A heavily armed man is patrolling the hallways of a Florida school. His only job? Prevent a mass shooting.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that Harold Verdecia, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has been hired as the first guardian at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida. Verdercia wears body armor and carries a Glock 19X handgun, but it’s his Kel-Tec “Bullpup” rifle, loaded with exploding rounds, that’s raising eyebrows.
MSA Principal Bill Jones outlined to the Herald-Tribune a specific scenario — shooter armed with a rifle, clad in body armor, looking to cause maximum damage — in justifying the unusual move of arming his school’s guardian with a rifle.
Verdercia completed 144 hours of training facilitated by the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office. He also went through extra training to carry the rifle on school grounds.
Palmetto’s Manatee School of the Arts Ramping up more Safety and Security
Security experts, however, seem skeptical of Jones’s insistence that a semi-automatic rifle is appropriate for the job. Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief and police management consultant, told the Herald-Tribune that the school would be safer with its rifles locked away and its guardian building relationships with students, not singularly focused on a mass casualty event.
Michael Dorn, president of a company that has performed security assessments of dozens of school systems in Florida, told the New York Times that a long gun is a more dangerous weapon for someone to take from an officer and that it’s harder for an officer to subdue and handcuff a suspect when he’s carrying such a gun.
Jones doesn’t seem to mind the criticism. He’s currently reviewing applications and hopes to hire a second rifle-toting guardian soon.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
It’s always a bad idea for payday to come on a Friday. Here’s hoping that everyone makes it to Monday without any recall formations because some lance corporal stole a car and crashed it into the general’s house.
In the meantime, here are 13 funny military memes:
1. You can just hear that lead fellow yelling, “To the strip clubs!”
Jessica D. Blankshain is an assistant professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. All views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the United States government, Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or U.S. Naval War College.
One of the things most people agree on regarding U.S. civil-military relations is that the military should stay out of politics. But how do we keep the military out of politics when politicians are in the military?
Ultimately the Wisconsin Guard determined Kinzinger’s remarks were not a problem, announcing March 7, 2019, that a review had found he was speaking in his capacity as a Congressman, not a military officer.
Adam Kinzinger, representative for Illinois’ 16th Congressional District.
But this dustup also highlights broader issues raised by members of the National Guard (and service reserves) serving concurrently in political office.
Members of the National Guard and reserve serving in Congress has been relatively uncontroversial for nearly 200 years. In the early 1800s, the House took action against a member who joined the militia between congressional sessions, arguing that it violated the Incompatibility Clause (Article 1 Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution), which prohibits individuals from serving in the executive and legislative branches simultaneously.
The law defining “employees” has since been reworded to avoid this issue but, in recent years, the question of legislators serving in the Guard and reserve has begun to draw attention from those who study American civil-military relations. This interest may be driven in part by the effects of the “Abrams Doctrine,” which moved many critical capabilities into the Guard and reserve after Vietnam. [There are, of course, significant differences between the National Guard and service reserves, both in terms of force structure and relationship to state and federal government, but for present purposes I consider them together.]
Beginning roughly near the end of the Cold War and accelerating after 9/11, the United States has shifted from having a largely strategic reserve component — “weekend warriors” who did not expect to deploy unless there was a crisis — to having an operational reserve in which members of the Guard and reserve expect to deploy regularly in support of ongoing operations overseas, from the peacekeeping missions of the 1990s to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s and beyond.
As a result, members of the Guard and reserve may now be perceived less as civilians who take up arms in time of need and more as part-time professional soldiers who have more in common with their active-duty counterparts than with average Americans.
Given the professional military’s strong apolitical ethic, whether and when we view members of the Guard and reserve as members of the military profession has important implications for how we evaluate their political activity (similar to discussions of political participation by retired officers).
There can, of course, be benefits to having members of the Guard and reserve serving in Congress or other political offices. Their military experience may inform their lawmaking and oversight. And as we were somberly reminded by the death of Brent Taylor, a Utah National Guard major and mayor of North Ogden, in Afghanistan in 2018, they may also serve as a link between civilian communities and the military fighting on their behalf.
Utah National Guard major Brent Taylor (left) and Lt. Kefayatullah.
But there are challenges, too, as Rep. Kinzinger’s case makes clear. When an officer who is also a politician publicly criticizes orders from his commander in chief, who belongs to a different political party, it raises concerns about good order and discipline within the military and, perhaps most significantly, it makes it harder to keep clear separation in the public mind between the military and politics. As the reserve component’s role in the military has shifted, so too has the balance of these pros and cons.
