The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

The Pentagon is releasing a redacted version of the lengthy Niger ambush investigation that is expected to focus on the command and tactical decisions that led to the deaths of four members of the Army‘s Third Special Forces Group.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation is thousands of pages long. Pentagon officials said the report would include an animated video of what happened on the joint patrol with Nigerien troops near the village of Tongo Tongo in northwestern Niger on Oct. 4, 2018.


The families of the fallen and members of Congress have already been briefed on the findings, which were expected to answer the lingering questions about how a patrol of 12 U.S. and approximately 30 Nigerien troops came to be overwhelmed by fighters from an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

In a briefing shortly after the ambush, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said the mission had been expected to pose little risk.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

However, the mission reportedly was changed and sent the patrol after a high-value militant linked to the offshoot called ISIS in the Greater Sahel.

Those killed in the patrol were Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

Four Nigerien troops and a Nigerien interpreter also were killed in the ambush near the Mali border as the patrol was returning to base near the Nigerien capital of Niamey.

Black’s father has declined to fault the decisions that led to the ambush.

He told National Public Radio, “I would not personally characterize them as mistakes. They were just decisions based on what they knew, and I believe that those decisions were sound decisions.”

One of the questions that is expected to be answered is how Sgt. La David Johnson came to be separated from the rest of the patrol during the ambush. His body was not found until two days after the attack.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
Sgt. La David Johnson
(U.S. Army photo)

The noontime briefing at the Pentagon on the investigation is expected to be led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert S. Karem and Marine Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command.

Waldhauser’s chief of staff, Army Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier, who led the Article 15-6 investigation, is also expected to join the briefing.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

That time the US and Iran teamed up to fight the Taliban

The days following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States were strange days for many of us. Not only here at home, where the American worldview changed literally overnight, but also in Afghanistan. For obvious reasons.


The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
We don’t scramble B-52s for just anyone.

What might not be so obvious are the many ways which the United States systematically struck back against al-Qaeda and the Taliban who protected its members in Afghanistan. By now, many have heard of the U.S. Army Special Forces who assisted the Northern Alliance on horseback. The new movie 12 Strong depicts their mission.

Related: The Special Forces who avenged 9/11 on horseback 

But three days after the Green Berets and Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum teamed up for the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, another joint American-Northern Alliance team was fighting to capture – and keep – the Afghan city of Herat.

Army Rangers and Special Forces teamed up with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards special ops unit, the Pazdaran. The operation was reportedly planned in Tehran between General Tommy Franks and Iranian General and commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Yahya Safavi.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Yahya Safavi.

According to reports from the open-source U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, American air power had been conducting air strikes on the city since October 2001, destroying armored columns, tunnel complexes, and other support facilities. The city was ready by the time the joint assault took place.

The Revolutionary Guards moved in first, setting up a forward post for the assault on Herat. They were joined shortly after by U.S. Special Forces, with an army of 5,000 Northern Alliance fighters led by Ismail Khan. The Americans directed air support while the Shia militias led an insurrection in the city.

American Special Forces, Northern Alliance fighters, and Shia militias moved on the city as the populace took arms against the Taliban with anything they could find. Defeated Taliban fighters fled the city within the same day.

The whole operation was overseen in Tehran by agents of the CIA working with Iranian intelligence officers.  Shortly after the city fell, a Northern Alliance spokesperson said it was the first time Khan set foot in the city since it fell to the Taliban in 1995.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
The Afghan city of Herat in 2001.

“The people are celebrating on the rooftops of their houses. Car drivers are honking their horns,” according to the spokesperson.

In 2005, an Iranian Presidential candidate alluded to the story via an interview with USA Today’s Barbara Slavin, who was able to confirm some parts of the story, while some sources alluded to further collaboration and denied other parts.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA therapist helps dying veteran complete bucket list

Army Veteran Kenneth Augustus loved adventure. He loved to rock climb, and scuba dive, and always had a longing for falling hundreds of feet per second from an airplane.


