David Audet, chief of the Mission Equipment and Systems Branch in the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate, at the Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Soldier Center, is gearing up his team for the next User Touch Point activities to explore exoskeleton options in late January 2019.
“As we explore the more mature exoskeleton options available to us and engage users, the more we learn about where the possible value of these systems is to Army operations,” said Audet.
“Before the Army can consider investing in any development above what industry has done on their own, we need to make sure that users are on board with human augmentation concepts and that the systems are worth investing in. The Army is not ready yet to commit. NSRDEC [RDECOM Soldier Center] has a lead role in working with PEO-Soldier and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, to determine whether or not a longer-term investment in fielding new technologies is justifiable. But this is what we do best. We find the options and create the partnerships to help us figure it out.”
Soldiers from Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, were able to get hands on and try two of the current human augmentation technologies (pictured here) being pursued by the RDECOM Soldier Center. The soldier on the left is wearing the ONYX and the soldier on the right is wearing the ExoBoot.
(RDECOM Soldier Center)
Recent media has brought a lot of attention to the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Controls, or LMMFC, ONYX, a Popular Science award recipient for 2018.
As innovative as it is, and with all the attention on the Soldier Center’s .9 million Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) award, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose perspective of the overall work the Soldier Center is actually doing.
Out of the 48-month phased effort, roughly 0K has been put on the LMMFC OTA — currently focused on having enough systems to take to the field for operational evaluation. Although performing, the technology has yet to prove itself in a full operational exercise before moving forward. And while LMMFC is highly confident in their product and continues to invest their funding on further developing the system for commercial use, the Soldier Center is also looking at other technologies.
Located in Maynard, Massachusetts, Dephy, Inc.’s ExoBoot is another entrant in the program. The Dephy ExoBoot is an autonomous foot ankle exoskeleton that was inspired by research done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under collaboration with the Army. It is currently under consideration for evaluation during the third and fourth quarter of 2019. Brigadier General David M. Hodne has worn the ExoBoot during Soldier Center program updates and is quite intrigued by the capability. User feedback will determine if both systems move forward and under which considerations.
“Under ideal conditions, we would favor a full development effort,” said Audet. “However, given the push for rapid transition and innovation, we can save the Army a lot of time and money by identifying and vetting mature technologies, consistent with the vision of the Army Futures Command, or AFC.
(David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
“In order to achieve the goal of vetting and providing recommendations, NSRDEC [the Soldier Center] and PEO-Soldier are strong partners, teamed up to work with third party independent engineering firms such as Boston Engineering out of Waltham, Massachusetts. The engineering analysis of systems will provide an unbiased system-level analysis of any of the technologies under consideration, following rigorous analysis of the capabilities as they exist, the operational parameters provided by users and assessment of how humans will use and interact with the systems.”
“We are confident products will succeed or — at a minimum — fill a gap we have not been able to address by any other materiel or training means,” said Audet.
“We will be prepared to transition, but we know there is a road ahead before we get there. We aren’t committing to anything more than to bring the systems to a demonstration and educate the community at large on what these preliminary technologies can offer. In the meantime, we add a layer of third party independent analysis as a reassurance policy that we are mitigating bias and staying laser focused on user needs and meeting the demands of the future warfighting landscape.”
The United States has conducted a “defensive” air strike against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province after a checkpoint manned by Afghan forces was attacked.
“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Sonny Leggett said in a tweet.
The strike came just hours after Taliban militants killed at least 20 Afghan security officers in a string of attacks and on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “very good” chat with the Taliban’s political chief.
The wave of violence is threatening to unravel a February 29 agreement signed in Doha between the United States and the Taliban that would allow allied forces to leave Afghanistan within 14 months in return for various security commitments from the extremist group and a pledge to hold talks with the Afghan government — which the Taliban has so far refused to do.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warned he was not committed to a key clause in the deal involving the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
The Taliban said it would not take part in intra-Afghan talks until that provision was met.
And on March 2, the militant group ordered its fighters to resume operations against Afghan forces, saying that a weeklong partial truce between the Taliban, U.S., and Afghan forces that preceded the Doha agreement was “over.”
