China became the first foreign buyer of Russia’s S-400 in 2014, but the delivery of the air-defense system, considered one of the most advanced the world, was marred when a ship carrying it encountered a storm in early 2018.
According to the CEO of Russian defense firm Rostec, the components damaged were more important than first known.
At the IDEX defense conference in the United Arab Emirates February 2019, Sergey Chemezov said that the gear damaged in the storm included the 40N6E, which is the export version of S-400’s 40N6 missile, according to Stephen Trimble, defense editor at Aviation Week.
The 40N6 is the longest-range interceptor of the S-400’s three missiles. The export version of the missile can reach just under 400 kilometers, or roughly 250 miles. The system also comes with a command-and-control system, a radar system, and a launcher.
Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
(Flickr photo by Dmitriy Fomin)
While the delivery of the S-400 to China had previously been confirmed, whether the 40N6E was included was not known for sure, which led Trimble to ask Chemezov about it, expecting to get a standard “no comment,” he said on the most recent episode of Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast.
“He not only confirmed it. He also told us this sort of bizarre story about the fate that befell [the missile] on its way … to China,” Trimble said.
Chemezov made clear that the missiles “were on a ship, and the ship got hit by a bad storm, and … ultimately all the missiles were lost. He didn’t explain exactly how they were lost, but he said that they all have to be replaced and that they are now building the replacements for the missile, because of either damage sustained in the storm, or they were just destroyed in the storm somehow.”
Reports of the damage emerged not long after the delivery started in early January 2018.
An S-400 radar unit.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
Maritime trackers monitoring ships’ automatic identification systems did notice a vessel that left St. Petersburg with an AIS code indicating it had explosives aboard, Trimble said. That ship hit a storm in the English Channel and returned to port.
Russian state media outlet Tass said in January 2019 that “part of the equipment included in the first shipment” to China had been “damaged by a storm and returned to Russia.”
Around the same time, Russian news agency RIA quoted the spokeswoman for Russia’s military and technical cooperation service as saying parts of the S-400 systems on their way to China were damaged in a storm at sea. The spokeswoman described the components as “secondary” without giving any details.
But the S-400’s missiles are an essential component — the 40N6 even more so.
The revelation “was a very surprising development in this story of this export and completely unexpected,” Trimble said. “I can’t really think of something like this ever happening before, because it’s not just any missile. This is probably one of the most important, strategically, weapon systems in the world right now, and this is the most powerful effector, or missile, within that system.”
“Those missiles now may be at the bottom of the English Channel, which is just an incredible twist in the whole story,” Trimble added.
In May 2018, China received its first regimental set of the S-400 when the third and final ship arrived with “the equipment not damaged during a December storm in the English Channel and the damaged equipment after repairs,” a diplomatic source told Tass at the time.
An S-400 regiment consists of two battalions. Each battalion has two batteries. A standard battery has four transporter erector launchers, each with four launch tubes, as well as fire-control radar systems and a command module. Reports about how many regimental sets China was to get vary from two to six.
Russian S-400 air-defense missile systems.
The South China Morning Post said in the final days of December 2018 that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force tested the S-400 in November, shooting down a “simulated ballistic target” moving at the supersonic speed of nearly 2 miles a second at a range of nearly 150 miles.
The S-400 and Russia’s efforts to sell it abroad have become a point of contention with the US.
In September 2018, the US hit China with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which is meant to punish Russia over its interventions abroad and interference in the 2016 US election.
But other US allies have expressed interest in the S-400, complicating matters for Washington. Despite warnings that the US would rescind F-35 deliveries and that the system wouldn’t work with NATO weapons, Turkey has forged ahead with an S-400 buy, saying in February 2018 that the purchase was a done deal.
India has also agreed to buy the S-400, though Chemezov said New Delhi has yet to make an advance payment, which “was a bit of a surprise,” Trimble said. Buying the S-400 could open India to US sanctions, though there is a wavier process in the CAATSA legislation that could be applied to Delhi.
And despite the Trump administration’s wooing of Saudi Arabia — which includes White House senior adviser Jared Kushner personally negotiating a discount with the Lockheed Martin CEO for the firm’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system — the Kingdom is reportedly still interested in the S-400.
“Chemezov refused to talk about the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, and he was very blunt about why,” Trimble said. “He said that if we talk about these kinds of deals, that gets our potential customers in a lot of trouble with the US government, so what we’re doing is negotiating silently, which isn’t a very silent way of negotiating, but that was how he put it.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Here in the United States, we tend to think of nuclear weapons in much the same way we think of the space race and the Cold War: like a relic of a bygone era in which America emerged victorious. Unfortunately, that era isn’t quite as bygone as it seems: space defense is once again a topic of serious concern, America is once more at the precipice of an international arms race, and both China and Russia have unveiled massive new nuclear weapons in recent years.
America does still boast the second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons on the planet, lagging just behind Russia who, like the Soviet Union, has always invested heavily in deterrence through guaranteeing Armageddon. The problem is, America has largely chosen to rest on its nuclear laurels since the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in a significant difference between the nuclear tech in Uncle Sam’s arsenals and that of America’s most powerful competitors.
Russian Topol-M nuclear ICBM preparing for the annual Victory Day Parade.
The Air Force is currently on the hunt for the company that will build America’s next generation of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), but until that contract has been completed, the U.S. will continue to rely on silo-launched Minuteman IIIs and submarine-launched Trident missiles, with yields of 475 and 100 kilotons respectively. These weapons are quite powerful, with the weaker trident producing an explosive yield more than six times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the Minuteman III clocking in at nearly five times more powerful than even that.
However, despite all the carnage one could deliver with 475 kilotons of nuclear fury, America’s mighty Minuteman III missiles are not only far behind Russian and Chinese competitors in terms of technology and the ability to counter missile defense systems, they are woefully underpowered.
These mushroom clouds represent the yields of each nuclear weapon.
(Individual mushroom cloud courtesy of Flickr)
China’s newest ICBM, the DF-31, for instance, boasts a massive 1 megaton yield, or 1,000 kilotons. That means China’s new 42-foot nuclear missile has more than twice the destructive power of America’s workhorse ICBMs. Powerful as the DF-31 may be, if you’re impressed by that, you haven’t looked in Russia’s inventory lately.
Russia’s massively powerful RS-28 Sarmat, or simply, the Satan II, carries a whopping 50 megaton nuclear warhead. For those who aren’t fond of arithmetic, that’s the equivalent of 50,000 kilotons and is so powerful that America’s Minuteman III missiles barely even register by comparison.
America’s ICBM’s would barely be visible compared to the RS-28 Sarmat’s yield.
