Since ancient times, warriors have gathered around the fire to recall battles fought with comrades over flagons of strong ale. Today, we keep this same tradition — except the storytelling usually happens in a smoke pit or dingy bar.
If you’ve been part of one of these age-old circles, then you know there’s a specific set of mannerisms that’s shared by service members, from NCOs to junior enlisted. The way veterans tell their stories is a time-honored tradition that’s more important than the little details therein — and whether those details are true or not. Not every piece of a veteran’s tale is guaranteed to be accurate, but the following attributes will tell you that it’s legit enough.
Just hear them out. Either out of politeness or apathy — your choice.
Beginning the story with “No sh*t, there I was…”
No good story begins without this phrase. It draws the reader in and prepares them to accept the implausible. How else are you going to believe their story about their reasonably flimsy military vehicle rolling over?
It’s become so much of an on-running trope in veteran storytelling that it’s basically our version of “once upon a time.”
But sometimes, you just have to tell the new guy that everything they just signed up for f*cking sucks.
Going into extreme (and pointless) detail
Whenever a veteran begins story time for a civilian, they’ll recall the little details about where they were deployed, like the heat and the smell.
Now, we’re not saying these facts are completely irrelevant, but the stage-setting can get a bit gratuitous.
If your story is about your time as a boot, everyone will just believe you… likely because your story is too boring to fact check.
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
Constantly reminding the listener that they can look it up
The military has paperwork for literally everything. Let’s say you’re telling the story of how you were the platoon guidon bearer back in basic training. If you tried hard enough, you could probably find a document somewhere to back that statement up.
As outlandish as some claims may be, nobody is actually to put in the work to fact-check a story — especially when you’re just drinking beers at the bar.
Maybe it was because I was boring, but I never understood why people felt the need to go overboard with hiding people in the trunk. Just say, “they left their ID in the barracks.”
(Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Zeski)
Citing someone that may or may not exist as a source
Among troops and veterans, it’s easy for most of us forget that people also have first names. This is why so many of our stories refer to someone named of ‘Johnson,’ ‘Brown,’ or ‘Smith.’ It’s up to you whether you want to believe this person actually exists.
If they start getting into the stories that will make grandma blush, fewer nudges are required.
(U.S. Army photo)
Tapping the listener’s arm if they lose interest
Military stories tend to drag on forever. Now, this isn’t because they’re boring, but rather because the storyteller vividly remembers nearly every detail.
Sometimes, those telling the story feel the need to check in on the listener to make they’re absorbing it all. Most vets do with this a little nudge.
Basically how it works.
(Comic by Broken and Unreadable)
Filling in the blanks with “because, you know… Army”
It’s hard to nail down every minute detail of military culture, like how 15 minute priors really work.
Some things can only be explained with a hand wave and a simple, “because, you know, that’s how it was in the service.”
Or they could just be full of sh*t. But who cares? If it’s a fun story, it’s a fun story.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Finishing the story in a way that fosters one-upsmanship
Veterans’ stories aren’t intended to over-glorify past actions — even if that’s how it sounds to listeners. Generations upon generations of squads have told military stories as a way of a team-building, not as a way for one person to win a non-existent p*ssing contest.
Whether the storyteller knows it or not, they often finish up a tale by signaling to the listener that it’s now their turn to tell an even better story. Just like their squad leader did for them all those years ago.
US Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the entire Air Force bomber fleet, ordered a safety stand down for its B-1B Lancer bombers on June 7, 2018, following an emergency landing by a Lancer in Texas in May 2018.
“During the safety investigation process following an emergency landing of a B-1B in Midland, Texas, an issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down,” the command said in a release. “As issues are resolved aircraft will return to flight.”
A B-1B bomber from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas made an emergency landing at Midland International Airport in western Texas on May 1, 2018, after an in-flight emergency. Emergency responders made it to the runway before the plane landed, and none of the four crew members onboard were injured.
It was not clear what caused the emergency, though fire crews that responded used foam on the plane.
Photos that emerged of the bomber involved showed that at least one of its four cockpit escape hatches had been blown, but the ejection seat did not deploy.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)
The B-1’s four-man crew includes a pilot, copilot, and two weapons officers seated behind them. All four sit in ejection seats and each seat has an escape hatch above it, according to Air Force Times. Pulling the ejection handle starts an automatic sequence in which the hatch blows off and a STAPAC rocket motor launches the seats from the aircraft. The entire process takes only seconds.
