This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit - We Are The Mighty
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This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

A classified unmanned space plane has been in orbit for over 500 days, but no one is telling the public what it’s doing.


Drones are in the news nearly every day. Tiny toys snapping exciting photos for our Instagram accounts. Commercial drones working for farmers and municipal agencies. Missile-armed drones performing strikes on enemy locations. Unmanned craft, in the air, on the ground, and in the sea, are conducting more missions for more people all the time.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
So what was this space drone actually doing on its secret missions up there in outer space? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

Operated by the United States Air Force, the X-37B is at the top of the drone pyramid and is pushing the outside edge of the envelope as you read this.

The X-37B, sometimes called the Orbital Test Vehicle, is a small unmanned reusable spacecraft built by Boeing that looks a lot like a small space shuttle. It’s 29 feet-long with stubby wings and angled tail fins. Unlike the famous shuttle orbiters that it resembles, however, it lacks a vertical stabilizer. It launches atop an Atlas V 501 launch vehicle inside the booster’s payload fairing and, at the end of its mission, returns to earth and lands on a runway like the 80s-era space shuttle.

What the space plane does while it’s up there, though, is mostly a mystery.

The first X-37B mission, OTV-1, flew in 2010 and lasted for 224 days — close to the X-37B’s designed 270-day endurance. The second mission, flown by a second X-37B, flew in 2011 and lasted 468 days. The third mission, performed by the first spacecraft, lasted an astounding 674 days. The current mission, dubbed “OTV-4,” was launched on May 20, 2015, and recently passed 500 days in orbit.

The Air Force is tight-lipped about how long OTV-4 will last, though it must last until at least March 25, 2017, if it’s going to break OTV-3’s record.

The X-37B program began as a NASA project. One of the X-37’s primary missions was to have been satellite rendezvous for refueling and repair, and the small space plane would have been carried to orbit inside a space shuttle’s cargo bay.

As the program progressed, however, the plan shifted to launching atop an expendable booster and, in 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency took over the program. DARPA continued development of the X-37, resulting in the current X-37B for the US Air Force.

Once the project transferred to the military, it became classified.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
Doesn’t exactly look like a friendly little space drone does it? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

The spacecraft itself is not terribly secret. For the past six years, numerous news stories have been run about the “secret” space plane and many photographs have been published.

What the X-37B does while it’s up there on missions lasting well over a year, though, is the source of much conjecture. The fact sheet for the X-37B on the official Air Force web site describes the mission as “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

That’s an explanation that doesn’t explain much, however, and doesn’t seem to justify the enormous expense of building, launching, and operating the spacecraft.

Of course, theories on the internet abound. Some have claimed that the X-37B is an advanced spy satellite. Some wonder if the X-37B could be an experimental space bomber. Others believe that the original mission of satellite rendezvous for maintenance could easily have been adapted to more nefarious purposes, such as interfering with or destroying satellites operated by nations such as Russia or China.

Ground observers have watched what they believe to be the X-37B make significant changes to its orbit, a maneuver in line with the space saboteur theory.

In 2012, during the OTV-2 mission, the editor of Spaceflight magazine claimed that the X-37B was probably spying on the Chinese space station Tiangong-1. Other experts, however, publicly doubted and dismissed the idea as improbable at best.

If you spend enough time online, you’re certain to find any number of wild ideas. One of the most outlandish theories about the X-37B is that it’s not unmanned at all. The idea is that a hibernating astronaut is onboard the space plane and that experiments are being conducted to prepare for long-duration manned missions to Mars or, perhaps, to station a quick-reaction force of soldiers in orbit for secret missions anywhere on the globe. Or above it.

Whatever the X-37B is up to, it seems to be doing a good job of it. Work is being done to make it possible for the drone to land at Kennedy Space Center on the space shuttle landing strip. Part of the shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility, without a mission since the shuttle program ended, is being modified to process X-37Bs.

A recent NASA presentation discussed the potential to develop a space ambulance which could service the ISS from the X-37B. An X-37C proposal, more than 50 percent larger than the current model, would possibly be able to carry astronauts.

The classified little space plane is a bit of a mystery but certainly one of the most exciting drones in use today. Even if we aren’t sure what’s it doing.

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This is what a $17 million investment in laser technology gets the US military

The US Defense Department is making another multi-million dollar investment in high-energy lasers that have the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide military forces with other portable, less costly options on the battlefield.


US Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and longtime supporter of directed energy research, announced the $17 million investment during a news conference Wednesday inside a Boeing lab where many of the innovations were developed.

The US already has the ability to shoot down enemy rockets and take out other threats with traditional weapons, but Heinrich said it’s expensive.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
The Sodium Guidestar at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Starfire Optical Range resides on a 6,240 foot hilltop at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The Army and Navy is developing its own laser weapons systems. Photo from USAF.

