Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap - We Are The Mighty
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Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

An American and an Australian who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for over three years were freed Nov. 19, 2019, as part of a prisoner swap.

The State Department said in a statement on Nov. 19, 2019, that the American Kevin King, 63, and the Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, were “successfully recovered” in the morning and were in the custody of the US military.

The department added that both men would soon be reunited with their families.

Weeks and King were teachers at the American University of Afghanistan in the capital of Kabul and were kidnapped at gunpoint outside the university in August 2016. The two men were held hostage for over three years.


In 2017, the Taliban released a propaganda video showing the two men in black robes and looking disheveled. In the video, the men discussed their time in captivity and urged their governments to negotiate with the Taliban to secure their release.

In a statement in 2017, the Taliban said King was “gravely ill” and needed urgent care.

The State Department said the Taliban released the professors as a “goodwill measure.” The department added that the Taliban intended to release 10 Afghan prisoners, and the Afghan government intended to release three Taliban prisoners as part of the exchange.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

Pictures taken in 2014 by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that officials said showed Anas Haqqani, left, a senior leader of the Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, and Hafiz Rashid, another commander.

(National Directorate of Security)

The men released as part of the swap were senior members of Haqqani network, which is linked to Al Qaeda.

“We see these developments as hopeful signs that the Afghan war, a terrible and costly conflict that has lasted 40 years, may soon conclude through a political settlement,” the State Department said.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said that the Australian government was “profoundly relieved” by the agreement and thanked the Trump administration and the Afghan government for their assistance.

“We regard this release as one of a series of confidence-building measures that are taking place in Afghanistan,” she said.

Payne added that Weeks’ family had “asked for privacy” but conveyed that they felt “relief that their long ordeal is over.”

According to The Washington Post, the Afghan government initially said the pair appeared to have been kidnapped by a criminal gang. The Pentagon and Navy SEALs also unsuccessfully attempted to rescue the two men in a botched mission in eastern Afghanistan.

The US had kickstarted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in September 2019 but abandoned talks after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed a US soldier.

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

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11 awesome facts about John Glenn and his amazing life

John Glenn may be one of the United States Marine Corps’ most epic alums. And that’s saying a lot (he’s in good company).


In his 95 years on planet Earth — and his time off the planet — Glenn racked up accomplishment after accomplishment, feat after feat, do after derring-do.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

It’s no wonder the U.S. and the world hail the Ohioan as a legend. He was a decorated war hero, astronaut, and senator — but he was so much more.

Here are a few interesting things you may not have known about the first American to orbit the Earth.

1. The documentary about his life was nominated for an Oscar.

The 1963 short film “The John Glenn Story” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. That was before he was elected to the Senate.

 

His life was already so epic it warranted its own movie, and even then, he was far from finished.

2. He and his wife were married for 73 years.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
John and Anna Glenn in 1963.

Glenn and his wife, Anna, were married in April 1943. They had two children and two grandchildren. Anna had a severe speech impediment and he protected her from the media because of it.

3. He was also the first man to eat in space.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
Glenn is seen here eating applesauce. No kidding.

The first meal in space was applesauce. And it was a big deal because scientists thought humans might not be able to digest in zero gravity. He also ate pureed beef and vegetables. Other famous space feats include being the oldest man in space (age 77) and the first man to carry a knife (a 9-inch blade in a leather sheath).

4. His Korean War wingman was also famous.

Glenn flew several missions with “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” baseball hero Ted Williams. Williams flew half of his 39 combat mission over North Korea with Glenn.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
Glenn and Ted Williams reconnect following a parade down State Road A1A in Cocoa Beach in 1999. (NASA photo)

Glenn called Williams “one of the best pilots I ever knew.”

5. Bill Clinton sent two emails as President: One was to John Glenn.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
The laptop Clinton used to send the email sold for $60,000. (The White House/NASA)

The internet as we know it was in its infancy during the Clinton Administration, yet as President, Bill Clinton sent two: one to U.S. troops in the Adriatic, and the other to Glenn, then 77 years old and in orbit around the Earth.

