Just a year ago, Christian Montijo was a different man. In fact, he was almost twice the man he is today.
He figured he weighed a little more than 350 pounds. But it was more of a guess, since his scale only went up to that number.
Overweight and realizing his unhealthy habits, the 28-year-old banker from Kissimmee, Florida, set a goal to transform himself. And, if he could, revive his dream of joining the Army.
“I would wake up tired,” he said Tuesday. “I’d be sitting down watching TV and my wife would be, ‘are you OK because you’re breathing really heavy?’ So I decided that I had to make a change.”
The father of two started to eat healthier and drink water instead of several bottles of soda each day. He began to walk after work, then that turned into a jog and eventually a 2-mile run.
He also worked on his situps and pushups as the pounds shed off.
Christian Montijo before the weight loss.
“Last year at this time if you told me that ‘I’d give you a million dollars to do one pushup,’ I could not have done it,” he said. “Honestly, I would go down but I couldn’t go up to save my life.”
A new man
Over the past year, his daily routine allowed him to lose about 160 pounds.
“It’s night and day. I’m a whole new person,” he said. “I wake up with energy, I sleep through the night. I can run now and be fine, and I can keep up with my kids.”
His new frame also met the Army’s weight standards. Coming from a military family, Montijo aspired to be a soldier since high school.
Now eligible, he searched for a job that fit his interest in either technology, communications or intelligence. He then came across 25S, a satellite communications systems operator-maintainer.
Christian Montijo after the weight loss.
“It had two things that I wanted: communications and technology,” he said. “It was a two-for-one pretty much.”
In January, he plans to ship out to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training.
A positive example
Before signing his enlistment papers, Montijo credited his recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Ayala, for motivating him when he was still overweight.
Ayala stayed in touch with Montijo since the summer to answer his questions and help map out his goals.
“I wasn’t really expecting that type of engagement that he had with me,” Montijo said.
But for Ayala, he said Montijo’s positive attitude got himself into shape and prepared for the strenuous training to come.
“He’s more than ready, because he’s continuing to lose weight,” Ayala said. “All the working out he has done has been on his own.”
If Montijo is able to carry that same outlook into the Army, Ayala said he wouldn’t be surprised if he quickly jumps up in rank.
“I explained to him that if you have this type of drive to accomplishing his goal, you’re going to pass me up a lot faster in rank,” he said. “The sky’s the limit on the stuff you can accomplish while you’re in the Army.”
Ayala also likes to use him as an example when potential recruits get discouraged about being overweight.
“They look at me all dismayed that their bubble has been popped about joining,” he said of when he informs them about the weight standards.
The recruiter then goes over to his computer and shows them his desktop screen, where he displays Montijo’s before and after photos.
“They’re like ‘wow’ and I even had a couple people say, ‘well if he can do it, I can do it,'” he said.
The US Pacific Fleet commander said July 27 he would launch a nuclear strike against China next week if President Donald Trump ordered it, and warned against the military ever shifting its allegiance from its commander in chief.
Admiral Scott Swift was responding to a hypothetical question at an Australian National University security conference following a major joint US- Australian military exercise off the Australian coast. The drills were monitored by a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off northeast Australia.
Asked by an academic in the audience whether he would make a nuclear attack on China next week if Trump ordered it, Swift replied: “The answer would be: Yes.”
“Every member of the US military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” Swift said.
He added: “This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.”
Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown later said Swift’s answer reaffirmed the principle of civilian control over the military.
“The admiral was not addressing the premise of the question, he was addressing the principle of civilian authority of the military,” Brown said. “The premise of the question was ridiculous.”
The biennial Talisman Saber exercise involved 36 warships including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 220 aircraft, and 33,000 military personnel.
It was monitored by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy Type 815 Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence vessel from within Australia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Swift said China had similarly sent an intelligence ship into the US exclusive economic zone around Hawaii during the Pacific Fleet-hosted multinational naval exercise in 2014.
China had a legal right to enter the American economic zone for military purposes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — or UNCLOS— which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations sailing the world’s oceans, he said.
