Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

The family of a U.S. citizen being held by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) over suspected spying says he is innocent and was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

Paul Whelan, a retired Marine, was last heard from on Dec. 28, 2018, according to a statement from his family, obtained by RFE/RL on Jan. 1, 2019.

His failure to contact his family “was very much out of character for him,” the statement said.


“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” it added.

Whelan, 48, could face between 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Russian officials did not disclose any details of his alleged involvement in espionage.

David Whelan told RFE/RL in a direct message via Twitter that his brother “has a corporate security role” with BorgWarner, a U.S.-based supplier of automotive parts and components.

Brother of accused spy speaks out

www.youtube.com

BorgWarner said in a statement sent to RFE/RL on Jan. 1, 2019, that Paul Whelan was the company’s global security director. It added that he is responsible for overseeing the company’s facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan, “and at other company locations around the world.”

BorgWarner has 60 manufacturing sites in 18 countries, but none of them are listed as being in Russia.

A spokeswoman for BorgWarner told RFE/RL that the company “does not have any facilities in Russia.”

Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rostec said in 2013 that its truckmaker, KamAz, had a long record of collaboration with a subsidiary of BorgWarner known as BorgWarnerTurboSystems.

David Whelan told AP in a Jan. 1, 2019 interview that his brother had been to Russia “several times” before and was helping a former U.S. Marine friend of his plan a wedding with a Russian woman.

On the morning of the day he was detained, Paul Whelan had given a tour of the Kremlin museums to a group of wedding guests, his brother said. He failed to show up for the wedding on the evening of Dec. 28, 2018.

David Whelan said his absence led the family to fear he had been in a car accident or perhaps mugged, and were searching the Internet for news about “dead Americans in Moscow.”

The U.S. State Department has said it knows about “the detention of a U.S. citizen by Russian authorities” and had been formally notified by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The State Department said on Dec. 31, 2018, that it had requested consular access to Paul Whelan and expected “Russian authorities to provide it.”

David Whelan said in the AP interview that his family was told by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that it has been unable to speak with Paul Whelan.

David Whelan said his brother had previously worked for Kelly Services, an international office-staffing company that does have offices in Moscow, and had been to Russia on business and to visit friends he had met on social-media networks.

Paul Whelan reportedly had a page on the Russian social-media site VKontakte on which he writes messages in basic Russian.

David Whelan said his brother was stationed in Iraq several times with the U.S. Marines and has been living in Novi, Michigan.

The announcement of Whelan’s detainment came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow remains open to dialogue with Washington in a New Year’s greeting to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Relations between the United States and Russia remain strained over a raft of issues including Russia’s role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, its alleged meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, and the poisoning of a Russian double agent in Britain.

At the end of November 2018, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions after Russian forces opened fire on Ukrainian Navy boats before seizing them and capturing 24 Ukrainian sailors.

The detention of Whelan comes weeks after Russian Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.

In the past, Russia has arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.

In his annual year-end news conference on Dec. 20, 2018, Putin said Russia would “not arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else later on.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marine achieves childhood dream of becoming an astronaut

An active-duty Marine is among the newest class of astronauts eligible for NASA missions to the moon and beyond.

Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli said she became enamored with space as a child, with a series of experiences amplifying her interest as she got older.


“The first time I remember saying I wanted to become an astronaut was in sixth grade. We had to do a book report and I had chosen to do mine on Valentina Tereshkova — the first woman in space, a Russian cosmonaut. And it’s kind of stemmed from there. We had to dress up like the person in school for the day, so I made a little astronaut costume with my mom,” Moghbeli said.

By the time she reached high school, her parents had enrolled her in space camp and she witnessed a shuttle launch. The seed was planted from there.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Pictured (front row, left to right, Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Robb Kulin, Jessica Watkins, Loral O’Hara; back row, left to right, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, and Raja Chari. Image Credit: NASA.

Earlier this year, Moghbeli and 10 classmates completed two years of training to become the first class of astronauts to graduate under the Artemis program, making them eligible for assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon, and eventually, Mars, according to a NASA press release.

The New York-native was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 2005 after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering with Information Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, her sights were initially set on being a Naval aviator.

“I don’t think I knew what the Marine Corps was, to be entirely honest. My parents came from Iran and my grandfather was an admiral in the Iranian navy, and so he told me lots of cool stories when I was younger. So, I initially was looking into going into the Navy and becoming a Naval aviator that way,” she said.

During a summer seminar program for the Naval Academy Moghbeli learned about the Marines and by her junior year of college she connected with a recruiter who told her she could get a guaranteed air contract.

Throughout her time as a Marine pilot, Moghbeli completed 150 combat missions and 2,000 hours of flight time in more than 25 different aircraft. At the time of her selection for the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, she was testing H-1 helicopters at MCAS Yuma, Arizona.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Marine Corps Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, a pilot assigned to Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, conducts her final flight in an AH-1 “Cobra” at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, in 2017. Photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Cachola.

Moghbeli said many crossovers between the culture of the Marines and that of NASA prepared her for success in the program.

“I think the Marine Corps set me up very well for training here and for the job we have to do here. The teamwork and camaraderie — teamwork is obviously a big part of what we do here at NASA — and especially when you talk about being on a crew of a handful of people for months, potentially years at a time. I think we learn a lot of good teamwork skills in the Marine Corps,” she said. “My operational background from being a test pilot, being a Cobra pilot have been huge. Even while I was on the initial training, I was able to contribute to evaluating the displays on the Orion capsule and new things on the different vehicles, because of that background.”

Moghbeli added the public speaking required during frequent flight briefs quelled her stage fright and “learning the space station systems was not that different from learning aircraft systems.”

