of the ammunition itself (which is over 140 pounds for 500 linked rounds). That means despite the M2’s firepower, it’s not a man-portable weapon, requiring a heavy tripod for a mount that makes it more suitable for defensive positions and vehicle-mounted options.
Dubbed the “Lightweight Medium Machine Gun,” the new weapon is chambered in .338 Norma Magnum — a favorite of some precision shooters for its ability to reach out to targets at extended ranges while still having enough knockout power to take down the enemy.
Now, five years later, the Army is in the market for ways to lighten its soldiers’ load and provide increased firepower with a smaller footprint. So there’s a renewed interest in the LWMMG program.
Weighing in at only 25 pounds, the General Dynamics-designed machine gun has a maximum effective range of more than 1,800 yards and can reach out as far as 6,000, according to company documents. The LWMMG in .338 NM has a lot of advantages over the current 7.62mm M240 machine gun as well, the company says.
“At 1,000 yards the LWMMG is capable of defeating Level III body armor and incapacitating soft skinned vehicles by delivering more than four times the terminal effects of the 7.62mm NATO cartridge,” General Dynamics documents say.
GD has also developed a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” system that the company says delivers the same recoil as an M240 despite the larger .338 NM round.
Some argue that the increased weight of the .338 round cancels out the LWMMG’s advantages for dismounted troops, since 1,000 rounds of 7.62 weigh about as much as only 500 rounds of .338 NM. But new developments in polymer case technology could combine to make the new machine gun a lighter option overall than the M240 while delivering the killer punch at M2 ranges.
The wind blows viciously as it sweeps across the open waters, but the sound of gum being popped out of the pack is a familiar feeling that Senior Chief Quartermaster Steve Schweizer will never forget, even after retirement. It’s something that he takes on every mission, a lucky charm that he’ll leave behind when he walks out of the Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU-4) facility for the very last time.
“I won’t fly without it,” said Schweizer. “I’ve actually been on the ramp getting ready to go and I was feeling my pockets and thought ‘oh it’s not there, no I have to run back inside I know it’s in my desk.’ I’ll look at the water, look at the weather, and I’ll just kind of almost go into a quiet place, like just relax. I know that as soon as that mission starts, it’s ‘go go go’, it’s stress, it’s just operational, operational, operational.”
Schweizer first thought of joining the Navy after being unsure what he wanted to do in life.
“I took half a semester of college and realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said Schweizer. “I had an uncle in the Navy who I didn’t talk to very much, but I told him I decided to join the military and he told me how much fun he had in the Navy so I figured I may have made the right decision.”
Schweizer first joined the LCAC program in 2004 and enjoys what he does.
“I’ve been here for fifteen years and I love what I do,” said Schweizer. “I love flying the crafts, I love teaching people how to fly the crafts, and I like our mission.”
Schweizer began running as a hobby before his 2014 deployment, describing it as an escape and a stress reliever.
“I just put my music on, go for a run, and I just tune everything out,” said Schweizer. “It’s just my relax time, my alone time. It’s definitely one of those things where it’s like if you think of work all the time, if you think of the stress of your job all the time, it’s going to get to you, so it’s my outlet.”
The program has a very high attrition rate and has a difficult training pipeline.
“This is a 90×50 foot hovercraft, it weighs about 200 thousand pounds,” said Schweizer. “You’re controlling it with three different controls. Your feet are doing one job and both hands are doing separate jobs. It takes a lot of coordination and it’s not easy.”
Training in the simulator and manning the live craft are completely different, and requires a lot of attention.
“You always have that heightened sense of awareness,” said Schweizer. “Anticipation of what the craft is going to do and how to counteract it. Never take anything for granted.”
On a small craft that is only manned by five personnel, personnel develop a closer relationship with crew members quicker, Schweizer explained.
“They develop that bond because you know that person has your back, or you know that person is looking out for you,” said Schweizer. “I know my crew, I know their families, I know what they like to do in their spare time, they know that if they’re ever in trouble they know they’ll call me first, or they’ll call one of their crew members first.”
