Israel’s military said on July 24, 2018, that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and “intercepted” a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.
The plane crashed in Syria near the country’s border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, The New York Times reported. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.
For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.
Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel in early 2018 destroying much of Syria’s anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.
The Israel Defense Forces said a Russian-made Syrian jet “infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace” before being intercepted.
“Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force’s activity,” the IDF added. “The IDF is in high alert and will continue to operate against the violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement,” the UN resolution that ended the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Syria.
Featured Image: A Sukhoi Su-24M of the Russian Air Force.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United States Navy commissioned its newest destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), a few years ago. It’s had a hiccup or two, but make no mistake, this is a very modern naval warship. It has tons of firepower, including two 155mm guns, 20 four-cell Mk 57 vertical-launch systems, and two 30mm guns. But how would it fare against the best surface combatant in the Russian Navy, the Pyotr Velikiy, the last of four Kirov-class battlecruisers?
This sort of ship-versus-ship combat looks one-sided in favor of the Russian ship. The Zumwalt is designed to hit and kill targets on land using BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles and has some self-defense capability with the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. The Pyotr Velikiy, on the other hand, was primarily designed for naval anti-air combat, armed with SS-N-19 Shipwreck anti-ship missiles, SA-N-6 Grumble surface-to-air missiles, and a twin 130mm turret.
Looks can be deceiving. While firepower matters in any sort of combat, you need a target for that firepower. The Zumwalt, with its stealth technology, is a very elusive target. Yeah, one or two SS-N-19s could leave it a burning wreck, but they’d need to find it and hit it first. On the other hand, the Kirov’s not that stealthy. Its radars might as well be a big signpost saying, “I’m over here!”
Furthermore, the Zumwalt has a few more anti-ship weapons options. One of which is Vulcano technology, which transforms its 155mm guns into anti-ship missile launchers. This places the Kirov in a world of hurt. Seeing as the Zumwalt can carry 300 rounds for each of its two 155mm guns, that’s a lot of threatening firepower. Furthermore, some advanced versions of the Tomahawk missile can be used as anti-ship munitions. To make matters worse for the Pyotr Velikiy, the Zumwalt is likely able to be upgraded with systems like a ship-launched version of the LRASM.
In short, the real winner of this fight will come down to who can see the enemy ship first and in that department, the Zumwalt has the edge.
The Army’s new “Vision” for future war calls for a fast-moving emphasis on long-range precision fire to include missiles, hypersonic weapons and extended-range artillery — to counter Russian threats on the European continent, service officials explain.
While discussing the Army Vision, an integral component of the service’s recently competed Modernization Strategy, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper cited long-range precision fire as a “number one modernization priority” for the Army.
Senior Army officials cite concerns that Russian weapons and troop build-ups present a particular threat to the US and NATO in Europe, given Russia’s aggressive force posture and arsenal of accurate short, medium and long-range ballistic missiles.
“The US-NATO military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for example, is in the range fan of Russian assets. That is how far things can shoot. You do not have sanctuary status in that area,” a senior Army official told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Russian SS-21 Scarab
The senior Army weapons developer said the service intends to engineer an integrated series of assets to address the priorities outlined by Esper; these include the now-in-development Long Range Precision Fires missile, Army hypersonic weapons programs and newly configured long-range artillery able to double the 30-km range of existing 155m rounds. The Army is now exploring a longer-range artillery weapon called “Extended Range Cannon,” using a longer cannon, ramjet propulsion technology and newer metals to pinpoint targets much farther away.
Army leaders have of course been tracking Russian threats in Europe for quite some time. The Russian use of combined arms, drones, precision fires, and electronic warfare in Ukraine has naturally received much attention at the Pentagon.
Also, the Russian violations of the INF Treaty, using medium-range ballistic missiles, continues to inform the US European force posture. Russia’s INF Treaty violation, in fact, was specifically cited in recent months by Defense Secretary James Mattis as part of the rationale informing the current Pentagon push for new low-yield nuclear weapons.
The Arms Control Association’s (ACA) “Worldwide Inventory of Ballistic Missiles” cites several currently operational short, medium and long-range Russian missiles which could factor into the threat equation outlined by US leaders. The Russian arsenal includes shorter range weapons such as the mobile OTR-21 missile launch system, designated by NATO as the SS-21 Scarab C, which is able to hit ranges out to 185km, according to ACA.
Russian medium-range theater ballistic missiles, such as the RS-26 Rubezh, have demonstrated an ability to hit targets at ranges up to 5,800km. Finally, many Russian long-range ICBMs, are cited to be able to destroy targets as far away as 11,000km – these weapons, the ACA specifies, include the RT-2PM2 Topol-M missile, called SS-27 by NATO.