(Individual mushroom cloud courtesy of Flickr)
Like China’s DF-31, the RS-28 Sarmat could forgo the single large warhead for a group of smaller ones, but the reduction in yield would likely be offset by the distribution of the weapon’s payload: in short, multiple warheads can destroy a larger swath of territory than a single large warhead tends to.
Of course, with Russian officials claiming their doomsday-weapon nuclear torpedo carries a positively gigantic 100-megaton warhead, even the Satan II isn’t the biggest kid on the nuclear block.
Of course, the sheer destructive yield isn’t the only measure of a nation’s nuclear capabilities, but it does pay to maintain a healthy frame of reference when it comes to ways the world could end. After all, when it would take more than 105 American ICBMs to match the destructive power of just one Russian nuke… we should all be a little concerned.
The right to keep and bear arms is a longstanding, often glorified right protected by the US Constitution.
Americans own nearly half of all the civilian-owned guns in the world, and on a per capita basis, the US has far more guns than any other nation.
Certainly, many countries are awash with guns. Among the nations with the most firearms are Serbia, Yemen, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia.
There are only three countries, however, that have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms: Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States — here’s why.
Just south of the US border, the Mexican government has a strict hold over civilian gun ownership. Although Mexicans have a right to buy a gun, bureaucratic hurdles, long delays, and narrow restrictions make it extremely difficult to do so.
Article 10 of the 1857 Mexican Constitution guaranteed that “every man has the right to keep and to carry arms for his security and legitimate defense.” But 60 years later in 1917, lawmakers amended it following Mexico’s bloody revolution.
During the rewriting of the constitution, the government placed more severe restrictions on the right to buy guns. The law precluded citizens from buying firearms “reserved for use by the military” and forbid them from carrying “arms within inhabited places without complying with police regulations.”
Today, Mexicans still have a right to buy guns, but they must contend with a vague federal law that determines “the cases, conditions, requirements, and places in which the carrying of arms will be authorized.”
In 2012, The New York Times reported that only members of the police or military can buy the largest weapons in Mexico, such as semiautomatic rifles.
“Handgun permits for home protection allow only for the purchase of calibers no greater than .38,” the Times wrote. One man who wanted to buy a pistol had to pay $803.05 for a Smith Wesson revolver.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is that there is only one shop in the entire country where Mexicans can go to buy guns, and it’s located on a heavily guarded army base in Mexico City.
Like Mexico, Guatemala permits gun ownership, but with severe restrictions. The right to bear arms is recognized and regulated by article 38 of the current constitution, which was established in 1985.
“The right to own weapons for personal use, not prohibited by the law, in the place of in habitation, is recognized,” the document says. “There will not be an obligation to hand them over, except in cases ordered by a competent judge.”
Although Guatemalans are not allowed to own fully automatic weapons, they are allowed to buy semi-automatic weapons, handguns, rifles, and shotguns if they obtain a permit. Still, that can be difficult.
For example, individuals who want to purchase a gun for private security purposes need approval from the government. They are also limited in how much ammunition they can own, and they must re-apply and re-qualify for their firearm licenses every one to three years, according to GunPolicy.org.
Despite the restrictions, guns are widely available in Guatemala. In fact, it has one of the highest gun ownership rates per capita in Latin America, according to Insight Crime. The same organization also noted that 75% of homicides in Guatemala involve a gun.
Although Mexico and Guatemala both have a constitutional right to bear arms, the US is in a league of its own simply because it is the only country without restrictions on gun ownership in its constitution.
The second amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Those words were adopted in 1791 and have since inspired other countries around the world to provide their citizens with the right to own guns. Only 15 constitutions (in nine countries) “ever included an explicit right to bear arms,” according to The New York Times.
They are Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the US. All of those countries, excluding Mexico, the US, and Guatemala, have since rescinded the constitutional right to bear arms.
Hollywood seems to have a skewed idea of veterans who return to the civilian world. They’re either over-the-top action junkies, like John Rambo (in movies outside of First Blood), or they’re a broken-down husk of who they once were, like, well, basically any character in any drama set after a war’s end.
In real life, veterans are cut from the same cloth as everyone else. You’ve got your outstanding, Captain America-types, your aggressive Punisher-types, and just about everyone in between. But all of the characteristics of your everyday veteran can be seen clearly in Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady, in 2015’s Jurassic World.
Grady’s service is barely hinted at in the movie. In the scene where Owen and Claire are trying to find her nephews, Claire implies that Owen could, simply, just track them down by their scent or footprints. Owen quickly (and hilariously) responds with, “I was with the Navy, not the Navajo.”
This one line gives a whole new meaning to everything that he does throughout the film.
Owen is reclusive, professional, mission-oriented, and reasonable — much like a real-life veteran. They don’t have him claim some overly badass job description — he just says that he was in the Navy. He, like 97% of the military, wasn’t a special operator.
In fact, his role in the military is never explicitly stated, but when you look at his skills in leading Blue and the raptors, he shows talents very similar to those of a dolphin and marine animal trainer — which makes sense since it explains why the film’s antagonist, Vic Hoskins, hired him directly out of the Navy. Vic also mentions Owen’s military service and refers him as a “dog of war,” which Owen shrugs off.
But what really defines Owen as a character is he demeanor. He’s smart enough to know the ins-and-outs of the island while also being jaded enough to only speak up once. This usually involves him telling people that raptors aren’t able to be controlled right before the raptors rips someone to shreds. Hey, at least he tried to tell ya.
It’s unclear if they will further elaborate on Owen’s backstory in the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom but, so far, Owen Grady’s character is an excellent, authentic representation of veterans that doesn’t make us look like heroes or broken men — but rather just like any other guy who’s good at surviving bad situations.
Mexican senators on Dec. 13 approved an Internal Security Law, which would formalize the military’s role in the country’s domestic security.
Their votes came despite protests from their Senate counterparts, international organizations, and Mexican citizens. The bill faces further discussion but could get final approval by Dec. 15. It was first approved by Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, during a contentious session on Nov. 30, and throughout deliberations, opponents inside and outside congress have railed against it.
Mexico’s constitution limits the military’s domestic actions during peacetime, but the armed forces have been deployed to combat drug trafficking and organized crime since the first days of 2007, when then-President Felipe Calderon sent troops into his home state of Michoacan just a few weeks after taking office.
The bill — proposed by members of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI — would create a legal framework for the public-security functions the military has been carrying out on an ad hoc basis for more than a decade, like manning highway checkpoints and pursuing and arresting suspects.
Supporters say it would address legal issues around those deployments. The bill would set guidelines for the president’s ability to authorize military action, but critics have said it makes it too easy to send the armed forces into the streets and opens the possibility they could be used against protests. They’ve also said the bill could allow deployments to be extended indefinitely.
