India's anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

On March 27, 2019, India launched a missile toward space, struck an Earth-orbiting satellite, and destroyed the spacecraft.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a televised address shortly after the launch to declare the anti-satellite, or ASAT, test a success. He praised the maneuver, called “Mission Shakti,” as “an unprecedented achievement” that registers India as “a space power.” Modi also clarified that the satellite was one of India’s own, according to Reuters.

“Our scientists shot down a live satellite. They achieved it in just three minutes,” he said during the broadcast, adding: “Until now, only US, Russia, and China could claim the title. India is the fourth country to achieve this feat.”


While Modi and his supporters may hail the event as an epic achievement, India’s ASAT test represents an escalation toward space warfare and also heightens the risk that humanity could lose access to crucial regions of the space around Earth.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


That’s because destroying the satellite created debris that’s now floating in space. Those pieces have the potential to collide with, damage, and possibly destroy other spacecraft.

The threat that debris poses isn’t just limited to expensive satellites. Right now, six crew members are living on board the International Space Station (ISS) roughly 250 miles above Earth. That’s about 65 miles higher than the 185-mile altitude of India’s now obliterated satellite, but there is nonetheless a chance some debris could reach higher orbits and threaten the space station.

Two astronauts are scheduled to conduct a spacewalk on March 29, 2019, (it was going to be the first all-female spacewalk, but that’s no longer the case) to make upgrades to the orbiting laboratory’s batteries. Spokespeople at NASA did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for information about the risk posed by this new debris field.

Regardless of what happens next, tracking the debris is essential.

“The Department of Defense is aware of the Indian ASAT launch,” a spokesperson for the US Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, which tracks and catalogs objects in space, told Business Insider in an email. “US Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command is actively tracking and monitoring the situation.”

The potential risk to the ISS and other satellites only scratches the surface of larger worries associated with destroying spacecraft, either intentionally or accidentally.

Space debris begets more space debris

Any collision in space creates a cloud of debris, with each piece moving at about 17,500 mph. That’s roughly the speed required to keep a satellite in low-Earth orbit and more than 10 times as fast as a bullet shot from a gun.

At such velocities, even a stray paint chip can disable a satellite. Jack Bacon, a scientist at NASA, told Wired in 2010 that a strike by a softball-sized sphere of aluminum would be akin to detonating 7 kilograms of TNT explosives.

This is worrisome for a global society increasingly reliant on space-based infrastructure to make calls, get online, find the most efficient route home via GPS, and more.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

A space-debris hit to the space shuttle Endeavour’s radiator found after one of its missions. The entry hole is about 0.25 inches wide, and the exit hole is twice as large.

(NASA)

The ultimate fear is a space-access nightmare called a “Kessler syndrome” event, named after Donald J. Kessler, who first described such an event in 1978 while he was a NASA astrophysicist. In such a situation, one collision in space would create a cloud of debris that leads to other collisions, which in turn would generate even more debris, leading to a runaway effect called a “collision cascade.”

So much high-speed space junk could surround Earth, Kessler calculated, that it might make it too risky for anyone to attempt launching spacecraft until most of the garbage slowed down in the outer fringes of our planet’s atmosphere, fell toward the ground, and burned up.

“The orbital-debris problem is a classic tragedy of the commons problem, but on a global scale,” Kessler said in a 2012 mini-documentary.

Given the thousands of satellites in space today, a collision cascade could play out over hundreds of years and get increasingly worse over time, perhaps indefinitely, unless technologies are developed to vaporize or deorbit space junk.

A launch in the wrong direction

An ASAT test that China conducted in January 2007 showed how much of a headache the debris from these shoot downs can become.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

An illustration of the space-debris cloud created by China’s 2007 anti-satellite test.

(CSSI)

As with India’s test, China launched a missile armed with a “kinetic kill vehicle” on top. The kill vehicle — essentially a giant bullet-like slug — pulverized a 1,650-pound weather satellite, in the process creating a cloud of more than 2,300 trackable chunks of debris the size of golf balls or larger. It also left behind 35,000 pieces larger than a fingernail and perhaps 150,000 bits smaller than that, according to the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI) and BBC.

The CSSI called the test “the largest debris-generating event in history, far surpassing the previous record set in 1996.”

Years later, satellite operators and NASA are still dodging the fallout with their spacecraft.

Even without missiles, plenty of space debris is created regularly. Each launch of a rocket deposits some trash up there, and older satellites that have no deorbiting systems or aren’t “parked” in a safe orbit can collide with other satellites.

Such a crash happened on Feb. 10, 2009: A deactivated Russian communications satellite slammed into a US communications satellite at a combined speed of about 26,000 mph. The collision created thousands of pieces of new debris, many of which are still in orbit.

There are more productive ways to use rockets

To be clear, India’s Mission Shakti test likely was not as dangerous as these other debris-creating events.

At an altitude of about 185 miles, it was roughly 350 miles closer to Earth than China’s 2007 test or the US-Russian satellite crash of 2009. That means the pieces will fall out of orbit at a faster rate. The satellite India destroyed, likely Microsat-R, was relatively small compared with other spacecraft, though not insignificantly: It weighed about 1,540 pounds, according to Ars Technica.

Modi did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the ASAT test’s debris field, but according to Reuters, India “ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would ‘decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks.'” In that sense, the test may be more similar to a US Navy shoot down of a satellite in 2008.

However, the forces involved a space-based crash can accelerate debris into higher and different orbits. So obliterating any satellite is not a step in the right direction. Nor is creating a capability that could one day, either intentionally or accidentally, spark a Kessler syndrome event.

Much like the idea of deterrence with nuclear weapons — “if you attack me, I’ll attack you with more devastating force” — deterrence with anti-satellite weapons is extremely risky. With either, an accident or miscalculation could lead to devastating and lasting problems that would harm the entire world for generations.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Image made from models used to track debris in Earth orbit.

At an altitude of about 185 miles, it was roughly 350 miles closer to Earth than China’s 2007 test or the US-Russian satellite crash of 2009. That means the pieces will fall out of orbit at a faster rate. The satellite India destroyed, likely Microsat-R, was relatively small compared with other spacecraft, though not insignificantly: It weighed about 1,540 pounds, according to Ars Technica.

Modi did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the ASAT test’s debris field, but according to Reuters, India “ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would ‘decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks.'” In that sense, the test may be more similar to a US Navy shoot down of a satellite in 2008.