There are currently 17 active-duty astronauts working for NASA, according to Jennifer Hernandez, a NASA communications specialist. For service members interested in pursuing a similar path to Moghbeli, she offers the following advice:

“Achieving anything that is challenging, and most Marines probably know this but, there’s going to be stumbles and failures along the way, and I’ve had plenty in my path here. If you talk to my first onwing [instructor] in flight school, he’s shocked I even made it to my solo. … But always getting back up, finding those mentors … finding people that will help you when you are struggling, and then also something I think it is very important … to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you and push,” she said.

Follow https://twitter.com/AstroJaws to keep up with Maj. Moghbeli’s training at NASA — including future missions.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II veteran recalls time as German prisoner of war

On Sept. 21, 2018, the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System hosted our annual POW/MIA Recognition Day program. Three former prisoners of war (POW) attended including World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.

Here is his story.


From Bartlesville to the Battle of the Bulge

Born on April 2, 1926, Fred Brooks turned 18 in 1944. Nearly nine months later, the native of Bartlesville, Okla. was sent to the front lines on Christmas Day during the Battle of the Bulge.

On January 10, 1945, Brooks and five other solders in the 4th Infantry Division were conducting a night patrol and entered a German village.

“We went into this little village at night to check it out, and there wasn’t anyone in that village when we entered it,” said Brooks. “When daylight came, the Germans were everywhere. They killed one and wounded two.”

Surrounded, the remaining soldiers were forced to surrender, and were transported to Stalag IV-B Prison Camp in Mühlberg, Germany.

Brooks said the Germans fed the POWs once a day, which was typically a small cup of vegetable soup.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.

“That’s all they had to give you,” he said. “The Germans had nothing to feed their own troops, let alone us.”

He said the Germans never harmed him, but he did have to endure the brutal winter conditions.

“My feet were frozen terribly bad,” he said. “I didn’t have one drop of medication. There was an elderly English man in the camp where I was at and he helped me tremendously to clean the wounds as best we could. It was a rough winter.”

On April 23, 1945, the Russians liberated Stalag IV-B and approximately 30,000 POWs.

“The Russians entered our camp during the night,” said Brooks. “The next day, I think there was three German guards left and the Russians hung them high in the trees. We were very happy to see (the Russians). They fed us.”

Approximately 3,000 POWs died at Stalag IV-B, mostly from tuberculosis and typhus.

World War II Veteran and former POW Fred Brooks has received his health care from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System for approximately 30 years.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Coming home

Brooks was reunited with the American Army and sent to the coast of France to wait for a transport ship home. While waiting, he met another soldier from Bartlesville, and the two made a pact not to tell their families they were coming home.

“When we got to the little bus station in Bartlesville, his wife was waiting on him,” he said with a laugh. “He had broken our vow not to call.”

From the bus station, Brooks walked a mile to his parent’s home.

“I got my parents up at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It was unreal. My parents were just out of it to see me walking in the door. It really surprised them. They were very happy.”

After the war, Brooks worked in construction and retired at the age of 75. He still lives in Bartlesville.

Looking back on the war and his internment in a German POW Camp, Brooks credits divine intervention for his survival.

“God was with me.”

Featured image: U.S. POWs, 1944.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How New York is on the frontlines of cyber warfare

Five months before the 9/11 attacks, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to one of his advisers with an ominous message.


“Cyberwar,” read the subject line.

“Please take a look at this article,” Rumsfeld wrote, “and tell me what you think I ought to do about it. Thanks.”

Attached was a 38-page paper, published seven months prior, analyzing the consequences of society’s increasing dependence on the internet.

It was April 30, 2001. Optimistic investors and frenzied tech entrepreneurs were still on a high from the dot-com boom. The World Wide Web was spreading fast.

Once America’s enemies got around to fully embracing the internet, the report predicted, it would be weaponized and turned against the homeland.

The internet would be to modern warfare what the airplane was to strategic bombers during World War I.

The paper’s three authors — two PhD graduates and the founder of a cyber defense research center — imagined the damage a hostile foreign power could inflict on the US. They warned of enemies infecting computers with malicious code, and launching mass denial of service attacks that could bring down networks critical to the functioning of the American economy.

Also read: This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

“[We] are concerned that US leadership, and other decision-makers about Internet use, do not fully appreciate the potential consequences of the current situation,” the report said. “We have built a network which has no concept whatsoever of national boundaries; in a war, every Internet site is directly on the front line. If we do not change course soon, we will pay a very high price for our lack of foresight.”

The US government had a problem on its hands and it seemed a long ways from figuring out how to handle it.

More than 17 years later, that problem seems to have only gotten worse.

Follow the money

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
In 2016, hackers attacked companies in the financial services sector more than companies in any other industry.

Willie Sutton, the notorious Brooklynite who spent his life in and out of prison, once told a reporter he robbed banks because that’s where the money is. Computer hackers aren’t so different.

In 2016, hackers attacked companies in the financial services sector more than companies in any other industry, according to IBM. Over 200 million financial records were breached that year, a 937% increase from 2015. And that’s not including the incidents that were never made public.

As hackers become more sophisticated and cyber attacks more routine, New York is on notice. Home to the most valuable stock exchange on Earth, New York City is the financial capital of the world. When the market moves here, it moves everywhere.

So it was no surprise when in September 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) was gearing up to implement sweeping, first-of-their-kind cybersecurity regulations to protect the state’s financial services industry — an unprecedented move no other state or federal agency had taken anywhere in the US.

Cybersecurity in New York’s financial industry was previously governed by voluntary frameworks and suggested best practices. But the NYDFS introduced, for the first time, regulations that would be mandatory, including charging firms fines if they didn’t comply.

Related: This is how enemies hack America — according to a cyber warrior

Maria Vullo, the state’s top financial regulator, told Business Insider that her No. 1 job is to protect New Yorkers.

