DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

DARPA, the group behind the modern internet and stealth technology, is taking a big swing at hack-resistant voting booths.


It has been working on new ways of securing computers and other electronic devices for years now in a program it calls System Security Integration Through Hardware and Firmware. The basic idea is simple: Instead of securing electronics solely or primarily through software, they can improve hardware and firmware—the programming at the most foundational level of how a computer operates so that hackers can’t get in.

Now, there’s a demonstration voting booth with some of these improvements incorporated into it, and DARPA is taking it on the road to a hackers’ conference.

To be clear, though, this isn’t a finished product, and DARPA hasn’t indicated that the demonstration booth will prove to be secure. In fact, there are 15 processors in development with university and industry teams working on this DARPA program, and only two will be made available for hackers to attempt and intrude upon.

The demonstration booth will be set up at DEF CON 2019, one of the largest and longest-running underground hacking conferences. It will have a set of processors, and the participating research teams will be able to modify those processors according to their proposed hardware and firmware security upgrades.

Hackers will then be able to attack the booth via USB or ethernet access.

Any weaknesses that the hackers identify will be addressed by the research teams as they continue to develop hardware designs and firmware upgrades to make voting booths more secure. Once the teams have finished products with robust security, DARPA will … probably close down the program.

Yeah, DARPA doesn’t typically create final designs of products or manufacture anything. It even does relatively little of its own research most of the time. The standard DARPA model is to identify a problem or opportunity, set up a program that recruits lots of researchers from academia and industry, give those researchers money according to performance metrics, and then let the industry partners buy up research and patents and create new products.

So the best case for DARPA isn’t that their demonstration voting booth fends off all attackers. It’s that the booth takes some real hits and the research teams find out what vulnerabilities still exist. Then the research teams can create awesome hardware architectures and programming that will be more secure. But DARPA does have one surprise twist from their standard model.

Instead of leaving most of the tech developed for the voting booths in private and academic hands, it’s pushing for the design approaches and techniques to be made into open-source technologies, meaning anyone can use them.

But still, don’t expect to see these amazing voting booths when you vote in 2020. DARPA wants to spend 2019 touring the booth at universities and allowing more experts to attack it, then bring it back to DEF CON in 2020 with new tech built on a STAR-Vote architecture, an open-source build with its own democratic safeguards like paper ballots. Most state and local governments don’t update their voting hardware all that often, let alone in the months leading up to a major election.

So the earliest you could see new, DARPA-funded tech at your local polling place is the 2022 mid-terms, and more likely the 2024 or later elections.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Norway and Iran tussle over alleged assassination plot

Norway summoned the Iranian ambassador in Oslo on Nov. 1, 2018, to protest a suspected assassination plot against an Iranian Arab opposition figure in Denmark that allegedly involved a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin.

Denmark said on Oct. 30, 2018, that it suspects the Iranian intelligence service tried to carry out an assassination on its soil. It is now calling for new European Union-wide sanctions against Tehran.

A Norwegian citizen of Iranian background was arrested in Sweden on Oct. 21, 2018, in connection with the plot and extradited to Denmark, Swedish police have said.


“We see the situation that has arisen in Denmark as very serious and that a Norwegian citizen of Iranian background is suspected in this case,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said.

She said that during her meeting with Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Hassan Habibollah Zadeh, “we underlined that the activity that has come to light through the investigation in Denmark is unacceptable.”

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

The target of the alleged plot was the leader of the Danish branch of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), Danish authorities said.

Danish police said they temporarily closed bridges and halted ferry services to neighboring Germany and Sweden at the end of September 2018 as part of their attempts to foil the plot.

ASMLA seeks a separate state for ethnic Arabs in Iran’s oil-producing southwestern province of Khuzestan. Arabs are a minority in Iran, and some see themselves as under Persian occupation and want independence or autonomy.

The Norwegian citizen has denied the charges, and the Iranian government has also denied the alleged plot.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen on Oct. 31, 2018, met with other Nordic prime ministers in Norway and said he hoped to secure broader support for a unified response to Iran.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Brand-new Air Force tanker is being tested with the service’s biggest plane

The US Air Force’s newest air refueling aircraft, the KC-46A Pegasus, is undergoing a variety of tests out of Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Starting on April 29, 2019, the KC-46 conducted the first refueling test with a Travis AFB C-5M Super Galaxy. The testing is a part of a larger test program to certify aerial refueling operations between the KC-46 and 22 different receiver aircraft.

Maj. Drew Bateman, 22nd Airlift Squadron chief of standardization and evaluation and a C-5M pilot, flew the Air Force’s largest aircraft for testing on April 29, 2019. He flew it again May 15, 2019.

“The April 29 sortie was the first where the KC-46 and the C-5M made contact,” Bateman said. “That was awesome to be a part of. You have a few pinch me moments in life and this was one of them for me. Not everyone gets to be a part of something like this. We were able to get two aircraft together for the first time.”


“Every test flight begins with a continuity check so the KC-46 crew ensures they can connect and disconnect safely with our aircraft,” Bateman added. “From there, we continue testing a variety of items at multiple speeds and altitudes throughout the sortie.”

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

A Boeing KC-46A.

One capability Bateman and his C-5M crew mates tested with the KC-46 was the ability to connect with both aircraft near max gross weight.

“For these tests, we were required to be over 800,000 pounds with cargo and fuel,” Bateman said. “Our 60th Aerial Port Squadron Airmen developed a load plan. The expediters loaded the cargo onto the airplane, and our maintainers ensured the C-5M was flyable. It’s a huge team effort to ensure we are mission ready. I feel like I have the smallest part of it. I just fly the airplane.”

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

A KC-46A Pegasus during testing with a C-5M Super Galaxy for the first time on April 29, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Christian Turner)

On April 29, 2019, Master Sgt. Willie Morton, 418th Flight Test Squadron flight test boom operator, oversaw operations in the back of the KC-46 during the testing process.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Morton said. “I was a KC-10 Extender boom operator at Travis for about 13 years so going to the KC-46 and being a part of the next step in aerial refueling is pretty awesome. I have the chance to provide input on an aircraft that will be flying missions for many years.”

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

A United States Air Force KC-10 Extender.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

To complete refueling with the KC-46, boom operators must use a series of cameras that project a 3D image on a screen. These refueling experts then use that image to carefully guide aircraft into position, Morton said.