Governments needed to engage with Beijing to understand why the Chinese did not accept that the United States had the same access rights within China’s exclusive economic zone, Swift said.
“The dichotomy in my mind is why is there a different rules-set applied with respect to taking advantage of UNCLOS in other EEZs, but there’s this perspective that there’s a different rules-set that applies within another nation’s (China’s) EEZ? ” Swift said.
Kim Jong Un may enjoy being photographed frequently, but his desire to be at the center of state media attention may be irritating ordinary North Koreans.
Kim’s recurring presence in North Korean newspapers, like the Rodong Sinmun, now means major state visits must be commemorated with dozens of Kim photographs per issue, Daily NK reported Dec. 18.
On Dec. 9, Kim’s visit to Samjiyon in Yanggang Province was announced in the newspaper with 60 photographs from the location, with 50 out of the 60 pictures including Kim.
The attention-seeking Kim is drawing criticism from North Koreans, who say he is trying to repair his image following the execution of his uncle-in-law Jang Song Taek.
One North Korea source told Daily NK the “very common” photographs are a problem for smokers.
“People don’t like it,” the source said. “Among workers, who are looking for spare newspaper to roll up a cigarette, it is becoming increasingly hard to find a fragment without a portrait of Kim Jong Un.”
North Korea law forbids people from using pictures of Kim in derogatory ways, and travelers to North Korea have previously told UPI they are not allowed to fold a crease across a picture of Kim’s face or damage an image of him in newspapers.
Kim may be tightening his grip as he concludes his fifth full year in power.
Analysts at Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy said Dec. 18 that Kim has purged top officials Hwang Pyong So and Kim Won Hong, less than a week after a South Korean newspaper reported Hwang may have been expelled from the Workers’ Party for taking bribes.
The INSS also said economic sanctions could hit the elites, and Kim could purge more economic officials to assign blame as conditions worsen in the country, Yonhap reported.
As part of the events surrounding Super Bowl 50, the Military Benefit Association sponsored the Wounded Warrior Amputee vs. NFL Alumni Flag Football game. The game was a chance for these veterans to compete against NFL greats while raising awareness about the issues wounded veterans face.
Rocky Bleier, Pittsburgh Steeler great, Vietnam War veteran, and spokesperson for the Military Benefit Association, has been involved with the WWAFT games for the past five years.
The Army is officially closing down the last of its long-range surveillance companies with the three active duty units slated for closures in January and the four National Guard companies shutting down in 2018.
The move comes amid changing Army priorities and a series of computer simulations that decided the units were high-risk, low-reward.
This is the second time the Army has deactivated all of its company-sized, long-range reconnaissance units. It previously removed LRRP companies in 1974 before bringing them back as LRS units in 1981.
According to a Stars and Stripes article, the current deactivations came after Total Army Analysis computer models said that LRS units weren’t in high demand by command teams.
But not everyone is happy with the Army’s decision.
Retired Army Special Forces Brig. Gen. John Scales protested an earlier LRS drawdown when he found that computer models claiming that LRS units were at high risk in combat were improperly written. The model unrealistically assumed that any infantry unit that spotted the enemy would engage that enemy force, pitting six-man LRS teams against entire enemy formations.
While the new assessments use different coding that Scales was not privy to, he has voiced concerns that getting rid of LRS units isn’t the best idea.
Scales told the Stars and Stripes about the current LRS drawdowns that, “I worry based on my experience with the model that [long-range surveillance units are] getting shortchanged, and the Army is getting shortchanged.”
This isn’t the first time that the Army has tackled this question, and an earlier batch of LRS deactivations that also resulted from a Total Army Analysis were done against the protest of ground commanders.
The decision to deactivate these intelligence collection units was not based on a change of doctrine or a change in the mission requirements for LRS. The decisions were not made by one of the two proponents of LRS in order to protect another unit or asset. Quite the contrary, both proponents recognize the importance of HUMINT on the battlefield and support LRS employment and training. As discussed in chapter two, the decision to deactivate all heavy division LRSDs and two of four LRSCs was made over the objection of both proponents and units, by the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations as a result of the Total Army Analysis (TAA) process. Consequently, under the current force structure, there are not adequate numbers of LRS units to effectively execute the potential future missions the Army will face.
