Tomahawks are flying, tensions are rising, and we’re just over here collecting memes and giggling. Here are 13 of our favorite funny military memes from this week, starting with a little shout out to the ships that conducted the strikes:
Obviously, having to eject from a multi-million dollar aircraft of any kind is the last thing on a pilot’s bucket list (and is dangerous enough to actually be the last thing on the pilot’s bucket list). The truth is that, as in any military job function, things don’t always go as planned, even for the men and women fighting at a few thousand feet above the Earth.
The technology surrounding the ejection of any pilot is really incredible. After more than a century in the making, ejections can be made at supersonic speeds and at altitudes where there is little oxygen in the air. The canopy blows open, the air rushes in, and in one-tenth of a second, the pilot(s) are on their way to safety. The tech has come a long way since and the chances of a successful ejection are up from 50% in the 1940s. A lot happened in the meantime. Here are 11 things you may not have known before.
1. The first successful ejection was in 1910 and was initiated by bungee cord.
In 1916, one of the inventors of a type of parachute also invented an ejection seat powered by compressed air.
2. The German Luftwaffe perfected the ejection seat during WWII. The first combat ejection was in 1942.
The Focke-Wulf FW190 Würger testing ejection seat
Two German companies, Heinkel and SAAB (of the automobile fame) were working on their own types of ejection seats. The pilot of the first ejection bailed out because his control surfaces iced over.
3. Some aircraft, like the supersonic F-111, used pods to eject the crews. The B-58 Hustler tested its ejection system by ejecting bears.
Because parachutes need time to open, early zero-zero (zero altitude, zero airspeed) ejection seats used a kind of cannon to shoot the pilot out once they cleared the canopy. This put incredible forces on the pilot.
5. Before zero-zero seats, safe ejections required minimum altitudes and airspeeds.
Modern zero-zero technology uses small rockets to propel the seat upward and a small explosive to open the parachute canopy, cutting the time needed for the chute to open and saving the forces on the pilot.
6. The most common reason ejections fail is aviators wait too long to eject.
A recent study found the survival rate for ejection was as high as 92%, but the remaining 8% is usually because the pilot waited until the last second to eject.
7. Seats in planes like the B-1 Bomber eject at different angles so they don’t collide.
A two-ship of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training mission Feb. 24, 2010. Dyess celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first B-1B bomber arriving at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)
The B-1B Lancer has a crew of four and their seats are designed so that the seats are positioned at different angles and different intervals to avoid mid-air collisions. The B-1A used a capsule for the crew.
8. Depending on altitude and airspeed, the seats accelerate upward between 12 and 20 Gs.
That’s just the upward thrust. Pilots have ejected in speeds exceeding 800 miles per hour (the speed of sound is 767.2 mph) and from altitudes as high as 57,000 feet.
9. Ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker gives a certificate, tie, and patch to aviators who join the “Martin-Baker Fan Club” by successfully ejecting.
The first pilot was a Royal Air Force airman who ejected over what was then Rhodesia in January 1957. Since then, over 5800 registered members have joined.
10. The interval between ejections in a two-seat plane like the F-14 Tomcat is about half a second.
The RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) goes first, then the pilot (Goose then Maverick, but in real life, Goose would probably survive.)
11. Ejection seats have saved more than 7,000 people.
Not Goose, of course. (Should have followed F-14 NATOPS boldface procedures. RIP, shipmate . . .)
The 2018 Invictus Games started Oct. 20, 2018, and competitors, staff members, family and friends are excited for the fourth iteration of this international competition. With a record 18 allied nations participating, the Invictus Games has grown immensely in popularity and stature since its inaugural event in London in 2014. It has become the pinnacle event for many wounded, ill and injured service members around the world who compete in adaptive sports.
“Being here in Sydney and at the Invictus Games is such a different level,” said retired Maj. Christina Truesdale, who is among those competing at the Invictus Games for the first time this year. “The human connection is unreal. Everyone is so friendly and it’s all hugs, love and respect for each other.”
Truesdale discovered adaptive sports in the fall of 2017 while recovering from a tethered spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia. She has since made huge strides in her adaptive sports journey. After competing at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado and in multiple cycling races, this will be Truesdale’s first taste of international competition.