High-energy lasers and microwave systems represent a shift to weapons with essentially endless ammunition and the ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time, he said.

“This is ready for prime time and getting people to just wrap their head around the fact that you can put a laser on something moving really fast and destroy it … has been the biggest challenge,” said Heinrich, who has an engineering degree.

Boeing has been working on high-energy laser and microwave weapons systems for years. The effort included a billion-dollar project to outfit a 747 with a laser cannon that could shoot down missiles while airborne. The system was complex and filled the entire back half of the massive plane.

With advancements over the past two decades, high-powered laser weapons systems can now fit into a large suitcase for transport across the battlefield or be mounted to a vehicle for targeting something as small as the device that controls the wings of a military drone.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

“Laser technology has moved from science fiction to real life,” said Ron Dauk, head of Boeing’s Albuquerque site.

The company’s compact laser system has undergone testing by the military and engineers are working on a higher-powered version for testing next year.

While the technology has matured, Dauk and Heinrich said the exciting part is that it’s on the verge of moving from the lab to the battlefield.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
A target truck disabled by Lockheed’s ATHENA laser. Photo from Lockheed Martin.

Another $200 million has been requested in this year’s defense appropriations bill that would establish a program within the Pentagon for accelerating the transition of directed-energy research to real applications.

Heinrich said continued investment in such projects will help solidify New Mexico’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research and bring more money and high-tech jobs to the state.

Boeing already contributes about $120 million to the state’s economy through its contracts with vendors.

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Air Force family begs for return of infant son’s stolen remains – here’s how to help

A military family had their U-Haul stolen in Georgia during their PCS to Louisiana. Inside the moving van was their infant son’s ashes.

Benjamin and Kassandra Benton were high school sweethearts. When Kassandra found out she was pregnant with baby Wyatt, she didn’t believe the doctor — she was a Neuroblastoma cancer survivor at just seven years old and her entire abdomen was “nuked,” as she called it. “Some people may remember me from Extreme Home Makeover; I’m the one who made necklaces to raise money for kids with cancer,” she shared. 

But she was pregnant and 14 weeks along. Kassandra was considered high risk and went into labor at home unexpectedly at just 24 weeks. Ben delivered baby Wyatt who wasn’t breathing while Kassandra continued to hemorrhage. EMS personnel rushed them to the hospital where they were both saved. But they’d spend five months watching Wyatt fight for his life. 

Ben headed to Air Force basic training not long after Wyatt’s birth. Kassandra kept him up to date through letters. “Some of the bad things I’d leave out scared that Ben would get discouraged and drop out. It was hard,” she said. 

Eventually, she had to call him to come home. Wyatt’s brain shunt was overrun with infection and there was nothing more they could do. “We decided instead of Wyatt living his whole life in the hospital, we’d take him into hospice where he could see the outside … where we could cuddle and enjoy his last days,” Kassandra explained. 

On November 12, 2015 he took his last breath. 

“We held him. We loved him and we made sure he felt that. He was our world and he still is. Because of Wyatt I have my two beautiful daughters,” Kassandra said. She went into labor early with both girls but because of her experience with Wyatt, she recognized the signs and got to the hospital early. Charlotte and Amelia are here because of him, Kassandra said. 

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

The young family was on their way to Ben’s new duty station at Barksdale Air Force Base when they stopped at a motel in Georgia for the night. When they awoke, their U-Haul was gone. Although it was found days later, it was empty except for a few bags of clothes. Wyatt’s ashes, hand and footprints and hand mold were still gone. It was all they had left of him. 

A local nonprofit near Barksdale Air Force Base has stepped forward to help. EveryWarrior is offering a $3,000 reward through the Covington, Georgia Police Department for the return of Wyatt’s remains. The military spouses at the base have also rallied behind the Benton family, establishing a GoFundMe page to support their needs. 

In the end though, they just want Wyatt’s remains returned safely and don’t care about the rest of their stolen things. Kassandra has pleaded through every media interview for the person who took his ashes to please “have heart” and bring him home. For the Benton family, it feels like they are mourning his loss all over again. 

In a Facebook post on March 6, 2021 she pleaded once again. “Keep sharing, keep looking, and keep the hope. I believe, I have to believe Wyatt will find his way back to me. It’s the only thing keeping me going. And a THANK YOU! To everyone who is helping us on this search, and who’s donated for my family, and who is praying for us. You are our village…”

If you have information about Wyatt’s stolen remains, please contact the Covington Police Department at 770-786-7605.