“We are testing capabilities at low altitudes, high speeds, high altitudes and high speeds, as well as heavy and light gross weights so we know how the aircraft will respond,” he said. “We have to find the optimal speed the C-5M can fly at to support refueling. We are also doing our best to ensure the mechanical compatibility of the KC-46 and C-5M.”

According to Lt. Col. Zack Schaffer, 418th FLTS KC-46 Integrated Test Force director, the testing is a joint effort between the USAF and Boeing.

“The KC-46s being used for this test effort are owned by Boeing and operated by a combined Air Force and contractor crew,” Schaffer said. “All the test planning and execution is being led by the 418th FLTS, part of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards. The flight test program evaluates the mechanical compatibility of the two aircraft at all corners of the boom flight envelope, as well as handling qualities of both the tanker, boom and receiver throughout the required airspeed and altitude envelope at different gross weights and center of gravity combinations.”

The 418th FLTS is also responsible for developmental testing of the C-5M, and is providing a test pilot to support the C-5M side of the certification testing, Schaffer added. The C-5M was crewed primarily by the 22nd AS with augmentation from the 418th.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

A United States Air Force C-5 Galaxy in flight.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow)

“Additionally, the military utility, lighting compatibility and fuel transfer functionality is also being evaluated,” Schaffer said. “The testing is expected to take approximately 12 sorties to complete.”

Once the testing is complete, the results will be used to develop the operational clearance necessary to allow KC-46s to refuel the C-5M for missions.

“The C-5M is also one of the receivers required to complete the KC-46 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation program, which is a prerequisite to the KC-46 being declared operationally capable,” Schaffer said. “Completing the testing necessary to expand the operational capabilities of the KC-46 is a critical step in modernizing the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. The 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis has provided outstanding support to ensure this testing can get the warfighter expanded capabilities as soon as possible.”

Identifying potential problems is also a focus of the testing, Moore added.

“It’s important, if any issues are identified during the testing, to ensure counter measures are created to overcome those issues,” Moore said. “We want to get the best product to the warfighter to extend global reach and mobility.”

Travis is scheduled to receive its first KC-46 in 2023.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

Borne the Battle: The state of military film

“1917” and “The Last Full Measure” will soon be coming to a theater near you. These military movies have been carefully crafted to capture an authentic look at life in the military. Fortunately, many military films and TV shows have been carefully crafted with the help of veterans like Dale Dye, Travis Wade, Jennifer Marshall, and Hiram Murray. They came on Borne the Battle to discuss the business of making military films in the current Marvel and Call of Duty era.


THE LAST FULL MEASURE Official Trailer (2020) Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson Drama Movie HD

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According to the panel, Hollywood often looks to veterans for military advising, but only recently has it begun to see the benefits of casting veterans as actors. The panel discusses professionally balancing the two roles on set.

Additionally, the panel talks how difficult it is to make military films. From getting the right actors at the right time to placating Hollywood execs. In the panel, Dye mentions why it is worth it to “herd cats” on set.

No Better Place To Die

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Finally, the panel lays bare that these films need the support of veterans. In the current superhero climate, veteran support of military films and TV series are what show Hollywood that these types of films have a large audience that wants to see these stories.

Tango Down OFFICIAL TRAILER #1

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This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This clever advertising doomed thousands of aviators

In the lead up to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force had to make tough decisions on how to spend limited defense dollars. Decades of strict budgets after World War I left capabilities across the military underdeveloped, and the Air Forces decided to spend their part of the pie focusing on strategic bombing.

And, unfortunately, when a manufacturer told them a new bomber wouldn’t need a fighter escort, they bought it. Thousands of aviators would pay the price as unescorted B-17 formations faced losses of over 20 percent.


When the Army Air Force was looking for a new bomber in the early 1930s, they floated the idea of getting a beastly four-engine bird. Most bombers had two engines at the time, but it was thought a larger, four-engine plane could carry more bombs a longer way.

Boeing proved this was true with their Model 299. It had four engines and could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs while flying at faster speeds than other bombers of the day. It carried 13 large machine guns, mostly .50-cals. A reporter for The Seattle Times dubbed it a “flying fortress” in a photo caption and Boeing ran with it.

The future looked good for the Model 299 as it dominated a fly-off competition in 1935. But then it crashed and so was disqualified. Worse, it turned out that that the Model 299 was way more expensive than its primary competitors, and so the Army chief of staff ordered a two-engine bomber instead.

(Seamus Darragh, Pixabay)

 

But the Army’s top aviators still wanted the Model 299, and they managed to order 13 for testing and dubbed them YB-17s. The plane was popular with aviation officers and its great range led to some public successes in the pre-war years. The Army Air Force already had a body of doctrine supporting the use of heavy, long-range bombers, but they refined it around their new flying fortresses.

And the new doctrine did treat the planes like they were fortresses, even though the fortress moniker originated with a journalist and was adopted by salesmen. As navigator Bob Culp recalled in 2008, “When you realize you’re protected by a very thin skin of aluminum, you realize you’re not really in a fortress.”

Boeing had advertised that the bomber could fly bombing missions in daylight conditions and defend itself from enemy fighters thanks to all those machine guns. Which, if true, would’ve been a godsend, because there were no fighters who could match the range of the bomber. And so then-Col. Curtis E. LeMay drafted a formation for the bomber that maximized the ability of the planes to protect each other.

Basically, 9-12 planes would fly in a box so their guns would cover all angles of attack. Three or more of these boxes would fly together. There was a lead box, then a box that flew higher, and finally a trail box that flew low.

With 36 planes formed into three boxes, there were 468 machine guns present. They would have 324,000 rounds of ammunition between them. The spread of a single .50-cal. machine gun would fire rounds across a spread 600 yards wide when firing at planes 1,000 yards away. With 468 planes firing 600-yard-wide spreads, it was thought they could form an actual wall of deadly steel at oncoming fighters.

And so the doctrine was approved, and aviation officers fooled themselves that B-17s really could defend themselves.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

But then American B-17s made their European combat debut in 1942. The planes flying over Europe in daytime proved easy pickings.

Flak gunners didn’t give the first crap about all those machine guns on the planes. Worse, B-17 pilots couldn’t maintain the precise boxes necessary for 360-degree coverage, and gunners couldn’t always keep the proper fields of fire.

Crews could head home, their duty fulfilled, after 25 missions. Only 1 in 4 would survive to reach that milestone. On one of America’s first large bomber raids in 1942, less than 300 bombers set off for Nazi-occupied Europe and 60 of them were lost, an attrition of over 20 percent.