It is not merely the range of these missiles which could, potentially, pose a threat to forward-positioned or stationary US and NATO assets in Europe — it is the advent of newer long-range sensors, guidance and targeting technology enabling a much higher level of precision and an ability to track moving targets. GPS technology, inertial navigation systems, long-range high-resolution sensors, and networked digital radar systems able to operate on a wide range of frequencies continue to quickly change the ability of forces to maneuver, operate and attack.
While discussing the Army Vision, Esper specified the importance of “out-ranging” an enemy during a recent event at the Brookings Institution.
“We think that for a number of reasons we need to make sure we have overmatch and indirect fires, not just for a ground campaign, but also, we need to have the ability to support our sister services,” Esper told Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon, according to a transcript of the event.
The Army’s emerging Long-Range Precision Fires(LRPF), slated to be operational by 2027, draws upon next generation guidance technology and weapons construction to build a weapon able to destroy targets as far as 500km away.
LRPF is part of an effort to engineer a sleek, high-speed, first-of-its-kind long-range ground launched attack missile able to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations, air defenses and other fixed-location targets from as much as three times the range of existing weapons, service officials said.
Long-range surface-to-surface fires, many contend, could likely be of great significance against an adversary such as Russia – a country known to possess among most advanced air defenses in the world. Such a scenario might make it difficult for the US to quickly establish the kind of air supremacy needed to launch sufficient air attacks. As a result, it is conceivable that LRPF could provide strategically vital stand-off attack options for commanders moving to advance on enemy terrain.
Esper specifically referred to this kind of scenario when discussing “cross-domain” fires at the Brookings event; the Army Vision places a heavy premium on integrated high-end threats, potential attacks which will require a joint or inter-service combat ability, he said. In this respect, long range precision fires could potentially use reach and precision to destroy enemy air defenses, allowing Air Force assets a better attack window.
“This is why long-range precision fires is number one for the Army. So, if I need to, for example, suppress enemy air defenses using long-range artillery, I have the means to do that, reaching deep into the enemy’s rear. What that does, if I can suppress enemy air defenses, either the guns, missiles, radars…ect.. it helps clear the way for the Air Force to do what they do — and do well,” Esper said.
Army Secretary Mark Esper
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
In addition, there may also be some instances where a long-range cruise missile — such as a submarine or ship-fired Tomahawk — may not be available; in this instance, LRPF could fill a potential tactical gap in attack plans.
Raytheon and Lockheed recently won a potential 6 million deal to develop the LRPF weapon through a technological maturation and risk reduction phase, Army and industry officials said.
Service weapons developers tell Warrior a “shoot-off” of several LRPF prototypes is currently planned for 2020 as a key step toward achieving operational status.
Esper also highlighted the potential “cross-domain” significance of how Army-Navy combat integration could be better enabled by long-range fires.
“If we’re at a coast line and we can help using long-range weapons … I’m talking about multi-hundred-mile range rockets, artillery, et cetera, to help suppress enemies and open up the door, if you will, so that the Navy can gain access to a certain theater,” Esper explained.
While Long-Range Precision Fires is specified as the number one priority, the Army Vision spells out a total of six key focus areas: Long-Range Precision Fires; Next-Generation Combat Vehicle; Future Vertical Life; Army Network; Air and Missile Defense; Soldier Lethality.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Japan’s military reported on April 9, 2019, that it lost contact with an F-35 stealth jet some 84 miles off the east coast of Aomori prefecture, Japan, in the Pacific and that the hunt was on for the pilot and the downed plane.
But if Russia or China — which both maintain a heavy naval presence in the region — find the plane first, the future of US airpower could be over before it started.
“Bottom line is that it would not be good” for the future of US airpower if Japan or the US don’t quickly recover the jet, retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider.
“There is no price too high in this world for China and Russia to pay to get Japan’s missing F-35, if they can. Big deal,” Tom Moore, an expert on Russia and weapons proliferation, tweeted.
Basically, if Russia or China, perhaps using their advanced and stealthy submarines to probe the ocean floor, first found the jet, they would gain a treasure trove of secrets about the most expensive weapons system in the history of the world.
The F-35 crash in the Pacific represents the first-ever opportunity for Russia and China to hunt for one of these planes in the wild because the jet has crashed only once before, and that time was on US soil.
Reverse engineering the technology could allow Russia and China to build their own versions of the jet, up to a point.
“The usefulness for Russia or China of recovering some or all of the wreckage would depend on how much damage the aircraft sustained upon hitting the water,” Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.
“The general shape of the jet is well-known, as are its performance characteristics so not much to gain there but parts of radar and other sensors would be prime targets for recover and testing/even attempts at reverse engineering,” he added.
