MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Light Phone II wants to make you better

In these days of compulsive social media scrolling, email refreshing, and COVID-19 news updating, most of us are on our phones a bit more than we really want to be. Here to save us from ourselves and our over-connected online lives is the Light Phone II, an elevated offering in the so-called “dumb phone” product space.

Billed as “the phone that actually respects you,” this second iteration of the Light Phone is designed to give you back some of your time and attention. It’s incompatible with apps that have anything resembling a feed (email, social media, YouTube). What you can do with it is what some would argue is all you need to do: receive and make text messages and calls from your imported contacts, use a calculator, set alarms, and use it as a hotspot. (The company is developing tools to enable users to play music or hail a cab.) In partially disconnecting you from your digital world and its distractions, the idea goes, it can help you simplify your life.


Unlike the first Light Phone, which was a pared-down phone designed to be a secondary, feature-free device, the update includes a few more bells and whistles so that you can use it as your primary — and potentially only — device. Imagine a life without push notifications, invasive ads, and constant headlines. It’s like a mental detox. Alternatively, it can still be used as a secondary device if you want to balance out your desire to be present with your need to update your socials.

The most minimalist smartphone you can buy.

If you have T-Mobile, Verizon, or ATT service, you can switch the SIM card from your smartphone to the Light Phone II and you’re all set (the phone runs on 4G LTE connectivity). For others, you can subscribe for service through Light itself for a low monthly fee, though your Light Phone will have a different phone number from the one on your primary device. Note that the Light Phone II is an unlocked phone and ships to you without a SIM card.

In never serving up feeds, social media, ads, news, or email, the phone effectively discourages you from using it. That frees parents up to, well, talk to our kids. Or read a book. Or take a walk without being tethered to Instagram. By short-circuiting your screen time through the Light Phone II, you can focus on being present with your partner and children right now. Which is truly a bright idea.

Buy it here.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This was the only fighter that had a chance of catching the SR-71

When the SR-71 Blackbird was revealed to the public by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the Soviets were caught by surprise. The fact was, the SR-71 couldn’t be caught by any air defense, rendered nearly invulnerable due to its blazing speed and high altitude. The Soviets, though, had a plane that could give it a close chase.


That plane was the MiG-25 Foxbat and it was originally designed to catch another deadly airframe, the B-70 Valkyrie bomber. The Valkyrie never entered service, but the Soviets still pushed the MiG-25, especially after the SR-71 was revealed.

After all, it was the only plane that had a prayer of catching a Blackbird — and even then, it was a very, very faint prayer.

The Soviet Union produced almost 1,200 MiG-25 Foxbats, as opposed to 32 SR-71 Blackbirds.

(USAF)

While the SR-71 was built in very small numbers, the Soviets built a lot of MiG-25s — almost 1,200 were produced. Some were exported to countries like Syria, Iraq, and Libya, but many remained in Soviet service. The plane had a top speed of 2,156 miles per hour (compared to the Blackbird’s 2,200 miles per hour) and its primary weapon was the AA-6 Acrid.

The AA-6 Acrid was huge, packing a 150-pound, high-explosive warhead. It had a maximum range of about 30 miles and could go at Mach 4.5. The Foxbat was originally intended to be a bomber-killer, but there was a huge air of mystery around this plane. That mystery was compounded by the outstanding performance of the reconnaissance variant prior to the Yom Kippur War. Soviet pilots flying from Egypt were able to evade Israeli F-4s. That alone prompted much concern in the United States.

The AA-6 Acrid is the primary weapon of the MiG-25 Foxbat,

(Photo by Jno~commonswiki)

The MiG-25’s emergence prompted the Air Force to start development of what became the F-15 Eagle. The two planes would face off the Middle East over Lebanon and Iraq, and the MiG-25 would emerge in second place.

Some sources claim an Iraqi MiG-25 was responsible for shooting down the F/A-18 Hornet piloted by Scott Speicher on the opening day of Desert Storm, but others claim that a SA-2 Guideline was to blame.

Learn more about this Russian answer to the Blackbird in the video below! Tell us, do you think the Foxbat could catch and kill the Lockheed legend?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSRf8KXMdPY

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SpaceX successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit

Elon Musk is one step closer to his goal of stationing a network of 12,000 satellites in orbit above Earth.

On Nov. 11, 2019, SpaceX successfully launched 60 of its Starlink satellites into orbit. This is what the satellites looked like before they were loaded onto the rocket.


They were carried into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which took off at 14:56 UTC from a launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Once it was at an altitude of 280 km (174 miles) the rocket deployed the satellites.

The stated aim of SpaceX’s Starlink project is to create a network of nearly 12,000 satellites to bring high-speed internet to remote and rural parts of the world.

After sending the satellites adrift the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a landing pad out in the Atlantic ocean.