Military designers and the countries they work for have always sought to outdo one another on the battlefield, and creating massive artillery pieces has been no exception. Though there have been many extremely large artillery pieces manufactured, and some that are even larger than the ones listed here, these are the only ones that were actually used in combat.
1. Schwerer Gustav and Dora
The Schwerer Gustav and its sister gun Dora were the two largest artillery pieces every constructed in terms of overall weight (1350 tonnes) and weight of projectiles (15,700 pounds), while it’s 800mm rounds are the largest ever fired in combat. The guns also had a range of over 24 miles. The guns were originally designed to be deployed against the French Maginot Line though the Blitzkrieg rendered that mission obsolete. Instead, the guns were deployed to the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. The Schwerer Gustav entered combat during the German siege of Sevastopol in June 1942. The gun was manned by a crew of over 1400 men, 250 to assemble the weapon, two anti-aircraft battalions to protect it, and the rest to load and fire the weapon. Dora was set up to be deployed against Stalingrad, though it cannot be confirmed whether it fired against its target or not. Both guns remained on the Eastern Front but were not used in combat again. They were destroyed in Germany to avoid capture by the advancing allied armies.
Another product of Germany, the Karl-Gerät was a massive self-propelled mortar. Though it was capable of its own propulsion, its massive size made this an inconvenience, so it was usually disassembled and reassembled when it arrived at its firing position. The Karl-Gerät was designed as a siege weapon in particular to attack the Maginot Line. Its 21 man crew could fire a 600mm heavy bunker-busting shell nearly 3 miles at a rate of about 6 per hour. A total of 7 of these weapons were produced, one test piece and 6 others that saw extensive combat on both fronts. The Karl-Gerät made its combat debut when a 3 gun battery shelled the fortress at Brest-Litovsk during the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The following year, a battery of Karl-Geräts took part in the siege of Sevastopol in June and July of 1942. Though it was planned for use in other operations on the Eastern Front, the threat of being captured by Soviet forces kept it out of the fight until 1944 when in August, one and then several other guns were sent to Warsaw to assist in quelling an on-going uprising against the German occupiers. The Karl-Gerät fired its last shots of the war during the Battle of Remagen in an attempt to destroy the Ludendorff Bridge.
3. Obusier de 520 modèle 1916
The Obusier de 520 was a railroad gun developed by the French during World War I. However, due to a delayed procurement process, the first gun did not reach trails until late 1917 during which a round exploded prematurely and destroyed it. The second gun was completed in 1918 but did not finish trails before the war ended after which it was put in storage. The Obusier de 520 modèle 1916 fired a 520mm round weighing over 3600 pounds to a range of over 8 miles. When Germany invaded France in 1940, the remaining gun was being renovated for battle where it was captured, still in the workshop, by the Germans. Germany, with a penchant for enormous artillery, pressed the Obusier de 520 into their own service where it participated in the siege of Leningrad in 1942 before also being destroyed by a round prematurely exploding in the barrel in January 1943.
4. Type 94 naval gun
The Japanese 18.1 inch naval gun was the largest gun ever to see combat at sea, being mounted on the Japanese Yamato-class battleships. The guns could fire a 1.5 ton shell over 26 miles and when mounted in their turrets, the entire piece weighed as much as a conventional destroyer of the time. Though the Yamato and Musashi were in operation for the entire war, neither used their Type 94 guns until near the time of their demise. Musashi’s sole use of her Type 94’s was in an anti-aircraft role, using the specially designed Sanshikidan “beehive” rounds attempting to stop the onslaught of American aircraft trying to sink her. She was unsuccessful and after taking 17 bomb hits and 19 torpedo strikes, she sank in October 1944. Also, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Yamato used her guns for the only time in combat and sank the American escort carrier USS Gambier Bay before being forced to retire. The Yamato was finally sunk during the Battle of the Philippine Sea in April 1945.
