“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 13. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”
A resurgent Taliban coupled with Islamic State militants have challenged U.S. forces in the region and are taking back territory formerly under control of U.S. and Afghan troops. As of February, the Afghan government controls 59 percent of all districts in the country, which is down 11 percentage points from the same time period in 2016.
Four months ago, Army Gen. John Nicholson, who commands U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed several thousand more troops.
Most of the new troops heading to Afghanistan will play the role of training and advising Afghan troops. A small minority will directly participate in counter-terrorism operations against Taliban and ISIS fighters.
Afghanistan is America’s longest war, beginning in 2001. More than 2,300 Americans have been killed so far and 17,000 more wounded.
As such, Mattis is looking to end the war as soon as possible.
“We’re not looking at a purely military strategy,” Mattis told a House Appropriations panel June 15. “All wars come to an end. Our job is to end it as quickly as possible without losing the very mission that we’ve recognized, through several administrations, that was worth putting those young Americans on the line for.”
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The best weapons work against a variety of targets and in many different scenarios. Sometimes, a specific target is so tough or so-well defended a custom weapon is needed to destroy it. Here are 5 weapons created to destroy a single target or set of targets.
1. The Dutch “floating volcano”
The explosion that destroyed the Swedish warship Kronan in battle in 1676 was a fraction of the size of the “Hellraiser” ship at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.
In 1585, Dutch defenders at Antwerp needed to break the Spanish siege they were stuck behind. Targeting a pontoon bridge across the River Schelde, the Dutch defenders created “hellraisers.”
Constantinople had survived 1,000 years of sieges by the time Sultan Mehmed II began eyeing it. To crack the walls of the fortress, Mehmed accepted an offer from a Hungarian cannon expert to build the “Basilica cannon,” a 27-ft-long cannon that fired a 30-inch round.
Developed by Dr. Barnes Wallace, bouncing bombs carried 6,600 pounds of high-explosive as they skipped across the water surface to get past German torpedo nets at well-defended German dams. The bombs reached the dams and sunk along the wall before detonating.
The prospects for the cannon were dealt a double blow by the Allied invasion on D-day and a Royal Air Force bombing of the cannon a month later on July 6, 1944. The weapon was moved to Germany and fired just 44 rounds during the Battle of the Bulge.
With the latest dustup over comments allegedly made by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump questioning America’s nuclear weapons use rationale, WATM thought it would be worth looking into how popping off a couple nukes on, say, ISIS might actually look.
So what would happen if America or another nuclear power were to use a single, small, nuclear bomb to end a conflict?
To destroy a city with a small nuclear weapon such as the B61 bomb—capable of explosions from .3 kilotons to 340 kilotons—while minimizing fallout and other repercussions, it would be best to detonate the weapon on the surface at its minimum .3 kiloton yield. This is roughly 2.5 percent the strength of the blast at Hiroshima.
Based on the math, .3-kiloton explosion in the ISIS capital of Raqqa, for example, could be aimed to destroy major infrastructure such as roads without directly hitting the National Hospital or major mosques.
When the bomb went off, a flash of light would fill the sky, blinding anyone looking at it.
A searing heat would accompany the flash, superheating the surfaces of buildings, streets and anything else in the area. Paint, plastics, glues, papers, living tissue and so forth would immediately burn and begin to rise as black carbon. This effect would kill everything in an approximately 160-yard radius from the blast area.
In the following instant, the massive overpressure wave from the blast would rock the surrounding landscape. The wind generated by this blast would pick up all the black carbon, loose objects, sand and rubble, and blast it out from ground zero and up into the atmosphere.
This shockwave would be especially strong — compared to the size of the explosion — in a dialed-down bomb like the B61 at a .3-kiloton setting. Between the searing heat and the shockwave, everyone within approximately 340 yards of the blast would be killed nearly instantly.
All of this would happen in the first second after the bomb detonated.
In the area surrounding ground zero, going from about 340-750 yards, many people would survive the initial explosion with severe burns, internal injuries from the pressure blast, and blindness.
This would produce an estimated 4,400 casualties and 8,900 injuries, according to nuclearsecrecy.org‘s Nuke Map.
In the minutes that followed the blast, fires would quickly spread everywhere there is material to burn. Emergency crews would have to juggle between fighting the fires and treating the wounded.
With the sudden increase in debris and damage to infrastructure, first responders would be unable to move the wounded to hospitals. Surviving doctors — which Raqqa already has a shortage of — would be pressed into service treating the wounded.
Given the Islamic State’s known disdain for civilians, it’s likely these doctors would be ordered to treat militant fighters first.
The irradiated debris from the blast and the fires, including burnt plastics and other toxins, would settle on the ground starting in the first few hours after the detonation. As this material settled, much of it would end up in the Euphrates River which runs to the south of the city center. This would poison the water supplies downriver, including much of Syria and the bulk of Southern Iraq.
Any attempt to render humanitarian aid in the area would be hampered by the severe health risks of operating in an irradiated environment. While all branches of the military have personnel and units trained to operate in a nuke zone, only a small number are true specialists.
