The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying) - We Are The Mighty
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The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

If you ever watched “The Jetsons,” an animated sitcom (1963-1964) about a family living in fictional Orbit City in the 2060s, you likely remember the iconic depiction of a futuristic utopia complete with flying cars and robotic contraptions to take care of many human needs. Robots, such as sass-talking housekeeper Rosie, could move through that world and perform tasks ranging from the mundane to the highly complex, all with human-like ease.


In the real world, however, robotic technology has not matured so swiftly.

 

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)
WIRED FOR DISCOVERY. Earl Shamwell, one of the authors, sets up a multisensor robotics testbed to collect images, LIDAR data and inertial measurements. Researchers aim to improve robotic performance by closing the gap between what a robot expects to happen and what actually happens. (Photo by Jhi Scott, ARL)

What will it take to endow current robots with these futuristic capabilities? One place to look for inspiration is in human behavior and development. From birth, each of us has been performing a variety of tasks over and over and getting better each time. Intuitively, we know that practice, practice, and more practice is the only way to become better at something.

We often say we are developing a “muscle memory” of the task, and this is correct in many ways. Indeed, we are slowly developing a model of how the world operates and how we must move to influence the world. When we are good at a task—that is, when our mental model well captures what actually happens—we say the task has become second nature.

‘WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MAN’

Let’s consider for a moment several amazing tasks performed by humans just for recreational purposes. Baseball players catch, throw, and hit a ball that can be moving faster than 100 miles per hour, using an elegant fusion of visual perception, tactile sensing, and motor control. Responding to a small target at this speed requires that the muscles react, at least to some degree, before the conscious mind fully processes visually what has happened.

Related: Army developing robots to remove casualties from combat

The most skilled players of the game typically have the best mental models of how to pitch, hit, and catch. A mental model in this case contains all the prior knowledge and experience a player has about how to move his or her body to play the game, particularly for the position.

The execution of an assumed mental model is called “feed forward control.” A mental model that is incorrect or incomplete, such as one used by an inexperienced player, will reduce accuracy and repeatability and require more time to complete a task.

We can assume that even professional baseball players would need significant time to adjust if they were magically transported to play on the moon, where gravity is much weaker and air resistance is nonexistent. Similarly, another instance of incorrect models can be observed in the clumsy and uncoordinated movements of quickly growing children; their mental models of how to relate to the world must constantly change and adapt because they are changing.

Nevertheless, humans are quite resilient to change and, with practice, they can adapt to perform well in new situations.

A major focus of much current research going on now at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is moving toward creating a robot like Rosie, capable of learning and executing tasks with the best precision and speed possible, given what we know about our own abilities.

NOT QUITE ‘INFINITE IN FACULTY’

In general, we can say that Rosie-like robot performance is possible given sufficient advances in the areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling interactions with the world.

Robots “perceive” the world around them using myriad integrated sensors. These sensors include laser range scanners and acoustic ranging, which provide the distance from the robot to obstacles; cameras that permit the robot to see the world, similar to our own eyes; inertial measurement sensing that includes rate gyroscopes, which sense the rate of change of the orientation of the robotic device; and accelerometers, which sense acceleration and gravity, giving the robot an “inner ear” of sorts.

All these methods of sensing the world provide different types of information about the robot’s motion or location in the environment.

Sensor information is provided to the algorithms responsible for estimating self-motion and interaction with the world. Robots can be programmed with their own versions of mental models, complete with mechanisms for learning and adaptation that help encode knowledge about themselves and the environment in which they operate. Rather than “mental models,” we call these “world models.”

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)
Army researchers brief a Japanese industry delegation on a unique robot with strong, dexterous arms during an Oct. 5, 2016, visit to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by David McNally)

‘IN FORM AND MOVING HOW EXPRESS AND ADMIRABLE,’ SORT OF

Consider a robot acting while assuming a model of its own motion in the world. If the behavior the robot actually experiences deviates significantly from the behavior the robot expects, the discrepancy will lead to poor performance: a “wobbly” robot that is slow and confused, not unlike a human after too many alcoholic beverages. If the actual motion is closer to the anticipated model, the robot can be very quick and accurate with less burden on the sensing aspect to correct for erroneous modeling.