Russia specifically operates a fleet of shadowy submarines meant for very deep dives and research. The US and Japan have advanced maritime capabilities to search for the fallen jet but mostly rely on two of the US’s aging rescue and salvage ships and on large nuclear submarines, which may not be ideal for the rescue mission.
As of now, all anyone knows is where the F-35 was last seen flying. It could have continued on for miles, and currents may have dragged it miles farther. In short, the entire region has a chance at brushing up against some piece of it.
What Russia and China stand to gain
Russia and China know what an F-35 looks like. There’s even some evidence China stole plans for the F-35. But even with an F-35 in its hands, the two countries still lack the advanced manufacturing know-how held in the US.
Just having some composite material used in the F-35’s jet engines wouldn’t necessarily allow China to create the materials at will. Just measuring the characteristics of the fuselage wouldn’t necessarily allow Russia to reliably manufacture airframes like the F-35’s on its own.
There, according to Bronk, the jet stands a chance against prying eyes.
“Samples or the ‘fibre mat’ stealth coating would be sought after,” Bronk said. “But the jet’s all-important software and programming would likely be hard to reconstruct given not only the likely damage from the crash and salt water in Pacific but also the way that the jet’s sensitive systems are designed to be very hard to decipher and reverse engineer to make it more suitable for export.”
Despite the US’s best efforts, Russia or China salvaging any part of the F-35 represents a US security nightmare.
“Both China and Russia have excellent reconstruction/reverse engineering/copying skills, particularly the Chinese as they are masters at it,” Deptula said.
Bronk and Deptula both agreed that in Moscow, Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo, the race is now on to find the fallen F-35 to either protect or undermine its future as the lynchpin of US and allied airpower.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Britain is trying to get homegrown robots ready for service on the front lines of combat, but they’re not looking for Terminators yet. They’re looking for POGs.
Specifically, they’re looking for robots to handle “last-mile” logistics. While insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that a small force can slow down the movement of supplies across the entire theater, engineers and other route clearance assets can usually keep the roads open between bases.
But when troops need ammo, water, medical supplies, or other necessities under fire, there’s no guarantee that a route clearance asset will be available. That could lead to infantry losing fire superiority or cavalry forces who are unable to keep scouting enemy positions.
So, Britain wants drones, autonomous vehicles, or other technologies that could ferry supplies between friendly elements, say a group of riflemen in a firefight and their reinforcements who won’t arrive for 20 minutes. The supplies sent forward by the reinforcements could keep the lead element going long enough for backup to arrive.
To get the ball rolling, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has announced what’s called a “Defense and Security Accelerator competition.” These are similar to DARPA challenges where a government agency puts up a cash prize to spur civilian companies to innovate.
In the first, a group of infantrymen in vehicles lacks the part needed for a vital repair while a nearby group of soldiers on foot needs food, water, ammo, and sleeping systems. Obviously, the logistics robots’ jobs would be to get the spare part to one group and the personal supplies to the other.
The second vignette paints a more dire picture. A group of soldiers are in contact and running low on ammunition when they suffer a casualty. With a full ammo load, they would be able to eliminate the enemy or lay down cover fire and break contact to evacuate the wounded. But they don’t have a full load of ammo left.
The troops do have a group of friends on foot about 1.5 miles away. It would be the robot’s job to get ammo from the reinforcements to the troops in contact quickly. Preferably, the supplies would arrive broken down by weapon system and would be delivered as close to each shooter as possible.
For anyone interested in learning more or submitting technologies, the performance thresholds are available here. The contest is looking for relatively mature technologies that could be demonstrated by early 2018.
Just a few months after activating its elite Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade for the first time since World War II, Japan plans to send the crisis-response force modeled off the US Marine Corps on its first naval exercise before the end of 2018.
Japan disbanded its military after World War II, but it has grown its armed forces in recent years and established the ARDB in late March 2018 as part of an effort to counter increasing Chinese activity in the East China Sea and around the region.
Tokyo has not said where the naval exercise will take place, but analysts have said that the Senkaku Islands — which Japan administers but are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands and by Taiwan as the Diaoyutai Islands — may be an area of operations for the new, roughly 2,100-member ARDB, according to Taiwan News.
Service members with the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade show their capabilities during the ARDB’s unit-activation ceremony at Camp Ainoura, Japan, April 7, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)
It’s also not yet known what the exercise will entail, though it may include approaching and securing an island or islands.
The unit, which is based in southwest Japan, specializes in operations involving AAV-7 amphibious vehicles, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and Chinook helicopters.
The unit was reportedly modeled after US Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Units, which are deployed abroad for extended periods for training and for rapid response to crises, whether it’s a natural disaster or a conflict. Japanese officials received advice from US advisers about the ARDB’s formation.
“The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will show to the international society our firm resolve to defend our islands,” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said in April 2018.