Although the original plans for Starlink listed just under 12,000 satellites, Space News reported in October 2019 that the company applied to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for permission to launch an additional 30,000.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Congolese refugee’s work with Ohio National Guard serves as reminder of parents’ sacrifice

Each time Jacque Elama hands out a package of food, he connects with another family in need.

The interactions touch Elama, a specialist in the Ohio National Guard, on a personal level. He spent most of the first 10 years of his life in a refugee camp in his native Democrat Republic of the Congo before his family came to America. He is now 25 years old and part of a National Guard mission helping out at a food bank in Toledo.


“It was a hard endeavor to overcome,” Elama said of his childhood. “Basically, my parents tried to shape me into a person who can be encouraging to others, because they themselves didn’t have what I have right now, the technology, the cars.”

Those things are not what prompted Core and Antoinette Elama, their five children (Jacque is the oldest) and one of Jacque’s uncles to relocate to Newport News, Virginia. Jacque said they arrived in 2004; Core recalled it was in 2005. Regardless of the timeline, one fact remained clear.

The Elamas were escaping their war-torn homeland in search of a better life, searching for a home in a country in which they were stepping foot for the first time.

“Once you come, you just come,” Core Elama said. “You need the help to get yourself set and [adjusted] to the new situation. You really need help in any way, so you set yourself in the community.”

The Elamas’ move from Congo, a country of nearly 90 million people in central Africa, was fraught with challenges, not the least of which was learning a different language. Jacque Elama’s parents needed jobs; they found work in factories. They did not know how to drive and never had experienced the mundane tasks that Americans take for granted, such as going to the grocery store, paying bills and scheduling medical appointments.

The family had never owned a television — or operated an oven, for that matter. So much was new, but they were ever so grateful.

Their circumstances were much improved from the world they left behind.

“The struggles were absolutely difficult, compared to how I’m living here in the U.S.,” Jacque Elama said. “The basic necessities were hard to come by [in Congo], so we had to struggle to get food and water for the family. Mostly as a child, I personally did not experience any personal hardship, because what you’re doing is just playing around, having as much fun as you can without worrying about the outside world.

“I was pretty much enjoying my life as much as I possibly could.”

A Catholic charity organization helped the Elamas relocate to America.

Jacque Elama credited one couple in that group in particular, Keith and Jill Boadway, with being especially helpful in easing the family’s transition.

“They came to our house for Thanksgiving,” Jill Boadway said. “Jacque used to come to our house during the summer and spend a week at our home. We have a son who’s about the same age. It was a real blessing.”

Spc. Jacque Elama. Courtesy photo.

The Elamas became U.S. citizens in 2010 and moved to Ohio when Jacque was in high school. He joined the Ohio National Guard in 2017 and embraced the opportunity to participate in his unit’s mission as a volunteer at a food bank.

Elama packs boxes for emergency relief, veterans and senior citizens and distributes them to those same groups, said Lt. Michael Porter, the task-force leader.

For 40 hours a week, Elama sees it as a way to give back. Each box reminds him of his parents’ sacrifice.

“I think about it every day,” said Elama, a senior at Bowling Green studying international relations. “It’s a blessing and an honor to be out there and help people, because that’s what I want to do in the future. I want to continue to help others.”

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 4 biggest new expenses you face when leaving the service

Leaving military life is a challenging transition for anyone, whether your service member is getting out after four years or retiring from the military after twenty years of service.

Even the most prepared may have a difficult time moving on to the civilian world when they decide leaving the military is right.

One of the biggest issues of transitioning out of the military is finances.

Ideally, military families should begin saving for life after the military long before their service member separates; but unfortunately, that isn’t always possible.


Either way, the impact on your bank account will be felt for sure. The bottom line is, we all need to start preparing for military to civilian transition no matter where we are on our military journey. If we don’t, we could be in for one heck of a case of sticker shock. Here are a few things you should start thinking about sooner rather than later.

1. Military salary vs civilian salary

If you break out your spouse’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), you’ll notice several different types of pay and allowances. Their “main” pay is their “base” pay, but stacked on to that are other entitlements, such as basic allowance for housing (BAH) and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS), as well as other special pay and allowances. All of these different types of pay ultimately make up your service member’s salary.

In order to keep the same exact lifestyle you’re accustomed to now, start taking a look at the job market and looking at the salary ranges for civilian positions with your service member’s skill set. Sometimes it can be a significant bump in salary to find a civilian job doing pretty much what they’re doing now. Other times, you may find that civilian salaries hover around your service member’s base pay…without the bells and whistles of other allowances. You’ll want to take this into account well before transition is on your radar.

2. No More BAH

As military families, we’re not often afforded the opportunity to decide where we live, but as civilians we can move wherever we choose. As previously mentioned, BAH is an entitlement that’s tacked on in addition to our service member’s base pay. Once our service members exit the military, that money will cease to exist (unless we take that income loss into account when negotiating future salaries with civilian employers). Even if your family is retiring from military service, the lack of BAH might be a hard pill to swallow the first few months, so it’s best to start saving up for a transition buffer now. You’ll ideally want to add a 6-12 month buffer of savings to your exit strategy, which could take a while to accrue.

