Inside Mattis' $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Retired Marine infantry officer Joe L’Etoile remembers when training money for his unit was so short “every man got four blanks; then we made butta-butta-bang noises” and “threw dirt clods for grenades.”

Now, L’Etoile is director of the Defense Department’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force and leading an effort to manage $2.5 billion worth of DoD investments into weapons, unmanned systems, body armor, training, and promising new technology for a group that has typically ranked the lowest on the U.S. military’s priority list: the grunts.


Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Orrin G. Farmer)

But the task force’s mission isn’t just about funding high-tech new equipment for Army, Marine, and special operations close-combat forces. It is also digging into deeply entrenched policies and making changes to improve unit cohesion, leadership, and even the methods used for selecting individuals who serve in close-combat formations.

Launched in February, the new joint task force is a top priority of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer himself. With this level of potent support, L’Etoile is able to navigate through the bureaucratic strongholds of the Pentagon that traditionally favor large weapons programs, such as Air Force fighters and Navy ships.

“This is a mechanism that resides at the OSD level, so it’s fairly quick; we are fairly nimble,” L’Etoile told Military.com on July 25. “And because this is the secretary’s priority … the bureaucracies respond well because the message is the secretary’s.”

Before he’s done, L’Etoile said, the task force will “reinvent the way the squad is perceived within the department.”

“I would like to see the squad viewed as a weapons platform and treated as such that its constituent parts matter,” he said. “We would never put an aircraft onto the flight line that didn’t have all of its parts, but a [Marine] squad that only has 10 out of 13? Yeah. Deploy it. Put it into combat. We need to take a look at what that costs us. And fundamentally, I believe down at my molecular level, we can do better.”
Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis)

​Improving the Squad

Mattis’ Feb. 8 memo to the service secretaries, Joint Chiefs of Staff and all combatant commands announcing the task force sent a shockwave through the force, stating “personnel policies, advances in training methods, and equipment have not kept pace with changes in available technology, human factors, science, and talent management best practices.”

To L’Etoile, the task force is not out to fix what he describes as the U.S. military’s “phenomenal” infantry and direct-action forces.

“Our charter is really just to take it to the next level,” he said. “In terms of priorities, the material solution is not my number-one concern.”

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)

​Gifted Grunts

For starters, the task force is looking at ways to identify Marines and soldiers who possess the characteristics and qualities that will make an infantry squad more efficient in the deadly art of close combat.

The concept is murky, but “we are investing in some leading-edge science to get at the question of what are the attributes to be successful in close combat and how do you screen for those attributes?” L’Etoile said. “How do you incentivize individuals with those attributes to come on board to the close-combat team, to stick their hand in the air for an infantry MOS?”

Col. Joey Polanco, the Army service lead at the task force, said it is evaluating several screening programs, some that rely on “big data and analytics to see if this individual would be a better fit for, say, infantry or close-combat formations.”

Polanco, an infantry officer who has served in the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions, said the task force is also looking at ways to incentivize these individuals to “want to continue to stay infantry.”

L’Etoile said the task force is committed to changing policy to help fix a “wicked problem” in the Marine Corps of relying too heavily on corporals instead of sergeants to lead infantry squads.

“In the Marine Corps, there are plenty of squads that are being led by corporals instead of sergeants, and there are plenty of squads being led by lance corporals instead of corporals,” he said. “I led infantry units in combat. There is a difference when a squad is led by a lance corporal — no matter how stout his heart and back — and a sergeant leading them.”

Every Marine must be ready to take on leadership roles, but filling key leader jobs with junior enlisted personnel instead of sergeants degrades unit cohesion, L’Etoile said.

“When four guys are best buddies and they went to boot camp together and they go drinking beer together on the weekends … and then one day the squad leader rotates and it’s ‘Hey Johnson, you are now the squad leader,’ the human dynamics of that person becoming an effective leader with folks that were his peers is difficult to overcome,” he said.

It’s equally important to stabilize the squad’s leadership so that “the squad leader doesn’t show up three months before a deployment but is there in enough time to get that cohesion with his unit, his fire team leaders and his squad members,” L’Etoile said. “Having the appropriate grade, age-experience level and training is really, really important.”

The Army is compiling data to see if that issue is a persistent problem in its squads.

“When we get the data back, we will have a better idea of how do we increase the cohesion of an Army squad, and I think what you are going to find is, it needs its own solution, if there in fact is a problem,” L’Etoile said.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan)

​No Budget, But Deep Pockets

Just weeks after the first U.S. combat forces went into Afghanistan in late 2001, the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command began modernizing and upgrading individual and squad weapons and gear.

Since then, equipment officials have labored to field lighter body armor, more efficient load-bearing gear and new weapons to make infantry and special operations forces more lethal.

But the reality is, there is only so much money budgeted toward individual kit and weapons when other service priorities, such as armored vehicles and rotary-wing aircraft, need modernizing as well.

The task force has the freedom to look at where the DoD is “investing its research dollars and render an opinion on whether those dollars are being well spent,” L’Etoile said. “I have no money; I don’t want money. I don’t want to spend the next two years managing a budget. That takes a lot of time and energy.”

