A spinal cord injury (SCI) is a debilitating medical condition. It limits the function of movement and control in the body. As a result, having an SCI can lead to reduced aerobic fitness, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This is due to autonomic dysfunction, muscle wasting, increased regional and total body fat mass, and relative inactivity.
The Central Virginia VA Health Care System has unique expertise treating Veterans with these injuries.
The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs has awarded a grant for .7 million to the Central Virginia VA Health Care System and Virginia Commonwealth University. In turn, these researchers will study spinal epidural stimulation in people with spinal cord injuries. The grant is the first of its kind at a VA medical center.
VA research teams will collaborate on using spinal epidural stimulation treatment with a robotic suit. Hopefully, the result will be an improved quality of life for those suffering with spinal cord injuries. Researchers currently use VA’s robotic exoskeleton suits to improve SCI patients’ mobility and outlook for their prognosis.
New breakthrough can help people stand, step and walk
“A new, scientific breakthrough can help people stand, step and even walk again,” said Dr. Ashraf Gorgey. Gorgey is director of research for the Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders unit and principal investigator for this clinical trial. “It’s called lumbosacral epidural stimulation, or ES. Our research team has used the ‘ES Robot Suit’ for three months in one person with tetraplegia. The patient showed remarkable improvements in motor control. We aim to implant 20 Veterans who have a spinal cord injury with electrodes in their spine.”
Gorgey says they aim to enhance muscle volitional control. Dr. Robert Trainer supports the program by implanting the device. Muscle volitional control includes the ability to perform sit-to-stand activity, overground stepping and limit secondary complications in persons. This may include other benefits similar to improvement in the cardiovascular system and bladder functions. These are common side effects for SCI patients.
The study will measure the effectiveness of resistance training for Veterans using exoskeletal-assisted walking and ES. It will look for improvements in motor recovery, cardio-metabolic health and bladder control.
“The clinical trial will be conducted and completed entirely at CVHCS in Richmond,” Gorgey said.
The US Navy’s new supercarrier continues to face major problems that will delay its delivery to the fleet by at least three months as the service bets big on the troubled ship, Navy officials said March 26, 2019.
Following testing and evaluation with the fleet, the USS Gerald R. Ford last July began maintenance and upgrades at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, with the expectation that the aircraft carrier would return summer 2019.
The Ford is now set to spend at least another three months in dry dock because of unforeseen problems with its nuclear power plant, weapons elevators, and other areas, USNI News first reported on March 26, 2019, citing testimony by Navy officials before a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee.
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time.
“October right now is our best estimate,” James Geurts, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition, told the committee, according to USNI News.
The weapons elevators, of which the Ford has only two of the necessary 11, have long been an issue, but the propulsion problem is reportedly less understood.
Problems with the ship’s main turbine generators, which use steam from the two onboard nuclear reactors to generate electricity for its four propeller shafts, appear more serious than initially indicated at sea trials, the report said.
Citing sources familiar with the extent of the repairs, USNI News said two of the main turbine generators “needed unanticipated and extensive overhauls.”
The issue appeared May 2018, when the ship was forced to return to port early.
“The ship experienced a propulsion system issue associated with a recent design change, requiring a return to homeport for adjustments before resuming at sea testing,” the service told Navy Times at the time.
Aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.
(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt)
The War Zone said that while the billion Ford has experienced numerous problems with things from the arresting gear and catapults to the radar systems, the Navy is pushing ahead with purchases of this new class of carrier while proposing early retirement for an operational Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
In its fiscal 2020 budget proposal, the Navy said it planned to retire the USS Harry S. Truman two decades early rather than refuel the ship’s nuclear cores to power it for another quarter century. The move is reportedly designed to free up billions for a block buy of two Ford-class carriers and investment in untested unmanned systems the service has determined necessary for future combat.
As the Ford faces developmental challenges, the service is moving forward with future Ford-class carriers: the USS John F. Kennedy, the USS Enterprise, and a carrier now identified only as CVN-81, the War Zone report said.
The embattled flagships are expected to play a crucial role in power projection, but setbacks have raised questions about when exactly it will be ready to do that.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Nov. 10 saw the annual Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis Air Force Base.