“I’ve trained with expectations and I hope I win a medal, but I have to remember, I’m here in Sydney at the Invictus Games with so many other awesome athletes. It’s a great experience and it’s important to live in and enjoy the moment,” she added.
U.S. Army Maj. Christina Truesdale pushes through the second of three grueling laps on the cycling course before gutting out a bronze medal in her upright classification during the cycling event June 6, 2018, at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games. She is competing in the Invictus Games, happening Oct. 20-27, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Robert Whetstone)
Another first time Invictus Games participant is U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick, who recovered at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas after suffering a hip labrum tear and back injuries. She competed at both the 2017 and 2018 DOD Warrior Games and is also excited to have reached the next level, achieving her goal of representing Team USA and checking a visit to Australia off her bucket list.
“It’s an honor and privilege to represent my country and compete alongside the different services [instead of against them at Warrior Games],” Kendrick said. “Competing at the Invictus Games is a way for me to show what I’ve learned and showcase what the coaches have taught me and what I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
One of the most exciting elements of the Invictus Games, according to both women and many other competitors, is getting to know wounded, ill and injured service members from other countries. “I’ve been making it a point to meet people from the other teams and learn about them, hear about their countries, experiences, and build bonds with others across the world,” Kendrick said.
Truesdale added, “It’s interesting to interact with others you know are on a similar journey as you. They may not speak the same language, but we all identify with each other because we’ve all served and been through something.”
For the 500-plus athletes competing in the games, each of them is ready for their opportunity to show the world their unconquered spirit — but for Kendrick, just having that chance is what it is all about.
“I’m going to love every microsecond of the Invictus Games experience. I’ve worked hard to get here and whether I win a medal or not, it’s already mission accomplished.”
During a recent Army exercise, a prototype laser shot down so many drones that its operator started losing count. “I took down, I want to say, twelve?” Staff Sgt. Eric Davis told reporters. “It was extremely effective.”
The Army has made air defense an urgent priority, especially against drones. Once icons of American technological supremacy, unmanned aircraft have proliferated to adversaries around the world. The Islamic State uses them for ad hoc bombing attacks; the Russian army to spot Ukrainian units for artillery barrages.
So last month’s Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment threw 14 different types of drones against a slate of counter-UAS technologies, from a .50 caliber machine gun loaded with special drone-killing rounds, to acoustic sensors that listened for incoming drones, to jammers mounted on rugged, air-droppable Polaris 4x4s.
But the laser was the star.
The Army wants to arm the versatile Stryker combat vehicle with high-energy lasers to defeat a variety of threats — including drones. (Photo: US Army)
“We had a lot of fun with the Stryker vehicle this time,” said John Haithcock, the civilian director of the Fires Battle Lab at Fort Sill, which hosts the exercise. The Stryker is a moderately armored eight-wheel-drive vehicle, lighter than an M1 tank or M2 Bradley but much heavier and more robust than a Humvee or MRAP, and its boxy hull has proved adaptable to a host of variants.
Earlier MFIX exercises had tested a counter-drone Stryker, with radar and optical sensors to detect drones, plus jammers to scramble drones’ datalinks, causing them to lose contact with their operators and even crash. Two prototypes of this CMIC vehicle (Counter-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability) are now in Europe with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the unit on the cutting edge of testing new technology to counter the Russians.
But there’s still space and electrical power to spare on the CMIC Stryker, so for April’s MFIX the Army added the 5 kilowatt laser, derived from the Boeing-General Dynamics MEHEL 2-kw prototype. For November’s MFIX, they plan to double the power, 10 kilowatts, which will let it kill drones faster — since the beam delivers more energy per second — and further away. If November’s tests go equally well, Haithcock said, the 10 kw laser Stryker will graduate to an Army-led Joint Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, where soldiers will test it in all-out mock battle.
Not that the MFIX exercise was easy: Soldiers operating the laser Stryker had to contend with real drones and simulated artillery barrages. Just managing the Stryker’s complex capabilities — laser, radar, jammers, sensors — was challenging. In fact, a big part of the experiment was assessing whether the soldiers’ suffered “task saturation,” a polite way of saying “overloaded.”
“The crew on the Stryker had never worked together….We didn’t know each other,” Staff Sgt. Davis said. “(But) all the systems were pretty easy to use, and after 15-20 minutes, I was able to program all the different types of equipment.”