Kinzinger’s personal criticism of the governor highlights that concerns about good order and discipline are linked with concerns about politicization. On Twitter, Kinzinger questioned whether Evers visited to the border himself to understand the deployment or instead made a “political” decision. In a Fox News interview, he said that he was breaking the news of the withdrawal because he believed the governor didn’t have the courage to do so. While these comments would not be particularly remarkable coming from a member of the opposing political party, they look very different coming from an officer in that state’s National Guard. Kinzinger, of course, is both. How will his fellow Wisconsin Guard members, whom he will continue to serve alongside, perceive these comments?
Kinzinger’s remarks also raise concerns about public perceptions of the politicization of the military. One of the main reasons Kinzinger’s comments held weight was that he had just returned from a deployment to the border and drew on his experience there to support his criticism of the withdrawal. In the Fox appearance in particular, the hosts and Kinzinger all position him as a neutral expert drawing on his two-week deployment to the border to make a policy judgment, in contrast to partisan politicians who oppose the president’s declaration of national emergency for political reasons.
Kinzinger is explicitly critical of Democrats, both in Congress and in state government. He might be perceived as trying to have it both ways — using his apolitical military credibility to go after political opponents — which could have implications for the public’s view of the military as an institution. This last point is perhaps of most concern, given the high level of confidence the American public has in the military compared to elected officials, as well as indications that this confidence is increasingly taking on partisan dimensions.
Kinzinger’s situation is by no means unique. There were at least 16 members concurrently serving in the Guard or reserve and the 115th Congress, and the intention of this piece is not to single him out for scrutiny. The shift from a strategic to an operational reserve component has changed the relationship between the reserve component and society, and we should be cognizant of those changes when thinking about how members of the Guard and reserve balance their military service with their political service.
Such a reassessment wouldn’t require a ban on concurrent service, but might mean developing either explicit regulations or implicit norms around which issues such members should recuse themselves on, what boundaries they draw on their partisan political speech, or to what degree they invoke their service while campaigning and governing.
The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to email@example.com for consideration.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
We’ve all heard the jokes — some are making calls for Secretary of Defense James Mattis to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential election. We’d have to admit, it’d be pretty funny because the slogan writes itself: Mad Dog 2020. For the uniformed, when you combine Mattis’ nickname with the year of the election, you’e left with a reference to a cheap, fortified wine that tastes only slightly better than “fruit-flavored” cough syrup.
First of all, let’s set a few things straight: The ‘MD’ in “MD 20/20” doesn’t actually stand for “Mad Dog,” but rather Mogen David, the company responsible for the nasty drink. The numbers 20/20 mean it’s a 20 oz. bottle filled with a substance that’s 20% alcohol by volume, which is funny because it’s actually sold at 13%.
And most importantly, General James Mattis (Ret.) doesn’t give a flying f*ck about politics.
Secretary Mattis is a military man, through and through.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White responded to an erroneously cited “source” that told them that Secretary Mattis said, “I’d kick Trump’s ass in 2020, and I just might have to!”
That is so far from the truth that the Pentagon “got quite a laugh” from it and called it “complete fiction.” Mattis is not a politician and has remained true to his apolitical mindset in Washington. In fact, one of Secretary Mattis’ greatest strengths is that he has bipartisan support.
Yes, he was confirmed under President Trump, but he has never shown any sign of support for or against either political party. This neutrality is a core component to avoiding an undesired rabbit hole that would only hinder his leadership over the defense department.
As much as the politics game sucks nowadays, it’s kind of hard to become president if you don’t play the politics game for either party.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Secretary Mattis managed to make many allies across both political parties by promising to stay true to his goal of leading the military. He was close to many staffers from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. He was confirmed immediately in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. The sole “nay” came from a senator who was opposed to waiving a clause in the National Security Act of 1947, which required being a minimum of seven years removed from military service to become the Secretary of Defense – but still agreed that he was the right man for the job.
For his efforts, he has managed to keep politics out of the way the military operates. That way, when he proposes a budget, neither side will argue with the man who is clearly the most qualified to make an estimate — his assessments are very obviously not driven by party politics.
But, you know, a vet can dream… right?
Now, this isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a fantastic president. Mattis is unarguably one of the most brilliant minds the modern military has to offer and many of the finest presidents in America’s history cut their teeth with leading men on the battlefield before taking on the country. There’s also no denying his near cult-like following by almost everyone within the military community — he’s already got a supportive base.
But, even if Secretary Mattis were to, for whatever strange reason, decide to run for president in 2020 (which, again, just won’t happen), he’d never willingly use “Mad Dog 2020” as his slogan.
He isn’t a fan of the “Mad Dog” moniker and he doesn’t drink alcohol.
A crackling fire, some good music, and a heap of roasted marshmallows are just a few of the classics that campers enjoy when spending a day or two out under the stars.
However, in some cases, things don’t go as planned and disaster strikes at the worst times. That’s why it’s important to always be prepared for when the weather gets nasty. If you’re not ready to face Mother Nature’s wrath, you might pay the ultimate price.