And most of these specialized forces are assigned to domestic counterterrorism missions — meaning that pre-staging them forward or deploying them to assist after a nuclear attack would weaken America’s ability to respond to an attack at home.
Meanwhile, there is little evidence that a nuclear attack on the ISIS capital would actually stop them.
Nuclear attacks are designed to work two ways. First, the attack damages infrastructure and the physical warfighting capability of the enemy. But ISIS has relatively few infrastructure needs. It doesn’t manufacture tanks or planes, and it can build suicide vehicles and bomb vests nearly anywhere.
The second way a nuclear attack stops an enemy is by delivering such a psychological blow that they stop fighting. But ISIS fighters are already happy with being cannon fodder and suicide bombers. Martyrdom is martyrdom, nuclear or otherwise.
A nuclear attack on a Muslim city, even the ISIS capital, could also prove to be a prime recruiting tool. It might be used as an example that America doesn’t care about Muslim lives, and “Remember Raqqa!” would be a rallying cry for recruiters and fighters for the rest of the war.
Using the weapons against any other enemy would be even worse. While ISIS would survive and be able to recruit after suffering a nuclear attack, China or Russia could respond with an actual nuclear attack. The resulting exchange would guarantee a nuclear winter.
So maybe it’s best to keep using nuclear weapons as a last-resort deterrent instead of just another weapon in the armory.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists wait before performing static line jumps as the door of a C-130 Hercules, assigned to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., opens over the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., March 11, 2016. SERE specialists lead the Air Force emergency parachuting program and conduct extensive testing of parachuting systems. They are uniquely suited to analyze the operating environment to plan for evasion, captivity and recovery considerations.
Airmen, carrying 35-pound rucksacks, participate in the 2016 Bataan Memorial Death March with 6,600 other participants March 20, 2016, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The 27th annual march was 26.2 miles long and served as a reminder for today’s generation of the harsh conditions World War II veterans endured during their 60-mile march to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines.
A Soldier rushes to his next position during the third day of testing at the Expert Infantry Badge qualification held on Fort Jackson, S.C. March 31, 2016.
A Soldier, assigned to 1-2 SBCT, 7th Infantry Division, conducts aerial radiological survey training from a 16th Combat Aviation Brigade UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., March 24, 2016.
SOUDA BAY, Greece (March 25, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), departs Souda Bay, Greece, following a scheduled port visit. Donald Cook is forward deployed to Rota, Spain, and is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
NORFOLK (March 30, 2016) An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from the Blackhawks of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 conducts an aerial refueling exercise with a Lockheed Martin KC-130 tanker. Navy and Marine Corps aviators regularly conduct training in order to maintain mission readiness.
A U.S. Navy Corpsman assigned to Field Medical Training Battalion East (FMTB-E), checks on members of his squad during a final exercise (FINEX) at Camp Johnson, N.C., March 1, 2016. FINEX is a culminating event at FMTB-E which transitions Sailors into the Fleet Marine Force.
U.S. Marines with the Marine Corps Engineer School (MCES) at Courthouse Bay, participate in tug of war competition during a field meet at Ellis Field on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, March 17, 2016. The MCES holds a field meet annually in order to promote camaraderie and competition.
Chief Petty Officer Mark Wanjongkhum and Chief Warrant Officer Michael Allen, both from Surface Forces Logistics Center, walk around the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy while in dry dock at Vigor Shipyard in Seattle, March 31, 2016. Healy will return to the water this week after three months of maintenance.
A C-27J Medium Range Surveillance airplane sits on the runway at Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Thursday, March 31, 2016. The C-27J is the newest Coast Guard aircraft to join the fleet and will be used in maritime patrol, drug and migrant interdiction, disaster response, and search and rescue missions.
John W. “Jack” Hinson was a man who found himself firmly on both sides at the outset of the Civil War. He claimed neutrality and achieved it by giving intelligence reports to both sides, including one report to then-Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Hinson was a farmer on the Tennessee-Kentucky border who seemed to be trying to just get through the war intact. He owned slaves but had opposed secession. One son joined the Confederate Army and another joined a militia, but the family hosted Grant after his victory at Fort Donelson.
But Hinson lived in a region that was fiercely contested by the North and South, and the Hinsons were caught in the crosshairs.
An Army lieutenant ordered the boys tied to a tree and shot. After the execution, the officer cut off their heads and ordered them placed on gate posts at the Hinson plantation.
Jack Hinson did not respond well to this. He buried the bodies and then cleared the plantation, sending away his family and slaves.
He ordered a custom sniper rifle. Like the Whitworth Rifle that achieved the longest sniper shot in the Civil War, Hinson’s rifle fired hexagonal rounds through a rifled barrel. Unlike the Whitworth, the rifle weighed 17 pounds and fired .50-caliber rounds accurately to 880 yards.
After that he began searching out targets of opportunity, focusing his attacks on the vital river trade up and down the Tennessee River.
In one instance, a gunboat attacked by Hinson even surrendered under the belief that they were under fire by a large rebel force. Hinson couldn’t accept the surrender because, again, he was on his own in the woods of Tennessee with a single rifle.
Hinson is also believed to have killed a group of pro-Southern renegades who attacked a neighbor, so he carried some of his “neutrality” into his single-man campaign against the North.