The expanding role and capabilities of Japan’s military are controversial subjects. The country adopted a pacifist constitution after World War II, eschewing offensive military operations. Recent years have seen a push to strengthen the military, led by the hawkish government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The decision to reactivate the ARDB was a contentious one, as it gave Japan’s Self-Defense Force the ability to land in enemy territory. Such concerns are balanced against worries over China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region.
Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade takes part in a drill at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, on the southwest island of Kyushu, April 7, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)
The ARDB’s first naval exercise appears to be a response to Beijing’s recent naval exercises around Taiwan, including drills in the Yellow Sea between August 10 and 13, 2018, a window that overlapped with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s departure for a trip to the US and Latin America.
The formation of the ARDB is not the only move Japan has made to bolster its military or to counter China. The country has pursued external alliances and partnerships as part of that effort, but much of its focus has been on internal reforms.
It lifted a ban on military exports in 2014, and in 2015 the Japanese parliament approved a law allowing the country’s military to mobilize overseas under certain conditions. Japan’s 2017 military budget was its largest ever.
In March 2018, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force carried out its largest reorganization since 1954, creating unified commands and launching the ARDB.
More recently, the government said it would raise the maximum age for military recruits from 26 to 32, hoping to expand the pool of potential soldiers that has shrunk due to low birth rates and an aging population.
“Other countries, like Japan, are really … reinvigorating their own military capability or reforming the constitution, like Abe has tried to do,” Hervé Lemahieu, a research fellow at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, told Business Insider in May 2018. “That’s also been called internal rebalancing by the Japanese.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There are so many rich, incredible facts surrounding the World War II-era Netherlands American Cemetery near Maastricht. It lies along a highway that saw some of history’s most memorable names – Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, just to name a few. In the 20th Century, Hitler’s Wehrmacht also used the road to capture the Netherlands and Belgium and bring them into the Nazi Reich.
What rests there now is a memorial and cemetery to those who fought to liberate the country from the grip of the Nazi war machine. The locals have never forgotten who died there and, from the looks of things, they never will.
The cemetery is meticulously well kept. A memorial tower overlooks a reflecting pool and at the base of the tower is the stature of a mother grieving over her lost son. Elsewhere on the grounds is a list of the battles and operations fought by U.S. servicemen during World War II, the names of those 8,301 men buried on the grounds, and the names of those 1,722 who went missing while fighting in the Netherlands.
Among the honored dead are seven Medal of Honor recipients and a Major General. In all, it’s a remarkable site with historic significance. The most significant thing about the 65-acre Netherlands American Cemetery is who takes care of each American gravestone.
Since 1945, the Dutch people in the area have adopted individual graves, keeping the site clean and maintaining the individual memorials. They ensure that flowers adorn their adopted grave and that the name and deeds of the American interred there are never forgotten. They actually research the entire life of their adopted fallen GI. Some of them adopt more than one.
“Ever since the end of WWII, people have adopted the graves of these men and women out of a deeply heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices that they made for our freedom,” local Sebastiaan Vonk told an Ohio newspaper. “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”
The American Cemetery is one of the largest in the world. Its upkeep and memory are so important to the locals whose families saw the horrors of Nazi occupation. Even those separated by the 1945 liberation of the Netherlands by a generation or more still hold those names dear and are taking their remembrance project one step further – remembering their face.
A new effort, The Faces of Margraten, seeks to collect photos of the men who died or went missing in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. On Dutch Memorial Day, the group displays personal photos of more than 3,000 of those interred in the cemetery, holding an event that “brings visitors face-to-face with their liberators.”
The offensive to destroy ISIS in Syria took a big step forward recently with US military advisers, helicopters, and artillery helping position a force of about 500 soldiers near a strategic damn outside of Raqqa, ISIS’s Syrian capital.
The US military, along with Kurdish forces and the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Foces rebel group, have moved to put a stranglehold on Raqqa with shelling, air support, and ground forces at the last route in and out of the city, according to a press release.
Operation Inherent Resolve, the 68-nation mission to destroy ISIS, flew in fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed rebel group, behind enemy lines to a strategic dam.
“It takes a special breed of warrior to pull of an airborne operation or air assault behind enemy lines,” Col. Joe Scrocca, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve told the Times.
“Seizing Tabqah Dam will isolate Raqqah from three sides and give the SDF the strategic advantage and launching point needed for the liberation of the city,” said the release. But while the US says they’re mainly backing local forces, they seem poised to take on a more active role with conventional forces fighting ISIS on the ground in Raqqa.
The Pentagon has been considering sending as many as 1,000 ground troops to help take back Raqqa from ISIS, which would signal a reversal of the Obama-era policy to fight ISIS via train and equip methods and airstrikes.
The coalition says they’ve conducted more than 300 airstrikes around Raqqa in the past month.