“They’re buying insurance. They’re banking. They’re engaging in financial transactions. And in each of those activities, they’re providing their social security information, banking information, etc.,” she said. “The companies that are obtaining that personal information from New Yorkers must protect it as much as possible because a breach of that information is of great consequence to the average New Yorker.”

On March 1, the regulations turn a year old, although some of the rules are not yet in effect and will phase in over time.

The NYDFS oversees close to 10,000 state-chartered banks, credit unions, insurance companies, mortgage loan servicers, and other financial institutions, in addition to 300,000 insurance licensees.

The combined assets of those organizations exceed $6 trillion, according to the NYDFS — and they’re all in constant danger of being hacked.

Banks are vulnerable

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, second from left, meets with corporate and non-profit veterans organization’s leadership at a round table hosted by J.P. Morgan Chase in New York City, N.Y., on Nov. 1, 2013. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

In the summer of 2014, an American, two Israelis, and two co-conspirators breached a network server of JPMorgan Chase, the largest US bank.

They got hold of roughly 83 million customers’ personal information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

The hackers didn’t steal any money from personal bank accounts, but that wasn’t the point.

They wanted access to a massive trove of emails that they could use for a larger, separate money scam. In just three years, that operation netted the hackers more than $100 million.

The JPMorgan hack wasn’t the end game. It was a piece of the puzzle.

The attack began with the simple theft of a JPMorgan employee’s login credentials, which were located on a server that required just one password.

Most servers with sensitive information like a person’s banking data require what’s called multi-factor, or two-factor authentication.

But JPMorgan’s security team had lapsed and failed to upgrade the server to include the dual password scheme, The New York Times reported at the time.

The attack, the breach, and the reputational damage that followed could have been avoided with tighter security. Instead, the hack went down as one of the largest thefts of customer data in US history.

“Banks are especially vulnerable,” Matthew Waxman, a professor and the co-chair at Columbia University’s Cybersecurity Center, told Business Insider. “Disruption to the information systems on which banks rely could have shockwaves throughout the financial system, undermining public confidence in banking or knocking off line the ability to engage in commercial transactions.”

That’s the kind of catastrophic damage that worried the authors cited in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s 2001 memo.

They weren’t only concerned about stolen email addresses and social security numbers. They were worried about the fallout from such activity.

Banking works because consumers trust the system. But what if people lose trust?

Waiting until a catastrophe

News of impending cybersecurity regulations in New York in the fall of 2016 was both welcomed and shunned.

Some companies saw it as a chance to improve their own security standards while others complained of government overreach. Some were relieved to find they wouldn’t have to make any adjustments to the way they operated. Others were overwhelmed by the heavy lifting they would have to do to comply.

How a company views the regulations depends in large part on its size. Bigger institutions with more cybersecurity professionals and more resources at their disposal tend to already have in place much of what the regulations require. Many smaller companies, which tend to be under-staffed and under-resourced, have a lot more work to do to catch up.

The only additional thing Berkshire Bank has to do is sign off on its annual compliance form, which it sends to NYDFS to prove that it’s doing everything it’s supposed to be doing.

“We actually have to do nothing [new] from a compliance standpoint,” the company’s chief risk officer Gregory Lindenmuth told Business Insider.

While several cybersecurity consultants told Business Insider they acknowledge the NYDFS rules as a positive step in the right direction, they also point to a new law in Europe as a leading example of the role government has to play in protecting individuals’ privacy rights and ensuring that companies secure consumers’ personal information.

More: Hackers can take a hidden test to become mid-grade officers in the US Army’s Cyber Command

In 2016, the European Parliament passed a law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — landmark legislation that imposes millions of euros in fines on companies that do not adequately protect their customers’ data.

Whereas the NYDFS regulations cover just one industry in one US state, the GDPR affects companies in all industries across all 28 member states of the European Union. Companies that do not report a data breach or fail to comply with the law more generally could be fined up to €20 million or 4% of its global revenue.

Matthew Waxman, the Columbia professor, says it’s not surprising that the implementation of such a law remains far-fetched in the US.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to get the government to take action against certain threats until a catastrophe takes place,” Waxman said. “But that could change very suddenly if the banking system were knocked offline or another very major disruption to everyday life affected the lives and security of citizens on a massive scale.”

But are the deterrents strong enough?

Data protection advocates calling for stricter cybersecurity regulations in the US are generally happy about the NYDFS rules.

For the first time, a state government is taking seriously the protection of consumer data, they say. It’s giving companies in the financial sector an ultimatum: protect New Yorkers or face punishment.

But the nature of that punishment is not entirely clear.

“My big criticism of the regulations is there’s no clear consequence for non-compliance,” Tom Boyden, a cybersecurity expert who helps companies defend against cyber attacks, told Business Insider. “If companies don’t feel like there’s going to be any consequence for any action on their part, companies aren’t going to take [the regulations] seriously.”

In fact, for many companies, Boyden thinks “that’s the default position.”

More reading: Cyber-attack wreaks havoc on US Internet traffic

Vullo, the head of the NYDFS, said she has the ability to fine companies that are not complying and is willing to exercise that authority, although how much that cost may be would depend case-by-case.

“I don’t want this to be a punitive atmosphere, but obviously if institutions are not taking this seriously, then there will be consequences,” she said. “But it’s not the objective.”

If anything, the objective is to make it clear that cyber threats are real and that New Yorkers and the companies that maintain their personal information are facing higher risks of attack.

Cybersecurity affects everyone, and Vullo said she hopes the regulations will help companies prioritize it.

“Everyone is part of our cybersecurity team,” Theresa Pratt, the chief information security officer at a private trust company in New York, told Business Insider. “It doesn’t matter what myself or my colleagues do from a technical perspective. If I have one user who clicks a bad link or answers a phisher’s question over the phone, it’s all for naught.”