3. Taxes

Right now, our tax liability as military families is truly not a lot. But once we enter the civilian world, that tax bill will come to roost, so be prepared. You may not be subject to state taxes now, but if you decide to stay in the state you’re currently stationed in, you’ll need to crunch some numbers to see just how high your tax bill will rise. When leaving the military, you may want to consider moving to a state that doesn’t have income taxes. If your service member plans to retire, be sure to look at whether or not your state will tax their retirement pay. Wherever you plan to live after the military, you’ll want to decide where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

4. Medical costs

Medical costs are yet another expense you’ll have on the “outside.” Say what you will about TRICARE; the fact is that we’ll all be paying more for our healthcare once our service member takes off their uniform. If your spouse isn’t retiring from the military, your family will need to secure healthcare through other means, whether that’s a civilian employer or the healthcare exchange. If your service member ever served in combat, they have the option to receive VA healthcare for up to five yearsafter leaving the military, even if they don’t have a service-connected disability. But the VA only covers the family so you will need to talk with your spouse about finding a civilian insurance plan.

For those service members retiring from military service, you’ll still have access to TRICARE…but you’ll still have expenses. In addition to premiums, you’ll now have the added expense of co-pays. Thanks to the recent TRICARE reform, retirees using TRICARE now have higher co-pays. While $30 per specialty visit doesn’t seem like a whole lot, imagine having physical therapy twice a week, to the tune of $240 a month.

Whether your service member ends up getting out after four years or retires after serving twenty, you need to start preparing financially NOW. Even if they just re-enlisted for another tour, plan as if you’re leaving the military next year. Pay down your debt, start a transition savings account, and start researching where your family will set down their roots once military life is over.

I’m not telling you all of this to scare you. I’m telling you all of this because transition is NO JOKE and we all need to be prepared. These are the realities and how your family prepares for these realities will ultimately determine how positive or negative the impact of your transition to civilian life will be.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY GAMING

5 video games that let you play actual military missions

Military games are awesome. They often have lots of explosions and gunplay, and the best ones take some care to honestly represent military life, imposing a moral cost for decisions or making you feel the loss of comrades in fighting. But it’s always a sweet bonus if you, as the player, are able to step in the shoes of warriors from history.

So these are five games that let you do just that, either commanding important missions from history or stepping into the boots of a participant. A quick admin note, though: These are games that let you play in a historical mission. They aren’t necessarily the most historically accurate, meaning the creators might have taken some liberties with details.


(YouTube/MKIceAndFire)

Medal of Honor

The 2010 game Medal of Honor is set during the invasion of Afghanistan with a prologue that includes clearing Bagram Airfield and a main campaign centered on special operators in the Shahikot Valley. Eagle-eyed historians will recognize the story as a (loose) interpretation of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle of the invasion of Afghanistan complete with dozens of special operators, thousands of friendly soldiers, and about 1,000 guerrilla fighters.

While the names of individuals and units have all been changed, a lot of the key moments and terrain features from the actual battle are represented like when a SEAL is lost on Takur Ghar or the many times that members of Delta Force called in airstrikes on enemy forces.

(As a bonus, some versions of this game come with the 2002 Medal of Honor: Frontline which has some stunning depictions of real battles like the D-Day landings and Operation Market Garden, though even the remastered version has quaint graphics by modern standards.)

(YouTube/GamePlayShare)

Call of Duty 2

To be honest, there are really too many World War II shooters to list all of the ones with real missions, even if we dedicated an entire list to World War II. We went with Call of Duty 2 for this list. It features missions in North Africa, lets you play with the Rangers on Ponte du Hoc on D-Day, and a variety of other real missions besides.

The original Call of Duty has other World War II missions like the defense of “Pavlov’s House” in Stalingrad and the final assault on Berlin.

But don’t learn your history from Call of Duty games. The “Operation Pegasus” mission in the game has nothing to do with the actual World War II mission of the same name. And the commando assault on Eder Dam in the game is a far cry from the true “Dambusters” of history.

Battlefield Vietnam

Battlefield Vietnam is a well-received game about the Vietnam War (duh) originally released in 2004. The game is a little arcade-y with lots of run-and-gun action in settings like the Ho Chi Ming Trail, the Siege of Hue, and missions like Operation Flaming Dart.

Players can get behind the controls of lots of vehicles from the era including the iconic Patrol Boat-Riverine.

(YouTube/Valefisk)

Company of Heroes

This is a real-time strategy game set in the American campaign to land at Normandy and then drive to Berlin. Company of Heroes sees the player commanding companies of soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division at battles from Carentan to Hill 192 to St. Lo.

The game doesn’t actually limit the player to what a company commander could do in the war. It gives players the options to upgrade all of their units and allows them to control armor, infantry, engineering, and other soldiers. But the maps feel different based on what battle is playing out, and they’re all destructible so you can fight house to house in St. Fromond or create chokepoints to slaughter German troops as they come through the village.