Even when new fighters joined the war, the problem persisted anytime the B-17s outflew their escorts. In October 1943 the Eighth Air Force flew Mission Number 115 against factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. The 291-plane formation survived well while British Supermarine Spitfires and then P-47 Thunderbolts escorted them to the border. But then they were alone against German fighters.

Sixty planes were shot down and only 229 successfully dropped their bombs on target. Only 197 made it back to England.

The fact was, the B-17 Flying Fortress was anything but a fortress, and it needed fighters escorts like any other bomber.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Medal of Honor Recipient Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia is a monument of a man

I never went to Afghanistan. Iraq was my war, and when I think back about my deployments, there are very few things that I miss. I definitely don’t relish the sand storms or the dirt or the myriad of dangers lurking behind every piece of trash (and there is a sh#%load of trash).


Instead, I sometimes think back to those quiet moments of deployment, especially ones when I needed the rush of nicotine before stepping off on patrol or the pull of a long drag to settle down from one. Those frequent cigarette breaks with my fellow Marines were some of the most memorable moments of my life. I cherish them.

It’s been a decade since I was in the sandbox and I don’t smoke anymore, but as I unlock the door to We Are The Mighty, I have the crazy urge to light up. I’m nervous. Unlike other conflicts in our history, there isn’t a sacred place, a monument, for veterans of my generation to visit and reflect on our war and maybe even smoke a cigarette like old times. While that place may come someday, today we only have each other, and that’s why I’m nervous. I’m about to meet Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq war.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for valor, and it often comes at a significant price. Since WWII, 60% of all medals awarded for valor are posthumous and, for those who are able to receive the medal while living, the process is often long and arduous. Many are forced to relive and describe one of the worst days of their life — over and over again. As I prepare for the interview, I want to be sensitive to all Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his platoon in the 2-2 Ramrod faced during their war. But their story is special. They fought, and Staff Sgt. Bellavia earned his honor during hand-to-hand combat while clearing houses [Official Citation] in one of the most iconic battles: Fallujah.

Fallujah is a place that almost every Iraq war veteran has heard of. Like Iwo Jima or Hue, this battle defines an entire war. As I contemplate this idea, Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his full Army escort enter my office. As I reach out to shake Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s hand, I can’t help but think I am shaking the hand of a man who is the living monument to my war.

As I meet Staff Sgt. Bellavia, thankfully, he calms my nerves. First, he’s a very humble, open guy. He introduces himself as “Dave.” A modest father of three who’s been called back to service to tour the country in the wake of his medal ceremony. Second, he’s funny — like, really funny. He cracks a joke about how hard it is to put on a uniform after fifteen years, and I can relate; there’s no way I could wear my uniform now either. This is exactly the kind of guy who I would share a cigarette with. We laugh together as the cameras turn on.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

Staff Sgt. David Bellavia MOH Lincoln Memorial Visit.

Welcome to We Are The Mighty. So, we all have a crazy story of how we got in uniform… What’s yours?

DB: Sure. I joined the Army in 1999. My Army story’s a little bit crazy because my son was born with some birth defects. He’s good now, but the Army didn’t know what to do. So they put me on what’s called a “compassionate reassignment.” So right out of basic training, infantry cord, I go to a recruiting station for two and a half years, which is the worst gig because you’re not a recruiter, you’re not an infantryman. You’re just there telling the Army story, which you don’t know anything of because you don’t have an Army story. And when September 11th happened, the Army was like, “Hey, your son’s not officially healthy. You either get out or go on what’s called an ‘All Others Tour.'”

What’s an “All Other’s Tour”?

DB: So, I had a choice of basically getting out of the Army or just going for three years without my family… and I chose the Army. And so I went to Germany for three years. I didn’t see the family except for block leave, and that was really tough. But it was the best decision I made because of the relationships and the guys, it was really special.

Special? How so?

DB: Yeah. It’s always great to introduce young 18-year-old Americans to Bavarian beer.

Haha. Nice. Did you deploy from there?

DB: Yeah. I deployed to Kosovo in 2002, and then back-to-back from Kosovo to Iraq for 12 months, 2004 to 2005.

Kosovo? What was that like?

DB: It’s unbelievable. The one thing that I learned is that, for whatever reason, those kids in Kosovo could burn a DVD of a movie that is still in production. I don’t even know … they’re like, “Hey, have you seen X-Men 2?” I’m like, “It comes out in a month,” and like, “Here it is.” I’m like, “How is that possible? How do you have access to B-roll footage of a Marvel film before it’s made?” But these guys, [they] can’t figure out plumbing. [They] can’t get a mass transit system, but [they] can burn any movie within hours of Ron Howard saying, cut.” It’s done. It’s crazy.

Do you have a family history of military service?

DB: I grew up on Lake Ontario. Small little town. My dad was a dentist. I was the youngest of four kids. Every one of my brothers has like either multiple master’s degrees or like PhDs. I had two brothers who went to seminary. My grandad was in the Normandy campaign. [Not] D-Day. This was the 35 days after D-Day, but it was the hedgerows, ton of fighting. He would tell me his World War II stories at like … I’d be six years old just listening to this stuff. He’s still with us. He’s 99.

Was he your inspiration for joining the Army?

DB: The other thing was, I remember in high school, before the book came out, before there was a ‘Black Hawk Down’ movie, I watched the [bodies] being just dragged through the streets [of Mogadishu], that really affected me. I wanted to avenge that.

So before you got into the Army, what did courage mean to you?

DB: I had no idea what I was getting into. They told me 11 XRAY meant like extra special infantry. So courage to me was being able to endure rain and having wet socks because there was no thought of combat. Kosovo was the big war and no offense, but it wasn’t really much of a war. It was kind of a … when I got to Kosovo it was like, “Hey, take your helmets off. Soft cap.”

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

Let’s jump ahead. So you end up in 2-2 from 1st Infantry Division, The Ramrods. And now we’re at war with Iraq. What does that feel like?

DB: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re watching the invasion of Iraq in like a chow hall with a potato bar in Kosovo. And so the 1st Infantry Division had such an incredible legacy of just always being first to fight. We had our own movie. I remember watching The Big Red One movie, if I’m going to join the Army, I want to be in The Big Red One. No one questioned why Lee Marvin was like a 62-year-old squad leader in D-Day. You know what I mean? He’s got all white hair.