“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” said Safiullah Amiri, a member of the provincial council.
The military has traditionally been the most progressive institution in the United States. In 1948, long before the Civil Rights Movement swept America, the U.S. military had already begun to integrate. But that doesn’t mean the changes came quick or easy, especially for Wesley A. Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Brown started classes at the academy in 1945, three years before President Truman ordered the military to stop separating black and white troops. Five men came before Brown as Midshipmen and were chased out of the academy altogether. Brown was the first to make it to graduation day – and he did it with a flourish.
Brown was a Washington, D.C. native who grew up as a voracious reader, and was particularly interested in the history and heritage of African-Americans in the United States. He would work after school as a mailman at the Navy Department before he was nominated to attend the Naval Academy by New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Life at Annapolis was hard at first. Many did not accept him, and he was loaded down with undeserved demerits that almost found him drummed out.
“I get asked that question often, ‘Did you ever think about quitting?'” Brown said in a 2005 Baltimore Sun interview. “And I say, ‘Every single day.’ When I came to the academy I learned that there were all kinds of prejudices against Jews, Catholics, even the Irish and I looked around and thought that these prejudices were instilled in them by their families, and they could not be blamed for feeling the way they did.”
But he persevered and actually found that many more of his fellow Mids supported him. One of his most ardent supporters was a fellow track teammate, the son of a Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.
Brown (right) at the dedication of the USNA Field House that would bear his name.
Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949 joining the Navy’s civil engineering corps. He created infrastructure in the Navy’s most important postings from the Philippines and Hawaii to Cuba, and even Antarctica. For 20 years, Brown was an important officer in the service, even seeing action in Korea and Vietnam. He retired in 1969 and became a faculty member at Howard University, in his hometown of Washington, D.C.
The Seabee retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
To honor his achievements and his history as a USNA athlete, the academy dedicated its newest athletic facility in 2008 as the Wesley A. Brown Field House. Brown was on hand at the ceremony to mark the construction of the facility that would bear his name, decades after racism and prejudice nearly cost him his illustrious career. Brown died in 2012.
During World War II, The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were tasked with ruining the days of any and every Nazi submarine they could find, but those underwater dongs of death were notorious for staying hidden until they spied a convoy of merchant ships and oil tankers moving on their own.
The USS Big Horn fires Hedgehog depth charges, an anti-submarine warfare system.
(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)
How were the big, bad naval services supposed to counter the insidious “wolf packs?” By dressing up as sheep until the wolves got close, and then revealing themselves to be sheepdog AF.
The Navy purchased used merchant vessels, mostly oil tankers, and converted them for wartime service. Anti-submarine weapons were cleverly hidden across the deck while the holds were filled with additional ammunition as well as watertight barrels to provide additional buoyancy after a torpedo strike. The resulting vessels were known as “Q-ships.”
(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)
One Q-ship, the USS Horn, carried five large guns on the deck of which only one was typically visible. There was a 5-inch gun visible, four 4-inch guns concealed behind false bulkheads, and “hedgehogs,” depth charge systems that would quickly fire a series explosives into the ocean.
In 1944, the ship was transferred to Coast Guard control and assigned to weather patrols, still heavily armed to challenge any U-boat that exposed itself. The new Coast Guard crew sailed across the Atlantic, looking for targets and relaying weather information until March 1945, when they were sent to actually move oil across the Pacific, supporting operations like the capture of Okinawa.
U.S. Navy sailors conduct gunnery drills on the USS Big Horn.
Unfortunately, the Coast Guard crew never got to go on a true submarine hunting mission like their U.S. Navy brethren, but they were able to contribute to victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters by safeguarding convoys and moving oil to where it was needed.
All Q-ships were released from the fleets in the years following World War II. While the modern Coast Guard has some anti-surface capability, it lacks any weapons effective against long-endurance diesel-electric or a nuclear submarines. Either type could dive well outside of the cutters’ ranges, fire torpedoes, and sail away without ever exposing themselves.
