These are the guns from 'Black Hawk Down' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The film Black Hawk Down has left an indelible mark in the minds of United States military members and gun enthusiasts alike. The movie recounts the story of Operation Gothic Serpent, involving the Task Force Ranger mission on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993. Released mere months after Sept. 11, it was one of the first film depictions of urban combat in a post-Operation Desert Storm world.

Firearms for the film were provided by lead armorer Simon Atherton (whose film credits include The Killing Fields, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan) with the assistance of U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. veteran and military film advisor Harry Humphries.


When discussing film props, the term “hero” is used to describe the main prop weapons used by the lead characters in the film. Hero props are frequently used in close-ups and often garner the most screen time, becoming publicly recognizable or sometimes iconic.

Ironically, many of the M16s and CAR-15s used on screen were actually built as an export variation of the Colt M16. Simon Atherton, Black Hawk Down lead armorer and owner of Zorg Limited, provided examples of M16s and CAR-15s used in the movie. The CAR-15, notably, was configured with components used on the backup Gary Gordon hero prop rifle.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The blank-firing M16A2 (top) was an export M16A2 from Guatemala manufactured by Colt and redressed for The Green Zone. The rubber dummy prop (bottom) was used in the production of Black Hawk Down and carries the distinctive green duct tape used to recreate the Rangers’ weapons.

The blank-firing M16A2 in these photos was, in our best estimate, used as a Third Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment rifle. It’s nearly identical to the rifle carried by real-life Ranger Matt Eversmann, played on screen by Josh Hartnett. The Ranger M16s were ex-Guatemalan military M16A2s fitted with slings secured with green duct tape. The blank-firing M16 has been photographed, for comparison, with one of the rubber dummy rifles, still configured as used on set for Black Hawk Down.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The Guatemalan export M16A2 was configured with the M16A1 style lower emblazoned with Colt M16A2 roll marks as pictured. The fire control group markings were stamped on both sides of the lower (which is the common configurations for M16A2s) but with a BURST marking replacing the more common AUTO marking.

The rubber dummy prop M16 shows the on-screen configuration for Ranger M16s. Although the dummy’s M16A1 “slab side” lower is slightly different than the blank-firing prop — cast from a civilian Colt HBAR Sporter — it’s similar enough to pass unnoticed to most viewers.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

Most CAR-15 rifles were modified M16A2 rifles. This barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back to accommodate the modified handguards, while retaining the traditional triangular M16A2 handguard cap.

(Photo by Jon Davey)

After receiving the M16s, Atherton’s team converted many of the ex-Guatemalan Colt M16A2s into CAR-15s. The Gordon CAR-15 blank-firing prop is the most iconic weapon in the film. Chris Atherton, Simon Atherton’s son and Zorg employee, was able to immediately locate the last known surviving Gary Gordon hero blank-firing prop CAR-15.

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s Colt Model 723 was represented in the film by a Guatemalan export Colt M16A2 modified into a carbine configuration similar to a Colt Model 727. The most significant visual difference between the Colt 723 and Colt 727 is in the rear sights. The Colt 723 uses an M16A1 sight, while the Colt 727 is fitted with a blockier “movable” sight.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

To produce the prop, the M16’s 20-inch barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back. A commercial two-position buffer tube and stock were also added. A 5-inch section of the center of the M16A2 handguard was removed to construct improvised carbine handguards. As a result, the handguards have eight holes (instead of the six- or seven-hole handguards found on production 723 and 727 carbines). This rifle, and many other of Atherton’s CAR-15s, retained the triangular M16A2 handguard cap instead of the circular handguard cap found on Colt-produced carbines.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The Gordon blank-firing prop (top) is fitted with a commercial stock and fake suppressor that carry the original paint scheme used during production. The rifle was subsequently used as the on-screen hero prop in Blood Diamond. The live-fire replica, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms, (bottom) features a fully functional OPS Inc suppressor. The image of the semi-auto replica has been Photoshopped with BURST fire control markings and a full auto sear.

Analysis failed to confirm that the specific stock and dummy suppressor in the photos appeared on screen, but the paint scheme on those components leaves no doubt that those parts were used on an authentic Gordon hero prop. Although it’s impossible to confirm that the CAR-15 pictured was one of the Gordon hero rifles, it has been confirmed that this weapon was later used by Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond. The Zorg staff indicated that the rifle may have been repainted in the current tan paint scheme for the film The Green Zone.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The 8-hole CAR-15 handguards were manufactured from full-length M16A2 handguards when many of the M16A2s were configured into the CAR-15 configuration.

This CAR-15, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a replica of the on-screen prop representing Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s CAR-15 — a replica of a replica, as it were. These images were Photoshopped to represent the rifle in its Class III configuration. The replica is fitted with an Aimpoint CompM red dot optic.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The ETAC Arms live-fire replica is equipped with an 8-hole carbine handguard constructed from an M16A2 full-length handguard and a Surefire tactical light. The duct tape and zip tie matches the configuration shown in the film.

Although Aimpoint 3000 and 5000 optics were used during the real-life operation, they were out of production by 2001. Filmmakers selected the CompM, fitted on a B-Square Mount with a 30mm Weaver split ring mount, as a substitute. The dummy suppressor used on the hero prop wasn’t available, so an OPS Inc. suppressor was used in its place. Although Zorg provided access to the Gordon CAR-15 prop, they indicated that the props used to represent Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart’s M14 were rented from Gibbons Limited and returned after filming.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

Gibbons sold the eight MDL.M1As to Independent Studio Services in 2008 or 2009. The ISS armory staff indicated that it was likely that the two tan weapons were used as the hero props in filming. Photo analysis by William DeMolee indicates that it is likely that the top MDL.M1A, which is equipped with a Leatherwood scope, was the hero prop used in close-ups. The live-fire replica was painted to match onset production photos and screenshots by Augee Kim.

Mike Gibbons, owner of Gibbons Limited Entertainment Armory provided eight Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A rifles to the production. Mike revealed that the weapons used to represent Shughart’s M14 were sold to Independent Studio Services between 2008 and 2009. Kate Atherton from Zorg provided specific serial numbers for the eight weapons used in the production. Travis Pierce, Enhanced Tactical Arms M14 Subject Matter Expert, then used these serial numbers to determine that most of the rifles were produced in the ’90s.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The fire control selector switch cutouts on the tan Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A have been filled in and the external surfaces refinished. Almost all traces of spray paint had been removed.