6. Glenn was almost an excuse to invade Cuba.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

Operation “Dirty Trick” was planned if Glenn’s capsule crashed back to Earth. The Pentagon reportedly wanted to blame any mishap on Cuban electronic interference, and use his death as an excuse to invade Cuba.

7. Glenn’s Marine Corps nickname was “Magnet Ass.”

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
Magnet Ass standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. (Ohio State University)

He flew a F9F Panther jet interceptor on 63 combat missions, twice returning with over 250 holes in his aircraft. His aircrews all thought he somehow attracted flak.

8. John Glenn was the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
The Mercury 7 astronauts examine their ‘couches.’ Each astronaut’s couch was molded to fit his body to help withstand the G-loads of the launch. (NASA photo)

The next to last one died in 2013. Also, the five sons of Jeff Tracy in the kids show “Thunderbirds” were named after the first five American astronauts into space through the Mercury project: Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and John Glenn.

9. President John F. Kennedy barred Glenn from further space flights.

Glenn found out by reading Richard Reeves’ biography of President Kennedy decades later.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
(Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

“Kennedy had indicated to NASA that he would just as soon that I was not assigned to another flight,” Glenn told the Mercury News in 2015.

10. Glenn took the first human-shot photo of the Earth from space.

It was a panoramic view of Florida from the Georgia border.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
(NASA photo by John Glenn)

His first words back to NASA were, “This is Friendship 7. Can see clear back; a big cloud pattern way back across towards the Cape. Beautiful sight.”

11. His space flight inspired a blues song.

Blues legend Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins wrote an upbeat blues song about Glenn’s first orbital spaceflight.

 

Lightnin’ Hopkins was not known for upbeat, fun songs. He is best known for downbeat songs about emotional pain, tragedy, and death.

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RNC goes vet heavy for its ‘Make America Safe Again’ theme

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap


CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Republican National Convention started here Monday tapping into the ill-ease of the American public in the wake of terrorist attacks across the globe and domestic unrest. The theme for the first of four days was “Make America Safe Again,” a play on Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” tagline that he’s used from the beginning of his current run for president.

The prime time slate of speakers who took the stage at the Quicken Loans Arena started with Willie Robertson, one of the stars of the “Duck Dynasty” reality show, and television actor Scott Biao. They were followed by the first veteran in the lineup, former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, author of Lone Survivor.

Luttrell started his remarks by stating that he was born into a patriotic family that taught him “to die for any woman and to fight beside any man.” He said his father, who served in Vietnam, was “shamed out of his uniform” but instilled in his sons to “love this country and its people more than we loved ourselves.”

Luttrell was followed by Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, one of the four Americans killed during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi in 2012. “For all of this loss, for all of this grief, for all of the cynicism the tragedy in Benghazi has wrought upon America, I blame Hillary Clinton,” she said, which elicited a passionate response from the delegates on the convention floor, many of whom launched into a “lock her up” chant.

The topic of Clinton’s responsibility for the failure and tragedy of Benghazi continued with Mark Geist and John Teigen, two security contractors who fought off the attacks that night. The two men, who helped write 13 Hours, a book criticizing the State Department’s response to the attacks that was made into a Michael Bay movie last year, offered the crowd a lengthy, machismo-infused version of their experiences that night and left no doubt that they believe the lives of their comrades were lost because of the inaction of then-Sec. Clinton.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division, jabbed at President Obama’s unwillingness to use the term “fundamentalist Islamic terrorist” when referring to ISIS and the associated network of lone wolves, saying that if Donald Trump was made commander-in-chief he would “call the enemy by its name.”

The energy in the building shifted into the next gear as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani took the stage and proclaimed that “the vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe. They fear for their children; they fear for themselves; they fear for our police officers who are being targeted, with a target on their back.”

Giuliani also hit Obama for his apparent reticence around labeling the terrorist threat in religious terms, saying, “Failing to identify them properly maligns all those good Muslims around the world who are being killed by them. They are killing more Muslims than anyone else.”

The lights faded to black as Giuliani left the stage, and the classic Queen hit “We are the Champions” boomed through the PA system. Donald Trump appeared as a backlit silhouette, and when the lights came back on he stepped to the podium and announced, “We are going to win so big,” and then introduced his wife Melania, who was the keynote speaker for the evening.