A new initiative proposed by the bill would have the military provide intelligence to the government and its security agencies. The measure would also establish a group of government officials who would make decisions about the implementation of new measures the president could then, if needed, invoke to restore “internal order.”
“The thing that I hear from a lot of people is, ‘Yeah, but aren’t they already doing it? And isn’t this just sort of bringing that under code of law?’ And that’s a reasonable point,” Everard Meade, the director of the Trans Border Institute at the University of San Diego, told Business Insider.
“Creating some more law and clarifying the legal framework is not a terrible idea, even if you think, as I do … that it’s not a good idea,” Meade said. “The broader point is they’re already doing it, and they’re often doing it under really shady jurisdiction.”
‘Mexico without war!’
Criticism has come from all sides. Opposition legislators have called for calm, detailed discussion about the bill, rather than the previous fast push through the Chamber of Deputies that apparently left no time to read or debate it.
Lawmakers and civil-society groups inside and outside of Mexico have also charged the bill gives the military too much leeway in its domestic actions. Legislators have also criticized measures within the bill regarding the use of force as “cosmetic” and said that changes made by Senate committees are “insufficient” or “superficial.”
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has said the law is vague and doesn’t include objective definitions of “internal security” and opens the possibility for it to be applied in “any” situation.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the premise of the law, saying it provides no exit strategy for the military and is “ill-conceived.”
The Allée des Nations in front of the Palace of Nations (United Nations Office at Geneva). (Photo by MadGeographer)
The UN’s high commissioner for human rights said formalizing the military’s role in domestic security was “not the answer” and that doing so reduces incentives for civilian authorities to act in their traditional roles.
The Washington Office on Latin America — which noted that the military was still operating in 23 of Mexico’s 32 states a decade after its first “temporary” deployment — has cautioned that the measure as is would likely lead to more abuses and hinder transparency.
Mexican protesters took to the streets of Mexico City during the Senate’s deliberations on Dec. 13, chanting “Mexico without war!” and calling for the law to be rejected.
‘We still need the army in the streets’
The PRI and parties allied with it have touted the necessity of the bill, dismissing international criticism and stressing the importance of a legal framework for the military’s domestic operations.
“The issue of human rights is covered, and covered well” in the law, PRI congressman Cesar Dominguez said at the end of November. “But we cannot guarantee liberties and the full exercise of rights if there isn’t a climate of public safety and peace.”
“Blah, blah, blah. The truth is you always vote against everything,” said Arturo Alvarez, a congressman from the Green Party, a PRI ally. “The fact is we still need the army in the streets.”
The military’s activities “have been limited by the lack of a normative framework that regulates actions they can perform during times of peace,” Cristina Diaz, a PRI senator who heads the Senate’s governance commission, said Dec. 13.
Mexican army soldier at the Independence Day Parade, September 16, 2013 in León, Guanajuato, Mexico. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com)
The continuing threat posed by powerful criminal organizations and their often more violent offspring undergirds many arguments in favor of the bill. But most admit the military’s training is incompatible with policing.
Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, called the measure a “double-edge sword,” because while the military had the capability to confront heavily armed criminal groups, it is not trained or equipped to carry out law-enforcement jobs, like gathering evidence or interrogating suspects.
“If you use the military, the allegations and the issues of human-rights violations are probably going to continue,” Vigil told Business Insider. “But at the same time, if you don’t use them, then Mexico is really sticking its neck out in terms of being able to provide nationwide security against these complex drug-trafficking consortiums.”
David Shirk, the director of the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego, differed, saying that lack of investigative capacity was disqualifying.
The military “can’t identify, track, and … they don’t have the necessary intelligence and, importantly, the evidentiary basis on which to bring people to justice that a part of a vast criminal conspiracy,” Shirk told Business Insider. “The problem is neither does the Mexican police force.”
Shirk noted that the Mexican military has been involved in domestic operations for decades, with some arguing its role extends back the middle of the 20th century. By 1995, he said, there were calls to include the armed forces on the national public safety council.
But the expanded deployment in 2007 — rising from 20,000 to 50,000 soldiers — was intended as a short-term solution until criminal groups could be suppressed and police forces could be better trained.
Those troops are still in the streets. In places like Guerrero, riven by drug-related violence, they remain deployed to augment or replace local police. Tamaulipas, the northeast Mexican state that is the home turf of the Gulf and Zetas cartels, depends entirely on the military for order, after all the state’s city and town police forces were dissolved because officers were linked to cartels fighting in the state.
Mexico’s military remains one of the country’s most trusted institutions, and the army is its most trusted security branch. But many see these prolonged deployments as directly responsible for more human-rights abuses and for increased violence throughout Mexico.
The Washington Office on Latin America found that, between 2012 and 2016, there have been 505 criminal investigations by the Mexican attorney general into crimes and abuses by soldiers but just 16 convictions.
Researchers have foundthat between 2007 and 2010, there was “a causal effect between the deployment of joint military operations and the rise in the murder rate” in states where those joint operations took place, with data indicating there could have been nearly 7,000 fewer homicides in 2008 and 2009 had the military not been deployed.
The military has been implicated in abuses in recent years, like the killing of 22 suspects in central Mexico in 2014 and the disappearance of 43 student-teachers from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state, also in 2014. Between 2015 and September 2017, the Mexican government reportedly paid out more than $6 million in compensation for human-rights violations by federal authorities, including defense forces.
“So to me, it’s absolutely clear that if we see this government or another government that comes next turn to even more military involvement or start deploying the military more, we’re going to see more people get hurt,” Shirk told Business Insider.
‘A very long-term project’
The Mexican military currently operates domestically under a vague clause allowing it to “aid” civilian law enforcement when asked to do so.
Military leaders have expressed “unease” about domestic operations, and the Mexican government has taken steps to hold military personnel accountable for abuses committed while acting in a public-security capacity.
Under a law approved in 2014, soldiers accused of violating civilians’ rights are tried in civilian courts.
“That’s a big deal” and an important part of making sure abuses are dealt with transparently, Shirk said, though he doubted there had been enough time to assess whether that policy was being used well and had been effective in protecting against violations. (The Washington Office on Latin America has said that reform has not been fully implemented.)
Mexico has made little progress in reforming and reconstituting local and state police forces, which were often ineffective or infiltrated by criminal elements, and has shown little interest in doing so. Critics of the bill have charged that it removes incentives to carry out those reforms, but even a sincere effort to effect them would “be a very long-term project,” Vigil said.
“It’s going to take decades before they’re up to speed,” he told Business Insider, “and in the meantime they’re going to have to use … the military to conduct a lot of those [law-enforcement] operations.”
President-elect Donald Trump announced at a rally in Cincinnati that retired Marine Gen. James Mattis is his choice to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Mattis, whose service included command of the 1st Marine Division during the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and United States Central Command until being retired early after clashing with the Obama Administration over its nuclear deal with Iran, was seen as the front-runner for the position.