While satellites and drones can cheaply provide detailed imagery in an open desert, they struggle to watch the movements of enemy forces through heavily forested and urban areas like those troops would face in a war with China or Russia where enemy units could be dispersed under cover and camouflage.
This is something that Eastern Europe armies know well, leading them to invest in the types of reconnaissance units that the U.S. Army is backing away from.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Army got rid of its dedicated long-range reconnaissance companies. In 1974, it deactivated the last of the old Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol companies. Just four years later, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Lt. Gen. Edward C. Meyer, ordered a classified study to ascertain, among other things, who could conduct the LRRP mission moving forward.
By 1979, the Army was writing doctrine for the new “Long-Range Surveillance Units” which were nearly identical to the extinct LRRP companies. But some division commanders saw the need for human eyes on the battlefield as too vital to wait for Department of the Army.
The 9th and 3rd infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division all stood up LRRP units to provide critical intelligence to battlefield commanders. The 82nd divisional LRRP platoon was deployed to Operation Urgent Fury.
Operational commanders may find that they have to again construct their own long-range surveillance units if they still want the capability. The last of the LRS companies are scheduled to deactivate in August 2018.
The funding process for the U.S. military is back in a healthy place, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said on May 23, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The secretary spoke at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation, and on May 24, 2018, he participated in the U.S. Northern Command/North American Aerospace Defense Command change-of-command ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, also in Colorado Springs.
Mattis emphasized the ties between the National Defense Strategy and the budget process, and said the budget submission was underpinned by strategy for the first time in 10 years.
DoD funding process
He has urged congressional leaders to provide predictable funding for the department since taking office, and urged Congress to become more involved in its constitutional duty to fund the department. In nine of the last 10 years, the department spent at least some of the time under a continuing resolution.
“What that meant was, if there were evolving threat or a thing we needed to adapt to, number one, we didn’t have a strategic framework within which you’d go, for example, to the Congress and say here’s why we want additional money here,” the secretary said.
And the department couldn’t get additional monies under a continuing resolution. “Without the steady budget, we could not do new starts,” Mattis said. “So things from the Army’s modernization program, to cyber efforts, to outer space efforts were either stillborn or just put in a dormant status.”
This situation caused the American military overmatch to erode over time, and now the department must make up for lost time, the secretary said.
“We are doing that with the bipartisan support of the Congress to pass the two-year authorization bill and … the omnibus bill,” he said.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Mattis is pleased that Congress is no longer in a spectator role with the budget, “but actually saying where they want money put. There will be arguments … and good arguments, about where the priorities should be. And that’s up to us to make certain we can bring the analysis that we have of defining problems and what solutions we want to bring forward.”
More lethal military
Still, DOD officials must recognize that proposed changes must be tied “to make the military more lethal in outer space and cyberspace, at sea, on land, and in the air,” the secretary said. “And we want to do so as much as possible by strengthening our partners and our allies.”
Finding funding from within is also a major push, and Mattis insists DOD must be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. Congress has given the department new tools to enable the Pentagon to adopt best practices from industry and reform processes inside the department.
“Congress has actually had to step in and reorganize our acquisition, technology and logistics oversight into research and engineering for the future, and then acquisition sustainment,” he said.
After years of stops and starts, he said, the Pentagon may actually be able to deliver on sustainable reforms. “I cannot right now, look you in the eye and say that we can tell you that every penny in the past has been spent in a strategically sound and auditable manner,” he said. “And so this year, for the first time in 70 years, the Pentagon will perform an audit.
“We’ll have an audit done of itself and I look forward to every problem we find, because we’re going to fix every one of them,” he continued. “So, I can look you people in the eye and say I’m getting your money and here’s what I’m doing with it.”
New technologies and new uses for older technologies are being studied with research into artificial intelligence, hypersonics, outer space activities, and research in the cyber realm, the secretary said.
“These have all got to be looked at, because as we say in the U.S. Department of Defense, our adversaries get a vote and you have to deal with that if we’re going to keep this this experiment of America alive,” he said.