“But I am very interested in where money goes. So, for instance, if there is a particular close-combat capability that I believe represents a substantive increase in survivability, lethality — you name it — for a close-combat formation, and I see that is not being funded at a meaningful level, step one is to ask why,” he continued. “Let’s get informed on the issue … and then if it makes sense, go advocate for additional funding for that capability.”

The task force currently has reprogramming or new funding requests worth up to .5 billion for high-tech equipment and training efforts that L’Etoile would not describe in detail.

“I have a number of things that are teed up … it’s premature for me to say,” he said. “In broad categories, we have active requests for additional funding in sensing; think robots and [unmanned aerial systems]. We have requests for additional funding of munitions for training and additional tactical capabilities [and] additional funding for training adversaries, so you get a sparring partner as well as a heavy bag.”

The task force is requesting additional money for advanced night-vision equipment and synthetic-training technologies. L’Etoile also confirmed that it helped fund the Army’s 0 million effort to train and equip the majority of its active brigade combat teams to fight in large, subterranean complexeslike those that exist in North Korea.

“We can go to the department and say, ‘This is of such importance that I think the department should shine a light on it and invest in it,’ ” he said.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

(US Army)

​Endorsing Futuristic Kit

One example of this is the task force’s interest in an Army program to equip its infantry units with a heads-up display designed to provide soldiers with a digital weapon-sight reticle, as well as tactical data about the immediate battlefield environment.

“The big thing is the Heads-Up Display 3.0. I would tell you that is one of the biggest things we are pushing,” Polanco said. “It’s focused primarily on helping us improve lethality, situational awareness, as well as our mobility.”

The Army is currently working on HUD 1.0, which involves a thermal weapon sight mounted on the soldier’s weapon that can wirelessly transmit the sight reticle into the new dual-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III B.

The system can also display waypoints and share information with other soldiers in the field, Army officials said.

The HUD 3.0 will draw on the synthetic training environment — one of the Army’s key priorities for modernizing training — and allow soldiers to train and rehearse in a virtual training environment, as well as take into combat.

The service has already had soldiers test the HUD 1.0 version and provide feedback.

“If you look at the increased lethality just by taking that thermal reticle off of the weapon and putting it up into their eye, the testing has been off the chart,” Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, director of the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, said at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium earlier this year.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John Tran)

The Army tried for years in the 1990s to accomplish this with its Land Warrior program, but it could be done only by running bulky cables from the weapon sight to the helmet-mounted display eyepiece. Soldiers found it too awkward and a snag hazard, so the effort was eventually shelved.

“Whatever we want to project up into that reticle — that tube — it’s pretty easy,” Donahue said. “It’s just a matter of how you get it and how much data. We don’t want too much information in there either … we’ve got to figure that out.”

The initial prototypes of the HUD 3.0 are scheduled to be ready in 18 months, he added.

“It is really a state-of-the art capability that allows you to train as you fight from a synthetic training environment standpoint to a live environment,” Polanco said, adding that the task force has submitted a request to the DoD to find funding for the HUD 3.0.

“One of the things we have been able to do as a task force is we have endorsed and advocated strongly for this capability. … It’s going forward as a separate item that we are looking for funding on,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge before the task force is how to ensure all these efforts to make the squad more lethal will not be undone when Mattis is no longer in office.

“We ask ourselves every time we step up to the plate to take on one of these challenges, how do we make it enduring?” L’Etoile said.

“How do we ensure that the progress we make is not unwound when the priorities shift? So it’s important when you take these things on that you are mindful that there ought to be an accompanying policy because … they can’t just get unwound overnight,” he said.

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

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Stealth bombers strike ISIS in Libya

A training camp used by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, was destroyed by a pair of stealth bombers today.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, two B-2A Spirit bombers attacked the training camp about 30 miles from Sirte. At least 85 members of the terrorist group are believed to have been killed in the mission, which involved the bombers dropping a total of 108 500-pound bombs. Unmanned aerial vehicles also took part in the attack, using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to kill surviving terrorists.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal
A B-2 Spirit drops 32 inert Joint Direct Attack Munitions Aug. 27, 2016 at the Utah Testing and Training Range.

FoxNews.com noted that the bombers were refueled five times as they flew to and from Whiteman Air Force Base.

“This action was authorized by the President as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL control,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement released after the attack. “The ISIL terrorists targeted included individuals who fled to the remote desert camps from Sirte in order to reorganize, and they posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests.”

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal
A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. The B-2, from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

The use of B-2 bombers might come as a surprise as F-15E Strike Eagles from the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath Air Base had been used in the past. The Navy had the guided missile destroyers USS Porter (DDG 78) and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in the region as well. Last year, Marine Cobras from a Marine Expeditionary Unit took part in operations against ISIS in the country.

FoxNews.com reported that this was the first action the B-2s had seen since 2011. One possible reason was the presence of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The carrier reportedly hosted a Libyan warlord who the Russians are backing to run the war-torn country. The carrier and its escorts, including a Kirov-class battlecruiser, have substantial air-defense assets, including Su-33 Flankers, MiG-29K fighters, and SA-N-6 surface-to-air missiles.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Airman earns top honors in course for Marine NCOs

On a muggy summer day in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a Marine Corps instructor stood on a ledge overlooking a swamp. He looked out at his students, and his eyes found Master Sgt. Aretha Boston — the only airman in the platoon.