It was not clear at the time of the incident whether the blown hatch or hatches had been recovered or whether the ejection seats had failed to deploy.
A Safety Investigation Board, a panel made up of experts who investigate incidents and recommend responses, is looking into the incident at Midland, the Global Strike Command release said.
The Global Strike Command stand-down order comes about a month after the Air Force ordered a day-long, fleet-wide stand-down while it conducted a safety review following a series of deadly accidents. At the time, the Air Force said it was seeing fewer accidents but that 18 pilots and crew members had been killed since October 1, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A solar power plant with energy-storage capability that went online in 2018 at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and a biofuel power plant at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, were among projects that helped the Army gain recognition in 2018 with an award from the Federal Energy Management Program.
“This was recognition for a tremendous amount of teamwork,” said Michael McGhee, executive director of the Army Office of Energy Initiatives. His office oversees and facilitates privately-funded, large-scale energy projects on Army land.
OEI has facilitated 7 million in such projects on 17 Army installations over the past five years. Many of the projects allow utility companies to use Army land in exchange for developing electricity projects more affordably. Some of these projects will save the Army money over the long-term, states the Department of Energy award, but more importantly, they also improve energy security and resilience.
Energy resilience is a top priority for the Army, said Jack Surash, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability.
“Uninterrupted access to energy is essential to sustaining critical Army missions,” Surash testified at a House energy subcommittee hearing Dec. 12, 2018. He went on to say such uninterrupted power is becoming more challenging “as potential vulnerabilities emerge in the nation’s utility-distribution infrastructure.”
This 1-megawatt utility battery that stores energy from Redstone Arsenal’s solar array in Alabama is the first of its kind for the Army.
(US Army photo)
Threats to the grid include more sophisticated cyberattacks and more frequent severe storms, earthquakes and tsunamis, McGhee said. In consideration of these threats, current Army policy requires critical mission activities to be provided with a minimum of 14 days of energy, which McGhee emphasized is focused on the mission-critical infrastructure that must anticipate the potential for long-term power outages. He added a couple of Army installations currently also have the ability to keep the whole base operating for more than three or four days if the grid goes down.
One of them is Schofield Barracks with its biofuel plant that became operational in May.
The Oahu project exemplifies a partnership with a utility company that helps maximize the value for another party’s investment while also serving the needs of the Army, McGhee said.
Hawaiian Electric needed to build a new power plant. The older ones were typically built along the coastline because most of the people lived there and that’s where the fuel shipments came in.
“Unfortunately, that’s also where the strongest effects of a storm surge would be felt in a tsunami or other extreme-weather event,” McGhee said. So the company was looking to place its new plant on higher ground with more security and less risk.
Behind the secure perimeter of Schofield Barracks was an obvious choice, McGhee said.
The biofuel plant provides power to Oahu during peak-demand periods. It has the capability to be decoupled from the grid in case of a grid emergency, McGhee said, and Schofield Barracks has the first right to power from the plant in such an emergency.
The 50-megawatt power plant can provide 100 percent of the power needed to keep Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield and Field Station Kunia running during a grid power emergency, according to OEI.
Several days of biofuel are stored on site at the plant and 30 days are available on the island, McGhee said. The plant also uses regular fuel oil and could even be operated on liquefied natural gas, providing what he termed as even more resilience.
For emergency power design, a reliable source of fuel and the ability to use more than one type of fuel is the key to long-term sustainability of operations, he said. In the case of severe weather, resupply of fuel for back-up power often becomes a problem, he added, so having the ability to resupply from multiple sources with multiple types of fuel is desired.
“We need something more than just your standard backup of diesel generators, in order to have a more resilient solution,” McGhee said.
One of the problems with energy resilience from renewable-power sources, such as solar or wind power, has been the lack of ability to store the power for use when the wind stops or the sun goes down.
Until recently, storage options have not been affordable.
“It’s not so much the technology has gotten cheaper as it is that the manufacturing has gotten to be more extensive, lowering the unit cost,” McGhee said of large-scale battery storage units.
“It’s very exciting for us, because we’ve been looking forward to this moment to couple large-scale, utility-size batteries with our existing large-scale, energy-generation projects that we helped develop,” he said.
The Redstone Arsenal project was OEI’s first foray into large-scale utility batteries, McGhee said, but added several more “are in the works” and could be part of projects in the coming year.
Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Jordan Gillis stands in the center of those who helped the Army earn recognition with a 2018 Federal Energy and Water Management Award, including to his left, Michael McGhee, director, Office of Energy Initiatives. Jack Surash, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability, is to the right of Gillis.
(US Army photo)
“It’s happening very quickly,” he said, “Companies are better understanding the technology, but they’re also better understanding the value proposition.” More developers are now actively seeking partners for battery-storage projects, he said.
“That technology at an affordable price enables so many other technologies and so many design options that weren’t available before.
“Large-scale affordable battery storage … provides the most compelling new option paths available that are intriguing to improving resilience on Army installations,” he added.
The 1-megawatt battery that became operational on Redstone in February can provide power for 2 megawatt hours, McGhee said, and added that future battery projects are likely to be much larger
Additional components must be added to the Redstone project to enable long-term backup power, he said. But planning is underway for a potential microgrid that could provide sustainable power at the arsenal for a long-term emergency.
Large-scale batteries are being evaluated to possibly be added to existing projects at other installations, McGhee said.
For instance, 30-megawatt alternating-current solar photovoltaic power plants have been operating for a couple of years now on Forts Gordon, Benning and Stewart in Georgia.
Fort Rucker and Anniston Army Depot in Alabama have 10-megawatt solar projects that are part of microgrids providing energy to the installations.
Fort Detrick, Maryland, has a 15-megawatt solar project with 59,994 panels that have been providing electricity to the post since 2016.
Fort Hood, Texas has both a 15-megawatt solar array on-post and a 50-megawatt wind turbine farm off-post that have been providing electricity to Fort Hood since 2017. All of these projects could potentially benefit from large-scale battery storage, according to McGhee.
“The batteries we are looking at have a relatively small footprint and require little maintenance,” he said, adding, “they’re a very low-touch kind of technology that has tremendous benefit.”
Natural Gas may be a trend for the coming year, McGhee said. The cost of natural gas has come down, he explained, making it more economical to build smaller utility electrical plants fueled by gas.
A utility company in Lawton, Oklahoma, is looking at investing in a natural gas plant along with a solar array on Fort Sill, he said. His office is working with the utility on a design and they are beginning environmental reviews. If approved, the project would utilize an “enhanced-use lease authority” where the utility company would be allowed to use the land for siting the natural gas and solar plants in return for providing a backup power capability to the installation.
This biofuel power plant at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, became operational in May 2018 and in the case of an emergency can provide all the electricity needed to operate the installation.
Most of the OEI projects have used either the enhanced-use lease authority or power purchase agreements to provide energy sustainability, but McGhee said he looking at other options to enhance microgrids. Controls that enable energy from plants to be more efficiently applied to installation facilities could merit direct Army funding he said.
Energy Savings Performance Contracts are another option. ESPCs involve privately-financed design and installation of equipment that provides energy savings over time and those savings then enable the government to pay back the private investment.
Utility Energy ServiceContracts, or UESCs, can also provide services to improve installation power equipment reliability, or McGhee said with more creative thinking, create microgrids.
“We’re weaving together a collection of authorities that very often are not considered in concert,” McGhee said. OEI helps garrisons that that may not have the experience or resources to be working with all the different types of authorities.
“Our office tries to bring a more integrated solution,” he said.
Teamwork for readiness
OEI actually received the FEMP Federal Energy and Water Management Award on Oct. 23 from the Department of Energy. McGhee said he accepted the award on behalf of the many commands and garrisons that helped coordinate the 11 projects above. The Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters and Districts and Centers of Expertise, Installation Management Command, Mission and Installation Contracting Command and Army Materiel Command, along with the Defense Logistics Agency, were among organizations that McGhee said deserve credit for the team award.
The award states the projects generate a total of 350 megawatts of distributed energy that help stabilize and reduce the Army’s costs while improving its security, resilience and reliability.
“Supporting Army readiness is the No. 1 priority,” McGhee said. “Our systems are being designed to improve the Army’s installation readiness.
“In addition we are helping to modernize the Army’s energy infrastructure, adding new technologies, and adding new protections that help us be ready for the needs of tomorrow, to include things like cyber intrusion.”
Army Private John R. McKinney was resting after a shift on guard duty in the Luzon area of the Philippines in May 1945 when his position was attacked by some 100 Japanese soldiers at a full run. McKinney, who was part of his unit’s perimeter defense, was cut in the ear with an enemy saber as he rested in his tent that night.