Basically, if it’s more dangerous than a narco submarine, the Coast Guard has to be careful about attacking it.
But the GMD has a bad track record. It recently had a successful test that may have calmed the fears of some in the U.S. amid nuclear tensions with North Korea, but a recent paper on the test shows it was unrealistically generous.
Laura Grego and David Wright, leading experts in the field of ballistic missiles, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that the so-called intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the GMD knocked down was flown on a favorable trajectory, slower than the real thing, and without any of the tricks or savvy North Korea might use in an actual attack. The paper concludes the U.S. has no reliable ballistic missile defense capability for the homeland.
To be clear, the U.S. can defend against some, shorter-range missiles. Aegis-equipped ballistic missile destroyers at sea have a good track record of defending themselves, but they’re not meant to go after ICBMs. Patriot missiles have saved some lives from short-range missile attacks on the battlefield, though that has been historically over-hyped or just lied about.
BMD kind of works on a theoretical level, but is that worth $40B?
Missile defense plays into the complicated and highly theoretical world of nuclear deterrence. For an adversary like North Korea, maybe even the single-digit percent chance a missile would be intercepted by the U.S. would dissuade them from attacking.
But much more likely, North Korea wouldn’t attack the U.S. because of the U.S.’s ability to return the favor tenfold.
It’s entirely unclear, and no expert can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that BMD has ever deterred anyone, or done anything beside line pockets of defense contractors.
For the U.S. taxpayer, who has contributed billions to the cause of missile defenses while enriching the world’s biggest defense contractors, a fair question might be: Where is the capability? Why don’t these systems work?
It’s a new world for military movies, a world where realism is just as important as the story. While movies like Heartbreak Ridge, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings are memorable and entertaining, they just aren’t grounded in reality. That’s a big problem for a lot of veterans. It’s difficult to be immersed in a story set in your world when everything you see is slightly off in some way.
But the filmmakers behind Tango Down want to do more than produce a film that gets it right; they want to be able to produce other veteran films — with as many veterans working the films as possible. That vision just starts with Tango Down.
That’s where Andrew Dorsett and Rick Swift come in. They are Marine Corps veterans who decided to start writing after leaving the service.
Dorsett was in Marine Corps aviation between 1998 and 2010. After he got out, he became pretty sick of the corporate world and decided to start writing.
“Veterans are the most critical audience you can have,” says Swift. “One chevron out of place and you’ve lost them. And so many feel like Hollywood just doesn’t get it.”
Swift has loved movies his entire life and became a writer as soon as he got out of the Corps (he also writes a review blog called Film Grouch). He soon started working with actress Julia Ling (Chuck, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) on the web series Tactical Girl. Now Ling, Swift, and Dorsett are collaborating on their short film, Tango Down.
“It’s very important to work with veterans when creating stories like this one, because they have the real experience,” says Micah Haughey, a producer on the film.
Where Tactical Girl was a funny, tongue-in-cheek series, Tango Down is a serious film, with a serious subject. It’s a film by veterans, for veterans. Still, don’t assume that’s what Tango Down is about. The team is serious about their work with the veteran community, but Tango Down isn’t about PTSD.
“There will be some levity in it,” says Swift. “It’s geared towards the veteran community, so there’s going to be some inside jokes that only veterans will get with insider things that only veterans will understand.”
The film is about the bonds formed through military service. It’s a film with action – but not so much an action film – that shows how real veterans might overcome significant challenges using the morals and integrity instilled in them through military service. From Afghanistan to the U.S., the film follows the paths of two friends after they leave the military.
If that sounds vague, you’re right. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away.
“It’s going to be controversial,” says Dorsett. “It’s not about the broken veteran and that’s an important part. But it’s a very positive message. No politics, no criticism of policy. It’s a character study. We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh, we crack jokes, but we know when to be serious.”
There are number of veteran-produced movies that made or are currently making the rounds on social media. Most famously was the film Range 15, an entirely crowdfunded effort by a group of prominent veterans to make “the best military movie ever.” Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye is pushing project designed to be as historically accurate as possible. And they all want to include as many veterans as possible.