He called her forward, and Boston walked up to the ledge.

“Just as soon as I extended my hand, he grabbed it,” Boston recalled. “And before I knew it, he was pulling me into the swamp.”

For Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, it was another of many surprises at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course. The opportunity to attend the course was a surprise in itself.


Most surprising, though, was how well she performed. At graduation time, Boston took home three of the most prestigious awards at the school: the class Gunnery Sergeant Award (voted on by instructors), the Honor Graduate Award (voted on by her classmates), and the Distinguished Graduate Award (for measured academic excellence).

In some ways, though, it was a fitting chapter in a storied career that almost never was.

Coming from a small town in Florida, Boston’s life plan didn’t involve joining the military. Her mother, though, had different ideas. She insisted that her daughter enlist.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, poses for a portrait Oct. 24, 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Boston.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Noah Sudolcan)

“To be completely honest, in the beginning I was angry,” Boston said. Despite her misgivings, at the age of 17 and straight out of high school, she begrudgingly agreed and enlisted in the Air Force to become a dental technician. Years later, she said she views it as “by far the best decision my parents could have made for me.”

Boston’s first base was 7,479 miles from home: Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. She was away from her family, the only airman basic in the dental clinic and learning a whole new lifestyle. Over those first few months, she learned the technical portion of her job, but she said she struggled with the challenge of conforming to military discipline.

“I acted out a lot,” Boston said. “I didn’t want people to tell me to do something. I was very stubborn.”

After serving a year in Korea, she moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Dealing with the culture shock coming from Korea, she said she found it hard to connect with people.

Her first Christmas break in Florida started with a call from her first sergeant asking why she wasn’t at bay orderly — an extra duty to help clean the dorm common areas. Thinking she had the week off, she said it all seemed unfair.

“The first shirt sat me down and told me, ‘Listen, I’ve been told you’re a stellar airman, but you have a terrible attitude,'” she said. When he told her that an unchecked bad attitude could end up getting her kicked out of the military, she said she decided to make some changes.

“That was my turning point,” she said. “From then on, I did the best I could to be the best airman.”

The new attitude paid off. Several years — and promotions — later, everything was going well. But Boston said she craved something different. A new challenge. Something to separate herself from her peers. She was comfortable, standing on the solid ground of a well-constructed military career, but she was contemplating a big jump.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Air Force Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, middle left, poses with her Marine Corps classmates during the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course in the summer of 2018.

She found out the Air Force offers the chance for master sergeants to attend a sister service academy. She applied. Then she got accepted. The class started in the summer of 2018, and when she arrived, there were only six airmen in a sea of 120 Marines.

“(Marines) operate completely different from (airmen),” Boston explained. “Everything ties into fitness. Leadership, strategy planning — it always goes back to fitness.”

Physical training was every day, which she said was taxing on both her body and mind.

Those challenges culminated when, after a long morning run, the instructor pulled her into the swamp. With Marines cheering from the side, Boston remembers the feeling of being engulfed by the freezing water. After she and the rest of her class swam to the other side, a long obstacle course lay ahead of them.

Like all the other obstacles in Marine Corps senior NCO training, along with the hurdles of her early career, Boston faced them head on.

“It was pretty motivating to think she was an airman coming over to the course, doing something unprecedented,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Walker, Boston’s classmate and Marine Corps Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 warehouse managements division warehouse chief.

Walker said it would be natural to see a decrease in academic productivity in the individual taking on the busy role of class gunnery sergeant. But he said Boston had no such trouble. In fact, she still managed to excel beyond her peers – even the ones wearing Marine Corps insignia.

“She literally did everything you would expect from a Marine, pushing forward, even outside of class.” Walker said. “She carried herself as a professional the entire time and represented the Air Force well.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

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One of NATO’s most deployed anti-air missiles is getting a major upgrade

The ground-based version of the AIM-120 Sparrow air-to-air missile just got a major upgrade as Raytheon announced that it has successfully tested a new engine and enhanced fire distribution center that gives the system a much longer range and higher maximum altitude, according to a company press release.


Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal
An AMRAAM-Extended Range missile is shot from a NASAMS launcher. The missile successfully engaged and destroyed a target drone during a flight test at the Andoya Space Center in Norway. (Photo: courtesy Raytheon Company)

Used by militaries around the world, the system is designed to bring down helicopters, jets, and even cruise missiles. Basically, it’s an oozlefinch with an “If it flies, it dies” mentality.

The National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System uses the AIM-120 air-to-air missile, also known as the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, but fires it from tubes parked on the ground. The new version of the missile borrows the engine from the Navy’s Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.

This new engine, combined with better flight control, allows the AMRAAM-Extended Range to engage targets at a 50 percent longer range and 70 percent higher altitude than it used to be capable of. The exact range of AMRAAM-ER has not been released, but the Evolved Sea Sparrow can engage targets at over 30 miles away when fired from a ship.

Already popular in NATO, the NASAMS is designed for low and medium-altitude air defense. Norway was the first adopter and helped develop it under the name “Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System,” and the system is deployed by U.S. forces and five other countries.

The U.S. uses NASAMS to defend Washington D.C. from aerial attack and typically deploys Patriots, Stingers, and other air defense assets elsewhere in the world.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it was really like to live through the Cold War in America

The Cold War was a terrifying time to be alive.