In the event that you need to spend an extra night outside for some reason, you’re going to need to stay warm. For the unprepared, there’s one small piece of unassumingly useful gear that the musician of the group might have brought along with them — a guitar pick.
Scratch the flammable celluloid off the surface of the pick and collect the shavings in the freshly carved divot. Don’t be cheap with the shavings; you’ll want to slice off around a quarter of the guitar pick’s surface. We’ll use the rest later.
Now, place the rest of the guitar pick in the slit you cut down the wood’s centerline, above the divot.Now, add heat to the small pile of collected celluloid shavings by either rubbing a sturdy stick against the wood like Tom Hanks did in Castaway — or you can use a ferrocerium rod if you have one.
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.
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.”
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.
With just over 5,000 employees, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is one of the smaller federal law enforcement agencies.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with their share of vicious individuals, groups, and threats. In fact, the ATF goes after some of the most violent criminals: those who want to shoot others or blow something or someone up. Naturally, being an ATF field agent requires a great deal of mental toughness.
Carlos Baixauli, or “Box” as his friends call him, joined the ATF in 1986. He was recruited after doing undercover work for Florida’s state version of the ATF and for the Miami-Dade Police Department; his 30-year career included working on the Medellín Cartel, headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar.
Baixauli in the field as an ATF agent.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
His first experience as a new agent was witnessing an atrocity on New Year’s Eve at the Du Pont Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“The plaza was set on fire by angry union workers,” Baixauli recalled. “They wanted to send a message, and in doing so, killed 98 people and injured over 100 others.”
Baixauli was tasked with walking through the crime scene to investigate.
“People were burned into place,” he said. The scene was like something out of a nightmare. “One thing that’s always stuck with me — they were busting out of a window, and this lady was getting ready to jump. Then a burst of air came out, feeding the fire, and a giant fireball came across, and it was like everyone had been turned into the ruins of Pompeii. They were all ash.”
It didn’t take long for Baixauli to be assigned more undercover operations that put him in harm’s way, dealing with armed home invaders. With home invasions, the crime often goes unreported.
“We started coming up on homes and there would be five or six dead Colombians, Venezuelans, or some other South American nationality in the house,” Baixauli said. “The house was empty. I’m talking big homes, five, six bedrooms. But there was no furniture or accessories. These are homes that the drug cartels would set up in Florida. They are guarded by their thugs, and they are stash houses. They would start delivering drugs from these locations to other locations. The reason they would find the people dead inside is that home invaders would go rip off the dope dealers.”
His undercover role was that of a disgruntled employee of the drug cartel. Baixauli would tell the criminals that he wasn’t making enough money, that there were millions of dollars worth of drugs in these houses, and that he needed his fair share.
“They would talk to me about how they can come and rip the place off,” Baixauli said. “They would take the drugs and the money.”
An ATF Special Response Teams searches an exterior of a building in Baltimore, Md.
According to Baixauli, they were usually either a stash house or a drug house. He would meet with them four to five times before taking them to a house the ATF was in control of already.
“The violent nature of these guys,” he said, “they knew they were going into a gunfight. We were just lucky that we won.”
Sometimes his meetings as an undercover agent resulted in a brush with death.
Later in his career, Baixauli found himself amongst a rough crowd at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant in South Beach.
“I’m sitting there, and a guy puts a gun into my side. My team is wired up and they’re outside. I had to let them know I’m at gunpoint but they needed to wait for the code word because I needed to talk my way out of the situation I was in,” Baixauli said. “The guy with the gun says, ‘Tell me where the stash house is.'”
Instead, he made a comment about the gun. “Why do you have that .45 in my side? Somebody is going to see it outside or from the bar. We have a good deal going here, and now we aren’t going to make any money.”
Baixauli kept his cool and didn’t even signal that the gun concerned him.
“If you’re going to keep the gun on me, put it in my back,” he said. “Nobody can see it then.”
He recalled the event as if reliving it. “We are moving. My team is listening. They are making a move towards the front door. ‘The cashier is going to see the gun,’ I tell the guy. The whole time I’m giving a play by play to my crew outside. Walking towards the front door, I see the cover team. Soon as I go through the door, this guy comes behind him, and he’s taken down easily.”
Baixauli with .7 million in recovered cash.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
One way the ATF differentiates from other law enforcement agencies is that they try not use confidential or criminal informants (CIs).
“ATF doesn’t deal with CIs. CI always brings baggage. The best hand-to-hand is between a good guy and a bad guy. If I need a CI to introduce me to a bad guy, and we do a deal with the CI, we throw that deal away. We don’t want to deal with the baggage from the CI. As soon as we could cut the CI out, we would,” Baixauli said.
While he’s been out of the ATF since 2016, Baixauli is still concerned about current threats; he sees groups like MS-13 as a bigger threat to the U.S than even Pablo Escobar’s cartel.
