The 2001 film “Tomb Raider” had a ton of acting talent, including two Oscar winners (Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie), as well as a future 007 (Daniel Craig). But it also has inspired a prototype that could find its way to U.S. special operators.
At the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, We Are The Mighty met Paul J. Shaskan, the Founding Partner and Chief Innovation Officer of Torrent Loading Systems, LLC. Shaskan has devised a piece of gear inspired by the 2001 hit film – which is being rebooted.
Shaskan has developed a rapid loader that holds three magazines for just about any semi-automatic pistol – including the Beretta 92FS that is the basis for the M9 currently in service and the SiG-Sauer P320 that is the basis for the new XM17 Modular Handgun System. Rather than having to fumble with the magazines and retrieve them from a pouch, the magazines are held at an angle, and the pistol is lowered on to them. Once the magazine is seated, the pistol is pulled away with the magazine in it.
“We understand that the sidearm is a secondary system for most military operations, but when it is a necessity, we also believe the operator should have the advantage even with his secondary weapon,”Shaskan told WATM in an e-mail. “The device is mountable on a MOLLE or on the belt and is completely detachable and replaceable in the field.”
In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft’s rig wasn’t spring-loaded, but it did have the magazines positioned for an easy reload. Then again, Lara Croft wasn’t using MOLLE gear.
The device, which has been in development for four years, is currently undergoing a final round of testing that is expected to be completed by the end of June. In essence, special operations forces may have gear that was inspired by an Angelina Jolie film.
Below, here’s the opening scene of Tomb Raider – to see what inspired this new gear.
Creating a realistic battle scene — whether it’s from World War II or the Napoleonic Wars — demands technical know-how and precise attention to detail.
Paul Biddiss, the military technical adviser on the upcoming World War I movie “1917,” taught the actors everything they needed to know, from proper foot care to how to hold a weapon, “which allows the actor to concentrate on his primary task. Acting!” Biddis told Insider.
Biddiss has worked on projects from a variety of time periods — “large Napoleonic battles through to World War I, World War II, right up to modern-day battles with Special Forces,” Biddiss said.
Read on to learn about how Biddiss prepared “1917” performers for the gruesome, grueling warfare of World War I.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Javier Alvarez)
Biddiss spent 24 years in the British military before finding a career in film.
Biddiss, a former paratrooper, started his film career as an extra on the movie “Monuments Men.”
Since then, he has worked on projects like “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation,” HBO’s “Catherine the Great,” and “The Crown.”
“I always tell people military film advising is 60% research and 40% of my own military experience added in to the mix,” Biddiss told Insider by email.
To prepare for a shoot, Biddiss obtains authentic training manuals appropriate to the conflict.
“I like to first understand the recruitment and training process, the rank structure and attitude between the ordinary ranks and officers,” he said. “This helps me better understand the battles and tactics used by the men and what must have been going through their heads at the time.”
That helps him structure a training program appropriate to the conflict, and safe for the performers — even when he’s short on prep time.
“When tasked to train 500 supporting artists for [the BBC’s] ‘War and Peace,’ I only had three days to research Napoleonic warfare and prepare a safe structured training program before flying out to Lithuania to train the men before a large battle sequence.”
Director Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of “1917.”
Training on “1917” started from the ground up — literally.
“Foot care was one of the first lessons I taught George [MacKay] and Dean [Charles Chapman], the importance of looking after their feet daily,” Biddiss said, referring to two stars of “1917.” “Basic recruits are taught this still even today.”
Trench foot, a common condition in World War I, is caused by wet, cold, and unsanitary conditions. It can be avoided by keeping the feet dry and clean, but left untreated it can lead to gangrene and amputation.
“The boys were wearing authentic period boots, walking and running in the wet mud all day and if not addressed early would have cause them major problems on set,” Biddiss said. “I taught them how to identify hot spots on the feet where the boots rubbed, taping up those hotspots to prevent blisters and applying talc and clean socks at every opportunity.”
A battle scene in “1917.”
Battle scenes require a lot from performers, but Biddiss said he “would never dream of asking an actor to do something I was not physically able to do myself.”
“I naturally train most days to keep myself in shape” and to instill confidence in his abilities, Biddiss told Insider.
“It’s not a good look if you’re a military adviser and you’re carrying around excess weight” and get winded after a short walk, he said.
Shooting a scene from “1917.”
(Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)
With hundreds of extras, making sure all the performers were right for the movie was a massive task in itself, Biddiss said.
“We first ran local auditions,” Biddiss said. “I then ran assessments before boot camps to make sure we had the right people who not only looked right, but were coordinated and physically robust to take on the task.”
After the performers were selected, “I started with basic arms drill to test coordination, fitness to test stamina,” he said. “Then to weapon handling, historical lessons, and tactics.”
“There so much attention to detail, like I’ve never seen before on set,” Biddiss said.
Mendes with Chapman and MacKay on the set of “1917.”
Biddiss has to teach the performers how to look and feel both natural and accurate when using their weapons.
Weapons handling is one of the main hurdles in preparing an actor for battle.
“There could [be] over 500 supporting artists on set with bayonets fixed and firing blank rounds,” Biddiss said. “The blanks used are very powerful and can still do permanent damage, so if time is not invested in training it could all go horribly wrong.”
It’s also one of the things he notices other productions often don’t get right. Biddiss said he notices performers never reloading their weapons or always having their fingers on a gun’s trigger.