Syrian Democratic Forces with their Syrian Arab Coalition fighters prepare for an offensive to liberate Tabqah Dam from ISIS Mar 22 in Syria pic.twitter.com/2Ho1SQYhL1
Raqqa, situated along the Euphrates river in the mostly barren Easter Syria has been ISIS’ main Syrian stronghold since 2014.
The US, Inherent Resolve coalition partners, and local forces have been involved in a massive air and ground campaign to rid the country of the terrorist group while simultaneously carrying out similar operations in neighboring Iraq.
Syria: Our partners have rolled back ISIS territorial gains to the East, North, West of Raqqah, capturing over 7,400 sq km of territory.
Ukraine has released footage of two North Korean spies exuberantly photographing fake missile designs in 2011, as part of a sting operation that eventually landed the pair in jail, as CNN reports.
Ukraine, once home to thousands of Soviet nuclear ICBMs, continues to produce missiles today as it faces a Russian-backed insurgency in the country’s east. Another Cold War remnant in Ukraine appears to be spycraft, which allowed the country to trick and capture two North Korean spies.
Authorities in Ukraine told CNN that the North Koreans sought “ballistic missiles, missile systems, missile construction, spacecraft engines, solar batteries, fast-emptying fuel tanks, mobile launch containers, powder accumulators, and military government standards,” to bring home to Pyongyang, according to CNN.
The specific plans the spies thought they were capturing showed schematics for the SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missile, a Soviet-designed missile that can carry 10 independently targetable warheads across vast distances. Such a weapon would be a massive improvement over North Korea’s current fledgling ICBM fleet.
But the designs photographed by the North Koreans were fake, and moments after the cameras flashed, authorities broke into the room and detained them. The spies are now serving eight years in prison.
As a group of American soldiers were preparing to bombard a nearby village about 60 miles north of Seoul, the unit saw a strange vision up in the hills – jack lanterns wafting across the mountain.
Or at least, that’s the story Pvt. First Class Francis P. Wall and the rest of his regiment told. Even more mysterious is what Wall and his buddies say happened after – a pulsing, attacking light that came with lingering and debilitating physical symptoms.
The year was 1951, and the US was 12 months into the Korean War. Stationed near Chorwon, PFC Wall and his buddies were completely unprepared for what happened to them in the Korean hills.
As they watched, an alien craft made its way toward the village. Artillery started to explode. Wall recalls that the object would get right into the center of an artillery airburst but never seemed to show any signs of damage. Later, Wall confirmed that the object could maneuver through sharp turns and seemed to have out of this world navigational capabilities.
Then all of a sudden, the object turned toward Wall and his unit. It changed colors from orange to a pulsating blue-green light, one so bright that it was almost difficult to look at. Wall asked his commander for permission to fire from his M1 rifle, but as the bullets hit the craft, they only made a metallic ding sound before falling to the ground. The object started to shuttle, sprint from side to side and flash its lights on and off.
What happens next is even harder to believe. Wall says he and his unit were attacked by some form of a ray that “emitted in pulses, in waves that you could visually see only when it was aiming directly at you. That is to say, like a searchlight sweeps around and the segments of light … you would see it coming at you.” Walls told this to John P. Timmerman at the Center for UFO Studies during a 1987 interview.
Wall recalled a burning tingling sensation sweep over his entire body. Everyone in his unit rushed into underground bunkers and looked through the windows as the craft hovered above them. Then it shot off at a 45-degree angle. All of a sudden, just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.
Three days later, the entire company was evacuated. When they finally received medical treatment, all were found to have dysentery and a very high white-blood-cell count. To Richard F. Haines, a UFO researcher, and former NASA scientists, the results sounded like symptoms of radiation poisoning.
So what happened to Wall and his buddies?
After the Korean War ended, dozens of service members reported seeing similar unidentified flying objects. The craft often looked like flying saucers. At first, many historians believed the sightings to be Soviet experiments based on German technology and foreign research. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, that theory was debunked, as several years of Soviet sightings were revealed.
From 1952 until 1986, the Air Force ran Project Blue Book, a study into unidentified flying objects and their threat to national security. When the project ended, the Air Force announced they’d discovered nothing unusual. But for Wall and others like him, they aren’t so sure. If the craft had really been Soviet experiments, as so many suggested, then they would have appeared in other conflicts besides the Korean War. And since the sightings recorded by members of the Soviet Union so closely resembled that which Will witnessed, many wonder if it wasn’t something else entirely.
Even though the vast majority of all UFO sightings turn out to be ordinary phenomena like clouds or human crats, there’s still no conclusive evidence about what Wall saw. Without testimony from the others in Wall’s unit, there’s no way to corroborate what he saw, making it even more impossible to determine just what happened that day in the Korean hills.
