The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

The U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft is officially about to get some surround sound.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on Oct. 23, 2019, awarded Terma North America Inc. a $60 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract to retrofit 328 3D audio systems for the close-air support aircraft’s cockpit, according to a Defense Department announcement. The company is a subsidiary of Terma A/S, a Danish defense and aerospace company.

Pilots have multiple audio signals coming at them, making it difficult to discern certain radio calls and warnings. The 3D audio system will give pilots the ability to distinguish between signals and discern where they’re coming from.


Last year, the service said it had planned to award a sole-source contract to Terma to integrate the enhancement. The upgrade would “drastically improve the spatial, battlespace and situational awareness of the A-10C pilots,” according to a request for information (RFI) published at the time.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

An A-10 Warthog prepares to take off from Al Asad Air Base to provide close air support to ground troops in Iraq.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

The 3D audio technology has previously been used in the Danish F-16 Fighting Falcon Missile Warner System upgrade.

The A-10, which entered service in 1976 and has deployed to the Middle East, Europe and the Pacific, has also played an outsized role in Afghanistan and the air campaign that began in 2014 against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, helping provide close-air support for Iraqi and U.S. partner forces on the ground.

The latest news comes after the Air Force made another major investment into the aircraft, demonstrating its willingness to keep the A-10 around longer and boost its survivability in a high-threat environment.

In August 2019, officials announced that Boeing Co. was awarded a 9 million IDIQ contract to create up to 112 new A-10 wing assemblies and spare wing kits for aircraft that are slated to receive the upgrade. The program is known as the “A-10-Thunderbolt II Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit,” or “ATTACK.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

An A-10 Warthog takes off from Al Asad Air Base to provide close air support to ground troops in Iraq.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

The Air Force estimates 109 A-10s still need to be re-winged following a previous id=”listicle-2641104178″.1 billion “Enhanced Wing Assembly” contract, which began in 2011 and completed this year.

The 3D audio work will be performed in the U.S. and Denmark, the Defense Department said.

The Air Force will use fiscal 2018 and 2019 funds in the amount of .3 million toward the effort; the work is scheduled to be completed by February 2024, the announcement states.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A dog adopted by coalition troops fighting ISIS is finally home

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern loves dogs. She loves her dog, she loves other peoples’ dogs, she loves dogs she sees in memes and on TV shows. When she found a dirty little white stray sniffing around the camp she was stationed at during a one-year deployment in Iraq, only one thing was going to happen.

“I fell in love with her immediately.”


McKithern, a combat photographer from Tampa, Florida with the 982nd Combat Camera Co. (Airborne), was stationed at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center, a multinational military organization responsible for the training of Peshmerga and Northern Iraq Security in and around Erbil, from April 2017 to January 2018.

The little dog and her mom had been wandering around the base for weeks, McKithern found out. Stray dogs are common in Iraq, and the culture is not kind to them. Erby and her mom were kicked and hit with rocks daily, and starving. Her brother and sister had disappeared before McKithern arrived.

Despite her rough experiences with humans to that point, Erby ran right up to McKithern the first time she held out her hand to the shaky little pup covered in scratches and dirt.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

“She loved everyone,” said McKithern. “She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately, probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.”

McKithern, together with soldiers from the Italian and German armies her unit was partnered with, took to caring for the little dog. They named her Erby Kasima, after nearby Erbil, the largest city in northern Iraq, and “Kasima” being the Arabic name for “beauty and elegance.”

The coalition soldiers would go on convoys into the surrounding countryside to train Iraqi army units six days a week, with McKithern documenting the missions. Every time they returned to the base, Erby was waiting.

“She ran up to our convoy every day,” McKithern recalled. “She was so tiny she would fall and trip all over herself to get to us.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

It didn’t take long for Erby and her mom to realize that, not only were they safe around McKithern and her Italian and German friends, but these humans would feed them too. As the weeks went by, their wounds began to heal and they started putting on healthy weight.

Eventually, the growing pup took to sleeping on the step outside McKithern’s quarters.

As the end of her deployment approached, she started to wonder how she could ever leave Erby behind when she went back to the states and lamented about it on her Facebook page.

“One night I posted a pic of us on Facebook, with a caption that read something like ‘I wish I could take her home,'” McKithern said. “I went to sleep, woke up and my friends and family had posted links to various rescue groups. I reached out to one of them, the non-profit Puppy Rescue Mission, and they responded immediately. We sent them $1,000 and they set up a crowd fund to get the rest. We needed an additional $3,500.”

The immediate outpouring of generosity was astounding, said McKithern.

“We raised the rest of the money very quickly, and most of it was from complete strangers!”

McKithern had many preparations to make before she left Iraq so Erby could eventually follow her. Vaccinations, documentation, travel arrangements — all had to be done somehow, in a war zone, while she was still fulfilling her duties as a Soldier. It seemed like an overwhelming task in an already overwhelming situation. Even though she now had the funding, McKithern began to lose hope that she’d have the time and energy to pull this off.

That’s when the brotherhood of the Coalition stepped in to help. Several Kurdish and German officers McKithern had befriended on missions stepped in and offered to tie up anything she couldn’t get done and get Erby onto the plane. With their help, everything got squared away. McKithern returned home, and Erby was set to follow her several weeks later.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

McKithern had only been home in Florida for about a month when, in a cruel twist of timing, she received orders for a 67-day mission to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, leaving March 11, the very same day Erby was scheduled to arrive at JFK Airport.

“I couldn’t believe it!” said McKithern. “But I’m a Soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers. The need at Fort McCoy was desperate at the time. It is a gunnery exercise, which was an opportunity to expand my skills and knowledge as a soldier. It killed me that it was going to keep me away from Erby for another two months, but it’s an important mission. It will all be worth it in the end.”

McKithern’s husband, Sgt. Wes McKithern (also a combat cameraman for the 982nd), met Erby at the airport and drove her home to Tampa, where she has been assimilating into an American life of luxury and waiting patiently to be reunited with her rescuer.

In a few short weeks, McKithern will fly home from Fort McCoy to be with her sweet Erby at last. It will be the end of a 16-month journey that’s taken her across the world to find a little dog in a war zone and — with the help of generous strangers, a nonprofit dog rescue, and soldiers from three different armies — bring her all the way back to become part of a family.