MacKay in a scene from “1917.”
Throughout the production, the mindset of the performers has to be just like that of a soldier, Biddiss said.
“I like to impress on one aspect,” Biddiss said. “Fear and anger.”
“I tell actors and supporting artists that they need to show both feelings on their faces when about to act a battle sequence,” he said. “Fear of dying, but anger towards the people who have brought them to this situation.”
“There is nothing ninja about soldiering,” Biddiss tells the performers he trains. “You have one job. Close in and kill the enemy.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. Army loves robots and wants its soldiers to love them, too. The U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently conducted its annual Joint Warfighting Assessment in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the testing at the Yakima Training Center. From late April to May 11, 2019, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 2-2 Stryker Brigade and 2nd Ranger battalion, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton, tested new weapon concepts for a Pacific war scenario set in 2028.
One of the concepts they were testing was the “optionally manned vehicle,” which would allow leaders in the field to decide to switch their systems to remote operating systems instead of putting their troops on the line.
“The idea is that the robotics could be available, so when they pick that platform you can put the robotics on it, and now you can do the manned (or) unmanned team and push the robotics out on the battlefield,” explained Lieutenant Colonel John Fursmo, the officer commanding the opposing force for the exercise.
The Assault Breacher Vehicle.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Some of the vehicles that have been brought out for testing are actually quite old, brought back to life and stuffed with robotic capabilities by engineers tinkering with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Troops and engineers explain that it’s all about testing, experimentation and soldier feedback. “These are concepts, these are not necessarily the pieces of equipment we would actually use,” said Fursmo. “The Army still has to decide what it wants for this new combat vehicle that will replace some tanks and other armored vehicles.”
Fursmo pointed to an old M58 mobile recon vehicle that’s been retrofitted with remote control capabilities. “It’s a tracked vehicle, it’s been in the Army a very long time, [and] essentially the Army stopped using it several years ago because the mission itself was so dangerous that it was just decided it wasn’t worth it,” he explained. “But make it a robot and now it’s at least conceptually worth looking at it again.”
Robotics and digital tech are already changing the way wars both big and small are being fought around the world every day. What were once science fiction dreams (or nightmares) aren’t as far away as some might think. Some are already here.
An experimental quadcopter mounted on a Stryker during JWA 19.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Eyes in the Sky
Cavalry scouts often call themselves the ninjas of the U.S. Army. Though considered combat troops, their job is more often to scope out the enemy without drawing fire and to report their findings. “A big problem we have is seeing without being seen,” explained Major Dave Scherke, a cav scout squadron leader with the 2-2 Stryker Brigade.
A scout team might move with three troops aboard a Stryker and three dismounted on the ground. They use maps, rulers, and measuring tape to take down mission critical information while conducting route reconnaissance. “It’s very time consuming and, from a security standpoint, can leave you exposed,” Scherken said.
However, at Yakima Training Center, Scherke’s men have been testing the Sensor Enabled Scout Platoon concept. They’ve tested the “Instant Eye” quad copter, an aerial drone surveillance system. “We have that all the way down to the squad level. So instead of just having one of these for each one of my cav troops, now I have six of them, and that massively increases our ability to see over the ridge and see the enemy first,” Scherke explained.
The quad copter itself isn’t particularly unique — you can buy similar models at Best Buy. Drones have already become part of the new normal for warfare. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants have used store-bought drones to help them target mortars and have even modified them to drop grenades and other improvised explosives. During the battle of Mosul, frustrated Iraqi troops started purchasing commercial drones of their own to fight ISIS. Robots are everywhere.
However, the small drones the scouts are testing are equipped with the Instrument Set Reconnaissance and Survey (ENFIRE) system that uses software and algorithms that can help measure terrain features, roads, and even calculate how much weight a bridge is capable of supporting. “There’s a bridge classification app that tells you the whole bridge classification,” said Colonel Chuck Roede, the deputy commander of JMC. “It really allows the scouts to do the job we expect them to do.”
ENFIRE connects directly to systems in the Stryker itself, which connects to a larger network. “It takes all that information, aggregates it into a computer, and creates a route overlay,” Scherke explained. “[Plugging] into our mission command systems to send very rapidly [means] our logistics planners and our other maneuver planners can get that information right away. So it speeds up what our scouts can do, and now instead of having six scouts on the ground just doing this while other guys are securing them, you can put fewer scouts on the ground to do that mission.”
Deep purple, the drone utilized by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, prepares to lift off on an NBC reconnaissance mission at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 training exercise at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Washington, April 29, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
The Instant Eye has night vision, infrared, and powerful zoom and camera clarity features for checking out targets, as well as signal tracking. “We can get some eyes on there without exposing our scouts and then bring indirect fires down to win that fight first because we want to be fighting an unfair fight,” said Scherke.
Cav scout Sergeant Joseph Gaska, who was in the field operating the prototype, told Coffee or Die that he was impressed with it. “As long as you’re high enough, you won’t hear it, so it’s not going to be that buzzing sound above your head,” he said of small, nimble drones’ ability to move nearly undetected. It has other ambitious features, too, Gaska noted. For instance, he said that if they were to somehow lose their connection to the drone, it’s programmed to remember where its handlers are and will return to them.
