Imagine you’re in a country that tends to pinch pennies when it comes to the defense budget. Now imagine that you’re looking to upgrade your armored fighting vehicles (tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers), but you’ve just been told you can’t buy new ones — even second-hand vehicles aren’t an option. Sounds like you’re stuck with obsolete vehicles, right?
Not necessarily. Believe it or not, those old tanks can be given new life, and the process is actually very simple and relatively cheap. More often than not, your real problem isn’t the armored fighting vehicle itself, it’s what goes on top: the turret.
This is where the firepower of your typical armored fighting vehicle resides. Thankfully, the great thing about turrets is that they can be replaced quite easily if you have the proper facilities and trained maintenance personnel. If you have a perfectly good hull, swapping out the turret is a great way to buy time and extend the service life of an otherwise-outdated and outmatched system.
The baseline BTR-80 has a KPV 14.5mm machine gun, but a new turret can make this a BTR-80A with a 30mm auto-cannon.
Russia is doing just this with their BTR-80 and BTR-82 armored personnel carriers. The baseline versions had a manned turret with a KPV 14.5mm heavy machine gun. However, the Russians replaced the initial turret with one that houses a 2A72 30mm auto-cannon — similar to the 2A42 auto-cannon used on the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and the Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter — thus creating the BTR-80A and the BTR-82A. According to some reports, Russia may make another turret switch for the latter vehicle, giving the BTR-82A a 57mm gun.
During Reforger 82, when this photo was taken, the M60A1 tank was still in widespread service, even as the M1 Abrams was starting to replace it.
Tanks also benefit from this upgrade treatment. For example, Turkey was able to extend the life of 170 M60 Patton tanks by going with the Israeli Sabra upgrade, which essentially puts a Merkava III turret on the Patton’s hull (a few other upgrades were made while they were at it). Egypt is also looking to do this with its fleet of M60 main battle tanks.
The centerpiece of the M60T in Turkish Army service is a new turret like that on Israeli Merkava tanks.
(Photo by Natan Flayer)
The fact is, if you have an older armored vehicle, just junking it or passing it on may not be the best option. You might find that the better bargain is in getting a new turret instead.
NASA legend, mathematician, race barrier breaker, women’s rights advancer, mother, military spouse: Katherine Johnson was truly out of this world. The once in a generation mind passed away at age 101 on February 24, NASA announced.
We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://go.nasa.gov/2SUMtN2 pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW
Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From an early age, she demonstrated a love of counting and numbers far beyond her peers and well beyond her years. By age 10, Johnson was already through her grade school curriculum and enrolled in high school, which she finished at 14. She enrolled in West Virginia State College at only age 15 and started pursuing her love of math.
According to NASA, while at WVSC, Johnson had the opportunity to study under well known professor Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor. Claytor guided Johnson in her career path, once telling her, “You’d make a great research mathematician.” He also provided her guidance with how to become one. In an interview with NASA, Johnson recalled, “Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician.” Claytor’s spirit of mentorship was something that Johnson paid forward. “Claytor was a young professor himself,” she said, “and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So I would ask questions to help them. He’d tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”
Johnson became the first black woman to attend West Virginia University’s graduate school. Following graduation, she became a school teacher, settled down and married. She spent many years at home with her three daughters, but when her husband became ill, she began teaching again. In the early 1950s, a family friend told Johnson that NACA (the predecessor to NASA) was hiring. According to NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics were specifically looking for African-American females to work as “computers” in what was then their Guidance and Navigation Department. In the 1950s, pools of women at NACA did calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified.
Johnson applied but the openings were already filled. The following year, she applied again, and this time she was offered two contracts. She took the one as a researcher. She started working at NACA in 1953. In 1956, her husband died of an inoperable brain tumor. In 1959, Johnson remarried James A. Johnson, an Army captain and Korean War veteran.
Johnson was a pioneer for multiple reasons. Not only was she a working woman in the 1950s, an era during which women were generally secretaries if they worked at all, she was also a black woman. In an interview for the book “Black Women Scientists in the United States,” Johnson recalled, “We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, ‘Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.’ So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”
If Johnson was intimidated, she never showed it. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained in an interview with NASA. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”
Johnson was so well known for her capabilities, that John Glenn personally asked for her before his orbit in 1962. According to NASA, “The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from liftoff to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to ‘get the girl’—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. ‘If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, ‘then I’m ready to go.’ Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.”
Johnson was an instrumental part of the team and was the only woman to be pulled from the calculating pool room to work on other projects. One of those projects: putting a man on the moon.
Johnson lived a remarkable life and had a prestigious career. Her awards and decorations are numerous, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, honorary doctorate from William and Mary, a facility being named after her at NASA’s Langley campus and even a Barbie made in her image. She had a fervor for learning and a love of life.
“Like what you do, and then you will do your best,” she said.
