ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance - We Are The Mighty
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ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

Much has been written about the threat of Islamic State militants’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones, over the embattled city of Mosul.


IS was quick to weaponize UAVs with small improvised explosive devices.

On Jan. 24, they released a video showing up to 19 different aerial attacks by commercially purchased UAVs — the kind of drone you can buy in any shopping center. Iraqi forces have followed suit by attaching modified 40mm grenades with shuttlecock stabilizers onto their larger UAVs to drop on IS positions.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
Drones like this are easy to acquire but can be very lethal targeting tools. (Photo: Don McCullough, CC BY 2.0)

A crude inaccurate way of killing terrorists, its effectiveness is questionable. Weaponized IS UAVs have mainly been used to target Iraqi military commanders and troops congregating in the open near the front line.

It’s a low-end, low-altitude attack that can be thwarted by keeping in hard cover.

But both sides use the UAV’s more effectively as a means of providing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, known as ISR.

Islamic State UAVs in the air, once identified, are the warning that something is about to happen — either mortar fire, which is typically one hastily fired inaccurate round — before coalition air superiority can locate and target the firing point.

Or, more devastatingly, the launching of a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, an SVBIED.

Since the Battle for Mosul officially started on Oct. 16, 2016, hundreds of SVBIEDs have been launched.

Recently, Sky News’ Special Correspondent Alex Crawford and cameraman Garwen McLuckie faced a number of SVBIEDs during their reporting from West Mosul’s front line.

Each time a small UAV was hovering high above. One occasion two were spotted.

Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay, cameraman Nathan Hale and Producer Haider Kata were also targeted by a SVBIED. On this occasion the UAV filmed the SVBIED (an armored Fronting Loader) to its intended target, a tank.

Later, the video was posted on Islamic State websites.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
A captured ISIS drone on the battlefield. (Photo from Iraq Ministry of Defense)

Due to the built-up urban area and the ever-changing nature of the battle, IS drivers of the SVBIEDs are believed to be hiding in garages with their heavily armoured explosive-laden vehicles. Modified with armor at the front and cameras on the wing mirrors, they provide militants with a 360-degree view of the battlefield and are notoriously difficult to stop.

They wait as the Iraqi forces move slowly forward, seizing ground and minimizing the driving distance to strike.

If they launch too early, the SVBIED will be exposed to air strikes or anti-tank fire, the only two real ways of neutralizing the vehicle.

But hidden IS drivers may not know the exact location of the moving Iraqi forces or be familiar with the streets and or access routes to their targets.

This is where the UAV is the key component to the attack.

The operators of the UAV act as navigators for the suicide driver; guiding him by radio or cell phone through battle-worn streets, they can help deliver the driver to his intended target with greater efficiency and accuracy.

This is a deadly combination.

The coalition has attempted to blanket all of Mosul in a red no-fly zone for commercially purchased UAVs, but this has been thwarted by either smart software adjustments to the unit or by placing aluminum material over the GPS.

Other methods have included the Battelle Drone Defender gun (hand portable beam type weapon) and the Spynel infrared camera, which is used to locate incoming UAVs. Both have been very limited, as UAV use is usually confined within a few hundred meters at the very front of the fight where these systems are not always deployed.

If an IS UAV is sighted, the immediate response by Iraqi forces is to engage it with small and heavy weapons, a difficult shot when aiming at a high flying fast moving object of no more than a meter wide.

After the firing has stopped, all attention shifts to street level as experienced operators know the next thing coming will be more deadly.

Many harmless recreational drones have now become deadly tools of war.

The various developers of these off-the-shelf UAVs probably never envisaged that their products would be used in a lethal cat and mouse hunt through Mosul’s war-torn streets.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korean troops fired 40 rounds at the defector in the DMZ

Four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at a comrade fleeing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border in more than 30 years, the South’s military said Nov. 14.


South Korean soldiers did not fire their weapons, but the Nov. 13 incident occurred at a time of high animosity over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North has expressed intense anger over past high-profile defections.

The soldier is being treated at a South Korean hospital after a five-hour operation for the gunshot wounds he suffered during his escape across the Joint Security Area. His personal details and motive for defection are unknown and his exact medical condition is unclear.

South Korea’s military said he suffered injuries in his internal organs but wasn’t in a life-threatening condition. But the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul said the soldier was relying on a breathing machine after the surgery removed the bullets. Lee Guk-jong, a doctor who leads Ajou’s medical team for the soldier, described his patient’s condition as “very dangerous” and said the next 10 days might determine whether he recovers.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
A South Korean soldier stands guard within the Joint Security Area of the DMZ. Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson.