The Joint Warfighting Assessment JWA19 WA, UNITED STATES 04.28.2019
One of the most difficult things ground troops are asked to do is breaching operations against enemy strongholds. The defending side nearly always has the advantage. Good defenders lay out layers of defense that can include walls, barbed wire, ditches, minefields, and countless other hazards and traps. “It’s a very challenging task because you have to imagine your opponent on the far side of that position ready to destroy you with every weapon system that they have,” Fursmo said. “If you can take humans out of that, you’re going to have fewer casualties — it’s really the most dangerous thing a ground force does.”
Troops in the field trained with various aerial drones for detecting chemical threats and minefields, but more of the efforts focused on ground-based systems. One of the key systems they were testing was the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Their ABV working prototype was built around the hull of an M1A1 Abrams tank armed with mine charges and a .50-caliber machine gun and equipped with plows and dozer blades.
“Basically, the concept of this vehicle is that this one vehicle with two operators can do what an entire platoon of engineers would be required to do in a breach,” U.S. Marine 1st Lt. David Aghakhan explained. “It’s not taking anything away from my capabilities — I can still manually operate it — but it gives me the option of saying ‘I don’t want to expose my Marines in this obstacle belt because it’s too dangerous,’ and I can pull them out and we can robotically operate it.”
A soldier remotely operates a humvee from inside another humvee.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Working from remote controls in command vehicles, soldiers and Marines could also remotely control other vehicles to move in and provide suppressing fire for the ABV as it worked to clear mines, smash berms, and deal with other obstacles. Captain Nicole Rotte, an Afghanistan veteran and commander of the 2-2’s engineer company, said that she was impressed with it.
“The challenge that I have is my planning factor for moving through a breach is 50 percent loss,” said Rotte. “So all these concepts, to be able to take an unmanned vehicle and bring them down the battlefield, to be able save soldiers from being lost in the breach, that’s awesome for me.”
Rotte said they only had minor technical issues that were easily solved by turning the systems off and on again. She added that if anything, she’s excited for the prospect of having more robots available to her and seeing what they can do.
Unmanning the Battlefield?
Some futurists have envisioned a world in which war was waged entirely by robots. The U.S. military and CIA have already used drones with operators in Nevada pulling the trigger to kill enemies as far away as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, while the vehicles are referred to as “unmanned,” they require regular maintenance — and usually have a human operator somewhere.
At times, U.S. military commanders have underestimated the strain on personnel in regard to upkeep and the long hours of operation. “The explosion in demand had created a snowball effect that never allowed the […] staff to take a pause and say, ‘Let’s normalize all the processes that we should be doing,'” the Air Force reported in one of its official annual histories from 2012. “Instead, normalization was put off to some future date after the pace of combat operations slowed down.”
But the wars continued, as did the extreme hours. Airmen working six days a week were constantly asked to work extra hours while leave got cancelled. They were never “deployed” but remained almost constantly on duty, remotely fighting wars in several countries that were continents away. “It’s at the breaking point and has been for a long time,” a senior Air Force official told The Daily Beast in 2015. “What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.”
A remotely operated humvee with a robotic firing turret.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Even without the logistical hurdles, many commanders (even those that fully embrace a robotic future for war) don’t believe grunts will ever become obsolete. “It’s technologically feasible to fly a drone from Nevada and have it circling over Iraq or Afghanistan. But the demands of the terrain, as Army soldiers we are so tied to the terrain — you need to have leaders on the ground to see and understand the terrain,” Roede said.
Col. Christopher Barnwell, head of the field experimentation division at JMC, said that while he could see a future where commanders could run a war without ever going to the field — adding that at this point communications are advanced enough that senior officers already don’t have to — he doesn’t think a good leader would choose to stay home while war is raging elsewhere.
“No commander I know would do that,” he said. “I feel like I need to be on the ground and see things with my own eyes and get a feel for what’s going. Technically possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t personally think so.”
An Alabama Army National Guard Soldier with the 690th Chemical Company inspects a “deep purple” drone at YTC at Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, May 4, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/ 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
While they don’t see human judgement being removed from the equation, some military planners are excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence to allow vehicles to move on their own on the battlefield.
“As the concept matures, as we bring in elements of AI, as we bring in some measures of autonomy, the ratio of operators to vehicles will drop so that eventually you’ll have one operator who can control maybe a squad or platoon’s worth of vehicles,” said Roede. He suggested that AI could allow vehicles to autonomously navigate terrain and even rally into formations as they haul supplies and weapons.
Barnwell suggested it potentially going even further — he can foresee a day in the future when leaders can delegate to robotic weapons systems in combat and allow them to autonomously pick and engage targets.
“You tell these robotic vehicles, ‘You’ve got this part of the engagement area, and you are free to shoot at enemy vehicles; anything north of the niner-niner grid line is enemy and you are free to shoot it,'” Barnwell said. “And because these vehicles have AI, they know what to shoot […] on their own.”
However, the prospect of robots that can autonomously kill enemies based on algorithms or pre-programmed targets sets has potentially serious ramifications. The recent battles for Mosul and Raqqa proved incredibly bloody. House-to-house fighting and heavy bombing and artillery strikes led to untold deaths of civilians trapped in the cities, and the work of rebuilding the infrastructure since the battles ended has been slow.
Military strategists believe that urban fighting could be the norm for the 21st century. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that’s expected to grow. In particular, there are concerns about the challenges posed by potentially fighting in massive megacities like Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Lagos. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has pointed out that the entirety of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — isn’t equal to a neighborhood in Seoul.