If a conflict in U.S. history ever came with baggage, it has to be the Vietnam War. Although the service and actions of the millions of Americans who fought in Southeast Asia have been slowly recognized, the unpopularity of the war at the time, and for many years after, left a scar in American society. This unpopularity also meant that extraordinary men and units, such as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), have fallen through the cracks of America’s consciousness, and are only known to a few old comrades, their families, and a handful of military history enthusiasts.
The innocuous-sounding MACV-SOG is such an organization, although its obscurity also has to do with its highly secretive nature.
SOG operators pulled off some of the most impressive special operations of the entire war; including some that seemed to defy logic itself. As successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam, several hundreds of special operations troops fought against all odds, and against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
The most secret unit you’ve never heard of
Activated in 1964, MACV-SOG was a covert joint special operations organization that conducted cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos, SOG also worked closely with the Intelligence Community, often running missions at the request of the CIA.
During its eight-year secret war (1964-1972), SOG conducted some of the most daring special operations in U.S. history and planted the seed for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
SOG’s main battleground and focus was the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above and below ground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong used to fuel their fight in the south.
What was peculiar about SOG operations was the fact that they happened where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be. Successive U.S. administrations had insisted that no American troops were operating outside South Vietnam.
SOG commandos, thus, wore no name tags, rank, or any other insignia that might identify them as Americans. Even their weapons had no serial numbers.
Duty in SOG was voluntary and strictly confidential. SOG troops weren’t allowed to disclose their location, missions, or any other details surrounding their covert outfit and they couldn’t take photographs—like all good commandos. However, SOG broke that rule frequently, as the numerous pictures from the time suggest. But as far as the general public was concerned, they were each just another American soldier fighting Communism in Vietnam.
SOG was commanded by an Army colonel, called “Chief SOG,” reflecting the predominance of Green Berets in the organization, and divided into three geographical sections: Command and Control North (CCN), Command and Control Central (CCC), and Command and Control South (CCS).
Service in the unit was highly selective. Not only did it recruit solely from special operations units, but the inherent risk required that everyone had to be a volunteer. Approximately 3.2 million Americans served in Vietnam. Of that number, about 20,000 were Green Berets, of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with just 400 to 600 running recon and direct action operations.
Service at SOG came with an unspoken agreement that you’d receive either a Purple Heart or body bag. SOG had a casualty rate of 100 percent—everyone who served in SOG was either wounded, most multiple times, or killed.
Our “Little People“
What enabled SOG operations was a steady supply of loyal and fierce local fighters who passionately hated the North Vietnamese—and sometimes each other. These local warfighters worked with the American commandos as mercenaries. The “Little People,” as the Americans affectionally called them, proved their worth on the field, against impossible odds time and again.
These local partner forces included Montagnards, South Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs, among other tribes and ethnicities. Indeed, local mercenaries made up most of SOG recon teams and Hatchet Forces (more on them later). For example, most recon teams would run cross-border operations with between two and four Americans and four to nine local mercenaries. Locals had an uncanny ability—some SOG operators would say a sixth sense—to detect danger. This ability made them perfect point men during recon operations.
Usually, when launching a cross-border recon operation, SOG teams would enter a pre-mission “quarantine,” much like modern-day Army Special Forces operational detachments do before deploying. During this quarantine period, they would eat the same food as the North Vietnamese, that is mostly rice and fish, so they—and their human waste—could smell like the enemy while in the jungle.
Today, where pre-workout and energy drinks are borderline mandatory, even on active operations, such measures might sound extravagant. But in a moonless night, in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese trackers and troops, something as trivial-seeming as your smell could mean the difference between a SOG team getting wiped out or making it home.
The local troops, having a great understanding of the operational environment, were crucial in the survival of many SOG recon teams. When the war ended, some of them, such as the legendary “Cowboy,” managed to escape to the West and come to the U.S.
Death-defying special operations
SOG specialized mainly in strategic reconnaissance, direct-action, sabotage, and combat search-and-rescue.
Although SOG’s primary mission-set was strategic reconnaissance through its recon teams, it also specialized in direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes. For these larger operations, there were different outfits within SOG.
The “Hatchet Forces” specialized in raids and ambushes, but also acted as a quick-reaction force for recon teams. Usually, Hatchet Forces were platoon-size and composed of five Americans and 30 indigenous troops. Sometimes, several Hatchet Forces would combine to create a company-size element, called either “Havoc” or “Hornet,” that could be very effective against known enemy logistical hubs or headquarters.
In addition to the Hatchet Forces, there were also the “SLAM” companies, standing for Search, Locate, Annihilate, Monitor/Mission, which were full-sized SOG companies with a few dozen Americans in leadership roles and a few hundred indigenous mercenaries who SOG had recruited.