“MS-13 is 10 times worse. Drugs, extortion, brutal murders, prostitution, terrorizing people — and as far as law enforcement is concerned, they are animals who have no feeling for life.” In 2017, it was reported that the group stabbed a victim 100 times, beheaded him, and ripped out his heart.
Despite the danger, Baixauli loved his job with the ATF so much that he can’t remember a day he didn’t look forward to work. “I loved it,” he said. “I just loved it.”
A pistol sidearm is generally used as a last resort weapon. On the two-way shooting range, a rifle will generally serve you better than a pistol. However, in the early 1990s, U.S. Special Operations Command held the Offensive Handgun Weapon System competition. The competition sought to procure a primary offensive handgun for use across all branches of SOCOM. Aside from standardizing a handgun, the new weapon would fill a specialized offensive close-quarters battle role.
Heckler & Koch and Colt were the only companies that participated. The Colt OHWS failed primarily because it could not handle the high pressure ammo like .45 Super and +P .45 acp that USSOCOM required. Despite having no competition, the H&K submission was over engineered and optimized for harsh operating environments.
The H&K MK23 is waterproof and corrosion-resistant. Its polygonal barrel is expensive, but is capable of producing a 2-inch group at 25 meters. The handgun is also completely ambidextrous and features oversized controls for use with gloves. The MK23 is part of a weapon system that includes a proprietary Laser Aiming Module, a suppressor, and match-grade ammunition.
The LAM is manufactured by Insight Technology and is designed to work specifically with the MK23. One version of the LAM emits a visible red dot while another emits an infrared dot for use with night vision. Both LAM units can also produce a white light. The suppressor is manufactured by Knight’s Armament Company and is very effective at suppressing the high-pressure ammo.
Testing of the MK23 was extremely extensive. USSOCOM’s requirement was 2,000 mean rounds before failure. The MK23 averaged 6,027 MRBF and was capable of up to 15,122 MRBF. Three pistols were subjected to a 30,000 round endurance test and maintained an accuracy of 2.5 inches at 25 meters. It was also tested in temperatures ranging from -25 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit while exposed to ice, sand, and mud.
H&K was awarded the OHWS contract in June 1995. Classified as the USSOCOM MK 23 MOD 0, 1,950 systems were ordered at $1,186 (~$2,026 adjusted for inflation) each. All of the handguns were produced by H&K in Germany and were first delivered on May 1, 1996.
The MK23 is powerful, accurate, and reliable. It excels in its role as an offensive handgun. However, while its size and weight helped to mitigate recoil and retain accuracy, these features made it unpopular for operators to carry. According to armorers, though the MK23 remains on the books and in weapon cages, most go unused. In 2010, it was reported that the MK23 is still taught at the SOCOM armorer course, but not the Naval Special Warfare armorer course.
In response to criticisms, H&K developed the USP Tactical pistol. The Tactical retains much of the MK23’s performance in a more compact size. For this reason, the Tactical is popular with German Army and Navy Special Forces.
Because of its niche role and extremely high retail price, the civilian and law enforcement version of the MK23 yielded poor sales figures. Sold as the H&K MARK 23, the handgun does not include the LAM or suppressor. However, because of the weapon’s affiliation with USSOCOM and its use in the popular Metal Gear Solid video games, it is highly sought after and fetches a premium on the civilian gun market.
Though its application is limited, the H&K MK23 is arguably still the best offensive handgun today. The lengthy process for its adoption by USSOCOM earned it the reputation as the most thoroughly tested handgun in history. Its performance is unmatched thanks to classic H&K over engineering. Just be sure you’ve been extra good this year before asking Santa for one.
China became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on Jan. 2, 2019. But, more importantly, it became the first to do so on the far side of the moon, often called the dark side. The ability to land on the far side of the moon is a technical achievement in its own right, one that neither Russia nor the United States has pursued.
The probe, Chang’e 4, is symbolic of the growth of the Chinese space program and the capabilities it has amassed, significant for China and for relations among the great power across the world. The consequences extend to the United States as the Trump administration considers global competition in space as well as the future of space exploration.
Like the U.S. and Russia, the People’s Republic of China first engaged in space activities during the development of ballistic missiles in the 1950s. While they did benefit from some assistance from the Soviet Union, China developed its space program largely on its own. Far from smooth sailing, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution disrupted this early programs.
The Chinese launched their first satellite in 1970. Following this, an early human spaceflight program was put on hold to focus on commercial satellite applications. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping articulated China’s space policy noting that, as a developing country, China would not take part in a space race. Instead, China’s space efforts have focused on both launch vehicles and satellites — including communications, remote sensing, and meteorology.
This does not mean the Chinese were not concerned about the global power space efforts can generate. In 1992, they concluded that having a space station would be a major sign and source of prestige in the 21st century. As such, a human spaceflight program was re-established leading to the development of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei, was launched in 2003. In total, six Shenzhou missions have carried 12 taikonauts into low earth orbit, including two to China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.