Conceptual prototypes at Yakima Training Center.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Heavily armed robots combing the streets of a densely populated megacity picking targets based on algorithms have the potential to cause a lot of unintended collateral death and destruction. Machines feel neither remorse nor pity.
Barnwell said that they’re already considering these potential problems. “Through programming, we would be able to figure out what are appropriate targets, what are not. What is the ROE (rules of engagement), what are we going to allow these things to shoot at by themselves, and what are we not going to allow them to shoot at by themselves,” he explained. “In a megacity, for example, we may not even employ this sort of thing — or we may, depending on what the intelligence tells us the enemy is out there.”
But Roede stressed again that fighting wars is going to remain a fundamentally human endeavor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we’ll let the machine make the final decision on anything.”
While most teenagers in the 1960s were worried about who they were going to take to the high school dance, Pfc. Dan Bullock was serving in Marine Corps and fighting against the communist guerilla army in North Vietnam.
At the age of 12, Bullock’s mother passed away forcing him and his sister to pack their North Carolina belongings and move up north to New York where they lived with their father and his new wife in Brooklyn.
But due to an unhappy home life, Bullock set his sights on joining the Marine Corps.
As other young men in those days decided to flee toward Canada to dodge the draft, Bullock decided to adjust the date on his birth certificate from Dec. 21, 1953 to Dec. 21, 1949, so he could enlist in the Marine Corps.
His newly revised birth certificate convinced Marine recruiters enough to let him join the Corps at the ripe age of 14.
In May of 1969, and within six months after graduating boot camp, Bullock arrived in Vietnam ready to fight with his platoon. He would be killed a month later.
On June 7, 1969, Bullock suffered significant wounds from an enemy satchel charge while serving in the Quang Nam Province and passed away shortly after, making Pfc. Bullock the youngest American to lose his life in the multi-year skirmish.
But it wasn’t until reporters visited Bullock’s family home when they discovered the tragic news of Bullock’s exact age — he was only 15.
Christopher Brown squats among knee-high rows of green garlic. He grasps a stalk at its base and tugs it from the ground with a satisfying crunch. After popping several plants from the soil, he peels back their papery protective layers, revealing bulbs that are a brilliant, glossy white.
Six months ago, much of this Skagit Valley farmland was a mucky soup of tangled grass, mud and standing water under stormy skies. Today, it’s a pleasant 70 degrees. Rows of produce, from garlic and sugar snap peas to kale and broccoli, spring from the valley’s soft loam.
A three-time Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown struggled to adjust when he returned to the U.S. So, too, did many of the men and women who are now harvesting produce alongside him — military veterans from all branches, of all ages.
Welcome to Growing Veterans, the thriving nonprofit that has transformed the life of Brown, its president and co-founder, and the lives of many of its workers and volunteers.
Together, they use sustainable practices to plant, grow and harvest a rich variety of produce for sale at farmers markets and donation to food banks. It is satisfying work, but there’s a deeper mission at stake: helping veterans reconnect — to each other, and to the communities they serve. And, in the process, tackling the pervasive isolation that underlies many of the issues they face.
In the morning, they park their cars in the gravel driveway of a former dairy farm. They greet each other with hugs. As they work, they share stories — funny stories, sad stories, terrifying stories — from their time in the service. They talk politics. Medications. Family. Civilian life.
Brown has a story of his own. In 2008, he returned from his final tour of duty. “There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration and anxiety,” he says. He also had to cope with a mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
His struggles were not unique. Along with PTSD, many returning veterans face depression. Substance abuse. Unemployment. Homelessness. And suicidal thoughts.
There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration, and anxiety
Brown’s Marine battalion, the 2/7, has a suicide rate four times that of all young male veterans. At least 15 men from the battalion have taken their own lives since he left the military.
“When I went back to get my undergraduate degree,” he says, “I made a commitment to myself that I would pursue an education and a career where those losses would not be in vain.”
Brown also began working on his own mental health. He spent over two years in group and individual counseling, processing his traumas and learning coping strategies. Following the advice of his counselor, he started growing plants as a way to reconnect with life.
Soon, he was harvesting food from his own garden for dinner, and he was feeling better and better. “I realized that there really is something to working with food and growing plants,” he says.
And then, just before he turned his thoughts to graduate school at the University of Washington, he says, it clicked: Why not combine food and sustainable agriculture with helping veterans?
For the past four years, he has done just that. Along with counselor-turned-farmer Christina Wolf, who serves as operations manager, Brown co-founded Growing Veterans on a 3.5-acre site north of Bellingham. The organization has since leased its expansive Skagit Valley location and a half-acre spot in Auburn, and continued to deepen its connections with regional farm agencies, veteran service providers and nonprofits.
Brown, who just completed his master’s in social work at the UW, and Wolf have also deepened their organization’s focus on mental health. Each of Growing Veterans’ nine employees has completed a peer-support training program designed to tackle veteran isolation and prevent suicide.
And beyond providing life-sustaining social support at its farms, Growing Veterans helps people connect with as many meaningful opportunities as possible: through other local and national veteran organizations, business and community networking, and educational projects.
There’s plenty of excitement cropping up for Growing Veterans. More community partners. More acreage planted. More people receiving healthy, sustainably grown produce. More veterans beginning the journey to healing.
But there’s also tremendous power in the present: The warmth of the sun. The fertile soil that gently gives way under each step. And the rhythm with which dirt-covered, callused hands pick and peel bunches of garlic, set them aside, and then begin anew.