VA Salt Lake City Recreation Therapist Lili Sotolong knew skydiving was a lofty goal considering his condition, but she was determined to make that dream come true.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
With help from VA Recreation Therapist Lili Sotolong, left, Veteran Kenneth Augustus was able to scratch skydiving from his bucket list. (Photo from Jill Atwood, Veterans Affairs)

“I got a call out of the blue to come work with this Veteran,” Lili said. “I was told he only had a few months to live but when I got there he was beyond positive, and so easy to work with. He had made peace with what was happening to him and was really preparing himself for the inevitable; he just had some things he wanted to experience first.”

Lili made several calls and finally arranged the jump through two very generous community partners: Skydive Utah and the Elks Lodge. It was go-time!

“He got to jump with his brother and his son, and they wanted me to do it with them! We had a group hug and were all fist-pumping in the plane prior to the jump. It really was an extraordinary experience.”

On Veterans Day 2017 Kenny Augustus fulfilled his dying wish. Attached to a highly-experienced instructor and with a big smile on his face, he dove out of a prop plane at 13,500 feet. Imagine a free fall at 120 miles per hour for 60 seconds. Moments later, the jolt of a chute opening was followed by a peaceful glide to the ground. Lili remembers Kenny’s smile and a big thumbs-up.

Also Read: This Dying Vietnam Veteran Is Giving Away Everything He Owns To Charity

From one extreme to the next: scuba diving one last time (check)

Later that evening, Kenny went scuba diving with his son via virtual reality goggles at the Crater in Midvale, Utah. He was too sick to go in the water, but enjoyed the next best thing. Using a drone especially equipped for water, Kenny followed his son underwater and experienced everything his son was seeing. Kenny was hoping for the real thing, but just being there, surrounded by the love and support of his family, was thrill enough.

A week later, Kenny passed.

“I went to my supervisor and I just broke down,” Lili said. “I am touched and hurt all at the same time. I really got to know him and his family over a short time. I just never thought it would hurt this much.”

Lili agreed to tell this story because of this extraordinary Veteran she came to admire. His spirit and positivity in the face of such pain and uncertainty impacted her in ways she never imagined.

Articles

Here’s what it’s like dodging six missiles in an F-16

It was in the opening days of Operation Desert Storm on Jan. 19, 1991 when fighter jets were roaring through Iraqi airspace, and anti-aircraft crews were waiting for them with surface-to-air missiles (SAM). For Air Force Maj. ET Tullia, it was an unforgettable mission that saw him cheating death not once, but six times.


Also Read: The AC-130 ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Is Getting Even More Firepower

According to Lucky-Devils, a military website that recounts much of the engagement, U.S. F-16s were trying to attack a rocket production facility north of Baghdad. The account continues:

As the flight approached the Baghdad IP, AAA [Anti-Aircraft Artillery] began firing at tremendous rates. Most of the AAA was at 10-12,000ft (3,658m), but there were some very heavy, large calibre explosions up to 27,000ft (8,230m). Low altitude AAA became so thick it appeared to be an undercast. At this time, the 388th TFW F-16’s were hitting the Nuclear Research Centre outside of the city, and the Weasels had fired off all their HARMs in support of initial parts of the strike and warnings to the 614th F-16’s going further into downtown went unheard.

Many of the F-16 pilots that day had to deal with SAM missiles locking on to them, and were forced to take evasive maneuvers. Maj. Tullia (Callsign: Stroke 3) had to dodge six of those missiles, at times banking and breathing so hard that he was losing his vision.

Again, via Lucky-Devils:

Meanwhile, ET became separated from the rest of the package because of his missile defensive break turns. As he defeats the missiles coming off the target, additional missiles are fired, this time, from either side of the rear quadrants of his aircraft. Training for SAM launches up to this point had been more or less book learning, recommending a pull to an orthogonal flight path 4 seconds prior to missile impact to overshoot the missile and create sufficient miss distance to negate the effects of the detonating warhead. Well, it works. The hard part though, is to see the missile early enough to make all the mental calculations.