Located outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, Nellis has close ties to its neighboring city. Following the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, last weekend’s air show commemorated and honored the city and the shooting’s victims.
The show also featured US Air Force history, as the Air Force celebrates its 70th anniversary. About 400,000 people were expected to visit the two-day expo.
“This is freaking awesome. It really shakes you in your boots,” one observer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It is rare that you get to see this stuff.”
Here’s what it was like inside the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo:
Nellis servicemen customized several aircraft, including this F-16 Fighting Falcon, to display the base’s Vegas Strong message.
This F-15C Eagle was painted to commemorate the shooting, which took place at a country music festival on Oct. 1.
Here’s more detail on the tail.
The aircraft had to be completely repainted in some cases.
Here’s the final product on another F-15C Eagle.
Here’s what they normally look like, without the paint job.
Aside from the memorials to the Las Vegas shooting, the Air and Space Expo had some of the best features of a traditional air show. Spectators were treated to a show from the Air Force Thunderbirds.
The opening ceremony featured members of the Air Force’s Wing of Blue Parachute Team jumping out of aircrafts.
Here’s what it looks like when they land.
Aviation Nation also celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the US Air Force, showcasing older aircraft such as the B-25 Mitchell.
The Texas Flying Legends flew in formation, showing off some WWII-era aircrafts.
A Texas Flying Legends pass over the Nellis Air Force Base flight line during Aviation Nation 2017 Nellis Air and Space Expo, Nov. 10, 2017. The Texas Flying Legends is dedicated to honoring the men and women who have served—or are currently serving through an active display of World War II aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Sarver)
The U.S. Air Force announced plans to ramp up its pilot training to produce 1,500 pilots a year by fiscal 2022. Now, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) has divulged preliminary blueprints on how it anticipates accomplishing the task.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said before a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee hearing Oct. 10, 2018, that the service will increase its current 1,160 pilot training slots to 1,311 in fiscal 2019, aiming for 1,500 every year shortly thereafter.
“AETC has been tasked to produce about 1,500 pilots per year … That number includes active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard and international students,” command spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday told Military.com this in October 2018.
While the undertaking is in its initial stages, the command will use programs such as the experimental Pilot Training Next — paired with Pilot Instructor Training Next — to improve how teachers and incoming students work together.
U.S. Air Force Second Lt. Brett Bultsma, Pilot Training Next student, and Capt. Jeffery Kelley, PTN instructor pilot, prepare for a training flight aboard a T-6 Texan at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
AETC is also updating its Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) curriculum to streamline how quickly the Air Force can produce new pilots, Holliday said.
“The final touches to the new Undergraduate Pilot Training syllabi were adjudicated and are now in the initial stages of execution,” she said.
Revising pilot training
The curriculum’s redesign gives squadron commanders the ability to refine training to better meet the needs of individual students, AETC said in a recent release.
Previously, students went back and forth between simulators and the flight line. The new syllabus moves “11 simulators that had been previously spread out over a three- to four-month time frame, into a single block of training prior to the first flight in the aircraft,” Holliday said.
It’s also a blended learning model, she said, that incorporates several best practices from “advanced military flight training and civilian flight training.”
Students will cut their training time from 54 to 49 weeks once the changes are fully implemented.
“We are still in the early phase of executing the syllabus redesign, but initial performance from students indicates increased pilot performance,” Holliday said.
Students will advance at their own pace. Previously, they had to wait until the entire class completed stages or assignments before moving on to the next. AETC will now allow for individual students to complete courses faster or slower as needed, officials said.
Holliday said this will not alter the official course length, but the time a given student spends in the course could change. The first UPT students to use the adjusted curriculum will graduate in spring 2019, she said.
Pilot Training Next
Thirteen students graduated from the first, experimental Pilot Training Next (PTN) class in August 2018 after six months of learning to fly in virtual-reality simulators. The program ran 24 weeks and “included 184 academic hours, with approximately 70 to 80 flight hours in the T-6 Texan II, as well as approximately 80 to 90 hours of formal flight training in the simulator,” Holliday said. Students also trained on their own time in the simulators.
“We want to learn as fast as possible,” said 2nd Lt. Christofer Ahn, a student pilot, in an interview before graduating. “Being able to use the simulators is a huge step in allowing us to accelerate through our training.”