Ultimate General: Civil War

This Civil War strategy game has *checks notes*, all of the Civil War battles. There’s a Union campaign and a Confederate one, and each features dozens of battles and missions. These include both battles of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga Creek, Cold Harbor, and much, much, more.

The size of the player’s force is decided by how well they do in each fight. So while you get to play all sorts of historical battles, realize that the actual forces at each fight are decided according to your performance, not according to historical accuracy. So be prepared for a Gettysburg where the Confederacy has three times the troops and wins.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why some military survival kits include condoms

Listen, condoms will save your life. You may not believe it, but the condom is a multipurpose force multiplier that does more than protect one’s little trooper from NBC threats during unarmed combat. The idea of having condoms isn’t even all that new, so this may be old news to many readers. Even the Army’s official survival handbook lists condoms as a necessary item for survival kits.

The reasons are many, and I’m going to list them without a single dick joke. Sorry.


Water.

Water is the number one reason you should carry condoms in your survival kit as a U.S. troop. Water is the number two reason you should carry condoms in your survival kit as a civilian. Condoms, of course, are designed to keep fluids in – and they are really, really good at it. When properly handled, a condom can carry two liters of water. Just tie it off with a stick and wrap it in a sock, and you’ve got yourself a durable water container.

You should probably use non-lubricated condoms for this purpose.

Tinder.

I don’t mean you should be using condoms just for the Tinder dating app (although you should definitely be using condoms if you’re on the Tinder dating app). A condom can carry a lot of flammable material and – as I mentioned – the condom is totally waterproof so it will keep your cotton, newspaper, Doritos, whatever you use as tinder, dry.

We use dryer lint.

Also, be advised that a condom will go up in flames faster than you’re going to be comfortable watching. You can use them as tinder themselves and will even start a fire.

Barrels.

Turns out condoms are good at protecting a rifle and a gun, whether you’re fighting or having fun. This is actually a fairly common use among survivalists who spend a lot of time outdoors. You may see (again, non-lubricated) condoms over the barrel of a weapon to keep mud, dirt, and water out. They even make little condoms for this purpose.

First Aid.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the condom’s greatest strengths are its elasticity and waterproofing. You can use the condom as a crude tourniquet in case of injury, but you can also use it as a rubber glove to protect both yourself from blood-borne disease and protect your patient from whatever muck is on your grubby little hands.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a tuba led to the National Guard training allies in Europe

In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.

“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”


The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.

“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”

That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”

That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.

“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.

“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”

The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.

“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

Sgt. 1st Class Harry R. Martinez, right, with the New Jersey Army National Guard, demonstrates how to load an ammunition drum on a M249 squad automatic weapon to Albanian Officer Candidate Endri Deda while training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

The idea grew from there.

“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”

Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.

“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”

By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.

The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.

“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.

As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.

First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.

“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.

“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”

The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.

“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.

Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.

“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”

Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.

Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard demonstrate how to properly apply camouflage concealment to the face at Babadag Training Area in eastern Romania

It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.

“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”

McGuire added that’s a significant element.

“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”

Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.

“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.

For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.

“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”

The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.

“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.

“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

Humor

The 13 funniest memes for the week of Nov. 17

Justice League comes out this weekend but you don’t care because you’ve been waiting for your Real-Life Justice League enlistment to end for the last four years.


These memes are for those sick of saving the world.

1. With all the sex scandals happening, its good that we can still count on something. (via Decelerate Your Life)

Oh baby yes.

2. Try putting a dominoes pizza hotkey on an AR-15 though.

Somewhat related: 6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force 

3. Tonight: The story of literally every day in the military. (via Team Non-Rec)

Update: You’re not going home anytime soon.

4. Guess how I know it’s not Fort Bragg. (via US Army WTF Moments)

A paratrooper would have done a parachute landing fall out the window.

5. There isn’t enough Motrin in the world to fix that foundation.

Also, it smells weird and no one wants to go there.

6. Because what we call a “deployment” is relative.

Bums.

Now: This is why Fallujah is one of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles

7. “Follow me on my adventure through this office.”

Now back to the quiet safe room.

8. Call me when woobies become fashionable wear.

Urban Outfitters will never sell this color.

9. Welcome to BX barber shop.

Or the MPF. Definitely the MPF.

The guy who wrote this is cool: That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

10. Anything with snowflake, cuck, safe place, trigger warning.  (via Decelerate Your Life)

11. Congress is about to pass a new defense bill.

Those babies are illegal under the Geneva Convention.

12. This one’s for the good cops out there.

13. Why the Coast Guard’s job is harder than you think.

This post is so Fresh it moved to Bel-Air: Watch Gordon Ramsey live a day in the life of a Royal Marine

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below

Every evening from late spring to early fall, two planes lift off from airports in the western United States and fly through the sunset, each headed for an active wildfire, and then another, and another. From 10,000 feet above ground, the pilots can spot the glow of a fire, and occasionally the smoke enters the cabin, burning the eyes and throat.