The first SOG recon teams were called “Spike Teams” (ST), for example, ST Idaho, with the term “Recon Teams” (RT), for instance, RT Ohio, becoming more popular later in the war. Usually, SOG commandos named teams after U.S. States, but they also used other titles, such as “Bushmaster,” “Adder,” and “Viper.” The number of active recon teams fluctuated throughout the war, reflecting casualties and increasing demand. For example, at one point, CCC ran almost 30 recon teams.
Some notable SOG missions include Operation Tailwind, a Hatchet Force operation in Thailand and one of the most successful missions in SOG’s history; the Thanksgiving operation, when SOG operator John Stryker Meyer’s six-man team encountered and evaded 30,000 North Vietnamese; the Christmas mission, when Meyer’s team went into Laos to destroy a fuel pipeline but almost got burned alive by North Vietnamese trackers who lit the jungle on fire; Operation Thundercloud, in which SOG recruited and trained captured North Vietnamese troops and sent them to recon operations across the border dressed like their former comrades; and Recon Team Alabama’s October 1968 mission that accounted fora whopping 9,000 North Vietnamese killed or wounded in action.
What stands out about SOG is how much responsibility was placed on its young operators. Legendary SOG operator John Stryker Meyer, for example, was running recon as a One-Zero (team leader) at the age of 22 and just an E-4. And rules of engagement were quite different, with less bureaucracy impeding the guys on the ground.
“The Bright Light missions [combat search-and-rescue] would seldom be deployed under today’s Rules of Engagement,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“And, today, they call can’t believe lowly E-4s were directing air strikes, total control on the ground, and experienced troops had final say on teams, regardless of rank. Experience over rank.”
Although techniques, tactics, and procedures were generally the same among the three SOG subcommands, SOG teams adjusted their approaches according to their geographical area. Laos, for example, has more mountains and jungle than Cambodia, which is flatter and more open.
Saviors from above: SOG’s Air Commandos
Pivotal to the success and effectiveness of MACV-SOG operations across the border were several aircraft squadrons from across the services and also South Vietnam.
The Air Force’s 20th Special Operations Squadron was dubbed the “Green Hornets.” They flew the Sikorsky CH-3C and CH-3E and Bell UH-1F/P Huey. First Lieutenant James P. Fleming, a Green Hornet pilot, earned the Medal of Honor for saving a SOG recon team from certain death in 1968.
The Green Hornets’ Hueys came packed with an assortment of weapons, including M-60 machine guns, GAU-2B/A miniguns, and 2.75-inch rocket pods. If ammo ran out, door gunners would lob grenades or shoot their individual rifles.
In addition to the Green Hornets, the South Vietnamese Air Force 219th Squadron, which flew H-34 Kingbees, was a dedicated supporter of SOG operations. These South Vietnamese pilots and crews were truly fearless, always coming to the rescue of compromised recon teams regardless of the danger. Captain Nguyen Van Tuong, a legendary pilot, stands out for his coolness and steady hand under fire.
Other notable rotary-wing units that supported SOG missions were the USMC Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which flew the AH-1 Viper attack and the UH-1 Venom transport helicopters; the 189th Assault Helicopter Company “Ghost Riders,” which flew assault and transport variants of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
SOG commandos on the ground could also rely on fixed-wing close air support, with the turboprop A-1 Skyraider being a favorite platform for close air support and the F-4 Phantom a good choice on any given day.
“Military politics always interfered, and our leadership had to fight from close air support assets, such as the A-1 Skyraider squadrons,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“For example, SOG brass had to fight to keep the 56th Special Operations Wing, operating from Location Alpha in Da Nang.
“That unit’s SPADs [A-1 Skyraiders] were consistent and fearless and were considered the backbone of CAS during Operation Tailwind. On day 4, for example, the NVA were about to overrun the HF [Hatchet Force] when Tom Stump made devastating gun runs that broke the back of those frontal attacks, giving McCarley time to get them off the LZ and out of the target as weather closed in.”
Close air support was vital and probably the most important factor in the survival of numerous SOG teams. However, although SOG commandos enjoyed air superiority and North Vietnamese aircraft never posed a danger, the Air Commandos supporting SOG had to face the extremely potent anti-aircraft capabilities of the North Vietnamese, which included anything from light machine guns to heavy anti-aircraft cannons to surface-to-air missiles. Every hot extraction forced a penalty of downed helicopters and fighters/ or bombers, or at least a few riddled with bullets.
SOG commandos called in close air support themselves, usually by using a compass and smoke canisters. Forward air controllers, nicknamed “Covey,” flew overhead and assisted in coordinating with the team on the ground and controlling all air assets and close air support. In CCS, Covey usually flew solo, doing both tasks while also flying his plane. In CCN, however, Covey was a two-man affair, usually entailing an experienced SOG operator joining the pilot and helping out with his unique experience, having been on the receiving end of close air support numerous teams.
Years after the Vietnam War ended, it was discovered that there was a mole at the SOG headquarters in Saigon who had been passing information on team missions and locations to the enemy.