Green Beret Lt. Col. Brian Decker led a unit in Iraq. Then he was assigned to run the Special Forces Assessment and Selection program in North Carolina. He decided to improve the Army’s selection process and reduce the washout rate for men who made it through the initial screening.
Decker wanted to develop tools that would allow the Army to identify soldiers who could make good decisions in chaotic situations and have the necessary devotion to teamwork. He overhauled a process that had been static since its launch in 1988 and introduced new standards that collected over 1,200 data points on each candidate, including physical and mental processes. After three years, Decker’s program had reduced the washout rate by 30%.
He met former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski when the coach came to a Special Forces camp looking for training tips. That turned into an reciprocal invite to Browns camp. Team president Joe Banner was fascinated by Decker’s philosophy and convinced him to retire from the Army and join the team as a special advisor, in hopes that Decker’s analysis could help correct the NFL’s notorious 50% failure rate for first round draft picks.
He kept the job even after the Browns fired that management team. Their successors kept him on and he spent a couple of years advising the team on its draft. How did that turn out?
ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham tells Decker’s story in a 3600-word profile that details Decker’s career and investigates how his football project has been going. It’s definitely worth a read.
Whether she’d posted a personal-best time or suffered a collision on the track, Emily Sweeney would flash her trademark smile to fans, media, or anyone who watched her compete. Even when sliding during frigid winter storms in challenging conditions, the New York National Guard Soldier kept smiling.
But for six months during the winter and spring of 2014, that bright-eyed grin couldn’t hide bitter disappointment.
A charismatic Olympic hopeful, Sweeney had entered the 2013 World Cup season as a favorite to make the 2014 Winter Games. When Sweeney lost the final spot on the 2014 U.S. Luge Team, missing the Olympics for the second time, she shut herself off from the sport to which she had dedicated most of her life.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long and it’s something that’s very tangible for me,” said Sweeney, who in December, finally qualified to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
For Sweeney, the road to PyeongChang could be described as anything but easy.
Tough matchup hits close to home
Photos and murals of past Olympians adorn the walls of the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center. Medals of previous Olympic greats in bobsled, figure skating, and luge sit encased in the facility’s trophy room.
Some former Olympic competitors still work at the facility, including former silver medalist Gordy Sheer, Team USA’s director of marketing and sponsorship. Sweeney, like other Olympic hopefuls, spent much of her youth here.
As a seven year old, Emily idolized her older sister, Megan, who competed in the luge program at the junior levels. She later joined the USA Luge program herself, after participating in a “slider search” in Rhode Island at age 10. Her sister remained a hero to her.
“I wouldn’t be here or be the person I am today without her,” Emily said. “I was really pushed by Megan from early on because I saw the potential of what I could be through her and that was really inspiring to me.”
After she turned 16, Sweeney showcased tremendous speed on luge tracks across the globe. And she demonstrated enormous potential in the sport in her first year competing.
During the 2009 World Cup season, Sweeney began competing at a higher level. She built her luge resume by nabbing Norton Junior World Champion honors and earning bronze medals at the Junior World Cup in Winterberg, Germany and a gold medal at Park City, Utah.
And during the 2009 season, Emily began to beat her older sister and some of her national team peers during practice runs and some competitions. During one World Cup competition in Park City, Utah, she called her parents with concerns about competing with her sister and hero.
“She was very upset,” said Sweeney’s mother, Sue. “She was worried that she was going to beat Megan in the race and it would be the end of Megan’s (Olympic bid).”
Dreams of the Olympics, of course, had always been on her sister’s mind, and her own as well.
“I’ve always wanted that moment of walking in on opening ceremonies,” said Sweeney. “That is the epitome of what I want … to walk in with my whole team and have ‘USA’ on our backs.”
Later that year, during the final World Cup competition in Lillehammer, the final two spots for the 2010 Olympic team came down to two competitors. Both wore the name “Sweeney” on their uniforms.
Jarred by the prospect of beating her idol, the sisters made a pact to leave everything on the floor on their next competition.
Emily went on to lose to her sister in a race off at the Olympiacenter in Norway, falling by two tenths of a second. Due to a medical waiver, another team member took the final spot for the 2010 Vancouver team, while Emily remained on stand-by as an Olympic alternate. Emily still traveled to British Columbia to cheer on her sister from the stands.
“Going to the Olympics and watching her was difficult,” Emily said. “I’m glad I went, I’m glad I supported her. I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But it was tough standing on the other side of the track watching my dream happen.”
After she missed a shot at Vancouver, Emily would make a life decision that would set the foundation for life after luge.
An athlete and a soldier
Jack Sweeney, Emily’s grandfather, had long been an inspiration in Emily’s life. While she would prepare meals for him, he’d relay stories to her about his days in the Navy. Emily said her grandfather instilled in her a sense of pride for her country and also inspired her to join the Army National Guard.