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GI Bill gets huge boost with this new law

Military veterans are getting unlimited access to college assistance under legislation President Donald Trump has signed into law.


The Forever GI Act removed a 15-year limit on using the benefits, effective immediately. The measure increases financial assistance for National Guard and Reserve members, building on a 2008 law that guaranteed veterans a full-ride scholarship to any in-state, public university, or a similar cash amount to attend private colleges.

Purple Heart recipients forced to leave the service due to injury are eligible for benefits, as are dependents of service members who are killed in the line of duty.

Veterans would get additional payments for completing science, technology, and engineering courses, part of a broad effort to better prepare them for life after active-duty service amid a fast-changing job market. The law also restores benefits if a college closes mid-semester, a protection that was added after thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of for-profit college giant ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
USMC photo by Sgt. Melissa Marnell

“This is expanding our ability to support our veterans in getting education,” Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters at a briefing after Trump signed the measure at his New Jersey golf club following two nights at his home at New York’s Trump Tower.

Trump is staying at the New Jersey club on a working vacation. Journalists were not permitted to see the president sign the bill, as the White House has done for other veterans’ legislation he has turned into law. That includes a measure Trump signed at the club August 12 to provide nearly $4 billion in emergency funding for a temporary veterans health care program.

The August 16 signing came the day after Trump was rebuked for continuing to insist that “both sides” were culpable for an outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators. One woman was killed.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
Photo by Michael Vadon

Also, two Virginia state troopers died in the crash of their helicopter. They were monitoring the rally.

A wide range of veterans groups supported the education measure. The Veterans of Foreign Wars says hundreds of thousands stand to benefit.

Student Veterans of America says that only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in college, while surveys indicate that veterans often outperform peers in the classroom.

The expanded educational benefits would be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an active-duty member, whose payments were reduced in 2014 by 1 percent a year for five years. Total government spending on the GI Bill is expected to be more than $100 billion over 10 years.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Retired military officers are urging against a war with Iran

Iran just conducted a massive rapid deployment exercise that consisted of 12,000 coordinated troops – the Islamic Republic was saying to the world that any attackers would face a “crushing blow.” Over two days, Iran’s regular military forces used ground troops, fighter planes, armored vehicles, and drones to practice its methods of repelling invaders over 190 square miles.


The exercises are aimed at Israel and the United States, both of which Iran considers a regional menace. Back in the United States, regardless of Iranian training exercises, a growing portion of the military community is urging against a war with Iran, and the effort is being led by retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

Eaton is best known for his command of training Iraqi troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Led by Eaton, a cadre of former General-grade officers wrote an open letter to Congress, urging against provoking a war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian military exercises played no role in the letter, which had been in the works for some time. In the letter, Eaton, the other officers, and the non-profit Vet Voice Foundation remind Congress about the costs of the current wars the United States is still engaged in right now.

“A full-scale military conflict with Iran would be a huge and costly undertaking,” the letter reads. “It’s a lesson we’ve learned before as a nation, at great cost. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us a lot in blood and treasure. We know that war with Iran would require hundreds of thousands of American service members to deploy and could result in even larger numbers of American casualties and injuries―alongside an unknown number of civilian deaths.”

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

While the United States does not have any kind of motive to attack Iran as of this writing, the letter is urging Congress to pass legislation to keep the White House from using military force without direct Congressional approval. The current authorization for the use of military force used by the Trump Administration to conduct military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere is the same one used by his predecessors Obama and Bush, signed into law by President Bush after the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The new National Defense Authorization Act could bar the use of force in Iran.

Specifically, the letter endorsed a bi-partisan detail in the 2020 NDAA that would prevent “unauthorized” military force in or against Iran, sponsored by Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna and ardent Trump supporter and Florida Republican Congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz. There is no current language in the Senate version of the bill. Before going to the President’s desk, the NDAA would need to be reconciled and passed by both houses. The letter urged the inclusion of the Iran language in the final bill.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

U.S. troops are deployed to hundreds of countries – Iran is not one of them.

The group of military officers believes the interests of the United States are better served by focusing on the confrontations with Russia and China, instead of expanding into another Middle East conflict.

“The idea that we would enter yet another war in the Middle East without a clear national security interest, defined mission, and withdrawal strategy is unacceptable to America’s veterans and our allies across the political spectrum,” the letter reads.

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6 ways the US could beef up its short-range air defense

According to DefenseNews.com, the Army is desperate to re-build its short-range air-defense capabilities. One big reason is the fact that Russia has become much more aggressive, making the need to deal with planes like the Su-25 Frogfoot close air support plane a distinct possibility.


So, here are some ideas on how America’s military can get some more surface-to-air punch.