SOG operators, including special operations legends like Colonel Robert Howard and Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, earned 12 Medals of Honor throughout the conflict.
Although service at SOG came with the unspoken agreement of a perilous life full of danger and risk, it also came with an unbreakable sense of loyalty and trust between the men who served there. A sense of loyalty and trust that time and again SOG operators proved through their commitment to leave no man behind, dead or alive. That effort, that commitment, continues to this day.
Sergeant Fritz Niland had more to do with Band of Brothers than Saving Private Ryan – save for being the inspiration for the movie’s central plot. Historian Steven Ambrose even wrote about Niland in his book, “Band of Brothers – E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.” Niland, like the fictional Ryan, lost three brothers in combat, and found out about them all in the same day.
Sadly, his mother did too.
From left to right, the Niland Brothers, Edward, Preston, Robert, and Fritz.
No one had to go searching for Sgt. Niland. He didn’t need to be saved. Niland went looking for his brothers after D-Day, while assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Europe. His brother Bob was in the 82d Airborne, also fighting in Europe. While looking for his brother Bob, he discovered Bob was killed on D-Day. According to Ambrose, Bob Niland’s platoon was surrounded, so Bob manned a machine gun to harass the Germans so his unit could break through. They did, and Bob went through three boxes of ammo before he was killed in action. Fritz then went searching for another brother, Preston.
Preston Niland was a second lieutenant and platoon leader in the 4th Infantry Division. He too landed on D-Day, but with his men at Utah Beach. Fritz discovered that Preston Niland was killed in action on D+1 at Normandy’s Crisbecq Battery. Fritz returned to the 506th with the heartbreaking news. The news got worse from there.
Frederick “Fritz” Niland is buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery, Alaska.
Upon returning to his unit, Father Francis Sampson informed Fritz Niland that a third brother was killed by the enemy. Technical Sergeant Edward Niland, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese in the China-India-Burma theater was considered killed in action. Fritz Niland was now the sole surviving son of his family. The Army decided to send him home as soon as possible. His mother had received all three War Department telegrams on the same day. No platoon was sent to take him home, instead, Father Samson escorted Niland to Utah Beach, where he was flown home to complete his service stateside.
Luckily, Edward Niland wasn’t actually dead. He’d been held prisoner by the Japanese after being shot down in May 1944. He was held for over a year before being liberated in 1945. Word had not yet come to the European theater when Fritz found out about his brothers. The two surviving brothers actually moved to their native Tonawanda, N.Y. when they left the Army, and Edward actually outlived Fritz by a full year. Edward died in 1984, while Fritz passed in 1983.
Robert and Preston are buried side-by-side at the American Cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.
The Army’s Special Forces command came down to one man during the Vietnam War. His job performance earned him the nod from screenwriter John Milius, who turned retired Army Colonel Robert Rheault’s legacy into something more enduring than he ever imagined. He was immortalized forever by actor Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Unlike Col. Kurtz, however, there was nothing insane or dark about Col. Rheault.
Rheault shortly after the end of the “Green Beret Case.”
Robert Rheault grew up in a privileged New England family, went to West Point and later studied in Paris, at the Sorbonne. The young Army officer picked up a Silver Star for service in Korea, but it was his time in Vietnam that would change his career forever, devastating the man who only ever wanted the Army life.
In Vietnam, Col. Rheault commanded all of the United States Special Forces. Taking command of the 5th Special Forces Group in July, 1969, it was only three weeks before the darkest incident of his career would put him in the middle of one of the war’s most controversial events – the “Green Beret Case.”
Rheault was an accomplished soldier, a paratrooper, Silver Star Recipient and Korean War veteran by the time he arrived in Vietnam.
The United States had been in Vietnam in force since 1965. By 1969, there were more than a half million U.S. troops in theater. Special Forces A-Teams were operating in 80 or more isolated areas throughout Vietnam. Given their mission and skills sets, the intelligence gathered by Special Forces soldiers was the most solid in the entire war, and the U.S. military estimated that SF components were able to identify, track, and eliminate entire Viet Cong units in their area of responsibility.
At the time, Special Forces operators were in the middle of a project called GAMMA, a similar intelligence-gathering operation targeting the North Vietnamese in Cambodia – and the project was the biggest secret of the war until that point. After SF troops identified NVA or VC units in “neutral” Cambodia, B-52 bombers would illegally hit those Communist targets in defiance of UN conventions.
Rheault commanded a force of Green Berets and South Vietnamese commandos who would lead raids into the neighboring countries to gather intelligence and take out key Communist infiltration, transportation, or storage sites – whatever would cause the most harm to the enemy. Sites they couldn’t take care of themselves were left to the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. The Colonel oversaw five of these “collection teams” and its 98 codenamed agents. It was the most successful intelligence net of the war.