Of course, the environment itself greatly affects how the robot moves through the world. While gravity can fortunately be assumed constant on Earth, other conditions can change how a robot might interact with the environment.

For instance, a robot traveling through mud would have a much different experience than one moving on asphalt. The best modeling would be designed to change depending on the environment. We know there are many models to be learned and applied, and the real issue is knowing which model to apply for a given situation.

Robotics today are developed in laboratory environments with little exposure to the variability of the world outside the lab, which can cause a robot’s ability to perceive and react to fail in the unstructured outdoors. Limited environmental exposure during model learning and subsequent poor adaptation or performance is said to be the result of “over-fitting,” or using a model created from a small subset of experiences to maneuver according to a much broader set of experiences.

CONCLUSION

At ARL, we are researching specific advances to address these areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling robotic interaction with the world, with the understanding that doing so will enable great enhancements in the operational speed of autonomous vehicles.

Specifically, we are working on knowing when and under what conditions different methods of sensing work well or may not work well. Given this knowledge, we can balance how these sensors are combined to aid the robot’s motion estimation.

A much faster estimate is available as well through development of techniques to automatically estimate accurate models of the world and of robot self-motion. With the learned and applied models, the robot can act and plan on a much quicker timescale than what might be possible with only direct sensor measurements.

Finally, we know that these models of motion should change depending on which of the many diverse environmental conditions the robot finds itself in. To further enhance robot reliability in a more general sense, we are working on how to best model the world such that a collection of knowledge can be leveraged to help select an appropriate model of robot motion for the current conditions.

If we can master these capabilities, then Rosie can be ready for operation, lacking only her signature attitude.

Also read: The Air Force had giant robots in the 1960s

For more information about ARL collaboration opportunities in the science for maneuver, go to http://www.arl.army.mil/opencampus/.

DR. JOSEPH CONROY is an electronics engineer in ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He holds a doctorate, an M.S. and a B.S., all in aerospace engineering and all from the University of Maryland, College Park.

MR. EARL JARED SHAMWELL is a systems engineer with General Technical Services LLC, providing contract support to ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He is working on his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Columbia University.

This article will be published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army ALT Magazine.

Subscribe to Army ALT News, the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ALT) Workforce.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Air Force preparing for furloughed commercial pilots to request return to duty

Nearly 200 pilots have chosen to stay in the U.S. Air Force as major airlines operate in a limited capacity during the COVID-19 outbreak, sharply reducing the number of commercial flights around the world.

While the service is still gathering data, “171 pilots have been approved to stay past their original retirement or separation dates” since March, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said in an email Thursday. She did not provide a breakdown of the types of pilots — fighter, bomber, airlift, etc. — who have extended their duty.


The service is also preparing for the possibility that furloughed airline pilots will submit requests to return to active duty in the Air Force come Oct. 1, the spokeswoman said. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed in late March, airline jobs have been safe as companies are prohibited from cutting their workforces until that date. However, experts foresee a dramatic reduction in airline jobs when the restriction is lifted.

“At this time, it is too early to tell what those impacts may be as the CARES Act prohibited layoffs and furloughs in the airlines until Oct. 1,” Singleton said. “We are keeping a close watch on the situation; recognizing the challenges the airline industry is facing, we are providing options for rated officers to remain on active duty who otherwise had plans to depart.”

Airline hiring efforts had been the biggest factor driving problems in pilot retention and production in the services, officials said in recent years. Commercial airlines became the military’s main competitor during a nationwide pilot shortage.

The Air Force came up 2,100 pilots short of the 21,000 it needed in fiscal 2019. In February, the service said it would also fall short of its goal to produce 1,480 new pilots across the force by the end of fiscal 2020.

But in April, the head of Air Education and Training Command said the COVID-19 pandemic might slow the rate of pilots leaving the force.

“We tend to see those [service members who] may be getting out, or those [who] have recently gotten out, want to return to service inside of our Air Force,” Gen. Brad Webb told reporters during a phone call from the Pentagon. “I expect that we will see some of that to a degree, which will help mitigate [the pilot shortage].”

Webb compared the pandemic to the 9/11 attacks, after which many service members returned to duty or extended their tours. The military also saw a surge in new recruits after the attacks.

“This is another [scenario] that we’re going to be assessing on a weekly, if not daily, basis,” he said, referencing the outbreak’s possible effect on retention and recruiting.