U.S. Air Force students and instructor pilots from the Pilot Training Next program fly a T-6 Texan during a training flight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
The service recently announced there will be a second class to test Pilot Training Next before the results are briefed to Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, who will decide whether the program will be incorporated into formal pilot training. The second class will begin training in January 2019.
Holliday said that lessons learned from PTN have already been incorporated into traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training, as well as Pilot Instructor Training.
Instructors are also refining the ways they connect with students through innovation and simulation training. With a program called Pilot Instructor Next, they are looking for ways to develop what AETC calls the “Mach-21” airman, or the next generation of 21st century pilots.
Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the AETC commander, coined the term to describe what the Air Force wants in its new pilots.
“A Mach-21 Air Force essentially is comprised of airmen who learn faster, adapt faster and strategically out-think the enemy, because they are moving at Mach-21 speed,” he said.
To produce such high-quality and sought-after pilots, instructors need to up their game.
“Through Pilot Instructor Training Next, AETC flying squadrons have been equipped with virtual-reality simulators and 360-degree video headsets to integrate into syllabi,” Holliday said. “Since implemented, there have been measurable benefits from the addition of technology, and 10 instructor pilots are slated to graduate from the PIT Next program each month.”
U.S. Air Force Second Lt. Brett Bultsma, Pilot Training Next student, and Capt. Jeffery Kelley, Pilot Training Next instructor pilot, prepare for a training flight aboard a T-6 Texan at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
Its biggest advantage, AETC says, is the ability to test students in high-stress environments in the safe space of a simulator.
“Virtually, instructors can put students in any situation to determine if they would recognize the danger and whether or not they take the right course of action,” Holliday said. “Students also have the opportunity to take home mobile-video headsets, which connect to the pilot’s smartphone and allow for on-command and on-demand training, which has also been helpful.”
She added, “Incorporating this level of technology and deep-repetition learning allows these students to see the flight environment so many more times than they would have in the past.”
Aircrew Crisis Task Force
AETC is also coordinating with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force — set up in 2016 by the Pentagon — building on its “holistic plan to ensure the Air Force’s pilot requirements are met through retention of currently trained pilots as well as through the production pipeline.”
At the Oct. 10, 2018 hearing, Wilson said the Air Force is placing an emphasis on addressing the national aircrew shortage by focusing on pilot quality of service and quality-of-life issues.
The task force has looked at ways of giving fighter pilots and aircrew the ability to stay in rotations longer at select commands and bases in an effort to create stability for airmen affected by the service’s growing pilot shortage.
“We continue to work with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force to ensure our pilot production planning encompasses an airman from commissioning through training and then to their operational flying units,” Holliday said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.
According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.
John Glenn standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. Gene Cernan flew the F9F Panther during flight training. (Ohio State University)
According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.
The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.
The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.
When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.
Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.
As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.
Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.
NATO foreign ministers concluded a two-day meeting on December 2 that paves the path for reforms within the transatlantic alliance as it faces twin challenges from Russia and China, as well as key decisions about the situation Afghanistan.
The meeting, held via videolink as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, discussed how the alliance must adapt to new threats, including “persistently aggressive Russia” and “the rise of China.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on December 1 told reporters that the ministers discussed the Russian “military build-up” around the alliance and the mission in Afghanistan.
The Western military alliance “will have to take some hard decisions” about the mission when NATO defense ministers meet in February, he said.
A 67-page expert group report outlining suggestions about how to reboot the alliance noted that while NATO faced one big threat during the Cold War, it now faces two “systemic rivals” — Russia and China — along with “the enduring threat of terrorism.”
Speaking to reporters, Stoltenberg said the ministers discussed “Russia’s continued military build-up in our neighborhood, as well as arms control.”
He said NATO is adapting its deterrence posture “to address Russia’s destabilizing actions,” but the ministers agree that they must continue to pursue dialogue with Russia.
They also expressed support for preserving limitations of nuclear weapons and for developing a more comprehensive arms control regime, and welcomed talks between Russia and the United States ahead of the expiration of their bilateral New START treaty in February.
“We should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads,” he said.
The ministerial also included a meeting with the foreign ministers of Georgia and Ukraine on security in the Black Sea region and NATO’s continued support to both partners.