New York leading the way

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
New York Stock Exchange. (Photo by Beraldo Leal)

The new rules have far-reaching implications beyond New York. A business in the state that has a parent company based in Germany, for example, still has to comply with the regulations.

This leaves some organizations in the precarious position of having to either restructure company-wide cybersecurity practices or build an entirely new and unique security apparatus that is specific to its New York offices.

“I do think that because of the scope of some of these regulations, they’re kind of blurring the lines between countries and continents. I think we’re going to see more and more of this,” GreyCastle Security CEO Reg Harnish told Business Insider. The New York-based consulting firm is helping companies comply with the new regulations.

Further reading: Why the Pentagon will move its data to the cloud

In the absence of leadership from the federal government on certain issues related to cybersecurity and data protection, states like New York are beginning to fill the void. Several cybersecurity experts told Business Insider that the NYDFS regulations could become a model for other industries or even policies at the national level.

In 2017, at least 42 states introduced more than 240 bills or resolutions related to various cybersecurity issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And since the NYDFS rules took effect, financial regulators in Colorado and Vermont have followed New York’s lead with cybersecurity regulations of their own.

Indeed, cyber experts have come a long way in better understanding the threats we face since Rumsfeld’s dire cyberwar memo in 2001. But 17 years on, the former secretary of defense’s concerns still seem as relevant as ever.

Perhaps the memo was a prescient warning — a warning that fell on deaf ears, but is not too late to address.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A real Nazi hunter was just given one of France’s top awards

In 1968, Beate Klarsfeld jumped up during a political rally and slapped German Chancellor Georg Kiesinger in the face.

On Oct. 8, 2018, the 79-year-old received one of France’s top awards, the National Order of Merit. In the same ceremony, her husband Serge Klarsfeld, 83, received the highest national award, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. The couple were recognized by French President Emmanuel Macron for their lifelong dedication to tracking and exposing war criminals.

The Klarsfelds call it their family business. Their enterprise: hunting Nazis. And they’re good at what they do.


Chancellor Kiesinger, who worked in the Nazi’s radio propaganda arm under Joseph Goebbels, was never charged with war crimes. But the couple — who focus on higher-level Nazis, many of whom fled Germany after the war — has helped bring to justice at least 10 war criminals.

Notorious Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, nicknamed the “Butcher of Lyon,” was arrested in Bolivia in 1983. Beate Klarsfeld had tracked him down there over a decade earlier. Barbie was responsible for a reign of terror in France during World War II, and for the arrest and torture or death of tens of thousands of people during that time, including the deportation of 44 Jewish children from the village of Izeu.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Serge Klarsfeld.

The Klarsfelds specialize in tracking down Nazis who found their way out of Germany after the war. They campaigned for the arrest of both Walter Rauff and Alois Brunner. Rauff, who invented the mobile gas chamber while working under Reinhard Heydrich, ultimately made his way to Chile, where he died before he could be extradited and tried. Klarsfeld claims she traced Brunner to Syria, where he reportedly died years ago. Brunner served as the assistant to Adolf Eichmann — the architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution” — and is responsible for sending tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps.

Serge Klarsfeld has previously been awarded with a lower rank of the Legion of Honor. Their son Arno, who is named after Serge’s father, a victim of murder at Auschwitz, now helps them prosecute some of the Nazis they track down.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
And the Marine attached to those hands.

 

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

 

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
John Ripley’s legendary action at Dong Ha Bridge, portrayed in a diorama at the U.S. Naval Academy. (U.S. Naval Academy)

 

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

 

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

Feature image: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army to issue newest groin protection to paratroopers

Soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina will soon receive the Army‘s latest attempt at armor protection for the genitals and groin area.

Beginning in late March 2019, Program Executive Office Soldier officials will issue the Blast Pelvic Protector to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team as well as other items in the Army’s new Soldier Protection System such as the Modular Scalable Vest and the Integrated Head Protection System.


The Blast Pelvic Protector resembles a pair of loose-fitting shorts designed to wear over the Army Combat Uniform trousers. The device is intended to replace earlier attempts at groin protection such as the Protective Under Garment, or PUG, and the Protective Over Garment, or POG.

The PUG resembled a pair of snug-fitting boxers.

“They were underwear that had pockets for ballistics to go into,” Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for Soldier Protective Equipment said recently at a media event.

The POG looked like a tactical diaper.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

The Pelvic Protection System: Tier I Protective Under Garment (PUG) and Tier II Protective Outer Garment (POG).

(US Army photo)

“And then there was an outer garment — it felt like a perpetual wedgie; soldiers hated that,” Whitehead said.

“That’s why we moved to the Blast Pelvic Protector and the cool thing about this is … there is a ballistic insert that can stop certain types of rounds, and the rest of this provides fragmentation protection.”

The new protective device features open sides with two straps on either side that connect with quick-release buckles.

Earlier attempts at protecting the groin and femoral arteries on the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, or IOTV, consisted of triangular flap of soft ballistic material that hung in front of the crotch.

In addition to the pelvic protector, soldiers from 3rd BCT will receive the new Integrated Head Protection System, or IHPS, which will replace the Enhanced Combat Helmet in close combat units.

The new helmet offers the same ballistic protection as the ECH, but doubles the amount of protection against blunt impact or trauma to soldier’s head. Each side of the helmet has rail sections, so soldiers can mount lights and other accessories for operating in low-light conditions.

Equipment officials will also field the Modular Scalable Vest, or MSV, to 3rd BCT soldiers. The MSV weighs about 25 pounds with body armor plates. That’s about a five-pound weight reduction compared to the current IOTV.