The pilots fly a straight line over the flames, then U-turn and fly back in an adjacent but overlapping path, like they’re mowing a lawn. When fire activity is at its peak, it’s not uncommon for the crew to map 30 fires in one night. The resulting aerial view of the country’s most dangerous wildfires helps establish the edges of those fires and identify areas thick with flames, scattered fires and isolated hotspots.

A large global constellation of satellites, operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), combined with a small fleet of planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) help detect and map the extent, spread and impact of forest fires. As technology has advanced, so has the value of remote sensing, the science of scanning the Earth from a distance using satellites and high-flying airplanes.


Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

www.youtube.com

Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

The most immediate, life-or-death decisions in fighting forest fires – sending smokejumpers to a ridge, for example, or calling an evacuation order when flames leap a river – are made by firefighters and chiefs in command centers and on the fire line. Data from satellites and aircraft provide situational awareness with a strategic, big-picture view.

“We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression. “When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.”

It’s not uncommon for an Earth-observing satellite to be the first to detect a wildfire, especially in remote regions like the Alaskan wilderness. And at the height of the fire season, when there are more fires than planes to map them, data from satellites are used to estimate the fire’s evolution, capturing burned areas, the changing perimeter and potential damage, like in the case of Montana’s Howe Ridge Fire, which burned for nearly two months in Glacier National Park last summer.

Global fire picture from space

In January 1980, two scientists, Michael Matson and Jeff Dozier, who were working at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service building in Camp Springs, Maryland, detected tiny bright spots on a satellite image of the Persian Gulf. The image had been captured by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument on the NOAA-6 satellite, and the spots, they discovered, were campfire-sized flares caused by the burning of methane in oil wells. It marked the first time that such a small fire had been seen from space. Dozier, who would become the founding dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California at Santa Barbara, was “intrigued by the possibilities,” and he went on to develop, within a year, a mathematical method to distinguish small fires from other sources of heat. This method would become the foundation for nearly all subsequent satellite fire-detection algorithms.

What was learned from AVHRR informed the design of the first instrument with spectral bands explicitly designed to detect fires, NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, launched on the Terra satellite in 1999, and a second MODIS instrument on Aqua in 2002. MODIS in turn informed the design of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, which flies on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 satellites. Each new instrument represented a major step forward in fire detection technology.

“Without MODIS, we wouldn’t have the VIIRS algorithm,” said Ivan Csiszar, active fire product lead for the Joint Polar Satellite System calibration validation team. “We built on that heritage.”

The instruments on polar-orbiting satellites, like Terra, Aqua, Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20, typically observe a wildfire at a given location a few times a day as they orbit the Earth from pole to pole. Meanwhile, NOAA’s GOES-16 and GOES-17 geostationary satellites, which launched in November 2016 and March 2018, respectively, provide continuous updates, though at a coarser resolution and for fixed portions of the planet.

On the left is an imager of a cockpit of the National Infrared Operations Citation Bravo jet N144Z. On the right is a night vision picture of a fire.

(NISROPS image)

“You can’t get a global picture with an aircraft, you can’t do it from a ground station,” said Ralph Kahn, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “To get a global picture, you need satellites.”

The MODIS instrument mapped fires and burn scars with an accuracy that far surpassed AVHRR. And after nearly 20 years in orbit, the optical and thermal bands on MODIS, which detect reflected and radiated energy, continue to provide daytime visible imagery and night-time information on active fires.

From space, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor observed expansive smoke and aerosol plumes over California’s Central Valley on Nov. 8 and coast soon after the Camp Fire began.Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Aqua/MODIS

VIIRS has improved fire detection capabilities. Unlike MODIS, the VIIRS imager band has higher spatial resolution, at 375 meters per pixel, which allows it to detect smaller, lower temperature fires. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires.

The first moments after a fire ignites are critical, said Everett Hinkley, National Remote Sensing Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. In California, for example, when intense winds combine with dry fuel conditions, the response time can mean the difference between a catastrophic fire, like the Camp Fire that consumed nearly the entire town of Paradise, and one that is quickly contained.

“Those firefighters who are first responders don’t always know the precise location of the fire, how fast it’s moving or in what direction,” Hinkley said. “We’re working to try to give them real-time or near-real-time information to help them better understand the fire behavior in those early critical hours.”

Responders increasingly turn to the GOES satellites for early, precise geolocation of fires in remote areas. On July 2, 2018, for example, after smoke was reported in a wooded area near Central Colorado’s Custer County, GOES East detected a hotspot there. Forecasters in Pueblo visually inspected the data and provided the exact coordinates of what would become the Adobe Fire, and crews were sent quickly to the scene. The fire detection and characterization algorithm, the latest version of NOAA’s operational fire detection algorithm, is in the process of being updated and is expected to further improve early fire detection and reduce false positives.