In addition to human spaceflight, the Chinese have also undertaken scientific missions like Chang’e 4. Its first lunar mission, Chang’e 1, orbited the moon in October 2007 and a rover landed on the moon in 2013. China’s future plans include a new space station, a lunar base and possible sample return missions from Mars.
Chang’e 1 spacecraft.
A new space race?
The most notable feature of the Chinese space program, especially compared to the early American and Russian programs, is its slow and steady pace. Because of the secrecy that surrounds many aspects of the Chinese space program, its exact capabilities are unknown. However, the program is likely on par with its counterparts.
In terms of military applications, China has also demonstrated significant skills. In 2007, it undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie “Gravity” illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans. In its 2018 report on the Chinese military, the Department of Defense reported that China’s military space program “continues to mature rapidly.”
Despite its capabilities, the U.S., unlike other countries, has not engaged in any substantial cooperation with China because of national security concerns. In fact, a 2011 law bans official contact with Chinese space officials. Does this signal a new space race between the U.S. and China?
Regardless, China’s abilities in space are growing to the extent that is reflected in popular culture. In Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian” and its later film version, NASA turns to China to help rescue its stranded astronaut. While competition can lead to advances in technology, as the first space race demonstrated, a greater global capacity for space exploration can also be beneficial not only for saving stranded astronauts but increasing knowledge about the universe where we all live. Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative.
After years of being featured at trade shows and trotted out for high-ranking Marine Corps officials, the Marines’ barrel-chested Legged Squad Support System — known affectionately as the robotic mule — has been put out to pasture.
The machine, which resembles a headless pack mule made of metal, came about through a $32 million, two-and-a-half year contract between the Pentagon’s research arm, known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Google Inc.’s Boston Dynamics, of Waltham, Massachusetts.
DARPA teamed up with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to create an autonomous four-legged creature that could lighten troops’ load by carrying 400 or more pounds of weight, according to reports about the 2010 contract.
A second contract worth almost $10 million was awarded in 2013 for an additional phase of the LS3 program that would demonstrate how the legged robot would work by following troops on foot through rugged terrain, carrying their gear, and interpreting verbal and visual commands. The contract also provided for the construction of an enhanced version of LS3 that featured a quieter power supply and better survivability against small arms fire.
In 2012, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos attended a demonstration of the prototype’s capabilities at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. At the time, Amos expressed pride in the developing technology and said it was getting close to something the Marines might use, according to reports.
The robo-mule had its big moment in summer 2014 at Rim of the Pacific, the largest military exercise in the Pacific region. It was featured in high-profile field tests with Marines who put it through its paces on patrols and demonstrated its ability to respond to commands and cross rugged ground.
But the experiment also exhibited the shortcomings of the prototype, Kyle Olson, a spokesman for the Warfighting Lab, told Military.com.
“As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself,” Olson said. “They took it as it was: a loud robot that’s going to give away their position.”
In addition to the lawnmower-like noise of the mule’s gas-powered engine, there were other challenges without clear solutions, including how to repair the hulking robot if it breaks and how to integrate it into a traditional Marine patrol.
With the final funds remaining in the second Boston Dynamics contract, the DARPA-Warfighting Lab team built “Spot,” a robotic quadruped the size of a large dog that functioned on quieter electric power. Last September, Marines put the smaller robot to the test in the woods of Quantico, Virginia.
But while Spot eliminated the noise problem, its slighter frame could only carry loads of 40 pounds or so and didn’t display the advanced autonomous technology that LS3 had.
“I see Spot right now as more of a ground reconnaissance asset,” said Capt. James Pineiro, the Ground Combat Element branch head for the Warfighting Lab. “The problem is, Spot in its current configuration doesn’t have the autonomy to do that. It has the ability to walk in its environment, but it’s completely controller-driven.”
For now, both Spot and LS3 are in storage, with no future experiments or upgrades planned. Pineiro said it would take a new contract and some new interest from Marine Corps top brass to resurrect the program.
While it may seem as though years of work with the robot quadrupeds has wrapped up without a tangible result, Warfighting Lab officials said the Marine Corps did gain important insights about autonomous technology and its potential.
“We tend to play with things that are fanciful and strange,” Olson said. “Learning from it was a big part, and we’re still learning.”
Meanwhile, the lab has ongoing experiments featuring drones and other unmanned vehicles and are exploring uses for them including medical resupply and reconnaissance.
In the realm of medicine, what you don’t know can indeed kill you.
Six months have passed since China reported the first coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization. But even now, what experts are still trying to understand sometimes seems to outweigh what they can say for certain.
That is little surprise to any infectious-disease researcher: Highly contagious diseases can move through communities much more quickly than the methodical pace of science can produce vital answers.