5. BL 18 inch Mk I naval gun
The British 18 inch Mk I was originally designed and built during World War I, mounted on the HMS Furious. However, the Furious was converted during construction and two of its three turrets were emplaced on two Lord Clive-class monitors. Though the Mk I was slightly smaller than the later Japanese Type 94, its shell weighed more – 3320 pounds. The guns saw action very late in the war with the first bombarding a railway bridge in August 1918 while the other fired ahead of advancing troops in October 1918. A third gun was also built but did not see action during the war.
6. Big Bertha and Gamma Mörser
The Big Bertha and Gamma Mörser were both developments of a 420mm siege howitzer designed by Krupp for Germany leading up to World War I. Big Bertha was a mobile artillery piece while the Gamma had to be emplaced before firing, though they were moved by rail for operations in different areas. Both weapons fired a nearly 1 ton shell though the Gamma Mörser could fire the shell nearly 9 miles, a mile farther than the Big Bertha. Both types of weapons were deployed against Belgium during the opening stages of the Great War in 1914. Big Bertha guns were successful in destroying numerous forts in Belgium and France and gained a reputation on both sides for their power. The Gamma Mörsers were also used during destruction of the fort at Liege but due to their limited mobility did not see action again until the attack on Verdun in 1916. Most of the guns were destroyed or captured, though Krupp managed to hide one Gamma in a workshop. It survived to be repaired and used again during World War II where it saw action at the Siege of Sevastopol alongside other massive German artillery pieces.
We’re not saying everyone in the military does these things, just that it’s almost impossible to complete an enlistment without someone either encouraging you, or even teaching you, to:
1. Commit petty theft
“Gear adrift is a gift” and similar maxims are just cute ways of saying that it’s sometimes okay to steal. But it’s not. There’s no law that says it stops being government property or someone else’s personal property if they forgot to lock it up or post a guard.
This includes “acquiring” needed items for the squad by snatching up unsecured gear or trading for someone’s off-the-books printer. We know you have to get your CLP, but at least try to get some from the armorer before turning to theft.
2. Smuggle alcohol through the mail
It’s only legal to ship alcohol through the United States Postal System if you have a license or if it’s in a product like mouthwash. Of course, that mouthwash isn’t supposed to be 80 proof.
But every time a unit gets ready for deployment, the veterans start talking about the super illegal practice of asking family members to pour vodka into empty mouthwash bottles, mix in a few drops of blue and green food coloring, and send it to the base in the mail. Many of the old timers are just making jokes, but it still spreads the knowledge of the tactic. (Which this article also does. Crap.)
3. Lie on federal forms
Let’s be honest, perfectly filled out Defense Travel System vouchers and unit packing lists are the exception to the rule. Sometimes, this is because it’s hard to track every little change in a connex’s contents or a trip. But other times, it’s because units on their way out the door on an exercise or deployment are willing to put whatever they need to on the paperwork to get it approved.
It’s an expedient way to get the mission done, but it’s also a violation of Title 18 United States Code 1001, which prohibits false claims to the federal government. Of course, no one is going to prosecute when a connex shows up with three more cots than were on the list, but don’t listen to the barracks attorney telling you that the per diem is higher if you just change this one thing in DTS.
4. Abuse prescription medication
Most troops aren’t out there injecting illegally acquired morphine, but most people would probably be surprised to learn that intravenous saline is a prescription medical device (yeah, saltwater in a bag). So are those 800mg Motrins.
And teaching a bunch of troops to give saline injections to each other does help them save lives in combat, but it also prepares them to tack an extra criminal charge onto their alcohol-fueled bender when they get home and stick themselves with a needle to try to avoid getting hungover (which, seriously guys, stop giving yourselves IVs while drunk).
Presidential libraries aren’t usually the prime targets for well-executed heists, but in the case of Harry Truman’s located in Independence, Missouri, some of his rare collectibles weren’t well secured.
On the early morning of March 24, 1978, Truman’s library had one security guard stationed at the north end and he noticed a questionable woman walking around across the street — keeping the guard’s concentration (a decoy).
Less than 10-minutes after the guard noticed the mysterious lurking female, an additional car pulled up near the south gate of the library and the “break-in” commenced as the thieves broke through a pane of glass to gain entry.