Mattis is not the first retired general to be asked to hold the position. In 1950, General of the Army and former Secretary of State George C. Marshall took over after Louis Johnson was fired by President Harry S Truman, and held the position for a year before stepping down. Like Marshall, Mattis will require a waiver from Congress to fill the position.
Mattis served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 2013. He received his commission through ROTC after graduating from Central Washington University. He commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, assigned to Task Force Ripper, during Desert Storm. He later commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and in the initial part of Operation Enduring Freedom, became the first Marine general to command a naval task force. His decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster in lieu of a second award, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device, and the Meritorious Service Medal with two Gold Stars in lieu of a third award.
The decision drew praise from many. David French, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, wrote at National Review Online, “He is clear about the Iranian threat, has worked closely with Israel, and has served as the supreme allied commander of transformation for NATO and the chief of Central Command. In other words, few men have been as closely involved in American military planning and war fighting as Mattis.”
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness called the nomination “great news” when contacted by the author. In a follow-up e-mail with WATM, she said, “I could not be more pleased by the news.”
“President-elect Donald Trump has just lifted the spirits of men and women in all branches of the services, worldwide. Our allies and Americans who voted with national security in mind have good reason to be pleased by this choice,” she added. “Since 2009, the armed forces have suffered due to resources taken away and burdens of social engineering loaded on.
“Friends of mine who know Gen. Mattis or have served under his command are confident that he will turn things around by restoring sound priorities: combat readiness and lethality, not politically-correct mandates and social goals,” Donnelly said. “I expect that that there will be carefully-considered, incremental changes, which will put the needs of our military and national security first.”
Mattis does have a history of colorful comments. In a speech on Feb. 1, 2005, he said, “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.” The comments did not result in any formal discipline.
It could be argued that the one persistent challenge faced by the Air Force over its 70-year history is how to best integrate Airmen with cutting-edge technology.
Most pressing, from the earliest days of aviation, was the need to protect the human body from the potentially deadly forces generated by advances in aircraft speed, maneuverability and altitude capabilities.
Even in the pre-Air Force days leading up to WWII, altitudes were being achieved that necessitated aircraft with oxygen systems to keep pilots and crews coherent and alive during missions. This was closely followed by the development of aircraft with a pressurized fuselage, such as the B-29, which allowed crews to fly high-altitude missions without oxygen masks and cumbersome heated flight suits to protect them from sub-zero temperatures.
The advent of the jet age led to ever increasing altitudes and gravitational forces (G-forces) on the pilot, necessitating the development of G-suits to push blood to the pilot’s brain, minimizing blackouts, and ejection seats to allow pilots to safely escape aircraft operating at high speed and altitude.
The testing of these technologies quickly became the public face of the Air Force’s human performance research and human factors engineering.
Baby Boomers routinely saw newsreel films and photos in magazines of researchers testing ways to protect pilots from the effects of high G-forces and altitudes with rocket sleds, centrifuges, atmospheric chambers and even balloons used in Project Excelsior as an Airman, Col. Joseph Kittinger, protected by a pressure suit, made a free-fall jump from 19 miles above the Earth’s surface.
It was physiological research necessary to keep advancing the Air Force’s capabilities in the air, and later, in space. But it also made for good theater for the public.
However, from the very beginnings of the Air Force, there has been concurrent, less theatrical study of another interface between humans and their machines that has been just as ground breaking; that between the machine and the human brain.
It is research that is pivoting from an emphasis on optimizing tools for use by Airmen to creating technologies that will work with Airmen, as a partner.
Cognitive research by the Air Force began with an issue created by the U.S.’s enormous production output during WWII: lack of uniformity between aircraft cockpits and displays.
“There wasn’t such a thing as a standard cockpit configuration and aviators were confusing things like landing gear and putting flaps down,” said Dr. Morley Stone, the Chief Technology Officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. “Of course, that was leading to a variety of mishaps … Really, that gave birth to the whole field of human factors engineering.”
Lt. Col. Paul Fitts led the research team at Wright Patterson AFB that developed a consistent method for laying out an aircraft cockpit and instruments allowing a pilot to quickly and efficiently comprehend the current state of the aircraft. They also developed methods to manipulate controls more reliably, no matter the airframe.
The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider. ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH
“That key research that occurred here at Wright-Patterson (AFB), as well as elsewhere, enabled the standardization of the key instrumentation needed to fly an aircraft,” said Mark Draper, a principal engineering research psychologist with the 711th Human Performance Wing at the AFRL. “It’s called a T-scan pattern. Pilots quickly learned the T-scan to rapidly ascertain if their aircraft is doing they want it to do. That became the standard for decades.”
However as new weaponry, on-board radars, sensors, communications and command and control technologies were added to airframes, pilots and crews quickly became overwhelmed by too much information for the human brain to process efficiently, a condition that pilots call a “helmet fire.”
“A key milestone, which was really significant, was the introduction of the glass cockpit,” said Draper. “Over several decades of just adding more controls and hardware instruments here and there, the real estate became really limited.”
“If we were able to put in computer monitors, if you will, into the cockpit, we would be enabling the re-using of that real estate. We could tailor the information towards a particular mission or phase of flight. The controls and the displays could be changed. That opened up a wealth of opportunity to not only provide more capability to the pilot, but also to enable the introduction of graphics into cockpits to make the information more easily understood and utilized.”
These concepts advanced by human factors engineering at AFRL has led to further research making the workflow of Airmen in many career fields more efficient and has even crossed over into the public sector.
According to Stone, this type of research led to everything from the development of the mouse, optimizing how a person inputs information into a computer, to eye-tracking studies to analyze how Airmen best recognize and utilize intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance information displayed on a monitor, to wearable devices that can measure a human’s current physical state, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
Yet for all of these advances in streamlining interfaces and presenting data in more digestible packets on ergonomic displays, the limits of human cognition still present an ubiquitous obstacle for the future Air Force to efficiently integrate main and machine.
Stone and Draper believe one way to scale this obstacle is to enable Airmen to share some of their workload with a partner – a silicon-based partner. Draper and his team at the Human Autonomy Lab at the AFRL focus on how to better interconnect human intelligence with machine intelligence as we move into the future.
“Seventy years into the future, we’ll still be limited by the fact that we have a very limited short-term memory, we get bored easily, we’re not known to just sit there and stare at one place for a long period of time. That’s why our eyes move a lot,” said Stone. “We’re looking at a whole variety of tools, not just wearable sensors, but other types of non-invasive standoff sensors that look at things like heart rate and respiration and other physical cues … and trying to get that information out in such a way that you can make it readable to that future synthetic teammate.”