“While it’s too early to know the full effects of COVID-19 on the flying training pipeline, we know it will be impactful,” Webb said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force F-117 Nighthawks can still be seen around the US

On July 26, 2018, two stealth aircraft were spotted taking off at the remote Tonopah Test Range in southwest Nevada, with one lingering over the base while the other appeared to head south.

Two stealth aircraft operating out of the secretive Tonopah base isn’t out of the ordinary. In this instance however, the two aircraft in question appeared to be F-117 Nighthawks — planes that were retired more than a decade ago.


The technology for the F-117 was developed in the 1970s, and the first F-117 unit reached initial operating capability in October 1983, becoming the first operational, purpose-built stealth aircraft.

It was designed to attack high-value targets without being detected. It could carry 5,000 pounds of internal payload, and two engines could push it to 684 mph. The plane, which took part in the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War, was renowned for its precision.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

An F-117 Nighthawk flies over the Nevada desert.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II)

“It was the marriage of the GBU-27 to the F-117 that had a laser designator in its nose that made it such a precise, deadly platform,” former F-117 maintainer Yancy Mailes said in an Air Force release marking the 10th anniversary of the plane’s retirement, referring to a guided bomb . “It was best demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm when pilots snuck into Iraq and dropped weapons down the elevator shaft of a central communications building.”

Nighthawk pilots were nicknamed ” Bandits .” The maintainers, designated material application and repair specialists, were known as MARS, which eventually became ” Martians .”

While the plane was designed to elude detection, one was shot down by Yugoslavian air defenses in March 1999. The pilot bailed out and was rescued within hours, as enemy forces closed in.

After 25 years in service, the Air Force retired the F-117 on April 22, 2008. But the story didn’t end there. An Air Force official told Military.com in September 2017 that the service got permission to retire 52 Nighthawks but wanted to maintain them in case they were called back into service.

Rumors that the plane was still in flight continued for years. In late 2014, The Aviationist published photos showing F-117s in operation at Tonopah. It was suspected that the planes were being used for some kind of testing.

When asked by Defense News, the Air Force said a few weeks later that the Nighthawk was retired. Sort of.

The aircraft were being kept in Type 1000 storage, meaning they were being maintained in case they needed to be recalled to active service. That meant keeping them in their “original, climate-friendly hangars” at Tonopah, rather than building new storage facilities for them elsewhere, the Air Force said at the time.

In accordance with the Type 1000 program, or “flyable storage,” the service added, “some F-117 aircraft are occasionally flown.”

In October 2010, footage emerged that appeared to show the aircraft flying near Groom Lake Air Force Base, which is part of Area 51, and near Tonopah Test Range.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

An F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter refuels from a 100th Aerial Refueling Wing KC-135R Stratotanker based at RAF Mildenhall in the UK, March 27, 1999.

(US Air Force photo)

Four years on, the shadowy Nighthawk is still seen skulking through the sky over the American West.

About six F-117s are kept in flyable condition at any one time, according to The War Zone , which reported that the planes are likely flown by contractors. That may be why there haven’t been official references to the Nighthawk’s activities, which may involve testing of low-observable technology.

Two Nighthawks were spotted flying together over Nevada in July 2016. In November 2017, what appeared to be an F-117 was spotted being hauled under cover on a trailer near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The next day, an F-117 was observed in flight north of Rachel, Nevada, being chased by a two-seat F-16 in what may have been a test of some kind of anti-stealth technology, The Aviationist said at the time.

But the Nighthawk’s time may finally be nigh.

According to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the Air Force is to remove four F-117s from service every year, a process known as demilitarizing aircraft, a service official told Military.com in September 2018.

“We had to keep all the F-117s in flyable storage until the fiscal ’17 NDAA gave us permission to dispose of them,” the official said.

It will be some time before the last F-117 leaves the flight line for good, and the expense of keeping them maintained in a museum may be prohibitive, meaning the Air Force could scrap them outright, according to The War Zone. But some vestiges of the Nighthawk may live on.