On Nov. 13, he first drove a military jeep but left the vehicle when one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled across the JSA, with fellow soldiers chasing and firing at him, South Korea’s military said, citing unspecified surveillance systems installed in the area.

Suh Wook, chief director of operations for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that North Korea fired a total of about 40 rounds in a shooting that his office suggested started while the soldier was in the jeep.

Related: The 9 most-ridiculous North Korean propaganda claims

The solider was found beneath a pile of leaves on the southern side of the JSA and South Korean troops crawled there to recover him. A U.N. Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou medical center, according to South Korean officials.

The North’s official media haven’t reported the case as of Nov. 14. They have previously accused South Korea of kidnapping or enticing North Koreans to defect. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
Sgt. Dong In Sop, a North Korean defector was interviewed by two members of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission at UNCMAC headquarters on the Yongsan Army Garrison on September 16, 1999. The interview was moderated by Maj. Gen. Peter Sutter (Swiss member) and Maj. Gen Kurt Blixt (Swedish member). Sgt. Dong In Sop defected to South Korea on September 14, 1999. During the interview Sgt. Dong In Sop expressed a strong desire to remain in South Korea. (U.S Army photo by Spc. Sharon E. Grey)

The JSA is jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only meters (feet) apart. It is located inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2 1/2-mile-wide) Demilitarized Zone, which forms the de facto border between the Koreas since the Korean War. While both sides of the DMZ are guarded by barbed wire fences, mines and tank traps, the JSA includes the truce village of Panmunjom which provides the site for rare talks and draws curious tourists.

Monday’s incident was the first shooting at the Joint Security Area since North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire when a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the JSA in 1984. A North Korean soldier defected there in 1998 and another in 2007 but neither of those events involved gunfire between the rivals, according to South Korea’s military.

The 1984 exchange of gunfire happened after North Korean soldiers crossed the border and fired, according to the U.N. Command. In Monday’s incident, it wasn’t known if the North continued firing after the defector was officially in the southern part of the Joint Security Area. The U.N. Command said Tuesday that an investigation into the incident was underway.

The Joint Security Area was the site of some bloodshed during the Cold War but there hasn’t been major violence there in recent years. In 1976, North Korean soldiers axed two American army officers to death and the United States responded by flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ in an attempt to intimidate the North.

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6 employees fired from US embassy in Afghanistan for drug violations

The State Department has fired six employees at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan for allegedly using or possessing prohibited drugs, a particularly troubling infraction given the years-long U.S. effort to eradicate opium production in the country.


A senior State Department official said those who were embassy employees were fired and others who were contractors were released from their contracts.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
The Taliban and other antigovernment groups participate in and profit from the opiate trade, which is a key source of revenue for the Taliban inside Afghanistan. Pictured here, a Marine posts security while members of the Afghan Narcotics Interdiction Unit search a compound during Operation Speargun in Urmuz, Afghanistan, March 26, 2012.

The official declined to say what led to the investigation, but the Wall Street Journal reported it was launched after a person was wandering about in a state of confusion.

A State Department official told Voice of America News on March 30 the fired workers “were found to have been using or in possession of prohibited substances.”

Opium production in Afghanistan is a major source of income for the Taliban and other insurgents.

Afghanistan is the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Despite global efforts to stem the flow of narcotics, the United Nations says production reached near record levels in 2016.

The United States has spent more than $8 billion on drug interdiction in Afghanistan since the start of war against the Taliban in 2001.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Army Green Beret graduates from brutal Thai Ranger School

A Green Beret became the first US servicemember to graduate from the modern version of Thai Ranger School.

The Green Beret, who is assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, finished the course as the honor graduate.

With a duration of 10 weeks, the Thai Ranger School is broken down into five phases: Mountain, Forest, Swamp, Maritime, and Urban. During each phase, students are graded on every patrol role (platoon leader, squad leader, medic, paceman, navigator) and they have to lead both platoons and squads during missions. In addition, they are evaluated on how well they compose operations orders.

“As a Green Beret, we’re supposed to be masters of the basics,” the unnamed Green Beret said in a press release. “This course took me back to the basics. For instance, navigating off one map per platoon…In a [Special Forces] team you have eight maps plus GPS.”