But something kept happening to the Special Forces’ most valuable intelligence assets. They kept ending up dead or disappearing entirely. They began to suspect a double agent in their midst. That’s when a Special Forces team raided a Communist camp in Cambodia. Among the intel they picked up was a roll of film that included a photo of a South Vietnamese GAMMA agent, Thai Khac Chuyen.
He was not long for this world.
After ten days of interrogations and lie detector tests, Chuyen was found to have lied about compromising the GAMMA program. To make matters worse, the double agent might also have been working for the South Vietnamese government. This meant that if the triple agent was released to them, he could possibly walk free, a prospect unacceptable to the Americans. After conferring with the CIA, they decided to handle Chuyen in the way that most double- or triple-agents meet their end. He disappeared.
Chuyen’s American handler, Sgt. Alvin Smith, was not a member of Special Forces, but rather an Army intelligence specialist assigned to the project. It turns out that Smith did not follow protocol when onboarding Chuyen. Smith failed to administer a polygraph test that might have revealed why Chuyen spoke such fluent English, that the agent was from North Vietnam and had family there, and had worked for many other U.S. outfits and left them all in incredible turmoil.
Col. Rheault returns to the U.S. with his wife in 1969.
Smith began to fear for his own safety, having failed the Special Forces and compromising one of the best intelligence networks of the entire war. So he fled, taking refuge with the CIA office in the area and spilling the beans about what really happened to the triple-agent Chuyen. Rheault and seven other officers were arrested for premeditated murder and jailed at Long Binh.
Rheault actually knew about it and lied about the cover story (that Chuyen was sent on a mission and disappeared) to protect the men who served under him. But Rheault took no part in the planning or execution of Chuyen’s murder. Still, he lied to Gen. Creighton Abrams who already had a distaste for the Special Forces. So, when the officers’ courts-martial began, the Army was looking to throw the book at all of them.
Abrams was well-known for hating paratroopers and Special Forces.
The event made national news and soldiers under Rheault’s command were flabbergasted. The colonel had done nothing wrong, and they knew it. Moreover, there was no one more qualified for his position in the entire country, as he was one of very few officers qualified to wear the coveted green beret. But the CIA wouldn’t testify against the soldiers, and by September, 1969, it wouldn’t matter. The Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, dropped the charges against the men after succumbing to pressure from President Nixon and American public opinion.
By then, the damage was done. All eight of the officers’ careers were ruined, and Rheault accepted an early retirement. The fallout didn’t stop there. The publicity associated with what became known as the “Green Beret Case” prompted RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the American Press.
Securing a port can be the type of job that hits the three Ds: dull, dirty, and dangerous.
Often, those charged with that security operate using rigid-hull inflatable boats or other small craft – often in proximity to huge vessels like Nimitz-class carriers or large amphibious assault ships.
One wrong move, and Sailors or Coast Guardsmen can end up injured – or worse.
However, the Navy may be able to reduce the risk to life and limb, thanks to a project by the Office of Naval Research called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or “CARACaS.”
With CARACaS, a number of RHIBs or small craft can be monitored remotely, thus removing the need to put personnel at risk.
According to a U.S. Navy release, these “unmanned swarming boats” or USBs, recently carried out a demonstration in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where they were able to collaborate to determine which one would approach a vessel, classify it, and then track or trail the vessel.
The USBs also provided status updates to personnel who monitored their activity.
“This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” Cdr. Luis Molina of the Office of Naval Research said. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”
A 2014 demonstration primarily focused on escorting high-value ships in and out of a harbor, but this year, Molina noted that this year, the focus was on defending the approach to a harbor.
The biggest advantage of CARACaS? You don’t need to build new craft – it is a kit that can be installed on existing RHIBs and small boats.
Scott Kim first escaped North Korea at the age of 17 in 2001. At the time, he and his mother only wanted to get across the border to China so they could eat hot meals. Growing up during North Korea’s deadly famine in the late ’90s, Kim had spent much of his childhood starving.
Today, Kim owns a business trading automobile and railway parts in South Korea. He is currently working on an English-language memoir about his experiences with the help of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a volunteer-run organization in Seoul helping defectors develop English skills.
But it was a long and dangerous six years in and out of China and North Korea before he got to Seoul.
Most North Koreans defect by crossing North Korea’s northern border to China via the Tumen or Yalu rivers. Then they must smuggle their way across China’s vast expanse to its southern border with Laos or Vietnam. From there, they cross into Thailand or Cambodia and go to the South Korean embassy to ask for help. It’s a journey that can cost up to $5,000, which must be paid to “brokers” in each country to arrange the escape.
Inscription stone marking the border of China and North Korea in Jilin
Paying $5,000 to make it to South Korea or the United States was far out of reach for Kim and his mother. Instead, he and his mother lived as undocumented immigrants and worked as farm laborers. But one year after escaping North Korea, Kim’s neighbor reported his status to the police, who brought him and his mother back to North Korea. Kim was taken to a detention center, where authorities determine where to send defectors next.