When Growing Veterans was just getting off its feet, Christopher Brown embarked upon another journey: He took on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington.
Now a newly minted graduate, Brown recently transitioned from executive director of Growing Veterans to president of the board of directors — freeing up time to launch his career as a PTSD counselor for veterans.
His professors supported him as he focused many of his research projects on furthering the mission of Growing Veterans. And, though his concentration was in integrative health and mental health practice, Brown also learned about leadership and community building.
“Many of my professors also ran their own foundations and brought their worldly experience to the classroom,” he says. “They helped challenge and refine not only my understanding of how to work with others, but my view of the world, too.”
For more on Growing Veterans visit their website here.
You’ve probably heard of the Memphis Belle, especially after the 1990 film starring Matthew Modine and Harry Connick, Jr.
That film took a lot of liberties with the story of the actual B-17 that was the subject of a documentary done during World War II, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress.”
But history can also be very malleable, especially in the hands of Hollywood.
When Hollywood director William Wyler was doing a documentary for the U.S. government on the first Allied bomber crew to complete a 25-mission “tour” over Europe, he took some liberties. Why? Because it was World War II, and the bombing campaign over Europe was a bloody affair. In fact, the Directors Guild of America notes that during the filming of the documentary, cinematographer and World War I vet Harold J. Tannebaum was killed when the Nazis shot down the B-24 Liberator he was in.
According to the memoirs of Robert Morgan, the pilot of the Memphis Belle, Wyler had picked a different bomber for the feature film, a B-17 known as “Invasion 2nd.” That plane – and five others – were shot down on an April 17, 1943, mission to Bremen. The Memphis Belle was chosen to replace Invasion 2nd – Morgan related how he was told that another plane had a back-up film crew on a bomber called “Hell’s Angels” in case the Memphis Belle went down. Wyler actually filmed parts of multiple missions for the documentary – the mission portrayed on the film was actually the Memphis Belle’s 24th mission.
Of course, the Memphis Belle did complete the tour – and she got all the accolades of being the “first” to do so. The crew of Hell’s Angels, though, actually flew their 25th mission a week before the Memphis Belle flew her 25th mission. The documentary, though, became a classic.
Wyler went on to direct a documentary about the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s operations in Italy, titled, “Thunderbolt!” He was wounded by an exploding anti-aircraft shell, losing some of his hearing.
After the war, he went on to direct the classic films “The Best Years of Our Lives” — a movie about veterans who returned home that won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director — and “Ben Hur,” featuring former B-25 gunner Charlton Heston, which won 11 Oscars.
Today, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress” is available via the Internet Archive and Netflix is also streaming the film. It is also on Youtube. Feel free to watch it below. The Memphis Belle is currently being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria launched its third strike in as many weeks on pro-regime forces inside a deconfliction zone around al Tanf, near a border crossing in Syria’s southeast desert.
Two US officials told CNN that the June 8 strike came after three vehicles were seen entering the deconfliction zone, and two of the vehicles were hit when they were 24 miles from the base at al Tanf.
“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a US MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a US aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by Coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS,” US Central Command said in a statement.
The “munition did not have an effect on coalition forces,” according to coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon.
US and other coalition personnel are at the al Tanf garrison, near the border crossing, to train local partner forces, who captured the area earlier this year. (US personnel and local partners repulsed an intense attack by ISIS soon after.)
The first such strike in the al Tanf area came on May 18, when coalition forces targeted pro-Assad forces “that were advancing well inside an established deconfliction zone” spreading 34 miles around al Tanf, US Central Command said in a release at the time.
The strike came after unsuccessful Russian efforts to stop the movements, a show of force by coalition aircraft, and warning shots.
Christopher Woody/Google Maps
Earlier this week, pro-regime and coalition aircraft both conducted strikes against opposition forces in the vicinity of al Tanf.
On Tuesday, Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters came under attack on the ground just inside the deconfliction zone boundary, according to CNN. In response to that attack, Washington and Moscow communicated on a deconfliction line set up previously. Russia shared a request from the Syrian government to launch a strike in support of the militia, to which the US agreed.
Hours later, pro-Assad forces were observed entering the deconfliction zone with vehicles and weaponry, including a tank and artillery, as well as over 60 fighters. The US then launched its own airstrike on those forces after they refused to withdraw from the area.
The coalition said it issued several warnings before “destroying two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaging a tank.”
The US-led strike, carried out by a F/A-18 fighter, dropped four bombs and “killed an estimated 10 fighters,” according to CNN.
June 8th’s engagements add to a string of encounters that could lead to greater conflict in Syria between the US-led coalition and its local partners and pro-regime forces and their backers, Iran and Russia.
“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” CentCom said in its statement.
“The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces,” the statement said.
The strategic value of the al Tanf area — through which a highway connecting Damascus to Baghdad runs — as well as the direction of events elsewhere in Syria makes clashes between coalition forces and pro-regime forces a continuing possibility.
ISIS’ eroding control of territory in Syria, and the likelihood that Kurdish forces — who’ve signaled a willingness to negotiate with Assad for autonomy — will soon take control of the area around Raqqa in northeast Syria make territory in the southeast of the country increasingly valuable.
Recent events in Syria indicate that “the United States [is] seemingly looking to cement a north-south ‘Sunni axis’ from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey,” Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria and a visiting fellow at The Washington institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently.