So does the team making Tango Down. But Dorsett, Swift, and Ling aren’t just trying to make a movie, they’re trying to build a community of veterans who come together to make movies. In their view, a lot of veterans are adrift right now, seeking a voice. They want to show the world that vets have talent and don’t want to be viewed as a faceless mass.
Tango Down wants them to come and rejoin a unit with a mission – the first of hopefully many opportunities, including feature-length films.
“For all of the veterans working on Tango Down, there’s a genuine mission behind it to connect veterans, to create a community where veterans actually can connect with each other,” says Ling. “At the same time, we hope civilians can watch it and say ‘Wow, I appreciate the military a little bit more after watching this film.'”
To learn more about Tango Down or to see how you can be part of the community, visit their website. To help fund the film and the community, donate here.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has allegedly launched a chemical weapons attack on a base used by American military forces to support Iraqi efforts to retake the city of Mosul. The Sept. 21 artillery attack on Qayyara Air Base that reportedly contained a chemical shell caused no casualties, but some American troops underwent decontamination procedures as a precaution.
The attack, which Pentagon chief Gen. Joseph Dunford said is suspected to have used mustard gas, is the first time American troops have faced hostile chemical weapons since World War I. A 1984 paper for the United States Army Command and Staff General College noted that the United States suffered over 70,000 casualties from German chemical weapons in that conflict, of which just over 1,400 were fatal.
A U.S. Soldier with the 76th Army Reserve Operational Response Command decontaminates a vehicle after a simulated chemical weapons attack during a base defense drill in Camp Taji, Iraq, July 23, 2016. This drill is one way Coalition forces maintain readiness and practice security procedures. Camp Taji is one of four Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve build partner capacity locations dedicated to training Iraqi security forces. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/Released)
Military officials said a massive aerial attack on a former pharmaceutical plant near mosul Sept. 13 destroyed what they believe was an ISIS chemical weapons production facility.
Mustard gas, a liquid that is properly called “sulfur mustard,” is a blister agent that not only can be inhaled, but also takes effect when it contacts the skin. This nasty chemical agent causes large blisters on the skin or in the lungs when inhaled. The agent can last a long time – unexploded shells filled with sulfur mustard have caused casualties in France and Belgium decades after the German surrender in World War I.
Chemical weapons were widely used in the Iran-Iraq War, most notoriously by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq during the Al-Anfar Offensive. The 1988 attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, using nerve gas, gained world attention, particularly due to the casualties suffered by civilians. Chemical weapons use was widely feared during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein’s regime was supposed to end its chemical weapons program, but played a shell game for over a decade.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, concerns about Saddam Hussein’s apparent non-compliance with the terms of the 1991 cease-fire and United Nations Security Council Resolutions lead the United States to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
While no large stockpiles of chemical weapons were found, coalition forces did encounter sarin nerve gas and sulfur mustard that had not been accounted for in pre-war inspections, and a 2014 report by the New York Times reported that over 5,000 shells filled with chemical weapons were found by American and Coalition forces during the Iraq War.
U.S. Army‘s senior leadership has ended an agreement with Orbital ATK Inc. that spanned two decades over the XM25 25mm airburst weapon, a move that could put the troubled weapon system’s future into jeopardy.
Nicknamed “the Punisher” and designed by Orbital ATK and Heckler Koch, XM25 has long been the Army’s attempt to field a “leap-ahead” weapon designed to give infantry units a decisive edge against enemies hiding behind cover.
The XM25 has stirred excitement in the infantry community, but the complex system has also been plagued by program delays that have made it a target of Pentagon auditors.
The latest trouble for the program came when the Army canceled its contract with Orbital ATK just one month ago.
“On April 5, 2017, the Army terminated the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) contract with the prime contractor (Orbital-ATK) after it failed to deliver the 20 weapons as specified by the terms of the contract,” an Army spokesman told Military.com in a May 5 email.
“Despite extensive negotiation efforts, the contractor failed to provide an acceptable alternate resolution to the Government.”