Foreign ministers also discussed developments in Belarus following nearly four months of pro-democracy protests and the situation in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the wake of a Russian-brokered peace deal that ended 44 days of fierce fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces.
On Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said NATO supports the peace process while remaining committed to the mission to help fight terrorism.
But he added: “As we continue to assess the situation in Afghanistan, it is clear that we will face a turning point early next year.”
The security alliance risks an even longer-term engagement if the NATO mission stays in Afghanistan, and if it leaves there is a risk that it will become a safe haven for international terrorists again, Stoltenberg said.
“So, there is a price for staying longer, but there is also a price for leaving too soon,” he said.
NATO now has about 11,000 troops from dozens of countries stationed in Afghanistan. Their mandate is to help train and advise Afghanistan’s security forces.
But the presence of U.S. forces, which NATO relies on for air support, transport, and logistics, is scheduled to shrink by 2,000 troops to 2,500 by January 15.
Under a peace deal reached between the United States and the Taliban, all foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 if security conditions on the ground permit.
The policy report also suggested the Western military alliance find a way to stop individual countries vetoing policy decisions, as Hungary has done over plans for a deeper partnership with non-NATO member Ukraine.
Other recommendations included creating a consultative body to coordinate broader, Western policy toward China, holding summits with European Union leaders, and giving the secretary-general more power over personnel and budgets.
“NATO needs a strong political dimension to match its military adaptation,” according to the report, whose suggestions are not binding.
The document is to be presented to NATO leaders at a summit planned for next year. They could be included in an update to NATO’s Strategic Concept document, which dates from 2010 and sought to consider Russia as a partner.
There’s a saying in the photography community, first coined by the legendary Robert Capa: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” If that’s true, there’s one North Korean photog who has the world’s best photo of a rocket launch. Sadly, no one will ever see it because the photo was burned up along with the man who took it.
The worst part is, the Korean Central News Agency distributed video of his gruesome death for all the world to see.
Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow
No one loves testing missiles and telling the world about it more than North Korea, so it’s likely the photographer was put there on purpose. Whether or not anyone (especially the photographer) knew he was in the blast zone for the Hwasong-15 rocket is anyone’s guess.
“The photographer who stood near Hwasong-15 missile was enveloped by fire,” said one onlooker to the incident. “I was shocked to see officials watching the launch. I did not know whether it was the fault of the cameraman or the control center. But it was impossible for leader Kim Jong-un who was at the site not to have witnessed the incident.”
Kim Jong-un and the Korean People’s Army rejoice at the launch of a Hwasong-15 missile test.
As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his cronies watched North Korea’s largest, most powerful Intercontinental ballistic missile test to date – and cheered on – it’s possible that up to 16 people who were in the test area were burned alive by the missile’s blast. South Korea says the KCNA broadcasts were later edited to remove the toasted photographer.
The US military has enlisted academics to fight a new enemy: Twitter bots.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a special contest last year to identify so-called “influence bots” — “realistic, automated identities that illicitly shape discussion on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”
The paper minces no words about how dangerous it is that human-like bots on social media can accelerate recruitment to organizations like ISIS, or grant governments the ability to spread misinformation to their people. Proven uses of influence bots in the wild are rare, the paper notes, but the threat is real.
And so, the surprisingly simple test. DARPA placed “39 pro-vaccination influence bots” onto a fake, Twitter-like social network. Importantly, competing teams didn’t know how many influence bots there were in total.
Teams from the University of Southern California, Indiana University, Georgia Tech, Sentimetrix, IBM, and Boston Fusion worked over the four weeks to find them all.
With 8.5% of all Twitter users being bots, per the company’s own metrics, it’s important to weed out those bots who go beyond just trying to sell you weight-loss plans and work-at-home methods, and cross the line into politics.
But actually making that distinction can be a challenge, as the paper notes.
Sentimetrix technically won the challenge, reporting 39 correct guesses and one false positive, a full six days before the end of the four-week contest period. But USC was the most accurate, going 39 for 39.
How to detect a robot
DARPA combined all the teams’ various approaches into a complicated 3-step process, all of which will need improved software support to get better and faster going forward:
Initial bot detection — You can detect who’s a bot and who’s not by using language analysis to see who’s using statistically unnatural and bot-generated words and phrases. Using multiple hashtags in a post can also be a flag. Also, if you post to Twitter a lot, and consistently over the span of a 24-hour day, the chances you’re a bot go up.