“I can’t believe it,” says McKithern. “It feels like a miracle is happening.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This pint-sized armed recon light tank has a Royal connection

Prince Harry is best known recently for his involvement in the Invictus Games for wounded and sick vets. However, he’s also a combat vet, with two tours in Afghanistan, one of which involved flying the AH-64 Apache. But before that, he commanded a platoon of light tanks with a powerful punch (the British Army calls that unit a troop).


The tank in question was the FV 107 Scimitar, part of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (or CVR(T)) family. According to the British Army web site, the Scimitar weighs just under 18,000 pounds, and is armed with a 30mm Rarden cannon (the same as the one on the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle) and a 7.62mm machine gun. It has top speed of just under 50 miles per hour.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
A British Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle is parked on a roadside during Operation COLD WINTER ’87, a NATO-sponsored military exercise. (DOD photo)

The real impressive part of this is the size of this vehicle. It is only 16 feet long, seven feet four inches wide, and just under seven feet tall. Compare that to the dimensions of a M1127 Stryker (23 feet long, just under nine feet wide, and eight feet eight inches tall), which only has a .50-caliber machine gun.

The CVR(T) family was designed in the 1960s to fit inside transports of the era. The Scimitar saw action in the Falklands War, Desert Storm, in the Iraq War, and during Operation Enduring Freedom.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
A FV107 Scimitar operates in the desert in 2004. (Wikimedia Commons)

Prince Harry was slated to serve in Iraq with his troop, but after threats from insurgents, he was instead assigned to be part of a Tactical Air Control Party for his first tour in Afghanisan. He later trained to fly the British Army’s version of the Apache and served as an Apache pilot for his second tour.

You can see a video about this light tank that proved to be a Royal ride below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15jd2Df9O70
Articles

Here’s a look at the likely finalists for the new XM17 modular handgun

For over a year, the U.S. military has been looking at options for replacing the decades-old Beretta M9 handgun. As with most DoD programs, the so-called “Modular Handgun System” program is a sprawling, multi-million dollar plan to find a new pistol that takes advantage of innovations in the current firearms market and delivers a sidearm that works well for a variety of missions and troops.


Listen to the WATM podcast to hear the author and our veteran hosts discuss what the XM17 modular handgun program means to the military:

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The M9 is a solid performer and is still popular among many in the U.S. military. But over the last 20 years, handgun technology — especially the use of polymers in handgun construction — has advanced well beyond the all-metal, one-size-fits-all frame of the flagship Beretta sidearm.

Both the Army and Air Force are running the search for an M9 replacement, dubbed the XM17, and have called for a do-all pistol that will fit in the hands of a wide range of troops, be more accurate and reliable than the Beretta and, most importantly, be configurable for different missions.

An ambitious goal to be sure, and some high-ranking officials in the Pentagon have argued it’s one that’ll wind up being too expensive and take too long to field, with the Army estimating it’ll take $17 million and 2 years to test the final version of the XM17.

“We’re not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon. This is a pistol,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in March. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

Despite Milley’s frustration, the program is set for a so-called “downselect” next month to three competitor designs to move into field testing. The safe money is that the Army will settle on options from Sig Sauer, Glock and a team composed of General Dynamics and Smith Wesson.

So what do each of these companies bring to the table for a modular handgun?

Glock

By far the most popular handgun among law enforcement, military special operations and a huge swath of civilian shooters, the Glock series of polymer-framed pistols has been considered the gold standard of modern handguns since its introduction in the 1980s.

In fact, the Glock 19 is the standard-issue handgun for Army special operations troops, Air Force special operations Airmen and has recently been chosen to replace Naval Special Warfare Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Sources say the company submitted versions of its G17 (a 5-inch barreled, 9mm handgun) and the G22 (a 4.5-inch barreled, .40 caliber handgun) to the MHS program.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
A Special Forces soldier fires a Glock 19 pistol at a range during joint training with Hungarian special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie)

While Glock doesn’t have a so-called “modular” gun, the pistol uses so few parts that swapping a barrel or switching the backstrap of the grip for smaller-handed shooters takes no time. Glock offers several handguns that look and operate the same as the G17 and G22 — namely the G19, G43 and G21 — that are more compact or are optimized for different shooting situations.

Smith Wesson

Long a close second to the Glock family of polymer pistols, Smith Wesson’s MP series of handguns have made serious inroads in the law enforcement and civilian markets.

Check out the utility belt of a local cop or stroll down the shooting bays of your local range, and you’re bound to see a bunch of MP 9s in holsters or on the bench. Similar to the Glock, the MP pistol is simple to operate, has few parts and fits a wide range of shooters with replaceable backstraps on its grip.

Smith  Wesson has teamed with General Dynamics to compete for the Army XM17 Modular Handgun System program. Smith Wesson MP 9. (Photo from Smith Wesson)

And, like Glock, Smith Wesson doesn’t have a truly modular handgun system. But the company makes a longer barrel MP in a variety of calibers and the wildly popular MP Shield for concealed carry. All are based on the same design as the MP 9 and have the same ergonomics — so troops shifting from the 5-inch MP 5-inch CORE on one mission to the MP Shield on another won’t have to deal with a learning curve.

Sig Sauer

Sig Sauer has been most widely known for its double action handguns (ones that have hammers instead of strikers), and the P226 is perhaps the most famous gun the company makes since it’s been the go-to pistol for Naval Special Warfare’s sailors for years.

That changed this year when the SEAL community let slip that it would be replacing its inventory of P226s with Glock 19s — in line with other special operations units in the U.S. military. In 2014, Sig announced its newest handgun, dubbed the “P320,” which uses a similar polymer frame and striker fire system as the Glock and MP.

But what makes the P320 unique among its closest competitors is that it is truly modular. Buy a stock P320 and a shooter can purchase new frames and barrels in different sizes and calibers; you can literally change the P320 from a 4.7-inch combat handgun into a 3.6-inch subcompact concealed carry gun in about a minute with a new frame, slide and barrel.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
Photo from Sig Sauer

You can even switch out a 9mm to a .40 with ease. The only common part of the Sig P320 is the “fire control group” which includes the trigger and internal safety module.

And it’s this off-the-shelf modularity that leads many to believe the P320 is the odds-on favorite to win the XM17 handgun program.

Will it happen?

The problem is the Army (and other services) don’t have a great track record of making solid decisions on new weapons that take advantage of modern technology.

For several years in the early 2000s, the Army spent a lot of time and money looking into a replacement for the M4 carbine — a rifle that derives from a pre-Vietnam design. Despite test reports that showed other options performed better than the M4, the Army decided it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the existing rifle, and the service shelved the program.