From the 198 candidates who started, 187 graduated. The loss of only 11 students is remarkable considering the course’s brutal reputation. In the past, US Special Operations Command Pacific had prohibited US special operators from attending the course because the likelihood of death was high.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
A Green Beret assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) rappels down a mountainside October 2020, in the Kingdom of Thailand. He attended the Royal Thai Army’s Ranger School Oct. 17 to Dec. 29 and earned his Ranger Badge, becoming the first U.S. service member to attend and graduate the course in more than 40 years (Photo by Sergeant Anthony Bryant).

Perhaps the most important aspect of such foreign training is the bonds that are developed between the US troops and their foreign counterparts. For the Army’s Special Forces, in particular, that rings very close to home as they work with, though, and by partner forces to achieve their missions.

“It’s a lifetime bond here,” added the Special Forces operator. “I will always remember these guys and I will always keep in contact with them. It’s like brother-to-brother mentorship.”

The Green Beret had to rely on his Thai language skills to carry him through during the course since neither his fellow students nor his instructors spoke English.

“It’s not so much what he gives to my formation, but what he gives to our entire force at-large in that he is a tactical and cultural diplomat for our country and Army,” said the Special Forces major in command of the Green Beret’s company. “The skills that he comes back with and the relationships he forged while there will better prepare both countries to operate with each other for our mutual defense.”

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
The coveted Thai Ranger badge awarded upon graduation (Photo Sergeant Anthony Bryant).

To say that the Thai Ranger school is hardcore is an understatement. Unlike the US version, when a student gets injured, he doesn’t get immediately medically dropped. Thai Ranger instructors offer injured students the opportunity, and indeed encourage them, to remain in the course and for their weight to be redistributed among the team. That adds a level of realism that for understandable reasons doesn’t exist in US military schools.

To be sure, American troops going through various selections or courses do get injured and continue. It’s not uncommon to have a soldier finish Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) with a broken ankle or swollen knee or a sailor finish Navy SEAL Hell Week with a broken leg. But in such cases, the students opt to shoulder the extra burden and don’t tell the instructors because they know that they would be removed from training and would have to redo large portions of it.

With their motto “First in Asia,” the 1st Special Forces Group has been operating in the region since 1957 (with a 10-year break between 1974 and 1984 when the unit was deactivated following the troop drawdown after Vietnam War).

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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Air Force experimenting on a 6th generation fighter to come after the F-35

The Air Force has begun experimenting and conceptual planning for a 6th generation fighter aircraft to emerge in coming years as a technological step beyond the F-35, service leaders said.


“We have started experimentation, developmental planning and technology investment,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition.

The new aircraft, engineered to succeed the 5th-generation F-35 Joint StrikeFighter and explode onto the scene by the mid 2030s, is now in the earliest stages of conceptual development with the Air Force and Navy. The two services are now working together on early conceptual discussions about the types of technologies and capabilities the aircraft will contain. While the Air Force has not yet identified a platform for the new aircraft. The Air Force characterizes the effort in terms of a future capability called Next-Gen Air Dominance.

While Bunch did not elaborate on the specifics of ongoing early efforts, he did make reference to the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan which delineates some key elements of the service’s strategy for a future platform.

Fighter jets in 20-years may likely contain the next-generation of stealth technology, electronic warfare, sophisticated computer processing and algorithms, increased autonomy, hypersonic weapons and so-called “smart-skins” where sensors are built into the side of the aircraft itself.

Some of these characteristics may have been on display more than a year ago when Northrop Grumman’s Super Bowl ad revealed a flashy first look at its rendering of a new 6th-generation fighter jet.

Related: The first Marine F-35 squadron is gearing up for a Pacific deployment

Northrop is one of a number of major defense industry manufacturers who will bid for a contract to build the new plane – when the time is right. While there are not many details available on this work, it is safe to assume Northrop is advancing concepts, technology and early design work toward this end. Boeing is also in the early phases of development of a 6th-gen design, according to a report in Defense News.

The Navy’s new aircraft will, at least in part, replace the existing inventory of F/A-18 Super Hornets which will start to retire by 2035, Navy officials said.

The Navy vision for a future carrier air wing in 2040 and beyond is comprised of the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, and legacy aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft.

Also, around this time is when Navy planners envision its 6th generation aircraft to be ready, an aircraft which will likely be engineered for both manned and unmanned missions.