“It was a unique experience,” retired Col. Jack Forsythe, who first flew a Nighthawk in 1995 and led the final formation flight in 2008, said in early 2018 “It’s probably the same feeling that a lot of our (single seat) F-22 (Raptor) and F-35 (Lightning II) pilots feel today.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what it’s like to be a military family quarantined in Italy

When the first reports of Coronavirus, COVID-19, made the news in late January for cases outside China, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte assured residents, “The system of prevention put into place by Italy is the most rigorous in Europe.”

But then cases popped up across the country. Ten towns within the regions of Lombardy and Veneto were quarantined, and local lockdowns were put into place, but as a whole, the country was operating as usual.


That all changed on March 9, 2020, when the entirety of Italy was ordered into full quarantine, impacting more than sixty million people across twenty regions.

On March 10, 2020, COVID-19 was responsible for killing 168 people in Italy, the highest death toll in a single day since the outbreak began in the country.

Katie, a travel writer and military spouse currently under mandatory quarantine in Vicenza, agreed to speak candidly to ‘We Are The Mighty’ about what it’s really like to be a military family stationed in Italy right now.

When you first started hearing about Coronavirus were you worried? Did people seem panicked?

I first heard about Coronavirus when it began circulating in the news probably around the same time most of us heard about it. This was when it was mainly affecting areas in China.

To be honest, I wasn’t worried and didn’t pay too much attention to it, because I was ignorant as to how fast and wide it would spread.

I was still traveling during this time, and I didn’t notice anyone seeming panicked or worried, it all seemed like business as usual at airports and tourist sites.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

What has the shift in your life looked like — what was a normal day versus now?

The situation has been developing in a way that has meant the changes to daily life have been incremental, which, in a way, is helpful because everything didn’t change at once.

During the first week, the gyms were closed and that was a big change to my daily life as I had just recently begun a new program to focus on some fitness goals. In the second week, I had a trip to Romania planned, which I had to cancel. The next big change was when the quarantine zones began, and that has had the biggest impact to daily life now that I can only leave the house for necessities.

Normally, I work from home anyway, so I’m fortunate that it’s not dramatically different from a regular day.

How do you think this will impact life over the next 30 days? How will it impact the Italian economy?

Everything has been changing so quickly that I have no idea what will happen in the next 30 days. I certainly hope that some of the restrictions are lifted by then, but it’s hard to know what will be happening tomorrow, let alone next month.

I think it will be tough on the Italian economy and, for that reason, I think it’s very important for us to help mitigate it as much as possible by supporting local businesses here when we can.

One thing I will say is that it has been inspiring to see businesses in the area adapting to the new quarantine restrictions with a resilient and positive attitude. A local winery just began a delivery service since we can no longer drive to them, and tonight I was able to buy dinner and a few bottles of wine which was not only a great treat for me, but a nice way to support them as well.

Are you worried about your military spouse?

Not at all. He is actually away and has been since before the Coronavirus started impacting daily life here in Italy. I’m confident that he is in good hands and busy with his training.

What self-care measures or safety precautions are you taking?

It can be stressful at times keeping up with all the changes, so for self-care, I have been making sure I have something in each day to simply relax, whether that is a face mask, reading, cuddling my dog, or watching a little WWE wrestling (it’s my favorite).

As for safety precautions, my biggest precaution has been to follow the official channels to stay up to date with any changes. Then, I simply follow the guidance given with each update. The precautions are things like washing hands regularly, keeping a distance from other people when in public, and not traveling.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

What else would you like people to know?

The only other thing I’d like people to know is how inspiring it is to see Italian people respond to this in such a community-focused way. Generally speaking, it seems that, although inconvenienced as all of us are, Italian people around me have a focus on doing what’s best for the collective, and it’s heartwarming to see.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Family time is overrated—parents need to divide and conquer

Right now I’m faced with a harsh truth that, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute is becoming ever more clear: Family time is bullshit. Honestly, this is a line of thinking among experts — usually one put in less crude, more nuanced terms — that I’ve been following for a while. But, as it has done with so many things, COVID-19 has made spending time with family come to a head for me, and I can only assume it’s the same for millions of other parents locked at home struggling together.

The problems for any two-parent household are there in plain sight. Simply put, some of the more important lessons that a child learns from parents suffer when both parents are present. These include:


Discipline. Expressions of love.

Bonding.

Play.