Mrs. Trump’s remarks, delivered with her heavy Eastern European accent, hit a number of general themes, including the fact that she was an immigrant who went through the naturalization process and became a citizen in 2006 and that her husband wasn’t one to give up on anything in life. (Media pundits were quick to point out that parts of her speech mirrored one given by First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC in Denver in 2008, an accusation that Trump allies dismissed. “There’s no way that Melania Trump was plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech,” New Jersey Gov. and Trump proxy Chris Christie said.)

Donald Trump retook the stage at the end of his wife’s speech, and the two walked off to raucous applause from the delegates and other faithful in attendance. And, in what has to be viewed as a case of bad showmanship planning by either the RNC or the Trump team, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a vocal critic of the Obama administration in spite of the fact that he’s a registered Democrat, walked to the podium to speak as a large majority of the audience streamed for the exits, assuming they’d seen the most important part of the program.

“The destructive pattern of putting the interests of other nations ahead of our own will end when Donald Trump is president,” Flynn said. “From this day forward, we must stand tougher and stronger together, with an unrelenting goal to not draw red lines and then retreat and to never be satisfied with reckless rhetoric from an Obama clone like Hillary Clinton.”

Flynn was followed Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, another Army veteran, who told the dwindling crowd, “Our allies see us shrinking from our place as a leader in the world as we have failed time and again to address threats. They are looking for American leaders who are willing to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.'”

And by the time Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick brought the first day’s proceedings to a close, Quicken Loans Arena was nearly empty.

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Here’s when the F-15 outperforms the F-22 or an F-35

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, revealed why the F-15, originally introduced four decades ago, is still more useful than either the F-22 or the F-35 in certain situations.


The F-15 is a traditional air-superiority fighter of the fourth generation. It’s big, fast, agile, and carriers lots of weapons under the wing where everyone can see them. For that last reason, it’s terrible at stealth, but the other side of the coin is that it’s perfect for intercepting enemy aircraft.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas, St. Louis

Bronk says that when it comes to interception, a plane must “get up right next to the aircraft, fly alongside, show weapons, go on guard frequency, tell them they’re being intercepted, that they’re on course to violate airspace, and to turn back immediately.”

An F-22 or F-35 shouldn’t, and in some cases, can’t do that.

The major advantage of fifth-generation aircraft is their stealth abilities and situational awareness. Even the best aircraft in the world would be lucky to lay eyes on any fifth-generation fighter, which means they can set up and control the engagement entirely on their terms.

But while this paradigm lends itself ideally to fighting and killing, interception is a different beast.

The advantages of the F-22, and particularly of the F-35, diminish greatly once planes get within visual range of one another. Also, fifth-gens usually carry their munitions inside internal bomb bays, which is great for stealth but doesn’t really strike the same note that staring down an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the side of an F-15 would.

Simply put, a fifth-gen revealing itself to a legacy fighter would be akin to a hunter laying down his gun before confronting a wild beast.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
An F-22 Raptor | US Air Force photo

“Fifth-gen fighters are not really necessary for that … other, cheaper interceptors can do the job,” Bronk said.

Furthermore, interception happens way more frequently than air-to-air combat. A US Air Force fighter most recently shot down an enemy plane in 2009 — and it was the Air Force’s own wayward drone over Afghanistan. Interceptions happen all the time, with the Baltics and the South China Sea being particular hot spots.

The fifth-gens, however, make sense for entering contested airspace. If the US wanted to enter North Korean or Iranian airspace, it wouldn’t just be to show off, and according to Bronk, the aircraft’s stealth and situational awareness would afford them the opportunity to slip in, hit their marks, and slip out undetected, unlike an F-15.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
F-35s are incredible aircraft, but within visual range confrontations are not their fight. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Remington Hall

In interception situations, it makes no sense to offer up an F-22 or an F-35 as a handicapped target to an older legacy plane. F-15s are more than capable of delivering the message themselves, and whoever they intercept will know that the full force of the US Air Force, including fifth-gens, stands behind them.

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Afghanistan is producing record numbers of opium

Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion USD counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S agencies, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) stated in its latest quarterly report to Congress.