Joining the military sparked a change in Emily. She often took a leadership role during basic combat trainng at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She did the same during her advanced individual training there, where she learned to be a military policeman. She even graduated with honors from the Army’s military police school.
Once in the Army, Emily also opted to join the World Class Athlete Program.
“I thought it was a great avenue of opportunity,” Emily said of her decision to join the Army. “I knew I wanted to continue being an athlete, but I didn’t want to only be an athlete. I wanted something else to pursue beyond my athletic career.”
After joining the Guard, Emily became more of a leader for USA Luge as well, not only competing for the program, but also helping the program identify and recruit talented youth to the sport during talent searches.
Sochi slips away
Around Thanksgiving 2013, Sweeney knew it. Her parents, as they checked at the World Cup standings online also knew: Emily would not be competing at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
A season that began with promise, instead led to complications with her sled, dealing with minor injuries and slower finish times on the World Cup circuit.
After her final races had finished for 2013, Sweeney sat in her hotel room. Her boyfriend, Italian luge team member Dominik Fischnaller, brought her a cup of her favorite ice cream.
And then for six months, Sweeney walked away from the sport to which she had dedicated a great chunk of her childhood. Instead of weight training and spending hours on the track, Sweeney removed herself from any luge or exercise activities. Instead, she retreated to her home in Lake Placid and contemplated her future in the sport.
“I went from being an Olympic hopeful, training at 100 percent,” Emily said, “to just stopping everything.
“I was really at a point where I said, ‘What’s the point?’ What’s the point of doing this if I’m not getting the results I’m wanting?’ It took a while, I closed myself off.”
She began working as a waitress and hostess at local restaurants. And while she’d visit her ailing grandfather in neighboring Saranac Lake, she mostly cut herself off from family and dealt with struggles the best way she knew: internally.
“We lost her for a while,” Sue said. “It was tough. She didn’t even watch the (2014 Winter) Games.”
“Emily had to refine her sliding and her motivation,” Megan said. “It took her a long time. But I think that’s normal when you have a dream and become so disappointed … It was very, very tough because she knows she’s good.”
The Army gets her rolling
In May 2014, Emily remained withdrawn from the luge community. It would be just the wakeup call she needed to get back on track with her sport.
She received orders to attend Warrior Leader Course (now the Basic Leader Course) that spring at Fort Dix, New Jersey. During the month-long course, she took tests on her leadership skills, land navigation and various drills to prepare to become a noncommissioned officer .
After giving up her strict luge-related training routine and regular exercising, Emily had lost muscle mass. She’d dropped 20 pounds from her 5-foot-5-inch frame. As a result, for the first time since enlisting in the Guard, she failed to score a 300 on her Army Physical Fitness Test.
“(WLC) kind of pulled me out,” said Sweeney. “It gave me a schedule that I had to adhere to again. I kind of got back into the military mode and then after that I got back into my training.”
Shortly after graduating WLC, Sweeney resumed luge-related activities. She began lifting weights again, and changed her routine, and began working out at JEKL gym in Plainville, Connecticut. There Sweeney took part in grueling gymnastics-based training to strengthen her core muscles using various gymnastics apparatus pieces including rings, the high bar and parallel bars.
“It definitely put me in my place pretty quickly,” Sweeney said.
The old Emily had returned, away from the luge track too. She began reconnecting with friends. She spoke with family members more often.
And that familiar smile came back.
“Everybody always kids her about her smile — she always has a big smile on her face,” said her mother, Sue. “But it’s true — it’s part of who she is. Once you start to see her smile coming back, you know she’s starting to feel much more like herself.”
In December 2015, during World Cup competition on their home track in Lake Placid, Sweeney and teammates Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher swept the field. It marked the first time the U.S. women knocked out the dominant German team.
“We’re more of a force to be reckoned with now,” Sweeney said.
During a fall, Sweeney suffered injury to her wrist that required surgery in 2016, proving to be a minor setback. But she bounced back to stellar marks in 2017.
“The (wrist) injury really didn’t worry me,” USA Luge coach Bill Tavares said. “For her it was all mental. When I knew that she was mentally strong coming into this year then there was no worry on my part.”
Hitting her stride
The 4,242-foot luge course in Winterberg, Germany presents a daunting challenge to competitive lugers. Those who accept its challenge must enter the course’s labyrinth in near-perfect form. In November, Sweeney and her USA teammates traveled to Winterberg to face the mighty German team that built an Olympic juggernaut on this course.
At the track’s midpoint, a turn drops competitors into the labyrinth where sled speeds multiply.