The reproduction Shughart M14 film prop is an M1A built on an LBR Arms receiver with primarily USGI Winchester parts. It was originally assembled by M14 enthusiast Cody Vaughan and then reconfigured to match the film prop by Enhanced Tactical Arms with an ARMS 18 scope mount, Aimpoint CompM red dot optic, M1907 sling, and given a screen-matching camouflage pattern by Enhanced Tactical Arms retro firearms expert Augee Kim.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The Norm “Hoot” Gibson CAR-15 rubber dummy prop, built as a rubber stand-in for Eric Bana’s blank-firing carbine, is an iconic prop worthy of special attention. The rubber dummy, cast from a semi-auto Colt AR-15A2 Carbine with a removable carry handle, was used on-screen in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene. The prop was weathered with water-soluble aging spray and is fitted with a sling constructed from a piece of strap taken from a parachute lowering line assembly, looped through 550 cord and secured with black polycloth laminate tape.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

These include the type of handguard, delta ring, castle nut, stock, lower, and carry handle configuration. The lighting and camera angle make the differences difficult to detect as the story unfolds.

The live-firing prop replica, constructed by Enhanced Tactical Arms, was created using screenshots from the film, production photos, and the Hoot rubber dummy carbine as references. Although the Colt Gray lower on the Hoot CAR-15 appears to be an export M16A2, the black upper is distinctive. The Hoot blank-firing CAR-15 is configured with a 14.5-inch barrel, six-hole handguard, circular handguard cap, flat delta ring, and M16A1 birdcage flash hider.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The Hoot replica, which is similar in general configuration to a Colt 727, weighs in at slightly over 6 pounds and is as reliable and accurate as a modern M4. The helmet, goggles, and American flag were props used during production in 2001.


When we asked Mr. Atherton if the rifles used in the film were painted using an airbrush he laughed, indicating that the rifles were painted quickly, using techniques recommended by military advisor Harry Humphries.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The Hoot character is reported to be a composite of several Special Forces veterans involved in Operation Gothic Serpent.

Black Hawk Down is one of the first films to capture post-Vietnam warfare in a realistic manner and set the standard for how modern warfare (and weapons) would be represented in film. When discussing the long-term impact of the film in a 2013 interview, First Sergeant Matt Eversmann (U.S. Army, retired) stated, “…what I’ve found over the last decade is that, there are a lot of folks that really aren’t touched by the war on terror … watch Black Hawk Down and you have a really fair, accurate, and pretty authentic view of what urban combat is like … it is the reference point, both the book and the movie, that people are going to look at when they talk about getting involved in these type of conflicts in these countries we’ve never heard of …”

This endorsement, in conjunction with the pair of Academy Awards earned in 2002, illustrates why the film continues to receive praise from many film aficionados and military veterans nearly two decades after its release.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the city-state with the best air force and navy in Southeast Asia

When thinking of countries that have the strongest militaries in the world, giants like the US, Russia, China, and the UK come to mind. In Asia — and Southeast Asia in particular — China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are usually mentioned.

But the country that boasts the best air force and navy in the region, and a military that is considered one of the most powerful in the world, is a tiny island city-state with a population of only 5 million — Singapore.


Strong since independence

The concept of a strong military has been ingrained in Singapore since it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.

“Historically, Singapore had rather tumultuous relations with its immediate neighbors, namely Indonesia and Malaysia,” Collin Koh Sw ee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Maritime Security Programme, told Business Insider. “This was quite the case back in the early decades of Singapore’s independence.”

As a result, Singapore needed to invest in its security forces. “There was a sense in Singapore that they were extremely vulnerable to coercion being so small,” Scott Harold, the associate director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, told Business Insider.

But with a small population and hardly any territory to train on let alone fight, it became clear that the only way they could secure their country was by out-competing their potential rivals through high-end technology.

‘A poisonous shrimp’

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
A Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Formidable-class Frigate.
(Singapore Ministry of Defense photo)

Singapore’s air force boasts 60 US-made F-16C/D and 40 F-15SG that were designed specifically for the the Singapore Air Force. They also operate 20 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters, one of the best gunships currently in service.

Singapore’s navy has six Formidable-class stealth frigates, licensed Singaporean-made versions of France’s La Fayette-class frigate, a number of high-end submarines both in service and in development, and five Endurance-class landing platform docks than can carry 18 tanks and hundreds of troops.

The army is small compared to some of its regional rivals, with only 72,000 active personnel. But it has some of the best equipment in service, and much of it was either entirely produced or improved on by domestic companies.

This includes the Leopard 2SG, Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle. The country also has compulsory military service, and can quickly mobilize its army for war at a moment’s notice.

All of this high-end equipment is, unsurprisingly expensive. But despite its small size, Singapore has managed to become a global economic and military powerhouse.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
Singaporean soldiers dismount a Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle, February 23, 2013.
(Singapore Army / Facebook)

In 2017, Global Finance magazine ranked Singapore as the 4th richest country in the world in terms of GDP, and it has been able to stay high on that list for decades.

The city-state has historically had a high defense budget, usually hovering around three to four percent of its GDP, though it has gone as high as 5% in the past. The 2018 military budget, $14.76 billion, makes up 18% of Singapore’s annual budget.

But what really sets Singapore apart from its neighbors in the realm of technology and equipment, is the fact that it is all integrated into a single cohesive fighting force.

“Not only do they have high-end equipment, they know how to operate it in a very high level of capability. It’s integrated as opposed to all the other country in Southeast Asia,” Brian Harding, the deputy director the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Southeast Asia Program, told Business Insider.

“They focus on making sure their systems work together, they have interoperability between the services. They are highly professional military,” Harding said. “A poisonous shrimp is the analogy that is made.”

Geographic difficulties

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
Leopard 2SGs from the Singapore Armed Forces Mobile Coumn at the Singapore National Day Parade, August 9, 2015.
(154th Media Entertainment / YouTube)

But Singapore’s military does have a a big problem — geography. There simply isn’t enough room on the island to train its fighting forces.

“If you’re in a fighter jet that is taking off at three or four hundred miles an hour, you very quickly leave Singaporean airspace,” Harold said.

As a result, Singapore has sent some of its soldiers and much of its equipment overseas. Its military has personnel and air squadrons in the US, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, and Taiwan to name a few.

While the main purpose for these deployments in for training, it does offer another advantage — the ability to stage an effective counter-strike.