The announcement follows reports that Orbital ATK filed a lawsuit in February against Heckler Koch in the Minnesota U.S. District Court seeking damages in excess of $27 million, according to a report by Reuters.
In the complaint, Orbital said it was seeking damages for breach of contract over the XM25 semi-automatic weapon system, which Orbital and Heckler Koch started developing more than 20 years ago.
Orbital said in the filing that Heckler Koch had failed to deliver 20 additional prototypes of the XM25 weapon systems, as contracted, and that its failure to do so meant the Army had raised the possibility of terminating its contract with Orbital, Reuters reported.
Heckler Koch has rejected all claims in the suit, according to the news agency.
Military.com reached out to both Orbital ATK and Heckler Koch for comment but did not receive a response by press time.
It’s unclear what the future is for XM25, but Army weapons officials appeared unsure of its status this week at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2017 Armaments Systems Forum.
Following a presentation from the Army’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons, an audience member asked why the XM25 did not appear on any of the briefing slides covering the Army’s near-term, mid-term and far-term small arms programs.
Lt. Col. Steven Power, who runs Product Manager Individual Weapons, said, “The XM25 is still managed by my office” and then gave a long pause before adding, “I can’t speak right now about the status of that program.”
Power said, “I have been informed that it is not really my place to provide information ahead of other stakeholders.”
Col. Brian Stehle, head of Program Manager Soldier Weapons, said, “There is a requirement within the Army to have an air-burst, direct-fire capability within our formation. The Army is reassessing the actual requirement itself, and we are pursuing material solutions.”
The service has considered taking the XM25’s fire-control system and joining it to a weapon that shoots a 40mm air-burst grenade, a technology Army ammunition experts are developing, according to service sources who are not cleared to speak to the press.
The XM25 is an offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program the Army began in the mid-1990s to increase the effectiveness of soldier firepower.
It features a target acquisition/fire control system that allows soldiers to identify a target, determine the range, and program the ammunition to explode above or near targets out to 600 meters.
But the stand-alone weapon has suffered from a barrage of criticism from both auditors as well as from military units.
In September 2016, the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s Office released a follow-on report to a March 2014 audit and concluded Army officials “could have managed the schedule, affordability, and quantity requirements of the XM25 program more effectively.”
The service has repeatedly delayed the weapon’s initial production decision and failed to justify a basis of issue plan, the document states.
“Specifically, Army officials removed procurement funding from the XM25 budget, which extended the engineering and manufacturing development phase by 2 years,” it states. “Additionally, Army officials contributed to the initial production decision delay by placing a hold on the XM25 capability production document.”
But while the IG said the service’s decision to extend the development effort and XM25 research caused costs to climb between February 2013 and March 2016, it failed to specify actual dollar amounts.
Indeed, the report was heavily redacted, with blacked-out figures for not only cost increases but also quantities, including how many XM25s the Army intends to field as part of its basis of issue plan.
Problems with the program started Feb. 2, 2013, when the XM25 malfunctioned during its second round of operational testing in Afghanistan, inflicting minor injuries on a soldier.
The Army halted the operational testing when the XM25 experienced a double feed and an unintentional primer ignition of one of the 25mm high-explosive rounds, Army officials said at the time.
The warhead did not detonate because of safety mechanisms on the weapon. The service removed all prototypes from theater to determine the problem’s cause.
The XM25 had completed one 14-month battlefield assessment and was in the early stages of a second assessment when the double feed and primer ignition occurred during a live-fire training exercise.
According to PM Individual Weapon officials, the XM25 has not had any similar malfunctions since changes were incorporated into the weapon and ammunition, the audit states.
In March 2013, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment refused to take the XM25 with them for a raid on a fortified enemy compound in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the incident said.
After an initial assessment, Ranger units found the 14-pound XM25 too heavy and cumbersome for the battlefield. They were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission, sources said.
Thousands of Soldiers and their families are traveling home for the holidays, including about 44,000 trainees and cadre from initial-entry training centers.
The Soldiers are participating in a two-week Holiday Block Leave beginning Dec. 18, said Michael Brown, a training analyst at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training’s Initial Entry Division.