As the alarm sounded, the singular guard dashed at full speed toward the disturbance, 100 yards away from his post to discover that the thieves had padlocked the door from the other side where the thief was about to take place.
As the guard shook the door and yelled at the burglars, he heard the sounds of glass shattering as it fell to the floor.
The thieves took the merchandise they appeared to be after and made their escape all within less than 45-seconds after the initial alert. The rare daggers and swords that were stolen were gold and jewel encrusted art from Iran and Saudi Arabia.
At the time of the robbery, the net worth of the stolen items was valued at 1 million dollars.
According to the Examiner, this case is still under investigation.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a space shuttle door gunner, pay attention: the weapon you might be operating could look something like this monster – the only projectile weapon designed for and fired in orbit around the Earth. Of course, it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War, who else would do that?
These are the people who taught terrorists to hijack planes just to be dicks to the West.
Despite some initial successes, the Soviet Union ended up losing the Space Race in a big way. Their loss is exemplified by the fact that the same day the Americans put men on the moon, the Soviets failed to land a probe there. So after a while, the disparity in technology irked the Soviet Union.
Most important to the USSR was the idea of American spacecraft being able to literally get their hands on Soviet satellites. Anti-satellite operations were something both powers prepared for, but the idea that the satellite itself would need protection up there all alone prompted the Soviets to arm one of theirs, just to see how that would go.
This is how that would go.
The Soviets built a station code-named “Almaz,” a space station that held spy equipment, radar, and the R-23M, a 37-pound 14.5mm automatic cannon that could fire up to 5,000 rounds per minute that was accurate up to a mile away. There was just one problem: aiming the cannon. The cosmonauts in the station would have to rotate the entire space station to point the weapon.
It was supposed to be the first manned space station in orbit, but the Russians were more concerned with developing the weapon than they were other aspects of the capsule, like sensors and life support. So instead of building their grand space station, they slapped together what they had with the R-23M and a Soyuz capsule, called it the Salyut before launching it into space in 1971.
All this space station and not one Death Star joke.
The CIA knew about every iteration of the Soviet Salyut spy stations, but what they – and much of the world – didn’t know is that they actually fired the R-23M while in orbit. On Jan. 24, 1975, Salyut 3 test fired its weapon before the station was supposed to de-orbit. The crew had not been aboard for around six months at this point. While the Soviets never released what happened during the test, the shots and the station were all destroyed when they re-entered the atmosphere.
Firing a gun in space would be very different from firing on Earth. First, there is no sound in the vacuum of space, so it would not go bang. Secondly, the Soviets would have had to fire some kind of thruster to balance out the force exerted on the capsule by the weapon’s recoil; otherwise the Salyut would have been pushed in the opposite direction. The weight of the projectile fired would determine how fast you would fly in the opposite direction.
Not to mention that shooting the weapon into Earth’s orbit could cause the bullets to hit the station itself from the opposite direction.
When most ships are decommissioned, they eventually will head to the scrapyard. Mostly, their fate is to become razor blades.
Others become artificial reefs, providing a tourist attraction for divers and a home for fish. But some vessels escape these fates for a more noble end: They are sunk as targets.
And that’s not new.
Back in the early 1920s, the United States used old battleships as targets to test how well air-dropped bombs could sink ships. In fact, since the end of World War II, ships have been sunk as targets – often to test how well current or new weapons work, or to provide crews with training that is quite realistic in using their anti-surface warfare systems.
The 1946 Operation Crossroads was perhaps one of the most dramatic examples. In two tests, the Navy detonated atomic bombs amongst a fleet of obsolete ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3). A total of 14 ships sank outright, while the Prinz Eugen sank five months later.
Perhaps the largest ship to be sunk as a target was the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66). This ship displaced almost 85,000 tons when fully loaded, and had a 31-year career, including service in the Vietnam War, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and Desert Storm.
On May 14, 2005, the America was sunk after the testing by controlled scuttling, which included remote systems monitoring the effects of underwater explosions that took place over four weeks.
The video below shows the sinking of a pair of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and a Newport-class landing ship. Often smaller systems will be used before they unleash the really powerful missiles – and last, but not least, the torpedoes.