What we do know is that the coronavirus seems to have emerged in China as early as mid-November and has now reached 188 countries, infected more than 10.4 million people, and killed around 510,000. Population-level studies using new testing could boost case numbers about 10-fold in the US and perhaps elsewhere as well.
Here are 11 of the biggest questions surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19, and why answering each one is critically important.
How did the new coronavirus get into people?
The first coronavirus infections was thought to have emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. But newer research suggests the market may simply have been a major spreading site.
Researchers are fairly certain that the virus — a spiky ball roughly the size of a smoke particle — developed in bats. Lab tests show that it shares roughly 80% of its 30,000-letter genome with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a virus that also came from bats and triggered an epidemic in 2002 and 2003. It also shares about 96% of its genome with other coronaviruses in bats.
Still, researchers still aren’t sure how the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans. In the case of SARS, the weasel-like civet became an intermediate animal host. Researchers have suggested that civets, pigs, snakes, or possibly pangolins — scaly nocturnal mammals often poached for the keratin in their scales — were an intermediary host for the new coronavirus. But it could also be that the virus jumped straight from bats to humans.
A May study suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus’ clinical name) may be a hybrid of bat and pangolin viruses.
Global tallies of cases, deaths, recoveries, and active infections reflect only the confirmed numbers — researchers suspect the actual number of cases is far, far larger.
For every person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus, there may be about 10 undetected cases. This is because testing capacity lags behind the pace of the disease, and many governments, including in the US, failed to implement widespread testing early on.
New estimates from MIT suggest the world had already seen 249 million coronavirus cases and 1.75 million deaths by June 18. That would make the global case total 12 times higher than official reports, and the global death toll 1.5 times higher.
Other similar research estimated that the US alone may have seen 8.7 million coronavirus cases from March 8 to 28. US researchers also suggested in May that the nation’s official death count may “substantially understate” the actual number of coronavirus fatalities.
Why it matters: An accurate assessment is critical in helping researchers better understand the coronavirus’ spread, COVID-19’s mortality rate, the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, and other factors. It would also give scientists a more accurate picture of the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, contact tracing, and quarantining.
What makes the coronavirus so good at spreading?
Viruses are small, streamlined particles that have evolved to make many, many copies of themselves by hijacking living cells of a host.
The measurement of a virus’ ability to spread from one person to another is called R0, or R-naught. The higher the value, the greater the contagiousness — though it varies by region and setting. The novel coronavirus’ average R0 is roughly 2.2, meaning one infected person, on average, spreads it to 2.2 people. But it had a whopping R0 of 5.7 in some densely populated regions early in the pandemic.
A person’s ability to transmit the virus depends partly on their viral load: the amount of virus particles they release into the environment. Coronavirus patients tend to have high viral loads in the throat, nasal cavity, and upper respiratory tract, which makes the virus highly contagious. Research indicates that there’s little difference in the viral loads between coronavirus patients who show symptoms and those who don’t.
Coughing — a signature symptom of COVID-19 — helps spread viruses in tiny droplets, especially in confined spaces. But the virus can also spread through singing, normal breathing, or even loud conversation.
Why it matters: Knowing how a virus gets around can help everyone better prevent its spread. Getting a handle on its behavior may also spur governments to act sooner to contain future outbreaks of this or other similar diseases.
What drives mortality in people infected by the coronavirus?
First, the virus’ spiky proteins latch onto cell receptors in the lungs called ACE2. Our immune system then senses a threat and responds by activating white blood cells. Among patients who develop severe outcomes, immune systems can overreact by producing a “cytokine storm” — a release of chemical signals that instruct the body to attack its own cells.
The reaction may cause milder coronavirus symptoms like fever, fatigue, muscle aches, or swollen toes. But it can also lead to severe symptoms including blood clots, excessive leaking in the blood vessels, fluid in the lungs, depleted oxygen in the blood, and low blood pressure.
Doctors have linked blood clots to the increased prevalence of strokes among coronavirus patients. An aggressive immune response can also damage the heart, kidneys, intestines, and liver. But most coronavirus deaths are due to respiratory failure, meaning the lungs aren’t supplying enough oxygen to the blood.
Why it matters: Understanding how the coronavirus does so much harm could lead to more effective treatments in hospitals and make for promising drug targets.
What percent of people infected by the coronavirus die?
Death rates for COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all. Many factors are at work.
Age is a big one. Older people are more likely to die as a result of lung failure, strokes, heart attacks, and other problems triggered by coronavirus infections, while younger individuals are much less likely to do so. However, people of all ages, including children, have experienced severe symptoms and sometimes death.
One hypothesis is that the answer lies in an individual’s genetic code. People whose genes tell their bodies to make more ACE2 receptors — which the coronavirus uses to invade our cells — could get hit harder.