Right now, the main system used by the Army for short-range air defense is the FIM-92 Stinger – used on the Avenger air-defense system and by grunts who carry it by hand.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
The Air Defense Anti-Tank System (ADATS) is a dual-purpose short range surface-to-air and anti-tank missile system based on the M113A2 vehicle. The ADATS missile is a laser-guided supersonic missile with a range of 10 kilometres, with an electro-optical sensor with TV and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR). The carrying vehicle also has a conventional two-dimensional radar with an effective range of over 25 kilometres. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1. The MIM-146 ADATS

This system was looked at by the Army in the 1980s, but at the end of the Cold War it got cancelled. Designation-Systems.net notes that Canada did buy 34 systems.

With a speed of Mach 3, and a range of six miles, ADATS has more reach than the Stinger. Canada deployed it on a M113 chassis – the U.S. Army has lots of those – and also tested a new version on the LAV III, their version of the Stryker, according to the Rheinmetall Defense web site.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
AMRAAMs mounted on a Humvee. Versions of this have been called HUMRAAM, CLAWS, or SLAMRAAM. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. NASAM and 3. HUMRAAM/CLAWS/SLAMRAAM

The AIM-120 AMRAAM has been a bedrock of American air-to-air capability for the last 25 years. However, Designation-Systems.net notes that Norway lead the way in developing a version used as a surface-to-air weapon.

The Marines tried out a Humvee-mounted version many called HUMRAAM, but was known as CLAWS, for Complimentary Low-Altitude Weapon System. Army-Technology.com reported that the United States Army was looking at a system, of its own called SLAMRAAM. It would seem to be a quick way to get systems in service.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4PXou0aGiE

4. C-RAM

While originally purchased to defense bases in Iraq and Afghanistan against mortars and rockets, C-RAM is based on the Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, or “CIWS,” that was intended to kill missiles like the Russian AS-4 Kitchen. Aircraft and helicopters might not be a problem for the system to track, either.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) conducts a live-fire exercise with the ship’s RIM 116 Rolling Airframe Missile weapon system. Bataan is underway conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Petty Officer Nicholas Frank Cottone)

5. RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile

Also a Navy point-defense missile system, the RIM-116 is another option for short-range air defense. According to a Navy fact sheet, it weighs about seven tons, has a 7.9-pound warhead, and is supersonic. Designation-Systems.net notes that it has a range of five nautical miles and infra-red guidance. This would be an excellent complement to the SLAMRAAM or CLAWS.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
A MIM-115 Roland fired from Launch Complex 32. (DOD photo)

6. MIM-115 Roland

This is a missile that was widely used by adversaries and allies alike, including France and Germany and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Designation-Systems.net reported that the U.S. tried it out in the 1980s, but never really deployed it. Army-Technology.com adds that the latest version, the VT1, has what amounts to a range of just under seven miles and a speed of almost 2,800 mph. This is probably the most “off-the-shelf” system to purchase — and it would help our allies by lowering the per-unit cost.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Navy’s two-piece, flame-resistant uniform undergoes second round of tests

U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command will begin a second round of testing in 2019 on a two-piece organizational clothing variant that offers flame resistance and moves the Navy one step closer to delivering sailors a safe, comfortable, no-cost alternative to the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coveralls, with the same travel flexibility as the Type III working uniform.


USFF conducted the initial wear test on two-piece variants from May through September of 2018 and collected feedback from nearly 200 wear-test participants across surface, aviation, and submarine communities about everything from colors and design, to comfort and options like buttons and hook-and-loop fasteners. The command also received feedback from more than 1,700 sailors in an online survey about colors and design.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

An information graphic describing the modernized, two-piece, flame-resistant organizational clothing wear-test design components for sailors.

(U.S. photo illustration by Bobbie A. Camp)

Fleet survey responses indicated that sailors liked the functionality of the Type III but would like to see the design in traditional Navy uniform colors. More than 70 percent of E-6 and junior sailors surveyed liked the navy blue blouse and trouser while a khaki version was the preference for chiefs and officers.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), demonstrates the operational de-blousing capability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)

“Leaders are listening to the fleet when it comes to this design,” said USFF Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe, a wear-test participant. “We have an obligation to keep our sailors safe in inherently dangerous environments, but we also want to be mindful of their time. This is going to be something that’s safe, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require half-masting of coveralls when it’s hot or having to change clothes every time you leave the ship. Never again should we have to pass the words ‘all hands shift into the uniform for entering port or getting underway.'”

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

Lt. Jamie Seibel, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command, demonstrates the operational wearability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype (khaki variant) aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)

The updated design, which won’t require sailors to sew on components, will be tested by 100 officers and enlisted sailors to see how well it performs from wash-to-wear without ironing, and how it holds up to laundering. The two-piece variant will allow for de-blousing in extreme climates and challenging work environments. An undershirt will continue to be tested with a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking fabric in black.