“The idea of distributing manpower and assets abroad … also provide a recessed type of backup reinforcements, a form of insurance, in case forces deployed within Singapore got wiped out in an enemy onslaught,” Koh said.

“These assets could therefore be mobilized as a follow-on force, possibly reinforced by friendly partners,” he added.

Singapore’s relations with its immediate neighbors have actually improved remarkably. In Koh’s words, they “have never been as good as now.”

Singapore has also contributed to international operations like Afghanistan and disaster relief missions to affected nations.

But Singapore is still cautious. Chinese actions in the South China Sea have not been encouraging, and its continued support of a US military presence in the region is not popular with some.

“Singaporeans are the ultimate realists and understand that things can change quickly,” Harding said. “They know that they need to be prepared for the future and not just hope for the best.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The new body armor and combat shirt coming to US troops

For as long as it’s existed, the U.S. military has always looked for ways to improve the odds of survival for troops in combat. Troops appreciate the effort, but lately, they’ve been carrying a lot of stuff — up to 200 pounds in some cases. They’d like that burden to be lighter.


These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
The Army’s new Soldier Protection System. (US Army photo)

Luckily, it looks like the Army is going to be able to do that for the troops, starting in 2019. A 2016 report from the Army Times notes that troops will be receiving new body armor and an improved shirt. New body armor has emerged a few times throughout the War on Terror. First, troops used the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops until 2004, then replaced it with the Interceptor Body Armor. The Interceptor then got an Improved Outer Tactical Vest.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
US Marine Corps (USMC) Corporal (CPL) Joe Rattlif sites through the scope mounted to a 12.7mm .50 in Barrett Light Fifty Model 82A1 sniping rifle, while training at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facility, Camp Pendleton, California (CA), during Exercise KERNEL BLITZ 2001. (USMC photo)

Now, the Army is replacing Interceptor with the Soldier Protection System. One of the most notable features is the Torso and Extremity Protection (TEP), which includes a Modular Scalable Vest. According to Army Systems Command, the TEP is 26 percent lighter than the comparable system on Interceptor. The Vital Torso Protection (VTP) system, which replaces the Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates, also helps reduce the load, by as much as 14 percent.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
The Torso and Extremity Protection comes in four tiers. (U.S. Army photo)

The Army also is releasing a new shirt known as the Ballistic Combat Shirt. The Army Times notes that this shirt allows troops to do without a portion of the Interceptor system called the Deltoid Auxiliary Protector, because the shirt provides the same level of protection. Because it feels like a normal shirt, troops are hauling less and have a freer range of movement, which makes for better rifle handling.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
The armor plates used in the Vital Torso Protection component of the Soldier Protection System. (U.S. Army photo)

The trend may not stop there. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) website notes that it is pursuing newer technology to help troops carry more protection that weighs even less. This could be a big help for the troops facing down the bad guys in the future.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

The War of 1812 was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain, though it could be argued that Canadians and Native Americans were most affected by it. The northern theater of the war, especially near the border of Canada and the Great Lakes, saw some of the most intense fighting — so much so that, after the Treaty of Ghent, President James Madison ordered a heavy fortification be built at the northern end of Lake Champlain to prevent future invasion.


The only problem… was that the fort was built on the wrong side of the border.

The Americans didn’t discover the error until two years later, when a surveyor found the fort was being built north of the 45th parallel.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’
Oops.

Construction halted on the fort, which earned the moniker “Fort Blunder,” until 1842, when the U.S. moved the boundary line north (see the current boundary in the image above) — because pride.

Also read: This War of 1812 veteran saw the Battle of Gettysburg from his porch – then joined it

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolved a number of border issues between what would one day become Canada and the United States, who promptly began to build another fort — this one named for revolutionary war hero General Richard Montgomery. The fort was built from the same limestone slabs that helped raise the Brooklyn Bridge, and, though it was never fully garrisoned, it was armed and ready for action.

As the United States’ relationships with Great Britain and Canada flourished, Fort Montgomery’s function dwindled. In 1926, it was auctioned off by the U.S. government and sold to a private bidder.

War of 1812: This is the only time since the War of 1812 that enemy forces occupied US soil

Today, it’s actually for sale… but no one wants it (except for me — I absolutely want it and I am currently looking for a $3 million donation for this cause. The parties there will be epic. Bring your boat and everyone you know…), though in 2009, it was placed on The Preservation League of New York State’s list of Seven to Save.

MIGHTY CULTURE

12 useful items to keep in your car this winter

Some people think that a full tank of gas and keys are the only things needed to drive a car. Sure, you can sometimes get away with being underprepared, but not during the winter. Factors like snow, ice, and freezing temperatures make winter driving a lot more demanding than normal.

You should be prepared for typical accidents that could potentially happen on the road at any time, but during the winter we’re also tasked with shoveling snow, scraping ice from our windows, making sure our tires have good traction, maintaining safe tire pressure, and more.


Whether you’re taking a spirited drive for fun or traveling from point A to point B, there a few things that everyone should keep in their car at all times during the winter.

No matter what year, make, or model your car is, it should come with basics like a tire iron and jack, but those two items alone won’t cut it. If you end up with a dead battery or a car that’s stuck in the snow, you’ll want to have a few other things on hand.

Check out the 12 items you should keep in your car at all times this winter, below:

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(DMOS Collective)

1. A packable shovel

It goes without saying that shovels are useful during the winter, but having one specifically dedicated to your car is a wise move. If you’ve ever had to dig your car out after a snowstorm or gotten stuck along a snow-covered road, you know how convenient it is to keep one in your trunk.

When choosing a shovel to store in the car, people often resort to a cheap mini shovel for the sake of saving space, but it’s bound to break. Or they opt for a full-size shovel that will take up their entire cargo space for better efficiency.

With a DMOS Collective shovel, you get the best of both worlds. Made in the US using aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, every DMOS shovel features serrated teeth for breaking ice and a collapsible handle for easy storage.

Choose the Alpha 2 for a full-sized shovel or the Stealth for an even more compact design. You’ll never have to buy another shovel again, and it will fit your trunk perfectly.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

2. A snow and ice scraper

A snow and ice scraper is easily the most used tool for drivers during the winter. Keeping one handy will allow you to efficiently clear off your windows and lights before driving. The Snow Angel features an extendable telescopic arm, so it’s easy to store and won’t take up a lot of space when not in use.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

3. Jumper cables

A dead battery is one of the most common car issues, so jumper cables are a must-have. Whether you accidentally left your lights on or cold weather drained your battery, this will bring your car back to life. EPAuto uses thick 4-gauge cables for solid and reliable conductivity.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

4. A flashlight

Keeping a flashlight in your car year-round is a good idea, but with less daylight during the winter, it can be especially useful. Sure, your smartphone has a flashlight app on it, but it’s not as useful as a real one. Whether changing a tire or jumping your car, you want something that shines bright and is durable.