Why it matters: Variations in death rates help researchers expose flaws in government responses, supply chains, patient care, and more, ideally leading to fixes. Being able to identify the people at higher risk of severe symptoms and treati them accordingly could also lower death rates. However, the early data is clear enough: The coronavirus has the capacity to kill millions of people in a relatively short time.
Why do young people face the least risk of dying?
On a per-capita basis, young people are the most resilient to the coronavirus. But they do get infected and suffer from it. Even blood clots and strokes have emerged among some younger patients.
Typically, young kids and older people are in the same risk category for diseases like the flu. But it’s not so with COVID-19: About 70% of US deaths have been people 70 and older. Children, meanwhile, represent less than 2% of confirmed coronavirus infections in China, Spain, Korea, Italy, and the US.
It’s not clear yet whether kids are less likely to contract the virus in the first place, or whether many of their cases are simply being missed because they are often mild or asymptomatic.
Out of more than 2,500 pediatric cases in the CDC study, only three patients died. The study concluded that “most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe.”
One reason for this could be that children have less mature ACE2 receptors — the enzymes that serve as ports of entry for the coronavirus — which could make it more difficult for the virus to infect a child’s cells.
Why it matters: Understanding why kids don’t often show signs of the disease — either because they’re not as prone to infection or because they more often experience very mild, cold-like symptoms — could have huge ramifications for vaccine development and understanding how the disease spreads.
Can you get reinfected?
The body almost certainly develops short-term immunity in the form of antibodies, and immune-system researchers are reasonably confident that the body will recognize and fight the coronavirus in the future.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah in March that he’d be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”
There have been a small number of cases in which people tested positive for the coronavirus, were later found to be free of the virus, then tested positive again after that. But these cases are mostly the result of false positives and misinterpretations of test results, since some diagnostic tests can detect leftover pieces of dead virus in the body.
Still, no one is certain about the prospects for long-term immunity. For other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, antibodies seemed to peak within months of an infection and last for a year or more. But a June study found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last two to three months after infection. Asymptomatic individuals also demonstrated a weaker immune response to the virus, meaning they could be less likely to test positive for antibodies.
Researchers also don’t know the specific levels of antibodies required for a person to be fully immune.
A May study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York showed that most people with confirmed coronavirus cases tested positive for antibodies — but longer or more severe cases didn’t necessarily produce more antibodies than mild ones. Instead, the amount of antibodies a person produces may be related to innate differences in people’s immune responses.
Why it matters: Understanding whether long-term immunity is the norm would have major ramifications for controlling the pandemic and could enable officials to lift social-distancing restrictions for people who have already gotten sick.
How seasonal is the coronavirus?
Warmer temperatures and lower humidity may hinder the virus’ spread, according to research published in June. That could explain why New York City had a higher growth rate of new infections compared to Singapore in March, though other factors like testing and contact tracing likely played a role as well.
An April study found a similar link between the virus’ lifespan and the surrounding temperature. At 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), the coronavirus lasted up to two weeks in a test tube. When the temperature was turned up to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), that lifespan dropped to one day.
But warmer temperatures haven’t done much to quell the US outbreak. The nation’s surge in new daily cases has surpassed its prior peak in April.
Why it matters: Knowing how much — if at all — the coronavirus is affected by changing seasons would help governments around the world better deploy resources to stop its spread.
Are there any safe and effective drugs to treat COVID-19?
There is, as of yet, no slam-dunk treatment for the coronavirus or its symptoms. However, 17 leading treatments are being tested.
Clinical trials have also shown that dexamethasone, a common, cheap, steroid, can reduce deaths in severely ill COVID-19 patients.
Why it matters: Having tools to slow infections or perhaps even stop the coronavirus from harming people could curtail its spread, reduce suffering, ease the burdens on healthcare systems, and save lives.
Will there be a vaccine for the coronavirus, and when?
Arguably the most promising vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine developed by biotech company Moderna. The company was the first to publish early results in humans after starting its first trial on March 16. It aims to start a late-stage efficacy trial with 30,000 people in July.
Other promising candidates include “vector vaccines” — which use live viruses to teach the immune system how to fight off pathogens — developed by the University of Oxford and Johnson Johnson. The Oxford vaccine is spearheaded by British pharma company AstraZeneca, which will start its own efficacy trial in August. Johnson Johnson aims to enroll more than 1,000 healthy volunteers in a clinical trial in July.
The US government hopes to have hundreds of millions doses of a vaccine ready by January 2021 — a record timeline. But some vaccinologists and industry analysts doubt a vaccine will be ready before 2022 or 2023.
Why it matters: Developing a vaccine would help the world put an end to the pandemic.
What are the long-term consequences for those who survive COVID-19?
It’s not yet clear what the long-term consequences of weathering a severe bout of COVID-19 might be. In severe cases, the virus may cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs, resulting in chronic, lifelong issues.