The war began in 1946 and ended in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. During this period, tensions between the United States and the USSR were extremely high. Proxy wars were fought around the world and there was a constant threat of nuclear warfare.

Reading about historical events and watching documentaries can tell us the facts, but it’s a different thing entirely to think about what it was like to experience it. Here are just a few things US citizens lived through during the cold war.


Children learned to do “duck and cover” school drills.

After the Soviet Union detonated its first known nuclear device somewhere in Kazakhstan on August 29, 1949, US anxieties about the threat of nuclear annihilation rose significantly.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Civil defense in the 1950s called for people to take what shelter they could.

(Wikimedia / Library of Congress)

President Harry S. Truman’s Federal Civil Defense Administration program began requiring schools to teach children how to dive under their desks in classrooms and take cover if bombs should drop, according to History. How protective such actions would be in an actual nuclear strike continues to be debated — and has thankfully never had any practical testing.

In any case, this led to the official commission of the 1951 educational film “Duck and Cover,” which you can stream online thanks to the Library of Congress.

There was a constant threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Cold War ebbed and flowed in terms of tension, but it lasted from the end of World War II until the early 1990s and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. That’s a long time to brace for potential impact, both as individuals and as a society.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Many Americans thought nuclear war could break out at any moment.

(Public domain)

During this time, libraries helped to train and prepare people as best they could with available civil defense information. They showed educational films, offered first aid courses, and provided strategies to patrons on how best to survive in the event of nuclear war. These are valuable services in any time frame, but the tensions constantly playing in your mind as you participated must have been palpable.

As always, pop culture both reflected and refracted societal anxieties back at citizens as a way of processing them. This AV Club timeline offers several great examples, from “The Manchurian Candidate” to “Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” and through the decades to the extremely on-the-nose ’80s film, “Red Dawn.”

Some families built fallout shelters in their backyards.

In the aftermath of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world learned exactly how decimating nuclear warfare could be.

As Cold War tensions escalated between the US and the Soviet Union following World War II, it’s not terribly surprising that the Department of Defense began issuing pamphlets like this one instructing American families on how best to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Bomb shelters were not uncommon.

(United States National Archives)

Converting basements or submerging concrete bunkers in backyards that were built to recommended specifications became a family bonding activity — although in urban areas, buildings that generally welcomed the public including church and school basements and libraries were also designated fallout shelter locations.

There was a strict curtailing of civil liberties during the Red Scare.

While the Cold War was intensifying, one nickname used for communists was “Reds” because that was the predominant color of the flag of the Soviet Union. The House Un-American Activities Committee and infamous Joseph McCarthy hearings happened during this time period, which attempted to root out subversion in the entertainment industry and the federal government.

President Truman’s Executive Order no. 9835 — also known as the Loyalty Order — was issued for federal employees, but smaller businesses soon followed in the federal government’s footsteps. The Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations — effectively a blacklist — was also issued.

Many of the people accused of being communists by McCarthy lost their jobs when in reality there was no proof they belonged to the communist party.

This search for potential communists did not end with the downfall of McCarthy. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, for instance, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover labeled Martin Luther King, Jr. a communist simply because he stood up against racism and oppression.

The US and USSR came close to all-out war because of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two events during the 1960s almost brought the world to an all-out war.

The first was in 1961 when 1,400 Cuban exiles were trained to overthrow the Fidel Castro’s Cuban government, which had made diplomatic dealings with the USSR. The exiles were sent on their mission by President Kennedy, who had been assured by the CIA that the plan would make it seem like a Cuban uprising rather than American intervention.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

What became known as the Bay of Pigs had a disastrous outcome, with over a hundred Cuban exiles killed and the rest captured. Many Americans began bracing for war.

By 1962, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bolstered Cuba’s defenses with nuclear missiles in case the US tried invading again. The arms race between the US and the Soviet Union was already in full swing, so tensions were steadily increasing.

When American spy planes gathered photographic evidence of these missiles, President Kennedy sent a naval blockade to “quarantine” Cuba, according to the JFK Presidential Library.

He also demanded removal of the missiles and total destruction of the sites that housed them. Khrushchev wasn’t anxious to go to war either, so he finally agreed after extracting a promise from Kennedy that the US wouldn’t invade Cuba.

People worried the space race could lead to nuclear war.

Through a modern lens, the space race led to scientific advancements across the world as countries rushed to be the first into outer space and to land on the moon.

But at the time, the prospect of the Soviet Union beating the US to the final frontier was more terrifying for Americans than we might realize today.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Dr. Wernher von Braun, the NASA Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, explains the Saturn rocket system to President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 16, 1963.

(NASA)

CNN reports that regular Americans frequently worried that if the Soviet Union could get a human into space, it could also get nuclear warheads into space. The USSR became the first country to successfully launch a human being into space with Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, and the US later landed on the moon in July of 1969 after heavily investing in its NASA program.

Proxy conflicts, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, continue to affect the world today.

While the US and the USSR never engaged in armed conflict against each other, they did fight in and fund other conflicts, otherwise known as proxy wars.

The most famous proxy wars during this time are undoubtedly the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but there were numerous other proxy conflicts that happened during the Cold War. Many of these conflicts were extremely deadly for both soldiers and civilians, including the Angolan Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, and the Congo Crisis, just to name a few.