Keeping your head on a swivel, eyes always on alert, and being prepared for anything are just a few of ways Marines serving in the infantry stay vigilant while forward deployed.
With the constant threat of danger lurking around every corner, many veterans use music as a way to relax and recenter; some, like John Preston, take it one step further and use music to tell their stories and encourage others not to give up hope.
During a tour in Iraq, Preston began his music career by writing the song “Good Good America,” which propelled John into the industry and landed him a record deal upon his return home.
For the next few years, John slowly veered away from music and became a firefighter — but his passion for music didn’t die out.
Luckily, he managed to return to music signing with Pacific Records and quickly released his first single “This Is War” in the fall of 2014. The song became a national media topic after a Marine veteran made a call-to-action to veterans across the nation to make a stand against ISIS.
John’s musical momentum began taking shape once again as his record label released several of his songs in the following months.
“We are taking our message to the public, and today we tell the mainstream that we are here and we are loud. The perception of the broken veteran is a myth that we refuse to buy into,” Preston tells WATM. “My music is about our lives and the real battles we have and continue to fight: on and off the battlefield. We are here to show our community and the general public our talent, work ethic, and our drive to push forward through all adversity.”
Sadly, in January of 2016, John’s brother ended his own life after a hard battle with post-traumatic stress. The action almost convinced Preston to end his music career once again but has instead fueled his passion and his new single “Superman Falls.”
Preston is an executive producer on the album, which climbed to #21 on the iTunes rock charts. The song continues to spread throughout the veteran community as well as the mainstream music scene. To check out the John Preston’s music on iTunes click here.
Currently signed with Concore Entertainment/Universal Music Group, his newest single “Before I am Gone” was released on September 5, 2017. To check out the John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
Check out John Preston’s video below to watch his behind the scenes footage.
The US military is unquestionably the world’s strongest force with the world’s largest defense budget.
But throughout the 2000s, the Pentagon spent $51.2 billion on 15 major programs “without any fielded systems to show for it,” according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report.
The abandoned projects are largely the result of a lack of funding attributed to the Budget Control Act and sequestration.
Sequestration, indiscriminate budget cuts across the board that affect every portion of the military equally, is currently the greatest threat to the US military, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider.
Below are a series of the military’s modernization projects that were canceled partially because of a lack of funds:
Future Combat Systems
Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion
Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Ground Combat Vehicle program, which was also ultimately canceled.
Remember those days in the military where early morning briefings forced several attendees to stand up and walk to the back of the room to keep from dozing off? Maybe some did push-ups during intermission to stave off sleepiness.
In North Korea, that struggle can be a matter of life and death.
Just the other day, a few push-ups might have saved Ri Yong Jin, a North Korean education minister, from a horrible fate. He was arrested for dozing off during a meeting with DPRK dictator Kim Jong Un, according to Jane Onyanga-Omara of USA Today.
He was accused of corruption and sentenced to die. The method?
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report in 2015 detailing satellite imagery that shows what they believe to be a special military facility for such executions. Located just outside of the DPRK capital of Pyongyang, the Kanggon Military Facility contains a 100-meter firing range, complete with viewing area that’s big enough to accommodate anti-aircraft guns.
In October 2014, the regular firing lanes were replaced with six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns, using fearsome 14.5mm caliber rounds – a total of 24 heavy guns. Many believe an execution was performed at the Kanggon site just after a satellite grabbed an image of the guns.
Since taking power in 2012, Kim Jong Un spent much of his time consolidating his power base, executing the “old guard” of his father’s regime and keeping only Kim Jong Un stalwarts to prevent a coup. This isn’t even the first time he used anti-aircraft guns to execute a high-level official.
This time around, Kim Jong Un also executed an official in the agriculture ministry with AA fire because his policy efforts contradicted the young dictator’s directives. In 2015, the DPRK’s defense minister was reportedly killed by ZPU-4 guns. The regime has been known to use mortars and flamethrowers to execute dissidents and officials. Kim Jong Un even reportedly fed his uncle to a pack of hungry dogs.