“When we reached the detention center in North Korea, we lost all our rights as human beings,” Kim told Business Insider. “We were treated like animals, literally. We had to crawl on the floor to move from place to place.”
Kim was put in a cell with 20 other defectors. There was one toilet in the corner and no space to lie down. Day and night, the defectors sat on the ground.
“It was our punishment because we were sinners. I don’t know why we were sinners,” he said.
When he or other defectors were told to down the corridor to the warden’s office, they were made to crawl on their hands and feet. Officers beat them with gloves and sticks as they went.
An estimated 100,000 North Koreans or more currently live in detention centers, political prisons, or labor camps where they endure hard labor, torture, and starvation.
Kim’s description of his experience comes amid President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has been accused of killing his own people. But when asked about the North Korean dictator’s human rights violations, Trump appeared to be an apologist for the dictator’s actions.
The first time Kim was caught, he got lucky.
Despite the fact that one of North Korea’s biggest reeducation camps is in Chongori, near his hometown in Musan, Kim was sent to a center further south. Because no one knew him — and internet and phone service was nonexistent at the time — he was able to lie about his age. He told the guards he was only 15 years old and had been in China looking for his mother.
Rather than send him to one of the country’s brutal labor camps or political camps, he was sent to a medical center for orphaned children. Shortly after arriving, he escaped and went back to China, where he got work as a farm laborer near Helong, a city in northeastern China.
“Everyday, I planted, farmed, logged on the mountain. Corn, beans, potatoes,” he said. “Life was better because I was not starving. I could eat and be full at meals. It was enough food for me … At the time I left North Korea, I was starving.”
Kim was caught a second time when he visited a friend in China looking for his mother. A neighbor again reported him to the police. The second time he was sent back to North Korea, he wasn’t so lucky. He was sent to the concentration camp near his hometown. From there he was sent to a labor camp, where he chopped down trees on a mountain for months.
He escaped one day when he realized that all his fellow laborers were at the top of the mountain chopping while he was at the bottom. He ran away as fast as he could until he found a train that he could take him north to cross the border with China again.
After some time in China, he was caught a third time and sent to a camp for political prisoners — the worst place to be sent, as imprisonment there is interminable. He escaped the camp by bribing the authorities through a broker, who helped him make it across the border with China a final time.
After six years, Kim reunited with his mother and made it to South Korea
In China, he went back to work to pay off his debt to the broker. One day, he got a call from a North Korean woman from Musan who told him that he had to come visit his mother. She was dying of cancer. For the first time in many years, the two saw each other.
“When I opened the door of my mother’s house, I froze, and couldn’t say anything, because my mother looked incredibly different,” he said. “There was no fat on her, and her whole body looked like a triangle, I just went outside and cried for a long time and came back again, and I embraced my mother and we cried together.”
Several days later, a friend of his mother offered his mother the opportunity to escape to South Korea via Laos and Cambodia. A broker was taking a group through; they had an extra space.
Unable to walk, Kim’s mother told Kim he had to go and become educated. Once he was settled, she said, he could bring her and help others in need. He decided to go.
The night before Kim and the group of defectors were to cross the border into Laos, he received a call telling him that his mother had died. The man on the phone said he had to come back for the funeral.
“After hanging up, I couldn’t say anything, I just cried all night. I really, really wanted to go back, but I thought that if I go back there, I couldn’t do anything for her,” he said. “I decided to go to South Korea, believing that my mother would agree with my decision.”
In 2007, six years after he first escaped, Kim finally made it to South Korea.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Faulty welding in missile tubes bound for the Navy’s newest submarines could create additional problems for one of the Navy’s most expensive and highest-priority programs.
The USS Virginia returns to the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard after the successful completion of its first voyage in open seas, July 30, 2004.
Twelve missile tubes built by defense contractor BWXT are being reviewed for substandard welds that were uncovered after discrepancies were found in the equipment the firm was using to test the welds before sending them to General Dynamic Electric Boat, which is the prime contractor for the Columbia-class ballistic-missile sub program, according to a report by Defense News.
BWXT was one of three firms subcontracted to build tubes for Columbia-class subs and for the UK’s Dreadnought-class missiles subs. The firm was one of two subcontracted to build tubes for the US’s Virginia-class attack subs.
GDEB had already received seven of the tubes and five were still being built. The Navy and GDEB have launched an investigation, according to Defense News.
The issue comes to light at the start of fabrication for the Columbia class subs, which is meant to replace the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic-missile subs and begin strategic patrols by 2031. The Navy has to start building the new boats by 2021 in order to stay on that timeline.
A spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command told Defense News that the problem, which appears to be limited to tubes made by BWXT, shouldn’t put the Columbia-class program behind schedule.