The report said that opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible.”

It said that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conduct an annual survey with financial contributions from the United States and other donors.

UNODC estimated that the potential gross value of opiates was $1.56 billion USD — or the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2015.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
Afghan contractors unload bags of fertilizer at the Nawa district government building compound in the Helmand province of Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2009. The Afghan government is distributing the fertilizer to residents to support alternatives to poppy. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Harris, U.S. Marine Corps)

“The latest 2016 UNODC country survey estimates opium cultivation increased 10 percent, to 201,000 hectares, from the previous year,” the report said adding that “the southern region, which includes Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Daykundi provinces, accounted for 59 percent of total cultivation. Helmand remained the country’s largest poppy-cultivating province, followed by Badghis and Kandahar.”

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will, and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said.

Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said.

The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

“Since the collapse of the Taliban government, the opium trade has grown significantly and enabled the funding of insurgency operations. Taliban commanders collect extortion fees for running heroin refineries, growing poppy, and other smuggling schemes,” according to the report.

“Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money. There have been media reports and allegations of corrupt government officials participating in the drug trade,” it said.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to finance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin.”

John Sopko, head of SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Taiwan will defend itself from China’s J-20 stealth fighter

A Chinese military analyst told the state-run China Central Television that Beijing would soon fly its new J-20 stealth fighter into Taiwan’s airspace.

“J-20s can come and go at will above Taiwan,” Wang Mingliang, a military researcher at China National Defense University, said, according to Asia Times, adding that Taiwan was worried about “precision strikes on the leadership or key targets.”


This threat was also echoed by Zhou Chenming, another Chinese military analyst, in early May 2018.

“The PLA air force jets will enter the Taiwan [air defense identification zone] sooner or later,” Chenming told the South China Morning Post.

China officially put the J-20 into combat service in February 2018, and early May 2018, said the aircraft had flown its first sea training mission. But it’s still unclear whether the J-20 is operating with the new WS-15 engines or older WS-10G engines.

China’s “goal is reunification with Taiwan” and “this is just one piece,” Dan Blumenthal, the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told Business Insider, adding that cyber, sea, and political warfare were also part of Beijing’s plan to coerce Taiwan into reunification.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap
(Screenshot / hindu judaic)

But Taiwan has a plan to counter China’s J-20: new mobile passive radars and new active radars for their F-16Vs, according to Taipei Times.

Taiwan will begin testing two new mobile passive radars developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology in 2018, and plans to begin mass producing them by 2020.

These passive radars will work in tandem with APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radars, which Taiwan started mounting on its F-16Vs in January 2017, Asia Times reported.

The active and passive radars will be linked in a way so that they do not emit radiation, making them less susceptible to electronic jamming and anti-radiation missile attacks, Asia Times reported.

“It’s exactly what they should be doing,” Blumenthal said. “Just like any country would, they’re going to try to chase [the J-20s] away,” adding that Taiwan’s plan would be effective but that the country still wouldn’t be able to defend its airspace as well as major powers such as the US.

“Taiwan could probably use all sorts of help,” Blumenthal said.

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

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Watch a real US Army honor guard perform the ‘Razzle Dazzle’ from the movie ‘Stripes’

The 1981 film “Stripes” featured what is probably the worst group of movie soldiers ever to join the Army (that was kinda the point of the film). Bill Murray’s John Winger is a New York cab driver who loses his job, apartment, and girlfriend and decides to join the Army as a way to avoid being a total failure in life. He convinces his best friend Russell Ziskey (played by the late Harold Ramis) to join with him. Their drill sergeant, Sgt. Hulka (played by the late Warren Oates), is injured during mortar practice and the group has to finish basic training without instruction (suspend your disbelief for this comedy, troops).


Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

In an effort to stay in the Army and graduate from Basic Training, Winger and his platoon stay up for an entire night (the whole night!) in order to put on the unconventional yet highly produced and coordinated routine. Uniform violations are everywhere, so if that’s the kind of thing that gives you seizures, try not to look too closely:

Scenes from the movie, including those on post and those in Czechoslovakia, were filmed on Fort Knox, so the film is close to hearts of the Fort Knox, Kentucky community. The movie celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2016. To help that celebration, an honor guard from the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command performed the entire Stripes “Razzle Dazzle” graduation routine at Fort Knox (complete with uniform violations).
MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s next move in the trade war could threaten US F-35s

China is threatening the US with the possibility that it may withhold rare earth elements critical to the production of a number of different US products, including missiles and stealth fighters.

The US has been turning up the heat on China in the ongoing trade war. Now, Chinese media is warning that China can up the stakes.

“United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back,” the People’s Daily, the paper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, wrote May 29, 2019, according to Reuters.

“Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” the newspaper explained in a commentary, ominously adding, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”


Other Chinese media outlets released similar articles.

Rare earth elements, of which China produces the overwhelming majority, play an important role in the production of defense systems. For example, a US Navy Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine requires 9,200 pounds of rare earth metals, while an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer needs 5,200 pounds.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class RJ Stratchko)

US defense contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin use rare earth metals to make high-end guidance systems and sensors for missiles and other military platforms, Reuters reported.

An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth-generation stealth jet built to give the US an edge over rivals like China, requires 920 pounds of rare earth materials, according to Asia Times, which reported that the US has an almost nonexistent ability to produce rare earth materials.

“The US side wants to use the products made by China’s exported rare earths to counter and suppress China’s development,” the People’s Daily argued May 29, 2019. “The Chinese people will never accept this!”

The paper’s rhetoric suggests that China would intentionally take aim at the US defense sector, which Beijing believes is working to contain China’s rise.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The US relies on China for as much as 80% of its rare earth materials, according to Bloomberg. “Rare earths are a niche specialty and critical to the Defense Department,” Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, told the outlet.

“Rare earths are essential to the production, sustainment, and operation of US military equipment,” a 2016 Government Accountability Office report explained, adding that “Reliable access to the necessary material, regardless of the overall level of defense demand, is a bedrock requirement for DOD.”

Were China to pull the plug, it could certainly lead to complications, although there is the possibility that the department could turn to alternative sources given that its requirement is only 1% of the total US demand for rare earth elements.

Beijing has not yet said that it will take this step, but is certainly troubling that Chinese media is threatening this move as a potential response to US actions in the trade war.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the dead bodies after big battles in history

Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?


A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.

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That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.

With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.

As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.

As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.

The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.

It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.

That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…

Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:

The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.

And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.

Taliban returns American and Australian hostages in prisoner swap

Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.

Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:

Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.

After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…

It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.

The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.

In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:

Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.

Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:

It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!

The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”

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Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.

Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.

Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.

As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.

Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

NASA warns Meteor strikes aren’t just Hollywood fiction

NASA’s administrator warned that the threat of a meteor crashing into Earth is bigger than we might think.

Jim Bridenstine told the International Academy of Astronautics’ Planetary Defense Conference on Monday that “the reason it’s important for NASA to take this seriously is something you call the ‘giggle factor,'” or scientific theories that seem too ridiculous to be likely.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood. It’s not about movies. This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth,” he added.


Bridenstine noted that in February 2013, a meteor measuring 20 meters (about 65 feet) in diameter and traveling at 40,000 mph entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk, in central Russia.

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A meteor streaking across the sky in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region in 2013.

(CNN/YouTube)

Meteorites — smaller pieces broken from the larger meteor — crashed in the region, and a fireball streaked through the sky, the BBC reported at the time.

There was a loud, massive blast that caused a shock wave that broke windows and damaged buildings across the region, Bridenstine said, adding that the meteor’s explosion had 30 times the energy of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

More than 1,400 people were injured. Many were hit by flying glass, CNN reported.

Videos capture exploding meteor in sky

www.youtube.com

“I wish I could tell you that these events are exceptionally unique, but they are not,” Bridenstine said.

He said that NASA’s modeling had found that such events will take place “about once every 60 years.” He added that on the same day of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion, another, larger asteroid came within 17,000 miles of Earth but narrowly missed.

Scientific experts at this week’s Planetary Defense Conference are discussing how the world can defend against any potentially hazardous asteroid or comet that looks likely to hit Earth, the conference said in a statement.