As the other men in McKinney’s machine gun squad worked to get the weapon ready, McKinney grabbed his service rifle and beat his attacker with it. He then shot another enemy soldier who tried to interrupt that beating.
Unfortunately, one of the machine gunners was injured in the attack and the other tried to carry him to safety. Private McKinney was now alone – and ten Japanese infantrymen were turning the machine gun around. McKinney jumped into the gun’s position and shot seven of those ten enemy troops at point blank range. He then clubbed the three others with the butt of his rifle.
Unfortunately for him, when McKinney took control of the machine gun, he found the weapon was inoperative. And there were more Japanese troops coming – a lot more. They were lobbing grenades and mortar shells onto his position. So, he did what any combat-hardened Army private would do: he switched positions.
His new position had ammo in it. Lots of ammo.
For 36 minutes, McKinney reloaded his service rifle and repeatedly picked up others as waves of oncoming Japanese troops attempted to swarm and overrun him. He fired almost nonstop into the charge. When he couldn’t fire anymore, he flipped his rifle around and began to club them to death or engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
When all was said and done, 40 Japanese soldiers of the 100 who attacked McKinney lay dead, including the two mortarmen… who were 45 yards away. He protected the fellow members of his company as they slept, killing one enemy soldier every 56 seconds for the duration of the attack.
Not only did he repel the Japanese assault, but he was still alive and in complete control of the area. John R. McKinney died in 1997, at the ripe old age of 76.
The Space Force is presumed to be exactly like our current military. Over-the-top recruitment videos will only lead to utter disappointment, just like any other branch. “You’ll get to see the world,” the recruiter will promise, but we all know you’ll probably just be seeing it from a desk back on Earth. Even in many years when the need for space infantrymen comes up, it’ll still be filled with all the same BS that happens down here.
Think about it. There will still be NCOs and officers who will still need to bide their time until closeout formation. The only difference will be that it’ll take place 254 miles above the Earth’s surface. And how will latrines work? Who will clean them?!
You know the answer.
That’s just from man-made stuff… then you have to worry about the stardust
1. Literally cleaning the ship absolutely spotlessly
Remember those novelty “space pens” that you can find at souvenir shops? The joke on the back is that America spent a butt load of cash trying to get a pen that could write upside-down and with zero-G’s but those crafty Russians just used a pencil. Hate to burst that bubble but no one uses pencils in space for a very specific reason.
Any bit of dust or flakes caused by just regular everyday things, like pencil shavings, could mess with electrical systems while it’s floating around in space.
You can’t honestly expect lieutenants to clean up after themselves when there are privates available, now can you?
2. Vacuuming all that stardust
Of course no one down here can see it, but space is actually pretty filthy. There’s plenty of dust on the outside the atmosphere from when the universe was formed and we can’t go around with an unclean space ship. Most of it is microscopic but NASA astronauts regularly have to clean the dust or else it gets everywhere.
Any spacewalk done will suck in plenty of that minuscule specs of dust whenever the bay-doors open. When the astronaut comes back into the oxygen-filled area, the dust will follow. And some poor space private will have to vacuum all that up.
I want this globe spotless or no one is being released.
3. Police calling space debris
All of this is just to clean up the inside of ship — there’s also the outside. Satellites and other man-made debris deteriorate eventually and even a 1cm paint flake could zoom low orbit faster than a bullet. Those flakes can rupture panels and cause all sorts of hell on the ship.
This problem is magnified with even larger pieces of debris, like a baseball sized scrap of metal hitting anything at 4.76 miles per second. To prevent Newton’s Second Law (force is equal to the mass times acceleration) from obliterating everyone on board, it’s up to the space privates to handle it.
Good luck finding that ONE serial number for the change of command layout.
4. Container organizing… but in zero Gs
At first, it seems like this would be so much easier in space. You wouldn’t have to lift heavy things because it’s near weightless now. And astronauts are notorious about taking only what they need into space. But that’s the silver-lining. Trying to tie things down and organizing things to take up as little space as possible is the real problem.
A space private’s Tetris skills will be checked as there isn’t any room for open space.
Imagine losing a wrench and sending it soaring into Earth’s atmosphere.
5. Repairing the exterior of the ship
There is a diminishing return on enjoyment. The first time you go on a space walk, it’ll be beyond your wildest expectations. Your 1,348th time going on a space walk to scrub the stardust off the window because the Colonel is coming won’t be as great.