Although no one knows for sure what happened to the sub, a conspiracy has emerged painting the captain as a hero for sacrificing his ship and crew to divert the apocalyptic scenario.
According to Sewell, Soviet sub K-129 was hijacked by a band of rogue KGB commandos to provoke a war between America and China by making it appear like China attacked Hawaii á la Pearl Harbor.
“They did that to weaken the United States, to strengthen the Soviet Union. Get your two enemies to fight and you pick up the pieces,” Sewell said.
But when the captain realized the mutiny wasn’t authorized by the Soviet government, he gave the KGB operatives the wrong launch codes to his missiles, Sewell alleges.
“When you had an attempted launch with the wrong code it would detonate the warhead, which would cause the missile to explode, which sank the submarine,” Sewell said. “We owe him a really big debt of gratitude. He’s one of these unsung heroes of history that will never really get credit.”
“It’s really hard for me to quit anything … I expect to have bad days. I expect to make mistakes and have setbacks. It’s just second nature for me to keep moving.”
Writer, producer and former Navy SEAL Remi Adeleke doesn’t fit into molds. His life has been filled with a gamut of opportunities for which he didn’t qualify. But with help from a recruiter and the voice of his mom in his mind reminding him of excellence, he proved that he would overcome the bad choices he’d made as an at-risk youth to master his future.
Now, he’s passionate about motivating young people of the same background to know what they can accomplish beyond the limitations society has put on them based on their race or what area they’re from.
Adeleke didn’t grow up with hopes of becoming a Navy SEAL. He’d never seen one in person or thought about becoming a member of the highly-trained elite team of special operations forces. They were just the intriguing cool guys in the movies.
His father died when he was a young boy, and his mom was left alone to care for him and his brother Bayo. So, she moved her family from Africa to the Bronx in New York City. Unfortunately, inner-city communities like the Bronx are plagued with crime, high unemployment, inadequate educational opportunities, and extreme poverty, and Adeleke became a product of his surroundings. He was selling drugs and getting into other illegal activities. By the time he tried to join the military, he had two warrants out for his arrest. But Adeleke had an unexpected supporter that changed his life. His recruiter, Tianna Reyes, was a fellow Bronx native who understood his environment and went to bat for him because she knew no one else would give him a chance.
“She really believed in me,” he said. As a result, his record was expunged, and on July 2, 2002, he was sworn into the U.S. Navy.
Adeleke’s first time learning about special operations forces was in boot camp, and he was hooked.
But once again, he didn’t fit the bill.
“I was totally unqualified to go to BUD/S (basic underwater demolition SEAL training) because I didn’t have the academic scores. My ASVAB scores weren’t high enough. I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t run. I was super skinny, and I was not in shape for the program,” Adeleke explained.
But during his first command at Camp Pendleton, he took matters into his own hands.
“I created a regimen and started training. I would run three miles to the pool, jump in the shallow end, and try to figure it out. Over time I began to get better, and I would run three miles back to my barracks,” he said.
He also purchased the book “ASVAB for Dummies” and eventually retook the test.
Adeleke then went even further and asked his leading petty officer to give him a split shift schedule so he could train harder. He qualified for SEAL training within six months, but this still didn’t seal the deal for him. After a year of being in SEAL training, he had failed his aquatic test so many times that he was kicked out.
“I failed a dive test four times and ultimately got kicked out of school,” he added.
Still, he refused to quit after being sent back to the fleet. Adeleke trained for a-year-and-half with the Marines and went back to SEAL training and became a SEAL.
In his book “Transformed,” he documents his life, the challenges he’s faced, and the lessons he’s learned. His driving force now is giving back to communities like the one he grew up in. Acting in a major film — “Transformers: The Last Knight” — and now working as a screenwriter and director aren’t enough if he can’t share the lessons. He attributes this to one thing — his faith.
“This is not about me. It’s about people. How can I serve people? How can I bless people?” he said.
Adeleke emphasizes a desire to expose Black youths to the Navy SEALs, as he was the only Black graduate in his class of SEALs. Since 2012, the U.S. Navy has stated it is actively looking for minority SEALs, yet less than 1% of them are Black. Adeleke says part of the blame goes to Hollywood for the lack of positive Black images they put in the world.
The idea that white people can do anything is normalized and reinforced by Hollywood, while Black children rarely see themselves in strong, affluent roles.
Exposure to proper education is another mission. Not only are the kids not exposed to SEALs, but urban schools also lack essential tools required to join, like access to pools to learn to swim.
“You don’t see educators allowing top tier military professionals such as special operators, pilots, or doctors into their inner-city schools to say you can do this too,” he explained.
To add to the lack of representation, Adeleke has received layers of pushback from inner-city schools and prisons when his team asks if he can speak to the inmates or students.
“The schools that give me the hardest time to get into [to speak] are inner-city, predominantly African American schools,” he said.
His frustration is palpable. The root of the problem is that predominantly white schools are financially backed with an outpouring of community support to expand and better their students’ opportunities. In contrast, minority community schools, which mostly receive funding from property taxes, still fall victim to the American system’s discrimination.