As a global society, it’d behoove us not to cheer the achievement of a weapons capability that edges the world closer to a frightening brink. Instead, we should rebuke such tests and instead demand from our leaders peaceful cooperation in space, including the development of means to control our already spiraling space-debris problem.

“If we don’t change the way we operate in space,” Kessler said in 2012, we are facing down an “exponentially increasing amount of debris, until all objects are reduced to a cloud of orbiting fragments.”

Rather than individual countries investing in missile-based weaponry, perhaps we should call on our leaders to spend that human and financial capital on our world’s most dire and pressing problems — or even work toward returning people to the moon and rocketing the first crews to Mars.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Mother of All Bombs awaits an encore in Afghanistan

The U.S. military is still holding the Mother of All Bombs over the Taliban’s heads like 21,600-pound GPS-guided sword of Damocles.


In April 2017, a U.S. aircraft dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on a cave complex being used by the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, marking the first time the weapon had been used in combat.

Although U.S. forces in Afghanistan have not used the MOAB again since then, “It’s there if we need it,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of coalition air forces in Afghanistan.

“We never take anything off the table,” Hecker told reporters at the Pentagon. “Right now, we don’t have a use for it, but if we do, it’s there for us.”

The bomb was rapidly designed and built between November 2002 and March 2003, ahead of the initial invasion of Iraq. It was designed to be a replacement for the massive BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” according to the Air Force. When it was first tested on March 11, 2003, the explosion created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away.

Also read: Mattis does not intend to discuss MOAB damage estimates

By the time the MOAB arrived in theater, coalition forces were close to Baghdad. It would be 14 years before the weapon would make its debut when it was dropped in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province following the death of a Special Forces soldier fighting ISIS-Khorasan.

News that the bomb had finally been used created a media sensation that made Hecker’s mother concerned about him.

“Quite honestly, after only being here a week and my mom heard that a MOAB was dropped, she immediately sent me a note and asked if I was OK,” Hecker said. “I let her know that we won’t drop on ourselves. This is meant for the enemy.”

With ISIS fighters going underground in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command has made Afghanistan the priority for air operations.

Related: This bomb is heavier than the MOAB

U.S. forces in Afghanistan now have 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones to find targets, as well as an A-10 squadron to provide close air support, Hecker said. A combat search and rescue squadron is also being deployed to the country.

On Feb. 4, a B-52 dropped a total of 24 precision-guided bombs — a new record — during three airstrikes against Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement training camps in northeast Afghanistan, Hecker said. Previously, B-52s only had room for 16 precision-guided bombs, but in late November, the bomber was modified for an increased payload at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Meanwhile, the Afghan air force is dropping or launching weapons at the enemy at nearly double the rate of U.S. aircraft, Hecker said. However, he clarified, most of those strikes come from the Afghan fleet of 25 MD-530 helicopters, which are equipped with laser-guided rockets and machine guns.

Hecker conceded that strikes from a light attack helicopter and a B-52 don’t exactly make for an apples-to-apples comparison. “But I wouldn’t say it’s apples to oranges either,” he said.

More: That time the US and Iran teamed up to fight the Taliban

“If you’re on the other side of that rocket and you’re a Taliban, you probably don’t care if it’s a rocket or if it’s a [precision-guided munition] that’s hitting you in the forehead,” Hecker said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Military leaders speak out: We must uphold justice and liberty for all

In times of crisis, people naturally look to leaders for guidance. Officials from every branch of the military are responding to the widespread civil discontent in the wake of recent protests and riots, following the death of George Floyd. Across the Armed Forces, leadership has affirmed that our military upholds the Constitution and rights guaranteed to every citizen, urging service members and citizens alike to acknowledge and respect the dignity of every other American.


Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein promised that he, along with Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright would ensure “liberty and justice for all” in the upcoming weeks and have resolved to “[Independently] review our legal system, racial injustice and opportunities for advancement.” Directly reprimanding racism in the Air Force, he further stated that, “I do know there is no room for bigotry, hatred or small mindedness in our Force. Period.”

Likewise, Sergeant Major Troy Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, issued an address June 3 reminding Marines and civilians alike to work toward eliminating the source of racism and closing the growing divide between Americans.

In a previous speech addressing the removal of the Confederate flag from Marine bases, Black stated, “Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion, must be addressed head-on.” He continued, “There is no place in our Corps for racists – whether their intolerance and prejudice be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional. Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division – rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself.”

The Army’s address, crafted by Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, as well as Sergeant Major Michael A. Grinston and General James C. McConville, promised to uphold the values it was founded upon: those of the Constitution.

“Just as we reflect the best of America, we reflect its imperfections as well… Every Soldier and Department of the Army Civilian swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We will continue to support and defend those rights, and we will continue to protect Americans, whether from enemies of the United States overseas, from COVID-19 at home, or from violence in our communities that threatens to drown out the voices begging us to listen.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Grinston tweeted, on the same day the address was released, that the Army protects the American people and way of life, which includes the right to peacefully protest. He implored followers to, “Stand Tall!”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also issued a statement on Tuesday, June 2nd, reminding the military that its primary responsibility is to uphold the Constitution, to include the belief that all men and women are born free and equal. Milley promised that the services will preserve peace and public safety and encouraged all Americans to honor the respect and dignity of every citizen.

“We in uniform – all branches, all components and all ranks – remain committed to our national values and principles embedded in the Constitution. The Joint Force – comprised of all races, colors, and creeds – you embody the ideals of our constitution… We will uphold the values of our nation.” The statement closed with a promise and a call to action: “Let’s get better together.”

Additionally, General Milley signed the statement and left a handwritten note. Speaking on behalf of the Joint Force, he reminded troops that, “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America – we will stay true to that oath and the American people.”

The Chief of Naval Operations address compared to Milley’s handwritten message in terms of sentimentality. Recognizing the issues at hand, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday reminded members of the Navy and citizens to consider the dignity and respect guaranteed to us in our American citizenship.

“It’s been a very sad time for our country – a confusing time. And most of us are trying to figure it out and trying to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’ First right now, I think we need to listen. We have black Americans in our Navy and in our communities that are in deep pain right now.

In the Navy we talk a lot about treating people with dignity and respect – in fact, we demand it.