These sensors, coupled with ever increasing computing capabilities, could lead to Airmen of 2087 routinely conducting missions with a synthetic partner that will not only shoulder some of the workload, but constantly monitor the carbon-based Airman’s physical, mental and emotional state before recommending mission options.
“Computational power is getting ever more powerful. Also, computational power is becoming more miniaturized, so you can start putting it more places,” said Draper. “At the same time, you’re increasing the reasoning capabilities of the machines to collect domain knowledge, assess the conditions and create courses of action.”
“We have sensors becoming very miniaturized and able to sense the human physiology without even being attached to the human,” Draper added. “In a vision of the future, Artificial Intelligence can serve to continually monitor the human while the human is engaged in various tasks, and then dynamically adapt the interaction with the machinery, the interaction with the environment, and the off-loading of tasks. All with the express purpose of better team performance.”
According to Draper, one of the Air Force’s first forays into the realm of operational autonomous computing was the introduction of flight management systems into cockpits during the 1980s.
“Up until then, you had pre-planning and the pilots did all the navigation with a navigator,” said Draper. “Then they introduced a flight management system, which would automatically generate routes … give you the waypoints all the way from point A to point B. However, the initial design of these systems was less than great and we ran into lots of problems, lots of mishaps. This inspired research in order to better design how humans interact with automation which is critical, especially when we start talking about increasingly intelligent systems that are going to be introduced to future military systems.”
These initial steps were the beginning of a slow gradation from applying of autonomous systems as advisors, to allowing them to shoulder some mission requirements, to a possible future of handling some tasks on their own.
“The Air Force in its history has focused very strongly on the cockpit and crew stations for aircraft. However, where we’re going is expanding well beyond the cockpit,” said Draper.
“The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider … We want to reduce the overall workload associated with the Airmen, but the Airmen still retain key decision making authority.”
The key ingredient in a symbiosis between carbon-based and silicon-based Airmen is the development of trust.
Consider the amount of trust you have that your consumer grade GPS or cellular navigation system will correctly plot the best route to your destination and give you timely cues to execute that route. This is the bridge that must be designed and optimized between Airmen and their synthetic counterparts.
“As autonomy becomes more trusted, as it becomes more capable, then the Airmen can start off-loading more decision-making capability on the autonomy, and autonomy can exercise increasingly important levels of decision making,” said Draper. “That’s a migration you slowly incorporate as you unleash autonomy, as its capability dictates, and then you reel it back in when you need to, when your trust in it drops and you know that you need to become more engaged, you tighten the leash. The Airman and machine will share decision making, and at times one or the other takes the lead depending on the particular context.”
Draper said this trust will be achieved by a paradigm designed with a series of checks and balances, where Airmen can override an autonomous decision and Artificial Intelligence can sense an Airman’s fatigue, stress or miscalculation and suggest an alternative course of action.
“Humans make errors too, right? We all know this,” said Draper. “We should have an almost equivalent Artificial Intelligence looking at overall system performance, telling the aiman, ‘Hey, human! What you’re doing here potentially can really disrupt some complex things. Do you really want to do that?'”
Draper believes autonomous systems will never be given the keys to the kingdom and turned loose to execute missions completely on their own without human management and authorization. There will always be an Airman in the loop working with technology, to do the right thing. The nature and level of Airman engagement will change with new technology, but the critical role of the Airman, as supervisor, teammate, overseer, will persist.
“Imagine a perfect assistant with you while you work on a car. You’re struggling and you’re switching between many different tasks. All the while, you have this intelligent assistant that is constantly supporting you; reaching and moving tools out of your way and bringing in new tools when you need it, or showing you pictures and giving you computer readouts of the engine at exactly the right time. That sort of symbiotic tight-synced relationship between humans and autonomy is what I envision 70 years from now. True teammates,” said Draper.
In the late 1980s, the Pavania Tornado was entering widespread service with the Royal Air Force, Luftwaffe, Royal Saudi Air Force, and Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force). Despite this, the British, Germans, and Italians were seeking to create the next-generation tactical jet. Sure, the Tornado was good, but it wasn’t quite what they wanted.
The Tornado proved capable in both air-to-air and air-to-surface roles, but the same airframe couldn’t do both. Some Tornados were configured as fighters — mostly within the Royal Air Force and a few within the Royal Saudi Air Force — but most were tuned for attacking ground targets or ships. A few were configured primarily for hunting enemy air defenses, too, but switching between those roles wasn’t easy.
Two Panavia Tornados take off. In front is the GR.1; the F.2 behind it. These were single-mission aircraft, despite sharing many common parts.
And so began the mission to design a plane with greater versatility. Like the Tornado, this new plane was to be a twin-engine tactical jet. Unlike the Tornado, this plane had room only for a single a pilot and it could handle air-to-air and air-to-ground missions on the same airframe.
That plane is the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Typhoon has a top speed of 1,550 miles per hour and a maximum unrefueled range of 1,802 miles. It carries a wide variety of air-to-air armaments and it first flew in 1994. It took nine years of test flights to work out the bugs but, in 2003, Germany and Spain brought the plane into service. Italy and the United Kingdom soon followed suit.
The multirole capabilities of the Typhoon are evident in this photo.
(Photo by Ronnie Macdonald)
To date, the Typhoon has been a bigger success on the export market than the Tornado. Saudi Arabia (which bought the air-to-air and ground-attack versions of the Tornado) bought Typhoons, but so has Kuwait, Austria, Oman, and Qatar, with other countries considering this lethal multirole fighter.
Learn more about this fast, agile, and versatile combat jet in the video below!
It’s easy to exhibit mental toughness when you know exactly where the fire is coming from, for example, hostile territory or the far side of the range. It’s a lot harder when you’re not sure if your coworkers, a rival company, or the customer standing across from you is your enemy or your ally.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to U.S. Navy Vet Dr. Seth Hickerson, the CEO of A Boost Above. They specialize in Leadership and Mental Toughness Training. It’s a little different than you may have experienced in the military though…
We talked about mental toughness, education, loneliness, breathing, domestic terrorism, and a whole bunch of other stuff. So hold onto your butts as you jump into this all too familiar rabbit hole.
How is Boost’s mission to defend the nation against domestic terrorism?
Me and my team are Vets…and we signed an oath to support and defend the United States against ALL enemies foreign AND DOMESTIC. And we believe there are domestic institutions that do not have the best interest of our citizens in mind. Rather they are focused on controlling, manipulating, conditioning people to perpetuate hyper-capitalism and elite ideologies…so we wanted to create a company that provides awareness, education, and more importantly, training to help our citizens live their best lives.
We want people to be healthy, happy, and whole…
In our world out there today, it’s all about psychological warfare, and sadly most of our citizens are completely unarmed…so they are in a losing battle. We want to equip them.