“The challenge is that Iran and its proxies would very much like to establish some sort of land bridge from Iraq into Syria and they have had designs on this for quite some time,” a former Pentagon official told The Christian Science Monitor.
Capturing al Tanf and the nearby border crossing would allow Tehran to link Iraq to the Mediterranean coast through Syria, facilitating the movement of men and material.
But doing so would also isolate coalition-backed forces fighting ISIS and their special-forces advisers.
Intelligence sources have told Reuters that the coalition’s presence near al Tanf is meant to prevent such a route from opening.
“Initially, the United States and the coalition had planned this unconventional warfare campaign to pressure the middle Euphrates River valley and cut off [ISIS communications lines],” the former Pentagon official said. “Now, ironically, it’s not just threatening [ISIS], it’s also threatening Iran’s designs for the area.”
Russia has also become involved in the confrontations around al Tanf.
Earlier this month, coalition-backed Syrian forces attacked Shia militias that had moved down the highway toward the Iraqi border. They forced the militias, which are backed by Iran, to retreat, but Russian jets soon launched strikes against the coalition-backed fighters, forcing them back as well.
Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shia militant group backed by Iran and heavily involved in the pro-regime fight in Syria, has entered the fray as well. The group’s military-news unit issued a statement this week warning that the “self-restraint” it had about US-led airstrikes would end if the US crossed “red lines.”
“America knows well that the blood of the sons of Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, and its allies is not cheap, and the capacity to strike their positions in Syria, and their surroundings, is available when circumstances will it,” the statement said.
Observers have noted that the Trump administration would likely be much less hesitant about attacking Hezbollah in Syria. Given the web of alliances that now ensnare forces in Syria, such attacks would likely have broader repercussions.
“American unwillingness to confront Iran and its proxies in Syria, if obliged by circumstances, is a thing of the past,” Frederic Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department liaison to Syrian opposition forces, told The Christian Science Monitor.
“And Moscow would now have to anticipate with high likelihood aerial combat with US forces should it elect to provide tactical air support to Iran and its proxies on the ground,” Hof added.
“Our people are gathering in the Tanf area right now, so a clash is definitely coming,” a Hezbollah unit commander in Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Monitor.
The British have a long history with armored fighting vehicles. In fact, they were the first to introduce the tank to modern warfare during World War I. Today, the British Army’s armored vehicles are among the best in the world. That’s why it’s no surprise that the MCV-80 Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been around for over three decades and is still going strong.
The vehicle arose from a need to get British troops onto the battlefield while protecting them from enemy fire and keeping up with Challenger main battle tanks. And, of course, this vehicle would need to be able to bring the hurt to enemy forces.
The Warrior satisfies all of those requirements and then some. This vehicle, also known as the FV510, was first introduced in 1988. It weighs in at just under 31 tons, packs a 30mm Rarden auto-cannon, and can carry seven grunts to the battle at speeds of up to 47 miles per hour. A single tank of gas will take it 410 miles.
The Kuwaiti version of the Warrior, parked center-right, next to the A-4Ku, packs a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
British Warriors have seen action in Desert Storm, Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. That’s an impressive resume, but these aren’t the only Warriors out there. In the wake of Desert Storm, Kuwait made some very big upgrades to their military — in the process, they bought a version of the Warrior that packs a 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
The Warrior will be getting a bigger gun and other upgrades to keep it viable to 2040.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The Warrior has proven versatile over the years. Variants of the Warrior include vehicles for command, artillery observation (the Brits gave this version a dummy cannon to make it look like less of an easy target), and recovery and repair.
This infantry fighting vehicle is far from reaching the end of the road — there are plans in place to further upgrade this vehicle with a 40mm gun. We’ll likely see the Warrior in the fight until at least 2040.
Learn more about Britain’s troop-carrying Warrior in the video below!
Going supersonic at altitude is one thing, but when you’re feeling the need for speed there’s nothing like taking it down low for a little “speed rush baseline” calibration. And more the better if the gang happens to be there on the ground to capture the action for posterity (and WATM GIF creation).
But beware of a couple of things: Unless you’re a Blue Angel (see #7) unauthorized low passes are a great way to lose your flight status. And Rule No. 1 of aviation is you can only tie the record for low flight.
The Army and Air Force once conducted an air-to-air combat experiment between jet fighters and attack helicopters. Called J-CATCH, or Joint Countering Attack Helicopter, it was not the first of its kind but the most conclusive using modern technology.
The results showed attack helicopters proved remarkably deadly when properly employed against fighter aircraft. And it wasn’t even close.
First conducted by the Army using MASH Sikorsky H-19s, airframes developed in the 40s and 50s, the modern J-CATCH test started in 1978, as the Soviet Union expanded their helicopter forces. Of special concern was the development of the Mil Mi-24 or Hind helicopter gunship. The four phase J-CATCH experiment started in earnest with the Army, Marines, and Air Force participating in simulations at NASA’s Langley labs.
The second phase was a field test, pitting three AH-1 Cobras and two OH-58 Scouts against a Red Team force of UH-1 Twin Hueys and CH-3E Sea King helicopters and developed many new helicopter air-to-air tactics and maneuvers designed to counter the Russian Hind.
Phase Three is where the fighters came in. The Air Force chose F-4, A-7, A-10, and F-15 fighter aircraft to counter whatever the Army could muster in the exercise. The F-4 and F-15 were front line fighters with anti-air roles while the A-7 and A-10 had air-to-ground missions.