Once the shooting started, he managed to multi-task, Davis said: “I was able to troubleshoot the radar while I was using the laser.” The artillerymen manning the laser Stryker were even able to continue acting as forward observers, spotting targets for artillery attack, at the same time they defended the force against incoming drones.
A Stryker-mounted 10 kw laser should be far more maneuverable and survivable on the front lines than the Army’s early experiment, a 10 kw weapon on an unarmored heavy truck. (The truck’s still in play as a platform for a 60 kw long-range laser to kill artillery rockets). But a Stryker is too much hardware for the Army’s light infantry brigades, which mostly move on foot with a smattering of Humvees and other offroad vehicles.
For those forces, this MFIX experimented with splitting the CMIC kit of sensors and jammers across two Polaris MRZR 4x4s. The Army also tested a heavy-duty jammer called the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), currently mounted on a cargo pallet in the back of a medium truck but potentially Polaris-transportable as well. No word whether they can make a laser that compact — at least, not yet.
Officials in charge of equipping America’s top commando units are looking for some high-tech drugs to help boost the performance if their 150 “multi-purpose canines.”
According to news reports, U.S. Special Operations Command wants to find pharmaceutical products or nutritional supplements that will enhance canine hearing, eyesight and other senses.
Think of it as a “Q” for America’s four-legged special operators.
According to an official solicitation for the Performance Enhancing Drugs, SOCOM is looking for a product or combination of products that will do the following:
Improve a dog’s ability to regulate body temperature
Improve acclimatization to acute extremes in temperature, altitude, and/or time zone changes
Increase the speed of recovery from strenuous work
Decrease adverse effects due to blood loss.
SOCOM’s military working dogs have been front and center on several top commando raids — with the most famous being Cairo, a Belgian Malinois who joined SEAL Team 6 in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
SOCOM, though, is also looking to neutralize enemy K9s through what another solicitation calls “canine response inhibitors.”
Now, during the Vietnam War, the preferred “canine response inhibitor” was known as the “Hush Puppy.” But these days SOCOM is looking for some less permanent methods, including:
Inhibit barking, howling, and whining
Induce movement away from the area where the effects are deployed
Like the performance enhancers, the “canine response inhibitors” could also be used outside the military.
So, the company or companies that win the hearts and minds of SOCOM’s puppies could catch a huge break.
On Aug. 11, Russia named its new stealth fighter the Su-57, but despite having a name, a finalized design, and a tentative date for its delivery, it already looks like a huge disappointment.
Russia first flew the Su-57 in 2010, demonstrating that it would enter the race towards fifth-generation aircraft after the US revolutionized aerial combat with the F-22, and later the F-35.
But in the years since, the Su-57 has failed to present a seriously viable future for Russian military aviation. Russia already fields some of the most maneuverable planes on earth. It has serious firepower in terms of missiles and bombs, and long-distance bombers and fighters. But what Russia doesn’t have is a stealth jet of any kind.
While Russian media calls the Su-57 an “aerial ghost,” a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for the US called it a “dirty aircraft,” with many glaring flaws that would light up radars scanning for the plane.
Additionally, two of the plane’s most fearsome weapons, the Kh-35UEm a subsonic, anti-ship cruise missile, and the nuclear-capable BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile, can’t fit in the internal weapons bay and must hang from the wings, as the Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady reports.
Since a stealth plane needs every single angle of the jet to perfectly contour to baffle radars, hanging weapons off the wings absolutely kills stealth.
But stealth is just one of the Su-57s problems. The other is the engine. Unlike US stealth jets that have new engines, the Su-57 currently flies with the same engine that powers Russia’s last generation of fighters.
Additionally, Majumdar reports that Moscow will only buy 12 of the planes by 2019 and perhaps never more than 60 in total.
Though Russian media boasts the Su-57 can be piloted remotely and handle extreme G forces, the combination of a lack of stealth and a lack of truly modern propulsion has caused critics to say the plane is fifth-generation “in name only.”
Whatever the plane’s performance is, the low buy numbers out of Moscow indicate that the budding Su-57 is already a flop.