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

A sailor assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) demonstrates the operational wearability of the black Gortex parka and the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype navy blue variant.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)

I have received so much feedback just from wearing the two-piece around the command every day,” said Yeoman 1st Class Kelly Pyron, a wear-test participant assigned to USFF. “The best part is that we’ll be able to transit from the ship and run errands in the two-piece; having one standard underway and in-port across the board will be much more convenient. I am excited to see the wear test moving into the next phase of evaluation.”

Once approved, the new prototype will serve as an alternative to the IFRV coverall for operational commands. The coverall may continue to be the prescribed clothing item for some sailors in applicable work environments.

Pyron expressed, “If a clothing item, that I will not have to buy, can make my life easier while keeping me safe, I’m all for it.”

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6 of the biggest cocaine busts in Coast Guard history

The Coast Guard, unlike the other military branches, is a law enforcement agency — meaning that it gets wrapped up in all sorts of operations that the Department of Defense generally is barred from by law.


One of the operations commonly undertaken by the Coast Guard is catching drug smugglers and their illicit cargos, and the Coast Guard gives special attention to the lucrative cocaine trade which has given them some of the largest maritime drug busts in history.

Here, in order of size, are six of the largest:

(All dollar values are converted to 2017 values.)

1. 43,000 pounds cocaine

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit
Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton crew stand next to approximately 26.5 tons of cocaine Dec. 15, 2016 aboard the cutter at Port Everglades Cruiseport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Woodall)

In March 2007, the Coast Guard Cutters Hamilton and Sherman stopped and investigated the Panamanian container ship Gatun and found two containers filled with 43,000 pounds of cocaine which had an estimated wholesale value of $350 million and a potential street value of $880 million.

2. 26,931 pounds cocaine

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Cocaine sits inside a hidden compartment on a vessel found by a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment. (Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard)

A U.S. Customs Service plane spotted the fishing trawler Svesda Maru sailing around without functioning fishing equipment in April 2001 and the Customs Service obviously found that suspicious. When a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment arrived, it had to search for five days before they found the secret space below the fishing hold.

In that space, they found 26,931 pounds of cocaine.

3. 24,000 pounds/$143 million

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A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment searches a vessel suspected of piracy. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson)

A Coast Guard boarding team serving onboard a Navy cruiser was sent to investigate a suspected smuggling ship in 1995 and set the then world record for largest maritime drug seizure ever.

In two waste oil tanks they found over 12 tons of cocaine worth the equivalent of $230 million today.

4. 18,000 pounds/$200 million

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A U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft prepares to drop supplies aboard the national security cutter USCGC Bertholf in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 14, 2012, during a patrol in support of Arctic Shield 2012. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

A surveillance aircraft flying off of Central America spotted a possible submarine in the water in 2015 and the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf went to find it.

Surprise: Homemade submarines are usually filled with drugs. This particular sub was filled with almost 18,000 pounds of cocaine, about $205 million worth.

5. 16,000 pounds of cocaine

Just a few months before the Bertholf captured the narco sub with 18,000 pounds of cocaine, the Stratton captured another submarine with an estimated 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

The Coast Guard never found out for certain how much cocaine was onboard because homemade submarines aren’t exactly seaworthy and the vessel sank after 12,000 pounds were offloaded. Congrats, whales.

6. 12,000 pounds

The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf made another 12,000-pound cocaine bust in March 2016 off the coast of Panama after spotting yet another submersible.

Had to feel like deja vu for the cutter.

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The first US troops to fight for America did it on this day in 1775

There has long been a dispute between the towns of Lexington and Concord over which fight sparked the Revolution, but the first shots were fired at Lexington, which was less of a battle and more of a massacre. The debate was so fierce that President Ulysses Grant almost avoided the centennial celebrations there to avoid the issue. Taken together, however, there is little doubt that the spark of the Revolution started on this day in April, 1775.


This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolution, pitting members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia against British regular army forces. The militia was not under the royal governor, but controlled by the rebel Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Seven hundred British troops were dispatched from Tory-held Boston to capture and destroy rebel arsenals at Concord, Mass. The rebels knew the British would come and had already moved the weapons and supplies. The British force moved through Lexington on the way to Concord.

At first light on April 19, 1775, the Redcoats met some 70 colonial militiamen moving into ranks on the local common. They were vastly outnumbered. Their commander, John Parker, was not willing to risk his men at such odds, and so placed them in formation, but not blocking the road to Concord. He ordered his men not to fire unless fired upon.