The root cause is simple. We are still utilizing antiquated systems and institutions that were designed during the industrial revolution to produce workers instead of thinkers. The world and society has changed exponentially, but we still push people through “systems,” control media, Perpetuate the illusion of “the American dream” all in an attempt to control the masses while also extracting as much money from them as possible before they die…right before they can cash out their 401ks.
Some of the U.S. Army’s Boost trained Medics.
(Dr. Seth Hickerson)
How can Boost help address the loneliness problem that’s running rampant lately?
First by educating and raising awareness as to why we have a loneliness epidemic. Technology is the main culprit…the devices we are using to “connect” us are actually isolating us. We are devolving as a species….Humans are meant to be tribal, communal, social.
We need to interact…face to face…not online.
Also, technology provides people an opportunity to constantly compare themselves to others. But what they are comparing themselves to are illusions. Not reality.
News media perpetuates this by utilizing fear-based sensationalism…they use stimulus content that makes people fearful, racist, divided, and not want to leave their house.
Social media uses fantasy-based sensationalism….the content on there is FANTASY, but people believe it is real. “Why can’t I have the nice car, vacation, job, family,” Why can’t I look like that, cook like that etc. So it makes them feel less than, feel inadequate.
These are just a few things that perpetuate loneliness.
It takes TRAINING to overcome this stuff…and that’s where we come in.
The civilian world may look cuter and nicer than the military but there’s just as much suck that needs to be embraced.
(Dr. Seth Hickerson)
How specifically can Boost be used to help service members transition out of the military more effectively?
The biggest challenge Vets face when transitioning to civilian life is the loss of identity.
Only Less than 1% of our population serves in the military. It is a tight, highly trained fraternity, brotherhood. We think, act, and behave differently.
It is difficult to transition from the warrior mindset to the civilian one.
In my opinion, the ball gets dropped because we don’t do a good job of educating and prepping Vets before this transition happens. Then when they struggle, get depressed, lose confidence etc…we stick them in the “mental illness model” and expect them to sit on couches, treat them like they are broken, and have them “talk about things” with some egg-head who has never served.
Vets need training….we are mission-oriented…always will be…we need tasks and something to work towards…we don’t need talking…we need training.
Boost is training…not therapy.
Dr. H and cohorts spreading techniques that help vets transition out of the military more successfully.
(Dr. Seth Hickerson)
Can you give a quick rundown of BAMO, why it works, and why everyone should be using the breath to help regulate themselves?
Since we are Vets…we LOVE acronyms. BAMO is one of the first techniques we teach people. It stands for Breathe And Move On. The two most powerful things in a person’s lives are their thoughts and their breath…and most people have NO idea how to control either.
BAMO is a breathing technique we teach that basically shows you how to “flip the switch” from sympathetic nervous system to parasympathetic “aka the parachute”….it is what calms you down.
When someone gets scared due to a stimulus that they have perceived as a threat it activates the sympathetic nervous systems and engages the flight, flight or freeze…rapid heart rate, blood restricts only to essential organs, fear/worry mindset, sweating, trembling, breathing rapidly…it’s very hard to perform when this is happening…so you need a quick way to flip the switch to the parasympathetic nervous system…to calm your ass down..even if it’s just for a few seconds so you can execute the task at hand.
We use the 4×4 breathing technique…a simple breathing technique that you have to PRACTICE…four seconds in through the nose, breathing into the belly, then four second exhale through the mouth…..COUNTING to four in your head on the inhale and exhale (hard to think/worry about anything else) when you are counting in your head. The trick is to practice this breathing technique often throughout the day when you AREN’T SCARED or WORRIED…so that your body can adjust to it and then automate it once any negative stimulus comes your way…that’s when you are on the next level.
Dr. H and Boost sponsor all kinds of events that help make their community stronger in their free time.
(Dr. Seth Hickerson)
At Boost we are very aware of the alarming suicide problem as it pertains to our military Veterans, and we understand they need access to more tools.
We have served on many deployments and multiple combat operations at all levels…from grunts to upper echelon (SEALs and Rangers). We are also PhD’s in Human Performance, Psychology, and Educational Leadership.
Most importantly, we are Vets that want to help Vets.
Vets need to see what they are doing as training…not therapy. The current model promotes and perpetuates a sense of brokenness. And it’s usually led by someone that has “not been there.”
Vets are warriors. They need to be treated accordingly and given the tools in a way that makes sense to them and makes them proud to be doing the training.
So that’s our approach and philosophy.
We believe that by providing a modern and fun, measurable, accessible training systems utilizing technology is imperative. Our unique methodology (mindfulness training, emotional intelligence training, cognitive fitness training, and spec ops training) can give each and every veteran the tools they need to thrive. No insurance, no appointments, no coaches, no BS…and deployable anywhere anytime.
An Army veteran who says someone left a scalpel inside him after surgery is suing a Veterans Affairs hospital.
Bridgeport resident Glenford Turner says the scalpel was only discovered years later, after he suffered from long-term abdominal pain. He sued the VA in U.S. District Court last week, seeking unspecified compensatory damages.
Court papers say Turner had surgery at the VA hospital in West Haven in 2013. Nearly four years later, he went back to the VA with dizziness and severe abdominal pain. An X-Ray showed there was a scalpel inside his body.
Turner had to undergo surgery to remove the scalpel. His lawyer, Joel Faxon, said doctors confirmed it was the same one. Faxon called it “an incomprehensible level of incompetence.”
The VA said Jan. 15 it doesn’t typically comment on pending litigation.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said he was appalled and stunned by the “egregious medical malpractice case.”
“I have asked for a detailed explanation from VA of this deeply troubling report,” he said in a statement. “I am demanding also full accountability so this kind of horrific negligence never happens again.”
Several soldiers and a Navy SEAL testified Oct. 25 about the risky, all-out efforts to find Bowe Bergdahl after the soldier’s 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan. Troops and commanders went without sleep. Shirts and socks disintegrated on soldiers during weeks-long patrols. And several service members were seriously wounded — including the Navy commando whose career was ended by AK-47 fire.
The testimony came at a sentencing hearing for Bergdahl, who walked away from a remote post in Afghanistan and was held by Taliban allies for five years. He pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last week and faces a maximum of life in prison.
The wounded SEAL, retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch, said his team’s helicopters came under fire as they landed in an area near the Pakistan border where they had information on Bergdahl’s possible whereabouts. He said the mission in the days after Bergdahl disappeared was hastily planned, and their only objective was the Bergdahl search.
A military dog leading them through a field located two enemy fighters that the team had seen at a distance. Hatch said the fighters sprayed AK-47 bullets at them, killing the dog. He was hit in the leg.