“The holy grail is that firefighters want to be able to get on a fire in the first few hours or even within the first hour so they can take action to put it out,” said Vince Ambrosia, a wildfires remote-sensing scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “So it’s critical to have regular and frequent coverage.”

Remote sensing data on wildfires is accessed in many different ways. Among them, NASA’sFire Information for Resource Management System, or FIRMS, uses MODIS and VIIRS data to provide updates on active fires throughout the world, including a rough location of a detected hotspot. Imagery is available within four to five hours.

Smoke and public health

Of course, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and knowing how wildfire smoke travels through the atmosphere is important for air quality, visibility and human health. Like other particulate matter in the atmosphere, smoke from wildfires can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Satellites can give us important information on the movement and thickness of that smoke.

Terra carries the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, a sensor that uses nine fixed cameras, each viewing Earth at a different angle. MISR measures the motion and height of a fire’s smoke plume, as well as the amount of smoke particles coming from that fire, and gives some clues about the plume’s composition. For example, during the Camp Fire, MISR measurements showed a plume made of large, non-spherical particles over Paradise, California, an indication that buildings were burning. Researchers have established that building smoke leads to larger and more irregularly shaped particles than wildfires. Smoke particles from the burning of the surrounding forest, on the other hand, were smaller and mostly spherical. MISR’s measurements also showed the fire had lofted smoke nearly 2 miles into the atmosphere and carried it about 180 miles downwind, toward the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists also closely monitor whether the height of the smoke has exceeded the “near surface boundary layer,” where pollution tends to concentrate. Wildfires with the most energy, such as boreal forest fires, are the most likely to produce smoke that goes above the boundary layer. At that height, “smoke can typically travel farther, stay in the atmosphere longer, and have an impact further downwind,” Kahn said.

The satellites have limitations. Among them, the heat signatures the instruments detect are averaged over pixels, which makes it difficult to precisely pinpoint fire location and size. Interpreting data from satellites has additional challenges. Although thermal signals give an indication of fire intensity, smoke above the fire can diminish that signal, and smoldering fires might not radiate as much energy as flaming fires at the observed spectral bands.

Up close with airborne ‘heat’ sensors

That’s where the instruments on the Forest Service aircraft come in. Data from these flights contribute to the National Infrared Operations Program (NIROPS), which uses tools developed with NASA to visualize wildfire information in web mapping services, including Google Earth. NASA works closely with the Forest Service to develop new technologies for the kind of thermal sensing systems these planes carry.

Each NIROPS plane is equipped with an infrared sensor that sees a six-mile swath of land below and can map 300,000 acres of terrain per hour. From an altitude of 10,000 feet, the sensor can detect a hotspot just 6 inches across, and place it within 12.5 feet on a map. The data from each pass are recorded, compressed and immediately downlinked to an FTP site, where analysts create maps that firefighters can access directly on a phone or tablet in the field. They fly at night when there’s no sun glint to compromise their measurements, the background is cooler, and the fires are less aggressive.

“Every time we’re scanning, we’re ‘truthing’ that fire,” says Charles “Kaz” Kazimir, an infrared technician with NIROPS, who has flown fires with the program for 10 years. “On the ground, they may have ideas of how that fire is behaving, but when they get the image, that’s the truth. It either validates or invalidates their assumption since the last time they had intel.”

The infrared aircraft instruments fill some of the gaps in the satellite data. Field campaigns, such as the NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ, now underway, are designed to address these issues too. But scientists are also looking to new technology. In 2003, representatives from NASA and the Forest Service formed a tactical fire remote sensing committee, which meets twice annually to discuss ways to harness new and existing remote sensing technology as it relates to wildfires. For example, a new infrared sensor is being developed that scans a swath three times wider than the existing system. That would mean fewer flight lines and less time spent over an individual fire, Hinkley said.

“The takeaway really is that we are actively investigating and developing capabilities that will aid decision-makers on the ground, especially in the early phases of dynamic fires,” Hinkley said. “We’re not just resting on our laurels here. We understand that we need to better leverage new technologies to help keep people safe.”

More information on the role of NASA and NOAA satellites and instruments in active fires can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-covers-wildfires-from-many-sources

Learn more about freely available NASA fire data and related resources: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/learn/toolkits/wildfires

MIGHTY TRENDING

China warns the US against putting new missiles on its ‘doorstep’

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Aug. 3, 2019, that he wants to put ground-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the Pacific to confront regional threats, a move that is antagonizing rivals China and Russia.

“We would like to deploy the capability sooner rather than later,” he said Aug. 3, 2019, just one day after the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the US and Russia officially expired. “I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines.”

He did not identify where the missiles would be located in Asia, suggesting that the US would develop the weapons and then sort out placement later. He has said it could be “years” before these weapons are fielded in the region.


The 1987 INF Treaty prohibited the development and deployment of conventional and nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, but the treaty has ended, giving the US new options as it confronts China’s growing might in the Asia-Pacific region.