Likewise, the Mk-16 and Mk-17 SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle — or SCAR — program was originally billed as a modular rifle program, one that would eventually see a combat rifle capable of switching from, say, a short-barreled entry gun into a longer-barreled one for more distant engagements. That program was also shelved, with special ops forces mostly using the .308 caliber Mk-17 on some missions as a battle rifle.

It’s still unclear whether the XM17 program will suffer a similar fate. But it’s there’s no argument that the Beretta M9 is facing an age problem and is increasingly causing armorers headaches.

So whether it’s a Glock 19 from Cabela’s or a futuristic, modular pistol, U.S. troops should see some kind of new handgun in their armory within a few years.

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s how this historic spy plane keeps an eye on the battlefield

The 64th anniversary of the U-2 spy plane’s historic, and accidental, first flight came in early August 2019.

While much about the Dragon Lady has changed in the past six decades — most of the 30 or so in use now were built in the 1980s, and they no longer do overflights of hostile territory, as in the 1960 flight in which Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union — the U-2 is still at the front of the military’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, lurking off coastlines and above battlefields.

The U-2 is probably best known for what pilots call “the optical bar camera,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.


“It’s effectively a giant wet film camera,” about the size of a projector screen, that fits in the belly of the aircraft and carries 10,500 feet of film, Patterson said during a panel discussion about the U-2 and its mission.

The camera has improved greatly since the 1950s. “What we can do with that, for instance, in about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California,” Patterson said. “The fidelity is such that if somebody is holding a newspaper out … you can probably read the headlines.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

US Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loading test film into an onboard camera for a test in preparation for a U-2 mission at a base in Southwest Asia in 2008.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)

The aircraft’s size and power allow it to carry a lot of hardware, earning it the nickname “Mr. Potato Head.”

“We can take the nose off, and we can put a giant radar on the nose, and you could actually image … out to the horizon, which, if you think about it, from 70,000 feet, is about 300 miles,” Patterson said. “So if you’re looking 360 degrees, you can see 600 miles in any direction.”

Another option is “like a big digital camera,” Patterson said. “It’s got a lens about the size of a pizza platter, and it has multiple spectral capabilities, which means it’s imaging across different pieces of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually pull specific data that these intel analysts need to actually identify what is this material made out of.”

“We also carry what’s called signals payloads, so we can listen to different radars, different communications,” Patterson said. “We have a number of antennas all across the aircraft [with which] we’re able to just pick up what other people are doing.”

“Some of these sensors can see hundreds and hundreds of miles, so even if we’re not overflying, you can get a real deep look at what you actually want to see,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman, also a U-2 pilot, said at the event.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen preparing a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 13, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

‘Just a sensor’

The U-2 is “just a sensor in a broader grid that the United States has all over the world … feeding data to these professionals,” Patterson said.

Whether it’s radar imagery or signals intercepts, “We bring all that on board the aircraft, and we pipe it over a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world where we have a team of almost 300 intel analysts,” Patterson said.

“So while we’re sitting by ourselves over a weird part of the world doing that ISR mission, all the information we’re collecting is going back down to multiple teams around the globe,” he added. “They’re … distilling it, turning it into usable reports for the decision makers, and [getting] that information disseminated.”

Capt. Joseph Siler, the chief of intelligence training with the 492nd Special Operations Support Squadron, was tasked leading those efforts.

“I loved talking to the [U-2] pilots, and … having that pilot [who] is actually understanding the context of where they’re at and is able to dynamically change direction and help us, it just brings something to the fight,” especially when sudden changes require a new plan, Siler said at the same event, during a panel discussion about the mental and physical strain of Air Force operations.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

A U-2 pilot signaling flight-line personnel while taxiing at Beale Air Force Base in California on Sep. 20, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valentina Viglianco)

“I got more of the quick-time, actionable intelligence” from U-2s, Siler said. “It’s all going into this common picture, but that’s where they fit into it.”

That doesn’t mean the U-2 can’t play a role in the action on the ground as it unfolds.

“We have multiple radios on board,” Patterson said. “So let’s say you’re flying a mission over a desert somewhere and we have troops on the ground that are in contact. We’ll be talking directly to them sometimes, providing imagery.”

That imagery isn’t going straight from the U-2 to the troops, but “they can tell me what they need to listen to, where they need to look, and we’ll move the sensors to that spot, snap an image, kick it back over whatever data links we need to get it to the intel professionals,” he said. “They will do their rapid analysis and send that, again, to the forward edge, where those folks can take a look at it.”

“You can see troop movements. You can see things like that,” Patterson said. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking for [improvised explosive devices] and providing [that information] real-time to convoys and things like that. I’ve done that personally.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greeting his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia in 2010.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

‘Constant, constant stress’

Patterson analogized the relay of information to a game of telephone.

It’s on “the airmen that are receiving that to be able to make that decipherable and useful,” Siler said of intelligence gathered by U-2s. “When I was in there, in that environment, receiving all that information and how that work, it’s just such a weird place. It’s different from traditional conflict.”

The waves of incoming information are a source of “constant, constant stress,” added Siler, who has spoken about his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m getting information from the U-2. I’m getting information from satellites. I’m getting information from an MQ-9, and I have an Army task force that’s about to go in, and there’s people’s lives that are going to be tested,” Siler said.

“What the intelligence community does is we look at all the information we can get, from whatever sensor it is, we pipe that together, and then we say, ‘All right, based upon what the U-2 is saying and what the Global Hawk is saying and what the satellites are saying, we believe this is the best route, this is the best time.'”

Final decisions about when and where to go are made by operators. But, Siler said, “you can imagine the sense of responsibility that these young airmen, 19, 20 years old, feel as they make those calls, and we say, ‘is that the bad guy or is that his 16-year-old son?'”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

A U-2 pilot driving a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 during a low-flight touch-and-go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 15, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

‘Algorithmic warfare’

The reason the U-2 funnels that intelligence back to crew members on the ground is that “it’s so much data that we just simply can’t process all of it on board,” Patterson said.

A U-2 pilot can key on an interesting signal picked up by a sensor, sending imagery to intelligence analysts on the ground. Those analysts can decide to look into it, routing a satellite to take a look or sending a drone to get photos and video.

The process can run the other way as well. A tip from social media can lead an analyst on the ground to send in a U-2 to gather photos and other imagery. If necessary, assets like a drone or an F-16 with video capability can be sent in for a closer look.