Technologies are rapidly advancing in coatings, electromagnetic spectrum issues, artificial intelligence, maneuvering, superiority in sensing the battlespace, communications and data links, Navy leaders have said.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
Northrop Grumman

Navy officials also add that the Navy is likely to develop new carrier-launched unmanned air vehicles in coming years as well. For instance, Northrop’s historic X-47B demonstrator aircraft was the first unmanned system to successfully launch and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Analysts have speculated that as 6th generation developers seek to engineer a sixth-generation aircraft, they will likely explore a range of next-generation technologies such as maximum sensor connectivity, super cruise ability and an aircraft with electronically configured “smart skins.”

Super cruise technology would enable the new fighter jet to cruise at supersonic speeds without needing afterburner, analysts have explained. As a result, super cruise brings a substantial tactical advantage because it allows for high-speed maneuvering without needing afterburner, therefore enable much longer on-location mission time. Such a scenario provides a time advantage as the aircraft would likely outlast a rival aircraft likely to run out of fuel earlier. The Air Force F-22 has a version of super-cruise technology.

Also read: This is the fastest American bomber that ever took to the skies

Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefield information.The new aircraft might also seek to develop the ability to fire hypersonic weapons, however such a development would hinge upon successful progress with yet-to-be-proven technologies such as scramjets traveling at hypersonic speeds. Some tests of early renderings of this technology have been tested successfully and yet other attempts have failed.

The Air Force Chief Scientist, Dr. Geoffrey Zacharias, has told Scout Warrior that the US anticipates having hypersonic weapons by the 2020s, hypersonic drones by the 2030s and recoverable hypersonic drone aircraft by the 2040s. There is little doubt that hypersonic technology, whether it be weaponry or propulsion, or both, will figure prominently into future aircraft designs.

Smart aircraft skins would involve dispersing certain technologies or sensors across the fuselage and further integrating them into the aircraft itself, using next-generation computer algorithms to organize and display information for the pilot. We see some of this already in the F-35; the aircraft sensor fusion uses advanced computer technology to collect, organize and display combat relevant information from a variety of otherwise disparate sensors onto a single screen for pilots. In addition, Northrop’s Distributed Aperture System is engineered to provide F-35 pilots with a 360-degree view of the battlespace. Cameras on the DAS are engineered into parts of the F-35 fuselage itself to reduce drag and lower the aircraft’s radar signature.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
Northrop Grumman

Smart skins with distributed electronics means that instead of having systems mounted on the aircraft, you would have apertures integrated on the skin of the aircraft, analysts have said.

This could reduce drag, increase speed and maneuverability while increasing the technological ability of the sensors.

It is also possible that the new 6th-generation fighter could use advanced, futuristic stealth technology able to enable newer, more capable air defenses. The air defenses of potential adversaries are increasingly using faster computing processing power and are better networked together, more digital, able to detect a wider range of frequencies and able to detect stealthy aircraft at farther distances.

The new 6th-generation fighter will also likely fire lasers and have the ability to launch offensive electronic attacks.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

3 aviation giants are developing a revolutionary hybrid airplane

Airbus, Siemens, and Rolls-Royce are teaming up to develop a hybrid passenger plane that would use a single electric turbofan along with three conventional jet engines running on aviation fuel.


The plane is an effort to develop and demonstrate technology that, in the future, could help limit emissions of carbon dioxide from aviation and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The three companies said Nov. 28 they aim to build a flying version of the E-Fan X technology demonstrator plane by 2020.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
A BAe 146 four-engine regional jet sits on the runway. (Wikimedia Commons photo by user Lars Steffens)

The aircraft would be based on the existing BAe 146 four-engine regional jet. The hybrid version would generate electric power through a turbine within the plane. That power would be used to turn the fan blades of the single electric turbofan engine.

If the system works, a second electric motor could be added, the companies said.

Also Read: These are the 11 most game-changing aircraft of the 21st century

The companies said European plane maker Airbus SE would be responsible for building the aircraft’s systems into a working whole, control systems, and flight controls. Britain-based Rolls-Royce plc would make the generator and the turbo-shaft engine, while German engineering company Siemens AG would deliver the two-megawatt electric motor to power the engine. Rolls-Royce the aircraft engine maker is distinct from the luxury car brand owned by BMW AG.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
This graphic demonstrates how the three titans of the aviation industry are divvying up the work on the proof-of-concept plane. (Image courtesy of Airbus)

The companies said they were looking ahead to the European Union’s long-term goals of reducing CO2 emissions from aviation by 60 percent, as well as meeting noise and pollution limits that they said “cannot be achieved with technologies existing today.” CO2 — carbon dioxide — is a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to global warming.