Following the end of the treaty, Esper said in a statement Aug. 2, 2019, that the “Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles,” calling these moves a “prudent response to Russia’s actions.” But, the Defense Department is also clearly looking at China. “Eighty percent plus of their [missile] inventory is intermediate-range systems,” Esper told reporters Aug. 3, 2019. It “shouldn’t surprise [China] that we would want to have a like capability.”

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

In his previous role as the secretary of the Army, Esper made long-range precision fires a top priority, regularly arguing that the US needs long-range, stand-off weaponry if it is to maintain its competitive advantage in a time of renewed great power competition.

Both Russia and China have expressed opposition to the possibility of US missiles in the Pacific.

“If the deployment of new US systems begins specifically in Asia, then the corresponding steps to balance these actions will be taken by us in the direction of parrying these threats,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Aug. 5, 2019.

“If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Asia-Pacific, especially around China, the aim will apparently be offensive. If the US insists on doing so, the international and regional security will inevitably be severely undermined,” China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Aug. 5, 2019.

An M270 multiple launch rocket system maneuvers through a training area prior to conducting their live fire exercise at Rocket Valley, South Korea, Sep. 14, 2017.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th FA Bde PAO)

“China will not just sit idly by and watch our interests being compromised. What’s more, we will not allow any country to stir up troubles at our doorstep. We will take all necessary measures to safeguard national security interests,” she added.

Her rhetoric mimicked Esper’s criticisms of China over the weekend, when he spoke of a “disturbing pattern of aggressive” behavior and warned that the US will not “stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor at the expense of others.”

While some observers are concerned US missile deployments may ignite an escalated arms race between great power rivals, Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at CSIS, argues that this is an evolution rather than a radical change in US defensive posturing in the region, an adaptation to Russian and Chinese developments.

“We want China’s leadership to wake up every morning and think this is not a good day to pick a fight with the United States or its allies,” Karako told INSIDER.

An M270 multiple launch rocket system fires during a live fire exercise at Rocket Valley, South Korea, Sep. 15, 2017.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th FA Bde PAO)


Mobile land-based missile systems complicate surveillance and targeting. “The point is not to consolidate and put everything in one spot so it can be targeted but to move things around and make it so that the adversary doesn’t know where these things are at any given time.”

“I would not minimize the potential advantages of this kind of posture,” Karako added.

Should the US pursue this course, China’s response is unlikely to be friendly, experts in China warn. “If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Asia, China will certainly carry out countermeasures and augment its own missile forces in response, so as to effectively deter the US,” Li Haidong, a professor in the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University told the Global Times.

For now, the US has not made any moves to deploy missiles to the Pacific; however, the US is looking at testing a handful of new ground-based systems.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy is putting ‘the proper equipment’ back on its ships to operate in harsh Arctic conditions

The Navy continues to adapt to harsh Arctic conditions, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, head of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, said Tuesday.

After decades focused on other regions, the Navy has been increasing its presence in the Arctic as it grows more accessible to economic activity and, in turn, to broader strategic competition with rivals like Russia and China.


The latest venture north began Tuesday, when Navy and Coast Guard ships joined Canadian, Danish, and French vessels for the annual Canadian-led exercise Operation Nanook in the waters between Canada and Greenland.

The exercise consists of “basic tactical operating in the higher latitudes,” elements of which are “significantly different than how we operate” elsewhere, Lewis said.

An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter takes off from Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, August 2, 2020. (US Navy/MCS Seaman Apprentice Sawyer Connally)

“If you fall in the water where they’re going to be operating, you’re not going to survive very long unless you have the proper equipment on board, which is something that we have taken off our ships in recent years, and now we’ve put it back in,” Lewis said.

Other lessons are being relearned, Lewis said, citing the USS Harry S. Truman, which sailed into the Arctic in 2018 — the first such trip by a carrier in decades — with “a bunch of baseball bats to knock ice off the superstructure.”

“You have to have the flexibility and the timing built into your scheme of maneuver … because the weather has a huge impact on your ability to make it through straits or going through a certain chokepoint,” Lewis said.

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner will also do rigid-hull inflatable boat operations as part of the exercise. “It is the first time that we’re putting a boat in the water recently in these temperature climates,” Lewis said.

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner the Atlantic Ocean, August 2, 2020. (US Navy/MCS MC2 Sara Eshleman)

“It’s by nature a fairly challenging environment anyway,” Lewis added. “But then you throw the temperature and the potential sea state being higher — that’s something we need to kind of take a crawl-walk-run approach to.”

Nanook will have gunnery and other drills, such as tracking vessels of interest. “A lot of it has to do with basic warfare serials … and then basic security tasks and operating together,” Rear Adm. Brian Santarpia said Tuesday.

Santarpia, who commands Canadian naval forces in the Atlantic and Arctic, said it was “great” to get sailors into unfamiliar surroundings.