Patients who experience blood clots also face a risk of longer-term damage, pain, and loss of function, especially in organs.
While some people’s symptoms seem to clear up after two weeks, even those with milder cases have reported symptoms lasting for several months — including fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms may be the result of lingering inflammation rather than an active infection.
“The symptoms are probably coming from an immune reaction,” Dr. Ramzi Asfour, an infectious-disease doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Business Insider.
“You have to separate the damage from the disease,” he added. “It’s going to be difficult to tell for now what subset is active, ongoing infection and what subset is really just pure immune dysfunction.”
Why it matters: Knowing the extent of lasting damage due to the coronavirus can help governments prepare for long-term strain on healthcare systems, impacts to the workforce, and slower economic recoveries. Governments can also push for more research into the underlying causes of lingering symptoms and effective treatments for them.
China is not an enemy, but it is certainly an adversary of the United States, and the Defense Department’s 2018 report to Congress examines the trends in Chinese military developments.
Congress mandates the report, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” While the report highlights military developments, it also addresses China’s whole-of-government approach to competition.
China’s economic development is fueling extraordinary changes in relationships it maintains around the world, according to the report. On the face of it, China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative sounds benign – it looks to build infrastructure for developing countries and Chinese neighbors.
Chinese leaders have funded serious projects as far away as Africa under the initiative. They have built roads in Pakistan and made major inroads in Malaysia. China has a major stake in Sri Lanka. Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Laos and Djibouti also are involved.
People’s Liberation Army troops demonstrate an attack during a visit by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to China, Aug. 16, 2017.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The Chinese government seeks to overturn the established international order that has kept the peace in the region since World War II and allowed Asian countries to develop.
But “One Belt, One Road” money and projects come with strings. The “one road” leads to China, and nations are susceptible to Chinese influence on many levels – political, military, and especially, economic.
In 2017, China used its economic clout in South Korea as a bludgeon to get Seoul to not allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system in the country as a counterweight to North Korea’s nuclear missile program. The Chinese government informally lowered the boom on South Korea economically to influence the THAAD decision.
South Korean cars and other exports were embargoed. About a quarter of all goods South Korea exports goes to China, so this had an immediate effect on the economy. In addition, tourism suffered, as nearly half of all entries to South Korea are from China, and South Korean retail stores in China were crippled.
The South Korean government decided to allow the THAAD to deploy, but China’s economic muscle movement had to be noted in other global capitals.
South China Sea
“In its regional territorial and maritime disputes, China continued construction of outposts in the Spratly Islands, but also continued outreach to South China Sea claimants to further its goal of effectively controlling disputed areas,” the DoD reports says in its executive summary. In other words, China is using military power and diplomatic efforts in tandem to claim the South China Sea.
The People’s Liberation Army has come a long way from the human-wave attacks of the Korean War, and Chinese leaders want to build a military worthy of a global power. “Chinese military strategy documents highlight the requirement for a People’s Liberation Army able to secure Chinese national interests overseas, including a growing emphasis on the importance of the maritime and information domains, offensive air operations, long-distance mobility operations, and space and cyber operations,” the report says.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with China’s Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe at the People’s Liberation Army’s Bayi Building in Beijing, June 28, 2018.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Chinese military planners looked at what the United States accomplished in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991 and charted their way forward. The PLA is fundamentally restructuring to challenge and beat any military in the world.
The PLA – still the largest force in the world – actually cut people to streamline command and control and modernize forces. The Chinese seek to win at all levels of conflict, from regional conflicts to wars with peer competitors. “Reforms seek to streamline command and control structures and improve jointness at all levels,” the report said. The PLA is using realistic training scenarios and exercising troops and equipment regularly.
China is investing billions in new capabilities including artificial intelligence, hypersonic technology, offensive cyber capabilities and more. China also has launched an aircraft carrier and added many new ships to the PLA Navy. The Chinese Navy is more active and making more port calls than in years past. Further, the PLA Marine Corps is expanding from 10,000 personnel to 30,000.
The PLA Air Force has been reassigned a nuclear mission, giving China a nuclear triad — along with missile and subs — for the first time.
Cyber operations play a significant role in the Chinese military. The PLA has a large corps of trained and ready personnel. Cyber espionage is common, and there are those who believe China was able to get plans of the F-35 Thunderbolt II joint strike fighter, which they incorporated into its J-20 stealth fighter.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Aug. 17, 2017.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy recognize that China and Russia are strategic competitors of the United States. Still, the United States must engage with China, and maintenance of cordial military-to-military relations is in both nations’ best interests.
“While the Department of Defense engages substantively with the People’s Liberation Army, DoD will also continue to monitor and adapt to China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine and force development, and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization,” the report says.
The United States military will adapt to counter and get ahead of moves by any competitor, DoD officials said.