A recent spat of high-profile defections to South Korea aren’t helping things settle down in the North. A public relations official for North Korea, based in London defected to the South with his family in August. Voice of America’s Youmi Kim quoted South Korean President Park-Geun Hye as saying the defections are a mark of the North’s current instability.
“Recently, even North Korea’s elite group is collapsing, followed by key North Korean figures defecting to foreign countries, showing a sign of serious cracks with chances of shaking the regime higher,” Park told VOA.
Military recruiters have to convince normal people that their best option for the future is signing a multi-year contract for a job with workplace hazards like bombs, bullets, and artillery. And since many people aren’t eligible to serve, the service branches need a lot of people coming into recruiting offices.
To make recruiters’ jobs a little easier, each branch has an advertising budget. Here are some of the most iconic commercials from that effort.
1. “The Climb” (2001)
With arguably the best uniforms, awesome traditions, and swords, it’s no surprise that some of the best commercials come out of the Marine Corps. “The Climb” reminded prospective recruits that yes, becoming a Marine will be hard, but it’s worth it.
2. “Rite of Passage” (1998)
Some commercials stop making sense after the era they were written in. The idea of climbing into a coliseum to fight a bad-CGI lava monster may seem like an odd advertising angle now, but it was rumored to be pretty effective at the time.
3. “America’s Marines” (2008)
Some videos target adventure nuts, while some go after aspiring professionals. This one targeted people who wanted to be part of a long-standing tradition. It also reminded people that Marines get to wear some awesome uniforms.
4. “Army Strong” (2006)
“Army Strong” was an inspiring series of advertisements, though it opened the Army to a lot of jokes (“I wanted to be a Marine, but I was only Army Strong”).
5. “Army of One” (2001)
“Legions” was part of the “Army of One” campaign. Though “Army of One” brought recruits into the Army during the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it never quite made sense to professional soldiers. In the Army, soldiers are schooled daily in the importance of teamwork and selfless service. During basic, they’re even required to be with another recruit at all times, so what is an “Army of One”?
6. “Be All That You Can Be” (1982)
The slogan “Be all that you can be,” sometimes written as, “Be all you can be,” was one of the Army’s longest-running slogans and most iconic campaigns. The jingle is as dated as the video technology in the video, but some soldiers went from their enlistment to their retirement in the Army under this slogan.
7. “Footprints” (2006)
One of the Navy’s best ads focused on some of the world’s best warriors. “Footprints” manages to highlight how awesome Navy SEALs are without showing a single person or piece of equipment.
8. “A Global Force for Good” (2009)
Though popular with recruits, the slogan for this recruiting drive ended up being unpopular with the Navy itself. Much like the Army with its “Army of One” slogan, the Navy dropped “Global Force for Good” after only a few years.
9. “Accelerate Your Life” (early 2000s)
“Accelerate Your Life” commercials were always full of sexy imagery. From fighter jets, helicopters, fast boats, automatic weapons, and camouflage, just about everything was tossed in. Like the commercial Air Force campaign “We have been waiting for you” below, dating the commercial to an exact year is tough, but the campaign began in 2001.
10. “Air Force: I Knew One Day” (2014)
“I Knew One Day” is an odd title for this commercial, but it’s not bad as a whole. It puts a face on the airmen who crew the AC-130, perform surgeries, or pilot Ospreys, and it tells recent high school and college graduates that they can become the next face of these jobs as well.
11. “We Have Been Waiting For You” (early 2000s)
With the tagline “We have been waiting for you,” the Air Force aimed to bring in recruits for all the jobs in the Air Force that weren’t about flying. Since two of the ads they released starred pilots, it seems like they weren’t trying that hard. While it’s hard to pin down the exact year this commercial was released, the “We’ve been waiting for you,” line began showing up in 2001.
12. “Science Fiction” (2011)
The Air Force is proud of its technological advantages on the battlefield, and it made a series of commercials comparing themselves to science fiction. The commercials were critiqued for including a lot of things Air Force technology couldn’t do, but they did highlight actual missions the Air Force does using technology similar to, though not as advanced as, what is featured in the commercial.