In the early evening of April 24, 1943, Coast Guardsmen braved leaping flames and saved New York City from what could have been the largest man-made explosion in history to that point, a blast that would’ve wiped out sections of the harbor and, potentially, large swaths of the larger city and parts of New Jersey. Instead, just one ship was lost and zero lives.
Painting of the El Estero fire by Austin Dwyer.
(Austin Dwyer via U.S. Coast Guard)
While all the other branches rib the Coast Guard for being a band of puddle pirates, it’s important when really looking at its history to remember that, first, they actually have conducted a ton of deepwater missions. And, more importantly for this discussion, the shallow waters of the world are home to vital and dangerous missions that the Coast Guard does well.
The Coast Guard often takes on a large role during conflicts to help to ensure that war materiel is safely moved from industrial powerhouses in the U.S. to theaters of war overseas. During World War II, this included loading many of the Liberty Ships and other vessels that plied the Atlantic and Pacific.
But logistic expediencies created real hazards. It made sense in terms of speed and efficiency to move all the munitions, vehicles, and other vital supplies to a handful of ports and load it on ships from there. But doing so meant that strings of railroad cars and ships filled with explosive materials would be stored right next to each other.
Investigations would later reveal that the boiler had likely been leaking fuel oil into bilge water in the compartment below it, and a boiler flashback ignited the pooled fuel and started a fire. But once the fire was going, it would be able to boil oil to give itself more fuel and heat up the ammo until it started to explode.
The engine room crew immediately started fighting the flames with handheld extinguishers, but it wasn’t enough, so officers went to the Coast Guard barracks for volunteers. Could someone, anyone, please climb onto the burning ship, descend into its belly, and fight flames in the hopes of it not blowing up?
A graphic tried to tackle the level of damage if the ship had exploded. This high traffic area would have made an explosion of the El Estero especially catastrophic.
(New York Daily News illustration via U.S. Coast Guard)
But the Coast Guardsmen knew what was at stake. The loading docks were always filled with ammo and fuel and, on April 24, there were two other nearly full ships nearby, there were railroad cars loaded with ammunition waiting to unload, and there was a fuel farm that served the departing ships. A detonation on the El Estero would likely trigger a chain reaction.
Another World War I explosion, this one on a ship with 5,000 tons of TNT in Halifax Harbor in Canada, had killed 1,500 people leveling a large section of Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The combined loads of the El Estero and nearby ships and trains, somewhere around 5,000 total tons of explosives, dwarfed the size of the Halifax explosion. And an El Estero explosion would’ve been on the doorstep of New York City and could’ve flattened everything for five miles around.
Coast Guardsmen on a fireboat. Small vessels like these assisted in controlling the El Estero fire.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
And so 60 Coast Guardsmen, most of them in dress uniforms while awaiting their Easter Day liberty passes, rushed to the ship. New York firefighters arrived soon after with a firefighting ship, and they began passing hoses into the holds of the El Estero, but it was Coast Guardsmen who descended into the smoke and fire.
Survivors would describe a heat that overwhelmed them. The hot deck plates warmed and then burned their feet, paint peeled off the walls, and the heat continued to build. The Coast Guard officer in charge was Lt.j.g. Francis McCausland. It was his first day of work at the station.
But he was able to get tugboats to move the other ammo ships away and ordered Army soldiers to shift as many of the train cars out of range as they could move. By the time that additional fire trucks and Coast Guard fireboats arrived at 5:35, the fiercely burning El Estero was largely isolated, but still surrounded by the city, fuel stores, and warehouses of ammo.
The Coast Guard seemed to get the upper hand on the ship for a few minutes as the oily black smoke gave way to yellow and white streaks of flames, a signal that streams of water were hitting the major source of the fire. But the oily smoke returned, and the heat continued to rise.
About 40 volunteers were ordered off the ship, and a crew of 20 stayed onboard to try and keep the fire contained as long as possible while the ship was towed to a safe detonation point. Those 20 passed their personal effects to the men ordered off, some of whom wanted to stay and keep working. These included an engaged man who had to personally be ordered off the decks.
The further the ship was out of the harbor, the more lives would be saved in New York City and in the surrounding harbor from the pending explosion. Coast Guardsmen shoved anti-aircraft shells from the decks into the water and kept directing the water from the tugs onto the hot ammo as they traveled.