These Soldiers are in various training sites across the U.S., going through Basic Combat Training, One Station Unit Training, Advanced Individual Training, the Basic Officer Leadership Course, and Warrant Officer Basic Course, he said.
Normally, about 3 to 5 percent of these Soldiers choose to remain at their installation and not travel home, he added. For those who stay behind, units coordinate several Morale, Welfare, and Recreation activities for them, including attending professional sporting events.
Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, commander, U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, was at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina Dec. 18, granting media interviews about the holiday travel. Around him were thousands of Soldiers trainees awaiting flights.
Holiday Block Leave gives Soldiers a chance to reconnect with their families, he said. About 7,000 Soldier trainees were traveling out of Fort Jackson on Dec. 18, “by trains, planes, and automobiles” and by buses, too, he added.
Planning for this mass exodus is like planning for the D-Day landings, he added, describing the logistical challenges of packing all the Soldiers out, giving them their safety and Army Values briefings, and getting them to their preferred modes of transportation.
Most of those Soldiers will be telling the Army story back home, he said, and some will even have “embellished war stories.”
Most of them are young, as young as 17, he noted, but sprinkled among them are “elder statesmen,” some as old as 39. They are from every state in the Union.
Johnson praised the volunteers at the airport’s USO lounge, who are particularly busy this time of year giving Soldiers a place to relax while awaiting their flights.
Pvt. Seth Akavickas was at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18, waiting for a flight to take him home to Wausau, Wisconsin.
Soldiers in training at Fort Jackson were given personalized assistance getting home by ticket vendors, Akavickas said. His ticket vendor got him discounted round-trip tickets for $480, which was a good deal, he noted.
Feb. 28 is when Akavickas began his Basic Combat Training, so he’s experienced life in the Army for some time now. Currently, he is in Advanced Individual Training and will graduate Feb. 1.
Akavickas said he has mixed feelings about Holiday Block Leave. On the one hand, he’ll be able to spend time with his family over the holidays. But on the other hand, he said he’d kind of like to stay and finish training.
However, he added, the vast majority of Soldiers in training whom he’s spoken with are delighted for the break.
After AIT, Akavickas will return to Wisconsin to work as a human resource specialist in the National Guard. He said he plans to attend college through the ROTC program and then try to get commissioned in four years. He wants to make a career in the Army.
Pfc. Madeline Sallee was also at the Charlotte airport Dec. 18. She was heading home to Minnesota, on leave from Basic Combat Training and very happy to see her friends and family.
Sallee said the rest over break will be very good, particularly after some arduous training that included a 15-kilometer rucksack march and a lot of other physical activity.
The hardest part of training, she said, was spending the night outside when the temperature got down to 16F. “We were all shivering,” she added, despite being used to cold in her home state.
Sallee will graduate Feb. 1 and will become a logistical specialist. She said one of the benefits about basic was making a lot of new friends.
Staff Sgt. Domenic Buscemi, a drill sergeant from Fort Jackson, was also at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18. He said drill sergeants accompany their Soldiers to help facilitate movement through the airport and to ensure standards of discipline are adhered to at all times.
Soldiers in training are required to travel in uniform, which means they are still representing the Army even while they are away, he said.
Buscemi also relayed some of the benefits of Holiday Block Leave. It serves to boost morale and motivation and gives Soldiers a chance to recharge.
It also gives them time to reflect on their experiences and spread their short-but-memorable Army story back in their communities, he said.
When the Soldiers return, Jan. 3, they will have retained about 70 percent of their basic military knowledge, so there will be some re-learning, he said, along with re-establishing their military discipline.
Soldiers don’t get to travel home in the middle of their training cycle during the rest of the year, he noted. On Thanksgiving, they’re given one day off, but that’s not time enough to travel home for most.
Fifteen years ago, Buscemi was a Soldier in training at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was summer and it was hot, he said, much tougher than winter training weather-wise.
Buscemi said he’ll return to Fort Jackson today, take a day of rest, then pile into the car with his wife and drive to her family’s home in Oklahoma where they will spend the holidays.