Rather than just march on to Concord, a British Marine lieutenant led his men onto Lexington Common to disarm the militia. Instead of disarming, the colonists moved to disperse. That’s when a shot rang out from an unknown source. Before this encounter, there was no war declared in the colonies. The British had come and gone to seize arms and supplies many times, retreating back to the major cities each time. This time was different.

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The idea of Americans in open rebellion against the British Crown was likely a shock to the subject of the British Empire. At the time of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the British controlled territory on every inhabitable continent across the globe. Down on Lexington Common, however, those opening salvos left eight Americans dead and an equal number injured, along with one injured British regular. The engagement soured the chances of reconciliation between the colonies and the Crown.

The British would continue to Concord, where the Battle of North Bridge in Concord would kill two colonists and three Redcoats. The British retreated all the way back to Boston and were harassed by colonial militias the entire way home.

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Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson composed the “Concord Hymn” in 1837, immortalizing the two events for the unveiling of a battle monument at Concord’s North Bridge.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood/Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled/Here once the embattled farmers stood/And fired the shot heard round the world.”

This story would one day lead to the defeat of the British at the hands of a Franco-American force, the birth of America, and eventually, School House Rock.

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The 12 most iconic roles in military movie history

We’ve all served with the zealot, the screamer, the wild man, the badass, the strange agent, and other signature personalities, but have we seen them accurately presented in movies? Well, sometimes. And in some cases when Hollywood has tackled military topics they’ve gone beyond simply “getting it right” and moved into the arena where icons are forged. Here are 12 examples of when movie makers got it absolutely right and then some:


1. Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in “A Few Good Men”

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Col. Jessup is as badass as grunts come . . . right up to the point where he gets his ass handed to him by a weenie JAG officer. With classic lines like “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don’t think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous,” and, of course, “You can’t handle the truth!” Nicholson’s reading of this somewhat psycho colonel is among the best military characters Hollywood ever created.

2. Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts in “The Great Escape”

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Arguably the late Steve McQueen’s best work, Capt Hilts of the Army Air Corps is known around the stalag as the “cooler king” because of all the time he’s logged in solitary confinement following his escape attempts. In the climactic scene he jumps a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle (the only stunt McQueen didn’t perform himself in the film) but gets caught up in a second fence and is recaptured. The final scene shows him being thrown back into the cooler, but his attitude shows that it’s only a matter of time before he tries to escape again (because he’s an American fighting man).

3. Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now!”

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In a high-budget blockbuster full of stars like Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, Duvall steals the show with his portrayal of Army helo squadron skipper Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore. As Sheen’s character muses, Kilgore “had that light in his eye . . . you knew he wasn’t going to get so much as a scratch on him in Vietnam.” And Kilgore cements his military movie icon status with lines like “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlie don’t surf!” Cue “Ride of the Valkyries” and go win some hearts and minds.

4. R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket”

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Before “Full Metal Jacket” came out in 1987 the pop culture standard for a DI was Sergeant Carter from the TV comedy “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” That changed in a big way with Ermey’s brilliant portrayal of Gunny Hartman, as tough as he is doomed (oops, spoiler alert for any of you maggots who haven’t seen this Stanley Kubrick-directed masterpiece). Hartman remains the cinematic boot camp standard by a mile with lines like “did your parents have any children that lived?” and “choke yourself, Pyle!” Ooh-rah, Devil Dog!

5. Gregory Peck as General Frank Savage in “12 O’ Clock High”

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Peck plays General Frank Savage, a B-17 driver who inherits a shitty command in the middle of high-tempo ops. Loses have been high and morale sucks, and Savage’s initial attempts to square the unit away are met with stiff resistance. In time his superior leadership techniques take hold and things improve. Peck does a great job of capturing the nuances surrounding the age-old facts that life is lonely at the top and being in charge is no popularity contest. There’s a reason this movie is shown in military leadership courses.

6. John Wayne as Captain Rockwell “Rock” Torrey in “In Harm’s Way”

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Some fans of “The Duke” may argue that “The Green Beret” or “Sands of Iwo Jima” are his signature military roles, but he brings a lot more to the role of Capt. Rock Torrey. “In Harm’s Way” was a groundbreaking (and shocking with subplots that tackle themes like adultery and professional misconduct) film in its day and still holds up in many respects for how it presents the complexities of Navy life during wartime. “In Harm’s Way” allows Wayne to do more than just swagger; he stretches his talents as an actor. And because of that it’s his best military work.

7. George C. Scott as General George S. Patton in “Patton”

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Everything the nation knows about General George S. Patton is a function of this movie and George C. Scott’s amazing performance in it. “Patton” presents the general as the flawed genius he was, as brilliant as he was self-destructive and reckless. The opening soliloquy alone is total money:  “No damn bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,” he says in front of a giant flag backdrop. “He won it by making the other poor damn bastard die for his country.”

8. Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicolson in “Bridge on the River Kwai”

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Before he was in “Star Wars” as Obi-Wan Kenobe urging Luke Skywalker to use the force, Sir Alec Guinness played Lt. Col. Nicolson, the senior ranking officer among prisoners held by some nasty Japanese troops. Guinness’ Nicolson is tough and resourceful and good at messing with his captors, especially when it comes to figuring out ways of keeping the construction of the Bridge on the River Kwai from proceeding. His performance is as good a cinematic example as there is for why the Brits make great allies.

9. Robert De Niro as Staff Sergeant Michael Vronsky in “The Deerhunter”

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Staff Sergeant Vronsky is ballsy-as-pozz, especially during the Russian Roulette scenes. And good luck not yelling “hell yeah!” at the screen when he overpowers his VC captors and escapes. De Niro’s performance is moving and feels authentic, and he does the special forces community proud while at the same time showing the sometimes tragic impact of war on a small town.

10. Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller in “Saving Private Ryan”

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“Saving Private Ryan” did much toward dispelling the myth that World War II was somehow cleaner than the wars that followed, and that cinematic landscape is made all the more real by Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Capt. John Miller, a school teacher-turned-war-weary-warfighter who knows the meaning of duty and leads by example. His on-screen sacrifice is truly felt and is a worthy representation of what earned The Greatest Generation their label.

11. Sterling Hayden as General Jack D. Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove”

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This Cold War satirical masterpiece about B-52s gone wild by the orders of a lunatic wing commander is made pitch perfect by Sterling Hayden’s performance as General Jack D. Ripper (get it?). From his musings about post-coitus epiphanies (“loss of essence,” as he calls it) to his fears about the commie plot that is fluoridation, Hayden’s Ripper should be funny enough to scare us all that he might actually exist (and have his finger on the button).

12. Jürgen Prochnow as Captain-Lieutenant Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock in “Das Boot”

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The U-boat war was a little-explored part of military movies until “Das Boot” was released in 1981. Jürgen Prochnow does an amazing job playing the captain of the submarine toward the end of the war. The crew is beat down and the Nazi rhetoric has long since rung hollow, but there is still a mission to carry out and a war to survive. Lehmann-Willenbrock is as good a leader as military movies have ever created, and his courage, skill, and empathy are timeless. Watch this one and find yourself routing for the other side. (“Das Boot” is best viewed in German with English subtitles, by the way.)

Now: The 16 best military movies of all time

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This deadly little ship is how Russia plans to dominate shallow waters

The Russian navy has long been seen as a basket case, especially when it comes to major surface combatants and nuclear submarines. However, when it comes to smaller vessels, the Russians are making a very determined comeback.


The Russian navy, like the Soviet navy before it, had a large fleet of heavily armed corvettes, light frigates, and patrol boats. The Steregushchiy-class corvette — also called Project 2038.0 or Project 2038.1 — follows in this tradition. According to Naval-Technology.com, the lead ship is armed with eight SS-N-25 Switchblade anti-ship missiles, a Kashtan close-in weapon systems, a 100mm gun, two AK-630s, and two twin 324mm torpedo tube mounts.

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The Steregushchiy-class corvette Sovershennyy. Note the Redut VLS forward.(Wikimedia Commons)

The second ship and follow-on vessels replace the Kashtan with a “Redut” vertical-launch system carrying 9M96E missiles, which have a range of 32 nautical miles. The Steregushchiy-class corvette is able to carry a single Kamov Ka-27 “Helix” helicopter. All of this is done on a hull that displaces 2,100 tons.

By comparison, the Littoral Combat Ships in service with the United States Navy feature a 57mm gun and a single launcher for RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (either the Mk 31 with 21 missiles, or the SeaRAM with 11 missiles). The Littoral Combat Ships displace either 3,200 tons (Independence-class) or 3,450 tons (Freedom-class). They do carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, or can carry unmanned aerial vehicles.

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The Steregushchiy-class corvette Stoikiy with its 100mm gun raised. (Wikimedia Commons)

Russia plans on building as many as 30 of these vessels, according to MilitaryFactory.com. These ships will be deployed to all four of the Russian navy’s fleets: the Northern Fleet, the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet. Russia has also developed two improved versions, the Gremyashchiy-class corvette and the Derzky-class corvette.

For more on these vessels, take a look at the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAuyUlRCIJo
Articles

Collision at sea sidelines US Navy mine sweeper and nuclear submarine

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USS Louisiana in happier times. (Photo: US Navy)


USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) is going to be spending some time in the yards after a collision with USNS Eagleview (T AGSE 3) off the coast of Washington state. The two ships returned to their respective bases under their own power.