“Once we put them up there, they’re going to solve all the problems on their own,” Santarpia said. “They just have to recognize that there is a challenge and then they tend to get after it.”

US Coast Guard cutter Willow transits near an iceberg with a Danish naval vessel in the Nares Strait, August 23, 2011. (US Coast Guard/PO3 Luke Clayton)

‘We’re going to learn a lot’

The Canadian military has conducted Operation Nanook since 2007, working with local and foreign partners to practice disaster response and maritime security across northern Canada. There will be no operations ashore this year because of COVID-19.

The Canadian ships left Halifax on Tuesday with US Coast Guard medium-endurance cutter Tahoma. They will meet USS Thomas Hudner and sail north to meet French and Danish ships and operate around the Davis Strait, off Greenland’s west coast.

“This will be the farthest north that we have deployed this class of cutter, so we’re excited to showcase the agility of our fleet,” Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area commander, said Tuesday.

Lewis and Poulin both said Nanook is a chance to practice adapting to challenges in the Arctic, such as communications interference.

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to push this medium endurance cutter so far north. We’re going to learn a lot about our own operations” and about “the logistics chain that’s required to support our Coast Guard assets that are so far north,” Poulin said.

Search and rescue technicians on a CH-149 Cormorant conduct a hoist-rescue exercise with Canadian coastal defense ship Shawinigan during Operation Nanook, August, 22, 2014. (Joint Task Force (North)/LS Mat1 Barrieau)

The Canadian military adjusted Nanook in 2018 to include “everything we did in the Arctic,” Santarpia said. “It demonstrates … to anybody who is interested in the Arctic that Canada knows … how to take care of its own security and sovereignty in that area.”

Santarpia said more activity in the Arctic, facilitated by a warming climate, underscores the need to be present there for strategic reasons as well as emergency response.

“Last year was the warmest year in the Arctic that they’ve ever had. This year’s on pace to be warmer yet. It allows us to operate [there] for a little bit longer,” Santarpia said, adding that Canada’s navy didn’t “have any [Arctic] ability until just Friday, when the very first Canadian Arctic offshore patrol ship was delivered.”

That ship, HMCS Harry DeWolf, arrived two years late, but five more are to be delivered to Canada’s navy and two to its coast guard in the coming years.

“Next year, it’ll be part of the of the exercise, and that vessel can operate actually in the first-year ice that’s a meter thick,” Santarpia said. But until then the Canadian navy “is limited to where the ice is not pack ice.”

As those waters become navigable for longer periods, “we will slowly be able to spend more time in the north,” Santarpia added. “As the new capability comes online … we’ll be up there for the majority of year eventually.”

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


Articles

This prediction of an asteroid impact on Earth will give you goose bumps

Scientists believe a 40-million-ton asteroid set to fly close to Earth in 12 years may end up colliding with our planet on a future pass.


The Apophis asteroid will pass within 18,600 miles of Earth on April 13, 2029, which is ridiculously close by space distance standards. Scientists expect the near-miss to disrupt the asteroid’s orbit, making its future path unpredictable.

This means there’s a small chance Apophis could hit Earth on a future pass. Apophis will pass by the Earth again in 2036.

“You can find a full table of objects for which the impact probability is not mathematically zero,” Dr. Richard P. Binzel, a planetary science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s involved in research on Apophis, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The table includes Apophis with a probability of 8.9e-6 (less than one chance in 100,000).”

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL.

If Apophis did strike Earth, it could create a crater about 1.25 miles across and almost 1,700 feet deep. Such an impact could be devastating, as on average an asteroid this size can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years.  It could annihilate a city if it were to directly land on an urban area. The blast would equal 880 million tons of TNT or 65,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

“We can rule out a collision at the next closest approach with the Earth, but then the orbit will change in a way that is not fully predictable just now, so we cannot predict the behavior on a longer timescale,” Alberto Cellino of the Observatory of Turin in Italy, told Astrowatch.net.

MIT announced last month that professors and students are designing a space probe mission to observe the asteroid “99942 Apophis” as it passes Earth in 2029. MIT or NASA would have to launch the probe before August of 2026 due to the way orbital mechanics work.

Wikimedia Commons photo by Steve Jurvetson.

The MIT probe could teach scientists more about the construction of asteroids, providing valuable information about the formation of our solar system. What scientists learn from the Apophis encounter could make it easier to mount a planetary defense in the event an asteroid was ever found to be on an impact course.

In December 2004, initial observations of Apophis indicated it had a 2.7 percent chance of striking Earth in 2029 or exactly seven years later. This has since been revised downward considerably.

Smaller asteroids are much harder to detect and there’s little that could be done to stop a small space rock on course for Earth without early warning. Typically, these rocks are discovered just days or hours before they pass by Earth.

There’s not a shortage of space rocks that put our planet at risk either. Global asteroid detection programs found more than 16,314 near-Earth objects of all sizes — 816 new near-Earth objects were identified so far this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center.