Other projects for hybrid or electric planes are in the works. Kirkland, Washington-based Zunum Aero says it is working on a 12-seat hybrid-electric commuter jet. The company’s website lists its partners as Boeing, jetBlue Technology Ventures, and the Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last World War I soldier to see combat died at age 111

On Sept. 22, 1917, a British Lewis gun team was hit by an incoming German shell during the third Battle of Ypres, near Passchendaele, Harry Patch was a member of that team. He was blown away by the blast, but his other three teammates were completely vaporized. He never saw them again. Patch struggled for years to tell that story, which he finally did before he died in 2009.

At his death, the last British Tommy to see World War I combat was 111 years, one month, one week, and one day old.


ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

A Canadian soldier tests out a Lewis Gun similar to the one Harry Patch worked in World War I.

With Patch went our collective connection to a bygone era. While other Great War veterans outlived Patch, Patch was the last among them to fight in the mud, the wet, the disease-ridden trenches of World War I’s Western Front. He was born in 1898 and drafted into the British Army at age 18. After a brief training period, Private Patch was sent to the Western Front with the other members of his Lewis Gun team during the winter of 1916. The next year is when the German artillery round hit his position and killed his friends.

Patch was still wounded and recovering by the time of the Armistice in November 1918. For the rest of his life, he considered September 22 to be his remembrance day, not November 11.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

Patch with Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry in 2008.

By the time World War II rolled around, Harry Patch was much too old to join the Army and served as a firefighter in the British city of Bath instead. Patch never discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, let alone journalists, so he declined interviews until 1998, when the BBC pointed out to him that the number of World War I veterans still alive was shrinking fast. His first appearance was World War I in Colour, where he recalled the first time he came face to face with an enemy soldier. He shot to wound the man, not kill him. Patch was not a fan of killing, even in warfare.

“Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left,” he told the BBC in 2007.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

Six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles bear the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral in 2009.

Before his death, Harry Patch returned to the fields of Passchendaele where his three best friends met their end. He was going to once again meet a German, but this time there would be only handshakes. At age 106, Patch met Charles Kuentz, 107-year-old German World War I veteran who fought the British at Passchendaele. The two exchanged gifts and talked about the futility of war.

Patch wrote his memoirs at 107, to become the oldest author ever, and later watched as World War I-era planes dropped poppies over Somerset in memoriam to those who served. He died in 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week, and one day. The bells of Wells Cathedral in Somerset were rung 111 times in his honor.

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‘Ensign Dilbert’ taught pilots to not accidentally kill their friends

Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.


But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.

The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.

ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance
Shocker: This guy is the idiot. (Photo: YouTube/Nuclear Vault)

And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.

Check out the Dilbert video on aerial gunnery, Don’t Kill Your Friends, below:

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Tractors, herbs, vodka, saunas? Some leaders offer strange, unhelpful advice on warding off COVID-19

The way the leader of tightly controlled Turkmenistan sees it, there’s an ancient remedy for warding off the coronavirus: burning a wild herb known as hamala.


Belarus’s authoritarian president had similarly folksy advice for cabinet ministers and his fellow countrymen: go out and work in the fields. And ride a tractor.

Global leaders and medical experts are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, imposing quarantines, shutting down borders, mandating mask use, and bolstering the capabilities of infectious disease-fighting medical workers. Scientists, meanwhile, are rushing to find a vaccine and a cure for the disease that has killed more than 7,500 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Many officials are also struggling to prevent the spread of half-truths, misinformation, and unscientific remedies — something that is even harder in the era of social media and instantaneous communication — and even propaganda.

The coronavirus “outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ — an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” the WHO said in a report issued in early February.

Garlic, vitamin C, steroids, essential oils? Despite what you might read on Facebook or VK, the Russian social network, there’s no scientific evidence any of these things will combat the coronavirus.

With a view to highlighting the problem of misinformation, and nudging people toward reliable, authoritative sources, here’s a look at some of the more outlandish remedies that some leaders have – wrongly – suggested would help fight the coronavirus.

Turkmen Fumigation​

In Turkmenistan, one of the most oppressive societies in the world, the country has been ruled for years by authoritarian leaders with a penchant for quixotic quirks and health recommendations.

Before his death in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself the Father Of All Turkmen, routinely dispensed spiritual guidance, not to mention public-health advice, to the country, messaging that was widely disseminated by state TV and newspapers. In 2005, the country’s physicians were ordered to spurn the Hippocratic Oath — the ancient pledge used worldwide by medical workers — and instead swear an oath to Niyazov, an electrical engineer by training.