“As you start networking [these assets], using these algorithms and using these processing capabilities, if I hear a signal here, and somebody hears the same signal but they’re over here, you can instantly refine that” if the assets are in sync, Patterson said. “We’re able to map down some pretty interesting stuff pretty quick.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

A U-2 high above the earth.

(US Air Force)

But the goal is do it quicker, and the Air Force has been looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning to sort through all the data gathered by U-2s and other aircraft and sensors and make sense of it.

Integrating that into the broader intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission is still in its “infancy,” Nauman said.

“We know the capability’s there. We know the commercial sector is really doing a lot of development on that. They’re ahead on that frankly,” Nauman said. “We’re trying to figure out, A) how to catch up and be as good, and then Part B is what do we do with that, how do we make ourselves more effective with that.”

“Processing is getting really good, really fast, so there are a number of efforts to actually take a lot … of the stuff that we collect, running it through an algorithm at … what we call the forward edge — like right on board the aircraft — [and] disseminate that information to the fight real-time, without having to reach back, and those some of the projects that we’re working right now,” Patterson said, describing what senior leaders have called “algorithmic warfare.”

“It’s easier to put racks and racks of servers and [graphics processing units] on the ground, obviously, to do the processing, but how do we take a piece of that and move that to the air?” Nauman said. “I think that’s going to be kind of the follow-on step.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This former Army Blackhawk pilot is on the verge of taking off in Hollywood

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
Ellis behind the controls of a U.S. Army Blackhawk. (Photo courtesy of Nate Ellis)


By the time Nate Ellis reached the sixth grade he knew there were two things he wanted to do with his life: make movies and fly airplanes for the military.

Ellis was raised in a family with military experience. His father had joined the Coast Guard during the Vietnam era as a way to avoid the draft and his older brother had joined the Air Force ROTC program as a way to pay for college. He says he was the first among them to go in actually motivated to serve.

“All I wanted to do was Army aviation,” he said.

Ellis attended Austin Peay State University in Tennessee on a ROTC scholarship and wound up the top-ranked cadet nationwide among aviation selectees. Three days after graduation he found himself at Fort Rucker ready to start flight school. A year or so later he was a Blackhawk pilot.

In time he found himself in Afghanistan, stationed at Shindand Air Base in the western area of the country as part of the 4th CAB contingent there. He was assigned as the “battle captain,” overseeing all of the unit’s air operations, a position of great responsibility.

He was also flying Blackhawk sorties, and one night he launched as part of an air assault package comprised of three Blackhawks and two Chinooks. The helicopters carried a total of 99 troops — Italian special operators and Afghan National Army regulars — for a raid to capture a “high-value target,” one of the Taliban’s bad guys.

The helicopters touched down at the LZ around 3 AM, and after the troops jumped out they immediately came under fire. The helos took off and held nearby.

“We were at the holding point listening to the chaos, waiting, burning gas,” Ellis said. “It was the worst.”

There were two Apache attack helicopters on station, but one ran out of ammo and the other took an enemy round through the cockpit. The ground force, facing overwhelming numbers, wanted to get out of there immediately. But, by the helicopters’ operating procedures, it was too hot for them to fly back in to pick them up.

The mission commander, a lieutenant colonel, made the call to go in, but only after taking a quick survey of his fellow pilots over the radio to see what they thought about the risk.

“We went up and down the line, and all aircrews said they wanted to go in,” Ellis remembered. “But everyone was concerned at the same time. Everyone knew what they were getting into.”

The LZ was in the middle of a valley, what Ellis described as “the worst place to fly into.”

He saw the gunner in the Blackhawk ahead of him return fire on a group behind a wall as his own gunner froze, unable to pull the trigger. Sixty of the troops came running at them trying to load up. The Blackhawk only had room for 12 of them, so Ellis’ crew chief heroically jumped out and sorted the situation out as the bullets landed around them. After “the longest 3 minutes of my life,” they lurched back into the air at the Blackhawk’s maximum takeoff weight.

“Because we were heavy we couldn’t yank and bank,” Ellis said. “We had to fly straight ahead. My missile warning gear was going off the whole time.”

Once he was out of harm’s way, he had an epiphany.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound
Nate Ellis in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Nate Ellis)

“I was more present than I ‘d ever been in my life,” he said. “It was like all of the bullshit in my life came to the surface and skimmed off. I heard my inner voice: ‘Life is short. Live with a purpose. Do what you love.'”

And Ellis realized — along with flying Army helicopters — that he loved making movies, something he’d continue to dabble in even during the most demanding parts of his military life.

“I was always working on something while I was in,” Ellis said. “Short films — writing and directing. I’d edit them on my computer and post them to YouTube or wherever.”

After his war tour, he was stationed in South Korea while his marriage to another Army helicopter pilot came apart. “Long story short, we were separated for 18 months,” he said.

He was ready for a change in his life. So after 7 years of active duty, he resigned his commission and entered USC to get a master’s degree in filmmaking. While he immersed himself in the curriculum, he also found himself processing a lot of anger.

“I’d lose my temper if somebody jumped in front of me at a bar or cut me off in traffic,” he admitted. “I felt this sense of entitlement, like, who are they to treat me like that? Don’t they know who I am and what I’ve done?”

By his own account, it took him three years of grad school to process his emotions.

“I don’t want to be that person,” he said. “I don’t want to feel that way. Now it’s more like who cares? That guy, that girl, they have their own thing going on. They have their own path.”

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He made a name for himself among the talented grad students at USC. He created five short films, including “10,000 Miles,” his thesis film that had a $30,000 budget plus a $350,000 Panavision grant.

Ellis also made “The Fog,” which he describes as “very personal,” another short that won a faculty screenwriting award and “Best Narrative Short” at the 2016 GI Film Festival. “The Fog” was also a semi-finalist for the student Academy Awards.

Ellis left USC with an impressive body of work, and an effective Hollywood network that included his USC-assigned mentor who also happened to be the president of a major studio. With his master’s degree in hand, he’s wasted little time in making some things happen. He wrote a screenplay based on “Chickenhawk,” the classic Vietnam-era story about a helicopter pilot, and he said Harrison Ford is “interested.”

At the same time, he worked as a production assistant on “The Wall,” directed by Doug Liman (who also directed “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Bourne Identity”), wrote another screenplay targeting both Chinese and American audiences, and co-created an animated web series called “Thrift Video” that he described as “‘Adult Swim’-type humor.”