But over the past week, after we’ve watched what is going on, we can’t be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country. And I can’t be under any illusions that we don’t have it in our Navy. Racism [can] happen with people who are friendly, generous, and kind. So, when that happens… think about dignity and respect. Think about having a private conversation – an honest conversation in educating them. If we don’t do that, racism, injustice, indignity, and disrespect – it’s going to grow and it’s going to continue.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what it was like for Marines fighting in the Sangin River Valley

Led by Lt. Col Jason Morris — 3rd Battalion 5th Marines inherited the Taliban-infested Sangin River Valley in the fall of 2010 from 3rd Battalion 7th Marines and the 40th Commandoes of the Royal Marines.


During their 7-month deployment, the Marines were hit with a variety of enemy small arms and mortar fire, engaging in shootouts just steps from their patrol bases. They discovered and cleared more than 1,000 IEDS from hundreds of roadways and helped increase the Marines’ safety and mobility.

The Marines of 3/5 suffered 25 dead and more than 150 wounded, labeling Sangin as the bloodiest campaign since the battle for Fallujah.

Articles

Iraqi forces launch attacks toward Mosul – with help from US artillery

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers cross an intersection during a routine security patrol in downtown Tal Afar, Iraq | US Navy photo


The current attacks aimed at retaking ISIS-held areas in Northern Iraq are being supported by U.S. artillery fire on the ground, U.S. Central Command officials said.

Iraqi Security Forces have launched a series of offensive attacks to re-take villages from ISIS in the vicinity of Makhmour, an area south of Mosul where their forces have been preparing, maneuvering and staging weapons for a larger attack.

“The Iraqis have announced an operation in Makhmour to liberate several villages in the vicinity. The coalition is supporting the operation with air power,” Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, told Scout Warrior in a written statement.

U.S. Coalition ground artillery and airpower can include a wide range of assets, potentially including 155m Howitzer artillery fire, F-15Es, F-18s, drones and even A-10s, among other assets.

Although its clear the Iraqis do at some point plan to launch a massive attack to take back the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, these attacks may be merely “staging” exercises, one Pentagon official told Scout Warrior.

“Staging” exercises are often used by forces to consolidate power, demonstrate and ability to make gains and solidify preparations for a much larger assault.

“We announced months ago that shaping operations for Mosul have begun.  This is part of that effort.  The coalition support is focused on helping the Iraqis liberate Mosul and conducted in close coordination with the Government of Iraq,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Roger M. Cabiness II, told Scout Warrior.

Officials with U.S. Central Command explain that “shaping” exercises for a full offensive into Mosul have been underway for several weeks.

“We began the isolation of Mosul from Raqqa and central Iraq when the Peshmerga took Sinjar and Iraqi Security Forces, retook Tikrit and Bayji. Operations in the Euphrates River valley support the eventual battle inside Mosul by preventing Da’esh (ISIS) from reorienting forces to that fight, and preventing easy resupply of the fighters in Mosul,” U.S. Central Command told Scout Warrior in a written statement.

At the same time, the U.S. military has established a special, separate fire base apart from Iraqi forces in Northern Iraq designed to protect Iraqi Security Forces massing in preparation for an upcoming massive offensive attack on ISIS-held Mosul, officials said.

The outpost, called “Firebase Bell,” includes roughly a company-sized force of several hundred Marines. While U.S. military units have previously established a presence to defend Iraqi troops in other locations throughout Iraq, this firebase marks the first time the U.S. has set up its own separate location from which to operate in support of the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. officials explained.

Armed with artillery and other weapons to defend Iraqi forces, the U.S. Marines have already exchanged fire with attacking ISIS fighters who have launched rockets at the firebase.

On March 19, ISIS forces launched two rocket attacks at the Marine Corps firebase, killing one U.S. Marine and injuring others, Warren explained while offering condolences to the family of fallen Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
Photo: US Army

U.S. Marine Corps counter-battery fire was unable to destroy the location from which the rockets were launched, as ISIS is known to use mobile launchers and quickly abandon its fire location.

The Marines, who are from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are armed with 155m artillery weapons able to reach targets at distances greater than 30-kilometers. The weapons are designed to thwart and destroy any approaching ISIS forces hoping to advance upon massing Iraqi forces or launch attacks.

When it comes to the eventual full assault on Mosul, Warren did not deny that U.S. military firepower from “Firebase Bell” might support attacking Iraqi Security Forces with offensive artillery attacks, but did not confirm the possibility either – explaining he did not wish to elaborate on potential future operations.

Overall, there are roughly 3,700 U.S. troops in Iraq, however that number could rise by a thousand or two in coming weeks – depending upon how many U.S. forces are temporarily assigned to the region.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private doctors are now a longer wait than for VA care

The Veterans Choice Program for private health care is in such bad shape that the bill backed by President Donald Trump to fix it will be difficult to implement even if done right, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

The Choice program was aimed at reducing wait times through increased access to private health care, but the GAO’s performance audit conducted from April 2016 through May 2018 found that, in many cases, veterans would have been better off making appointments at VA facilities.


“Timeliness of appointments is an essential component of quality health care,” the report released June 4, 2018, said, but poor management and bookkeeping under the Choice program can result in veterans waiting up to 70 days to see a private doctor.

In 2016, the average wait for a private appointment was 51 days, the GAO said, although the VA eligibility rules made private care an option when the veteran had to wait 30 days to see a VA doctor.

“Delays in care have been shown to negatively affect patients’ morbidity, mortality, and quality of life,” the report said, and the “VA lacks assurance that veterans are receiving care from community providers in a timely manner.”

At a White House ceremony June 6, 2018, Trump is expected to sign the VA Mission Act, which provides $4.2 billion to overhaul and expand the Choice program for private care while consolidating its seven existing care options into one.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The GAO report warned that staff shortages, bureaucratic roadblocks and poor communication between the VA and private doctors under the existing Choice program make a quick fix unlikely.

“To the extent that these factors persist under the consolidated community care program that VA plans to establish, they will continue to adversely affect veterans’ access to care,” the GAO said.

Citing the problems with Choice detailed in the report, the GAO said, “Ignoring these lessons learned and the challenges that have arisen under the Choice Program as [VA officials] design the future consolidated program would only increase VA’s risk for not being able to ensure that all veterans will receive timely access to care in the community.”

VA pledges action to correct problems

The blizzard of acronyms used by the GAO in its report, and by the VA in its response, illustrates the difficulty the individual veteran has in navigating the system.