The following video apparently shows footage through the view of Tullia’s heads-up display that day, and around the 3:00 mark, you can hear the warning beeps that a missile is locked on. Although the video is a bit grainy, the real focus should be on the hair-raising radio chatter, which, coupled with his heavy breathing, makes you realize that fighter pilots need to be in peak physical condition to do what they do.

YouTube, Scott Jackson

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Danger Close’ tells the story of heroic Australians in Vietnam

It’s easy to forget that the Vietnam War was originally fought by the French and that plenty more countries came to fight the communists, not just the U.S. One of the other groups deployed to Vietnam was a force of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. A group of just over 100 of them would fight an estimated 2,500 North Vietnamese for over three hours with little support, achieving a victory in the direst of circumstances.


Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan – Official Trailer

www.youtube.com

The Battle of Long Tan is now in theaters, and it tells the story of these soldiers and how a combination of grit, danger close artillery, and gutsy support from helicopters got them out alive. The movie is, appropriately, named Danger Close.

The men of Delta Company, 6th Royal Australian Regiment, were sent out to patrol the area around their base at Nui Dat. The base was established in order to cut North Vietnamese supply lines, and the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies were super pissed off about it.

So, in August 1966, the Australian command began to gather intelligence that said North Vietnamese troops were conducting reconnaissance in a rubber plantation just a few miles from the base and potentially building up forces for an attack. Senior leaders did not share this intelligence with the men of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

This painting is a reconstruction of several different events that occurred during the Battle of Long Tan fought on Aug. 18, 1966, between ‘D’ Company, 6RAR and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces.

(Bruce Fletcher, Australian War Memorial)

On that August 18 patrol, 108 men of Delta stumbled into a fight with an estimated 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in deep mud as massive rains poured onto the men. The company commander, Maj. Harry Smith, positioned his men behind a small rise that provided some cover as long as they were laying down. Bullets would fly over their heads for the next 3.5 hours.

Despite the discomfort of the rain and mud and how dangerously outnumbered they were, the Australian troops did have a few advantages. The rain was hitting hard enough that mud splashed up and camouflaged them, and the light silhouetted the North Vietnamese and helped the Australian troops target them. And, amazingly professional artillerymen fired thousands of rounds in support of them, including numerous fire missions within 60 yards of the friendly infantry.

But the men weren’t equipped for a protracted battle. They nearly ran out of ammunition as the weather kept helicopters on the ground. Two helicopter pilots took it upon themselves to deliver a re-supply despite the dangers, giving the men enough ammo even as the men were firing their last few rounds of what they had carried in.

Reinforcements finally made it to the fight in armored personnel carriers and forced the North Vietnamese back. Eighteen Australian and New Zealand troops had been killed or would soon die of their wounds while another 24 were injured. Meanwhile, they had inflicted at least 245 fatalities on the enemy, and it is believed that the North Vietnamese had suffered many more losses but had carried the dead away to frustrate Australian intelligence collection.

While American and South Vietnamese leaders decorated Delta Company in the years that followed, it would take decades for the Australian government, wracked by protests at home, to commend the men for their bravery.

Now, the movie praising their exploits is available in Australian theaters, and it will soon be available online.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The son of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi killed in combat

A son of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed in battle in the Syrian province of Homs, IS’s propaganda agency Amaq announced.

Hudhayfah al-Badri was killed in an “operation against the Nussayriyyah and the Russians at the thermal power station in Homs,” the group said in a statement late on July 3, 2018, showing a photo of a young man holding an assault rifle.



Nussayriyyah is IS’s term for the Alawite religious minority sect of President Bashar al-Assad.

IS maintains only a small presence in Syria after being targeted for elimination by Syrian and Russian forces as well as U.S.-backed rebel forces in the last year. It is now estimated to control no more than 3 percent of Syria’s territory.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

President Bashar al-Assad

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they believe IS leader Baghdadi remains alive in Syria near the Iraqi border.

Baghdadi, who is originally from Iraq, has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet,” with the United States offering a million reward for his capture. He had four children with his first wife and a son with his second wife.