The Outlite A100 has a bright light with an adjustable focus and five modes, including a disrupter strobe and SOS function. It’s also waterproof, so you’ll be able to use it in all weather conditions.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

5. A gas can

Running out of gas can be a major headache at any time of the year, but it’s definitely worse in the winter. You don’t want to store fuel in your trunk, but keeping a small gas container in your car can save you from a tow. Just walk or take a cab to the nearest gas station and fill this can. With a capacity of just over a gallon, it will hold enough gas to get you to a gas station where you can refill your tank.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

6. An external battery

You probably already own a battery pack for keeping your electronics charged on-the-go, but having one that’s always in your car is important. It can be the difference between making a quick call for help or being stranded for hours. The NOCO Boost Plus GB40 acts as a charger flash, LED flashlight, and even has a plug-in to jumpstart your car.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Sears)

7. A good spare tire

If your tires don’t have good tread, you absolutely want to replace them before winter comes. Driving in wet, snowy, or icy conditions with bald tires is extremely dangerous and shouldn’t be done. Go for a quality set of all-season tires, or opt for a set of snow tires to run on your car during the winter months. In addition to the tires on your car, it’s important to keep a spare that’s in solid condition.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

8. Portable air compressor

Whether your tires are brand new or used, cold weather can cause a loss of tire pressure. Since keeping the correct tire pressure is important to driving safely, an air compressor is a convenient way to maintain good tire pressure at all times. The P.I. Auto Store Air Compressor plugs right into your car’s 12-volt power outlet and features a gauge to let you know you’ve reached the correct PSI.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

9. A first-aid kit

You never know when you’ll need a first aid kit, so keeping a small one in your car is always smart. The Swiss Safe 2-in-1 is a packable case that’s easy to store or carry. It includes a 120-piece kit and a smaller bonus 32-piece kit.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

10. A basic tool kit

Even if you’re not a mechanic, having a basic tool kit can save the day when simple fixes need to be done. The Apollo 56-Piece kit includes everything you’ll need for basic repairs — a wrench, sockets, Allen keys, pliers, a screwdriver, zip ties, and more.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

11. Cat litter

Have you ever been stuck in the snow and your tires just keep spinning and spinning, no matter how much gas you give it? Even with new tires, certain cars can still lose traction, but luckily there’s a solution: cat litter. Simply spread the litter underneath the tires lacking traction, and you’ll be able to drive out of the slippery snow and ice.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Amazon)

12. A warm blanket

Being stranded isn’t fun at any time of year, but during the winter, it’s more than an inconvenience. Going from driving in a warm car with heat to breaking down and losing power is never a good feeling — and can even be dangerous.

In the event that you do have to tough it out inside your car for a few hours or even overnight, you’re going to need a blanket to stay warm. You don’t need a full comforter set, but a fleece blanket provides warmth and won’t take up too much trunk space.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

DoD making steady progress on Space Force plans

Space is a crucial domain that the United States must continue to exploit and lead in, said Vice President Mike Pence at the fourth meeting of the National Space Council at Fort Lesley J. McNair on Oct. 24, 2018.

“Space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,” Pence said. “And America will be as dominant there as we are, here on Earth.”

This is the basis for President Donald J. Trump’s creation of the United States Space Force, which would be the sixth branch of the military, the vice president said.


Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called this “the next and natural evolution” of America’s military. The new service “is absolutely necessary to ensure American supremacy in space,” he said. “The U.S. military is the best in the world in space, but our adversaries have taken note and are actively developing and fielding capabilities to potentially deny our usage of space in crisis or war.”

Space Force

Also pushing this is the growth in capacity and capabilities of the commercial space industry, which has moved forward in ways never imagined, Shanahan said. “President Trump has directed that a response to the threats from adversaries and the opportunities of commercial space be combined to generate a solution — the Space Force,” he said.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan.

The department will submit a legislative proposal in the coming weeks, and the deputy secretary called that “a significant lift.”

“The legislative proposal will embody our guiding principles, speed and effectiveness,” he said. “Speed in leveraging commercial space technology and resources. Speed in escaping red tape. Speed in fielding capabilities sooner. It will reflect our drive to be more effective — effective in maximizing how we are more integrated technically to unlock our ability to be united in our space operations. Effective in creating a solution, and then together — not singularly — leveraging the solutions across the enterprise. Effective in how we structure the Space Force.”

DOD is considering the cost of the venture.

Space Development Agency

The department is also working on the Space Development Agency. The agency will leverage technology, standards, and architecture to enable unparalleled integration, he said. “The effort now is on reconciling capabilities prioritized by the National Defense Strategy with the readiness of technology, anchored by our assumptions on how quickly we can scale,” Shanahan said.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the council that all members of the Joint Chiefs support the stand up of a combatant command for space. The command will focus DOD activities and the department’s development of doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures in the domain. The command will also focus discussions on “the authorities, responsibilities, and rules of engagement for conduct in space, for the conduct of defensive and offensive operations to protect our constellation, to fight our constellation, and to support our war fighters in all domains, and across all domains, as we protect our ability to deploy civil, commercial, and military space, to the benefit of the nation,” Selva said.

Seeking strategic advantage

This is needed, said Sue Gordon, the deputy director of national intelligence. “The intelligence community applauds the redoubled emphasis on ensuring and protecting our strategic advantage in this domain that is so necessary to our national interests,” she said. “But it’s a strategic advantage that our adversaries and competitors would seek to diminish.

Intelligence analysts believe Russia and China continue to focus on establishing operational forces designed to attack U.S. space systems. “Space is a priority warfighting domain for them, as demonstrated by the creation of dedicated space organizations over the past several years,” she said. “Russian and Chinese destructive antisatellite weapons will probably reach initial operating capability in the next few years. And both these countries are advancing directed energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding anti-satellite weapons that could blind or damage our sensitive space-based optical sensors, such as those used for remote sensing or missile defense.”