The GAO called for better coordination among the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the VA medical centers (VACMs), the VHA’s Office of Community Care (OCC), third-party administrators (TPAs), the Computerized Patient Record Systems (CPRS), the Community Care Network (CCN) and private doctors themselves, who often complain of late payments.

In its response to the GAO report, the VA concurred with four of the five recommendations for improving the transition from the Choice program to the VA Mission Act but disagreed with the GAO on urgent care.

The GAO found that “VAMCs and TPAs do not always categorize Choice Program referrals and authorizations in accordance with the contractual definition for urgent care.”

The GAO said that a referral to private care is to be marked “urgent” when a VHA doctor determined that it was essential and “if delayed would likely result in unacceptable morbidity or pain.” However, the GAO found that some referrals originally marked as routine were changed to urgent to speed up the slow appointment process.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Even that conclusion was difficult to reach because of the VA’s lack of reliable records and data, the GAO said. “Without complete, reliable data, VHA cannot determine whether the Choice Program has helped to achieve the goal of alleviating veterans’ wait times for care,” the GAO said.

In its response to the report, the VA said that the GAO’s recommendation on urgent care “is no longer needed because VHA has resolved the issue with the new CCN (Community Care Network) contract.”

Under the new contract, VHA staff will have responsibility for scheduling community care appointments with providers, as opposed to the old system in which administrators routed referrals to the TPAs (third-party administrators), the VA said.

In the transition from Choice to the VA Mission Act, the VA will also set up a new referral and authorizations system that will be called “Health Share Referral Manager (HSRM).”

The VA said that HSRM will “measure the time it takes to review and accept consults, prepare referrals and schedule veterans community appointments.”

The VA in flux

The VA Mission Act has been estimated to cost as much as $55 billion over five years. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has said that funding sources have yet to be identified, but he was confident they would be found.

When Trump signs the bill June 6, 2018, as one of the major achievements of his administration, he will not have a VA secretary looking over his shoulder.

Robert Wilkie, who had been the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, was named acting secretary after Trump ousted former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin in March 2018.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
Robert Wilkie, acting United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
(United States Department of Veterans Affairs photo)

However, Wilkie stepped down as acting secretary to get around a law that made it questionable whether an acting secretary could succeed to the permanent post.

Trump has said that he intends to nominate Wilkie to the permanent job, but the Senate has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearing. In the meantime, Peter O’Rourke, who had been the VA chief of staff, has become acting secretary temporarily.

Its major proponents have acknowledged that the VA Mission Act and the overhaul of Choice will be difficult to implement.

At a panel discussion last month sponsored by the Concerned Veterans for America, which lobbied hard for the expansion of private care, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that putting the VA Mission Act into effect will sorely test the VA.

“Let me tell you, it is a painful thing to do,” Roe said. “This is a massive undertaking. It could be very disruptive to the VA. It’s humongous.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

Articles

CIA deflects criticism after live-Tweeting bin-Laden raid to mark 5th anniversary

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
Quick . . . how many WATM board members are in this picture? (Photo: White House)


The Central Intelligence Agency on Monday defended live-tweeting the U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the covert mission.

The Langley, Virginia-based agency the day before had posted a series of tweets chronicling key moments during the May 2, 2011, raid by Navy SEALs on the terrorist leader’s home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“1:25 pm EDT-@POTUS, DCIA Panetta, JSOC commander Admiral McRaven approve execution of op in Abbottabad,” it tweeted, referring to the local time the go-ahead was given by President Barack Obama, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and then-Joint Special Operations Commander Navy Adm. William McRaven.

The agency’s decision to do so came under fire from many observers on Twitter and other social media sites.

One of those was Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who served in Iraq and now works as a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, D.C., where he directs the organization’s military, veterans and society research program.

“I get @CIA desire to take victory lap but tweeting #UBLRaid seems contrary to Intel Community ethos good judgment,” Carter tweeted.

But the intelligence agency defended the move.

“The takedown of bin Ladin [sic] stands as one of the great intelligence successes of all time,” Glenn Miller, a spokesman for the CIA, said in an emailed statement to Military.com, using a different spelling for bin Laden. “History has been a key element of CIA’s social media efforts. On the fifth anniversary, it is appropriate to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement.”

Miller added, “In the past we have done postings to note other historical events including the Glomar operation, Argo, U-2 shootdown, and the evacuation of Saigon.”

In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show, CIA Director John Brennan said the raid on bin Laden’s compound less than a mile from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy represented “the culmination of a lot of very hard work by some very good people at CIA and other agencies.”

He added, “We have destroyed a large part of al-Qaeda. It is not completely eliminated, so we have to stay focused on what it can do. But now with this new phenomenon of ISIL, this is going to continue to challenge us in the counterterrorism community for years to come.”

He was referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which overtook large parts of both countries following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011 and the start of civilian uprisings in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

Brennan said killing bin Laden was an important victory for the U.S. in both a symbolic and strategic sense, given that he was the founder of the terrorist group and a key player in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

“It was important after 9/11 that we remove the person responsible for that,” he said.

While Brennan said eliminating ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “would have a great impact on the organization,” he also called the al-Qaeda offshoot a “phenomenon” that appeals to tens of thousands of followers in not only Syria and Iraq, but also Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere in part because of endemic corruption and a lack of governance and economic opportunity in those regions.

“Although the counterterrorism community has an important obligation to try to prevent these attacks, we need to give the diplomats and other government officials both here in this country and other countries the time and space they need to address some of these underlying factors and conditions that facilitate and contribute to the growth of these organizations,” he said.

Brennan also pushed back against a recommendation from former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida who helped lead a congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, to release a 28-page chapter from the investigation that may help determine whether the attackers received Saudi support.

“I think there’s a combination of things that are accurate and inaccurate,” Brennan said of information in the pages in question. “I think that the 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry and those 28 pages or so and followed through on the investigation and they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution or Saudi officials individually had provided financial support to al Qaeda.”

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The 18 greatest fighter aircraft of all time

Results are what make a weapons system great, not just technology.


In the case of fighter aircraft, it’s all about the kills, and with that as the main selection criteria, here’s WATM’s list of the 18 greatest fighters of all time:

1. Fokker Triplane

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

The iconic aircraft behind the World War I success of Manfred von Richthofen’s Flying Circus was actually designed after a Sopwith Triplane crashed behind German lines in 1917. The Fokker Triplane was relatively slow and hard to see out of, but it possessed an impressive turn rate that “The Red Baron” leveraged towards his war total of 80 confirmed kills.