In such a scenario, Bridenstine said, NASA would measure the object’s speed and trajectory and decide whether to deflect it or evacuate the area that it would hit.

Watch Bridenstine’s speech, starting at the 2:39 mark, in the video below:

6th IAA Planetary Defense Conference – The Honorable James Bridenstine, NASA Administrator

www.youtube.com

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

Articles

5 wild conspiracy theories that turned out to be true

Take off your tin-foil hats for a second, because sometimes an insane-sounding conspiracy theory actually turns out to be true. From the government making up an enemy attack to justify war to “mind control” experiments, some stories are hard to believe until declassified documents or investigations prove they actually happened.


Here are five of the wildest former conspiracy theories we found:

1. The US Navy fired on North Vietnamese torpedo boats that weren’t even there.

On the night of Aug. 4, 1965, the USS Maddox engaged against hostile North Vietnamese torpedo boats following an unprovoked attack. The only problem: there were no torpedo boats. Or attack. The Maddox fired at nothing, but the incident was used as a justification to further escalate the conflict in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson reported that at least two of the enemy boats were sunk, and American media outlets backed up that story in numerous articles. But conspiracy theorists thought it looked a lot like a “false flag” attack. They were right, according to the National Security Agency’s own declassified documents.

Others who were present, including James Stockdale (a Navy pilot who would later receive the Medal of Honor), disputed the official account:

“I had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there … There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.”

Even LBJ wasn’t convinced: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

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2. The FBI infiltrated, surveilled, and tried to discredit American political groups it deemed “subversive.”

When it wasn’t investigating crimes and trying to put people in jail, the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Director J. Edgar Hoover kept busy trying to suppress the spread of communism in the United States. Under a secret program called COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program), the FBI harassed numerous political groups and turned many of its members completely paranoid.

Though they could never be sure, many activists suspected the FBI was watching them. And the Bureau was able to mess with groups it didn’t like and influence what they did.

From the book “The United States of Paranoia” by Jesse Walker:

Under COINTELPRO, FBI agents infiltrated political groups and spread rumors that loyal members were the real infiltrators. They tried to get targets fired from their jobs, and they tried to break up the targets’ marriages. They published deliberately inflammatory literature in the names of the organizations they wanted to discredit, and they drove wedges between groups that might otherwise be allied. In Baltimore, the FBI’s operatives in the Black Panther Party were instructed to denounce Students for a Democratic Society as “a cowardly, honky group” who wanted to exploit the Panthers by giving them all the violent, dangerous “dirty work.” The operation was apparently successful: In August 1969, just five months after the initial instructions went out, the Baltimore FBI reported that the local Panther branch had ordered its members not to associate with SDS members or attend any SDS events.

It wasn’t only communist or left-leaning organizations. The FBI’s list of targets included the Civil Rights movement, and public enemy number one was Dr. Martin Luther King. Agents bugged his hotel rooms, followed him, tried to break up his marriage, and at one point, even sent him an anonymous letter trying to get him to commit suicide.

It would’ve been just a whacky conspiracy theory from a bunch of paranoid leftists that no one would’ve believed. But the conspiracy theorists — a group of eight anti-war activists — broke into an FBI field office in 1971 and found a trove of documents that exposed the program.

3. U.S. military leaders had a plan to kill innocent people and blame it all on Cuba.

Sitting just 90 miles from the Florida coast and considered a serious threat during Cold War, communist Cuba under its leader Fidel Castro was a problem for the United States. The U.S. tried to oust Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, but the operation failed. So the generals went back to the drawing board and came up with an unbelievable plan called Operation Northwoods.

From ABC News:

The plans had the written approval of all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and were presented to President Kennedy’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, in March 1962. But they apparently were rejected by the civilian leadership and have gone undisclosed for nearly 40 years.

“These were Joint Chiefs of Staff documents. The reason these were held secret for so long is the Joint Chiefs never wanted to give these up because they were so embarrassing,” Bamford told ABCNEWS.com.