Even more high-stress would be making repairs on the spaceship. Any minor mistake and either you die alone or everyone gets sucked into the vacuum of space.
Investigators with France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, who published their report in early April, found that once the man was in the air, he became so stressed by the ride that he pressed the ejector button in panic and was thrown from the aircraft, where he then parachuted down to the ground.
According to the investigation, the man, whose name has been withheld in the report, had no experience with military aircraft and had no interest in flying in a Dassault Rafale B jet before his company surprised him with the ride.
He was wearing a smartwatch at the time of the flight, which allowed investigators to record him having a heart rate between 136 to 142 beats per minute just before taking flight. A normal heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with analysis from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, showed that military service members drink more than any other profession — much to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
A tale as old as time…
It’s no secret that heavy drinking is a staple of military culture in the U.S. In fact, it’s so significant that military consumption of alcohol can seem like something out of an Onion article — like the time Iceland ran out of beer to serve troops.
The CDC study has confirmed just how severe it is, especially when ranked against literally any other profession.
The study covered over 27,000 people from 25 separate industries, focusing on their drinking frequency from 2013 to 2017. It discovered that the average person has at least one drink on about 91 days of the year.
(Photo by Sgt. Rebekka Heite)
However, military members lead all other professions with a whopping 130 days of drinking per year. That’s a drink a day for more than one third of the year.
The next closest profession was miners at 112 days, followed by construction workers at 106 days. Unsurprisingly, manual labor jobs round out the majority of the heaviest drinking jobs.
Okay, so that’s the rate of knocking off for a beer after work — but what about binge drinking?
(Photo from US Army)
The Department of Defense, using data from 2015 and 2016, discovered that about 30% of military members reported binge drinking in the month preceding the survey. Marines, specifically, reported doing so at an astronomic rate of 42.6%.
Veterans’ rate of binge drinking has reportedly risen from 14% in 2013 to about 16% in 2017.
This is alarming, as the initial study has also determined that drinking in the U.S. is trending downward. This has not been the case for service members: the number of days that military members drink has risen steadily since 2014.
Researchers attribute PTSD as one of the major factors causing veterans and active duty personnel to drink. Another reason for the surge could be a systemic culture that has allowed casual binge drinking as a rite of passage, or simply a way to pass time in isolated areas.
Whatever the reasoning, one thing is clear, drinking culture in the military is not going away without some major changes.
Artificial intelligence experts shook up the tech world this month when they called for the United Nations to regulate and even consider banning autonomous weapons.
Attention quickly gravitated to the biggest celebrity in the group, Elon Musk, who set the Internet ablaze when he tweeted: “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”
The group of 116 AI experts warned in an open letter to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons that “lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.” Speaking on behalf of companies that make artificial intelligence and robotic systems that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, they wrote, “We feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.”
The blunt talk by leaders of the AI world has raised eyebrows. Musk has put AI in the category of existential threat and is demanding decisive and immediate regulation. But even some of the signatories of the letter now say Musk took the fear mongering too far.
What this means for the Pentagon and its massive efforts to merge intelligent machines into weapon systems is still unclear. The military sees a future of high-tech weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence and ubiquitous autonomous weapons in the air, at sea, on the ground, as well as in cyberspace.
The United Nations has scheduled a November meeting to discuss the implications of autonomous weapons. It has created a group of governmental experts on “lethal autonomous weapon systems.” The letter asked the group to “work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.”
Founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence company SparkCognition, Amir Husain, signed the letter but insists that he is against any ban or restrictions that would stifle progress and innovation. He pointed out that the campaign was organized by professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and was meant to highlight the “potential dangers of autonomous weapons absent an international debate on these issues.”
The industry wants a healthy debate on the benefits and risks of AI and autonomy, Amir told RealClearDefense in a statement. But a blanket ban is “unworkable and unenforceable.” Scientific progress is inevitable, “and for me that is not frightening,” he added. “I believe the solution — as much as one exists at this stage — is to redouble our investment in the development of safe, explainable, and transparent AI technologies.”
Wendy Anderson, general manager of SparkCognition’s defense business, said that to suggest a ban or even tight restrictions on the development of any technology is a “slippery slope” and would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, as other countries will continue to pursue the technology. “We cannot afford to fall behind,” said Anderson. “Banning or restricting its development is not the answer. Having honest, in-depth discussions about how we create, develop, and deploy the technology is.”