As the military services moved to admit women into previously closed special operations and ground combat jobs in 2016, Army officials were tasked with looking for ways to get the best performance out of female troops in order to minimize injury and boost their opportunities to succeed.
And they discovered one unlikely culprit that was holding some women back: chronic iron deficiency.
While it’s well known that women tend to be more iron-deficient than men for various reasons, the scope of the problem, and its impact on overall performance, was eyebrow-raising.
About a quarter of the women who enter the Army training pipeline have an iron deficiency, said Scott McConnell, who discussed Army Training and Doctrine Command’s efforts to improve training at the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services on Wednesday. After several weeks of training, that figure can double, he said.
“That impacts your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the vital organs. And so iron deficiency can actually be reflected in poor aerobic fitness levels and physical performance,” McConnell said.
In February 2016, the Army announced it would begin providing iron-rich multivitamins to female soldiers. And, McConnell said, the move has made a difference.
“The statistic we have is that the iron supplements can actually shave two minutes off the two-mile run time,” he said.
As services address the challenge of preparing female troops to meet stringent physical standards designed for men, they’re gaining new insights about the way nutrition affects performance – insights that have the potential to benefit the total force.
Since the services began opening previously closed jobs last year in response to a mandate from then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, it has become clear that it’s completely possible for women to meet minimum infantry requirements.
To date, 14 female Army officers, 16 noncommissioned officers, and 21 junior enlisted soldiers have been assigned to infantry positions in the active component and Reserve, according to Army data presented Wednesday.
On the Marine Corps side, nine officers and 63 enlisted women have graduated military occupational specialty school for previously closed fields, including one in the rifleman MOS.
At the same time, it’s evident that women face greater physical hurdles just because they’re built differently than men and have different average capability ranges.
And that’s where tools such as nutrition, supplements and smart training can help.
While the Corps has not announced a specific new supplement regimen, the service is working to overhaul its entire approach to fitness and health with the new Force Fitness Division activated this year. Part of what the division will do, officials have said, is review meal options in chow halls with an eye to making offerings healthier and more conducive to peak performance.
Brian McGuire, the Corps’ deputy force fitness branch head, told DACOWITS members Wednesday that the service is also looking to offer “post-exercise nutritional supplementation” to boost Marines’ performance and recovery. Officials are also setting up some young officers at The Basic School with wearable devices that measure biometrics and performance and may serve as a warning measure against heat sickness and other injuries.
And while standards to enter various ground combat jobs are the same whether you’re male or female, the Marine Corps is making some changes to the way it trains in order to avoid injury while maximizing performance.
“We have reduced running mileage,” McGuire said. “Because lather, rinse, repeat shows us that shorter, harder, faster has equal or greater benefit than longer, slower, less intense.”
On the Army side, McConnell said other aids, such as the calcium-rich performance nutrition bar introduced as a bedtime supplement for recruits earlier this year, are also proving useful.
“We have found that when soldiers have food in their stomach, they are actually less susceptible to heat injuries,” he said. “That’s actually one of the other aspects of this nutrition bar, and who would have thought, in the 21st century, that we’re kicking over that rock and understanding something that we did not understand.”
Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.
Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.
But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.
The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.
(US Navy photo)
The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.
The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).
The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.
(US Navy photo)
Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.
The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.
It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.
“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”
While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”
On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.
“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”
From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”
Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.
“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”
Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.
In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.
After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.
“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”
Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.
Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:
“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”
The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.
“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”
Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.
In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.
Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.
Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.
“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”
Developed over the course of decades, GPS has become far more ubiquitous than most people realize. Not just for navigation, its extreme accuracy in time keeping (+/- 10 billionths of a second) has been used by countless businesses the world over for everything from aiding in power grid management to helping manage stock market and other banking transactions. The GPS system essentially allows for companies to have near atomic clock level precision in their systems, including easy time synchronization across the globe, without actually needing to have an atomic clock or come up with their own systems for global synchronization. The problem is that, owing to a quirk of the original specifications, on April 6, 2019 many GPS receivers are about to stop working correctly unless the firmware for them is updated promptly. So what’s going on here, how exactly does the GPS system work, and who first got the idea for such a system?