Clustering, outliers, and network analysis: That first step may only identify a few bots. But bots tend to follow bots, so you can use your initial findings to network out and get a good statistical sense of robot social circles.
Classification/Outlier analysis: The more positives you find with the first two steps, the easier it is to extrapolate out and find the rest in a bunch.
A key finding from the DARPA paper, and very important to note, is that all of this required human interaction — computers just can’t tell a real human from an influence bot, at least not yet.
The good news, say the authors in their paper, is that these methods can also be used to find human-run propaganda and misinformation campaigns.
The bad news is that you can expect a lot more evil propaganda bots on Twitter in the years to come.
“Bot developers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Over the next few years, we can expect a proliferation of social media influence bots as advertisers, criminals, politicians, nation states, terrorists, and others try to influence populations,” says the paper.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force has released a new video showcasing its deadliest air assets, including some newer aircraft developed as part of China’s extensive military modernization.
The nearly three-minute video is a compilation of footage from Chinese training exercises emphasizing preparation for a new era of warfare. The promotional video, titled “Safeguarding the New Era,” highlights some of the PLAAF’s newest war planes and was aired for the first time Aug. 28, 2018, at the air force’s Aviation Open Day in Jilin province in northeastern China.
Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly views himself as President Donald Trump’s “babysitter,” and his efforts to restrain the bombastic leader apparently created tensions with former White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
McMaster sought to provide Trump with an array of military options against North Korea, but the defense secretary allegedly refused to put all the options on the table in front of Trump, McMaster aides told The New Yorker. Meanwhile, the president reportedly did not pick up on Mattis’s alleged attempts at stonewalling, and McMaster declined to expose his colleague.
One senior National Security Council official told The New Yorker that Mattis felt like he had to play “babysitter” to Trump.
What’s more, McMaster’s aides claimed the widespread reports that he was specifically pushing for a so-called “bloody nose” strike against North Korea were false. A bloody nose strike would involve an attack against North Korea strong enough to intimidate and embarrass Kim Jong Un’s regime, but not serious enough to spark a full-blown conflict. Many experts have warned such a strike could have catastrophic consequences and would not go as smoothly as its proponents believe.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl)
There is limited intelligence on the location of North Korea’s military assets — including its nuclear weapons. Moreover, in November 2017, the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that a ground invasion would be necessary to fully dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. In short, a bloody nose strike would risk allowing North Korea to retaliate against the US or its allies with any number of military options, not excluding its nuclear arsenal.
The Trump administration’s discussions surrounding military options against North Korea largely came as the rogue state conducted a series of long-range missile tests in 2017. These tests — part of Pyongyang’s larger goal of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the mainland US — resulted in harsh economic sanctions being leveled against the reclusive nation and led to a war of words between Trump and Kim.
But North Korea’s relationship with the US appears to be shifting in 2018 as Trump and Kim are set to hold a historic meeting about denuclearization. On April 20, 2018, North Korea announced it would cease its long-range missile and nuclear tests and close its primary nuclear testing site. Trump celebrated this development on Twitter, describing it as a sign of “progress being made for all!”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Following a flurry of reports in December 2017 predicting the Navy’s $500 million electromagnetic railgun experiment was dead on arrival, the chief of Naval Operations told lawmakers in March 2018 that the death of the program was greatly exaggerated.
“[We are] fully invested in railgun; we continue to test it,” Adm. John Richardson told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense during a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps budget issues. “We’ve demonstrated it at lower firing rates and … shorter ranges. Now we have to do the engineering to, sort of, crank it up and get it at the designated firing rates, at the 80- to 100-mile range.”
Richardson was responding to a question from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who expressed concern about the proven capability of the Navy’s railgun weapon, which has yet to leave its test site at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Virginia.
“My understanding is these weapons can fire projectiles at extremely high speeds with a range exceeding a hundred miles once fully operational,” Ryan said. “I know China has demonstrated a capability for shipboard railguns, and I’m just concerned, again, that maybe we’re falling short here.”