August Cole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and writer at the consulting firm Avascent, said the concerns raised by tech leaders on autonomous weapons are valid, but a ban is unrealistic. “Given the proliferation of civilian machine learning and autonomy advances in everything from cars to finance to social media, a prohibition won’t work,” he said.
Setting limits on technology ultimately would hurt the military, which depends on commercial innovations, said Cole. “What needs to develop is an international legal, moral, and ethical framework. … But given the unrelenting speed of commercial breakthroughs in AI, robotics, and machine learning, this may be a taller order than asking for an outright ban on autonomous weapons.”
But while advances in commercial technology have benefited the military, analysts fear that the Pentagon has not fully grasped the risks of unfettered AI and the possibility that machines could become uncontrollable.
“AI is not just another technology,” said Andy Ilachinski, principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. He authored a recent CNA study, “AI, Robots, and Swarms: Issues, Questions, and Recommended Studies.”
Defense has to be concerned about the implications of this debate, he said in an interview. AI is transforming the world “to the level of a Guttenberg press, to the level of the Internet,” he said. “This is a culture-shifting technology. And DoD is just a small part of that.”
Another troubling reality is that the Pentagon has yet to settle on the definition of autonomous weapons. In 2012, the Department of Defense published an instruction manual on the use of autonomous weapons. That 5-year-old document is the only existing policy on the books on how the US military uses these systems, Ilachinski said. According to that manual, a weapon is autonomous if “once activated, it can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human.”
Policies and directives are long overdue for an update, he said. “We need to know what AI is capable of, how to test it, evaluate it.”
He noted that the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, published two studies on the subject in 2012 and 2016 but provided “no good definition of autonomy or AI in either of them.” These are the Pentagon’s top experts and “they can’t even get it straight.”
Something about Musk’s warning strikes a chord with scientists that truly understand AI, Ilachinski observed. When Google’s Deepmind created a computer program in 2015 that beat the world’s Go champion, it was a landmark achievement for AI but also brought the realization that these algorithms truly have minds of their own. “This is an issue of great concern for DoD.”
There are areas within AI that scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around. In advanced systems like Deepmind’s AlphaGo, “you can’t reverse engineer why a certain behavior occurred,” Ilachinski said. “It is important for DoD to recognize that they may not able to understand completely why the system is doing what it’s doing.”
One reason to take Musk’s warning seriously is that much is still unknown about what happens within the brains of these AI systems once they are trained, said Ilachinski. “You may not be able to predict the overall behavior of the system,” he said. “So in that sense I share the angst that people like Elon Musk feel.”
On the other hand, it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle, Ilachinski added. The United States can’t let up because countries like China already are working to become the dominant power in AI. Further, the Pentagon has to worry that enemies will exploit AI in ways that can’t yet be imagined. Anyone can buy a couple of drones for less than a thousand dollars, go to the MIT or Harvard website, learn about AI, download snippets of code and implant them in the drones, he said. A swarm of smart drones is something “would have a hard time countering because we are not expecting it. It’s very cheap and easy to do.”
The Army is starting formal production of a new Self-Propelled Howitzer variant engineered for faster movement, better structural protection, improved drive-train ability, new suspension, and advanced networking tech, service and industry developers said.
The new vehicle is built with a more capable, larger chassis, designed as an initial step toward building a next-generation cannon able to outgun existing Russian weapons.
As part of a longer-term plan to leverage the new, larger chassis built into the Army’s new M109A7 variant, the Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center is beginning work on a new cannon able to hit enemies out to 70 kilometers, senior Army developers said.
“Right now we have the 39 caliber cannon we have had since the 80s. We are range limited and the Russians can outgun us and shoot farther,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, said last Fall at the service’s AUSA annual symposium. “If you had not replaced the chassis first, you would never be able to put that larger cannon on there.”
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS-guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago, its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets — such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which also reaches 70-kilometers.
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology, and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks, and fast-growing attack drone fleet all point to a growing need for the U.S. to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.
Furthermore, given the Pentagon’s emphasis upon cross-domain warfare, land weapons are increasingly being developed to attack things like enemy ships, aircraft, and ground-based air defenses; naturally, the idea is to pinpoint and destroy enemy targets while remaining at a safer, more protected distance. Deputy Program Executive Officer for Missiles Space, Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch told Warrior the service is making a decided push to upgrade and develop longer-range weapons as a way to address current threats — and re-adjust following more than 15 years of counterinsurgency.