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. As you might imagine, this tiny satellite, along with subsequent satellites in the line, were closely monitored by scientists the world over. Most pertinent to the topic at hand today were two physicists at Johns Hopkins University named William Guier and George Weiffenbach.
As they studied the orbits and signals coming from the Sputnik satellites the pair realized that, thanks to how fast the satellites were going and the nature of their broadcasts, they could use the Doppler shift of the signal to very accurately determine the satellite’s position.
A replica of Sputnik 1.
Not long after, one Frank McClure, also of Johns Hopkins University, asked the pair to study whether it would be possible to do this the other way around. They soon found that, indeed, using the satellite’s known orbit and studying the signal from it as it moved, the observer on the ground could in a relatively short time span determine their own location.
This got the wheels turning.
Various systems were proposed and, in some cases, developed. Most notable to the eventual evolution of GPS was the Navy’s Navigation Satellite System (also known as the Navy Transit Program), which was up and running fully by 1964. This system could, in theory, tell a submarine or ship crew where they were within about 25 meters, though location could only be updated about once per hour and took about 10-15 minutes to acquire. Further, if the ship was moving, the precision would be off by about one nautical mile per 5 knots of speed.
Another critical system to the ultimate development of GPS was known as Timation, which initially used quartz clocks synchronized on the ground and on the satellites as a key component of how the system determined where the ground observer was located. However, with such relatively imprecise clocks, the first tests resulted in an accuracy of only about 0.3 nautical miles and took about 15 minutes of receiving data to nail down that location. Subsequent advancements in Timation improved things, even testing using an atomic clock for increased accuracy. But Timation was about to go the way of the Dodo.
By the early 1970s, the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging (Navstar, eventually Navstar-GPS) was proposed, essentially combining elements from systems like Transit, Timation, and a few other similar systems in an attempt to make a better system from what was learned in those projects.
Fast-forward to 1983 and while the U.S. didn’t yet have a fully operational GPS system, the first prototype satellites were up and the system was being slowly tested and implemented. It was at this point that Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which originally departed from New York, refueled and took off from Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, South Korea.
What does this have to do with ubiquitous GPS as we know it today?
On its way, the pilots had an unnoticed autopilot issue, resulting in them unknowingly straying into Soviet airspace.
Convinced the passenger plane was actually a spy plane, the Soviets launched Su-15 jets to intercept the (apparently) most poorly crafted spy plane in history — the old “It’s so overt, it’s covert” approach to spying.
A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor.
Warning shots were fired, though the pilot who did it stated in a later interview, “I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armor piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It’s doubtful whether anyone could see them.”
Not long after, the pilots of Korean Air 007 called Tokyo Area Control Center, requesting to climb to Flight Level 350 (35,000 feet) from Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet). This resulted in the aircraft slowing below the speed the tracking high speed interceptors normally operated at, and thus, them blowing right by the plane. This was interpreted as an evasive maneuver, even though it was actually just done for fuel economy reasons.
A heated debate among the Soviet brass ensued over whether more time should be taken to identify the plane in case it was simply a passenger airliner as it appeared. But as it was about to fly into international waters, and may in fact already have been at that point, the decision was made to shoot first and ask questions later.
The attacking pilot described what happened next:
“Destroy the target…!” That was easy to say. But how? With shells? I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about two thousand metres… afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on.
Two missiles were fired and exploded near the Boeing plane causing significant damage, though in a testament to how safe commercial airplanes typically are, the pilots were able to regain control over the aircraft, even for a time able to maintain level and stable flight. However, they eventually found themselves in a slow spiral which ended in a crash killing all 269 aboard.
As a direct result of this tragedy, President Ronald Reagan announced on Sept. 16, 1983, that the GPS system that had previously been intended for U.S. military use only would now be made available for everyone to use, with the initial idea being the numerous safety benefits such a system would have in civil aviation over using then available navigation tools.