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

Articles

North Korea claims they have a hydrogen bomb and the world shrugs

Through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, announced his country is “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.” American and South Korean officials are dismissing the claim.


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Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Potato Guns

“The information that we have access to calls into serious question those claims, but we take very seriously the risk and the threat that is posed by the North Korean regime in their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

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Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Binoculars

Kim made the announcement while inspecting an historical military site in Pyongyang. The regime first became a confirmed nuclear power in 2006 under Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-Il when North Korea detonated the first of three nuclear bombs.

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Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Flash Mobs

North Korea’s regime detonates nukes at “secret” underground nuclear tests sites. The announcement comes on the heels of the discovery of new nuclear testing tunnels, uncovered by satellite photos, at Punggye-ri in the northeast area of the country.

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Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Phones

This is the first time the Kim regime claimed to have hydrogen bomb technology and the announcement may be a response to the recent U.S. sanctions targeting North Korea’s Strategic Rocket Force and banks involved in North Korean arms proliferation.

North Korea has a history of acting out in response to Western actions it sees as provocative. When the U.S. and South Korea performed its yearly joint Foal Eagle exercise in 2015, the North launched two scud missiles into the sea outside of South Korea. When the South conducted a combined arms exercise near Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands near the maritime border with the North, North Korean artillery batteries shelled the island for an hour.

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Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Gloop

The North is not yet able to put a nuclear weapon on one of its rockets, but its nuclear capabilities do threaten U.S. allies in the region.

“We don’t have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb,” a South Korean intelligence official told the South’s Yonhap News Agency. “We do not believe that North Korea, which has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear bombs, has the technology to produce an H-bomb.”

North Korea claimed in 2010 that it had successfully developed fusion technology.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Elite Air Force team called in to rescue missing dad and his daughter in Oregon

Earlier in September, Air Commandos rescued two hikers who had got lost in Oregon’s Mount Hood. A 34-year-old man and his 7-year-old daughter had gone hiking but got lost and were missing for two days. At that point, the local Sheriff’s department requested the help of the Air Force.


A combined team comprised of eight Pararescuemen and three Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) specialists from the 304th Rescue Squadron (Reserves) and 125th Special Tactics Squadron (Air National Guard) answered the call. Despite the odd hour, they were notified at 21:30 (that’s 9:30 p.m. for the civilians among us), it took the team just over three hours to assemble, get briefed, plan, and deploy for the rescue.

Major Ryan (last name redacted), the director of operations for the 304th RQS, said that “Our members responded in the middle of the night to assist the local authorities, located the isolated personnel, and evacuated them to safety. I am extremely proud of our team and how they performed to enable a positive outcome for the local authorities. A great reflection of the capabilities of the Air Force Reserve Command’s Guardian Angel Rescue Squadrons.”

The Air Commandos managed to locate the missing hikers early the next morning (05:40) but found that they couldn’t walk and so they had to be evacuated. The team had to cross a kilometer, or a bit more than half a mile, of rough woodland to reach the nearest road.

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| Rescue personnel from the 304th Rescue Squadron and 125th Special Tactics Squadron recover an injured 34-year-old man and his 7-year-old daughter after the hikers we reported lost for two days (Photo by 943rd Rescue Group).

The team was well-equipped, carrying thermal and night vision goggles, technical rope rescue gear, and medical equipment.

The Air Commandos worked in conjunction with the Clackamas County Search and Rescue office and other local law enforcement agencies.

This rescue operation showcases why a slot at an Air National Guard rescue squadron is so highly sought after. Pararescuemen, SERE specialists, and support personnel get to conduct real-life operations on a frequent basis even when not deployed abroad.

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A 34-year-old man fist bumps one of the Search and Rescue personnel who rescued him and his 7-year-old daughter (Photo by 943rd Rescue Group).

“It was a combined effort between the 304th RQS and 125th STS moving the two patients through very thick and steep terrain,” said Captain Phil (last name redacted), a Combat Rescue Officer who served as a liaison between the Air Commandos and the local sheriff department. “Technical rope systems were used at a number of different locations in order to safely transport the two patients off the mountain to a place where they could be turned over to definitive care.”

Combat Rescue Officers and Pararescuemen are the only careerfields in the Department of Defense that are specially trained and equipped to conduct combat search and rescue and personnel recovery operations. Additionally, and as shown by the Mt Hood rescue and the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, their utility extends beyond combat operations and can be game-changing in domestic environments as well.

There are five Rescue and Special Tactics Air National Guard squadrons:

  • 103rd in Long Island, New York
  • 123rd in Louisville, Kentucky
  • 125th in Portland, Oregon
  • 131st in Santa Clara, California
  • 212th in Anchorage, Alaska

And three Reserves Rescue and Special Tactics squadrons:

  • 304th in Portland, Oregon
  • 306th in Tucson, Arizona
  • 308th in Cocoa Beach, Florida

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marines will soon get these new night-vision goggles

Marines will have better situational awareness on missions in dark areas thanks to new night-vision goggles.

The Binocular Night Vision Goggle II, or BNVG II, is a helmet-mounted binocular that gives operators improved depth perception at night, and uses white phosphor image intensification technology to amplify ambient light, with a modular thermal imaging overlay capability. BNVG II helps Marines identify potential buried explosive devices, find hidden objects in foliated areas and safely conduct tasks that require depth perception.

Marine Corps Systems Command began fielding the BNVG II to force reconnaissance and explosive ordnance disposal Marines this spring, and full operational capability is planned for early 2019.


The BNVG II includes a binocular night-vision device and a clip-on thermal imager, or COTI. The BNVD amplifies the small amount of existing light emitted by stars, the moon’s glow or other ambient light sources and uses the light to clearly display objects in detail in very dark conditions. The COTI uses heat energy from the Marine’s surroundings to add a thermal overlay that allows the image to be viewed more clearly, helping Marines with situational awareness in conditions with little to no light.