The truth is, when your partner is there, it’s harder to discipline effectively, show love in a way that is meaningful, bond in a way that is believable, and play in a way that doesn’t lead to battles. The quarantine has shone a great bright spotlight on the fact that good child-rearing rests on one-on-one time. There are plenty of experts who are on board with the notion.

“You are often modifying your approach to discipline and behavior to integrate with your partner,” says Dr. Kyle D. Pruett, author of Partnership Parenting and a professor of child psychiatry at Yale University. “You might also defer to your partner on topics that your child might be more responsive to you, not them.”

I’ve been experiencing this first-hand throughout the pandemic. Take the other day when, like most days, my family — my wife and I, a 2-year-old, and 8-year-old — was hard at work on a puzzle. My wife and I coordinated the piecing together (“let’s look for the duck butt”), and tried to make sure everyone had a task and was happy. At first, they were. The 2-year-old was naming animals, the 8-year-old was crushing the borders. We were pulling off some seemingly successful family time.

But then, the 8-year-old started helping the 2-year-old and it was heart-warming, except that she was doing all the work for him and he was starting to get restless. My wife and I tried to gently pull her away. He needs to learn on his own. You need to lead by example. “I’m helping him!” she cried, and then she actually cried. We unsuccessfully tried to console her while also explaining what it meant to play with a 2-year-old. For her sake, we gave her the illusion of freedom and then yanked it back. For our sake, we prevented a toddler meltdown that was coming. To be fair, the situation was untenable from the start.

The problem here is the fact that there are two parents. As Pruett would point out, we’re “on a different trajectory” than our kids. “It’s a diad instead of a triangle — you need to play tennis with one instead of two.” Parenting is tough. Being a great partner is tough. Being a great partner and parent at the same time requires deft maneuvering that borders on impossible and quite frankly seems unnecessary. There’s an easy solution to all this: Hang out with your kid, on your own. They’ll love the attention, you’ll take the teeth out of the power dynamics between parent and child, and you’ll get through to them more easily.

When I am there in the very same situation just a few days later, sans mom, this plays out. My daughter puts together the piece for the toddler. “Let him do it on his own,” I say to her. “Dad, I did! But then he was, like, ‘I can’t do it,’ so I showed him how to do it.'”

No tears. No yelling. Just a rational, and rather articulate explanation of the situation. My 8-year-old was not threatened by a power dynamic — one parent’s world, in this household, is negotiable — and thus offered insight. I took it. Puzzle time was a blast.

There is a commonly-cited sociological principle of coalitions that helps shed light on what’s going on here. The textbook, Learning Group Leadership, a group dynamics book written for counselors, explains the idea of a coalition in a family as a set of groups that, to me, sound more like an explanation of tribal warfare than a happy family dynamic:

“In a family, this phenomenon might be readily observed as a father-mother subsystem; another between two of the three siblings; and another composed of the mother, her mother, and the third child. In a group, you might see this when there is a popular and powerful group—a couple members who have become close compared with those who are shy and not too confident. You can therefore appreciate that these coalitions are organized around mutual needs, loyalties, and control of power. When these subsystems are dysfunctional and destructive, such as when a parent is aligned with a child against his spouse or a child is in coalition with a grandparent against her parents, the counselor’s job is to initiate realignments in the structure and power, creating a new set of subsystems that are more functional.

Perhaps a family dynamic really is a little like tribal warfare, or warring nations, or, better yet, a game of Risk in which every family member wants to get the most out of the family time. There are front channel diplomatic connections between father and son, daughter and mother, sister and brother. These are what we see on the board, the dynamics that play out in open air.

Then there are the backchannel dealings: Mom and dad are trying to take power away from the younger players; the youngest trying to wrest mom away from the family (with some tears and a need to be consoled, perhaps); the older kid trying to get the younger one in trouble to expose the unfairness of all the attention. The joy of Risk lies in the behind-the-scenes strategies and public lies. These are the kinds of things that can tear a family dynamics apart — that make family time so stressful.

Importantly, such power structures also take away deep connections formed during one-on-one time. When my daughter reveals her affinity to Lyra in The Golden Compass to me; when my son, rolls laughing on the floor at the block tower we just knocked down; when my wife and I sit reading on the couch, her legs on me or our shoulders touching, exchanging ideas between the silences, these deep moments, when they come, come naturally, and alone. They rarely happen during family time.