“You’ve got to go through all this red tape. But when you go to these schools in suburbia, it’s, ‘Hey, you want to come speak? Come!’ I’ve got an open-door policy to so many schools in suburban areas, but I don’t in urban areas,” Adeleke shared.
And when asking the reason, he is told it’s the city officials and their rules. But Adeleke has a knack for breaking down barriers.
“Overcoming adversity has become second nature to me,” he said. “I kind of learned that through osmosis by living with my mother.”
During 2020, as big brands claimed they would actively diversify and seek out Black creators, one major studio stuck to their word and sought Adeleke out to produce a show.
“In the Hollywood side, I have seen some things change,” he said.
As his weight in Hollywood grows, Adeleke hopes to help give minority youth more exposure and experiences through the imprint of his future television and film work.
In Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first landmark Pacific policy address, the newly installed PM said Australia will commit anew to the Pacific, setting up a multibillion-dollar infrastructure bank to fund projects in the region and appointing a series of new diplomatic posts.
“Australia will step up in the Pacific and take our engagement with the region to a new level,” the prime minister said Nov. 8, 2018.
“While we have natural advantages in terms of history, proximity and shared values, Australia cannot take its influence in the southwest Pacific for granted, and too often we have,” Morrison said.
Morrison announced new defense force mobile-training team, annual meetings of defense, police, and border security chiefs, and new diplomatic posts in a number of Pacific countries.
The centerpiece will be a billion AUD financial facility to help fund major regional projects while the existing export financing agency (EFA) will be boosted by another one billion dollars.
Referring to Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, Morrison said the stability and economic progress of the Pacific region are of “fundamental importance,” and no single country can tackle the challenges on its own.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
(Photo by Michel Temer)
Morrison announced his Pacific Pivot ahead of a milestone meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Asia-Pacific regional leaders next week at the APEC forum in Papua New Guinea.
Morrison said it was time Australia opened a “new chapter in relations with our Pacific family.” “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically, and sovereign politically.”
A familiar tone
In a speech that strongly echoed former US President Barack Obama’s “Asian Pivot” address in Canberra in 2011, Morrison outlined his own plan to project Australian soft power in an attempt to thwart China’s unchecked economic and industrial expansion across the Pacific over the last decade.
In a pretty unforgettable speech to Australia’s parliament on Nov. 17, 2011, Obama declared that “America is back!” “Let there be no doubt: in the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all-in.”
That was about the zenith of the much-vaunted pivot, and at around exactly the same time China started to take its interests in the Pacific to a fresh intensity.
According to Reuters’ calculations, since Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” China has poured id=”listicle-2618687423″.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts to almost instantly become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia.
Falling under Beijing’s influence
Today, China is the region’s biggest bilateral lender, although Australia’s significant aid programs mean it remains the largest financial backer in the South Pacific.
While China has always maintained a political stake in the region as part of its ongoing diplomatic chess battle with Taiwan, the sheer magnitude and speed of Chinese assistance eventually raised alarms and even hysteria among Western-aligned nations that the string of southern Pacific island states was very quickly falling under Beijing’s influence.
But if Australia’s backyard was finding itself over a Beijing barrel, then Morrison put his hand up for the first time to acknowledge that Australia and its major allies, the US foremost amongst them, wore some of the blame for that and had neglected the region for too long.
Australia, he said, had taken the Pacific and its nations “for granted.” Speaking from a military facility in Townsville where US troops are based, Morrison redrew the Pacific’s strategic importance to Australia’s foreign and defense policy.
Morrison promised closer economic, military and diplomatic ties in what will undoubtedly be seen from Beijing as a move to counter its efforts to drive its controversial One Belt, One Road initiative or in this case its 21st-century maritime silk road.
One Belt, One Road initiative. China in red, Members of the AIIB in orange, the six corridors in black.
Fortunately, Beijing won’t even have to pick up the phone with Morrison’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne already in Beijing heading up Australia’s first mission to China in several years after an extended diplomatic freeze out. “This is not just our region, or our neighborhood.
It’s our home,” Morrison said. Morrison flagged that the region requires around billion per year in investments up to 2030, adding, “It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.”But that is something China has been more than happy to help achieve.
Beijing has sewn up diplomatic relations with eight Pacific island countries, from the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. (Others of course, recognize Taiwan.)
In the ten years between 2006 and 2016, The Lowy Institute a Sydney-based think tank, reckons Beijing has probably injected more than .3 billion into the region.
China has been more than happy to accommodate small nations such as Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands with concessional loans, criticized by many as overt “debt-trap diplomacy.”
Colombo’s failure to get on top of billion in debt repayments to Beijing’s state-owned enterprises has already given Beijing what many analysts consider a critically handy strategic toehold in Sri Lanka, in the port of Hambantota, including a 99-year-lease.
The port has idyllic views of the major Indian Ocean sea lanes. Elsewhere China is copping its first significant OBOR pushback out of the Asia-Pacific.
Malaysia is trying to find itself some wriggle room, preferably around perceived inequalities in the huge billion of China-originated infrastructure deals Kuala Lumpur has signed off on. Part of Australia’s appeal to the Pacific will be in aid and funding transfers that have traditionally not been about incurring trade deficits or weighty balance of payments crisis.