Enhanced Vision

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Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Kishawn Tucker peers through night vision binoculars.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Caracci)

“The BNVG II helps Marines see enemies at a distance, and uses the COTI to detect ordnance or power sources for an explosive device that gives off heat,” said Nia Cherry, an infantry weapons program analyst. “The COTI intensifies Marines’ ability to see anything in dark conditions, rain, fog, dust, smoke and through bushes that the legacy binoculars couldn’t.”

The BNVG II is a follow-on to the legacy, battle-proven AN/PVS-15 binocular, but offers more features, such as the COTI, for increased survivability. The BNVD component is a compact, lightweight, third-generation, dual-tube night -vision goggle with an ergonomic, low-profile design. It offers superior situational awareness compared to the AN/PVS-15 used by reconnaissance Marines and the single-tube AN/PVS-14 monocular night-vision device used throughout the rest of the Marine Corps, officials said. It mounts to the enhanced combat helmet and may be used individually or in conjunction with the COTI.

“In March 2018, we held an exercise in San Diego where Marines provided positive feedback on their ability to easily maneuver with the goggles,” said Joe Blackstone, optics team lead in infantry weapons. “The depth perception provided by the BNVG II enhances precision and increases the operator’s survivability while on missions with limited lighting.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

Lists

5 ethical ways troops can avoid working on the weekend

Moments of levity are a must. It’s those little moments of relaxation that give our nation’s war fighters the rest they need operate at peak efficiency. That, and everyone would rather spend their downtime drunk than sitting at battalion staff duty on their day off.


Nobody wants to get a call informing them that their weekend plans have officially gone to sh*t. We know you don’t want to do it, but we’re going to advise against going AWOL, getting locked up, ending up in the hospital, or flat-out telling your superior to f*ck off. There are a few ethical ways to wiggle your way back into doing nothing productive until Monday.

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“Nope… I don’t see that ’09 Mustang bought at 39% interest rate… he must be gone already.”

(Photo by Sgt. Melissa Bright)

Park somewhere else

Form habits. Let everyone know your routine.

If you park your car in the exact same place, day in and day out, pretty soon, that’ll become the go-to indicator of your presence. If, one day, you happen to park your car in the other parking lot, they’ll take a quick glance and assume you’re not there. Now just be sure to keep your phone on silent and never answer your door.

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“I’m so sorry, I’d love to help, but I got this thing. Yes. That totally legit thing.”

(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Dana Cable)

Be busy

Someone has pull staff duty or charge of quarters (CQ). The goal here isn’t to screw over the unit, it’s to hot potato that responsibility onto someone else.

If you let your superior know that you’ve got responsibilities that you can’t or “can’t” wiggle out of, like “helping someone in your unit move,” they’ll probably pick that other guy.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Bonus points if you tell them you’ll be somewhere without service and you just turn your phone off.

(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Frank Rohrig)

Be out of town

Let everyone know you’ve got big plans. Be obnoxious about it. Everyone from the lowest private to the battalion commander should know that your ass has tickets to whatever.

If you plan on having fun, whoever is coming to ruin your weekend should know well in advance that you’re not going to be anywhere near.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

If they do take the time to go check the paperwork and you were bullshitting, then plausible deniability is your only way out…

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Morales)

Put in a 4-day pass (or say you did)

Having a piece of paperwork that says the commander has approved you to do nothing all weekend is great. Take a photo of it with your phone and send it along any time someone asks you what you’re doing.

Or, if the NCO is out on the prowl, trying to find some lower-enlisted to pull CQ and you feel like your poker face is good enough, go ahead and say your 4-day pass is up at battalion and hope they don’t call your bluff.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

Just keep one by the door, if you have to.

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Be drunk or “drunk”

If there’s any tried-and-true method that every member of the E-4 Mafia and LCpl Underground know too well, it’s this one: Never answer your door without a bottle of beer in your hands.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve actually been drinking; it doesn’t matter if it’s 0900. There’s no way you can go to some BS duty if you might be intoxicated. Always keep that in mind.

MIGHTY HISTORY

See how the Army evacuates wounded working dogs

Look, you all know what military working dogs are. Whether you’re here because they’re adorable, because they save lives, because they bite bad guys, or because they bite bad guys and save lives while being adorable, we all have reasons to love these good puppers. And the military protects these warriors, even evacuating them when necessary.


And so that brings us to the above video and photos below. Because, yes, these evacuations can take place on helicopters, and that requires a lot of training. Some of it is standard stuff. The dogs can ride on normal litters and in normal helicopters. But medics aren’t always ready for a canine patient, and the doggos have some special needs.

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Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

One of the most important needs particular to the dogs is managing their anxiety. While some humans get uncomfortable on a ride in the whirly bird (the technical name for a helicopter), it’s even worse for dogs who don’t quite understand why they’re suddenly hundreds of feet in the sky while standing on a shaking metal plate.

So the dogs benefit a lot just from helicopter familiarization training. And it’s also a big part of why handlers almost always leave the battlefield with their dogs. Their rifle might be useful on the ground even after their dog is wounded, but handlers have a unique value during the medical evacuation, treatment, and rehabilitation. If a dog is already hurt and scared when it gets on a helicopter, you really want it to have a familiar face comforting it during the flight.

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Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

But it’s not just about helping the dogs be more comfortable. It’s also about preparing the flight medics to take care of the dogs’ and handlers’ unique needs. Like in the video at the top. As the Air Force handlers are comforting and restraining the dogs, the helicopter crew is connecting handlers’ restraints because the handlers’ hands are needed for the dogs.