Photos showing what appears to be a railgun mounted on the Chinese landing ship tankHaiyang Shan emerged in February 2018. The evidence of what appears to be deployable Chinese railgun technology came to light following a handful of reports indicating the Navy’s own gun development program was losing steam.
Business Insider reported in December 2017 that the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities office was shifting research efforts from the railgun, which uses electromagnetic energy to shoot large projectiles at speeds of up to 4,500 miles per hour, to broader high-velocity projectile study.
The Navy has never acknowledged a loss of interest in railgun technology, however. July 2017, officials with the Office of Naval Research told reporters that the power behind the gun would be increased to 32 megajoules over the summer, giving the weapon a range of 110 miles.
In testimony released March 7, 2018, Richardson indicated the weapon had yet to reach that range in spite of predictions.
“That involves a number of technologies,” he said. “The barrel itself is probably the limiting case, the engineering on that, the materials required to sustain that power pulse, and the heat and pressure that’s involved in launching those projectiles. And we’re doubling down on that.”
Engineers have found the gun’s barrel wears out rapidly when metal projectiles are fired at the blistering rates the railgun’s technology delivers. Another unresolved issue is the power source for the gun; currently, only the new three-ship Zumwalt class of class of mega-destroyers is reportedly capable of supplying the electromagnetic charge needed to operate the gun. The Navy wants to deploy a version of the railgun aboard smaller-sized destroyers.
While Richardson acknowledged the challenges and said Navy brass were “very conscious” of reported Chinese achievements in railgun technology, he maintained the service was still invested in the program.
“As a benefit, too, of the program — the railgun program, we have developed a projectile — high-velocity projectile, which is actually usable across the fleet in a number of different applications, not only in the railgun,” Richardson said. “And so, it’s a very fruitful program that we continue to invest in.”
Erin Kirk-Cuomo dreamed of being a combat photographer. She interviewed with multiple companies and publications within the civilian world, but none of them were willing to hire a female photographer for that position.
So, she decided to join the military.
She chose to go into the United States Marine Corps. When she opened the doors to the Armed Forces recruitment office in 2004, she was ready to raise her right hand and do just that. But Kirk-Cuomo was told she couldn’t be a combat photographer, because she was female.
At that point, females were not allowed to serve in combat positions. But Kirk-Cuomo knew that the job she wanted wasn’t considered an active combat position, even though she’d be in the thick of things. She knew the recruiter was wrong and told him so. Kirk-Cuomo then demanded that he call a supervisor, which he begrudgingly did. That recruiter later came back and apologized for telling her she couldn’t be a combat photographer. He then asked if she could pass a physical fitness test.
The Marine Corps has the longest boot camp out of all of the armed forces and arguably the toughest to graduate from. In 2004 when she wanted to join, only 6% of enlisted Marines were female. Kirk-Cuomo did part of the physical fitness test right then and there in front of that recruiter.
She shipped out to boot camp on Parris Island two weeks later.
Kirk-Cuomo made it through the still gender-segregated 13 weeks to become a Marine. She vividly remembers that if the female or male platoons came anywhere near each other, the drill instructors would make the males do an about face, away from the females. She recalls a time that the drill instructor yelled at the male recruits, “Don’t you look at those dirty females!”
This wouldn’t be the last time she’d hear those words.
Despite the hardships, she graduated boot camp as a high shooter. Kirk-Cuomo had the highest rifle score, beating out all of the other platoons that graduated boot camp with her. She left for combat training following boot camp and then went on to school to learn how to be a combat photographer. She left as the number one distinguished honor graduate.
Kirk-Cuomo was now a part of combat camera, or COMCAM. “There really weren’t a whole lot of us [females] at the time. Most of the women that were in COMCAM were lithographers or graphics people,” she said.
Kirk-Cuomo reported to her new duty station shortly thereafter – Camp Pendleton, located in San Diego, Calif. A couple of years later, she began deploying. From 2006-2008 she was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she was the only female in her unit. She was also the only combat photographer for the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).
Kirk-Cuomo shared that being in the field was a dream come true. She credited a male warrant officer for going against the norm. In a time where leadership was hesitant to send female combat photographers anywhere dangerous, he sent her everywhere she wanted to go. It’s because of his inclusiveness and belief in her abilities that she was able to go right into the thick of things just like her male counterparts. He never saw her as “just” a woman; he saw her as a competent Marine.