How do you keep a country hermetically sealed off from the news in a world where the internet exists?
That’s the fundamental challenge for North Korea, the hermit kingdom whose citizens have been kept in the dark both literally and figuratively. The internet, smartphones, laptops, TV, film, radio exist, but not as most people would be familiar with them. Radio and TV sets are configured so North Koreans can’t tune into anything other than the domestic broadcasts, and the internet isn’t widely accessible to the population.
But it’s increasingly hard for North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, to control the stream of illicit microSD cards and SIM cards flowing over the border from China, which contain illegal foreign media or allow people to access the internet unfettered.
A new report by journalist and North Korea tech expert Martyn Williams for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) sheds new light on the ways Kim and his regime use technology to continue keeping the population in the dark — from signal jamming radios to modifying Android to spy on people.
1. North Korea tightly controls the internet
North Korea isn’t totally cut off from the internet, as evidenced by the numerous hacks thought to be perpetrated by state hackers operating inside the country.
Man using smartphone in Pyongyang, North Korea.
But it is tightly controlled at the network level and historically hasn’t really been open to the general population. That is changing, with more citizens buying smartphones.
As Martyn Williams notes in his report: “The entire infrastructure is State-run and the security services are heavily integrated in the running of the telecommunications network.”
Everything is monitored by a state agency called Bureau 27, or the Transmission Surveillance Bureau.
2. North Korea imports cheap Chinese Android phones, then modifies the software to spy on people
North Korea isn’t totally cut off from everyday innovations like mobile data or smartphones. Citizens can buy smartphones that were manufactured in China, but are distributed under a North Korean brand name. The phones look a lot like the cheap Android phones you could buy in any shop — but these come pre-loaded with spyware and software tailored by the state.
Alternatively, citizens can buy their own unlocked devices smuggled across the Chinese border, but they face being tracked via North Korea’s mobile network.
It’s the same on PCs, with North Korea producing a Linux-based operating system called “Red Star” that can snoop on user activity.
3. The spyware can monitor what sites people are looking at
According to Williams, North Korean phones run on Android, the open source mobile software. Engineers have modified the software to include a background program called “Red Flag”, which spies on everything a user does and takes screenshots at random intervals to capture their activity. Those screenshots are recorded on a database called “Trace Viewer.”
Although North Korea probably doesn’t have the resources to check everyone’s screenshots, Williams noted that it’s a great mechanism to get people to self-censor out of pure fear.
4. If you open a foreign media file on a North Korean device, the regime will know about it
According to the report, North Korean engineers created file watermarking software that essentially tags and monitors any media file that’s opened on a device, whether that’s a PC or mobile.
Anyone watching a foreign film on their device would have that file tagged and tracked. The tag can track every device on which the file is viewed — so if one person in particular is distributing lots of foreign media with fellow citizens, the regime would probably find out.
5. The state operates a ‘split’ mobile network, where North Koreans can’t phone anyone outside the country
North Korea does have a telecommunications system, and the current version is a joint venture with an Egyptian firm called Orascom.
The network is split into two halves, according to Williams’ report, meaning both North Korean tourists and foreign citizens can make calls and send texts inside the country — but neither can communicate with the other.
Described as a “firewall”, Williams writes that this is set at the account level. He adds that domestic citizens have phone numbers prefixed with 191-260, while phones for foreigners have numbers that begin with 191-250.
Tourist SIM cards have found their way back into the country — so North Korea has begun deactivating them so there’s no risk citizens can get hold of SIM cards that let them access the broader internet or foreign calls.
6. It’s probably a death sentence for watching porn
Williams spoke to a number of North Korean defectors, people who fled the regime into China, Japan, or South Korea.
They reported that the regime will put people to death for watching foreign content, especially for anything as illicit as porn, or anything criticizing the Kim family.
“Watching pornography is strongly restricted. I’ve heard you can get executed for watching pornography,” according to one escapee.
An Amnesty International report also found that a man who watched porn with his wife and another woman was executed, with the entire city summoned to watch his death.