His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is a dentist by training. But that hasn’t stopped him from building a personality cult similar to Niyazov’s — or from offering unfounded medical advice, most recently on March 13, when he chaired a cabinet meeting to discuss the looming dangers of the coronavirus.

“Over the millennia, our ancestors have developed proven national methods of combating addictions and preventing various infectious diseases,” he said.

He went on to suggest that burning an herb known as hamala, or wild rue, would destroy viruses “that are invisible to the naked eye.”

In fact, this is not true.

In December, Turkmen state TV featured a program discussing veterinary remedies for farmers coping with an outbreak of disease among cattle. Among the remedies being offered were those featured in a book authored by Berdymukhammedov.

A year earlier, the Health Ministry offered medical advice to Turkmen dealing with summer respiratory ailments. Among the tips: “use medicinal teas scientifically described in the book of … Berdymukhammedov’s Plants of Turkmenistan.”

As of March 18, Turkmenistan had reported no confirmed cases of infection.

Reap What You Sow

Over more than two decades of ruling Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has also routinely dispensed folksy wisdom to his countrymen.

Prior to the presidency, Lukashenka headed a Soviet-style collective farm operation, which is where he has drawn his suggestions and medicinal folklore from in the past.

On March 16, he hosted a meeting of cabinet officials in Minsk, where he sought to head off mounting concerns about the coronavirus in the country. As of March 17, it had 17 confirmed cases.

At the meeting, which was televised on state TV, he told officials “we have lived through other viruses. We’ll live through this one,” he said.

“You just have to work, especially now, in a village,” Lukashenka said. “In the countryside, people are working in the fields, on tractors, no one is talking about the virus.”

“There, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone,” he said.

Lukashenka wished his ministers good health and offered this other piece of health advice: Go have a good sweat in a dry sauna; the coronavirus, according to Lukashenka, dies at 60 degrees Celsius.

In fact, there’s no evidence that tractors, saunas, or fieldwork have any effect on the coronavirus.

Vodka Elixir

As of March 18, Serbia had 83 confirmed cases of the virus.

Three weeks prior, as officials across the world were beginning to take concerns about the coronavirus’s spread seriously, President Aleksandar Vucic met with health specialists to discuss the measures being taken by his government.

He joked that alcohol — ingested — might very well be a useful salve.

“After they told me — and now I see that Americans insist it’s true — that the coronavirus doesn’t grow wherever you put alcohol, I’ve now found myself an additional reason to drink one glass a day,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with that alcohol [liquor], I just made that up for you to know.”

It didn’t help matters that, earlier on, Vucic’s foreign minister, had gone on Serbian TV to suggest that the virus was a foreign plot targeting the Chinese economy.

Belarus’s Lukashenka, meanwhile, echoed Vucic’s quip about vodka himself earlier this week.

“I’m a nondrinker, but recently I’ve been jokingly saying that you should not only wash your hands with vodka, but that probably 40-50 grams of pure alcohol will poison this virus,” Lukashenka said.

In fact, drinking alcohol does not prevent or cure the coronavirus, or any other virus inside the body. Alcohol can, in fact, help kill germs and viruses externally, but washing your hands with vodka will not.

Holy Water, Holy Virus

While political leaders have been confusing people with unhelpful medicinal folklore, they aren’t the only leaders to do so.

Some clerics in a number of Orthodox countries — Russia included — have spurned medical guidance that has warned the coronavirus can be transmitted via close physical contact, or bodily fluids, such as droplets in the air, or saliva on utensils.

Metropolitan Ilarion, a top official in the Russian Orthodox Church, told state media that the church will not be closing parishes for services during the period leading up to Easter, which is to be celebrated on April 19.

Ilarion also told Rossia-24 TV that church leaders do not believe that any “virus or disease can be transmitted through communion” — the religious rite of eating bread and sipping wine during a church service.

Still, he indicated that the church would consider changes to things like the use of a communion spoon, used to give blessed wine to parishioners.

“But if it comes to bans or recommendations that we are obliged to follow, then in some cases single-use [disposable] spoons will be used,” he said.

On March 17, he went further.

“This does not mean that the church underestimates the threat. If the virus spreads and the number of infected grows, if new orders from the authorities appear regarding the fight against the coronavirus, the church will respond to them,” he was quoted as telling Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

He said church leaders were taking other unusual steps, including the use of disposable cups, disposable rubber gloves, and a suspension of the practice of kissing the cross or religious icons — a common practice in Orthodox tradition.