In September, 2017, the last voice message attributed to Baghdadi called on his followers worldwide to “resist” their enemies.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how much of Afghanistan the Taliban reportedly control

Taliban militants now control or contest nearly half of all districts in Afghanistan as the U.S. pours thousands more troops into the country, a new analysis from The Long War Journal reveals.


The insurgent group predominately controls rural districts throughout the country where the Afghan government and national security forces do not have an extended presence. “Rural areas in Afghanistan are essential to the Taliban’s resilience and ability to consistently undermine Afghan security,” the LWJ noted, citing the insurgent groups ability to use rural districts to mount attacks on urban centers.

 

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The large Taliban control of the country comes as the U.S. is sending approximately 3,000 more troops to the country to support the Afghan National Security Forces. This deployment is in tandem from a new declared strategy from the Trump administration which will place an emphasis on cracking down on Pakistani sanctuary for Taliban militants, and making a sustained and prolonged commitment to Afghanistan.

The Obama administration made a point of tying its troop deployments to a declared timeline for withdrawal, something President Donald Trump has explicitly rejected instead embracing a “conditions” based approach.

The conditions however are dire. The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001 and the Afghan National Security Forces’s are suffering historic casualties.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The unintended consequences of denuclearizing North Korea

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has bought his way in to talks with China’s President Xi Jinping, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, and US President Donald Trump with a commitment to denuclearize his country — but doing so could open up the world to the tremendous risk of loose nukes and loose nuclear scientists.

Though Kim has repeatedly vowed to rid his country of nuclear weapons, the promises remain totally one-sided as no one knows how many, or where, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is.


Kim reportedly sent a message to Trump saying he’d accept denuclearization verification and intensive inspection by international inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the same agency that supervises the Iran deal.

But to do that, Kim would have to provide a list of nuclear sites to the inspectors. It will be a major challenge for the outside world to take his word for it when he announces the sites, or to scour the country for additional sites.

In the past, North Korea has agreed to international inspections, but backed out when it came time to actually scrutinize the programs.

As a result of North Korea’s secretiveness, it may have unaccounted for nuclear weapons floating around even after work towards denuclearization begins.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
Russian SS-18 Satan tourist attraction.
(Photo by Clay Gilliland)

Furthermore, former US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, who served a pivotal role in securing the loose nuclear weapons after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, write in the Washington Post that “thousands of North Korean scientists and engineers” are “now employed in making weapons of mass destruction.”

If North Korea’s weapons program ends, the scientists with highly sought-after skills would “risk of proliferation of their deadly knowledge to other states or terrorists,” according to the senators.

North Korea already stands accused of helping Syria develop a chemical weapons program and conducting spy work around the world to improve their knowledge at home.

But the senators say the problem can be managed, as it was in the 1990s. Looking to the success of the post Cold War-era, when the world dismantled 90% of its nuclear weapons, Nunn and Lugar maintain that safe denuclearization can be achieved with proper planning.

Where nuclear missile silos once stood in Ukraine, US officials visited and — together with Russians — destroyed the facilities. Today, on those same fields, crops grow.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why moving Fort Campbell’s Gander Memorial Park is for the best

On this day in 1985, two-hundred and forty-eight Screaming Eagles and eight crew members were on their way home for Christmas after a six-month peacekeeping mission on the Sinai Peninsula. Their plane stalled due to iced wings and crashed less than a mile from the runway at Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. There were no survivors.

This horrific plane crash resulted in single largest loss of life the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has ever endured and December 12th has since been a solemn day at Fort Campbell. The citizens of Gander donated a sugar maple tree for each life lost, planting a total of 256 trees in Kentucky in their honor. The trees stand in formation, each before a plaque bearing the name of a fallen soldier. For more than thirty years, this memorial has remained in the median separating Airborne Road.

After much consideration and with an extremely heavy heart, it was decided that the memorial needed to be moved to the nearby Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum.


The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

As a Screaming Eagle soldier who had to police call the park because Blue Falcons tossed litter out of their cars, I can attest to how this change will be a positive change.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joe Padula)

The sugar maples serve as a living monument in a location that’s visible to everyone. Any time you drive on or off post, you’ll see the rows of trees and be reminded of the sacrifice of those we lost. But that resting spot may not have been the best place for the memorial.