And, somewhat ironically, Ellis’ work in Hollywood placed him behind the controls of a helicopter again.

“My USC mentor introduced me to the president of Studio Wings, Steve Stafford, a Marine vet,” he explained. “I’ve been flying a Huey, one of the types of helicopters I flew during my time in the Army.”

And the Studio Wings Huey is owned by one Vince Gilligan, the creator of the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Ellis and Gilligan have co-piloted the Huey on several occasions.

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Ellis in action as a director. (Photo courtesy of Nate Ellis)

“Vince is a super-nice guy and very interested in my active duty experience,” Ellis said. “He’s also interested in my screenplay.”

Ellis is quickly learning that success in the movie business is about two things: who you know and how much talent you have.

“All this stuff is just coming out of the blue,” Ellis said. “But I love the non-linear aspect of Hollywood. You’re thrown into the big mix with everybody. How do you set yourself apart?”

Ellis has also learned when and where to leverage his military experience and the limits of it.

“The whole reason I’m flying helicopters with Vince Gilligan is because I flew helicopters in the Army,” he said. “But after that, it’s about the quality of my work.”

 

Articles

7 new weapons in the war against drones

Drones are being used by corporate and foreign spies, terrorists, and even separatists groups around the world. Here are 7 technologies that are allowing police to gain an edge against drone use by the bad guys:


1. Eagles

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GIF: Youtube/Guard From Above

In what is one of the most awesome drone hunting videos around, a Dutch company revealed that it has trained eagles to hunt down enemy drones. While the tactic seems to be effective, bird watchers are worried about drafting already small populations of eagles into drone warfare, a tactic that can be dangerous for the birds.

2. Anti-drone drones

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GIF: Youtube/CNET

Michigan Technological University is working on “drone falconry,” using drones armed with nets to capture other drones in flight and drag them to a secure, remote site.

3. Falcon Shield

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GIF: YouTube/Finmeccanica – Electronics, Defence Security Systems

Like the drone falconry above, Falcon Shield aims to remove drones from populated areas or battlefields. Sensors cover the defended airspace and alert operators to an incoming drone. The operator gets a video feed showing the drone and can decide between firing on the drone, taking control of it, or alerting authorities.

4. Radiowave rifles

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Screenshot: YouTube/BattelleInnovations

The Batelle DroneDefender works by jamming the GPS and radio signals a drone needs to navigate and to received commands from its operator. The jamming device is mounted on a rifle-like weapon and creates a 30 degree cone of interference at ranges of up to 400 meters.

5. Early alert systems

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Photo: US Secret Service

While DroneShield and similar systems do not directly stop a drone, they can detect and track them, allowing people to avoid the drone until law enforcement responds. DroneShield uses microphones to detect a drone’s acoustic signature, meaning it to detect even small drones like the one that got past the White House’s radar and crashed on the President’s lawn.

6. Net guns

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GIF: YouTube/DroneShield

Net guns are exactly what they sound like. While they allow police departments and other agencies to engage drones without worrying about signals interference or firing lethal weapons, they’re extremely limited in terms of range and lack the ability to engage any drone flying more than a few dozen feet high.

7. Wireless detection systems

Domestic Drone Countermeasures fields a wireless system that scans for RF signals. During the initial setup, it determines what local WiFi networks and other devices operate in the area, then alerts the user in the future to new signals that could be coming from a drone or other mobile transmitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the Navy would defend a fleet under attack at sea

Naval fleets are predominantly created and organized for power projection, taking the fight to the enemy on their turf to ensure that American are safe at home. But the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps do practice defending the fleet at sea should it come under a direct attack.

Here’s how they do it:


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The guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) fires its Phalanx close-in weapons system during live-fire training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean on August 31, 2018.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Chen)

The Navy has a number of weapons that are custom designed for protecting ships and personnel. Perhaps one of the most famous of these is the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System. This is the final, goal-line defense against anything above the waterline. Basically, it’s R2-D2 with a 20mm, multi-barrel gun.

The Phalanx is typically associated with cruise missiles, and that’s because it’s one of the few weapons that can destroy cruise missiles in their final attack. But it’s also perfectly capable of attacking other threats, especially slower-moving items in the air, like planes and helicopters.

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The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) travels alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during a replenishment-at-sea.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Rosencrans)

Of course, the Marines aren’t content to wait for threats to approach the Navy’s Phalanx, and so, on larger ships like LHAs and LHDs, the Marines can drive their vehicles onto the decks and fire the guns off the ship, striking attack boats or enemies on nearby shores with anything from the .50-cal. machine guns to 25mm Bushmaster cannons to rounds from a 120mm Abrams cannon.

All of that’s in extremis, the-enemy-is-at-the-gates kinda of defense. The next ring out is provided by cruisers and destroyers who try to keep all the threats away from the heart of the fleet.

The beefier of these two is the cruiser. For the U.S. Navy, that’s the Ticonderoga class. It has 122 vertical-launch cells that can fire a variety of missiles. Lately, the Navy has been upgrading the cruisers to primarily fire the Navy’s Standard Missile-3. This baby can hit objects in space, but is predominantly designed to hit targets in the short to intermediate ranges from the ship.

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The guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) conducts a tomahawk missile flight test while underway in the western Pacific.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin M. Langer)

But the Ticonderogas, and their destroyer sisters, the Arleigh-Burkes, can also carry Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, Standard Missile-2s, and Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles. Need to hit something below the waterline? Try out the ships’ Mk. 46 or Mk. 50 torpedoes. Both ship classes can fire the torpedoes via rockets, and the Ticonderoga can fire them directly from tubes.

The Tomahawk is the weapon that really increases the fleet’s range, hitting ships at ranges of almost 300 miles and land targets at over 1,000 miles. As attackers get closer, the fleet could start firing the shorter range weapons, like the anti-submarine rockets and SeaSparrows.

But there’s an overlap between the Tomahawks’ range and that of the fleet’s most powerful and longest-range protection: jets. The carrier groups and amphibious readiness groups have the ability to launch fighter and attack jets. As time marches on, these jets will be F-35Bs and Cs launching from carriers and Landing Helicopter Assault and Landing Helicopter Dock ships.

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A U. S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Norwegian Sea, October 25, 2018.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adelola Tinubu)

For now, though, its mostly Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets taking off from carriers and Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers taking off from the LHAs and LHDs. The Harriers can only reach out to 230 miles without refueling, but the Hornets have a combat radius of over 1,000 miles without refueling.