Yeah, he must have been passed over a few times…

DB: Do you know what I’m saying? Like, why is he here? I love that movie. I loved just all the stories of what The Big Red One stood for. And the take away was that, we were a peacekeeping, forward-deployed division in Germany and a war was happening in Afghanistan. A war was happening in Iraq, and we were going to miss out on it. And so my chain of command took it upon themselves in nine months of Kosovo to just train us for what was coming down the road. And we hated that because we were doing 15-hour patrols and presence and yet we were doing bunker drills and clearing houses and my God, all that training ended up saving our life because we were so ready when the fight initially came.

A year later, you were in Iraq outside Fallujah. And it was also your birthday?

DB: Yeah, November 10th [2004] was my 29th birthday. And I just remember thinking … as a kid, I’d walk through a cemetery, and I would see people born and died on the same day on their tombstone. And I just thought, “Man, that’s gotta just be the worst.” I was just, “Get me to midnight. At least I can have something different on there.” There were a lot of times where you just give up.

And you were a squad leader at this point?

DB: Yeah.

How did you manage the stress maybe even fear that you were about to lead your soldiers in one of the most violent battles of the Iraq war?

DB: When I was on block leave from Iraq, I ran into a crusty Vietnam guy, and he told me … I was telling him everything I was going through. I was so mad. I saw like a UPS guy, and I couldn’t understand why people were normal. They had no connection to what the hell was happening. And I was looking at this UPS guy deliver packages and be so happy, and I’m like, “What the … how is this?” … and this Vietnam guy told me, he’s like, “You still believe that you’re coming home. And once you give that up, once you just acknowledge that you have no control over this, everything is far more manageable. You can compartmentalize everything.” It was the best advice that we had is that it’s not about you… don’t worry about your own survivability, worry about your subordinates, worry about them, put all your … anything that causes stress, put that below your young guys and then if you come home, that’s a bonus.

Is that what you were thinking when you got to a house full of insurgents in Fallujah? The house where you earned the Medal of Honor?

DB: So yeah, this is basically what happened in Fallujah. So [in] Anbar Province, 82nd Airborne leaves, Marine Corps comes in. This is their fight. It’s very awkward to be receiving anything for Fallujah when so many Marines… you got Brian Chontosh, Brad Kasal, and Rafael Peralta, legends in the Marine Corps, did so many incredible things. We were there just to supplement them.

You did much more than support.

DB: Fallujah was left basically unmolested for six months, and the Marine Corps had a very difficult time breaching through. So what ended up happening is everyone was on one side from the north pushing in, and the only real clear breach lane [was ours]. We got into the city expecting everyone to be on our shoulder. And when we pushed through, it took like two days for the rest of the task force to get into the city. In that 48-hour period, we had very little support, and we were pretty much the only game in town. And it developed this really odd way of, you got to your objective, you cleared it, and then you massaged back, started the invasion again, cleared it. Uh-oh, come back, do it again. And so you’re refighting in neighborhoods that you’ve been almost four times at that point. And so we got a report that there were six to eight, possibly 10 bad guys in a little neighborhood block. And we were clearing all these different buildings out and nothing. I mean, we’d get blood, or you’d see a weapons caches, but you just missed the guys, and we finally end up in the last house, and that’s when it all went down.

And then your soldiers get trapped inside?

DB: Yeah. So I’m on one side of the house, the other guys are on the other side, and basically, these guys are shooting belt-fed machine guns through a door. We have to break contact. My two guys outside with 240 Bravos that were John J. Rambo firing those things from the shoulder. Those rounds are coming in, the PKM rounds are coming out. No one can move. If anything that night that really took the most intestinal fortitude, it was standing in that door with that SAW because, again, I don’t know how many people there are. I just know that there’s fire coming out. And I got to be honest with you, you come up with a plan, and then you’re going to execute the plan, and then you just want to stall because your legs won’t walk, your body won’t move.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

So you grab a M-249 SAW and charge inside? What were you thinking? What was going through your head at this point?

DB: I remember thinking to myself, “I want to hook my finger around this trigger, not the way we’re trained to do, which is to three-second burst. But if I get hit, I want to just hold it down and just get enough fire.” And as soon as I get in that door frame, I’m looking at these guys [and] they’re not intimidated at all. The SAW was a runaway. On the range, you would break the links, point it to a safe direction. But here it’s just, “Well, I’ll just keep it on them.” I’m not hitting anything, I’m not hitting them, and I just clunk out on ammo. Those 200 rounds went like nanoseconds. It felt like far too quick. So I’m like, “could I have shot 200 rounds at like five feet and missed every single person?” I just found my body just running out of the house. And as I’m doing it, you hear, and you feel rounds everywhere, and you’re just like, “Man, that was worthless.” And so I was upset. I was angry.

And you traded the SAW for an M-4 and went back inside the house?

DB: Well, it was me, [and] Scott Lawson, who died in 2013, but he went in with me, and I had three SAW gunners. I was worried that these [insurgents] were going to run out of the house and we’re going to lose them and then they’re going to kill someone or we’re going to get killed by them down the road. So I set up the SAW gunners around the courtyard, and I was just going to run in there like an idiot and try to push them out. And again, I had no real idea how many were in there. I like my chances against wounded guys that we’ve been shooting at repeatedly. So I figured me and Lawson could at least ding them up and then the next wave of Americans could finish them off.

And you did finish them off. Five to be exact. I have one specific question. There’s a moment that I read about that. Did you smoke a cigarette during the fight?

DB: I did. I did. So, okay, understand that when you’re in [the house] … your night vision works like a cat’s eye, right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’ve never been in this building before. And after this guy jumps out of a wardrobe and I hit him five times, I was just like, “Man, I need a smoke.” I don’t have my helmet, my IBA is open, I don’t … my rifle is somewhere in the smoke. And I just am like, “You know, I need a smoke right now.”

With the enemy still in the house?

DB: I’m an infantryman. I know how to smoke at night. I’m well-rehearsed at cupping the hands and holding. And so my biggest fear was that my guys were going to come in the building and because I was just around the enemy, I was going to get popped. So I just tried to hug a wall where I knew I couldn’t be hit by anything and just have a quick smoke and that’s when this guy jumps off the roof right in front of me and breaks his leg or does something horrible to himself. But it was just, yeah, it was stress level … that’s the weird thing about that close quarter proximity. You’re super confident. “I’m Thor, I could do all of this, America.” And then you slip and fall and almost get your head blown off, and you’re like, “What am I thinking? I’m an idiot. This was a horrible idea.” And then you see fear in the [enemy’s] eyes, and you’re like, “Oh, they’re scared, I got this, everything’s great.”