(The ship was designed so that it could only be scuttled from one spot that was directly underneath the burning boilers, so the Coast Guardsmen could only sink it by flooding it.)
Once the hull of the ship was under the waves, the threat of a full ammo explosion was largely dissipated. Firefighters kept water pouring onto the still burning superstructure for hours until, finally, the threat was gone. No one had died in a crisis that was later found to have threatened as many as one million residents with death, injury, or extreme property damage.
All the Coast Guardsmen involved were given special medals for their efforts, and the U.S. government overhauled ammo-handling procedures to move dangerous operations away from population centers. This would save lives in June 1944, when an ammo ship with 4,600 tons of ammunition exploded northeast of San Francisco, killing 300 sailors on the ship and nearby, but leaving the city untouched.
North Korea held a military parade and rally on Kim Il Sung Square on Feb. 8, just one day before South Korea holds the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
More than 10,000 troops trained for the parade at a military airfield for several weeks and residents had practiced in plazas around the North Korean capital with bouquets of plastic flowers to spell out slogans during the parade.
A South Korean government official said tens of thousands of people participated or watched the parade that morning in Pyongyang. It wasn’t clear if Kim Jong Un spoke during the event, as he has on previous prominent national events.
The South Korean official also says it wasn’t immediately clear whether North Korea displayed strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles during the parade. The official didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
The North had said the parade and rally would mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military.
Feb. 8 has been seen as a less important founding anniversary but was elevated this year in part because it is the 70th — a nice round number.
But the Olympics undoubtedly weighed heavily in the decision to elevate the occasion, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going out of his way to make sure the North will hold attention throughout the games.
Following a last-minute proposal during Kim’s annual New Year’s address, North Korea is sending 22 athletes to compete and a delegation of more than 400 musicians, singers, martial artists, and cheering squads to the games.
Kim is also dispatching his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to attend the opening ceremony. That, in itself, is a major development — she is one of his closest confidants, holds a senior party position, and her trip will mark the first time any member of the ruling Kim family has visited the South since the Korean War.
The North’s conciliatory moves related to the Olympics have generally been welcomed in the South. The parade, however, was more problematic.
Though possibly best known for their legions of goose-stepping troops, North Korean military parades are the country’s primary means of showing off its most recent advances in military technology — sometimes with aspirational mock-ups.
The North unveiled five new kinds of missiles at its most recent major military parade last April.
Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.
Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.
When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.
Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.
The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.
It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.
Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.
Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.
And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.
“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”
The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.
Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?
David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.
We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.
But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.
Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …
Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.
The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …
[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.
We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.
I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.
But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …
There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.
BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.
And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.
DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?
These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …
A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.
He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.
He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.
All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.
This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.
The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.
And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.
BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?
I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …
There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.
In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.
The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.
The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.
Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A
nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …
There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.
One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.
Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …
The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.
BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?
There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.
In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …
I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.
With most veteran service organizations, the only way to get in the door is to show your military cred — if you didn’t serve, they don’t serve.
And that’s great for some. But for groups like Team Red, White Blue, the whole point is to bring veterans and the civilian community together.
If you didn’t serve, we’re here to serve, they say.
And that proved a crucial difference for Mark Benson, a former Army fire direction specialist who left the military in 2004 after serving a tour during the invasion of Iraq. It was that civilian-to-military connection that attracted Benson to Team RWB, and it’s a distinction that he believes helps former service members survive in the civilian world.
“Team RWB’s mission is also to help folks rejoin the civilian world. If you’re not engaged with civilians then how are you ever going to connect with the civilian world?” Benson said. “If you’re just hanging out with a bunch of veterans, then you just kind of have your own little microcosm.”
Living in the Los Angeles area is like living in a military veteran desert, he said, it’s hard to find folks who get what doing a combat deployment means. But through his work as a community liaison with Team RWB, Benson found that even those who didn’t serve have a lot of support to offer.
“Some of these non-veterans did experience things in their life where they had a hard time and they kind of can relate to a certain extent,” Benson said. “A lot of the people that are in the leadership in the LA chapter aren’t veterans, but they do have a story. And I think that’s important.”
Benson has been a community liaison for Team RWB for almost a year and helped run with the “stars and stripes” in this year’s cross-country Old Glory Relay. It was Benson’s first run and served as a poignant reminder of the service he and others gave of themselves and provided an outlet to show a new generation the meaning of patriotism and selflessness.