However, academics including James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia China Research Institute say that analysis of debt in the Pacific strongly suggests that the “debt-trap diplomacy” argument is without much foundation.
What is certain, however, is that over and above China’s bilateral aid programs across the pacific and its support for regional organisations, Beijing has been at pains to show it is a partner in good faith.
Beijing has backed and hosted major regional meetings, most recently in 2013, in which it announced a suite of aid measures to boost economic resilience and diplomatic engagement, while also providing strong support to regional organisations, most particularly the Pacific Islands Forum.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
China has provided generous scholarship programs for Pacific islands students and contributes significant human resources and training for pacific island government officials.
Johnny Koanapo Rasou, Vanuatu’s Member of Parliament for Tanna Constituency, where China has been delivering badly needed road works and infrastructure, said in a press statement in 2017 that Vanuatu had its eyes wide open as China’s assistance becomes more and more evident.
“Our people are now learning more about China’s capability to positively contribute to our development aspirations.” “The manner in which the Chinese Government is delivering their aid to Vanuatu is different from the styles we are used to from New Zealand or Australia.
“But we must accept that all our development partners have different state structures. China is a communist state but it has created an enabling environment for its own citizens to flourish and therefore they themselves can go out and invest in other countries.”
League of debtor nations
However, according to Thomson Reuters almost half (49.08%) of Vanuatu’s external debt belongs to China. In August 2018, Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva said he hoped Pacific states could negotiate together to find a way out from under Beijing’s loans, before Tonga began to lose control of state assets as was happening in Sri Lanka.
Chinese loans make up more than 60% of Tonga’s total external debt burden. Another focus for Beijing has been the variety of resources available in loosely governed Papua New Guinea, which lays claim to the biggest Chinese debt, nigh on 0 million.
New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu all receive military aid from China. Fiji’s military leaders in particular have been welcoming of Chinese economic, military and strategic assistance.
China’s state media Xinhua has a quiet, but impactful bureau in Suva. While the US and its allies have been distracted with conflicts in the Middle East, China stepped up its military activities in the South Pacific. Chinese companies have sought and often secured access to strategic ports and airfields across many regional archipelagos.
According to Anne-Marie Brady, a political scientist from Canterbury University, satellite interests are an important aspect to China’s surge into the South Pacific. “In 2018, China launched 18 BeiDou-3 satellites into space.
Beidou-3 is China’s indigenous GPS, it provides missile positioning and timing and enhanced C4ISR capabilities for the Chinese military, as well as navigation services to more than 60 countries along the Belt and Road, including in Oceania.
Professor Brady said China’s mobile satellite station receiving station vessels regularly dock in Papeete (Tahiti) and Suva (Fiji), as do other quasi-military boats such as the Peace Ark and China’s well-equipped polar research vessels.
Brady a leading expert on Chinese investment in then pacific said many Pacific leaders now acknowledged China as “the dominant power in the region.”
“China’s strategic and military interests in the South Pacific build on longstanding links and fill the vacuum left by receding US and French power projection in the region, as well as Australia and New Zealand’s neglect of key relationships in the region.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. diplomatic facilities in a newly Qaddafi-free Libya were hit by a coordinated assault by an Islamic militant group. The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and two special operations veterans who responded to the attack as part of a volunteer CIA quick reaction force. The special operations community got their revenge, capturing ringleader Ahmed Abu Khattala in Libya in 2014.
Khattala was accused of being the leader of an extremist militia and directing the Benghazi attacks. Prosecutors alleged Khattala was responsible for the deaths of the four Americans, but could not find any evidence of the extremist leader actually holding a weapon.
He was caught on camera driving fighters to the attack site and his mobile phone records proved he was communicating with the attackers. Among the witnesses testifying against him were the FBI plant who got close to Khattala and helped the FBI arrange his capture by U.S. Army Special Forces.
The attack on the compound that killed Ambassador Stevens was the first that resulted in the death of such a high-profile diplomat since the 1979 killing of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs during a botched kidnapping attempt in 1979. Also killed was State Department Information Officer Sean Patrick Smith, along with former Navy SEALs Glen “Bub” Doherty and Tyrone “Rone” Woods, who both served with valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After CIA contractors who responded to an attack on the consulate compound removed Smith’s body and aided survivors (they were unable to find the ambassador), the attacking forces moved on to the CIA’s annex, where the defenders took cover. Doherty and Woods died in defense of the annex.
Though there have been many investigations in the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks and an exact timeline isn’t clear to this day, what is clear is that it was a coordinated assault by members of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, a group formed to fight the government forces of Muammar Qaddafi – and the Abu Khattala was involved.
Khattala was convicted on four charges, including providing material support for terrorism, but was cleared of 14 others including the four deaths of Americans on the ground in Benghazi that night.
F-35s, F-22s and other fighter jets will soon use improved “artificial intelligence” to control nearby drone “wingmen” able to carry weapons, test enemy air defenses or perform intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions in high risk areas, senior Air Force officials said.