What were the “embarrassing” plans? Well, there were ideas for lobbing mortars into Guantanamo naval base, in addition to blowing up some of the aircraft or ammunition there. Then there was another idea floated to blow up a ship in its harbor. But these were rather timid compared to other plans that came later in a top secret paper:

“We could develop a Communist Cuba terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington … We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated) … Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”

The paper went on to describe in detail other plans for possibly hijacking or shooting down a “drone” airliner made to look like it was carrying civilian passengers, or faking a shoot-down of a U.S. Air Force jet over international waters to blame Cuba.

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CIA headquarters

4. The CIA recruited top American journalists to spread propaganda in the media and gather intelligence.

Started in the 1950s amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency approached leading American journalists in an attempt to influence public opinion and gather intelligence. The program, called Operation Mockingbird, went on for nearly three decades.

From journalist Carl Bernstein, writing in Rolling Stone in 1977:

Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

The Church Committee exposed much of the program, with a full report from Congress stating: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.”

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5. The CIA conducted “mind control” experiments on unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens, some of which were lethal.

Perhaps one of the most shocking conspiracy theories that turned out to be true was a CIA program called MKUltra, which had the stated goal of developing biological and chemical weapons capability during the Cold War, according to Gizmodo. But it ballooned into a larger program that encompassed research (via Today I Found Out):

  • which will promote the intoxicating affect of alcohol;
  • which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness;
  • which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so called “brain-washing;”
  • which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use;
  • [which will produce] shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use; and
  • which will produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.

During the program, the CIA established front companies to work with more than 80 institutions, such as hospitals, prisons, and universities. With these partnerships in place, the agency then ran experiments on subjects using drugs, hypnosis, and verbal and physical abuse. At least two American deaths can be attributed to this program, according to the Church Committee.

Though the Church Committee uncovered much of this shocking program, many of the top secret files were ordered to be destroyed in 1973 by CIA Director Richard Helms.

NOW: Here’s a video of soldiers trying to march after getting stoned on LSD

Articles

This Civil War veteran demonstrated how to ditch the bottle and become a saint – literally

On that rare occasion in your service, you might have run into a fellow trooper who, after reflection, could be called a “saint” for his or her selfless courage and commitment to duty.


And while very few of a martial bent wind up actually becoming saints, one Civil War veteran is being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church for his devotion to duty.

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And beards. Many veterans are dedicated to beards as well.

Joseph Dutton was a veteran of the American Civil War. He left the United States for Hawaii in his mid-40s, arriving in Honolulu with nothing but the clothes on his back. He spent the remainder of his life in a leper colony trying to eclipse his past mistakes “in his own eyes and in the eyes of God.”

When Brother Joseph Dutton died in March 1931, former President Calvin Coolidge said:

Whenever his story is told men will pause to worship. His faith, his work, his self-sacrifice appeal to people because there is always something of the same spirit in them. Therein lies the moral power of the world. He realized a vision which we all have.

Dutton joined the Union Army in April 1861 as a private in the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. The Vermont native moved to Wisconsin when he was just 4 years old. By age 18, he was enlisting to fight in the Civil War.

Though his regiment didn’t fight in any major battles during the war (only five men of the regiment were killed), it served faithfully in garrison duty and battled guerrillas until the end of the war. Dutton was recognized as a “dashing daredevil” and one “of the best and bravest officers in the army,” rising to the rank of regimental quartermaster sergeant and then lieutenant.

Dutton’s life was not so prosperous after the war. He performed the gloomy duty of supervising the disinterment of soldiers who were buried in unmarked graves and relocating their remains to national cemeteries. He married in 1866, but it ended in ruin when his wife cheated on him and they divorced.

For several years he found refuge in a bottle. He bounced around employment as an investor in a distillery business, an employee of a railroad company, and as a special agent for the federal government.

In April of 1883, the former army officer turned 40 and decided he needed a change in his life. He was baptized in the Catholic Church of St. Peter’s in Memphis and took the name Joseph after his favorite saint, dropping his birth name of Ira. He lived in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky for two years, committed to a vow of silence and ascetic living.

Although he was content living his life in isolation at Gestsemani, Joseph wanted to commit the remainder of his years to helping others. He explained his motivation when he wrote:

“I wanted to serve some useful purpose during the rest of my life without any hope of monetary or other reward. … The idea of a penitential life became almost an obsession and I was determined to see it through.”