These proxy conflicts also continue to have consequences for citizens and veterans, and have shaped the modern world as we know it.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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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.”

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

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.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

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.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

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.

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This heroic Marine saved a man from a burning car

Sgt. Kevin Peach, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a battalion formation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Aug 8, 2017.


Peach earned the award for rescuing a man from an overturned and burning vehicle on his way back to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 2015.

“We were driving down I-5 in California heading back to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and a car pulled out in front of us, swerved, hit a wall going about 65 mph and then rolled a couple of times,” said Peach.

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Sgt. Kevin Peach delivers the battalion safety brief after being awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a battalion formation at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 8, 2017. USMC photo by Sgt. Brandon Thomas.

Peach then pulled in front of the vehicle and rushed to the man’s aid.

“I was scared the entire time but I saw a lifeless body sitting in the car and I wasn’t just going to turn my head and do nothing about it,” said Peach. “Then I saw the smoke and knew I only had a certain amount of time before the car caught on fire.”

Peach then tried, without success, to break the windows of the car.

“One of my best friends and I ripped off the back hatch and I just barreled right in there,” said Peach. “The whole time I was feeling around for other people because I couldn’t see anything. Once I found him he was tangled up in his seat belt and I couldn’t get him loose.”

Peach then left the car and grabbed a flare from another driver who had pulled over to help. He then went back into the vehicle, cut the seat belt and fireman-carried the man out. He attended to the injured man until paramedics arrived.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal
Sgt. Kevin Peach, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, is awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal by Lt. Col. Reginald McClam. USMC photo by Sgt. Brandon Thomas.

Following the incident, Peach was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

“Sgt. Peach is the embodiment of what we look for in our [non-commissioned officers],” said Lt. Col. Reginald McClam, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I’m proud of him and I know the family that he brought into the Marine Corps by saving their family, is happy he was there.”

After putting his life on the line Peach found himself gaining more than a new medal.

“I talk to the family every other day,” said Peach. “It feels good being able to help somebody out. It’s not about the awards. I never thought when this happened that I’d get this [award]. I’m just glad I was there and able to help.”

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Britain is looking to robots for resupply under fire

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.

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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.

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British forces may be able to asks robots for more ammo in the not-so-distant future. (Photo: US Army Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)

There are guidelines for the competition, but the Ministry of Defence also put forward two vignettes to show the battlefield challenges it wants technology to overcome.

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.

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal
A new technology competition out of Britain wants to find ways to get supplies to troops under fire, making sure they always have enough ammo and medical supplies to get the job done. (Graphic: Crown Copyright)

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.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This doctor is getting great results treating PTSD with lasers

Dr. Robert Kraft and his staff in California have pressed an experimental treatment, transcranial laser treatments, into tackling PTSD and TBI, and they’re already getting great results with veterans and victims of sexual trauma. Now, they want to spread the word and hopefully get the treatment adopted across a wider area, allowing more vets and PTSD sufferers to benefit.


Using lasers to treat pain is a relatively new practice, and when Dr. Kraft first heard about it, he wanted to know more.

So, I’m basically a traditionally trained anesthesiologist,” he said, “and I never believed that laser could penetrate anything, and initially, I was exposed to the laser because it claimed to treat pain, and I investigated. The scientific research is very strong, but there are not a lot of controlled trials on the pain side, but the science is actually very strong.

Turns out, some lasers can penetrate human flesh and bone, but they expend a lot of energy doing so. And so when Dr. Kraft started reviewing the medical literature, he started to think doctors could get better results with a higher dose.

There’s a certain frequency,” he explained, “it’s just outside of the red light zone called near-infrared, and it’s between 800 and 1,100 nanometers, and that frequency, those colors are basically the only ones in the entire spectrum that can penetrate the body, and by penetrate, what I mean is that they lose about 80% of their power every centimeter, so [in US standard units], then that’s 90% every inch.”

But when that energy reaches the patient’s brain, it can have great benefits.

“Cells that absorb the laser will secrete nerve growth factor, so that obviously can help some neurons, nerve cells regrow.”

Basically, the light hits the nerves, the nerves use that energy to release chemicals that help brain cells heal and regrow, and the brain can actually repair some damage to itself, whether the original trauma was emotional or physical. It could help heal damage from both PTSD and TBI.

“Any cell that absorbs it and give it more energy, and that could mean that cells, including the helper cells, in the brain, which is really the white matter of the brain, if it’s been injured, for instance in the case of TBI, those cells will get more energy to heal, and then the third thing is that for almost— there’s no scientific paper about this, but if you were to talk to these people every day like we do during the treatment, new neural circuits are formed, and I think that’s the key item. The laser increases what’s called neuroplasticity, which obviously means that the brain becomes able to reconnect and forms new circuits.”

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An Air Force veteran undergoes transcranial laser pain relief.

(Screenshot courtesy LaserMD Pain Relief)

After reading the literature, Dr. Kraft decided to see if the claims of other laser practitioners stood up to the hype.

“I decided to start treating PTSD patients myself to see if it was really as good as they claimed,” he said, “and I’ve treated 10 adults and two kids, and I’m using doses that are about three times higher than they published the report at, and indeed, it is a phenomenal treatment. It’s not a perfect treatment of PTSD. The patient I’ve treated who’s been the oldest patient is a female … So this one patient I treated, she’s about 12 months since her last treatment, and she has retained 95% improvement in all of her symptoms.”