Citing ongoing progress with computer algorithms and some degree of AI (artificial intelligence) already engineered into the F-35, Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias said that technology was progressing quickly at the Air Force Research Lab – to the point where much higher degrees of autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming is expected to emerge in the near future.
“This involves an attempt to have another platform fly alongside a human, perhaps serving as a weapons truck carrying a bunch of missiles,” Zacharias said in an interview with Scout Warrior.
An F-35 computer system, Autonomic Logistics Information System, involves early applications of artificial intelligence wherein computers make assessments, go through checklists, organize information and make some decisions by themselves – without needing human intervention.
“We are working on making platforms more autonomous with multi-int fusion systems and data from across different intel streams,” Zacharias explained.
The computer, called ALIS, makes the aircraft’s logistics tail more automated and is able to radio back information about engine health or other avionics.
A single, secure information environment provides users with up-to-date information on any of these areas using web-enabled applications on a distributed network, a statement from ALIS- builder Lockheed Martin says.
ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide, the statement continues.
However, despite the promise of advancing computer technology and increasingly levels of autonomy, Zacharias emphasized that dynamic human cognition is, in many respects, far more capable than computers.
Computers can more quickly complete checklists and various procedures, whereas human perception abilities can more quickly process changing information in many respects.
“A computer might have to go through a big long checklist, whereas a pilot might immediately know that the engines are out without going through a checklist. He is able to make a quicker decision about where to land,” Zacharias said.
The F-35s so-called “sensor fusion” uses computer algorithms to acquire, distill, organize and present otherwise disparate pieces of intelligence into a single picture for the pilot. The technology, Zacharias said, also exhibit some early implementations of artificial intelligence.
Systems such as a 360-degree sensor suite, called the Distributed Aperture System, is linked with targeting technologies, such as the aircraft’s Electro-Optical Targeting System.
F-35 to Control Drones
As a result, F-35 pilots will be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the aircraft cockpit in the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.
At the moment, the flight path, sensor payload and weapons disposal of airborne drones such as Air Force Predators and Reapers are coordinated from ground control stations.
“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” Zacharias said.
This development could greatly enhance mission scope, flexibility and effectiveness by enabling a fighter jet to conduct a mission with more weapons, sensors, targeting technology and cargo, Zacharias explained.
For instance, real-time video feeds from the electro-optical/infrared sensors on board an Air Force Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk drone could go directly into an F-35 cockpit, without needing to go to a ground control station. This could speed up targeting and tactical input from drones on reconnaissance missions in the vicinity of where a fighter pilot might want to attack. In fast-moving combat circumstances involving both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats, increased speed could make a large difference.
“It’s almost inevitable people will be saying – I want more missiles on board to get through defenses or I need some EW (electronic warfare) countermeasures because I don’t have the payload to carry a super big pod,” he explained. “A high powered microwave may have some potential that will require a dedicated platform. The negative side is you have to watch out that you don’t overload the pilot,” Zacharias added.
In addition, drones could be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned-fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots.
“Decision aides will be in cockpit or on the ground and more platform oriented autonomous systems. A wing-man, for instance, might be carrying extra weapons, conduct ISR tasks or help to defend an area,” he said.
Advances in computer power, processing speed and areas referred to as “artificial intelligence” are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Zacharias referred to as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent – without have humans manage each individual task.
“A person comes in and does command and control while having a drone execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans,” Zacharias said.
Another advantage of these technological advances is that one human may have an ability to control multiple drones and perform a command and control function – while drones execute various tasks such as sensor functions, targeting, weapons transport or electronic warfare activities.
At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio. Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10 – or even 100 – drones.
Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself – without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.
Unlike ground robotics wherein autonomy algorithms have to contend with an ability to move quickly in relation to unanticipated developments and other moving objects, simple autonomous flight guidance from the air is much more manageable to accomplish.
Since there are often fewer obstacles in the air compared with the ground, drones above the ground can be programmed more easily to fly toward certain pre-determined locations, often called a “way-points.”
At the same time, unanticipated movements, objects or combat circumstances can easily occur in the skies as well, Zacharias said.
“The hardest thing is ground robotics. I think that is really tough. I think the air basically is today effectively a solved problem. The question is what happens when you have to react more to your environment and a threat is coming after you,” he said.
As a result, scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.
“We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution,” Zacharias added.
Wargames, exercises and simulations are one of the ways the Air Force is working to advance autonomous technologies.
“Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is a smarter on-board processor. These systems can learn over time and be a force multiplier. There’s plenty of opportunity to go beyond the code base of an original designer and work on a greater ability to sense your environment or sense what your teammate might be telling you as a human,” he said.
For example, with advances in computer technology, autonomy and artificial intelligence, drones will be able to stay above a certain area and identify particular identified relevant objects or targets at certain times, without needing a human operator, Zacharias added.
This is particularly relevant because the exorbitant amount of ISR video feeds collected needs organizing algorithms and technology to help process and sift through the vast volumes of gathered footage – in order to pinpoint and communicate what is tactically relevant.
“With image processing and pattern recognition, you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘hey I just saw something 30-seconds ago you might want to look at the video feed I am sending right now,'” he explained.