2. Sopwith Camel

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
(Photo: The Canadian ace William Barker with his Sopwith Camel B6313.)

The Sopwith Camel had a more powerful engine and more firepower than the German fighters it went up against, and although the big engine made it hard to handle, in the hands of an experienced pilot the fighter was very lethal. The Sopwith Camel accounted for 1,294 air-to-air kills, the most of any model during World War I.

3. Mitsubishi Zero

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

At the outset of World War II in the Pacific, the Zero owned the skies, including those over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Zero was primarily carrier-based, highly maneuverable, and could fly long range. Because of this the Japanese enjoyed a 12-to-1 kill ratio over the allies during the first few years of the war.

4. Bf-109

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Often incorrectly called the “Me 109,” the Bf-109 remains the most produced fighter aircraft in history and was one of the Luftwaffe’s air-to-air workhorses. The Bf 109 was flown by the three top-scoring German fighter aces of World War II, who claimed 928 victories among them. Through constant design improvements and development by German engineers, the Bf 109 remained lethal in the face of allied technical advances throughout the war.

5. Focke-Wulf Fw-190

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

The Fw-190 was generally considered superior to the Bf-109 because of it’s bigger engine (a BMW inline 12) and greater firepower. Some of the Luftwaffe ‘ s most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258, and Erich Rudorffer with 222.

6. P-51 Mustang

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

The P-51 Mustang was a solution to the clear need for an effective bomber escort starting in 1943. General James Doolittle told the fighters in early 1944 to stop flying in formation with the bombers and instead attack the Luftwaffe wherever it could be found. The Mustang groups were sent in well before the bombers in a “fighter sweep” as a form of air supremacy action, intercepting German fighters while they were forming up. As a result, the Luftwaffe lost 17 percent of its fighter pilots in just over a week, and the Allies were able to establish air superiority. (Wikipedia)

7. P-38 Lightning

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In spite of the fact that the twin-boom design limited roll rate performance, the P-38 tallied impressive kill numbers in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India areas when piloted by America’s top aces like Richard Bong (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire (38 victories).

8. P-47 Thunderbolt

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

In Europe during the critical first three months of 1944 when the German aircraft industry and Berlin were heavily attacked, the P-47 shot down more German fighters than the P-51 (570 out of 873), and shot down approximately 900 of the 1,983 claimed during the first six months of 1944. In Europe, Thunderbolts flew more sorties (423,435) than P-51s, P-38s and P-40s combined. Indeed, it was the P-47 which broke the back of the Luftwaffe on the Western Front in the critical period of January–May 1944. (Wikipedia)

9. Spitfire

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The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain by racking up the highest victory-to-loss ratio among British aircraft. Spitfires were flown by British aces Johnnie Johnson (34 kills), Douglas Bader (20 kills), and Bob Tuck (27 kills). The Spitfire was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. (Wikipedia)

10. F4F Wildcat

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The first of the Grumman “Cat” series, the carrier-based F4F was slower, shorter ranged, and less maneuverable than the Japanese Zero. However it’s ruggedness and the development of group tactics like the “Thatch Weave” allowed the Wildcat to ultimately prevail, tallying a nearly 7-to-1 kill ratio over the course of the war.

11. F6F Hellcat

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The F6F was designed to improve on the Wildcat’s ability to counter the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and help secure air superiority over the Pacific Theater. Hellcats were credited with 5,223 kills, more than any other Allied naval aircraft.

12. F-4U Corsair

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Know to the Japanese as “whistling death,” Corsairs claimed 2,140 air combat victories and an overall kill ratio of over 11-to-1. Legendary F4U pilots include Marines Joe Foss, Marion Carl, and Pappy Boyington.

13. MiG-15

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

With the Chinese entry into the Korean War, the MiG-15 began to appear in the skies over Korea. Quickly proving superior to straight-wing American jets such as the F-80 and F-84 Thunderjet, the MiG-15 temporarily gave the Chinese the advantage in the air and ultimately forced United Nations forces to halt daylight bombing until the F-86 arrived to level the air combat playing field.

14. F-86 Sabre

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The F-86 was the U.S. answer to the MiG-15 that had dominated the skies over Korea in the early part of that conflict. Engagements in MiG Alley between the two aircraft were numerous, and that period is considered by many as the glory days of air-to-air warfare between jet aircraft. F-86s ended the war with a 10-to-1 kill ratio over the MiG-15s they faced.

15. F-4 Phantom

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The F-4 was the fighter and attack workhorse for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for several decades and Phantom crews were the last to attain “ace” status in the 20th Century. The most noteworthy event happened on May 10, 1972, when Lieutenant Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Lieutenant (junior grade) William P. Driscoll shot down three MiG-17s to become the first American flying aces of the war.

16. MiG-21

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One of the most widely used fighter aircraft in history, MiG-21s tallied impressive kill numbers during the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, and the India-Pakistan and Egypt-Israeli conflicts.

17. F-14 Tomcat

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

The Tomcat didn’t make this list because of it’s long service as the U.S. Navy’s front-line carrier-based fighter (in spite of the fact that “Top Gun” remains the greatest military movie of all time), but because the Iranian Air Force had more than 160 kills with it during the Iran-Iraq War.

18. F-15 Eagle

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Eagles made dogfighting history during Operation Desert Storm, primarily because of their superior weapons suite, including state-of-the-art (at the time) identification capability. F-15s had 34 confirmed kills of Iraqi aircraft during the 1991 Gulf War.

Articles

The Air Force can forget about buying more of the world’s most advanced fighter

No other aircraft or air defense system in the world can touch it.


Stealthy, fast, incomparably lethal, the F-22 Raptor is without a doubt the deadliest and most advanced fighter jet ever built. And the Air Force, after a lengthy congressional-backed review, will not be getting any new Raptors to supplement its undersized fleet.

The Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin, was originally created as a follow-on to the F-15 Eagle, the previous mainstay of the Air Force’s fighter fleet. Taking in the strengths of the Eagle and improving vastly with new capabilities such as thrust vectoring for supermaneuverability built into a platform optimized for stealth, the Raptor was everything fighter pilots hoped for and dreamed of.