All 256 trees are nestled into a tightly-packed space that spans just 1.5 acres. Sugar maples are hardy trees, but they need plenty of room to grow. This wasn’t a concern when they were originally planted, but after thirty-three years of growth, the roots are becoming intertwined, which may cause them whiter and die. A typical sugar maple tree can live up to 400 years, but those planted in memoriam are already showing signs of weakening.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

As much as it hurts to more then, it’d be more disrespectful to the fallen to let their trees die.

(U.S. Army photo by Sam Shore)

The decision to move the memorial was not made lightly and it will require a major undertaking. All of the monuments will be moved less than a mile away in a much larger, 40-acre plot next to the Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum. This will give every tree the room it needs to grow into a mighty maple that can withstand the test of time.

Trees will be excavated gently to ensure that they can be replanted successfully. The trees that don’t make it — and the trees that have already started to whither — will be replaced by new trees, again gifted by the citizens of Gander.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

All 248 soldiers who died that day were a part of the 3-502nd Infantry Regiment.

(National Archives)

The same, annual ceremony honoring the lost soldiers will still occur, just as it always has, only now it will be in a wider, more open space that doesn’t have traffic buzzing by.

In a statement to the Army Times, Col. Joseph Escandon, the commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 110st Airborne Division (Air Assault) said,

“We will always honor the memory of our Gander fallen. Maintaining this annual tradition at a living memorial is essential to ensuring that the memory of those lost will never be forgotten. The Gander tragedy affected not only the Fort Campbell community but countless others across the United States and Canada.”

“Every year on Dec. 12, we take a moment to remember those who lost their lives in service of their nation. While we are saddened by the need for the relocation of the original memorial, one thing will not change: our commitment to honoring their sacrifice and the sacrifices of their families, friends and fellow Soldiers.”
MIGHTY SPORTS

No-fail trial PT tests could help improve fitness scores for airmen

The top enlisted leader of the U.S. Air Force is making resiliency a top priority for the last year of his tenure, and part of his plan to promote strong and mindful airmen is to revamp how airmen approach the physical fitness assessment, commonly known as the PT test.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright is looking at new ways of approaching the PT test. One possibility under consideration is a no-fail trial PT test, that if passed, would count as the airman’s official score, Wright’s spokesman, Senior Master Sgt. Harry Kibbe, said.

“The intent is to relieve some of the anxiety, and hopefully this is one of the steps that can get [the Air Force] closer to a culture of fitness rather than a culture of fitness testing,” Kibbe told Miliary.com on Aug. 7, 2019. The news was first reported by Air Force Magazine.


Kibbe explained that, in the Air Force, an “excellent” composite score is equal to or greater than 90 points with all minimum components met. A satisfactory score is between 75 and 89.99 points. Anything below 75 is a failing score. If an airman scores 90 or above, he or she has a year before the next test. Those within the 75 to 89 category only have six months before they must take the next assessment.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

(United States Air Force)

The current Air Force fitness test is gender and age-normed and combines a 1.5-mile run time with maximum pushup and sit-up repetitions within one minute.

“In order to try to relieve some of the anxiety that airmen are having when they’re getting close to their due date, we’re going to allow them to take a ‘diagnostic test,'” he said.

It can be taken anytime in the year-long or six-month window, though not after.

“They’re going to take that diagnostic test and if they pass it, as long as they’re doing it through the official testing system … their clock would reset,” Kibbe said. “If they don’t pass it, but they’re still current, there will not be any punitive actions.”

If an airman fails the pre-test, he or she still has time to work on “what they need to work on” to improve for the next PT assessment, he said.

Kibbe said the Air Force is in the process of developing the policy, but stressed it’s still “months away” from any potential implementation.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger
A Day in the Life

(U.S. Air Force photo by Jamie Pitcher)

There may also be a change to the tape test, Kibbe said. The tape test, which measures body fat based on waist circumference, has drawn criticism over the years as an ineffective way to assess body composition due to differences in body type and musculature.