Dr. Kraft says that 60 percent of his patients experience improvement during treatment.

“I opened up a pain clinic, and I actually have the most laser pain experience in the country, probably in the world,” he said. “In terms of treating pain, the laser is an unbelievable treatment. Unbelievable meaning that 60 percent of people get some relief. It’s not 100 percent, but compared to conventional pain treatments, injections and pills, it’s far superior.”

A notable shortcoming of the treatment is that, in Kraft’s experience, it gives little relief to children. Kraft has two patients that he classifies as children, and neither has seen a massive improvement with laser therapy. He’s also reluctant to try the therapy with any patient with a history of seizures, worried that adding energy to the brain could trigger a seizure.

Still, for PTSD and TBI patients as a whole and veterans, in particular, treatments that help adults are a great start. So, if the treatment got positive results in the 10-patient study, and Dr. Kraft’s 10 adult patients are doing so well, what’s stopping this treatment from going on tour and helping vets and other PTSD sufferers around the country?

Well, there are few things. First and most importantly, much more study is needed to ensure the treatments work, work long term, and have no unidentified side effects (in Dr. Kraft’s patients so far, the sensation of heat and of “brain fog” that dissipates within a day has been reported). But if a foundation or corporation with deep enough pockets were to get the treatment through the regulatory hurdles, there’s little reason why the treatment couldn’t be rolled out quickly.

TLT Transcranial Laser Therapy, New Hope for PTSD & TBI

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Logistically, conducting the treatment is very easy. The laser system is fairly easy to operate and just needs a good power source. Dr. Kraft even said the system could be rolled out on a mobile platform.

“The long-term goal is to deploy this to the VA and DOD,” he said, “and actually if this treatment were fully developed, you could actually essentially have a medic in a Winnebago, go around even to rural areas, to treat people rather [than bringing them into clinics]. Because a lot of the vets can’t make it into the big medical center in big cities.”

“I think that in five to ten years, it’s going to be considered the gold standard of PTSD treatments.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 amazing pilots who became an ‘ace-in-a-day’

Fighter aces are a rare and legendary breed: People who are not only skilled enough to fly jets in combat, but so good at it that they can knock down at least five of the enemy without dying themselves. But there’s an even more elite subset of pilots who were able to kill at least five of the enemy in a single day, sometimes a single engagement.

Here are 7 of these elite pilots:


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Colonel James E. Swett earned the Medal of Honor in World War II as a first lieutenant when he killed seven enemy planes in one day.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. 1st Lt. James Swett

Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Swett was sent against Japanese fighters near the Solomons Island on April 7, 1943. He led his four-plane flight against 15 enemy bombers and successfully shredded three of them in a single dive. Now separated from the rest of his flight, he attacked a group of six bombers and downed four of them. While lining up on a fifth bomber, he ran out of ammo.

His plane had been damaged in the fighting and he had suffered cuts to his face from a broken cockpit window. He managed to land his stricken plane into the ocean and was picked up by the Navy. His seven kills from that day were accompanied by eight more over the course of the war. He received the Medal of Honor and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.

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1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc flew F4F Wildcats against Japanese fighters and bombers.

2. 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc

During fighting in the Solomon Islands on January 31, 1943, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc was sent up to escort dive bombers targeting Japanese ships. A swarm of Japanese Zeroes rose up against them. DeBlanc and his men were able to keep the Zeroes off the dive bombers, but then he got a call for assistance from low-flying bombers that they were under attack by Japanese float planes.

DeBlanc banked down into the fight and shot his way through three of the float planes. Low on fuel and ammo, he finally banked away towards home, only to notice that two Japanese fighters were coming up behind him. DeBlanc turned back to fight and killed the two Zeroes before being forced to bail out of his plane because of the damage from all the fighting. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions and survived the war.

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Royal Australian Air Force Group Capt. Clive Caldwell was the killingest pilot in Australian history.

(Australian War Museum)

3. Group Captain Clive Caldwell

Group Capt. Clive Caldwell is the highest-scoring ace in Royal Australian Air Force history and was credited with 28.5 kills in World War II. His ace-in-a-day mission came on December 5, 1941, when he was leading two squadrons on patrol in Africa. The allied formation stumbled into a group of German bombers with an Italian fighter escort.

Caldwell went after a group of three bombers and took out the 2nd and 3rd planes in formation with quick bursts, then he made more passes through the now-dispersed bombers and hit two more in wings and engines. Finally, he came up towards the belly of a fifth bomber and waited until he was right against it to open fire, engulfing it in flames and sending it down.

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Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a pioneer of naval aviation who earned a Medal of Honor when he killed at least five Japanese bombers in just minutes.

4. Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a legend in early World War II, and his most famous battle came just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On February 20, 1942, a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers headed for the USS Lexington. One flight of Navy F4F Wildcats went after the first wave, and O’Hare and his wingman were the only ones left to defend against the second wave.

But O’Hare’s wingman experienced a gun jam, and so O’Hare had to go after eight Japanese bombers on his own. He went after the rear bombers on the right side, first, downing two of them quickly with bursts through the engines and fuel tanks. On a second pass, O’Hare destroyed two more with shots to an engine and to a left wing and cockpit. Finally, he hit two more on a third pass, leading him to believe that he had downed six. The engagement had lasted less than six minutes.