And both planes can refuel in the air, usually guzzling gas from modified Super Hornets, but the Navy is working on a new, specialized drone tanker called the MQ-25 Stingray.

The Super Hornets pack 20mm cannons as well as a variety of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles and bombs, but their greatest ability to cripple an enemy attack comes from another plane: The E-2 Hawkeye.

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An E-2C Hawkeye, assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron, approaches the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Roland John)

The Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control plane is unarmed and slower than most of its buddies in the sky, but it’s a key part of the Navy’s fleet defense and offense thanks to its massive radar. That radar can see out 340 miles and track over 2,000 targets. It can actively control the interception of 40 targets, helping guide friendly fighters to the enemy.

So, when the Navy’s fleets come under attack, enemies have to either catch them off guard, or fight their way through the concentric rings. Their land-based assets are susceptible to attack from over 1,000 miles from the fleet thanks to ground-attack aircraft and Tomahawks. Their ships are vulnerable at similar ranges from aircraft and 300 miles from the Tomahawks.

As they draw closer, they face SeaSparrows and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and their fighters can come under surface-to-air missile attacks from the Standard Missile-2. If they actually draw within 20 miles, they start facing the Navy’s deck guns and torpedoes. A short time later, the Marine get in on the fight with their vehicles driven up onto decks.

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A Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine participating in Exercise Keen Sword with Submarine Group 7 and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force sailors and staff.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Electronics Technician Robert Gulini)

And all of that’s ignoring the possibility that a nuclear submarine is in the water, just waiting for a surface contact to fire their own torpedoes at.

Of course, a determined enemy could use their own large fleet to push through those defenses. Or, a crafty enemy could wait for a fleet to transit a chokepoint and then attack from the shore or with a large fleet of fast attack craft.

That’s the kind of attack the U.S. fears from Iran in the Straits of Hormuz. At it’s most narrow point, the strait is only 35 miles wide. U.S. ally Oman is on one side of the strait, but that still leaves any ships passing through within relatively easy range of Iran, even if they’re hugging the Omani shore.

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The expeditionary mobile base platform ship USS Lewis B. Puller transits the Strait of Hormuz, Oct. 22, 2018.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialists 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)

And so, fast attack craft from Iran would be able to target one or two ships as they pass through the Strait, sending dozens of speedboats against the ships, preferably while those ships armed with Phalanxs and missiles are out of range or blocked by other vessels.

And that’s why the Navy makes such a big deal about chokepoints, like the Straits of Hormuz, or certain points in the South China Sea. Multi-billion dollar assets with thousands of humans aboard, normally well-protected at sea, are now within range of relatively unsophisticated attacks from American adversaries.

So, while the Navy needs to protect its fleets at sea, that’s the relatively easy part of the equation. The scarier proposition is taking an attack near hostile shores or being forced to sail into range of the enemy’s shore-based aircraft, where the fleet’s overwhelming firepower finds a strong counter that could cripple it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


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Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

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That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

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The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

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And the Marine attached to those hands.

 

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

 

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John Ripley’s legendary action at Dong Ha Bridge, portrayed in a diorama at the U.S. Naval Academy. (U.S. Naval Academy)

 

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

 

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Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

Feature image: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China showed off some of its latest drone models and projects at this year’s Dubai Airshow and it looks like many spectators were interested.


China has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of drones it has sold to foreign countries in recent years, and that could be a troubling development for the United States.

The global military drone market has been dominated by the US. American-made models like the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk have been deployed around the world in a number of countries.

In large part, China poses a threat to America’s dominance in the drone industry for its ability to make more products that are, at the very least, just as good if not better than the competition, but at a lower price.

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China shows off its newest drone in a Youtube video. (Image YouTube screengrab)

China is building impressive and inexpensive drones

The most well-known and used Chinese drones are the CH-3, CH-4, CH-5, and the Wing Loong.

The CH-3 and CH-4 propeller-driven drones are essentially Chinese versions of the Predator and Reaper, respectively, and have similar capabilities. The CH-5 has a current range of 4400 miles over 60 hours, and a planned upgrade that will bring it up to 12,000 miles over 120 hours.

The CH-5 also has a 2,000 pound payload, and the capability to house electronic warfare systems inside it.

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China’s Wing Loong. China shows off its newest drone in a Youtube video. (Image YouTube screengrab)

The CH-3 and CH-4 have price tags around $4 million, whereas the Predator and Reaper can cost $4 million and $20 million respectively. The Wing Loong, another Chinese counterpart to the Predator, is priced even lower, at just $1 million. Even the CH-5, which is currently China’s deadliest drone in service, costs “less than half the price” of a Predator.

The prices are so low in part because the Chinese drones are not as sophisticated as their American counterparts. The Chinese drones are not satellite-linked, for example, meaning they cannot conduct operations across the globe the way Predators and Reapers can.

The Chinese drones are still very capable — all are sold with the ability to carry large amounts of ordinance, and many nations have decided to turn to them in order to fill in the gap left by the US.

The US has restrictive regulations and policies

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China shows off its newest drone in a Youtube video. (Image YouTube screengrab)

Lower prices, however, may not the only reason behind China’s increased drone sales.

A large part of China’s increased market share looks is linked to regulations and policies that have been in place in the Unites States for years.

In 1987, the US signed the Missile Technology Control Regime, a voluntary pact of 35 nations aimed at preventing the mass proliferation of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles by requiring them to have heavy regulations and tight export controls.

Currently, under the agreement, drones that can fly over 185 miles and carry a payload above 1,100 pounds are defined as cruise missiles. The Predator and the Reaper, both of which can carry payloads of 3,000 pounds or more, are thus subject to these regulations and controls.

The US has been hesitant to sell drones with lethal capabilities to other countries — especially in the Middle East, because of a fear that they could potentially end up in the wrong hands, and challenge Israel’s dominance in the region.

In fact, the only nation apart from the US that uses armed American-made drones is the United Kingdom.

China, on the other hand, is not constrained by the Missile Technology Control Regime because it never signed it. This means that its products are not under the intense regulation and controls that American drones are.

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China shows off its newest drone in a Youtube video. (Image YouTube screengrab)

Additionally, China has traditionally not been as cautious as the the US about selling weaponry and equipment to countries known for human rights violations or in volatile regions and has sold drones to many nations.

In Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have purchased a number of Wing Loongs, and Turkmenistan operates the CH-3. In Africa, Nigeria has used CH-3 drones against Boko Haram. Pakistan and Myanmar both operate CH-3’s as well.

By far though, the biggest market is the Middle East.

In 2015, desperate in its fight to counter ISIS gains, Iraq bought a number of CH-4s. After giving up on buying drones from the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned to China and are using CH-4s and Wing Loongs in their campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan and Egypt have purchased Chinese drones as well.

China is even willing to set up factories overseas, which could bypass export restrictions entirely.

China’s future drone projects are even more impressive

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China’s Cloud Shadow (Image Kevin Wong @defencetechasia Twitter screengrab)

Last year, at the Zhuhai 2016 Airshow, the public was able to get a glance at some of the newest drones China plans to build and export. Among those was the Cloud Shadow, a semi-stealth drone with six hardpoints capable of carrying up to 800 pounds of ordinance.

There was also the CH-805, and concept CK-20 stealth target drones, which are designed to help train pilots and test air defenses.

Finally, there was the SW-6, a small “marsupial” drone with folding wings capable of being dropped from larger aircraft. Its intended mission is to conduct reconnaissance, but it is considered a prime candidate for China’s drone “swarm” project; dozens, potentially hundreds of small drones linked together in a hive mind and capable of swarming and overwhelming targets.

China has also just successfully shattered the record for the highest flying drone. Previously held by the US RQ-4 Global Hawk, the bat-sized drone was able to fly at a staggering 82,000 feet- 22,000 feet higher than the Global Hawk.

Also Read: This is what China plans to do with its air force of the future

Though the drone did not have a camera or any weapons, it did carry a terrain mapping device and a detector that would allow it to locate and mark ground troops, and was virtually undetectable.

In addition to all this, China is also looking to increase its satellite capabilities, something that could make China’s drones just as advanced as their US counterparts.

In an attempt to combat the loss in sales, the Trump administration, which has not been subtle in its hopes to get foreign countries to buy more American-made defense products, is trying to ease restrictions on the sale of American-made drones.

This includes things like renegotiating the Missile Technology Control Regime, and allowing a number of countries that are not deemed risky to be able to get fast tracked orders.

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China shows off its newest drone in a Youtube video. (Image YouTube screengrab)

Though probably interpreted as a way to help the defense industry make more profits, there is actually some logic behind the push. The more China sells drones to countries that are US partners, the more they will become reliant and closer on China.

“It damages the US relationship with a close partner,” Paul Scharre, a Senior Fellow and Director at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security told the Wall Street Journal. “It increases that partner’s relationship with a competitor nation, China. It hurts US companies trying to compete.”

For now, Israel dominates the military drone market, with 60% of international drone transfers in the past three decades coming from the small nation.

However, China sellls far more armed drones, and is gaining momentum on overall drone sales as well. If current trends continue, China could profit immensely in a market that could be worth $22 billion by 2022.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia swears a cloud of radioactive pollution is not a nuclear accident

Russia’s meteorological service has indicated that it measured “extremely high” concentrations of the radioactive isotope ruthenium-106 (Ru-106) in the southern Urals in late September, but then contradicted itself and accused environmental-protection organizations of raising a false alarm in order to attract more funding.


The conflicting statements from Rosgidromet on November 21 came weeks after reports of a radioactive cloud drifting westward from Russia first appeared in Europe, a delay that government critics said was reminiscent of the Soviet government’s initial silence about the Chernobyl nuclear-power-plant disaster in 1986.

The French nuclear-safety agency said on November 9 that a cloud of radioactive pollution detected over Europe in the last week of September probably came from a facility — such as a nuclear-fuel-treatment site or center for radioactive medicine — in Russia or Kazakhstan. Neither of the two former Soviet republics has acknowledged any accident.

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Irradiated Soviet military equipment lies dormant near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In one report on its website, Rosgidromet — the state agency that monitors air and water pollution — said that it measured a concentration of Ru-106 at nearly 986 times normal levels at the Argayash weather station in the Chelyabinsk region in late September and early October. A table that was part of the report referred to that as “extremely high contamination.”

At the Novogorny meteorological station, in the same region in the southern Urals, levels were 440 times those of the previous month, the report said.

separate statement posted later, however, said that Ru-106 levels qualifying as “extremely high contamination” had not been detected.

It said, using bold type for emphasis, that concentrations of Ru-106 were “several times lower” than the “permissible” level.

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(Photo: Russian Ministry of Defence)

It also said that the reason levels were hundreds of times higher than in the previous monitoring periods was that Ru-106 had been “absent” from the earlier findings.

Rosgidromet said that the fact that it found “even negligible concentrations of radioactive isotopes” was evidence of the “high effectiveness” of its monitoring methods.

It asserted that the “heightened attention” paid to the Ru-106 levels by “certain environmental-protection organizations” was an effort to “increase their importance in the eyes of society” at a time when “their budgets for the next year are being drafted.”

Environmental activist group Greenpeace said in a statement that it will petition the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office to open an inquiry into “possible concealment of a radiation accident” and check whether public health was sufficiently protected.

Speaking to journalists, Rosgidromet chief Maksim Yakovenko said that the levels of Ru-106 recorded in Russia posed no danger to human health as they are “hundreds of thousands of times lower than the allowed maximum.”

Yakovenko added that Rosgidromet did not try to find the source of the increased radiation “because in Romania the level of the wastes concentration was 1.5-2 times higher than in Russia, and in Poland and Ukraine it was the same.”

Also Read: This is one of the creepiest military hardware graveyards in the world

The Russian monitoring agency did not point to any specific potential source of the pollution.

The Argayash station is about 30 kilometers from the Mayak nuclear facility, which reprocesses nuclear fuel and produces radioactive material for industrial and research purposes.

The Mayak plant, which is under the umbrella of Russia’s nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, said that the contamination “has nothing to do” with its activities and that it had not produced Ru-106 for years.

In 1957, the facility was the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, and nearby residents say the government is still paying little attention to their plight 60 years later.

Rosatom said there were no radiation leaks from its facilities that could increase the level of the radioactive isotope in the atmosphere.

Yevgeny Savchenko, the Chelyabinsk region’s minister of public security, said that the regional administration received no official information about dangerous levels of radiation in September.

“When the media got hysterical about some accident and cloud of ruthenium-106, we asked for explanations” from Rosgidromet and Rosatom, Savchenko wrote on Facebook.