“I screamed a lot. It hurt really bad … I thought I was dead,” said Hatch, who entered the courtroom with a limp and a service dog.
Hatch said he believes he would have died if a comrade hadn’t quickly applied a tourniquet. Hatch has subsequently had 18 surgeries.
He was largely stoic and spoke in measured tones except for several times when he talked about the slain military dog, Remco. Hatch said the dog helped protect his team by locating enemy fighters after the SEALs lost sight of them.
As the hearing got underway, the Army judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said he was still considering a motion by the defense to dismiss the case. The defense has argued that President Donald Trump’s comments about Bergdahl prevent him from having a fair sentencing hearing.
Other soldiers who testified described an exhausting and dangerous around-the-clock effort to find the soldier in the weeks after his disappearance.
Army Col. Clinton Baker, who commanded Bergdahl’s battalion at the time, said one unit on patrol for nearly 40 days straight had their clothing start to disintegrate on their bodies.
“We had to fly socks and T-shirts to them because they had literally just rotted off them,” he said. “We were all doing the best we could.”
Evan Buetow, who served as a sergeant in Bergdahl’s platoon, said he was among three soldiers who were left behind for 10 days to guard the outpost that Bergdahl walked away from near the Afghan town of Mest. The rest of the platoon embarked on a frantic search in the nearby areas.
Sitting in a fortified bunker, Buetow and another soldier suffered stomach flu-like symptoms while trying to stay awake and be vigilant.
“Every single day I think about it,” he said of the heat and ever-present dung beetles. “It was miserable.”
Buetow, who rejoined his platoon on subsequent search missions, broke down in tears when a prosecutor asked him why the guard duty and searches were important.
“I mean, my guy was gone,” he said before reaching for a tissue.
Several more days of testimony are expected.
Prosecutors made no deal to cap Bergdahl’s punishment, so the judge has wide leeway to consider their words in deciding Bergdahl’s sentence.
The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness, and beaten, and tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought Bergdahl home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Nance said Oct. 23 that he would be fair and hasn’t been influenced by Trump, but that he does have concerns that the president’s comments are affecting public perceptions.
While campaigning for president, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor and suggested that he be shot or thrown from a plane without a parachute. Nance ruled in February that those comments didn’t constitute unlawful command influence, noting that Trump was a civilian candidate for president at the time. The defense argued that Trump revived his campaign comments the day of Bergdahl’s plea hearing, by saying at a news conference that he thinks people are aware of what he said before.
Also Oct. 25, the defense said they plan to present evidence that Bergdahl’s mental health should be a mitigating factor in his sentence. He washed out of the Coast Guard after panic attack-like symptoms before enlisting in 2008 in the Army. In July 2015, after his return from captivity, Army evaluators concluded that Bergdahl suffered from schizotypal personality disorder when he left his post in Afghanistan.
Though the distinction between training and exercising might seem unimportant — it isn’t. How you label your physical activity says more about you, your mindset, and your probable rate of success than any PFT score ever could.
I first saw this difference at The Basic School in Quantico. Some of my peers were former college athletes, and a few were training in our off-time for an upcoming marathon. These peers had goals and a plan to achieve them. The rest of us were just doing what I now call “exercising,” random workouts on random days, inconsistently.
I’m on the far left, standing and squinting.
(Photo by Michael Gregory)
The Marines who were actually training were the only ones I knew who could keep a solid schedule and maintain their fitness levels during The Basic School. The rest of us got by on an ever-dwindling fitness reservoir that was nearly empty by the time I finally finished the school.
I finally started applying this training mentality to fitness during the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course. The course itself was a constant physical beat-down, but in the few classroom lectures, we were taught how to set up a MCMAP and combat conditioning plan for our units. It was then that I realized I could design a plan to become progressively more difficult as fitness levels increase, the same way a pre-deployment workup gets more complicated as the deployment date nears.
A classic case of the slay fest.
(Photo by Cpl. Brooke C. Woods USMC Recruit Depot San Diego)
How I loathed unit PT…
I used to think I hated PT just because I disliked being told what to do.
I have come to realize I actually hated unit PT because it is exercise and not training.
Most units plan solid workups to prepare each member of the unit to the max extent possible with all the skills and proficiencies needed for when they are actually ‘in country.’ This is training, a clear plan that progressively increases in difficulty and complexity with an end state in mind.
I have rarely seen physical fitness approached in the same logical way in unit PT.
Most units approach PT in one of two ways: as a slay fest or a joke.
A Slay Fest: (n) from the ancient Greek Slayus Festivus, meaning make as many people puke or stroke out as possible in an effort to assert physical dominance and make less-fit service members feel inadequate.
A Joke: just going through the motions and checking the quarterly unit PT requirement box.
Neither one of these has the intention of making better the members of the unit. In fact, slay fests often lead to injuries which have the opposite effect on unit readiness, while potentially initiating a hazing investigation because a junior NCO decided to play drill instructor.
Is this a training session or exercise? …Seriously though, what is this?
In the Marine Corps, I saw what could be accomplished when a proper training plan is followed to the most minute detail. I also saw what type of chaos or indifference towards fitness can result from no plan and/or unchecked egos.
This is why you should be training. The most successful athletes are those that have a plan in place that works them towards a goal. I’m a firm believer that everyone is an athlete no matter what your job or current station in life.
Marines are constantly reminded that it doesn’t matter what your MOS is, you could find yourself in combat and you better be prepared for it. Even though some roll their eyes at the idea of a finance technician lobbing grenades in a firefight, they still have an underlying feeling of pride that this is a potentiality.
Promotion on Iwo Jima. I swore to not waste anyone’s time with exercise on that day.
(Photo by Jeremy Graves)
I carry that with me to this day. Constantly thinking about what I would do if a fight breaks out — or if ‘patient zero’ of the zombie apocalypse strolls into my part of town — doesn’t keep me awake at night in dread. It keeps me awake at night in giddy anticipation because I’m training for that sh*t every. Damn. Day.
Of course, your reason for training doesn’t need to be so heavy, violent, or world-altering. Simply wanting to be able to throw a perfect spiral with your future son is a perfect reason to be training. If you need a more immediate time frame, choose a challenge: sign up for an adventure race, a marathon, an adult sports league, or a powerlifting meet (I just took second in my first meet and got a free t-shirt #winning #tigerblood). Train for the on-season or the event day.
As a member of the military community, it’s in your blood to conduct work-ups. Now it’s your turn to determine where and when that “deployment” is and how you train for it. Exercise is a word for people who throw out their back trying to get the gallon of Arizona Iced Tea off the bottom shelf and into their grocery cart. They need exercise; you need to be training.
Stalking and intelligence gathering are different from creepin’, right? We’re pretty sure there’s a distinction. But good glass (i.e. a scope) can help with all three.