He was only credited with five kills, though. Lt. Cmdr. O’Hare unfortunately met his end in 1943 while defending a carrier from a night raid.

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British Defiant fighters had rear-facing gunners.

(Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry)

5. Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke, Cpl. Albert Lippett

During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, British Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke and his gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, were sent to help keep the beaches open for evacuation. On May 29, they were in their Defiant when their formation engaged with a group of German Bf 109 fighters and they killed one. Later in the mission, they engaged a group of Bf 109s and Bf 110s, killing one of each.

They refueled and rearmed and headed out for another mission, this time finding a group of dive bombers attacking at the beaches. Cooke positioned the plane near the ground and gave Lippett a stable platform to shoot from. The young gunner targeted the fuel tanks that sat between the German pilot and navigator, killing five over the beaches and helping kill two more.

Only two days later, they would go missing over the English Channel.

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U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Frank Luke downed 18 targets in a single month in World War I.

(U.S. Air Force)

6. 2nd Lt. Frank Luke

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke was one of America’s most prolific fighters, downing 14 German observation balloons and four planes during his short career. Balloons in World War I were extremely dangerous, well-protected targets, and Luke developed a reputation as a fearless balloon buster. All of this happened in September, 1918.

His greatest one-day total came on September 18 when he made a run on balloons and downed two, then killed two of the German fighters that came up to kill him, and then spotted and killed a German reconnaissance plane on his way back to U.S. lines.

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Then-Lt. Stanley Vejtasa on right as a member of the Grim Reapers, VF-10.

(U.S. Navy)

7. Capt. Stanley Vejtasa

Navy Capt. Stanley Vejtasa is one of the few “double aces” with 10.5 confirmed aerial kills. He achieved ace status in a single day on October 26, 1942, when he killed two Japanese dive bombers attempting to sink his carrier and then turned to interrupt a torpedo attack, killing five of them for seven kills in a single mission.

But his greater contribution to the war may have been his skill in dive bombers and other planes while attacking Japanese planes. He was credited with sinking at least five ships including a carrier and damaging seven more, making him one of the very few pilots who can claim ace status against ships.

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US Special Operations troops are bringing the fight to ISIS in Libya

For the first time, U.S. and Libyan officials have confirmed that U.S. Special Operations were on the ground fighting Islamic State militants in Libya.


Due to the fact that the mission was not yet made public, sources that spoke on condition of anonymity told The Washington Post that the roles of these operators were limited in scope to merely assisting Libyan forces by exchanging intelligence information to coordinate American airstrikes.

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A US Special Forces sniper training at Twentynine Palms, CA. | United States Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Efren Lopez

Stationed with British forces at a joint operations center near the coastal city of Sirte — ISIS’ stronghold in North Africa — these elite servicemembers were also reported to have constructed small outposts in the area to establish friendly relations with the locals.

This decision from the Pentagon comes on the heels of the commencement of airstrikes on ISIS’ position in Sirte. The Washington Post reports that since these airstrikes received approval last week, almost 30 militants have been killed in addition to the destruction of numerous ISIS-owned fighting positions and vehicles.

In a quote from the article, European Council on Foreign Relations expert Mattia Toaldo explained that the U.S.’s role in Sirte was different than elsewhere in Libya because the numerous political factions wouldn’t mind an intervention against ISIS’ spread.

“As long as they keep this low profile … the risks both for the US and for the Libyan government are quite low,” he stated.

Since their arrival in Libya in 2014, ISIS militants in Africa have imitated their Middle Eastern counterparts through their brutal over-the-top methods of garnering attention. To combat their spread, other NATO nations, such as France, have also been reported to have deployed special forces operators into the region earlier this year.

Western nations have started deploying special operators against ISIS in greater numbers recently. Newly published photographs show British special operators close to the ISIS front lines in Syria, and US special operators have been active working alongside the Kurds in northern Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are safe, but Chernobyl isn’t

On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, U.S. airmen dropped the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On April 26, 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine exploded.

Today, over 1.6 million people live and seem to be thriving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 30 square kilometer area surrounding the plant, remains relatively uninhabited. Here’s why.


Fat Man and Little Boy

Dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Little Boy was a uranium-fueled bomb about 10 feet long and just over two feet across, that held 140 pounds of uranium and weighed nearly 10,000 pounds.

When he exploded as planned nearly 2000 feet above Hiroshima, about two pounds of uranium underwent nuclear fission as it released nearly 16 kilotons of explosive force. Since Hiroshima was on a plain, Little Boy caused immense damage. Estimates vary but it is believed that approximately 70,000 people were killed and an equal number were injured on that day, and nearly 70% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Since then, approximately 1,900 people, or about 0.5% of the post-bombing population, are believed to have died from cancers attributable to Little Boy’s radiation release.

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A mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Little Boy

Squat and round, Fat Man, so named for its resemblance to Kasper Gutman from The Maltese Falcon, was dropped three days later on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. About two pounds of Fat Man’s 14 pounds of plutonium fissioned when it detonated about 1,650 feet above Nagasaki, releasing 21 kilotons of explosive force. Because the bomb exploded in a valley, much of the city was protected from the blast. Nonetheless, it is estimated that between 45,000 and 70,000 died immediately, and another 75,000 were injured. No data on subsequent cancer deaths attributable to radiation exposure from the bomb is readily available.