The November 9 report from France’s Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said that ruthenium-106 had been detected in France between September 27 and October 13. Several other nuclear-safety institutes in Europe had measured high levels of the radioactive nuclide.

The IRSN statement said it could not accurately locate the release of Ru-106 but, based on weather patterns, it most likely originated south of the Ural Mountains, between the Urals and the Volga River.

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The Ural Mountains, which stretch through Russia into Kazakhstan, likely contain the location of the Ru-106 leak. (Image WATM)

This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan as the site of the origin of the cloud, IRSN Director Jean-Marc Peres said.

IRSN ruled out an accident in a nuclear reactor, saying it was likely a leak at a nuclear-fuel-treatment site or center for radioactive medicine.

Ruthenium-106 does not occur naturally. It is a product of splitting atoms in a reactor, and is also used in medical treatments.

In mid-October in response to the earliest European reports about the radioactive cloud, Rosatom issued a statement quoted by Russian media outlets as saying that “in samples tested from September 25 to October 7, including in the southern Urals, no trace of ruthenium-106 was found, except in St. Petersburg.”

Rosatom later said in response to the French agency’s report that “radiation around all facilities of Russian nuclear infrastructure are within the norm and are at the level of background radiation.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

7 fat-burning workouts that aren’t boring

For some guys, the structure and routine of hitting the gym is exactly what they need to keep their fitness on track. For others, it’s a slog. The space is dark, the treadmills relentless, and the music mind-numbing. You’d rather be outside, shooting hoops with your boys. Which, actually, you should be, since a pick-up game of basketball burns more calories and builds more muscles than any 30-minute session on the elliptical ever could.

If sports excite you more than spin class, and the idea of scoring points matters more than how much you can bench press, consider these activities that emphasize team spirit and gamesmanship while getting you, incidentally, super fit.


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(Photo by Christopher Burns)

1. Tennis

At 600 calories an hour, you’ll definitely be feeling the burn as you channel your inner Nadal. What’s more, the lateral movements — something your body is not used to — strengthens your glutes, quads, calves, and core, while mastering your stroke is excellent for developing ripped shoulder and arm muscles.

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(Photo by Edoardo Busti)

2. Soccer

A sneaky way to disguise a running workout, you’ll benefit from exercising with your buddies on soft turf. Few activities tax the lungs and heart the way running does, so you’ll reap the benefits of a monster aerobic workout while still honing your coordination and motor skills. The sport burns about 300 calories for every 30 minutes of field time.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

(Photo by Tamarcus Brown)

3. Basketball

The quintessential pickup basketball game is so popular because it is both exceptionally simple (you just need a ball and hoop), and also enticingly precise (the satisfaction of hitting a three-pointer is hard to beat). The calorie burn is on par with tennis (roughly 600 an hour), but the rhythmic agility and closer physical contact of b-ball means you work a little more on balance and flexibility.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

(Photo by Elizeu Dias)

4. Volleyball

There are indoor leagues where you can play in a gymnasium in the winter, but nothing beats beach volleyball for that emotional, summer-is-finally-here high. (You don’t have to live at the beach either, New York City has large courts in the middle of Central Park.) You’ll burn around 400 calories an hour in this spirited game, developing shoulder and arm muscles, eye-hand coordination, and explosive power from your jump shots, all the while protecting your bones by landing on soft sand.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

(Photo by Jose Francisco Morales)

5. Baseball and Softball

Team camaraderie rules this sport, so if socializing is an important carrot for getting you to exercise, consider spending an hour or two, a few nights a week, in the dugout with your buds, swapping jokes and de-stressing while building a solid fitness base. The on-off nature of the sport means you burn fewer calories (around 350 per hour), but you’ll get moderate cardio from running the bases, and reasonable upper-body strength from working on your swing.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

(Photo by Josh Rocklage)

6. Ultimate Frisbee

No longer the pastime of overgrown collegiates, ultimate frisbee is a legit sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee. More importantly, it is a game on nonstop running, leaping, reaching, and throwing. This full-body workout burns about 500 calories an hour, while developing reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and some serious tumbling skills.

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

(Photo by Riley McCullough)

7. Football

Strength, explosiveness, mental toughness and a desire to be pummeled by large men are at the core of this sport. In rec leagues, the physical contact is often moderated (see: flag football), so if you’re looking for the adrenalin rush minus the bruising, know which rules you’re playing by before you sign up. While calorie burn varies significantly depending on the position your play, you’ll definitely benefit from an increase in strength, flexibility, and range of motion through warm-up drills and stretches.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghan forces retake district from Taliban forces

The governor of Afghanistan’s northern province of Baghlan says Afghan security forces have recaptured a strategic district from Taliban fighters who have controlled the area in recent weeks.

Governor Abdulhai Nemati told RFE/RL the government’s offensive to retake the district of Nahrin ended on the morning on Sept. 4, 2018, after the Taliban withdrew during the night.

Nemati said at least six Taliban fighters were killed and 14 were wounded during an operation that began early on Sept. 3, 2018. Nemati did not provide casualty figures for government forces.


RFE/RL’s correspondent in Baghlan Province reports that hundreds of civilians fled their homes during the fierce 24-hour battle, which destroyed several houses in the district.

One disabled woman in the area told RFE/RL that she was “among very few people” from her neighborhood that did not flee the fighting.

“Almost everyone in our neighborhood fled. I couldn’t join them because of my disability. Had I been able to walk I would have left, too,” the woman said.

“People fled carrying their belongings,” a local man said. “Old and young, women and children, all fled, some by foot, some on donkeys.”

The A-10 is about to get 3D surround sound

Afghan National Civil Order Policemen stand in formation, Dec. 27, 2011.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. David Perez)

Nemati said government forces were continuing a “search and clearing operation” in theNahrin district on Sept. 4, 2018.

There was no immediate comment about the battle from the Taliban.

Meanwhile, in the nearby province of Balkh, Afghan security forces have launched an offensive against Taliban fighters who seized a series of villages to the west of Mazar-e Sharif on Sept. 2, 2018.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said late on Sept. 3, 2018, that government security forces hoped to retake the Chari area of Balkh’s Dawlatabad district “soon.”

The Taliban in recent months has carried out a series of operations to expand its control over rural areas in northern Afghanistan and has briefly taken control of some urban areas in Afghanistan, including parts of the city of Ghazni to the southwest of Kabul during August 2018.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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