According to a report by the USNI blog, the Navy is assessing the damage to the Louisiana at her home port of Naval Base Bangor-Kitsap, while the Eagleview is being assessed at Port Angeles, also in Washington state. No injuries were reported in the collision, which took place on the evening of 18 August.

USS Louisiana is the last of 18 Ohio-class submarines, having been commissioned in 1997. She displaces 18,450 tons when submerged. She carries 24 UGM-133A Trident II missiles, capable of delivering up to 14 W88 warheads with a 475-kiloton yield. The Trident II has a range of about 7,500 miles. The submarine also has four torpedo tubes capable of firing Mk 48 torpedoes.

The Eagleview is one of a class of four offshore support vessels purchased by the Military Sealift Command in 2015 from Hornbeck Offshore Services. Eagleview weighs about 2400 tons, is almost 250 feet long, and 52 feet six inches wide.

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USNS Eagleview . . . also in happier times. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Louisiana’s incident is not the first time this has happened. In 2013, USS Jacksonville (SSN 699) lost a periscope in a collision with an unidentified vessel. USS Montpelier (SSN 765) collided with USS San Jacinto (CG 56) in 2012, wrecking the cruiser’s sonar dome. USS Hartford (SSN 768) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18) had a fender-bender in the Strait of Hormuz in 2009. Senior officers on the submarines received varying punishments, most involving relief from command and letters of reprimand.

 

Articles

Britain’s ‘unkillable’ soldier gave zero Fs about pain or death

There are officers who seem to be made of glass, staying firmly behind the barriers and barbed wire that keep them protected from the enemy guns.


And then there are those guys who are basically the Black Knight from Monty Python, declaring every injury a flesh wound and jumping back into the fray like an amputated hand ain’t no thang.

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British Army Lt. Gen. Adrian Carton de Wiart. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

That’s why Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart is a British legend; he literally lost a hand, an eye, and part of an ear while serving in three wars, including two World Wars.

Carton de Wiart was born to Belgian nobility in 1880 and sent to prestigious schools. But in 1899, the British found themselves in the second Boer War and Carton de Wiart jumped at the chance to experience combat. But the British only wanted British subjects aged 25 or older or who had their father’s consent.

So, Carton de Wiart employed a clever tactic called “lying” and shipped out under a pseudonym. His first war ended when he received enemy rounds to the stomach and groin and a trip back to England to recover.

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The Boer War was old, nitty-gritty-style fighting. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

But flesh wounds couldn’t keep the Black Knight out of the fight for long, and he volunteered for duty in 1914 during World War I, this time under his actual name as a naturalized citizen.

Similar to in the Boer War, Carton de Wiart found the enemy guns quickly and caught a few rounds from them, this time in his arm and face while fighting as a member of the Somaliland Camel Corps.

He accepted a Distinguished Service Order and headed out for a quick convalescence for his missing eye. According to Lord Ismay, Carton de Wiart was probably happy about the whole situation.

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Then-Lt. Col. Adrian Carton de Wiart led British troops to victory after three other battalion commanders were killed at the Battle of La Boiselle. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

“I honestly believe that he regarded the loss of an eye as a blessing,” he said, “As it allowed him to get out of Somaliland to Europe where he thought the real action was.”

And Carton de Wiart did get into the action. He was sent to the Western Front in 1915 (that’s the year after the enemy rounds knocked out his left eye and took a part of his ear, for those keeping track). Sporting a black eyepatch over his empty socket in the Second Battle of Ypres, he was probably laughing when the German artillery barrage slammed into his position, severely injuring his left hand.

Doctors refused to amputate the hand, so our Black Knight tore off two of his fingers and went back to work. Doctors finally gave in and took the rest of his hand later. That was 1915.

In 1916, Carton de Wiart took command of a regiment at the Somme. Yeah, he once again returned to the front just a year later after a serious injury that would have ended anyone else’s career.

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At the Battle of the Somme, then-Lt. Col. Carton de Wiart saw three other battalion commanders die in the back-and-forth fighting at La Boiselle. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

During World War II, the hero of one war and a distinguished veteran of another took an assignment in Yugoslavia. When — at the age of 60 — his plane was shot down over the Mediterranean, he went ahead and swam his way to shore and was captured by the Italians.

Fun fact: that was Carton de Wiart’s second plane crash. He survived another crash in Lithuania between the wars.

Of course, even capture by the Italians wasn’t enough to stop him, and he attempted multiple escapes. At one point, he managed to evade capture for eight days.

He survived the war and continued to serve the British until he retired in 1947 as a lieutenant general.

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