Russia and China also continue to launch experimental satellites to advance counter-space capabilities. “If a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would probably justify attacks against U.S. and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil or commercial space systems,” she said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This was the Air Force’s super fighter that never flew

The 1950s was a game-changing decade for the world of military aviation, especially with the rise of jet propulsion in place of propeller engines. It was in this decade that the U.S. Air Force came close to fielding one of the most advanced (for its time) “super fighters” ever conceived.


Known as the XF-108 Rapier, and designed by North American – also known for producing the widely successful P-51 Mustang – it was equipped to fly at more than three times the speed of sound for long distances, hunting down and destroying marauding Soviet bombers out to drop nuclear weapons on the US and its allies during the Cold War.

The XF-108 would also be able to complement its larger sibling, the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, which itself was capable of achieving speeds in the Mach 3 range. Though the Valkyrie’s insane speed would be too much for Soviet air defense systems to handle, it wouldn’t hurt having a smaller fighter escort nearby which could keep up with the bomber, just in case enemy fighters made it too close for comfort.

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An XB-70 Valkyrie prototype before its first flight (Photo US Air Force)

North American sought to make its newest fighter extremely deadly, adding a Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar that was coupled to an infrared search and tracking system. Together, this sensor suite would be able to lock onto and track targets at long ranges with solid accuracy.

The XF-108’s primary weapon was the GAR-9 missile, which had a range of over 100 miles, and could fly at more than six times the speed of sound on its way to its target. The Rapier would carry three of these on an internal rotary launcher in its belly.

To give it speed, the XF-108 would use two General Electric afterburning turbojets that could pump out over 29,300 pounds of force apiece with the afterburners lit. In comparison, an F/A-18 Super Hornet’s two GE F414 turbofan engines can put out only 22,000 pounds of force apiece in burner!

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An AIM-47 Falcon waiting to be loaded into a YF-12 interceptor prototype. The Falcon was the direct successor to the GAR-9 (Photo US Air Force)

However, the Rapier lost its mission rapidly with the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles and guided cruise missiles — the latter of which could be launched from surface warships and submarines floating off the coast of the United States. Instead of sending swarms of bombers, all of which could hypothetically be shot down if responded to quickly enough, the USSR could mail nuclear weapons to the US with ICBMs, which were much more difficult to destroy.

Sadly, the Rapier never had a chance to even fly.

In late 1959, by the end of the decade, the program was shelved altogether, having only made it to the mockup stage. In a matter of months, the XF-108 was no more. Its sister plane, the XB-70 would meet a somewhat similar fate in the next decade, and would be retired from flight testing after a fatal and highly publicized accident.

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An A-5A Vigilante prototype (Photo US Navy)

Some of the technology and lessons learned in designing the XF-108 were put to use with a later North American product – the A-5/RA-5 Vigilante, which bears a considerable resemblance to its predecessor. The GAR-9 was also developed further into the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which would later be matured into the AIM-54 Phoenix, deployed with the F-14 Tomcat.

Mach 3-capable fighter jets have long since been relegated to the history books as an unnecessary hope of the past, but with improvements in propulsion technology, it’s very possible that future fighters fielded by the US military might be blessed with such incredible speed.

Articles

Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room to bury America’s vets

Veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery unless policies are changed — even if they were bestowed the Medal of Honor, a new report says.


There are 21 million living veterans in the U.S., but the cemetery has room for only 73,000 burials.

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Soldiers of the 3rd U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) prepare to move the casket of Medal of Honor recipient Leonard Keller to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery’s section 60. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Currently, any veteran with an honorable discharge and at least one day of active duty is eligible for interment there at Arlington. That’s a lower bar than the cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which require two years of active duty service. (RELATED: VA Insists On Paper Records, Slowing Payments To Private Docs But Creating Union Jobs)

Largely thanks to the one-day-minimum policy, the cemetery will be closed even to those killed in action — known as “first interments” — by 2042.

“If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate under current policies, it must be expanded geographically and/or alter the iconic look and feel of the cemetery,” an Army report presented to Congress August 23 said. “If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate without expansion, eligibility must change or it will close for first interments by mid-century.”

That’s only 26 years into the future, meaning veterans of recent wars, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, have little hope of burial there when they die later in life. “With current policies, Veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, [Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom] era cannot expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, even if awarded the Medal of Honor,” the report says.

Between 1967 and 1980, burial at Arlington was limited to those killed in action (KIA), retired career, and medal of honor recipients. If the policy is changed to limit the cemetery to KIAs only, the cemetery will have enough space for hundreds of years.

But doing so would disenfranchise Vietnam veterans, the youngest of whom will be octogenarians around 2040 and many of whom already felt mistreated by their country.

Besides changing policy, the cemetery can consider more compact and above-ground burials, which would risk losing the “serene and ordered look … with its rows of white headstones, trees, and tasteful historical and ceremonial spaces.”

It could also expand, either by acquiring neighboring land — which is hard to come by in Arlington — or at a new site. One such expansion is already taken into account in the projections.

Follow Luke on Twitter.

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MIGHTY MOVIES

11 things you should know about the 25th James Bond film

More details about next year’s 25th installment in the James Bond 007 franchise were revealed on April 25, 2019, with one glaring omission: the movie’s title.

During an event at James Bond author Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye villa in Jamaica, the cast and filming locations for “Bond 25” were confirmed. The movie will take audiences to London, Italy, and more. Daniel Craig’s Bond will be joined by returning faces such as Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw’s Q, and a recent Oscar winner was revealed to be the movie’s villain.

“Bond 25” has had a rough journey to this point, though. The movie was pushed back from its original release date this November to next spring after director Danny Boyle exited the project over creative differences. Now, “Killing Eve” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has joined to polish the script.

It’s unknown when the movie’s title will be revealed, but for now, here is everything we know about “Bond 25.”


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(MGM)

1. Bond 25 comes to theaters April 8, 2020.

It was originally scheduled for this November.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Flickr photo)

2. It’s directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Fukunaga is known for directing the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” the Netflix original movie “Beasts of No Nation,” and the Netflix limited series “Maniac.”

He replaced “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle, who was originally attached to direct Bond 25, but exited last year over creative differences.

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

3. The movie is written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Scott Z. Burns, and “Killing Eve” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

It was confirmed Thursday that Waller-Bridge had joined.

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4. Daniel Craig will return for his fifth, and final, movie as Bond.

Craig will return as Bond despite saying in 2015 that he’d rather “break glass and slit” his wrists than play Bond again.