Two days earlier, however, at least one Orthodox parish, in the Volga River city of Kazan, was using a reusable “holy spoon” to administer communion wine.

As of March 18, Russia had 114 confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, in Georgia (38 confirmed cases), Orthodox priests were reportedly continuing to use a common spoon to ladle communion into the drinking cups of worshippers who chose that option. And the Greek Orthodox Church also echoed Ilarion’s unfounded insistence that viruses could not spread via Communion.

Other Georgian Orthodox priests, meanwhile, took to the roads this week to try and curtail, or cure, the coronavirus, driving around Tbilisi sprinkling holy water on cars and drivers alike.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What life is like for 10 countries with mandatory draft

A recent report shows that the US is looking into its draft program, weighing options from mandating service for women to getting rid of the draft altogether.

While a reinvigorated draft may alarm US citizens, nearly 60 countries around the world still have some form of conscription.

Some, like Israel, need the draft to ensure it can maintain its armed forces. Others, like China, often have enough recruits that a draft is unnecessary.

Some countries, like Norway and Israel, have allowed transgender people to serve for decades.

This is a look at 10 countries that still require every man, or every woman and man, to serve.


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1. Russia

One year of military service is required for Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27.

The country allows for some exceptions — sons or brothers of men killed during their military service are released from conscription, for example.

Even with these exceptions, Russians have been evading the draft at alarming rates, and the government has considered forcing men to report even if they have not been selected.

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2. Switzerland

Military service is mandatory for Swiss men.

As recently as 2017, Switzerland was considering adding women to its draft roles.

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3. Israel

Israeli men must serve in the defense force for three years.

Women are conscripted for two years.

Transgender Israelis have been allowed to serve since 1993.

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4. Norway

Norway was the first NATO country to expand conscription to include women. It was also one of the first countries in the world to allow transgender people to serve, changing its policy in 1973.

The country’s conscription is selective; everyone has to register but won’t necessarily be called to serve.

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(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

5. China

Although China does mandate military service, it has routinely exceeded recruitment goals and has not needed to force conscription.

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6. Iran

Conscription is mandatory for Iranian men, who must serve from 18 months to two years.

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7. North Korea

North Korea has the longest conscription period in the world.

Men are required to serve for 10 years, starting at age 17.

Women must serve for seven years.

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8. Egypt

Egyptian men must serve for a period of one to three years, depending on their level of education.

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9. Austria

In Austria, men can choose between six months of military service and nine months of civil service.

Austria has allowed transgender troops to serve since 2004.

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10. Meanwhile, other countries like Taiwan are getting rid of conscription altogether.

Taiwan pledged in 2011 to end conscription. The country is moving closer towards its goal of an all-volunteer force, but is facing hurdles as younger generations are choosing not to serve.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army Futures Command experiments with putting robots in combat

Imagine if a robot could go ahead of troops, by a kilometer or more, to assess a situation and relay information back that would help commanders know what’s ahead and know how to respond?

Army Futures Command isn’t just imagining that- they’re already building it.

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“This isn’t about robots or technology, this is about soldiers and this is about commanders on the battlefield, and giving them the decision space and reducing the risk of our men and women when we go into the nastiest places on the planet,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle-Cross Functional Team, told reporters during a virtual discussion about the Robotic Combat Vehicle Soldier Operational Experiment.

A platoon of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, CO spent much of this summer sending two-person crews out in modified Bradley fighting vehicles to control robotic surrogate vehicles that were built from M113 armored personnel vehicles. The goal of the experiment was to observe the vehicles and to collect and analyze feedback from the soldiers working with them on the feasibility of integrating robots into ground combat formations.

The modified Bradleys are known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-Ds) and the modified M113s are known as Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs).

The goal of the program is to eventually build a collection of vehicles that can be used to provide reconnaissance capabilities and standoff distance or to replace soldiers in high-risk activities like combined arms breaches and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) reconnaissance.

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Coffman emphasized that this summer’s experiment at Ft. Carson was just that, an experiment, and not a test and that there is still much work to be done before soldiers will be able to use robots downrange.

“Right now, it’s difficult for a robot, when it looks at a puddle, to know if it’s the Mariana Trench or two inches deep,” said Maj. Corey Wallace, RCV lead for the Next Generation Vehicle-Cross Functional Team. “The RCV must be able to sense as well as a human. It needs to hear branches breaking around it. It needs to know when it’s on soft sand or an incline. We still need to work on that.”

Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, acknowledged that the robots still have a ways to go and noted that there are particular challenges involved in designing a robot vehicle for combat.