The Army has advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in its helicopter fleet –successfully engineering Apache and Kiowa air crews to control UAS flight paths and sensor payloads from the air in the cockpit. Army officials say this technology has yielded successful combat results in Afghanistan.
Senior Air Force leaders have said that the services’ new next-generation bomber program, Long Range Strike Bomber or LRS-B, will be engineered to fly manned and unmanned missions.
Also, in September of 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.
At the same time, despite the speed at which unmanned technology is progressing, many scientist and weapons’ developers are of the view that human pilots will still be needed – given the speed at which the human brain can quickly respond to unanticipated developments.
There is often a two-second long lag time before a UAS in the air can respond to or implement directions from a remote pilot in a ground station, a circumstance which underscores the need for manned pilots when it comes to fighter jets, Air Force officials said.
Therefore, while cargo planes or bombers with less of a need to maneuver in the skies might be more easily able to embrace autonomous flight – fighter jets will still greatly benefit from human piloting, Air Force scientists have said.
While computer processing speed and algorithms continue to evolve at an alarming pace, it still remains difficult to engineer a machine able to instantly respond to other moving objects or emerging circumstances, Air Force scientists have argued.
However, sensor technology is progressing quickly to the point where fighter pilots will increasingly be able to identify threats at much greater distances, therefore remove the need to dogfight. As a result, there may be room for an unmanned fighter jet in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of improving autonomous technology.
Army Sgt. Bowe , who was held captive by the Taliban for half a decade after abandoning his Afghanistan post, is expected to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, two individuals with knowledge of the case said.
decision to plead guilty rather than face trial marks another twist in an eight-year drama that caused the nation to wrestle with difficult questions of loyalty, negotiating with hostage takers and America’s commitment not to leave its troops behind. President Donald Trump has called a “no-good traitor” who “should have been executed.”
The decision by the 31-year-old Idaho native leaves open whether he will return to captivity for years — this time in a U.S. prison — or receive a lesser sentence that reflects the time the Taliban held him under brutal conditions. He says he had been caged, kept in darkness, beaten and chained to a bed.
could face up to five years on the desertion charge and a life sentence for misbehavior.
Freed three years ago, had been scheduled for trial in late October. He had opted to let a judge rather than a military jury decide his fate, but a guilty plea later this month will spare the need for a trial.
Sentencing will start on Oct. 23, according to the individuals with knowledge of the case. They weren’t authorized to discuss the case and demanded anonymity. During sentencing, U.S. troops who were seriously wounded searching for in Afghanistanare expected to testify, the individuals said.
It was unclear whether prosecutors and defense team had reached any agreement ahead of sentencing about how severe a penalty prosecutors will recommend.
An attorney for , Eugene Fidell, declined to comment on Friday. Maj. Justin Oshana, who is prosecuting the case, referred questions to the U.S. Army, which declined to discuss whether had agreed to plead guilty.
“We continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality during this ongoing legal case,” said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.
was a 23-year-old private first class in June 2009 when, after five months in Afghanistan, he disappeared from his remote infantry post near the Pakistan border, triggering a massive search operation.
Videos soon emerged showing in captivity by the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan in the years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and harbored al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden as they plotted against America. For years, the U.S. kept tabs on with drones, spies and satellites as behind-the-scenes negotiations played out in fits and starts.
In May 2014, he was handed over to U.S. special forces in a swap for five Taliban detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, fueling an emotional U.S. debate about whether was a hero or a deserter.
As critics questioned whether the trade was worth it, President Barack Obama stood with parents in the White House Rose Garden and defended the swap. The United States does not “leave our men or women in uniform behind,” Obama declared, regardless of how came to be captured. The Taliban detainees were sent to Qatar.
“Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” Obama said. “Period. Full stop.”
Trump, as a presidential candidate, was unforgiving of , who has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army basepending the outcome of his case. At campaign events, Trump declared that “would have been shot” in another era, even pantomiming the pulling of the trigger.
“We’re tired of Sgt. , who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015.
guilty plea will follow several pretrial rulings against him that had complicated his defense. Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, the judge, decided in June that testimony from troops wounded as they searched for him would be allowed during sentencing, a decision that strengthened prosecutors’ leverage to pursue stiffer punishment.
Some of fellow soldiers want him held responsible for any harm suffered by those who went looking for him. The judge ruled a Navy SEAL and an Army National Guard sergeant wouldn’t have found themselves in separate firefights if they hadn’t been searching.
The defense separately argued Trump’s scathing criticism unfairly swayed the case. The judge ruled otherwise. Nance wrote in February that Trump’s comments were “disturbing and disappointing” but didn’t constitute unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.
lawyers also contended that misbehavior before the enemy, the more serious charge, was legally inappropriate and too severe. They were rebuffed again. The judge said a soldier who leaves his post alone and without authorization should know he could face punishment. The misbehavior charge has rarely been used in recent decades, though there were hundreds of cases during World War II.
Defense attorneys don’t dispute that walked off his base without authorization. himself told a general during a preliminary investigation that he left intending to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit. An Army Sanity Board Evaluation concluded he suffered from schizotypal personality disorder.