After placing second earlier in the World Cup competition at on this track, mishaps on one of her runs sent Sweeney tumbling out of contention and she thought she missed her chance to clinch an Olympic berth.
But then she bounced back later that day to take her first World Cup gold in the sprint race, upsetting 2014 Olympic champion, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, on her home course. Instead, her shot at an Olympic berth would have to wait.
When dealing with the difficult highs and lows of competing against the best in the world, she turned to Grandpa Sweeney. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
“He’s probably a big part of her personality,” Sue said. “He’s always been one of her best friends. And she’s looked to him for advice.”
As Sweeney begins final preparations for the Winter Games, she will do so with a heavy heart. Jack Sweeney passed away at age 88 on Jan. 3. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
Olympian at last
Sweeney learned that she had reached the pinnacle of her career unceremoniously — not by an announcement on the track, or from posting a career-best time — but in a text.
Dec. 14, after having dinner with her parents and returning to the Lake Placid training facility, Sweeney received a message from her mother, Sue.
“See you in PyeongChang,” the text read.
Sweeney’s mother had been tracking the Nation’s Cup live stream on her phone. The Nation’s Cup was a pre-qualifying event for the World Cup later that week. Had Raychel Germaine qualified for the World Cup, she could have potentially knocked Emily out of Olympic competition. But she didn’t, and the final Olympic women’s luge slot went to Emily.
“It was just a peaceful moment,” Sweeney said, “I was stunned.”
She received congratulations from Fischnaller, her boyfriend of eight years. Then came a flood of 30 messages and well wishes from family, friends and teammates.
“I’m really happy for her,” teammate Summer Britcher said. “I know how hard she works. I’m very happy that she’s met this goal and I’m really excited to compete alongside her in (32) days.”
Sweeney will join 2014 Bronze medalist Hamlin and Britcher on the USA roster in PyeongChang in February. The impact of reaching her dream did not hit her until after finishing World Cup competition in the women’s sprint race Dec. 16, Sue Sweeney said.
A heavy snow blanketed Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg Dec. 16, and athletes faced a wind chill so bitter that exposed fingers and toes could feel like frozen blocks of ice. During the women’s sprint race, Sweeney posted an efficient run in these slick conditions, but a mishap at turn seven hurt her final time, eventually knocking her out of sprint qualification. Unfazed, she posted a better time in her second run.
The weight of realizing her Olympic dream began to creep in. Still clad in her helmet and orange and blue leotard, Sweeney waved to her 80 supporters, family and friends. And once more she flashed her wide grin.
“Emily’s missed two Olympic teams very narrowly,” Sheer said. “In 2014 … that was a real tough one for her. It takes a certain type of person to be able to bounce back from something like that and to be able to keep fighting and I give her all the credit in the world.”
Then after 15 minutes of speaking with local and national media members, Sweeney locked arms with her older sister, rosy-cheeked from the stinging wind chill. Standing amid swirling snowflakes, Megan whispered into her younger sister’s ear:
“I’m so proud of you,” Megan said.
Next stop: South Korea
When Emily dons the USA colors at PyeongChang next month, she knows he will be representing more than herself. She will also represent WCAP, the National Guard and the U.S. Army. Sweeney, who currently ranks eighth in the International Luge Federation women’s singles, will join fellow WCAP athletes Matt Mortensen in men’s doubles and singles competitor Taylor Morris.
At 24, the Olympics will wrap Sweeney’s fourteenth year in the sport and she plans to bring home a medal for her team.
“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” Sweeney said “I want to go to the Olympics and do something. So it’s not over — the work isn’t over.”
I’ve already made up my mind that if the Space Force starts opening up its doors to include combat arms within my lifetime, I’d be at the recruiting office in a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter that knowing how I’d react, I’d probably be a random Red Shirt who’d have his back turned at the worst possible moment and say something ironic like “the coast is clear!” before getting eaten by something.
Then Senator Ted Cruz in a Senate hearing advocating the Space Force planted the ultimate idea in my head… Space Pirates. Sure, the memes were taken slightly out of context because he was referring to rogue nations attacking satellites and not the swashbuckling buccaneers we’re thinking of. But is it a bad thing that kinda makes me want to join the Space Force even more?
It’ll take far too long for us to make first contact with aliens yet it’ll only take a few decades for space travel to be affordable enough for us to get down on some Firefly or Babylon 5-type action. We’re counting on you, Elon Musk. Make this dream come true!
While we wait for the cold dark reality that the Space Force will probably be far less exciting in our lifetimes than pop culture expects, here are some memes.
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
“I don’t know, Hanz, he said something about my mother being a hamster and my father smelling like elderberries.”
Fun fact: The insult from Monty Python was actually implying that King Arthur’s mom reproduced fast like a small rodent and his father was a drunk who could only afford the lowest quality wine. The more you know!