Officials are “looking at incorporating an equation,” Kibbe said. “To find out your fitness index for the abdominal circumference, they’re looking at adding into an equation your waist measurement, your height and your run time to get an overall cardiovascular fitness index, or a number that more accurately represents how you’re doing.”

The waist maximums remain 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women.

There are outliers when it comes to waist measurement, though, including very tall men and women and those with big builds. Kibbe said the Air Force is still weighing what the cutoffs for the proposed equation method would be.

“The science is telling us that we do need to keep a measurement of the waist because [it] is an accurate predictor of health,” he said.

For any changes to PT, Kibbe said Wright is making sure the service “gets it right rather than fast.”

“He’s more than comfortable to handing this off to the next [CMSAF] knowing it has been set up for success,” Kibbe said.

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

popular

AI wins flawless victory against human fighter pilot in DARPA dogfight

DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials have officially come to a close with Heron Systems’ incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeating not only its industry competitors, but going on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot scoring a single hit.


Eight teams were selected to create artificial intelligence (AI) “agents” that would be capable of simulating a real dogfight between fighters, referred to as within-visual-range air combat maneuvering, more formally. The first two rounds of this competition saw these virtual pilots engage with one another in simulated combat environments in November and again in January. This third round of AI dogfighting included similar competitions, with the four finalist firms squaring off in a round robin. The event then culminated with the hands-down victor, Heron Systems, taking on a real human fighter pilot in another simulated fight.

And Heron really brought the heat, with its artificial intelligence system ultimately securing the AI championship by defeating Lockheed Martin’s AI system.

Heron consistently proved to have the most accurate targeting apparatus of any AI agent, as it engaged opponents with laser-accurate gun strikes often in the first merge of the fight.

“It’s got to keep that opponent in that one degree cone to win the game,” Ben Bell, Heron’s Senior Machine Learning Engineer, told Sandboxx News.

“You saw that a lot with Lockheed, we’re both nose on, we’re both creating damage, but when their nose is off by that one degree, that’s where we were able to win a lot of these engagements.”

That superior aiming capability was on particular display when squaring off against the U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot representing humanity in this battle for what some consider to be the future of aviation. While the pilot’s name was not released due to OPSEC concerns, DARPA did provide his callsign: Banger. They also explained that Banger was not just a working fighter pilot, he’s a graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons Instructor Course, which could loosely be described as the Air Force’s “Top Gun” school, for the movie buffs out there. The real Top Gun, of course, is a Navy school called the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

Heron’s AI system racked up the first four wins against Banger in quick succession, leveraging its incredibly precise aiming to whittle Banger’s aircraft “life” down in a series of looping merges. In the fifth and final bout, Banger changed approaches, sweeping his aircraft out away from Heron’s F-16 and creating separation with high-G turns.

However, the new tactics only seemed to delay the inevitable, with Heron managing to kill Banger’s F-16 once again, without the human pilot managing to get a single shot on target.

Heron’s AI pilot was widely described as “aggressive” by DARPA staff and the Air Force pilots on hand throughout the competition. Under control of Heron’s AI, the virtual F-16 would practically play chicken with its opposition — something the human pilots were quick to point out would be a violation of training regulations in a real simulated dogfight. Of course, in an actual dogfight, there are no such limitations… but Heron’s aggression may still have been turned up just a bit too high to serve as a reasonable wingman.

“It’s important to realize that a BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) engagement can occur in any direction and any altitude. We’ll often begin with a basic starting parameter to develop a site picture to reference, but a real engagement doesn’t have those cuffs,” Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 Pilot instructor and former F-16 pilot, tells Sandboxx News.
“The enemy always has a vote, meaning they always reserve the right to do something you’re not expecting. When that occurs you have to find a creative solution to counter the unexpected problem. “

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in NigerF-16 Fighting Falcon (DoD Image)

According to Bell, their AI agent placed an equal emphasis on damaging the opponent and minimizing its own risk.