But porn smuggled in on discs remains highly valuable, costing as much as 0
Unsurprisingly, few escapees are willing to talk about their porn habits.
But citing a source who knows about illegal smuggling between North Korea and China, Williams states that SD cards containing porn can fetch up to 0. That price reflects both the high demand and the extreme risk of smuggling the material across.
7. All radios sold in North Korea are fixed to government frequencies
North Koreans buying a radio through official channels will find the device locked only onto government-approved frequencies. Listening to foreign radio, or watching foreign TV, is illegal and the government regularly carries out raids to make sure people aren’t consuming anything subversive. (Lots of North Koreans have a second radio or TV which can receive foreign broadcasts and which they keep hidden, and show their “official” device to any inspectors.)
(Photo by Rob Sarmiento)
According to Williams, North Korea jams foreign radio signals. This, he writes, involves “transmitting loud noise” on the same frequencies to overpower the broadcast. In particular, North Korea focuses on jamming two stations run by South Korea’s intelligence service, called Voice of the People and Echo of Hope.
8. The state distracts people with homegrown mobile games
In a cloistered world where entertainment is low-quality or scarce, food is hard to come by, and the work repetitive and unfulfilling, it’s little wonder that foreign films and international TV holds some allure to North Korean citizens.
The state has, according to Williams’ report, come up with a softball distraction method: offer homegrown smartphone games.
The report claims there are up to 125 mobile games available to play on North Korean mobile devices, such as “Volleyball 2016” and another title called “Future Cities.” The BBC in September reported that North Korea had created a Ronaldo-focused mobile game that was becoming popular.
The idea is this: if citizens spend their leisure time playing domestically produced games (and paying for them), they’re not spending their cash on illegally smuggled media.
9. Open WiFi networks are banned
North Korea has gone to extreme lengths to make sure its citizens can’t casually access the foreign internet (or any internet).
For a time, according to Williams’ report, foreign embassies in capital city Pyongyang ran open WiFi networks. Enterprising citizens with smartphones lingered nearby to browse the internet without being caught — until the state cottoned on and banned open networks.
Eventually, North Korea introduced its own public Mirae (Korean for “future”) public network. It requires an app to use and, according to state media, only offers people access to North Korea’s intranet and not the global internet.
10. Shifting to tightly controlled streaming TV tech
North Korea doesn’t have Netflix but, like much of the rest of the world, it is shifting to streaming TV.
According to Williams’ report, there are two homegrown IPTV services, but the more popular one is called Manbang. Just like phones, the set-top box is built cheaply in China, imported, then reskinned as a domestically branded device.
People who own a Manbang device can stream a huge amount of state output, but can’t tune into to foreign services. For now, people can also tune into traditional, over-the-air broadcasts (including foreign ones, if they have a hidden TV set). But, Williams concludes, North Korea could ban traditional broadcasts altogether and only put out content through IPTV.
This would make it even tougher for North Koreans to access foreign broadcasts.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Born out of World War I, the flamethrower could only shoot flames for a matter of seconds, but it was essential for rooting out the enemy from entrenched positions. The flamethrower was a simple innovation – one canister for fuel, one for propellant. Launch fire. Charlie Mike.
The video below outlines exactly how the weapon worked and why it became a fundamental weapon for a World War II unit to have in the arsenal.
This video also introduces Hershel “Woody” Williams, a WWII-era Marine and flamethrower operator who fought on Iwo Jima. (He’s shown wearing the Medal of Honor he received for his actions there.)
What the video doesn’t tell you is that Williams is the last living Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima. He singlehandedly took out seven Japanese pillboxes with his flamethrower that day.
“I remember crawling on my belly,” Williams told Weaponology. “I remember ’em coming, charging around that pillbox toward me. There were five or six of them. And I just opened up the flame and caught them. It was like they went from real fast running to real slow motion. But by cutting out those seven pillboxes, it opened up a hole and we got through.”
The humble Marine forgot to mention the seven fortifications he took out were part of a network of hardened, entrenched positions, minefields, and volcanic rock protected by withering machine gun crossfire that held the entire American invasion back.