During a stretch of the relay, Benson and his team of runners passed by an elementary school where the kids were lined up outside reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Later in the run, the Old Glory Relay team paid their respects with the flag at a veterans memorial cemetery.
“It was kind of cool to start out with the young future leaders of the world and then go pay our respects to those who gave their lives to help those young leaders live their lives in peace,” Benson said.
With just over a year being part of Team Red, White Blue, Benson sees his involvement deepening and the influence of his organization growing. Particularly in a non-military town like Los Angeles, it’s groups like Team RWB that bring veterans and their community together and help narrow that military-civilian divide.
“LA is probably one of those areas that has a larger civilian-military divide,” Benson said. “But it seems like in our area at least, there’s definitely a lot more understanding.”
The United States Army is on the hunt for what they call, “Mobile Protected Firepower” — or, to put it in layman’s terms, the Army wants a light tank. For military buffs, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s been a big gap in capabilities since the M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996.
According to a report by the Army Times, the Army is now looking to rectify that gap in capabilities. The M1A2 Abrams tank brings tons of firepower and armored protection, but it can’t be dropped. You need a C-5 or C-17 to bring it to an airfield, and then it has to drive to the battlefield. Not good when you need the firepower right away.
As part of the Mobile Protected Firepower program, the Army is looking for a vehicle that weighs no more than 32 tons. The size of the main gun, however, is still up for determination — it could be a 57mm gun, a 105mm gun like the one on the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, or a 120mm gun like that on the Abrams.
Previously, the Army had been looking at the M8 Buford Armored Gun System as a replacement for the M551 in the early 1990s. The Buford has three levels of armor protection, a 105mm main gun, and has the ability to hold 30 rounds for the main gun — two thirds more than the Stryker Mobile Gun System.
The Buford, named for a Union cavalry general in World War II, was cancelled by the Clinton Administration in 1997 to pay for other programs. In the 1980s, a light tank called the Stingray, equipped with a 105mm main gun and 32 rounds, was developed by Cadillac-Gage. The Thai Army ordered 106 in the 1980s.
It could be very interesting to see if the Army’s choice in the Mobile Protected Firepower system will end up replacing the Stingray — and supplying other American allies. However, the first light tanks will not arrive until 2025, and even then, there will only be 54. Just enough, perhaps, to supply the 82nd Airborne Division with the tank battalion they once had.
The downfall of JJ is an awesome win for the U.S. and U.K. militaries, but it’s just the latest in a list of “high-value targets” that have been brought down. Here are 13 of America and her allies’ greatest hits against terrorism.
1. Osama Bin Laden
You don’t need an intro to this a–hole. He was killed by SEAL Team 6 in a daring raid into Pakistan on May 2, 2011.
2. Saddam Hussein
Like Osama Bin Laden, you really shouldn’t need an intro for this guy. Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces on Dec. 13, 2003 in Tikrit, Iraq where he was hiding in a tiny hole. He was executed Dec. 20, 2006 by hanging after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman became al-Qaeda’s top operational planner and number 2 leader overall after Bin Laden was killed. His tenure near the peak was short-lived and he was killed in a drone strike Aug. 22, 2011.
The number 3 in al Qaeda at the time of his death, Abu Layth al-Libi got his start in another terror network before becoming a field commander and spokesman for al Qaeda. He was killed in a drone strike Jan. 29, 2008.
11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was captured Mar. 1, 2003 by the C.I.A after an informer known as “Asset X” texted his handler, “I M W KSM.” Mohammed is still in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
12. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid
The head of finance for al Qaeda and possibly the director of operations when he was killed, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was killed by a missile strike in May 2010.
World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as the WWE, marked Memorial Day this year by sharing some of their best Tribute to the Troops moments. Tribute to the Troops is a recurring WWE program that hosts wrestling matches specifically to entertain service members deployed around the world.
One of the most popular clips they shared came from a 2003 fight between John Cena and Big Show. The match was held in Baghdad less than two weeks after American soldiers captured Saddam Hussein. It was the first WWE Tribute to the Troops and featured some great action performed in front of soldiers celebrating their victories over the Iraqi military.