Brown admitted that the break in the training cycle is tough on drill sergeants, who have to re-teach numerous tasks, including discipline and customs and courtesies, when the Soldiers return from leave.
However, he said “the break is also good for trainees who come back with a little more pride about training to be a Soldier.”
The head of Ukraine’s top rocket-making company on August 15 rejected claims that its technologies might have been shipped to North Korea, helping the pariah nation achieve a quantum leap in its missile program.
KB Yuzhnoye chief Alexander Degtyarev voiced confidence that employees haven’t been leaking know-how to Pyongyang, according to remarks published August 15 by the online site Strana.ua.
While denying any illicit technology transfers from the plant in the city of Dnipro, Degtyarev conceded the possibility that the plant’s products could have been copied.
“Our engines have been highly appraised and used around the world,” he said. “Maybe they have managed to build some copies somewhere.”
The New York Times reported August 14 that North Korea’s rapid progress in making ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching the United States was made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines, probably from KB Yuzhnoye’s plant. Ukrainian officials angrily rejected the claim.
Pyongyang had displayed a keen interest in the plant before.
Degtyarev mentioned a 2011 incident, in which two North Koreans posing as trade representatives tried to steal technologies from the plant, but were arrested. In 2012, they were convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison each.
KB Yuzhnoye and its Yuzhmash plant in Dnipro has been a leading maker of intercontinental ballistic missiles since the 1950s and produced some of the most formidable weapons in the Soviet inventory.
Its designs included the heavy R-36M, code-named Satan in the West, which is still the most powerful ICBM in the Russian nuclear arsenal.
After Ukraine shipped all Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia after the Soviet collapse under agreements brokered by the United States, the plant in Dnipro has relied on cooperation with Russia’s space program to stay afloat.
But the collaboration ended as the two ex-Soviet neighbors plunged into a bitter conflict. Moscow responded to the ouster of Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president in 2014 by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and supporting a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The termination of ties with Moscow has left the Dnipro plant struggling to secure orders.
Earlier this summer, a report in Popular Mechanics alleged that the Chinese expressed interest in a propulsion module designed by KB Yuzhnoye for the Soviet lunar program.
KB Yuzhnoye angrily dismissed the claim, insisting that it hasn’t transferred any rocket technologies to China.
Despite official denials, Ukraine’s past record with the illicit transfer of sensitive technologies have raised concerns.
Shortly before the 2003 war in Iraq, the United States accused the Ukrainian government of selling sophisticated Kolchuga military radars to Saddam Hussein’s military.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged in 2005 that six Kh-55 Soviet-built cruise missiles were transferred to China in 2000 while another six were shipped to Iran in 2001.
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Last year, President Trump drew headlines all over the world with the announcement that he intended to establish a new branch of the American armed forces dedicated solely to orbital and deep-space defense. This new Space Force would be responsible for defending America’s sizeable satellite infrastructure from potential attack and hardening the means by which America has come to rely on orbital technology in day to day life as well as defense.
The concept wasn’t without its critics, with some discounting the very idea of space defense as a flight of fancy and national level competitors accusing America of militarizing an otherwise peaceful theater… but the truth of the matter is, space has been a battlespace since mankind first started lobbing rockets at it.
The Space Race, which was in every appreciable way an extension of the Cold War that benefited from good PR, may have ended with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in 1969, but the race to leverage space for military purposes continued going strong for decades to come. In fact, one could argue that reaching the moon marked only the end of the public-facing space race, but not the end of the competition between American and Soviet space programs.
So heated was the race to militarize space during the Cold War that the Defense Department actually already had a Space Force of sorts starting way back in the 1970s. This secretive program was vast, with a .3 billion California-based spaceport meant for secretive space shuttle launches into polar orbit, a secret group of 32 military-trained astronauts, and plans to fly more shuttle flights per yearthan NASA itself at one point.