For example, senior Pentagon leaders have told Warrior Maven that there is some ongoing deliberation about placing mobile land-based artillery — such as a Paladin — in areas of the South China Sea as a credible deterrent against Chinese ships and aircraft.
Building a higher-tech, more lethal Paladin
Following years of development and advanced engineering, the Army and BAE Systems are now formally entering full-rate production of the new M109A7 and accompanying M992A3 ammunition carrier vehicles. BAE officials said the new Howitzer, designed to replace the existing M109A6 Paladin, will have 600-volts of onboard power generation, high-voltage electric gun drives, and projectile ramming systems.
Bassett described the A7 as a turret ring down revamp, including a new hull along with a new suspension and power-train. The new Howitzer will, among other things, greatly improve speed and mobility compared to the A6.
“In the past, the A6 Paladin was the slowest vehicle in the Army. It needs to leapfrog. We are restoring that mobility so it will be one of the faster vehicles. Howitzers can now outrun 113s,” Bassett said.
Also, as part of maintenance, life-cycle, and service extension — all aimed to improve logistics — the new Howitzer is built with an engine and other parts common to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and emerging Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
Improved onboard power is, similar to other emerging higher-tech platforms, designed to enable the vehicle to quickly accommodate upgrades and new weapons technologies as they may evolve — such as lasers or advanced ammunition.
The advanced digital backbone and power generation capability provides significant growth potential for future payloads, a BAE Systems statement said.
One senior Army official told Warrior Maven that improved combat connectivity can enable multiple Howitzers to quickly share firing data, as part of a broader effort to expand battlefield networking and operate in more dispersed formations depending upon mission requirements.
The Army is also now working with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office to explore additional innovations for the Howitzer platform.
Army Howitzers are now firing a super high-speed, high-tech, electromagnetic Hyper Velocity Projectile, initially developed as a Navy weapon, an effort to fast-track increasing lethal and effective weapons to warzones and key strategic locations, Pentagon officials said.
While initially conceived of and developed for the Navy’s emerging Rail Gun Weapon, the Pentagon and Army are now firing the Hyper Velocity Projectile from an Army Howitzer in order to potential harness near-term weapons ability, increase the scope, lethality, and rangeability to accelerate combat deployment of the lethal, high-speed round.
The railgun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.
Firing from an Army Howitzer, the hypervelocity projectile can fire at high speeds toward enemy targets to include buildings, force concentrations, weapons systems, drones, aircraft, vehicle bunkers and even incoming enemy missiles and artillery rounds.
“We can defend against an incoming salvo with a bullet. That is very much a focus getting ready for the future,” Dr. William Roper, Director of the Pentagon’s once-secret Strategic Capabilities Office, told Scout Warrior among a small group of reporters last year.
A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.
As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.
But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.
For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.
The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.
It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.
Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.
Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.
“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”
He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.
To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.
The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.
“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”
The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.
On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.
“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”
But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.
A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.
Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.
“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”
Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.
“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”
The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.
They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.
Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.
That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.
For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.
“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”
In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.
Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.
“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”
Military games are awesome. They often have lots of explosions and gunplay, and the best ones take some care to honestly represent military life, imposing a moral cost for decisions or making you feel the loss of comrades in fighting. But it’s always a sweet bonus if you, as the player, are able to step in the shoes of warriors from history.
So these are five games that let you do just that, either commanding important missions from history or stepping into the boots of a participant. A quick admin note, though: These are games that let you play in a historical mission. They aren’t necessarily the most historically accurate, meaning the creators might have taken some liberties with details.
Medal of Honor
The 2010 game Medal of Honor is set during the invasion of Afghanistan with a prologue that includes clearing Bagram Airfield and a main campaign centered on special operators in the Shahikot Valley. Eagle-eyed historians will recognize the story as a (loose) interpretation of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle of the invasion of Afghanistan complete with dozens of special operators, thousands of friendly soldiers, and about 1,000 guerrilla fighters.
While the names of individuals and units have all been changed, a lot of the key moments and terrain features from the actual battle are represented like when a SEAL is lost on Takur Ghar or the many times that members of Delta Force called in airstrikes on enemy forces.
(As a bonus, some versions of this game come with the 2002 Medal of Honor: Frontline which has some stunning depictions of real battles like the D-Day landings and Operation Market Garden, though even the remastered version has quaint graphics by modern standards.)