Individual bonds in families are essential, but they also don’t necessarily come naturally. “You have to organize yourself to have time alone with the child,” says Pruett. “It should be part of what you believe in fostering. You each related to your child differently, but the unique moments are something parents need to plan for.” It takes work to get this dynamic going. But the result is quiet one-on-one moments that cut through the chaos of a family in quarantine. Right now that sound pretty damn good.

How to Better Bond With Your Kid, One-On-One

Getting solo time with your child is half the battle (in time of quarantine, maybe more like two-thirds of the battle). Here’s how to find the time — and make the most of it.

  • Schedule Everything
    Put it on a calendar or have a set time every week — or day — where you get face time with one kid. This is the hardest part — whether due to quarantine or just busy schedules. But it’s the essential work that is necessary to make the habit stick.
  • Make It Enjoyable
    “Give the child a moment where they are not sat on by the have tos but have a get to,” says Pruett. This doesn’t mean that you need to plan something exotic all the time. You just need to take the child’s interests into consideration. This could mean a walk, sitting on the porch with lemonade, or taking out the recycling together (if this isn’t an embattled chore). Keep it as simple as you can.
  • Tailor the Time to the Kid
    “If you give a first grader the afternoon to do whatever they want, less structure isn’t going to be that much fun,” says Dr. Robert Zeitlin, author of Laugh More, Yell Less. “You’re going to have to explain why you can’t do things that are expensive. As much structure as is necessary for choice and being able to do the time. For older kids, as little structure as necessary so they can figure time management and the realities of what’s financially possible to do?”
  • This Isn’t Time For Lessons
    One-on-one time is for support and listening — not being critical of anything in the kid’s life (including not paying ball in this alone time). This time belongs to you and the kid. Own it. This is the work you put in for later years — read, a healthy relationship with your teen.
  • Follow the 5-to-1 Listening Rule
    For every five minutes of talking, you should devote as many minutes to listen. It’s that simple — and also that tough. “For kids that don’t talk much, you just be patient and don’t bug them,” says Pruett.
  • Go Deep
    Once you’ve established the bond, know that one-on-one time is the time to give them a sense of who you are. What worries you? What do you believe? What are your failures? What are your successes? Why were you angry at the checkout? Why do you love country music? “These are all great questions and the answers are very important for how children will function,” says Pruett. “These are how you solve the problems of life and they need to see what you’re up to. If not, to whom do they turn?”

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the only Medal of Honor action ever caught on video

The video is a grainy, far-off view of the battlefield of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan. It came from the ISR feed of a nearby Predator drone monitoring the 2002 operation designed to surround and destroy a large al-Qaeda force in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, called Anaconda. At Takur Ghar, things did not go well for the combined Coalition force of seven Navy SEALs, 20 Army Rangers, and three Air Force Airmen. In what is best described as a pyrrhic win, the battle cost the lives of three Rangers, a SEAL, a pararescueman, a special forces aviator, and a combat controller, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

It was after a special ops team was inserted via Chinook that Chapman’s heroism was captured by the drone.


During the initial insertion into the area, one of the Chinooks was hit by a massive barrage of enemy machine gun and RPG fire, forcing it to leave the area immediately. During its expedite escape, Navy SEAL PO1 Neil Roberts fell out of the open hatch of the helicopter, falling 10 feet into the snow below. Razor 04 (one of the Chinook helicopters) returned to the peak with its team of special operators to rescue Roberts. It too was forced away from the area, but not before the operators could get off the helicopter.

In the video above, you can see one of the disembarking troops split off from the main group. That’s Tech. Sgt. Chapman running straight into al-Qaeda machine gun positions in the dark. The operators have split up into two-man bounding teams, and Chapman is wounded while advancing on one of the enemy positions to protect their movement. Chapman is stopped only temporarily and starts fighting again almost immediately.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

By this time, the operators have called for a quick reaction force from the 75th Ranger Regiment at Bagram Air Base, and two of the SEALs are also wounded. The teams call for extraction and another Chinook, Razor 01, is inbound before getting lit up again by enemy RPG fire. Chapman attempts to protect the helicopter and his fellow operators but is killed in action. But the story doesn’t end there. The operator force and the two QRF teams of Rangers had their own ordeal in getting to the battlefield (which is another story in itself). All told, the battle lasted until the Americans were extracted at 2000 that evening, some 18 hours after their first contact with the enemy.