According to John Ratcliffe Chapman’s book Instructions To Young Marksmen, the first truly telescopic rifle scope was invented in 1835 and 1840 — put together by Morgan James with design help from Chapman himself.
Demand for (and improvement of) the rifle scope quickly increased until, with the advent of the Civil War, it became strident — though only in some circles. Although the use of marksmen with scoped rifles was considered by many generals to be ungentlemanly or even murderous, many a Whitworth, Kerr, Sharps, or Kerr Whitworth rifle went to work on Civil War battlefields with side-mounted Davidson, Vernier, Creedmore, and other scopes.
Some of them were a couple feet long (or longer), and extraordinarily heavy.
And things have certainly come a long way since then, as Nikon, GPOTAC, and Atibal aptly demonstrate.
One company building good rifle optics is Nikon. Most of you associate them with cameras, but they manufacture all sorts of “glass,” including binos and riflescopes. They’ve recently introduced a new line of scopes they call BLACK.
Another company is GPO – they’re about as little known as Nikon is well known, but we hear some good things about ’em. They’ve just introduced their GPOTAC 8XI Riflescope.
They’ve taken a German design and upgunned it with some high tech features. Then there’s Atibal, whose sights and spotting scopes — specifically the MROC — have made a pretty good impression on some of our friends in a short amount of time (and are rumored to be releasing a 3-12 variable soon).
Now, let’s be clear, we haven’t personally tried any of these. We’re just huge fans of optics because we’ve seen first hand what a force multiplier good glass can be in a real fight. From reflex sights to variable power first focal plane fightin’ scopes, glass is good. If you’re still running irons alone, you likely still have a rotary dial telephone. Going “old school” is all well and good for your social media persona, but blows a hard one wants the metal starts hitting the meat.
Not that we’re judging you or anything.
Anyway, here’s three new pieces of glass for your Thursday Threesome.
1. Atibal MROC
The Atibal MROC is a 3 x 32 magnified optic that demonstrates in one small package just how improved our ability to reach out and see (then shoot) somebody has come. MROC stands for Modern Rifle Optic Component. It features an illuminated laser-etched reticle, fixed at three power magnification with an illuminated compensation chevron (for bullet drop) included (it’s calibrated for 5.56mm). The manufacturer advises it has a 37.7 field of view at 100 yards, which they describe as the “…largest field of view of any 3x prismatic scope currently on the market.”
An expanded field of view, of course, can make the difference between putting one in his noggin and catching on in yours.
The lens is FMC (Fully MultiCoated) to reduce glare and reflection. It is also intended to improve clarity of view. Windage and elevation adjustments are made by hand (no tools necessary, and ALL CAPS (see what we did there?) are leashed so you don’t lose them on the range or in the field. An integrated and detachable picatinny rail provides mounting options. The MROC runs on a single CR2 lithium battery.
Speaking of batteries, you might want to co-witness yours in case it goes dead. Not sure what that means or how to it? Easy – we’ll learn ya right here.
Here are the specs on the Atibal MROC as they provide them (or, you can find more online here). We’ll provide more info as we get. The price point on these, taken in context with what we hear about their performance, piques our interest. Follow ’em on Instagram, @atibalsights.
F.O.V FT@100YDS: 37.7ft
F.O.V Angle: 7.2°
Eye Relief: 2.8″
Click Value: .5 MOA
W/E Max. Adj.: 60 MOA
Parallax Free: 100yds
Battery Type: 1x CR2
Lens Coating: FMC
2. GPOTAC 8XI Riflescope
“[The] GPOTAC 8Xi is a scope like no other – it’s amazing. It’s packed with optical brilliance and technical features expected from super-premium tactical riflescopes. We were very careful to make sure every demanded feature available was jammed into this optic. You’ve got to see this scope.”
That’s what owner and CEO of GPO, USA says anyway. And it’s jammed full of vitamins too! You know though, if you can overlook the sensational, breakfast cereal commercial style prose, you’ll find the 8Xi does indeed seem to have some interesting features.
The 34mm tube optic will initially be offered in what they call the 1-9 x 24i version, with something called the “iControl illuminated mil-spec reticle” — and it’s a first focal plane reticle too, which is a huge plus-up in our minds. Turrets are locking metal milrad, with what the describe as “GPObright high transmission lens-coating technology.” It features double HD glass objective lenses, “fast focus” rubberized oculars, and wide machined-aluminum magnification adjustment rings. The horseshoe center point is fiber optic driven, with an auto-off feature to prevent unnecessary battery drain (and provides an alert when the battery is down to 15% remaining life).
Yes, the press release sounded like it was written by Billy Mays, but this is another one we’re actually very interested in. You can check it out online here; full specs are at the bottom of the page. They’re on Instagram (sorta), @gpo_usa) and Facebook. FYSA they’ve also just released a binocular line.
Remember – even the best gear in the world will avail you nothing if you rely on equipment to compensate for skill and honed ability. Train accordingly.
3. Nikon BLACK Riflescope Series
The BLACK Line optics are not Nikon’s first — they’ve had ProStaff, Monarch and other styles for years. However these are some of the first ones Nikon has manufactured specifically for tactical applications.
Its lineup includes five versions of what the company calls the BLACK X1000. That selection includes 4-16×50 and 6-24×50 models with X-MRAD or X-MOA reticles synced to windage and elevation turrets. Nikon describes what you see through the glass is a, “…visually clean, yet highly functional and advanced too for estimating range or maintaining holdovers.” (Not sure what all that means? Read this piece about Minute of Angle).
Their 1-4×24 scope uses what they call the “SpeedForce” reticle (nothing to do with Barry Allen, Jay Garrick, Wally West or anyone else drawn by Alex Ross). This reticle is intended to be used with the scope dialed to true 1x. It features an illuminated double horseshoe intended to assist in quick target acquisition, better ability to hit a moving target, and more precise intermediate range holdovers. (You can learn more about MILS here; we break it down Barney style.)
They’re all built with a 30mm body using an aircraft grade aluminum alloy, and they’re TYpe 3 anodized. The turrets are spring-loaded and “zero-reset”, and MSRP ranges from $399.95 up to 649.95. You can expect ’em to start showing up in the Spring and early Summer — meaning they’re just in time to let you, uh, provide “overwatch” on the beach or where they’re sunbathing out back of sorority row.
Follow Nikon on Instagram for lots of pretty pictures; @nikonusa.
This has been your Thursday Threesome. Got a tip on some new gear we should look at? Hit us up on the Instagramz, @breachbangclear, or drop us an e-mail at SITREP(at)breachbangclear.com. You can also send us a PM on Facebook. Don’t post nuthin’ to our wall. We never read it.
More news as we get it. You can also follow our Be Advised column (warning: occasionally NSFW).