Call of Duty 2
To be honest, there are really too many World War II shooters to list all of the ones with real missions, even if we dedicated an entire list to World War II. We went with Call of Duty 2 for this list. It features missions in North Africa, lets you play with the Rangers on Ponte du Hoc on D-Day, and a variety of other real missions besides.
The original Call of Duty has other World War II missions like the defense of “Pavlov’s House” in Stalingrad and the final assault on Berlin.
But don’t learn your history from Call of Duty games. The “Operation Pegasus” mission in the game has nothing to do with the actual World War II mission of the same name. And the commando assault on Eder Dam in the game is a far cry from the true “Dambusters” of history.
Battlefield Vietnam is a well-received game about the Vietnam War (duh) originally released in 2004. The game is a little arcade-y with lots of run-and-gun action in settings like the Ho Chi Ming Trail, the Siege of Hue, and missions like Operation Flaming Dart.
Players can get behind the controls of lots of vehicles from the era including the iconic Patrol Boat-Riverine.
Company of Heroes
This is a real-time strategy game set in the American campaign to land at Normandy and then drive to Berlin. Company of Heroes sees the player commanding companies of soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division at battles from Carentan to Hill 192 to St. Lo.
The game doesn’t actually limit the player to what a company commander could do in the war. It gives players the options to upgrade all of their units and allows them to control armor, infantry, engineering, and other soldiers. But the maps feel different based on what battle is playing out, and they’re all destructible so you can fight house to house in St. Fromond or create chokepoints to slaughter German troops as they come through the village.
Ultimate General: Civil War
This Civil War strategy game has *checks notes*, all of the Civil War battles. There’s a Union campaign and a Confederate one, and each features dozens of battles and missions. These include both battles of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga Creek, Cold Harbor, and much, much, more.
The size of the player’s force is decided by how well they do in each fight. So while you get to play all sorts of historical battles, realize that the actual forces at each fight are decided according to your performance, not according to historical accuracy. So be prepared for a Gettysburg where the Confederacy has three times the troops and wins.
Even before COVID-19, only half of military and veteran family respondents felt satisfied with their ability to access mental health care appointments, according to data released this week from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN). The top obstacle to obtaining mental health care, across all demographics, was the lack of available appointments.
Add physical distancing, forced isolation and unemployment due to COVID-19, and the data suggests that military and veteran families could be at increased risk of struggling with mental health concerns without the ability to get help.
MFAN’s Military Family Support Programming Survey was fielded from October 7, 2019 to November 11, 2019 and 7,785 respondents answered the questions. The full survey results will be released next month, but MFAN has been releasing some findings early so that leaders and policy makers will have access to the information in order to make decisions during the pandemic.
“My spouse had been trying to schedule a mental health appointment because they have really been struggling lately,” one respondent, the spouse of an Air Force active duty service member, said. “It took them over four weeks to actually be able to see someone in person (which I think is extremely unacceptable). Not to mention, once they were finally able to, the appointment was only available at a hospital over an hour away.”
The majority of respondents, 82.6%, said they had not accessed mental health crisis resources. Those who had sought crisis resources, the remaining 14.6%, were slightly more likely to be spouses of veterans or retirees.
When asked if participants had thoughts of suicide in the past two years, more than 80% said they had not, 12.5% said they had thoughts about suicide, and 6.1% said they preferred not to answer.
“No mental health providers in our area take Tricare and are accepting new patients,” the spouse of a Marine Corps active duty member said. “Therefore, this service is not available to us, even though we’ve attempted to access these services.”
But there’s good news, too
The data MFAN released also tells us that military family members are interested in receiving care through non-traditional methods, specifically telehealth.
“If I had the option to use it, I would,” said the spouse of an active duty sailor. “If it meant not waiting six-plus months to see a doctor, I would gladly use it.”
If the pandemic continues, or even if it doesn’t, receiving care via telehealth could present opportunities for military and veteran families to have easier access to appointments and to continue receiving care from trusted providers with whom they have a rapport, even if the military or life moves them elsewhere.
During the Vietnam war, America and its South Vietnamese allies forces faced a deadly enemy that not only fought on the jungle’s surface but could raise up from concealed underground bunkers and tunnels to ambush troops as well; the Viet Cong tunnel.
Travel an hour from Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll arrive at the Cu Chi District where Communist guerrilla soldiers dug elaborate tunnels to store and transport supplies to combat American and South Vietnamese forces.