It would be able to fly the air superiority mission like no other, while also being able to carry out air-to-ground strikes with ease.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
Afterburners lit while an F-22 of the 95th Fighter Squadron takes off from Tyndall AFB. (Photo from USAF)

Initially, the Air Force planned on buying over 750 units to replace its massive Eagle fleet. Over time, that number was drawn down significantly, thanks to evolving missions and changing threat scenarios. By 2009, Congress voted to cap the Raptor’s overall production run at 187, severely below the minimum figure of 381 units the Air Force projected it would need to fulfill the air superiority mission.

According to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the sheer costs alone makes restarting the Raptor production line, defunct since 2012, completely unfeasible. Revamping manufacturing spaces in addition to rebuilding and redesigning jigs and the tooling necessary to build further Raptors would cost anywhere between $7 to $10 billion, and that’s only the tally on the infrastructure required. Estimates on each Raptor’s flyaway price rang up a whopping $200 million per unit cost, a $60 million jump over the aircraft’s unit cost when its production run ended. The study on bringing the F-22 line back to life was ordered by Congress in April 2016.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
F-22 Raptors parked at Rickenbacker ANGB in Ohio during Hurricane Matthew (USAF)

Though not wholly unexpected, the recommendation to not pursue a restart of the Raptor line will reduce the Air Force’s options in retaining dominance in its air superiority mission. Earlier this year, the service let on that the F-15C/D Eagle will more than likely face an early demise by the mid-2020s, thanks to an expensive fuselage refurbishment deemed impractical by its brass.

Eagles have long served the Air Force as its dedicated air supremacy fighter, excelling in the mission in the 1990s where it first tasted combat in the Persian Gulf, and later in the Balkans. The Eagle fleet was originally to be overhauled and kept in service until the early 2040s, when it would be replaced by a new 6th generation fighter.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
An F-22 Raptor on the flightline at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, last year (Photo from USAF)

Instead, the Air Force will move on with its plan to refurbish and extend the lives of its F-16 Fighting Falcons, multirole fighters which can also fly the air superiority mission with a considerable degree of success. Critics, however, argue that the F-16 is unequal to the aircraft it seeks to supplant. Smaller, shorter-range, and limited in terms of the amount of munitions it is able to carry, the Fighting Falcon has still served the Air Force and Air National Guard faithfully since the late 1970s and beyond.

A possible byproduct of this news could be the Air Force’s push to develop its 6th generation fighter on an accelerated timeline, bringing it into service earlier than expected. This would minimize the reliance the service would have to place on its aging F-16s, while bringing online a fighter built to work in tandem with incoming next-generation assets like the F-35 Lightning II. This would also potentially reduce the burden placed on the F-22 to shoulder more of the Eagle’s prior workload once it is retired, keeping the small Raptor fleet viable and in service longer.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Seriously, here’s why ‘Mad Dog 2020’ won’t ever happen

We’ve all heard the jokes — some are making calls for Secretary of Defense James Mattis to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential election. We’d have to admit, it’d be pretty funny because the slogan writes itself: Mad Dog 2020. For the uniformed, when you combine Mattis’ nickname with the year of the election, you’e left with a reference to a cheap, fortified wine that tastes only slightly better than “fruit-flavored” cough syrup.

First of all, let’s set a few things straight: The ‘MD’ in “MD 20/20” doesn’t actually stand for “Mad Dog,” but rather Mogen David, the company responsible for the nasty drink. The numbers 20/20 mean it’s a 20 oz. bottle filled with a substance that’s 20% alcohol by volume, which is funny because it’s actually sold at 13%.

And most importantly, General James Mattis (Ret.) doesn’t give a flying f*ck about politics.


India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Secretary Mattis is a military man, through and through.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White responded to an erroneously cited “source” that told them that Secretary Mattis said, “I’d kick Trump’s ass in 2020, and I just might have to!”

That is so far from the truth that the Pentagon “got quite a laugh” from it and called it “complete fiction.” Mattis is not a politician and has remained true to his apolitical mindset in Washington. In fact, one of Secretary Mattis’ greatest strengths is that he has bipartisan support.

Yes, he was confirmed under President Trump, but he has never shown any sign of support for or against either political party. This neutrality is a core component to avoiding an undesired rabbit hole that would only hinder his leadership over the defense department.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

As much as the politics game sucks nowadays, it’s kind of hard to become president if you don’t play the politics game for either party.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Secretary Mattis managed to make many allies across both political parties by promising to stay true to his goal of leading the military. He was close to many staffers from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. He was confirmed immediately in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. The sole “nay” came from a senator who was opposed to waiving a clause in the National Security Act of 1947, which required being a minimum of seven years removed from military service to become the Secretary of Defense – but still agreed that he was the right man for the job.

For his efforts, he has managed to keep politics out of the way the military operates. That way, when he proposes a budget, neither side will argue with the man who is clearly the most qualified to make an estimate — his assessments are very obviously not driven by party politics.

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But, you know, a vet can dream… right?

Now, this isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a fantastic president. Mattis is unarguably one of the most brilliant minds the modern military has to offer and many of the finest presidents in America’s history cut their teeth with leading men on the battlefield before taking on the country. There’s also no denying his near cult-like following by almost everyone within the military community — he’s already got a supportive base.

But, even if Secretary Mattis were to, for whatever strange reason, decide to run for president in 2020 (which, again, just won’t happen), he’d never willingly use “Mad Dog 2020” as his slogan.

He isn’t a fan of the “Mad Dog” moniker and he doesn’t drink alcohol.

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How to bring down an AT-AT with an A-10

If the Empire ever makes it here from its galaxy far, far away, America is going to be in a tough pickle.


And the Empire has already had a long time to get here. So what would it look like if the Empire landed one of its most feared vehicles — the All Terrain Armored Transport — in the plains of the midwest?

Surely, the Air Force would be hard-pressed to take them out, but here are five strategies that the beloved A-10 should try first:

Strategy 1: Punch out the walker’s teeth

The AT-ATs armor is too thick for firing at it center mass, but aiming at the crew cabin in the “head” will give the A-10 pilots a good chance of hitting the laser turrets mounted around it. These weapons have only light armor and the barrels are largely exposed.

 

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(20th Century Fox)

This won’t take down the walker entirely, but it would turn it into a stomping reconnaissance tool instead of a lethal, anti-armor and anti-bunker monster.