That’s the most badass smoke break that I’ve ever heard of.

DB: In the moment, grab a smoke.

Let’s move into afterward. You got out of the Army. What have you been doing since you left?

DB: So I came home right during the whole political soccer ball of Iraq. So I started a group with a bunch of other Marines called Vets for Freedom, and we just went out there and said, “Hey, don’t send us to fight unless you want us to finish it. Right? I mean, we didn’t vote for this thing. We’re the ones adjudicating this fight. You want to defund it. I mean, we lost our buddies out there. This is more important than some political soccer ball.” And so in order to become apolitical, we became uber-political, and I just hated it. That’s not what we wanted to do. So I started focusing more on just veterans in normal life.

Do you think Veterans can find some kind of “normal” in civilian life?

DB: We’re not walking around with high and tights, we’re not wearing camouflage to work, but the type of men and women who served this country are special, and we’re volunteering to do it. And when we come home, we would like to make America as great as we did serving it in uniform and we want to be teachers and we want to be coaches, and we want to lead at home the way we did in battle.

What was it like taking off the uniform and leading in a different way?

DB: The first thing I learned right off the bat is that no civilian wants to know when you’re going to the bathroom. Right? Because I’m accustomed to being like, “Hey, I’m going to go to the bathroom. I’m going to go take a leak.” No civilian ever wants to hear that. So I learned some tough lessons right off the bat.

And now, as a business owner, what do you tell other veterans when you see them?

DB: When I wore the veteran thing on my sleeve, I found that I was a bigger spectacle. And so I just decided to just compartmentalize that. Let it go, move on with your life, tell them, “Oh yeah, I served too,” and most people, especially the Vietnam generation, they didn’t get any of this reflexive love. They didn’t get free tickets to Bush Gardens. They didn’t get applause when they walked through the airport. So I’ve been really appreciative of that Vietnam generation protecting us from what they went through, and also their ability to kind of do a victory lap for our generation when we come home. And these guys in the workplace, what they’ve been able to accomplish. I love that. When I find out someone’s a vet, it’s like a Christian in the Catacomb, a little wink. You do the secret handshake, and that resume goes right to the top. I want that … I don’t care what you did.

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You’re also a family man now, what do you tell your kids about courage and service?

DB: I tell them that the United States Army is the greatest … we’ve been fighting bullies since 1775 right? I’ve always told my kids, “I will never … if you come home with a fat lip because you were defending someone who couldn’t defend themselves, I don’t care what the school does, I don’t care what the law does. You will defend people who can’t defend themselves. That is why we’re on this earth.” We’re there to take care of our weaker brother. We’re there to take care of our weaker sister.

You also co-wrote a best selling memoir about your experience in Fallujah called House to House. Can you tell me briefly about the book?

DB: Well, yeah I’ve been going through that for a while. When I came out, there were very few memoirs written but, I don’t know if I would’ve made that choice again because I didn’t want to write [about me]. I wanted to write about my soldiers. My soldiers were the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life. They still are. And what we did together, we weren’t SEALs, we weren’t Green Berets [or] Recon. We were just knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers. That’s what we were, just average soldiers doing above average things because we found ourselves in those situations.

One last question. Do you still smoke?

DB: I am a recovering smoker. I do some tobacco products here and there and nicotine lozenges, a little dip. But I’m trying to beat that. But now the smoking is definitely gone. I’ve graduated.

Dave, this has truly been an honor. Anything else I missed?

DB: No, you got it.

Click HERE to read more about Staff Sgt. David Bellavia’s actions which, earned him the distinguished role as the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient of the Iraq war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Det: Secret soldiers and unsung heroes of the troubles

Every country’s military has their own version of Special Forces. However, none of them are quite like the 14th Intelligence Detachment, ‘The Det,’ which was formed as part of the British Army Special Forces during a time known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Det was tasked with mounting surveillance and intelligence gathering operations against the Irish Republican Army and their allies.

They worked in the shadows. No one knew who they were or what they did. They received no acknowledgement or fanfare. The world will never know who they were. But, this dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes operatives worked to gather the intelligence needed for the British Army and others to maintain their peacekeeping role between the IRA and the unionist paramilitary forces.


The Det was formed after the British Army’s intelligence unit, the Military Reaction Force, was compromised. The MRF was compromised when IRA double-agents were discovered and then interrogated. They spilled details about a covert MRF operation out of Four Squares laundry in Belfast. This led to an IRA ambush of a MRF laundry van, which killed one undercover soldier.

With the MRF compromised, the Det was set up in 1973. The Det was open to all members of the armed services and to both genders. For the first time, women were allowed to be a part of the UK Special Forces. Each candidate had to pass a rigorous selection process. Members of the Det were expected to have excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress, as well as a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance as the majority of surveillance and intelligence gathering operations were solo missions.

The IRA treated the conflict like guerilla warfare for national independence. They used street fighting, sensational bombings and sniper attacks, which led to the British government classifying their aggressions as terrorism. The Det’s main focus during this time was utilizing their unique talents and training to gather information on the members of the IRA so that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could then intervene.

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The skills and training of the members of the Det included the disciplines of surveillance, planting bugs and covert video cameras, and close quarters combat. They were also experts in the use of pistols, sub machine guns, carbines and assault rifles. They were also trained in unarmed combat, as well as techniques to disarm and neutralize knife or gun-wielding assailants. It was important for each member to be adept in these skills in order to be able to protect themselves while undercover.

Along with this specialized training, the Det was also equipped with unique equipment much of which could be considered ahead of its time. This included a fleet of ordinary looking saloon cars called ‘Q’ cars. These vehicles were specially equipped with covert radios, video and still cameras, concealed weapons packs, brake lights which could be switched on and off, and engine cut off switches to prevent hijacking. All of these worked to aid in the surveillance missions of the operators. The Det also had their own flight of Army Air Corps Gazelles, which were referred to as ‘The Bat Flight.’ The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear which was uniquely suited to the operations of ‘The Det.’

From the time of its inception until the end of The Troubles the Det performed numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstakingly planned intelligence operations often led to the arrest of the suspected terrorists and/or the discovery of weapons caches. Occasionally the members of the Det would find themselves in a firefight with terrorists, this was usually due to their cover being blown. Unfortunately, several Det operators tragically lost their lives in Northern Ireland.