“If the agent sees a 51% chance of scoring a kill as it heads into a neutral merge, it’s going to take it,” Bell explained.

Of course, aside from some really exciting video game playing, this entire exercise had official purposes too. DARPA is not only seeking to improve drone aircraft systems, they’re also looking to increase the level of trust between human pilots and AI systems. In the future, these same sorts of artificial pilots will likely be flying alongside humans, and other similar systems will fly along with them in the cockpit of their own aircraft.

By outsourcing some tasks to a highly capable AI, pilots can focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand. We’ve already seen this approach lead to data fusion capabilities in advanced platforms like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which automates simple tasks and provides the data to the pilot by way of helmet mounted and heads up displays.

Bell explained that the current AI agent used to secure this victory could be adjusted to prioritize its own safety to a higher degree, which might make pilots a bit more comfortable with its approach to combat. He also pointed out, however, that just because something’s scary to human pilots, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in NigerA U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat of Fighter Squadron 213 (VF-213) “Black Lions” flown by CDR Greg “Mullet” Gerard and LTJG Don “Coach” Husten engages a General Dynamics F-16N Viper aggressor aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander George “Elwood” Dom during training at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California. (US Navy Photo)

“Trust comes from being able to execute a mission with a high degree of success. There’s some point where you have to say you know that it works and in all the ways we tested it, it was superior to its opponent.”

He went on to clarify, however, that there will certainly be “some give and take” between their engineers and real pilots moving forward.

When asked about Heron’s ace in the hole, its incredibly accurate targeting system, Bell made sure to point out that the way in which this competition was executed was to the human pilot’s disadvantage. Banger was flying in a simulated environment using a VR headset, which doesn’t equate that well to a real fight in the real sky, and gives their computer pilot instant awareness of its surroundings.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

However, that VR environment may have also worked in Banger’s favor, as his final bout against Heron’s AI saw him executing a number of 9G maneuvers that would have taken a significant toll on a human pilot. Heron’s system, on the other hand, would not be physically affected by executing these maneuvers in a real aircraft.

“Dogfighting, or Basic Fighter Maneuvers as we call it, is an incredibly complex and dynamic environment. The most difficult part is perceiving what the adversary is doing,” Lee explains.
“You’re looking for minute changes in their lift-vector which foreshadows their next move. That’s why it’s important to have good vision (which can be corrected with glasses or surgery).”

While going undefeated against a highly trained human pilot is a great feather for Heron System’s cap, this doesn’t mean the end of human fighter pilots is near. DARPA’s goal isn’t to replace humans in the skies, but rather to supplement them with capable drone assets and an auto-pilot system that could conceivably make human pilots far more capable, by freeing up their mental bandwidth in a fight.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Texas Revolutionary was the original ‘Maverick’

In the later days of 1835, Samuel Maverick and his two friends were held on house arrest in what would one day be called San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Revolution was in full swing and the local Mexican military commander, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, didn’t trust the former Americans one bit, holding them prisoner in their own homes. They still somehow managed to inform the incoming Texian army about Mexican movements in the city. On the first day of December, Cos finally allowed the men to leave.

The first thing they did was join the Texian forces and lead an attack on the town.


By the time Maverick and his friends reached the Texians, the army was ready to retreat. Instead, the men offered to lead a series of attacks against their former city. After rousing a few hundred volunteers to join them, they headed back to San Antonio de Bexar. Four days after being forced out of the city, the men were leading attacks against its garrison commander, Gen. Cos. Maverick guided Col. Ben Milam’s troops into the city, while Maverick’s friend John Smith led the other detachment.

Milam was killed minutes into the fighting and Maverick was forced to lead the rest of the men into the streets and the house-to-house fighting that followed their entrance into the city. For five days, the revolutionaries fought Mexican government regulars in fierce urban combat. The Mexicans would surrender on the sixth day.