Variety reported last year that he’d be paid million for Bond 25.

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(20th Century Fox)

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Fiennes in “Specre.”

(Columbia Pictures)

6. Ralph Fiennes is returning as M.

He took over the title from Judi Dench for 2015’s “Spectre.”

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Harris in “Spectre.”

(Columbia Pictures)

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Whishaw in “Skyfall.”

(Columbia Pictures)

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RAMI MALEK

(Disney)

9. Oscar-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody” actor Rami Malek has joined the cast, likely as the villain.

“I promise you all I will be making sure Mr. Bond does not have an easy ride of it in this, his 25th outing,” Malek said in a video message on Twitter on Thursday.

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De Armas in “Blade Runner 2049.”

(Columbia Pictures)

10. Other additions to the cast include Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Lashana Lynch, and Dali Benssalah.

Magnussen is known for his role as Ryan in “Game Night”; de Armas was the AI Joi in “Blade Runner 2049”; Dencik will appear in the upcoming HBO mini-series, “Chernobyl”; Lynch recently starred in “Captain Marvel” as Maria Rambeau; and Benssalah has starred in the French film, “A Faithful Man.”

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

(Twitter)

11. Filming locations for the movie include Jamaica, Norway, London, and Italy.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the branches stacked up in the Pentagon’s first-ever audit

In 2018, the Pentagon underwent its first audit in the history of the institution – and failed miserably. It will probably surprise no one that the organization which pays hundreds of dollars for coffee cups and thousands for a toilet seat has trouble tracking its spending. But the issues are much deeper than that. The Pentagon’s accounting issues could take years to fix, according to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.


“We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it,” Shanahan told reporters at a briefing. “We never thought we were going to pass an audit, everyone was betting against us that we wouldn’t even do the audit.”

The Pentagon famously did the audit with the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank Truth In Accounting. In July 2019, Truth in Accounting released its report card for the branches of service and their reporting agencies.

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Anyone who interacts with a military finance office already has feelings about this right now.

Before ranking the branches, military members should know that the best performers in the audit were the Military Retirement Fund, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So we at least know your retirement accounts are exactly what they tell you they are.

Unfortunately, the four of the five lowest-scoring entities were the four major military branches.

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U.S. Marine Corps

The Marines topped the list as least worst among the branches, probably because they need to scrape together anything they can to train and fight while keeping their equipment in working order. Since the Corps also has the smallest budget, there’s like less room for error but remember: it’s still the top of the bottom of the list.

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U.S. Army and U.S. Navy

Tied for second in terrible accounting practices is the Army and Navy, which kind of makes sense – they have a lot of men, vehicles, purchases, organizations, and more to account for. But if we have to put them at numbers two and three, it would be more accurate to rank the Army higher – its budget is usually twice that of the Navy.

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U.S. Air Force

It’s not really a surprise that the Air Force has the worst accounting practices of all the branches of the military. This is the branch that uses high-tech, expensive equipment, one-time use bombs, and all the fuel it can handle while still giving airmen a quality of life that seems unbelievable to the other branches. If ever you could accuse an organization of voodoo economics, the smart money is on the Air Force – who would probably lose it immediately.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Iranian fanatics tried to spark a war with the US during Desert Storm

In 1991, the United States and its coalition allies scored a decisive victory over Iraq, pushing the invading army out of Kuwait after a 40-day air war and 100-hour ground assault. The coalition was almost universally recognized, only Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, and Tunisia opposed to action. Also in support was Iran, enemy to both Iraq and the United States. But deep within the most fanatical ranks of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a plot was hatched to hit U.S. troops.


During the buildup to Desert Storm in the waning days of 1990, the United States was sending thousands of troops, vehicles, ships, and aircraft into the region. They were building a force that could rival Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army, prevent it from moving further than Kuwait (namely, from invading neighboring Saudi Arabia), and have enough troops to push it out of Kuwait.

What a tempting target such a buildup would be to any foe. That’s exactly what a faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards thought. The United States wouldn’t even expect an attack from Iran. It would have been easy.

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But not “Re-Enlisting on the Backs of Your Fallen Enemy” Easy.

The whole purpose of the Revolutionary Guards is to deter foreign threats to the Islamic Republic, whether those threats come from outside Iran or are fomented within its borders. They are a sort of internal security service mixed with a paramilitary organization that can operate both in and outside their home country. They are the Islamic Republic’s most fervent defenders, believers in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of a nation founded on the principles of Shia Islam.

In practice, their ideological zeal has given IRGC units the green light to do whatever it takes to keep Iran and its Islamic government safe from those who would dismantle it. This includes violence, terrorism, and even all-out war alongside Iranian allies. It was the IRGC that helped Iran fight technologically superior Iraq to a draw in the Iran-Iraq War. That war also led to the emergence of the IRGC as a major military and political force in Iran. So, when the United States launched Desert Shield, the IRGC took notice.

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It was kinda hard to miss.

As the tens of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops massed in Saudi Arabia, units of a rebellious faction of the Revolutionary Guards, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s son, Ahmad, attempted to launch missile attacks from Iran on the troops deploying to Saudi Arabia. The goal, according to a 2008 paper by IRGC expert Ali Alfoneh in Middle East Quarterly, was to start a war between the United States and Iran on the eve of Desert Storm.

Loyalist Guardsmen and regular Iranian Army units under the command of then-IRGC Chief Mohsen Rezai got wind of the plan. It was to be launched from Khorramshahr, an Iranian city on the Iraqi border near Kuwait. Khorramshahr was the site of a particularly bloody battle of the Iran-Iraq War, a fight hard won by Iranian forces. It was also the site of an IRGC-controlled missile battery – which was quickly captured by the loyalist Iranian regime forces.

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“Khorramshahr” is also the name of one of Iran’s newest long-range ballistic missiles.

Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, but his legacy protected his mutinous son. Ahmad Khomeini, considered his father’s right hand man, was relieved of his Revolutionary Guards command and was sent to live in isolation until his death in 1995. The 49-year-old cleric died of a mysterious heart disease while still living an isolated life.

The United States went on to victory over Iran’s former adversary, humiliating Saddam Hussein and forcing the Iraqi regime to accept harsh economic sanctions and military limitations until the U.S. came back to topple it in 2003. Iran’s patience paid off with the recent instability in Iraq allowing the Islamic Republic to project power across the Middle East.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian men barred from Ukraine as crisis escalates

Ukraine has barred Russian male nationals between 16 and 60 from traveling to the country, President Petro Poroshenko announced on Nov. 30, 2018.