Strategy 2: Low flying pass to hit the Imperial walker’s fuel slug

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An A-10 fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile in training. (Photo: Public Domain Jim Haseltine)

The walkers use a solid “slug” of fuel kept in a tank in the belly of the beast. This is the same type of fuel that powers starfighters, and everyone knows how spectacularly they blow up.

To hit this tank, the A-10s will need to conduct flights at near ground level and should approach from the walker’s 1, 5, 7, or 11 o’clock to avoid its limited skirt armor. Pilots should launch the TV-guided AGM-65 Maverick missile with its 300-pound, shaped-charge warhead and a delayed fuze.

Even if the missile doesn’t make it to the fuel tank before it explodes, the blast should cut through some of the drive mechanisms for the legs, granting a mobility kill and possibly causing the AT-AT to topple.

Strategy 3: Cripple its feet

Speaking of mobility kills, the AT-AT relies on ankle drive motors and terrain scanners in the “feet” to keep it balanced and moving forward. But the metal supports around these feet aren’t particularly strong.

In at least two occasions, Sith and Jedi have cut the feet off of a walker.

While A-10s don’t have a plasma saber to cut through the leg, the shaped charges in the AGM-65 with a contact fuse could slice deep enough for the remaining support to snap under the massive weight of the AT-AT.

Alternatively, the pilot could fire the Maverick missile against the foot itself in an attempt to cut through the armor to disable the sensors and motors inside, increasing the chances that the foot will trip on the terrain, similar to the effect in the GIF above.

Strategy 4: Wait for it to discharge troops and fill it with 30mm

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash
(Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski)

The AT-AT is a troop transport, and patient A-10 pilots could wait for it to attempt and discharge its stormtroopers and speeder bikes. When the walker opens to release its deadly cargo, pilots would have only a short window to attack through the open armor panels.

This is a job for the GAU-8 Avenger. Pilots should fire a sustained stream of 30mm through the opening. Don’t get shy, the crew compartment is connected to the transport area only through a thin tunnel. Even with high-explosive rounds, the A-10 needs to get a lot of ammo into the troop transport section to guarantee that at least a few bits of shrapnel bounce through the cabin.

Strategy 5: Cut its head off

In the Battle of Hoth, snow speeders managed to get a mobility kill on an AT-AT by wrapping its legs up in a tow cable. Before the walker crew could escape, a flight of snow speeders fired on the AT-AT’s flexible neck section, the tunnel between the crew cabin and the troop transport area.

Just two blasts to the neck section set off a massive explosion that destroyed the walker and rained debris for hundreds of meters. While it isn’t known what in the neck caused the massive, second detonation, there’s no reason to think that an A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger couldn’t punch through this vulnerable section.

To hit it, pilots should conduct nearly vertical attacks from high altitude, sending the 30mm rounds into the neck joint perpendicular to the armor.

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Every Illuminati conspiracy theory is based on a hippie prank from the 1960s

In a way, the story of the modern “Illuminati” is a conspiracy theory in itself. But unlike many other Illuminati conspiracy theories, the origin story of today’s Illuminati is hilariously real. 

Modern day conspiracy theorists put the Illuminati in cahoots with other conspiracy regulars, including the Rothschild Family, billionaire George Soros, and the Freemasons. While the Illuminati were a real organization, there’s no evidence to support any ongoing activity.

The modern Illuminati were conceived as a prank between Marine Corps veteran and 1960s counterculture activist Kerry Thornley and Journalist Robert Anton Wilson. The idea was to create mass paranoia so that American would begin to question everything they read. It was called Operation: Mindf*ck and it seems to have worked all too well. 

The illuminati logo
The Illuminati logo looks so real, but it all started with a prank.

Around 1776, liberal, nonreligious scholars of the Enlightenment formed a secret society in Bavaria to oppose superstitious and religious encroachment on public life, to liberate people from the laws of religion. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with the Catholic Church, who pressured the ruler of the German state to outlaw the group. By 1788, the group functionally ceased to exist.

But that didn’t stop believers from blaming their troubles on the Illuminati. Some believed the society lived on, but simply got better about hiding their existence. The first conspiracy theories popped up around 1798. They claimed Illuminati were going to incite slave rebellions in the Caribbean and that they started the French Revolution. They even made an appearance in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

In the first years of the American Republic, fear of the Illuminati gave way to fear of the Freemasons. These fears even led to the formation of an Anti-Masonic political party. Somewhere along the way, the mass fears barely died down, and they never disappeared entirely. 

In the 19th century, European monarchs blamed the Illuminati for fomenting revolutions. In the 20th Century, the rise of international communism was put at the feet of the Illuminati. Then came Thornley and Wilson.

Kerry Thornley rose to prominence in the 1960s, having written a book about Lee Harvey Oswald in 1962, the year before Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Oswald and Thornley served together in the Marine Corps and knew each other well. Thornley’s book, The Idle Warriors was about his time in the Corps with Oswald. Thornley would go one to become a major counterculture writer in underground media, as well as a founder of Discordianism, a satirical religion.

Robert Anton Wilson was a Discordian adherent and Playboy staff writer who was also active in the counterculture movement. A New York Magazine article claims it was Wilson who detailed a plan to create paranoia in American media by attributing “all national calamities, assassinations, or conspiracies” to the secret Illuminati order. 

illuminati symbol on the dollar bill
See? It’s even on the dollar bill. It MUST be real.

The plan was laid out in a memo and named Operation: Mindf*ck, a name only hippies would come up with and execute. But Wilson and Thornley were more than just hippies. Wilson had access to reporters in the popular mass media. Thornley was already a producer of underground media. Through both means, they began to spread the idea of a secret Illuminati force that drove national news events. 

The movement got a real boost when New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison tried to pin JFK’s murder on Thornley due to his association with Oswald. Thornley was not found guilty and Wilson sent a letter to a Los Angeles Free Press reporter claiming that the jury were all Illuminati and he knew because all 12 were missing their left nipple. 

Since then, the Illuminati have been accused of creating a nuclear defense bunker in North Dakota, masterminding the 9/11 attacks, using the Denver International Airport as a headquarters, and of constantly trying to create a New World Order. In reality, it was all a joke that went a little too far. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of the legendary Black Samurai

The Black Samurai, despite sounding like a name that’d be more at home in a movie or a comic book than the real world, is a genuine nickname given to a mysterious man from feudal Japan, otherwise known only as Yasuke.