Since Milam had fallen early in the fighting, Maverick took his place at the surrender ceremony. He stayed around the San Antonio area, eventually joining the defenders of the Alamo. While in garrison at the famed citadel, Maverick was elected as one of two San Antonio delegates to the Texas Independence Convention. Maverick would not be able to leave the Alamo until March 2, 1836, because it was surrounded by Mexican troops. When he finally got away, the garrison commander, William Travis, begged him to ask the convention for reinforcements.

They would, of course, be too late. The day a special session of the convention was to be held was also the day of the Battle of the Alamo. All of the fort’s defenders were then dead. Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence the next day.

He left Texas briefly to get married and have a baby, but soon returned to a state still considered to be in rebellion by the Mexican government. He became the Mayor of San Antonio and joined the city militia to fight off Comanche raids. But raids weren’t the biggest threat to San Antonio. Mexico was still bent on recovering its lost land. Eventually, the Mexican Army arrived outside San Antonio. The Anglo citizens of the city mustered a defense but were captured and forcibly marched back to Mexico. Despite being in prison, Maverick was still elected to the Texas Congress. He was released by Mexico the same day as his daughter’s birthday, after refusing repeatedly to publicly back Mexico’s claim to Texas. He served in the Texas legislature even after annexation by the United States – but none of this is how the word “Maverick” came to have its accepted meaning.

Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he was against the pain it caused the animals. He cared very little for his herd of cattle which was given to him as payment for a debt in lieu of cash. He transferred the care of the herd to a family in another part of Texas. It’s said that stragglers from Maverick’s herd were often found roaming. The unbranded cows were known as “mavericks” and often returned.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Iran openly attacked Saudi Arabia and got away with it

On Sept. 14, 2019, a swarm of drones and cruise missiles struck the world’s largest oil processing facility inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was little doubt in the Saudi’s minds as to who the culprit could be. Their American allies agreed: the attack came from the Islamic Republic of Iran, their neighbor across the Persian Gulf. But the attack on the Saudi Aramco facility was less about making the Saudis pay and more about making their American allies pay.


The regime in Tehran was still pissed about the United States leaving the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

According to Reuters reporters, the Iranian regime wanted to punish the Americans for leaving the deal and reimposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. These sanctions have caused widespread hardship and unrest inside Iranian borders. Just four months prior, the head honchos of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps met in Tehran to figure out a way to do just that. They even considered attacking American bases in the Middle East. Of course, they didn’t go that far, but they had to do something.

One senior official took the floor to tell the room, “It is time to take out our swords and teach them a lesson.”

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved the operation on the condition that the IRGC didn’t kill any civilians or Americans. With that nod from their leader, the Revolutionary Guards, experts in covert warfare and missile strikes, began planning.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

Both the Saudi government and the Iranian government have refused to comment on the attack, with the exception of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations who vehemently denies any involvement, any planning, or any meeting taking place. American military and intelligence representatives also refused to comment. But the Houthis in Yemen, the Iranian-backed rebel group who has defied a Saudi-led invasion for years, claimed responsibility for the attacks. No one believed them because it was an attack intelligence agencies believed could only have come from Iran.

If it was supposed to be an attack on the Kingdom itself, it was a success. The September attack was just in time to disrupt projections for state-owned Aramco’s coming IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. If the Iranians wanted the United States to stick up for its Middle Eastern ally, however, the timing was terrible. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and the years of destruction causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, no one in Washington was quick to stick up for Riyadh.

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

For 17 minutes, swarms of drones and low-flying missiles hit the Khurais oil installation and the Abqaiq oil processing facility, cutting the Kingdom’s oil production by half and knocking out five percent of the world’s oil. Oil prices soared by 20 percent as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit Iran with another round of sanctions. Everyone pointed fingers at everyone else, but the blame ultimately ended up in Iran’s lap, despite its refusals. Iran remained steadfast and despite increased sanctions and threats against further violence, largely got away with it.

Iran believed President Trump would not risk an all-out war to protect Saudi oil companies, Reuters quoted Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group as saying. “Hard-liners [in Iran] have come to believe that Trump is a Twitter tiger,” Vaez said. “As such there is little diplomatic or military cost associated with pushing back.”

The insiders believe Iran is already planning its next attack.