The move comes amid escalation tensions between the two countries after Russian border guards on Nov. 25, 2018, opened fire and captured three Ukrainian naval vessels and their 24-member crew off Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Ukrainian leader has called for a stronger NATO presence in the Black Sea region and for further Western sanctions against Russia.


Poroshenko tweeted on Nov. 30, 2018, that the restrictions on Russian travelers have been taken to prevent Russia from forming “private armies” fighting on Ukrainian soil.

Russia has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.

Petro Tsygykal, head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said border checkpoints were being bolstered, according to a statement on the presidential website.

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Checkpoint Marynivka.

Border Guard Service spokesman Andriy Demchenko told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV on Nov. 30, 2018, that Russian male nationals would be barred from entering Ukraine during the period of martial law, which is now due to continue until Dec. 26, 2018.

Russia said it had no plans to mirror the Ukrainian move. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed the Ukrainian government for implementing a policy that hurts ordinary people.

On Nov. 29, 2018, Poroshenko said that Kyiv will impose “restrictions” on Russian citizens in Ukraine and the country’s border guard said only Ukrainian nationals would be allowed to travel to Crimea in connection with the imposition of martial law for 30 days in parts of the country.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kateryna Zelenko confirmed to RFE/RL by phone that foreign journalists are among those excluded from entering Crimea from Ukraine but said her ministry was discussing whether to grant them an exception.

The official confirmation came hours after Anna-Lena Lauren, a Moscow-based foreign correspondent for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, was barred by Ukrainian border guards from entering Crimea through the what Ukraine deems the only legal route.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights said Ukraine has filed a complaint against Russia in the court for firing on three of its ships and boarding them.

A court statement on Nov. 30, 2018, said Ukraine had asked it to intervene to ensure the well-being of its sailors. Moscow accuses them of illegally crossing the Russian border and failing to comply with orders to stop.

“The Ukrainian government has asked in particular that Russia provide medical care to the wounded sailors and provide information on the state of health of the crew members. It also asks that the sailors be treated as prisoners of war,” the statement said.

The court said it had asked the Russian government for information about the condition of the sailors’ detention. The complaint is the fifth filed by Ukraine against Russia since Moscow forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014.

A Russian government-appointed ombudswoman in Crimea said the captured Ukrainian naval personnel are being transferred to Moscow, Russian state media reported on Nov. 30, 2018.

Russia says the Ukrainians had violated its border while Ukraine says its ships were acting in line with international maritime rules.

A Crimean court earlier this week ruled to keep the Ukrainian seamen behind bars for two months pending the investigation.

Earlier on Nov. 30, 2018, the Kremlin said it regrets U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming Group of 20 (G20) summit.

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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands during a 2018 summit.

“This means that discussion of important issues on the international and bilateral agenda will be postponed indefinitely,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media.

Putin, he said, “is ready to have contacts with his American counterpart.”

Trump said he was cancelling the meeting scheduled for this weekend at the G20 summit in Argentina over Russia’s recent seizure of the Ukrainian vessels.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting…in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,”” Trump said in a tweet posted on Nov. 29, 2018.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Nov. 30, 2018, that Budapest stands by Ukraine in the latest escalation of tensions with Russia.

Orban, who is one of the few EU leaders to have good relations with Putin, said Hungary’s position was clear despite the “anti-Hungarian government” in Kyiv.

Hungary and Ukraine are at odds over the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

‘No military solution’

In an interview with the German tabloid Bild published early on Nov. 29, 2018, Poroshenko said he hopes European states will take active steps, including increasing sanctions and military protection against Russia, to help Ukraine after providing verbal support in the wake of Russia’s capture of 24 Ukrainian crew members over the weekend.

“We hope that NATO states are prepared to send naval ships to the Sea of Azov to support Ukraine and provide security,” Poroshenko said. He claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin sees himself as a “Russian emperor” and Ukraine as a Russian “colony.”

“The only language he [Putin] understands is the solidarity of the Western world,” Poroshenko said. “We can’t accept Russia’s aggressive policies. First it was Crimea, then eastern Ukraine, now he wants the Sea of Azov.”

Speaking at a German-Ukrainian economic forum in Berlin later on Nov. 29, 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she planned to press Putin at the G20 summit on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018, this week to urge the release of the ships and crews.

“We can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts,” she added.

While blaming Russia for tensions, Merkel showed no signs of being ready to back military support.

“We ask the Ukrainian side, too, to be sensible because we know that we can only solve things through being reasonable and through dialogue because there is no military solution to these disputes,” she said.

Peskov on Nov. 29, 2018, criticized Poroshenko’s request for NATO to deploy naval ships to the Sea of Azov, alleging it was “aimed at provoking further tensions” and driven by Poroshenko’s “electoral and domestic policy motives.”

Putin has claimed that the naval confrontation was a ploy to boost his Ukrainian counterpart’s popularity ahead of an election in March 2019.

A NATO spokeswoman said the alliance already has a strong presence in the region, with vessels routinely patrolling and exercising in the Black Sea.

“There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region,” Oana Lungescu said.

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The Sea of Azov is the body of water that separates the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, from the Ukrainian and Russian mainlands. Russia opened a bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting Crimea with Russia in May and has asserted control over the strait.

The Kerch Strait is the only route for ships traveling between the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, and the Black Sea, which is an arena usually patrolled by NATO.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy’s insane vertical take-off fighters of the 1950s

Nearly two decades before the Harrier jump jet would prove the efficacy of vertical take-off and landing platforms, the U.S. Navy considered taking another approach to fielding fighters without a runway.

In the years immediately following World War II, the United States found itself trying to adapt its newfound airpower to a world with nuclear weapons in it. America knew its monopoly on atomic bombs wouldn’t last forever, and by the mid 1940s, it seemed clear that the Soviet Union would eventually become the planet’s second nuclear power.

That day came sooner than many expected, when a nuclear detonation at the Semipalatinsk test site in modern-day Kazakhstan on August 29, 1949, ushered in an era of military competition between global powers. In just a few short decades, the combined nuclear weapon stockpile of the U.S. and Soviet Union exceeded 70,000. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction tends to be discussed in terms of just the U.S. and Soviets these days, but with stockpiles that large, it was truly the world that hung in the balance as these two superpowers stared one another down from their respective hemispheres.