The rank of samurai was, of course, considered one of great prestige and it came with a number of perks including a salary, land, a stipend of rice, servants and the ability to kill commoners who offended them without consequence. In regards to that last one, kiri-sute gomen (literally: authorization to cut and leave) was a right granted to samurai that allowed them to kill anyone of a lower rank (even other samurai of lower rank) for any perceived slight against their honor. While this has little to do with the story of Yasuke, we couldn’t not mention the fact that samurai had the ability to basically murder people without consequence, so long as a given set of restrictions was honored, such as doctors and midwives were exempt to a certain extent, that the blow had to come directly after the affront and not later, a witness to the slight was required for proof a slight was in fact made, etc. etc. But in the general case, samurai were of such high standing that dishonoring one in front of a witness was a great way to end one’s life.


Given the highly regarded position samurai enjoyed, it was seldom an honor doled out to foreigners and, as such, there are less than a dozen confirmed examples of a person outside of feudal Japan being allowed to call themselves samurai. Amongst this select group of foreigners, Yasuke not only stands out for being speculated to have been the first, but also because he was the only one who was black.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Little is known about Yasuke’s past, so little in fact that we know neither where he was born nor his original name. It’s mostly agreed that Yasuke hailed from somewhere in Africa, though which area exactly has never been conclusively established, with Mozambique mentioned most in accounts of his life. This is thanks to the Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon written in 1627 by one Francois Solier where he claims Yasuke was from that region. However, it’s not clear what his own source for that information was and he wrote it almost a half century after the last known direct documented evidence of Yasuke.

Whatever the case, originally believed to have been a slave captured sometime in the 1570s by the Portuguese, Yasuke was bought by and became the servant of an Italian Jesuit and missionary called Alessandro Valignano. Valignano was famed for his insistence that missionaries to Japan become fluent with the language, requiring a full two years of study in Japanese, which helped his group stand out and be more successful than others. As for Yasuke, he travelled with and served Valignano for several years until the pair made port in Japan around 1579.

Upon arriving in Japan, as you might expect Yasuke immediately became a subject of intrigue and curiosity, both because of his apparently extremely dark skin and his intimidating stature. Variously described as being between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, Yasuke towered over the Japanese populace of the period, with males only averaging about 5 feet tall at the time. Beyond his height, he is said to have possessed a powerful, chiselled physique. According to legend, Yasuke’s very presence inspired both terror and curiosity in locals to such an extent that several people were supposedly crushed to death in an attempt to make their way through a large crowd that had gathered to see him. Other stories tell of people breaking down the doors of the places Yasuke was staying just to catch a glimpse.

Yasuke: Story of the African Samurai in Japan

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Whether any of that is true or not, sometime in 1581 while visiting Japan’s capital, Yasuke came to the attention of a man who is considered one of the people ultimately responsible for the unification of Japan, famed Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga apparently insisted on meeting the mysterious dark-skinned stranger who was causing such a commotion in his city. Upon meeting Yasuke, according to an account by Jesuit Luis Frois, Nobunaga apparently ordered Yaskue to be roughly scrubbed with brushes to prove that his dark skin was real and not artificially done with ash, charcoal, or the like.

It’s from this first meeting that one of the only known accounts of Yasuke’s appearance comes from, with this fateful meeting documented in the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle:

On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men…. Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.

Presumably thanks to Valignano requiring missionaries to Japan to learn Japanese, it appears at this point he also required it of Yasuke, as Nobunaga was said to have greatly enjoyed conversing with Yasuke and was intrigued to learn about his homeland. He ended up liking Yasuke so much that he eventually took him as his own, or rather officially Valignano gifted him to the warlord.

Nobunaga, who was known to have a fondness for other cultures, which is in part why he was allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the area, gave his newly found confidant the name Yasuke. Although technically still a slave in the sense that he had to serve Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in stature in the eyes of Nobunaga, with Yasuke ultimately given a house, salary, and servants of his own. During his rise, he apparently served as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer and bodyguard and was otherwise seemingly treated as an equal by his peers. Yasuke was also eventually given a katana from Nobunaga, apparently conferring the title of samurai upon him as only samurai were permitted to carry such a weapon at the time. It’s also noteworthy that he wore the traditional armor of the samurai when in battle. Yasuke also had the frequent extreme honor of dining with Nobunaga, something few others were allowed to do.

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

Oda Nobunaga.

Yasuke’s time with Nobunaga was cut short, however, when the warlord was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, a year later in 1582. In a nutshell, Nobunaga was at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto, taking with him only a contingent of 30 pages and guards. For reasons unknown, though perhaps just a simple power grab, Mitsuhide chose to betray Nobunaga at this point, surrounding the temple and attacking. Yasuke is known to have been there and fought alongside Nobunaga, but ultimately when defeat was imminent as the temple burned around them, Nobunaga chose to commit ritual suicide rather than be captured.

Legend has it, whether true or not isn’t known, that one of Nobunaga’s last acts was to order Yasuke to carry Nobunaga’s head and sword to his son and heir, Oda Nobutada.

Whether he actually did this or not, it is known Yasuke managed to escape and joined Nobutada who himself was under attack at the time by a separate contingent of Mitsuhide’s soldiers at nearby Nijō Castle.

Nobunaga’s son was eventually defeated, committed ritual suicide, and Yasuke was captured by Mitsuhide’s men. Apparently unsure what to do with the foreign samurai, or even whether they should consider him a true samurai or not despite that he wielded the sword and wore the traditional armor, they chose not to kill him and instead left it to Mitsuhide to tell them what to do.

In the end, while there is some contention, it would seem Mitsuhide decided to dishonor Yasuke by not allowing him to commit ritual suicide and instead had him returned to the Jesuits. Whether Mitsuhide did this out of pity or contempt for Yasuke is a matter of contention, though it’s noteworthy that there was little in the way of racism towards black people in Japan at the time because so few black people ever visited the country anyway.

From here, as unlikely as it’s going to sound, Yasuke, the giant, Japanese speaking black, now ronin, samurai who supposedly caused crushing crowds wherever he went, disappeared from history, even in the Jesuit’s own accounts. This has led some to speculate that he did not stay with the Jesuits and even some speculation that, if becoming a samurai wasn’t enough, that he became a pirate after this, meaning his moniker could have potentially been not just The Black Samurai, but the ultimate in badass nicknames- The Black Pirate Samurai, though there is unfortunately no hard documented evidence that he actually became a pirate.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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