The highly-trained members of the Det did not do what they did for glory. They didn’t do it for the accolades, as there were none offered. These elite members put themselves in danger because they believed in what they were working for. They wanted to do their part to protect their country and those they loved. They believed in justice. They believed in the greater good. They knew going into it that no one would ever know what they did or the sacrifices they made in the name of Queen and country. But, they went in anyway. They didn’t see themselves as heroic. But, the elite members of the Det can truly be considered the unsung heroes of The Troubles.

The Det has now been absorbed into the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, with a mission to fight the global war on terrorism.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II vets rebuilt an APC to drive through the Iron Curtain

On July 25, 1953, seven Czechoslovakians rolled across one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world to freedom in the West. They rolled over three rows of barbed wire, land mines, and guard towers on their way into West Germany. The Czech border guards didn’t even try to stop them. No one fired a shot. They all just watched in stunned disbelief as the Nazi armored personnel vehicle just tore its way across the Iron Curtain.


The story of Vaclav Uhlik is a success story for American soft power, specifically the Cold War-era broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. Uhlik was an engineer in the new, Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia following the end of World War II. He was a concentration camp survivor, a fighter for the Czech Underground, and mechanic who hid a big secret from the new Communist authorities in his country: there was an armored vehicle in his backyard – and he was rebuilding it.

For three years, he listened to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe as he gathered parts and materials needed to get the APC operational again. The broadcasts gave him hope. His progress gave him patience. He was assisted by former Czech soldiers Walter Hora and Vaclav Krejciri in his efforts, and they were rewarded by riding in the vehicle the night it was to drive to the West.

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The Czech-West German Border in 1980.

(Photo by Alan Denney)

Starting nearly from scratch, the men slowly reconstructed a battered Nazi Saurer RR-7 Artillery Tractor. Vaclav Uhlik, the engineer, rebuilt the vehicle as an armored personnel carrier. He made it large enough to carry himself, his wife and two children, the two veterans, Josef Pisarik, and Libuse Hrdonkova, a Czech woman who married an American after the war. Since he could only stay with her for three months, she decided to come to him in Iowa.

After years of tinkering and preparation, the modified RR-7, covered in the brush and foliage that hid it from Czechoslovakian authorities for so long, rumbled its way to the West German border. They drove through the Bavarian forest to the Wald-München (near Nuremberg) border crossing. And he did cross the border, except he didn’t go through the gates, instead opting to go right through the rows of barbed wire between guard towers and minefields.

The border guards just watched in awe, as they thought the APC was a friendly army vehicle. The Czechs inside had only what they wore with them, but they were on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

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The seven Czechs drove the APC for several miles into West Germany and away from the border until they were stopped by West German police, taken to an American installation to be interviewed by intelligence officers, and then welcomed to their new home in the West. They would eventually be resettled in Springfield, Mass. – all except Hrdonkova. She would move to Sioux City, Iowa, to be with her long-separated husband.

Articles

A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft see first action in Afghanistan

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An A-29 Super Tucano taxis across the airfield at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. The light air-support aircraft will be added to the Afghan air force in the spring of 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Nathan Lipscomb


A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft manned by Afghan pilots trained in the U.S. have conducted the first close air support missions by fixed-wing aircraft ever flown for the fledgling Afghan Air Force, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said Thursday.

“They are beginning to take their first strikes,” guided to targets by Afghan forward air controllers on the ground, Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said in a video briefing from Kabul to the Pentagon.

Cleveland did not say where or when the first A-29 strikes took place or describe the effectiveness of the missions, but U.S. and Afghan officials previously had said that combat missions by the turboprop aircraft were expected to begin in April.

Four of the A-29s arrived in Afghanistan in January and another four have since flown in to a military airfield near Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul, according to Cleveland, the new deputy chief of staff for communications for the U.S. and NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

A U.S.-funded $427 million contract calls for a total of 20 A-29s to be delivered to Afghanistan by 2018.

Eight Afghan Air Force pilots completed training late last year on the A-29s with U.S. pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The A-29s, which were designed for close air support, carry a 20mm cannon below the fuselage, one 12.7mm machine gun under each wing and can also fire 70mm rockets and launch precision-guided bombs.

The A-29s began arriving in Afghanistan nearly five years after the Brazilian firm Embraer, and its U.S. partner Sierra Nevada Corp., won a Light Air Support competition with the A-29 against the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B Texan II, leading to contract disputes and delays in the program.

Last month, the A-29s working with Afghan tactical air controllers conducted live-fire training exercises outside Kabul. At a following ceremony called the “Rebirth of the Afghan Air Force,” Maj. Gen. Wahab Wardak, commander of the Afghan Air Force, said he expected the A-29s to begin conducting airstrikes in April.

Although Cleveland did not say where the first A-29 strikes were carried out, Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai said last month that the aircraft would likely be used first in southwestern Helmand province, where the Afghan National Security Forces have been struggling to contain the Taliban in the region that is the center of Afghanistan’s opium trade.

“Helmand is not a rosy picture now,” said Cleveland.

Even so, he contradicted news reports that the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, former headquarters of British forces in the region, was about to fall. In February, 500 troops from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division were sent to Helmand as force protection for U.S. Special Operations troops advising and assisting the Afghans.

Cleveland said that the Afghan forces, backed by nearly daily U.S. airstrikes, were making progress against newly-emergent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, allied Afghan insurgents in eastern Nangarhar province.

“We do think that they are being contained more than they probably were last fall,” he said, but “we do think that they still pose a real threat. And based on their past performance, they’ve got the ability to catch fire very quickly. So we do want to continue to have constant pressure on them.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea claims successful test of ‘high-tech tactical weapon’

North Korea’s state-run outlet said on Nov. 16, 2018, that its country successfully carried out tests of a new “high-tech tactical weapon” that met “all superior and powerful designing indicators.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a test site to inspect the weapon, according to a Korean Central News Agency statement first reported by South Korean news organization Yonhap News.

“The state-of-the-art weapon that has been long developed under the leadership of our party’s dynamic leadership has a meaning of completely safeguarding our territory and significantly improving the combat power of our people’s army,” KCNA said.


The weapons test is the first reported by North Korea since Kim and the President Donald Trump met during a joint summit in Singapore in 2018.