The Columbia-class sub program is already one of the Defense Department’s most expensive, expected to cost 2.3 billion, roughly .9 billion a boat, to build 12 boats, which are to replace the Navy’s current 14 Ohio-class missile submarines.
The guided-missile submarine USS Ohio arrives at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton to begin a major maintenance period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, April 4, 2017.
(U.S. Navy photo by Jeremy Moore)
The aging Ohio-class boats entered service between 1981 and 1997 with a 30-year service life, which was extended to 42 years with a four-year midlife overhaul. The Columbia-class subs will replace the Ohios as a leg of the US’s nuclear triad, built with an improved nuclear reactor that will preclude the need for a midlife overhaul and give the 12 Columbia-class subs the same sea presence as the 14 Ohio-class boats, Navy officials have said.
Because of nuclear submarines’ ability to move undetected, experts view them as more survivable than the long-range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles that make up the other arms of the US nuclear triad.
The ultimate impact of the problem with the BWXT-made tubes is not yet clear, according to Bryan Clark, a former submarine officer and now an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Problems with one component can compound, and that could be especially challenging for GDEB, which is supposed to start building two Virginia-class attack subs alongside a Columbia-class boat annually in the coming years.
The Navy wants to continue building two Virginia-class subs a year — rather than reduce it to one a year once production of Columbia-class subs starts in 2021 — in order to head off a shortfall in submarines that was expected to hit in the mid-2020s. The Navy also wants to shorten the Virginia-class construction timeline and keep five of its Los Angeles-class attack boats in service for 10 more years.
“The problem is that this causes challenges down the line,” Clark said of the faulty tube welds. “The missile tubes get delayed, what are the cascading effects of other components down the line?”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Shannon Airport tweeted on Aug. 15, 2019: “We can confirm that an incident has occurred at Shannon Airport involving a Boeing 763 aircraft.”
“Emergency services are in attendance,” it said. “All passengers and crew have disembarked. Airport operations temporarily suspended.”
Irish news outlets reported that the Omni Air International, a US charter airline flying out of Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma, was a private charter carrying US military personnel.
Omni Air International tweeted: “We are investigating reports of an incident involving Omni Air International flight 531 at Shannon Airport, Ireland. The Omni Boeing 767-300 aircraft rejected takeoff and was safely evacuated. Initial reports indicate no serious injuries to passengers or crew.”
Shannon Airport said in a later tweet: “We are currently working to remove the aircraft from the scene of the incident so we can resume safe operations on the runway. This may take some time.”
In the wake of the incident, several flights from the airport were canceled.
Shannon Airport is the focus of an antiwar campaign demanding that the Irish government stop letting the US use the airport as a de facto military base. Campaigners say that over 3 million US troops have passed through the airport since 2003.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With each passing hour, Mayra Guillen is consumed by one thought: Will Vanessa be found today?
“I don’t even know what’s keeping me going,” Mayra said. “Sometimes I don’t get hungry. I have my days when I feel like giving up, but then I think about it and I say, ‘What if I’m a step away? What if tomorrow’s the day?”’
Army Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, Mayra’s younger sister, has been missing since April 22 at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Guillen, 20, was last seen in the parking lot of her squadron headquarters, wearing a black T-shirt and purple “fitness-type” pants. Guillen is of Hispanic descent. She is 5 feet, 2 inches tall, weighs 126 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is working with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety. More than 150 people have been interviewed, and ground and air searches have been conducted, the CID said.
Along with her barracks room key, ID card and wallet, Guillen’s car keys were discovered the day she disappeared in the armory room where she was working, the CID said.
“We are completely committed to finding Vanessa and aggressively going after every single piece of credible information and every lead in this investigation,” Chris Grey, CID chief of public affairs, said in a news release this week. “We will not stop until we find Vanessa.”
The CID is offering a reward up to ,000 in its search for Guillen, whose case has drawn the attention of, among others, actress Salma Hayek.
“We will maintain our resolve to locate Pfc. Vanessa Guillen and will continue our efforts until she is found,” Col. Ralph Overland, 3rd Calvary Regiment commander at Fort Hood, said in a separate news release.
A team of investigators at Fort Hood will look into allegations that Guillen was being sexually harassed, it was announced Thursday.
Searches are ongoing for missing Soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillén. Troopers from Thunder Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, receive a brief prior to going out on searches recently in the training area at Fort Hood, Texas. (Army courtesy photo.)
Guillen, the second-oldest of six children, was raised in Houston. As a child, she loved playing soccer and running. The medals from her races would hang in her room.
Vanessa and Mayra traded turns doing each other’s hair and makeup. Mayra was not surprised when Vanessa enlisted.
“She knew right away she wasn’t suited to work in an office or something in an environment where you have to sit down, just be still,” Mayra said. “She’s really active, so when she started looking up about joining the Army, she saw a future there. She wanted to represent the country, have some type of honor because you have to honor and respect our soldiers.”