This brings us to how exactly the GPS system works in the first place. Amazingly complex on some levels, the actual nuts and bolts of the system are relatively straightforward to understand.
To begin with, consider what happens if you’re standing in an unknown location and you ask someone where you are. They reply simply — “You are 212 miles from Seattle, Washington.”
You now can draw a circle on a map with radius 212 miles from Seattle. Assuming the person giving you that information is correct, you know you’re somewhere along that circular line.
Not super helpful at this point by itself, you then ask someone else, and they say, “You are 150 miles from Vancouver BC.” Now you’re getting somewhere. When you draw that circle on the map, you’ll see it intersects at two points. You are standing on one of those two points. Noticing that you are not, in fact, floating in the ocean, you could at this point deduce which point you are on, but work with us here people.
Instead of making such an assumption, you decide your senses are never to be trusted and, after all, Jesus stood on water, so why not you? Thus, you ask a third person — they say, “You are 500 miles from Boise, Idaho.” That circle drawn, you now know exactly where you are in two dimensional space. Near Kamloops, Canada, as it turns out.
This is more or less what’s happening with GPS, except in the case of GPS you need to think in terms of 3D spheres instead of 2D circles. Further, how the system tells you your exact distance from a reference point, in this case each of the satellites, is via transmitting the satellites’ exact locations in orbit and a timestamp of the exact time when said transmission was sent. This time is synchronized across the various satellites in the GPS constellation.
The receiver then subtracts the current known time upon receiving the data from that transmission time to determine the time it took for that signal to be transmitted from the satellites to its location.
Combining that with the known satellite locations and the known speed of light with which the radio signal was propagated, it can then crunch the numbers to determine with remarkable accuracy its location, with margins of error owing to things like the ionosphere interfering with the propagation of the signal, and various other real world factors such as this potentially throwing things off a little.
Even with these potential issues, however, the latest generation of the GPS system can, in theory, pinpoint your location within about a foot or about 30 centimeters.
You may have spotted a problem here, however. While the GPS satellites are using extremely precise and synchronized atomic clocks, the GPS system in your car, for example, has no such synchronized atomic clock. So how does it accurately determine how long it took for the signal to get from the satellite to itself?
It simply uses at least four, instead of three, satellites, giving it the extra data point it needs to solve the necessary equations to get the appropriate missing time variable. In a nutshell, there is only one point in time that will match the edge of all four spheres intersecting in one point in space on Earth. Thus, once the variables are solved for, the receiver can adjust its own time keeping appropriately to be almost perfectly synchronized, at least momentarily, with the much more precise GPS atomic clocks. In some sense, this makes GPS something of a 4D system, in that, with it, you can know your precise point in not only space, but time.
By continually updating its own internal clock in this way, the receiver on the ground ends up being nearly as accurate as an atomic clock and is a time keeping device that is then almost perfectly synchronized with other such receivers across the globe, all for almost no cost at all to the end users because the U.S. government is footing the bill for all the expensive bits of the system and maintaining it.
Speaking of that maintanence, another problem you may have spotted is that various factors can, and do, continually move the GPS satellites off their original orbits. So how is this accounted for?
Tracking stations on Earth continually monitor the exact orbits of the various GPS satellites, with this information, along with any needed time corrections to account for things like Relatively, frequently updated in the GPS almanac and ephemeris. These two data sets are used for holding satellite status and positional information and are regularly broadcast to receivers, which is how said receivers know exact positions of the satellites in the first place.
The satellites themselves can also have their orbits adjusted if necessary, with this process simply being to mark the satellite as “unhealthy” so receivers will ignore it, then move it to its new position, track that orbit, and once that is accurately known, update the almanac and ephemeris and mark the satellite as “healthy” again.
So that’s more or less how GPS came to be and how it works at a high level. What about the part where we said many GPS devices may potentially stop working very soon if not updated?
Near the turn of the century something happened that had never happened before in the GPS world — dubbed a “dress rehearsal for the Y2K bug”. You see, as a part of the time stamp sent by the GPS satellites, there is something known as the Week Number — literally just the number of weeks that have passed since an epoch, originally set to Jan. 6, 1980. Along with this Week Number the number of seconds since midnight on the previous Saturday evening is sent, thus allowing the GPS receiver to calculate the exact date.