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Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

The personnel who take part in these missions, from the handlers to the pilots to the flight crews, all get trained on the differences before they take part in the training and, when possible, before any missions where they might need to evacuate a dog.

Russia detains retired Marine on espionage charges

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Yarborough)

Of course, ultimately, the dogs get care from medical and veterinarian teams. Don’t worry about this good dog. The photo comes from a routine root canal.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How robots and drones might be used in future wars

The U.S. Army loves robots and wants its soldiers to love them, too. The U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently conducted its annual Joint Warfighting Assessment in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the testing at the Yakima Training Center. From late April to May 11, 2019, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 2-2 Stryker Brigade and 2nd Ranger battalion, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton, tested new weapon concepts for a Pacific war scenario set in 2028.

One of the concepts they were testing was the “optionally manned vehicle,” which would allow leaders in the field to decide to switch their systems to remote operating systems instead of putting their troops on the line.


“The idea is that the robotics could be available, so when they pick that platform you can put the robotics on it, and now you can do the manned (or) unmanned team and push the robotics out on the battlefield,” explained Lieutenant Colonel John Fursmo, the officer commanding the opposing force for the exercise.

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The Assault Breacher Vehicle.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Some of the vehicles that have been brought out for testing are actually quite old, brought back to life and stuffed with robotic capabilities by engineers tinkering with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Troops and engineers explain that it’s all about testing, experimentation and soldier feedback. “These are concepts, these are not necessarily the pieces of equipment we would actually use,” said Fursmo. “The Army still has to decide what it wants for this new combat vehicle that will replace some tanks and other armored vehicles.”

Fursmo pointed to an old M58 mobile recon vehicle that’s been retrofitted with remote control capabilities. “It’s a tracked vehicle, it’s been in the Army a very long time, [and] essentially the Army stopped using it several years ago because the mission itself was so dangerous that it was just decided it wasn’t worth it,” he explained. “But make it a robot and now it’s at least conceptually worth looking at it again.”

Robotics and digital tech are already changing the way wars both big and small are being fought around the world every day. What were once science fiction dreams (or nightmares) aren’t as far away as some might think. Some are already here.

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An experimental quadcopter mounted on a Stryker during JWA 19.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Eyes in the Sky

Cavalry scouts often call themselves the ninjas of the U.S. Army. Though considered combat troops, their job is more often to scope out the enemy without drawing fire and to report their findings. “A big problem we have is seeing without being seen,” explained Major Dave Scherke, a cav scout squadron leader with the 2-2 Stryker Brigade.

A scout team might move with three troops aboard a Stryker and three dismounted on the ground. They use maps, rulers, and measuring tape to take down mission critical information while conducting route reconnaissance. “It’s very time consuming and, from a security standpoint, can leave you exposed,” Scherken said.

However, at Yakima Training Center, Scherke’s men have been testing the Sensor Enabled Scout Platoon concept. They’ve tested the “Instant Eye” quad copter, an aerial drone surveillance system. “We have that all the way down to the squad level. So instead of just having one of these for each one of my cav troops, now I have six of them, and that massively increases our ability to see over the ridge and see the enemy first,” Scherke explained.

The quad copter itself isn’t particularly unique — you can buy similar models at Best Buy. Drones have already become part of the new normal for warfare. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants have used store-bought drones to help them target mortars and have even modified them to drop grenades and other improvised explosives. During the battle of Mosul, frustrated Iraqi troops started purchasing commercial drones of their own to fight ISIS. Robots are everywhere.

However, the small drones the scouts are testing are equipped with the Instrument Set Reconnaissance and Survey (ENFIRE) system that uses software and algorithms that can help measure terrain features, roads, and even calculate how much weight a bridge is capable of supporting. “There’s a bridge classification app that tells you the whole bridge classification,” said Colonel Chuck Roede, the deputy commander of JMC. “It really allows the scouts to do the job we expect them to do.”

ENFIRE connects directly to systems in the Stryker itself, which connects to a larger network. “It takes all that information, aggregates it into a computer, and creates a route overlay,” Scherke explained. “[Plugging] into our mission command systems to send very rapidly [means] our logistics planners and our other maneuver planners can get that information right away. So it speeds up what our scouts can do, and now instead of having six scouts on the ground just doing this while other guys are securing them, you can put fewer scouts on the ground to do that mission.”

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Deep purple, the drone utilized by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, prepares to lift off on an NBC reconnaissance mission at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 training exercise at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Washington, April 29, 2019.

(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)

The Instant Eye has night vision, infrared, and powerful zoom and camera clarity features for checking out targets, as well as signal tracking. “We can get some eyes on there without exposing our scouts and then bring indirect fires down to win that fight first because we want to be fighting an unfair fight,” said Scherke.

Cav scout Sergeant Joseph Gaska, who was in the field operating the prototype, told Coffee or Die that he was impressed with it. “As long as you’re high enough, you won’t hear it, so it’s not going to be that buzzing sound above your head,” he said of small, nimble drones’ ability to move nearly undetected. It has other ambitious features, too, Gaska noted. For instance, he said that if they were to somehow lose their connection to the drone, it’s programmed to remember where its handlers are and will return to them.

The Joint Warfighting Assessment JWA19 WA, UNITED STATES 04.28.2019

www.youtube.com

Machines Doing The Dirty Work

One of the most difficult things ground troops are asked to do is breaching operations against enemy strongholds. The defending side nearly always has the advantage. Good defenders lay out layers of defense that can include walls, barbed wire, ditches, minefields, and countless other hazards and traps. “It’s a very challenging task because you have to imagine your opponent on the far side of that position ready to destroy you with every weapon system that they have,” Fursmo said. “If you can take humans out of that, you’re going to have fewer casualties — it’s really the most dangerous thing a ground force does.”