Nuclear war and the need for VTOL aircraft

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

For some time, nuclear war seemed not only possible, but even likely, as the two nations postured for territory and prestige. Within some defense circles, the question really wasn’t if a nuclear war would break out… but when.

The fact that just 21 years passed between the conclusion of World War I and the onset of World War II is an important piece of context to consider when looking back at the decades immediately following that second great conflict. Military leaders in both nations were largely old enough to have seen not one, but two world wars, each setting a new precedent for war’s horrific destructive capacity. World War III wasn’t a hypothetical concept for much of the world as it is today. World War III seemed like a very real and potentially likely scenario, and the one thing both sides were certain of was that the next global conflict would start the same way the last one had ended: With nuclear weapons.

(Wikimedia Commons)

While America’s politicians largely saw the concept of nuclear war as the end state of a diplomatic failure, America’s military leaders were stuck in the unenviable position of having to plan to fight and win such a war. That meant finding ways to stay in the fight after the first nukes made landfall, and one way that manifested in a number of military aircraft development programs was the concept of VTOL, or Vertical Take-Off and Landing.

Throughout World War II, the world saw an explosion of aviation infrastructure development, as landing strips popped up in every region of the fight. These airstrips throughout Europe and the Pacific would almost certainly be seen as an imposing threat to the Soviets in a new conflict, as they would provide America and its allies with ample opportunity to launch heavy payload bombers deep into Soviet territory.

U.S. Air Force B-29s in 1945 (USAF Photo)

As a result, Pentagon brass believed airstrips would be among the first targets of a Soviet nuclear attack. If they were right and the U.S. couldn’t count on having airstrips positioned around the globe to support combat operations, they needed a new fighter that could take off and land without the need for a well-manicured runway.

The U.S. Air Force considered the Canadian flying saucer known as the VZ-9 Avrocar. The U.S. Navy sought their own solution, and by 1950, they had received proposals from both Lockheed and Convair.

The Lockheed XFV “Salmon”

While the need for VTOL aircraft was seen all across the Pentagon, the Navy saw vertical take-off and landing platforms as an opportunity to deploy intercept fighters from non-aircraft carrier vessels. In fact, the Navy even considered launching VTOL fighters off of merchant ships in a new World War if necessary.

In June of 1951, Lockheed was awarded a Navy contract to build the XFV-1; a prototype fighter with traditional wings, a massive reinforced X-shaped tail, and a 5,850 horsepower turboprop engine spinning a pair of three-bladed contra-rotating propellers that made the aircraft look like the bastard child of a helicopter and a prop-driven fighter. Most unusual of all, the aircraft was designed to take off and land on its tail, with its nose pointed straight up in the air.

(Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed called on famed aviation pioneer Kelly Johnson to design their VTOL XFV, and one could have argued at the time that the program couldn’t have been placed in better hands. Johnson was just coming off of the development of the P-38 Lightning and then America’s first jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star. His long and storied career as an aeronautical engineer eventually included overseeing first of their kind platforms like the U-2 Spy Plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Nighthawk.

For testing, the XFV-1 was fitted with an awkward-looking set of landing gear, which included mounting wheels on the bottom of the lower tail wings. In December of 1953, the XFV-1 got its first taste of the sky when Chief Test Pilot Herman ‘Fish’ Salmon managed to make the aircraft “hop” briefly during taxing tests. Less than a year later, in June of 1954, it would make it all the way into the sky for its first real flight.

XFV-1 with landing gear attached (U.S. Navy photo)

Unfortunately, the Allison YT40-A-6 turboprop engine installed on the prototype was not powerful enough to manage actual vertical take-offs or landings. Instead, Lockheed planned to use the forthcoming (and more powerful) Allison T54 engine, which would produce 7,100 horsepower, but issues with the engine’s development meant the XFV’s desperately needed power plant would never arrive.

Scaffolding for the pilot to board the XFV-1 (Lockheed)

The prototype XFV-1 did make a total of 32 brief flights and even managed to hover with its nose up for a short period of time, but never accomplished a single vertical take-off or landing.

The Convair XFY Pogo

(Wikimedia Commons)

Convair’s take on the vertical take-off and landing premise shared a number of similarities with Lockheed’s. Like the XFV, Convair’s XFY Pogo was designed to sit upright on its tail so it could leverage its pair of three-bladed contra-rotating propellers to take off like a helicopter. Then, once in the air, the aircraft would re-orient itself to fly forward like a traditionally prop-driven plane.

XFY on a launch cart (Wikimedia Commons)

For its purposes, the Pogo was more successful than Lockheed’s outing. The first outdoor test flights began in August of 1954, and a series of 70 successful vertical take-off and landing drills following shortly thereafter. By November of that year, the team at Convair with test pilot and Marine reservist, Lieutenant Colonel James F. “Skeets” Coleman at the stick, achieved their first successful transition from vertical flight to horizontal. In order to make the transition easier, the pilot’s seat within the cockpit was mounted on gimbals that oriented the pilot at 45 degrees in vertical flight mode and 90 degrees when flying horizontally.

(U.S. Navy Photo)

Despite its successes, subsequent test flights began to reveal problems with the VTOL upright fighter’s very premise. While flying, the Pogo lacked airbrakes or spoilers to help it slow down after high-speed flight, but more troubling was just how difficult landing the unusual aircraft could be. Pilots had to look over their shoulder and back to the ground as they slowly lowered the fighter down onto its tail. Eventually, a low-power radar system was installed that would help the pilot gauge their altitude with a series of lights, but landing was still risky. It quickly became apparent that the Navy’s plan to put these fighters on a wide variety of non-carrier vessels just wouldn’t work, because only the best pilots in the force had a chance at landing the plane.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Further damning the concept were jet fighters of the era that were reaching speeds as high as Mach 2, while the prop-driven vertical take-off fighters the Navy was testing couldn’t even break the sound barrier. Ultimately, the concept was scrapped, damning both the Lockheed and Convair vertical take-off fighters to life in museums by the end of 1956.

Ultimately, the U.S. Navy would invest heavily into fixed-wing and sweep-wing carrier-based fighters like the F9F Panther, the F-14 Tomcat, and the F/A-18 Hornet. However, vertical or short take-off fighters did still find their way into America’s arsenal. The U.S. Marines began flying the AV-8A Harrier in 1971, and today, Marines are experimenting with using amphibious assault ships to launch sorties of the short take-off, vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.