“Right now, we don’t have the sensors to tell us if a puddle is something we can drive through. In the auto industry, high-tech cars are operating on pavement and in a generous GPS environment. We are looking at how to operate in a denied environment, where things can go bad quickly,” Langhout said.

Earlier this year, the Army selected two companies, QinetiQ North America and Textron, to build the eventual vehicles. QinetiQ North America will build four prototypes of the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light and Textron will build four prototypes of the RCV-Medium. Coffman said that the Marine Corps is also using QinetiQ to build an RCV-Light and the two services and working together on the designs.

All in all, Coffman said the experiment was “100% successful.”

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“We learned where the technology is now and how we can fight with it in the future,” Coffman said.

And just how far in the future are we talking? Unfortunately, pretty far.

Coffman said a second experiment is planned for Ft. Hood, Texas in the first part of the fiscal year 2022 using the same M113 robot vehicles and Bradley control vehicles in company-size operations. After that, an experiment will be held to test the vehicles in more complex situations. And after that, the Army will decide if robot vehicles are worth further investment.

This is to say that, cool as the robots are, for now, most soldiers and military families will have to be content just imagining them.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Russian super torpedo that could sink the US Navy

The Russian Navy’s decline since the fall of the Soviet Union has been very dramatic, especially when it comes to major surface combatants and nuclear submarines. The Russians have, however, been making advances in other areas.


One of those has been in what the ships they do have are capable of shooting. This includes the VA-111 Shkval, or “Squall,” a weapon that has been operated by Russia’s submarine force since 2003, according to deagel.com. The Shkval has a range of roughly five and a half nautical miles and a top speed of 200 nautical miles per hour, according to militaryperiscope.com.

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A Russian-designed Shkval on display. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

MilitaryPeriscope.com reports that initial versions were armed with a nuclear warhead, but later versions have a 460-pound warhead. While the torpedo is very fast – able to cover its maximum range in a minute and a half – it is also effectively a straight-run weapon, with effectiveness in limited situations and locations.

One such location is the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran reportedly tested its own version of the Shkval earlier this year. Iran’s Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and home-built Ghadir-class mini-submarines are both capable of firing this torpedo from their 21-inch torpedo tubes.

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Iranian Kilo-class submarine at sea. (DOD photo)

While the 460-pound warhead might not do much to the United States Navy’s supercarriers like the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered vessels or the newest ship, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), it could very easily cripple or sink the valuable escorts like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Amphibious vessels could also be vulnerable to this weapon. In all cases, the submarine would need to get very close to the target vessel.

A video about Russia’s super-torpedo is below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuuMGDXeLg
Articles

The USS Pueblo is now the main attraction at North Korea’s Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

For the uninitiated, the USS Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship which was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters in 1968. The crew didn’t just give up; they deftly maneuvered away from the attackers. It took two North Korean


It took two North Korean subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to stop Pueblo, even allowing for the fact that the crew didn’t man the ship’s guns due to restrictive Navy regulations. The crew destroyed all the classified material they could, but they were simply outgunned and outnumbered. One sailor was killed and eighty-three others were held by North Korea for 335 days before being returned to the U.S.

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And they took the time to let the North Koreans know how they felt about their stay.

The Pueblo is still commissioned in the U.S. Navy and is the only ship to be held by an enemy country. For decades, the ship was moored on the Taedong River in the capital of Pyongyang. After a restoration begun in 2013, the ship is now a part of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in keeping with the North Korean label for the war.

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Seriously though, the U.S. really flattened North Korea.

Related: I went to North Korea and saw the US Navy ship still being held captive after 47 years

The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum was founded right after the 1953 armistice was signed. (Note: The U.S. is still technically at war with North Korea as the armistice ended the conflict but not the Korean War.)  As Communists often do, the North Koreans wanted to put their spin on the war immediately, and thus the museum was born.

Ten years later, it was moved to a building built just to house the museum’s collection, a massive trove of North Korean tanks, weapons, and aircraft, along with captured American equipment, jeeps, and downed planes, all supporting the North’s consensus that they actually won.

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This is how they believe the Korean War looked.

Of course, with the Pueblo comes the newest exhibit in the Museum, the Pueblo section.

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If you’re wondering how the war became a “liberation war to the North, young North Koreans are taught that a joint South Korean-U.S. army started the war, and not that it was started by a North Korean sneak attack.

The North is not likely to return the ship, considering how immensely proud they are of having captured it.

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The Pueblo on the Taedong River in 2012

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