The defense team has argued that can’t be held responsible for a long chain of events that included decisions by others about how to retrieve him that were far beyond his control.
The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is looking for a few good innovations to shape the future force.
The Quantico, Virginia-based lab will kick off the first “CMCWarfighting Challenge” this month, said Col. John Armellino, the warfightinglab’s operations officer. Marines can starting submitting ideas through the new “CMC Innovation Portal” once it officially goes online Sept. 15. A different challenge will be offered every other month.
Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has encouraged Marines — from general officers to privates — to get creative and identify new ways to bolster the service’s storied combat force. Neller wants, as he often says, “disruptive thinkers.”
Officials seek ideas that are “forward looking, futuristic and cutting edge,” Armellino said. “What we are trying to do is to address our current challenges to ensure the Marine Corps is organized, trained and equipped to meet the demands of the future environment,” he added.
Submissions can be made via the web portal, which had a “soft” opening on Sept. 1. While the first challenge is aimed at getting Marines’ input, Armellino said, the Marine Corps also wants to hear from people in academia and industry. And anyone who submits an idea will be kept in the loop, he said, and “remains part of the process.”
First up: Ideas and ways to make autonomous, robotic systems that can better support Marine air-ground task force operations. The September challenge is targeted at finding solutions to what “Marines do today that seem considerably dull or dirty or dangerous,” Armellino said.
So the lab has pitched this challenge: “Identify missions or tasks assigned to your unit that currently requires a Marine (or Marines) to accomplish, that could, and should, be replaced by robotic, autonomous, or unmanned systems. Missions or tasks that are prime candidates for autonomous solutions are typically dull, dirty or dangerous in nature.”
Dull: Filling sandbags
Dirty: Going into a potential CBRNE environment to sense for chemicals
Dangerous: Sweeping for mines/IEDs
For November, the Marine Corps wants ideas from developers for apps “that enhance quality of life, physical fitness and warfighting in general,” Armellino said.
The innovation challenges are part of the service’s broader and ongoing effort to help develop the future force.The CMCWarfighting Challenge, he said, will provide “a focused, analytical framework.”
And it wants answers and solutions a lot faster.
So the Marine Corps also is establishing a Rapid Capabilities Office. The office will manage the crowd-sourcing portal and other pathways for innovation and will be “empowered to accelerate turnkey solutions or further incubate ideas” that could be demonstrated, tested and experimented, Armellino said. It also will play a part in the Future Force Implementation Plan.
The RCO, he said, will be a bridge between the Marine Corps’ combat development and systems commands — think, concepts and ideas and the equipment and systems that bring those to life. And it “could accelerate technology for development or rapidly get” what’s available to the operating force much faster, he said.
Innovation is a hot phrase of late, perhaps driven by the resetting of the force mired in two major wars over nearly a generation and facing a much more-advanced, high-tech and hybrid threat environment. Agencies like DARPA have reached out to outsiders for ideas, say, to counter threats to drones.
And the Marine Corps isn’t alone in tapping crowd-sourcing to broaden its stable of thinkers and developers. The Navy created Task Force Innovation in January 2015, along with a web portal for virtual collaboration called The Hatch, spurred by Navy Sec. Ray Mabus‘ Innovation Vision for the department.
The Army in 2013 started soliciting ideas for its “Rapid Equipping Force” program through a website that remains in place today. Soldiers can submit ideas or solutions online. The Army is taken a greater collaborative approachwith workshops and meetings to pull ideas from soldiers and others whose innovations, expertise and skills just might help develop better gear, vehicles and equipment. Its third annual Innovation Summit was held Aug. 16-17.
“Innovation needs to be a culture, not a niche corner or a specific time,”Army Training and Doctrine Command chief Gen. David Perkins told the audience at the two-day meeting in Virginia. Soldiers “are natural innovators. We just need to make sure we don’t stifle them.”
In late August, Army Secretary Eric Fanning announced the creation of a Rapid Capabilities Office to find and field technology and equipment more quickly. “We’re serious about keeping our edge, so we need to make changes in how we get soldiers the technology they need,” Fanning said, in an Army news story. “The Army Rapid Capabilities Office is a major step forward, allowing us to prioritize cross-domain, integrated capabilities in order to confront emerging threats and advance America’s military dominance.”
What tangible, concrete innovations come of these efforts remain to be seen.
The CMC Warfighting Challenge is like a next-gen take on “Marine Mail” from the mid-1990s, when the top general, Gen. Chuck Krulak, sought out creative and innovative ideas from Marines. Krulak also established the warfighting lab during his tenure as commandant. In 2007, in the midst of two major conflicts, then-commandant Gen. James Conway revived Marine Mail, but it’s not clear what specifically came of that effort.
Marine Mail, said Armellino, was “a great idea” that also was “unsustainable.” If it’s set up as a “virtual suggestion box,” he said, “you run the risk of being potentially overwhelmed.”
Will the new CMC Warfighting Challenge work?
The Warfighting Lab worked through the web portal bugs during a beta test in July to collect thoughts about wearable technologies. That drew 260 ideas, Armellino said. It likely will fall to the lab’s RCO to cull through those suggestions.