For two weeks, the helicopters trounced the fighter aircraft. The fighter pilots in the test runs sometimes didn’t even know they were under attack or destroyed until the exercise’s daily debriefing. The Army pilots were so good, they had to be ordered to follow Air Force procedures and tell their fixed-wing targets they were under attack over the radio. This only increased the kill ratio, which by the end of the exercise, had risen to 5-to-1 in favor of the helicopters.
The fourth phase of the exercise saw the final outcome of the test: fighters should avoid helicopters at all costs, unless they have superiority of distance or altitude.
As the United States shifts its posture away from ongoing counter-terror operations and back toward great power competition with nations like China, the U.S. is being forced to reassess it’s aircraft carrier force projection strategy. If U.S. carriers find themselves on the sideline for such a conflict, it may be worth revisiting the idea of a different kind of aircraft carrier: the flying kind.
China’s arsenal of hypersonic anti-ship missiles have created an area denial bubble that would prevent American carriers from sailing close enough to Chinese shores to launch sorties, effectively neutering America’s ability to conduct offensive operations against the Chinese mainland. Without the ability to leverage the U.S. Navy’s attack aircraft, combat operations in the Pacific would be extremely difficult. It is, however, possible (though potentially impractical) to develop and deploy flying aircraft carriers for such a conflict–the United States has even experimented with the concept a number of times in the past, and is continuing to pursue the idea today.
Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019 (DARPA)
DARPA’s Gremlins Program
The most recent iteration of a flying aircraft carrier comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has seen testing successes as recently as January of this year.
In January, DARPA successfully launched a Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlin UAV from the bay of a Lockheed Martin C-130A cargo aircraft. The program is aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of low-cost combat-capable drones that can be both deployed and recovered from cargo planes. DARPA envisions using cargo planes like the C-130 to deploy these drones while still outside of enemy air defenses; allowing the drones to go on and engage targets before returning to the airspace around the “mother ship” to be recaptured and carried home for service or repairs.
The test showed that a drone could be deployed by the C-130, but the drone itself was ultimately destroyed when its parachute failed to open after the completion of an hour-and-a-half flight. A subsequent test that would include drone capture was slated for the spring of this year, but has likely been delayed to due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Between the success of this test and other drone wingman programs like Skyborg, the concept of a flying aircraft carrier has seen a resurgence in recent years, and may potentially finally become a common facet of America’s air power.
The plan to turn a Boeing 747 into a flying aircraft carrier
The Boeing 747 has already secured its place in the pantheon of great aircraft, from its immense success as a passenger plane to its varied governmental uses like being a taxi for the Space Shuttle or as a cargo aircraft. The 747 has proven itself to be an extremely capable aircraft for a wide variety of applications, so it seemed logical when, in the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force began experimenting with the idea of converting one of these large aircraft into a flying aircraft carrier full of “parasite” fighters that could be deployed, and even recovered, in mid-air.
Boeing AAC design sketch
Initial plans called for using the massive cargo aircraft Lockeed C-5 Galaxy, but as Boeing pointed out at the time, the 747 actually offered superior range and endurance when flying with a full payload. According to Boeing’s proposal, the 747 could be properly equipped to carry as much as 883,000 pounds.
Sketch of a micro fighter inside a 747 fuselage.
The idea behind the Boeing 747 AAC (Airborne Aircraft Carrier) was simple in theory, but incredibly complex in practice. Boeing would specially design and build fighter aircraft that were small enough to be housed within the 747, along with an apparatus that would allow the large plane to carry the fighters a long distance, drop them where they were needed to fight, and then recover them once again.
This graphic from Boeing’s proposal shows different potential flying aircraft carrier platforms and their respective ranges. (Boeing)
Boeing’s 60-page proposal discusses the ways such a program could be executed, but lagging questions remained regarding the fuel range of a 747 carrying such a heavy payload and about how the fighters would fare in a combat environment. Previous flying aircraft carrier concepts showed that the immense turbulence from large aircraft (and their jet engines) made it extremely difficult to manage the fighters they would drop, especially as they attempted to return to the aircraft after a mission.
Potential “micro-fighter” design (Boeing)
Further concerns revolved around how well these miniature “parasite” fighters would fare against the top-of-the-line Soviet fighters they would conceivable be squaring off with.
Ultimately, the proposal never made it off the page — but it did establish one important point for further discussion on this topic. According to the report, Boeing found the concept of a flying aircraft carrier to be “technically feasible” using early 1970’s technology. Technically feasible, it’s important to note, however, is not the same as financially feasible.
The insane Lockheed CL-1201: A massive, nuclear-powered flying aircraft carrier
The Skunkworks at Lockheed Martin have been responsible for some of the most incredible aircraft ever to take flight, from the high-flying U-2 Spy Plane to the fastest military jet ever, the SR-71. But even those incredible aircraft seem downright plain in comparison to Lockheed’s proposal to build an absolutely massive, nuclear powered, flying aircraft carrier–the CL-1201.
The proposal called for an aircraft that weighed 5,265 tons. In order to get that much weight aloft, the design included a 1,120 foot wingspan, with a fuselage that would measure 560 feet (or about two and a half times that of a 747). It would have been 153 feet high, making it stand as tall as a 14-story building. According to Lockheed, they could put this massive bird in the sky using just four huge turbofan engines which would be powered by regular jet fuel under 16,000 feet, where it would then switch to nuclear power courtesy of its on-board reactor. The flying aircraft carrier could then stay aloft without refueling for as long as 41 days, even while maintaining a high subsonic cruising speed of Mach 0.8 at around 30,000 feet.