He was inspired to travel to Hawaii after reading about Father Damien and his work with lepers at Kalaupapa. He arrived at Honolulu from San Francisco in July of 1886 to offer his services to Father Damien de Veuster.

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Father Damien, seen here with a girls choir, was canonized as a saint himself in 2009.

Hawaiians infected with leprosy or suspected of it were rounded up by the authorities and dumped into this remote settlement over the preceding decades. The leper settlement on the island of Molokai was located at the base of a range of sea cliffs bordering the ocean that formed a natural barrier from the outside world. Father Damien transformed the lawless settlement into a sanctuary that provided comfort, medical needs, and a place to worship for the infected.

The priest took the 43-year-old wanderer under his wing without hesitation. Damien had been infected with leprosy while serving the settlement for over a decade and was in desperate need of an assistant and a successor. He would be dead only three years later.

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Dutton (far right) with two men from the Molokai Leper Colony.

Dutton worked “from daybreak to dark” as he cleaned and dressed wounds of “all of the type that leprosy inflicts on mankind.” Dutton was as unconcerned with being infected as Father Damien was. One account said of Dutton, “leprosy had no power to instill fear in his mind.” When Damien died in 1889, Dutton took over as his successor and continued to tirelessly carry out his work.

Despite the isolation of the settlement, word of Dutton’s story reached the United States. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Hebert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt all praised him in writing. Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that he should “be raised up for the view and emulation of many others.”

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Brother Joseph Dutton, center front, with Kalaupapa boys and men.

President Theodore Roosevelt ordered sixteen Navy battleships sailing to Japan to redirect their course in July of 1906 and pass in sight of the settlement to pay homage to the worldly saint.

With the outbreak of World War I, Dutton wrote President Woodrow Wilson and offered his services by organizing “a few hundred of the old veterans” from the American Civil War to form a sharpshooter unit. This was politely declined by President Wilson, but his offer did not go unappreciated. Dutton remained a lifelong American patriot even though he never returned to the United States.

Dutton died in March of 1931 at 88. He was buried in the Saint Philomena Catholic Church Cemetery of Hawaii, and was mourned by many. The army veteran who devoted a portion of his life serving his country and the other half serving others never saw himself as a modern-day saint.

In the years before his death, he wrote: “These writers make me out a hero, while I don’t feel a bit like one. I don’t claim to have done any great things; am merely trying, in a small way, to help my neighbor and my own soul.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Soldiers to operate armed robotic vehicles from cutting-edge Bradleys

Soldiers are slated to fire at targets in 2020 using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March 2020 at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles.

The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25 mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens.


Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62 mm machine guns.

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Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, center left, and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s vice chief of staff, center right, discuss emerging technology while inside a Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator, a modified Bradley Fighting Vehicle equipped with several upgrades, in Warren, Mich., Jan. 18, 2018.

(Photo by Sean Kimmons)

“We’ve never had soldiers operate MET-Ds before,” said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center’s Emerging Capabilities Office. “We’re asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before.”

After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, both part of Army Futures Command, will then use soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases.

“You learn a lot,” Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26, 2019. “You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of.”

The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts.

“This technology is not only to remain in the RCV portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well,” said Maj. Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT.

One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary’s anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting soldiers in danger.

The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers.

“You’re exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire,” he said. “So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrit their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff.”

Phase II, III

In late fiscal year 2021, soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers.

This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide.

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(Ground Vehicle Systems Center)

Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe May 2020.

“The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations,” Wallace said at the conference.

Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs.

“This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts,” Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach.

The major said he was impressed with how quickly soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May 2019 at the Yakima Training Center in Washington.

“Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought,” he said. “The feedback from the soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system.”

There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on soldiers.

“This is not how we’re used to fighting,” Centeno said. “We’re asking a lot. We’re putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance.”

The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 aircraft.

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A C-130 aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower “light tank,” could influence the development of the RCV heavy.

With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said.

Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep soldiers safe.

“An RCV reduces risk,” Wallace said. “It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots.

“That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions.”

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

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