Troops in the field trained with various aerial drones for detecting chemical threats and minefields, but more of the efforts focused on ground-based systems. One of the key systems they were testing was the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Their ABV working prototype was built around the hull of an M1A1 Abrams tank armed with mine charges and a .50-caliber machine gun and equipped with plows and dozer blades.

“Basically, the concept of this vehicle is that this one vehicle with two operators can do what an entire platoon of engineers would be required to do in a breach,” U.S. Marine 1st Lt. David Aghakhan explained. “It’s not taking anything away from my capabilities — I can still manually operate it — but it gives me the option of saying ‘I don’t want to expose my Marines in this obstacle belt because it’s too dangerous,’ and I can pull them out and we can robotically operate it.”

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A soldier remotely operates a humvee from inside another humvee.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Working from remote controls in command vehicles, soldiers and Marines could also remotely control other vehicles to move in and provide suppressing fire for the ABV as it worked to clear mines, smash berms, and deal with other obstacles. Captain Nicole Rotte, an Afghanistan veteran and commander of the 2-2’s engineer company, said that she was impressed with it.

“The challenge that I have is my planning factor for moving through a breach is 50 percent loss,” said Rotte. “So all these concepts, to be able to take an unmanned vehicle and bring them down the battlefield, to be able save soldiers from being lost in the breach, that’s awesome for me.”

Rotte said they only had minor technical issues that were easily solved by turning the systems off and on again. She added that if anything, she’s excited for the prospect of having more robots available to her and seeing what they can do.

Unmanning the Battlefield?

Some futurists have envisioned a world in which war was waged entirely by robots. The U.S. military and CIA have already used drones with operators in Nevada pulling the trigger to kill enemies as far away as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, while the vehicles are referred to as “unmanned,” they require regular maintenance — and usually have a human operator somewhere.

At times, U.S. military commanders have underestimated the strain on personnel in regard to upkeep and the long hours of operation. “The explosion in demand had created a snowball effect that never allowed the […] staff to take a pause and say, ‘Let’s normalize all the processes that we should be doing,'” the Air Force reported in one of its official annual histories from 2012. “Instead, normalization was put off to some future date after the pace of combat operations slowed down.”

But the wars continued, as did the extreme hours. Airmen working six days a week were constantly asked to work extra hours while leave got cancelled. They were never “deployed” but remained almost constantly on duty, remotely fighting wars in several countries that were continents away. “It’s at the breaking point and has been for a long time,” a senior Air Force official told The Daily Beast in 2015. “What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.”

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A remotely operated humvee with a robotic firing turret.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Even without the logistical hurdles, many commanders (even those that fully embrace a robotic future for war) don’t believe grunts will ever become obsolete. “It’s technologically feasible to fly a drone from Nevada and have it circling over Iraq or Afghanistan. But the demands of the terrain, as Army soldiers we are so tied to the terrain — you need to have leaders on the ground to see and understand the terrain,” Roede said.

Col. Christopher Barnwell, head of the field experimentation division at JMC, said that while he could see a future where commanders could run a war without ever going to the field — adding that at this point communications are advanced enough that senior officers already don’t have to — he doesn’t think a good leader would choose to stay home while war is raging elsewhere.

“No commander I know would do that,” he said. “I feel like I need to be on the ground and see things with my own eyes and get a feel for what’s going. Technically possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t personally think so.”

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An Alabama Army National Guard Soldier with the 690th Chemical Company inspects a “deep purple” drone at YTC at Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, May 4, 2019.

(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/ 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)

Battle Bots

While they don’t see human judgement being removed from the equation, some military planners are excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence to allow vehicles to move on their own on the battlefield.

“As the concept matures, as we bring in elements of AI, as we bring in some measures of autonomy, the ratio of operators to vehicles will drop so that eventually you’ll have one operator who can control maybe a squad or platoon’s worth of vehicles,” said Roede. He suggested that AI could allow vehicles to autonomously navigate terrain and even rally into formations as they haul supplies and weapons.

Barnwell suggested it potentially going even further — he can foresee a day in the future when leaders can delegate to robotic weapons systems in combat and allow them to autonomously pick and engage targets.

“You tell these robotic vehicles, ‘You’ve got this part of the engagement area, and you are free to shoot at enemy vehicles; anything north of the niner-niner grid line is enemy and you are free to shoot it,'” Barnwell said. “And because these vehicles have AI, they know what to shoot […] on their own.”

However, the prospect of robots that can autonomously kill enemies based on algorithms or pre-programmed targets sets has potentially serious ramifications. The recent battles for Mosul and Raqqa proved incredibly bloody. House-to-house fighting and heavy bombing and artillery strikes led to untold deaths of civilians trapped in the cities, and the work of rebuilding the infrastructure since the battles ended has been slow.

Military strategists believe that urban fighting could be the norm for the 21st century. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that’s expected to grow. In particular, there are concerns about the challenges posed by potentially fighting in massive megacities like Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Lagos. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has pointed out that the entirety of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — isn’t equal to a neighborhood in Seoul.

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Conceptual prototypes at Yakima Training Center.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Heavily armed robots combing the streets of a densely populated megacity picking targets based on algorithms have the potential to cause a lot of unintended collateral death and destruction. Machines feel neither remorse nor pity.

Barnwell said that they’re already considering these potential problems. “Through programming, we would be able to figure out what are appropriate targets, what are not. What is the ROE (rules of engagement), what are we going to allow these things to shoot at by themselves, and what are we not going to allow them to shoot at by themselves,” he explained. “In a megacity, for example, we may not even employ this sort of thing — or we may, depending on what the intelligence tells us the enemy is out there.”

But Roede stressed again that fighting wars is going to remain a fundamentally human endeavor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we’ll let the machine make the final decision on anything.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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