North Korea’s media reportedly did not mention any specifics about the weapon itself, but did state it had been in development since his father, Kim Jong Il, was in power. High-ranking officials were also said to have attended the event, include Jung Cheon Park, an artillery commissioner.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Signs of an underground nuclear test, such as seismic activity, were not reported, according to North Korea monitoring organization NK News.

The report of the weapons test comes shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to have met with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, in New York earlier in November 2018. The talks were scrapped abruptly by the North Koreans, according to the State Department. The government agency says the discussions are ongoing.

Word of the weapons test comes amid the reaffirmation of a potential second summit between Trump and Kim. On Nov. 15, 2018, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump plans to meet Kim in 2019, the second such meeting after the two met in Singapore in June 2018.

“The plans are ongoing,” Pence said. “We believe that the summit will likely occur after the first of 2019, but then when and the where of that is still being worked out.”

Pence added that the meeting would not be predicated on the US’ previous demand that North Korea disclose a full list of nuclear arms, but he stressed that the leaders must “come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

An unexploded WWII-era bomb shut down London’s airport

The Royal Navy has dragged an unexploded World War II bomb down the River Thames overnight and plans to detonate it at sea on Feb. 14, 2018.


The bomb — a 500-kilogram tapered-end shell, measuring about 1.5 meters, or 4.9 feet, long — was discovered buried in dense silt near the runway of London City Airport on Sunday morning, Feb. 11th.

The airport closed Feb. 11 and through Feb. 12 so the London police and a Royal Navy bomb-disposal team could remove the device. Hundreds of flights were canceled, disrupting some 16,000 people’s travel plans.

The bomb-disposal team removed the bomb with a lifting bag and dragged it down the Thames overnight to Shoeburyness, a coastal town 60 kilometers east of the bomb’s original location, a Royal Navy spokeswoman told Business Insider.

Also Read: Britain’s ‘finest hour’ started 75 years ago

The unexploded ordnance is now at a military range in the sea off Shoeburyness, Essex. The Navy plans to attach high-grade military detonators to blow it up.

The bomb-disposal team originally wanted to detonate the bomb on Feb. 13. It has since postponed the operation because of poor weather conditions, the Royal Navy said.

Cmdr. Del McKnight of the Royal Navy’s fleet diving squadron said in a statement on Feb. 13:

The bomb presents no risk to the public in its current location, so we will leave it where it currently sits until tomorrow.

The area where the airport stands used to be an industrial center, and it came under heavy bombardment from German planes during the war. Unexploded bombs still occasionally turn up during construction work.

London City Airport operates flights to and from the U.K. and Europe as well as New York. More than 4.5 million people used the airport last year.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S., India sign deal that will allow them to better hunt subs

The US and India have grown closer over the past decade, and they took another major step forward in September 2018 with the signing of a communications agreement that will improve their ability to coordinate military operations — like hunting down submarines.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with their Indian counterparts, Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj, respectively, on Sept. 6, 2018, for the long-delayed inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue.

The meeting produced a raft of agreements. Perhaps the most important was the Communications, Compatibility, and Security Agreement, or COMCASA, which “will facilitate access to advanced defense systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing US-origin platforms,” according to a joint statement.


The deal — one of several foundational agreements the US and India have been discussing for nearly two decades — took years to negotiate, delayed by political factors in India and concerns about opening Indian communications to the US.

The US wants to ensure sensitive equipment isn’t leaked to other countries — like Russia, with which India has longstanding defense ties — while India wants to ensure its classified information isn’t shared without consent.

But the lack of an agreement limited what the US could share.

“The case that the US has been making to India is that some of the more advanced military platforms that we’ve been selling them, we actually have to remove the advanced communications” systems on them because they can’t be sold to countries that haven’t signed a COMCASA agreement, said Jeff Smith, a research fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation, in an interview in late August 2018.

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U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis meet at Modi’s residence, New Delhi, India, Sept. 6, 2018. Mattis, along with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford and other top U.S. officials met with Modi following the first ever U.S.-India 2+2 ministerial dialogue, where Mattis and Pompeo met with their Indian counterparts.

“So that even when we’re doing joint exercises together, we have to use older, more outdated communications channels when our two militaries are communicating with one another, and it just makes things more difficult,” Smith added.

And it wasn’t just the US. A Japanese official said in 2017 that communications between that country’s navy and the Indian navy were limited to voice transmissions, and there was no satellite link that would allow them to share monitor displays in on-board command centers.

With COMCASA in place, India can now work toward greater interoperability with the US and other partners.

“COMCASA is a legal technology enabler that will facilitate our access to advanced defense systems and enable us to optimally utilize our existing US-origin platforms like C-130J Super Hercules and P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft,” an official told The Times of India.

Importantly for India, the agreement opens access to new technology and weapons that use secure military communications — like the armed Sea Guardian drone, which India will be the first non-NATO country to get. Sea Guardians come with advanced GPS, an Identification Friend or Foe system, and a VHF radio system, which can thwart jamming or spoofing.

The deal also facilitates information sharing via secure data links and Common Tactical Picture, which would allow Indian forces to share data with the US and other friendly countries during exercises and operations.

Expanding interoperability is particularly important for India in the Indian Ocean region, where increasing Chinese naval activity— especially that of submarines — has worried New Delhi.

“If a US warship or aircraft detects a Chinese submarine in the Indian Ocean, for instance, it can tell us through COMCASA-protected equipment in real-time, and vice-versa,” a source told The Times of India.

‘The bells and whistles … didn’t necessary come with it’

Signing COMCASA has been cast as part of a broader strategic advance by India, binding it closer to the US and facilitating more exchanges with other partner forces. (Some have suggested the deal lowers the likelihood the US will sanction India for purchasing the Russian-made S-400 air-defense system.)

The agreement itself will facilitate more secure communications and data exchanges and opens a path for future improvements, but there are other issues hanging over India’s ability to work with its partners.

Among the US-made hardware India has bought in recent years are variants of the P-8 Poseidon, one of the world’s best maritime patrol aircraft.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

One of India’s P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, dedicated on Nov. 13, 2015.

(Indian Navy photo)

India purchased the aircraft through direct commercial sales rather than through foreign military sales, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in an interview at the end of August 2018.

“As a result a lot of the bells and whistles, the extra stuff that goes with a new airplane — the mission systems, like the radio systems, and the radars and the sonobuoys and all the equipment that you’d get with an airplane like that — didn’t necessary come with it, and they’re going to have to buy that separately,” Clark said.