When asked if serving as a combat photographer was everything she’d hoped for, Kirk-Cuomo smiled sadly. “I wasn’t prepared to stand up for myself as much as I should have,” she said. She recalled her experiences of continuous harassment and even a sexual assault. She feels strongly that the Marine Corp created a toxic environment by first segregating the sexes in boot camp and creating an environment that made females feel as though they were “less than.”
The Marine Corps just graduated its first co-ed company in March of 2019. If Congress has anything to say about, it will be mandatory due to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which has a provision requiring them to integrate both boot camp locations. The west coast location has never trained female recruits.
“I am horrified that I didn’t stand up for myself just to fit in and get by. We older female Marines really do carry a sense of guilt with that. How much worse did we make it for the generations that came after us because we didn’t stand up and say something?” she asked.
Kirk-Cuomo gives credit for being able to openly share her experiences with the new generation of female Marines that have refused to accept that behavior. “I am just in awe of them – seeing what they’ve done and what they continue to do,” said Kirk-Cuomo. She feels confident in the new wave of female Marines making positive changes.
When she left her last deployment, she became a photographer at Marine Corps Headquarters, assigned to the Commandant. She left the Marines in 2010 and went on to become a photographer for the Secretary of Defense.
After President Obama was elected, she remembers there being a level of high tension among male Marines and heavy discussion about whether Obama would repeal the rule that prohibited females from serving in combat positions. He did.
Kirk-Cuomo was able to photograph the moment the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed the repeal. “I remember standing in the briefing room, photographing this momentous thing,” she shared. “I was taking these pictures and just sobbing behind the camera.”
These days Kirk-Cuomo is an active advocate for female Marines and one of their loudest cheerleaders and supporters. When asked if she regrets joining, she didn’t hesitate to say no. But when asked if she would advise females to pick the Marine Corps over other branches of service to enlist in – she immediately said not yet, they still have a lot of work to do.
If you think it’s hard getting tickets to a summer blockbuster on opening night, try getting into Kennedy Space Center these days to see a Space Shuttle launch.
After two and a half years of anticipation, people around the world want to see NASA boost back into action and the show sells out quick. Thinking about slipping in through the back door?
Along with the formidable force of standard security at Kennedy, a highly trained and specialized group of guardians protect the Center from would-be troublemakers. They are the members of the Kennedy Space Center Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and they mean business.
“We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.”
NASA contracts the 29-member team from Space Gateway Support (SGS) to protect Kennedy’s employees, visitors, and national assets like the Space Shuttle from any potential threat. The SWAT team carefully prepares for special events like launch day and the arrival of astronauts and VIPs, but it also stands ready every day for possible problems that may arise.
Additionally, the SWAT team provides support to Kennedy security when special expertise may be needed to diffuse a dangerous situation. Skills like rappelling, defensive tactics, or marksmanship may be used to help keep the peace.
To stay sharp and fit for their job, members of the team have to pass annual physical fitness tests and maintain updated certifications for using their weapons.
“The training that we do out here is very intense sometimes,” Fernandez said. “But that’s because we’re at a stage which could be considered by some to be advanced. The training has to be more intense and challenging.”
As a part of staying in shape, members of the Kennedy Space Center SWAT team participate in competitions with the most elite teams around the world. SWAT officers hone their skills in events testing their speed and accuracy with special weapons and equipment. In 2019, the team from Kennedy placed 10th out of 55 teams at the annual SWAT Roundup in Orlando, Fla.
SWAT team logo Members of the SWAT team admit that one of the best parts of their job is getting the “big-boy toys.” But senior officer Eric Munsterman said there is also a rewarding bond they share with one another.
“In the civilian world, outside of police work or fire work, I don’t see where you’re going to find [camaraderie] as strongly as we develop it,” Munsterman said.
They may have their differences during the week, but when they suit up and go to work, that all goes away, Munsterman said.
Through a strong commitment to each other, members of the SWAT team ensure things at Kennedy stay safe. If you plan to come see a Space Shuttle launch, make sure you have a ticket.
“If anybody means harm to the astronauts or anyone else that works out here, they’re not getting past us,” Munsterman said.