The military astronauts weren’t actually called astronauts — they were called Spaceflight Engineers, and in total, the Air Force’s Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program had 134 military officers and civilian experts assigned to it. These men and women worked out of the aforementioned California launch complex as well as the Pentagon’s own version of mission control in Colorado, and a third facility in Los Angeles that housed the Spaceflight Engineers themselves.
In the early days of the program, some of the Pentagon’s astronauts even hitched rides on NASA shuttle missions hoping to increase cooperation and cross-train on flight methodologies.
“Between these two agencies, it really was a shotgun marriage,” said retired Air Force Col. Gary Payton, who served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs until his retirement in July 2010.
“NASA thought of us as a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, outsiders, almost guests…nothing more than engineers or scientists who tended one particular satellite or experiment, and typically flew just once. We, on the other hand, thought our job was to help bridge the gulf between the military and civilian space agencies.”
The plan was for the Defense Department’s shuttles to launch from California and enter into a polar orbit, which was more beneficial for the Defense Department’s secretive missions than the equatorial orbit commonly reached from Florida launch complexes. The Pentagon’s plans called for an absolutely mind-boggling 12-14 launches per year. That was far more than NASA was prepared to manage, but the result would have been an extremely resilient and redundant space defense infrastructure long before any nation was prepared to present a viable threat to American interests in orbit.
But then in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members on board. It was a crushing blow to NASA, but hit the Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program even harder. It forced the Pentagon to acknowledge two difficult truths about manned shuttle missions: when they fail, people die — and the whole world notices.
“By 1987, it was all gone,” said William J. Baugh, director of public affairs for the Air Force Second Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado told the New York Times. “By that time, Challenger had its problem, and we decided to get out of the shuttle business.”
The Pentagon opted to transition toward a system of mostly unmanned rocket launches for the deployment of new satellites, leaning on NASA and the Space Shuttle for some classified missions when the payloads were too big or complex for other rockets like the Titan IV.
“It’s disappointing,” Maj. Frank M. DeArmand, a Spaceflight Engineer who never got to fly, said in 1989. “We all had the excitement and expectation of flying on the shuttle. But I’m not bitter. It was the right decision.”
Bayonets epitomize the warrior mentality. Although it’s been a good while since the last official call was made to “fix bayonets” in an actual combat mission, the ancillary CQC weapon retains a special place in many warfighters’ hearts. Of course, if troops like to attach a sharp, pointy knife to their rifle’s end, then they’d surely love to affix a chainsaw. What could be better?
Chainsaw bayonets have become a trope in popular sci-fi, but there is none more iconic, overly-gratuitous, and awesome than those attached to the Mark 2 Lancer Assault Rifle in the Gears of War series. This futuristic weapon is a massive, fully-automatic rifle outfitted with a roaring chainsaw bayonet. It works well in the game, but it wouldn’t stand a chance in the real world.
There aren’t any official technical specs available for the Lancer, so it’s impossible for us to accurately judge its effectiveness, but we’ve seen a few people try to recreate the chainsaw bayonet themselves. Still, this technique is nowhere near as common as pop sci-fi would have you believe — for good reason.
In real life, the chainsaw bayonet is extremely flawed for a number of reasons. Firstly, there isn’t really any way to store the gasoline needed to power the chainsaw, so it won’t run for long. The workaround here would be to add a larger fuel source, but by doing so, you’d add to the already-bulky weight of the saw.
Then there’s the weight-distribution problem. It’s never an issue for the hulking heroes of Gears of War, but real-world troops aren’t so massive. Adding weight to a rifle will likely throw off its center of balance. When the front of a gun is far heavier than the back, it simply won’t fire accurately.
The center of balance is almost always closer to the butt-stock so the user has more control over control the weapon. Firearms without butt-stocks are also balanced in a way so that the recoil doesn’t shift the sight picture. Attachments to the front of a weapon, like suppressors, can help regulate weight distribution, but these are very specialized tools. The bulk of a functioning chainsaw would be incredibly difficult to offset.
Finally, we have a hard time seeing a situation in which a chainsaw bayonet would be more effective — not just more enjoyable — than a standard bayonet.
For a quick rundown on why this weapon would also be a complete safety hazard, check out this video.