“Signing this agreement means there’s an opportunity to share the same data-transfer protocols or to use the same communications systems,” Clark said. But both sides would need to already have the systems in question in order to take advantage of the new access.

“So the Indians would still have to buy the systems that would enable them to be interoperable,” Clark said.

Smith said a “fundamental change” in the US-India defense-sales relationship was unlikely, but having COMCASA in place would make US-made systems more attractive and allow India to purchase a broader range of gear.

“At least now India can get the full suite of whatever platforms they’re looking at,” he said.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Air Force hopes to train 1,500 pilots per year

The U.S. Air Force announced plans to ramp up its pilot training to produce 1,500 pilots a year by fiscal 2022. Now, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) has divulged preliminary blueprints on how it anticipates accomplishing the task.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said before a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee hearing Oct. 10, 2018, that the service will increase its current 1,160 pilot training slots to 1,311 in fiscal 2019, aiming for 1,500 every year shortly thereafter.


The moves come as the service faces a shortage of roughly 2,000 pilots overall.

“AETC has been tasked to produce about 1,500 pilots per year … That number includes active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard and international students,” command spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday told Military.com this in October 2018.

While the undertaking is in its initial stages, the command will use programs such as the experimental Pilot Training Next — paired with Pilot Instructor Training Next — to improve how teachers and incoming students work together.

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U.S. Air Force Second Lt. Brett Bultsma, Pilot Training Next student, and Capt. Jeffery Kelley, PTN instructor pilot, prepare for a training flight aboard a T-6 Texan at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

AETC is also updating its Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) curriculum to streamline how quickly the Air Force can produce new pilots, Holliday said.

“The final touches to the new Undergraduate Pilot Training syllabi were adjudicated and are now in the initial stages of execution,” she said.

Revising pilot training

The curriculum’s redesign gives squadron commanders the ability to refine training to better meet the needs of individual students, AETC said in a recent release.

Previously, students went back and forth between simulators and the flight line. The new syllabus moves “11 simulators that had been previously spread out over a three- to four-month time frame, into a single block of training prior to the first flight in the aircraft,” Holliday said.

It’s also a blended learning model, she said, that incorporates several best practices from “advanced military flight training and civilian flight training.”

Students will cut their training time from 54 to 49 weeks once the changes are fully implemented.

“We are still in the early phase of executing the syllabus redesign, but initial performance from students indicates increased pilot performance,” Holliday said.

Students will advance at their own pace. Previously, they had to wait until the entire class completed stages or assignments before moving on to the next. AETC will now allow for individual students to complete courses faster or slower as needed, officials said.

Holliday said this will not alter the official course length, but the time a given student spends in the course could change. The first UPT students to use the adjusted curriculum will graduate in spring 2019, she said.

Pilot Training Next

Thirteen students graduated from the first, experimental Pilot Training Next (PTN) class in August 2018 after six months of learning to fly in virtual-reality simulators. The program ran 24 weeks and “included 184 academic hours, with approximately 70 to 80 flight hours in the T-6 Texan II, as well as approximately 80 to 90 hours of formal flight training in the simulator,” Holliday said. Students also trained on their own time in the simulators.

“We want to learn as fast as possible,” said 2nd Lt. Christofer Ahn, a student pilot, in an interview before graduating. “Being able to use the simulators is a huge step in allowing us to accelerate through our training.”

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U.S. Air Force students and instructor pilots from the Pilot Training Next program fly a T-6 Texan during a training flight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

The service recently announced there will be a second class to test Pilot Training Next before the results are briefed to Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, who will decide whether the program will be incorporated into formal pilot training. The second class will begin training in January 2019.

Holliday said that lessons learned from PTN have already been incorporated into traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training, as well as Pilot Instructor Training.

Instructors are also refining the ways they connect with students through innovation and simulation training. With a program called Pilot Instructor Next, they are looking for ways to develop what AETC calls the “Mach-21” airman, or the next generation of 21st century pilots.

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the AETC commander, coined the term to describe what the Air Force wants in its new pilots.

“This is an airman who can learn faster than their competition, can adapt when things are not working, and they can innovate faster than any opposition to create an advantage as a kind of lethality that allows our nation to defend its freedoms,” he said in May after taking the helm of AETC.

In a news release, he expanded on his vision.

“A Mach-21 Air Force essentially is comprised of airmen who learn faster, adapt faster and strategically out-think the enemy, because they are moving at Mach-21 speed,” he said.

To produce such high-quality and sought-after pilots, instructors need to up their game.

“Through Pilot Instructor Training Next, AETC flying squadrons have been equipped with virtual-reality simulators and 360-degree video headsets to integrate into syllabi,” Holliday said. “Since implemented, there have been measurable benefits from the addition of technology, and 10 instructor pilots are slated to graduate from the PIT Next program each month.”

The program applies to members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron and the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

DARPA has a new voting booth, and it wants you to hack it

U.S. Air Force Second Lt. Brett Bultsma, Pilot Training Next student, and Capt. Jeffery Kelley, Pilot Training Next instructor pilot, prepare for a training flight aboard a T-6 Texan at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

Its biggest advantage, AETC says, is the ability to test students in high-stress environments in the safe space of a simulator.

“Virtually, instructors can put students in any situation to determine if they would recognize the danger and whether or not they take the right course of action,” Holliday said. “Students also have the opportunity to take home mobile-video headsets, which connect to the pilot’s smartphone and allow for on-command and on-demand training, which has also been helpful.”

She added, “Incorporating this level of technology and deep-repetition learning allows these students to see the flight environment so many more times than they would have in the past.”

Aircrew Crisis Task Force

AETC is also coordinating with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force — set up in 2016 by the Pentagon — building on its “holistic plan to ensure the Air Force’s pilot requirements are met through retention of currently trained pilots as well as through the production pipeline.”

At the Oct. 10, 2018 hearing, Wilson said the Air Force is placing an emphasis on addressing the national aircrew shortage by focusing on pilot quality of service and quality-of-life issues.

The task force has looked at ways of giving fighter pilots and aircrew the ability to stay in rotations longer at select commands and bases in an effort to create stability for airmen affected by the service’s growing pilot shortage.

It has also included increasing financial incentives such as bonuses and providing more control over assignments and career paths, Wilson said.

“We continue to work with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force to ensure our pilot production planning encompasses an airman from commissioning through training and then to their operational flying units,” Holliday said.

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

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