Vanessa was taking online classes and planned to study kinesiology, the science of human movement.
Investigators said they do not believe that Guillen’s disappearance is related to the case of PV2 Gregory Morales, who had not been seen since last Aug. 19. Morales’ remains were found Friday in a field in Killeen. An autopsy is pending.
“It’s something that I still can’t accept,” Mayra said. “I still can’t believe this happened, and I’m having to deal with it. … I still honestly believe that she’s alive and she’s waiting to be found, and by the grace of God, it’s going to happen.”
The past few weeks have been rough for the Russian military, as a string of serious accidents have led to dozens of deaths and injuries.
Accidents are certainly not uncommon for the Russian military, which lost its only aircraft carrier last fall when a heavy crane punched a hole in it as the only dry dock suitable for carrying out repairs and maintenance on a ship that size sank due to a power failure, but the last few weeks have certainly been a challenge.
Over the past month and a half, the Russian military has seen a fire claim the lives of sailors aboard a secret nuclear submarine, an explosion at a ammunition depot, and, as of Aug. 8, 2019, an explosion during the testing of a rocket engine at a military test facility.
A deadly fire aboard a top-secret submarine in early July 2019.
Russia’s latest string of bad luck began with a fire aboard a secret deep-diving nuclear-powered submarine and resulted in 14 deaths.
Russian media reports that the submarine was the Losharik, a vessel designed for “intelligence gathering and, probably, the destruction of or tapping into of undersea communications cables,” A.D. Baker, a former naval intelligence officer, previously told INSIDER.
A suspected fire that ultimately triggered an explosion in the battery compartment killed 14 Russian sailors, a number of which were higher-ranking and distinguished officers. While the incident remains classified at the highest levels, a Russian Navy official said the crew’s actions had stopped a “planetary catastrophe,” a possible reference to an accident with the sub’s nuclear reactor.
A huge explosion at an ammo depot at a military base on Aug. 5, 2019.
On Aug. 5, 2019, an ammo depot at a Russian military base in Siberia said to house around 40,000 artillery shells and other weapons suddenly exploded, igniting fires that killed one and injured over a dozen other people.
The explosion created a massive fireball, and led local authorities to evacuate thousands of people from surrounding communities within 20 kilometers of the blast.
Russia has experienced ammunition depot explosions before. For example, an ammunition storage site in Chapaevsk that housed around 13 million shells exploded in 2013, injuring around 30 people.
A deadly explosion of a missile engine at a military test site on Aug. 8, 2019.
On Aug. 8, 2019, a missile engine exploded at a Russian naval base, leaving two dead and eight others injured. Among the dead and wounded were military and civilian personnel.
(Russian Ministry of Defence)
The engine, according to Russian state media, exploded while specialists at the base in the rural village of Nyonoksa, a town in northern Russia, were testing the rocket engine’s “liquid propulsion system.”
The Nyonoksa range is a critical test site for Russian missile systems, everything from intercontinental ballistic missiles to cruise missiles. Thursday’s explosion, the state-run TASS News Agency reported, triggered a spike in radiation in a nearby city.
Authorities insist everything is under control.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In October 2018 New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees officially became the leading passer in NFL history. While leading his team to a 43-19 win over the Washington Redskins, Brees overtook Peyton Manning in the record books when he hit Trequan Smith for a 62-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Brees has now thrown for an astounding 72,103 yards in his 18-year career.
Officials stopped the game as soon as the play was completed so that Brees could celebrate his incredible accomplishment. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback took the time to savor the moment with his teammates and coaches at midfield before taking the ball from the referee and finding his family on the sidelines ⏤ they had been brought down on the field in anticipation of his record-setting pass. He then shared an inspiring message with his three sons and daughter.
“You can accomplish anything in life that you work for,” Brees told his four kids as he hugged them on the Saints sideline.
This message will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Brees’ journey. The 39-year-old gunslinger played college at Purdue, where he nearly won the Heisman Trophy his senior year. However, his relatively short stature (Brees is 6’0″, which is short for an NFL quarterback) caused him to fall to the second round of the NFL draft in 2001, where he was picked by the San Diego Chargers. Brees played five seasons in San Diego before the Chargers eventually let him become a free agent after he tore his labrum in 2005.
Brees then joined the Saints, where he won a Super Bowl in 2010, made 10 Pro Bowls, and led the NFL in passing yards 10 times. Along with holding the record for passing yards, Brees is also expected to compete with Tom Brady for most passing touchdowns in NFL history. Both he and Brady are within 40 touchdowns of Manning, who currently holds the record.
As great of a quarterback as Brees is for the Saints, he does an equally great job raising his three sons, Baylen, 9, Bowen, 7, Callen, 6, and daughter, Rylen, 4 with his wife Brittany. Brees coaches his sons’ flag football teams when he’s not busy being the most prolific quarterback ever and said the birth of Rylen“melted [his] heart.”
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.