Artist’s conception of GPS Block II-F satellite in Earth orbit.
So what’s the problem with this? It turns out every 1024 weeks (about every 19 years and 8 months) from the epoch, the number rolls back to 0 owing to this integer information being in 10 bit format.
Thus, when this happens, any GPS receiver that doesn’t account for the Week Number Rollover, will likely stop functioning correctly, though the nature of the malfunction varies from vendor to vendor and device, depending on how said vendor implemented their system.
For some, the bug might manifest as a simple benign date reporting error. For others, such a date reporting error might mean everything from incorrect positioning to even a full system crash.
If you’ve done the math, you’ve probably deduced that this issue first popped up in August of 1999, only about four years after the GPS system itself was fully operational.
At this point, of course, GPS wasn’t something that was so ubiquitously depended on as it is today, with only 10-15 million GPS receivers in use worldwide in 1999 according to a 1999 report by the the United States Department of Commerce’s Office of Telecommunications. Today, of course, that number is in the billions of devices.
Thankfully, when the next Week Number Rollover event happens on April 6, 2019, it would seem most companies that rely on GPS for critical systems, like airlines, banking institutions, cell networks, power grids, etc., have already taken the necessary steps to account for the problem.
The more realistic problems with this second Week Number Rollover event will probably mostly occur at the consumer level, as most people simply are not aware of the issue at all.
Thankfully, if you’ve updated your firmware on your GPS device recently or simply own a GPS device purchased in the last few years, you’re probably going to be fine here.
However, should you own a GPS device that is several years old, that may not be the case and you’ll most definitely want to go to the manufacturer’s website and download any relevant updates before the second GPS epoch.
That public service announcement out of the way, if you’re now wondering why somebody doesn’t just change the specification altogether to stop using a 10 bit Week Number, well, you’re not the first to think of this. Under the latest GPS interface specifications, a 13 bit Week Number is now used, meaning in newer devices that support this, the issue won’t come up again for about a century and a half. As the machines are bound to rise up and enslave humanity long before that occurs, that’s really their issue to solve at that point.
Ever notice that your cell phone tends to lock on to your GPS position extremely quickly, even after having been powered off for a long time? How does it do this when other GPS devices must wait to potentially receive a fresh copy of the almanac and ephemeris? It turns out cell phones tend to use something called Assisted GPS, where rather than wait to receive that data from the currently orbiting GPS satellites, they will instead get it from a central server somewhere. The phone may also simply use its position in the cell phone network (using signals from towers around) to get an approximate location to start while it waits to acquire the signal from the GPS satellites, partially masking further delay there. Of course, assisted GPS doesn’t work if you don’t have a cell signal, and if you try to use your GPS on your phone in such a scenario you’ll find that if you turn off the GPS for a while and then later turn it back on, it will take a while to acquire a signal like any other GPS device.
Starting just before the first Gulf War, the military degraded the GPS signal for civilian use in order to keep the full accuracy of the system as a U.S. military advantage. However, in May of 2000, this policy was reversed by President Bill Clinton and civilian GPS got approximately ten times more accurate basically overnight.
The military also created the ability to selectively stop others from using GPS at all, as India discovered thanks to the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. During the conflict, the U.S. blocked access to the GPS system from India owing to, at the time, better longstanding relations between the U.S. and Pakistan than the U.S. had with India. Thus, the U.S. didn’t want to seem like it was helping India in the war.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Iraqi armed forces have pushed out Daesh from Tal Afar city while some parts of the district bearing the same name remain under the terrorist group’s control, a senior army official said Aug. 27.
“Joint forces of the army and the Hashd al-Shaabi — a pro-government Shia militia — have liberated two neighborhoods of Al-Askari and the Al-Senaa Al-Shamaliya, as well as the Al-Maaredh area, Tal Afar Gate, and the Al-Rahma village in the eastern part of the city,” Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, Mosul operation commander, said in a televised statement.