The giant aircraft would carry a crew of 845 and would be able to deploy 22 multirole fighters from docking pylons installed on the wings. It also would maintain a small internal hangar bay for repairs and aircraft service while flying. Unsurprisingly, this design didn’t make it past the proposal stage, but the concept itself stands as a historical anomaly that continues to inspire renewed attention to this day.
Convair GRB-36F in flight with Republic YRF-84F (S/N 49-2430). (U.S. Air Force photo)
The B-36 Peacemaker
This massive bomber weighed in at an astonishing 410,000 pounds when fully loaded with fuel and ordnance (thanks to its large fuel reserves and 86,000 weapon capacity). Development of the B-36 began in 1941, thanks to a call for an aircraft that was capable of taking off from the U.S., bombing Berlin with conventional or atomic ordnance, and returning without having to refuel. By the time the B-36 made it into the air, however, World War II had already been over for more than a year.
The B-36 had a massive wingspan. At 230 feet, the wings of the Peacemaker dwarf even the B-52’s 185-foot wingspan. In its day, it was one of the largest aircraft ever to take to the sky. Despite it’s incredible capabilities, the B-36 never once flew an operational mission, but the massive size and range of the platform prompted the Air Force to consider its use as a flying aircraft carrier, using Republic YRF-84F Ficon “parasitic” fighters as the bomber’s payload.
The idea was similar to that of the later proposal from Boeing, carrying the fighters internally to extend their operational range and then deploying them via a lowering boom, where they could serve as protection for the bomber, reconnaissance assets, or even execute offensive operations of their own before returning to the B-36 for recovery.
View of the YRF-84F from inside the B-36 — the pilot could enter and exit the cockpit from within the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The U.S. Air Force ultimately did away with the concept thanks to the advent of mid-air refueling, which dramatically increased the operational range of all varieties of aircraft and made a flying aircraft carrier concept a less cost effective solution.
Using rigid airships as flying aircraft carriers
Although we very rarely see rigid inflatable airships in service to national militaries today, things were much different in the early 20th century. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s airships (dubbed “Zeppelins”) were proving themselves to be a useful military platform thanks to their fuel efficiency, range, and heavy payload capabilities. These massive airships were not only cost-effective, their gargantuan size also offered an added military benefit: their vast looming presence could be extremely intimidating to the enemy.
However, as you may have already guessed, it was that vast presence that also created the rigid airship’s massive weakness: it was susceptible to being shot down by even the simplest of enemy aircraft. England was the first nation to try to offset this weakness by building an apparatus that could carry and deploy three Sopwith Camel biplanes beneath the ship’s hull. They ultimately built four of these 23-class Vickers rigid airships, but all were decommissioned by the 1920s. The U. S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics took notice of the concept, however, and set about construction on its own inflatable airships, with both the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5) serving as flying aircraft carriers.
The airships were built with an apparatus that could not only deploy F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes, they could also recover them once again mid-flight. The airships and aircraft fell under the Navy’s banner, and the intent was to use the attached bi-planes for both reconnaissance (ship spotting) and defense, but not necessarily for offensive operations.
USS Akron (ZRS-4) Launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane (Bureau # A8604) during flight tests near Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, 4 May 1932. (U.S. Navy)
The biplanes were stored in hangars on the airship that measured approximately 75′ long x 60′ wide x 16′ high — or big enough to service 5 biplanes internally.
Sparrowhawk scout/fighter aircraft on its exterior rigging (U.S. Navy)
After lackluster performance in a series of Naval exercises, the Akron would crash on April 4, 1933, killing all 76 people on board. Just weeks later, on April 21, its sister ship, the USS Macon, would take its first flight. Two years later, it too would crash, though only two of its 83 crew members would die.
Suspected Taliban insurgents attacked a US-operated base in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost April 24, officials said, but gave few immediate details of an assault that coincided with a visit to Kabul by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
The attackers had detonated a car bomb at an entrance to Camp Chapman, a secretive facility manned by US forces and private military contractors, said Mubarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
But he had little immediate information on any damage or casualties.
“I am aware of a car bomb attack at one of the gates in the US base, but we are not allowed there to get more details,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, Capt. William Salvin, confirmed the car bomb attack. He said there appeared to be a number of Afghan casualties but none among US or coalition personnel at the base.
The attack came just three days after more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on their base by Taliban fighters disguised in military uniforms.
WorkSafeBC is the name of the Worker’s Compensation Board of the Canadian province of British Columbia, covering 2.3 million Canadian workers. The Board is responsible for processing claims, complaints, and (among other things) prevention of workplace accidents. This is where they really shine.
The accident prevention videos the Board makes and uploads to YouTube received more the 25 million views since 2006. They’re short and to the point, illustrative of the importance of accident prevention, and have many fans. One such fan is the United States Air Force.
A video called Struck by Mobile Equipment really resonated with the USAF, who formally asked WorkSafeBC if they could use the video as part of their official safety training.
In an article from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), an official at WorkSafeBC told CBC he received an email from the Air Force saying “We love this piece. It’s really effective for our target audience in our Mishap Prevention Program for people who are 18 to 24 years old.”
Other areas covered by CBC but not picked up by the Air Force include Returning to Work and Caring for People with Dementia.