Chernobyl

Sadly, Chernobyl was likely preventable and, like other nuclear plant accidents, the result of decision-makers’ hubris and bad policy that encouraged shoddy practice.

The design of the reactors at Chernobyl was significantly flawed. First, it had a “built-in instability.” When it came, this instability created a vicious cycle, where the coolant would decrease while the reactions (and heat) increased; with less and less coolant, it became increasingly difficult to control the reactions. Second, rather than having a top-notch containment structure consisting of a steel liner plate and post-tensioning and conventional steel reinforced concrete, at Chernobyl they only used heavy concrete.

On April 26, 1986, engineers wanted to run a test of how long electrical turbines powered by the reactor would continue operating when the reactor was no longer producing power. To get the experiment to work, they had to disable many of the reactor’s safety systems. This included turning off most automatic safety controls and removing ever more control rods (which absorb neutrons and limit the reaction). In fact by the end of the test, only 6 of the reactor’s 205 control rods remained in the fuel.

As they ran the experiment, less cooling water entered the reactor, and what was there began to turn to steam. As less coolant was available, the reaction increased to dangerous levels. To counteract this, the operators tried to reinsert the remaining control rods. Sadly, the rods also had a design flaw in the graphite tips. This resulted in the displacement of the coolant before the reaction could be brought under control. In a nutshell, as these tips displaced the coolant, within seconds the reaction actually increased drastically due to the heat, creating even more steam, and thus getting rid of more coolant.

This might have not been so bad had the control rods been able to be inserted fully to perform their function of absorbing neutrons and thus slowing the reaction, except the heat became so intense, that some of the graphite rods fractured, jamming the rods at about one third of the way in.

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A mockup of the Fat Man nuclear device.

Fat Man

So, in the end, when the nearly 200 graphite tips were inserted into the fuel, reactivity increased rapidly, rather than slowed as was supposed to happen, and the whole thing blew up. It is estimated that about seven to ten tons of nuclear fuel were released and at least 28 people died directly as a result of the explosion.

It is further estimated that over 90,000 square miles of land was seriously contaminated with the worst effects being felt in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. However, radiation quickly spread in the wind and affected wide swaths of the northern hemisphere and Europe, including England, Scotland and Wales.

Hard data on the number of people who died as a result of the radioactive release are difficult to find. It is known that of the 100 people exposed to super high radiation levels immediately after the accident, 47 are now deceased. Additionally, it has been reported that thyroid disease skyrocketed in those countries closest to Chernobyl; by 2005, 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer were recorded in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Radiation contamination

Most experts agree that the areas in the 30 kilometer Chernobyl exclusion zone are terribly contaminated with radioactive isotopes like caesium-137, strontium-90 and iodine-131, and, therefore, are unsafe for human habitation. Yet neither Nagasaki nor Hiroshima suffer these conditions. This difference is attributable to three factors: (1) the Chernobyl reactor had a lot more nuclear fuel; (2) that was much more efficiently used in reactions; and (3) the whole mess exploded at ground level. Consider:

Amount

Little Boy had around 140 pounds of uranium, Fat Man contained about 14 pounds of plutonium and reactor number four had about 180 tons of nuclear fuel.

Reaction efficiency

Only about two pounds of Little Boy’s uranium actually reacted. Likewise only about two pounds Fat Man’s plutonium underwent nuclear fission. However, at Chernobyl, at least seven tons of nuclear fuel escaped into the atmosphere; in addition, because the nuclear fuel melted, volatile radioisotopes were released including 100% of its xenon and krypton, 50% of its radioactive iodine and between 20-40% of its cesium.

Location

Both Fat Man and Little Boy were detonated in mid-air, hundreds of feet above the Earth’s surface. As a result, the radioactive debris was taken aloft and dispersed by the mushroom cloud rather than being drilled into the earth. On the other hand, when reactor number four melted down at ground level, the soil underwent neutron activation, where the already active neutrons in the burning fuel reacted with the soil causing it to become radioactive.

Uncertain future

Lately, some weird reports have been coming from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – wild animals have returned, and, for the most part, they seem fine. Moose, deer, beaver, wild boar, otter, badger, horses, elk, ducks, swans, storks and more are now being hunted by bears, lynx and packs of wolves, all of which look physically normal (but test high for radioactive contamination). In fact, even early effects of mutations in plants, including malformations and even glowing are now mostly limited to the five most-contaminated places.

Although not everyone is ready to agree that Chernobyl is proof that nature can heal herself, scientists agree that studying the unique ecosystem, and how certain species appear to be thriving, has produced data that will ultimately help our understanding of long term radiation effects. For example, wheat seeds taken from the site shortly after the accident produced mutations that continue to this day, yet soybeans grown near the reactor in 2009 seem to have adapted to the higher radiation. Similarly, migrant birds, like barn swallows, seem to struggle more with the radiation in the zone than resident species. As one expert explained, they’re studying the zone’s flora and fauna to learn the answer to a simple question: “Are we more like barn swallows or soybeans?

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

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