While all parts of the city have been recaptured, fighting for control of some parts of Tal Afar district continues.
Yarallah said only the Al-Ayadieh area and its surrounding villages in the district now remain in Daesh’s grip, adding the armed forces were advancing “towards the last targets in order to liberate them”.
On Aug. 27, the Iraqi government launched a major offensive to retake Tal Afar, involving army troops, federal police units, counter-terrorism forces and armed members of Hashd al-Shaabi — a largely Shia force that was incorporated into the Iraqi army last year.
Ministry of Displacement and Migration official Zuhair Talal al-Salem told Anadolu Agency 1,500 people fled the district’s surrounding villages and areas.
“The displaced people were transferred from security checkpoints to Nimrod camp, where they are receiving relief assistance,” Al-Salem said.
Nimrud camp in the southeast of Mosul is said to have a capacity to house 3,000 families.
The ministry transferred some 500 displaced families to the camp after checking their names August 26 in the district of Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul.
The military community is fond of its little myths and urban legends. Some of those repeated tall tales get so shrouded in mystery that, eventually, nobody questions them. On occasion, these unfounded urban legends get so widely accepted that they get written into regulations.
It is because of this phenomenon that the British Army has had a standing order since 1831 to never march in-step on a bridge.
At first glance, the reasoning seems silly. On April 12th, 1831, 74 soldiers were marching across the Broughton Suspension Bridge near Salford, England. The bridge, which was completed in 1826, was one of the first suspension bridges ever built in Europe.
According to the story, the troops’ synchronized march caused the bridge to vibrate at just the right frequency which, in turn, caused it to collapse. Thankfully for all the troops involved, no one was killed and only a few had broken bones, but ever since then, troops are given the command of “Break Step” (the British equivalent of the command “Route Step, March”) when they cross a bridge.
As unbelievable as that might sound, there’s strong scientific evidence to corroborate the story. The conditions need to be exactly precise for it to happen — but it is possible. When the Mythbusters first took on this story, they deemed it false. However, in a rare redaction, the dynamic duo reclassified this myth as “plausible.”
This is because of the power of resonance. Think of an opera singer who can break a wine glass just by singing. Repeated vibrations at an object’s resonant frequency will weaken the structural integrity of a solid object and, in some rare cases, even break it. Fragile objects, like a wine glass or, in this case, a flimsy bridge, are most susceptible.
A resonant frequency can only be hit if several conditions are met: The source must be extremely powerful, the pulses of force must be sent out a very precise frequency, and there must be no other frequencies interfering it. All of those requirements were met when the soldiers marched on the bridge while remaining completely in-step. There’s a one-in-a-billion chance of the soldiers’ march hitting that perfect the frequency, but in this case, it seems they did.
This was, in essence, a much smaller-scale version of what happened on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940.
The workaround, thankfully, is really simple: If troops aren’t marching at exactly the same frequency, everything’s fine. Bridges built by today’s standards are far more sturdy than the Broughton Bridge, but little oddities like this are fascinating nonetheless.
Thirty years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty, which called for the elimination of all ground launched-surface-to-surface missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,417 miles). This treaty held through the 1990s and most of the 2000s, but in recent years, there have been allegations of Russian non-compliance.
Details on the new missile are scarce, as the system’s development has begun. One likely option would be to try to bring back the ground-launched version of the Tomahawk. Another option could be to launch Tomahawks from an Aegis Ashore base. The Tomahawk can be launched from the same vertical-launch cells as the RIM-161 Standard Missile, or SM-3, used in Aegis Ashore. A 2016 release from Lockheed Martin noted that an Aegis Ashore base in Romania is active, and one in Poland is under construction.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the Pentagon’s intention is to hopefully force Russia to comply with the 1987 treaty. However, should Russia not go back into compliance, a source told the paper that the United States is determined to be ready if the Russians choose to “live in a post-INF world … if that is the world the Russians want,” as one official put it.
The Hill reported that during meetings with other NATO defense ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary of Defense James Mattis states that Russia’s violations raise “concern about Russia’s willingness to live up to the accords that it’s signed, the treaties it’s signed.”