Chapman was awarded the Air Force Cross in 2003 for the action depicted in the video, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2018. Whether Chapman was still alive when the SEALs departed the area has come under dispute due to evidence found by investigators during the Medal of Honor investigation. The airman’s mother believes everything on the ridge that night went as Chapman would have wanted – his teammates escaping the line of fire to fight another day, even if it cost him his own life.

Articles

Mattis orders separate reviews of F-35, Air Force One programs

Defense Secretary James Mattis has ordered separate reviews of the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Air Force One programs in hopes of restructuring and reducing program costs, an official announced Friday.


In two memorandums signed and effective immediately, Mattis said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will “oversee a review that compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent that the F/A-18E/F improvements [an advanced Super Hornet] can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective fighter aircraft alternative,” according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

Related: Mattis’ first message to the troops shows his leadership style

For the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, known as Air Force One, Mattis said Work’s review should “identify specific areas where costs can be lowered,” such as “autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, environmental conditioning [cooling], survivability, and military [and] civilian communication capabilities,” the memo said.

The memos didn’t specify if the review will reduce the planned number of aircraft.

“This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities,” Davis said in an email statement.

“This action is also consistent with the president’s guidance to provide the strongest and most efficient military possible for our nation’s defense, and it aligns with the secretary’s priority to increase military readiness while gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)
How many people view the F-35 program at this point. | WATM /U.S. Navy photo

Both the F-35 stealth fighter and Air Force One presidential aircraft acquisition programs have been in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs in recent weeks.

Trump has criticized the high cost of the $4 billion Air Force One being developed by Boeing and the nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.

On Dec. 6, Trump tweeted “cancel order!” in reference to the Air Force One program. He brought up the issue again during a Dec. 16 speech in Pennsylvania, and also called the F-35 program a “disaster” with its cost overruns.

Also read: A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 22.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to cost nearly $400 billion in development and procurement costs to field a fleet of 2,457 single-engine fighters — and some $1.5 trillion in lifetime sustainment costs, according to Pentagon figures. It’s the Pentagon’s single most expensive acquisition effort.

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While it hasn’t caused quite the media firestorm the F-35 program has caused, Air Force One still has its share of cost overruns. | Wikimedia Commons photo

Trump has met with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s CEO Marillyn Hewson on multiple occasions and last week with Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

The company heads have vowed — in what they said were productive conversations with the president — to drive down costs on both programs.

“We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices,” Muilenburg said just days after Trump met with Hewson.

“All of that is going to provide a better airplane at a lower cost, so I’m pleased with the progress there,” he said. “And similarly on fighters, we were able to talk about options for the country and capabilities that will, again, provide the best capability for our warfighters most affordably.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea is so short on cash it’s selling electricity to China

Despite persistent power shortages, North Korea is reportedly selling electricity to China for cash.


The deal, which reportedly began on Feb. 9, 2018, will see China pay between $60,000 and $100,000 a month for power generated by a hydroelectric dam close to the border between the two countries, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK.

“The Supong Hydroelectric Generator in Sakju County is providing the energy to a Chinese factory that produces fire proofing materials. The [North Korean] authorities are accepting payments in the form of cash,” a source in the local North Korean province told Daily NK.

The source also said the export project has been named “The January 8 Fund,” after the birthday of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. His father, Daily NK reported, also had a similar project that earned foreign currency named after his birthday on Feb. 16.

Also read: China tests missile defense system after North Korean nuke test

According to Daily NK, North Korea’s usual priority is to first power “idolization sites” for the country’s two previous leaders, government organizations, and munitions factories, before civilian homes or buildings.

Fewer than one-in-three North Koreans have access to electricity, the World Bank estimates, and nighttime satellite images show what that looks like for most of the country.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Sakju generator doesn’t provide electricity for ordinary citizens, rather it reportedly usually powers a munitions factory, meaning military production could be affected by the power sale to China.

The desire to reroute electricity away from a munitions factory indicates how desperate sanctions have made Pyongyang to earn foreign currency.

Related: China’s army looks like it’s getting ready for something big to go down in North Korea

Sanctions currently bar North Korea from exporting coal, steel, minerals, food, wood, and textiles, as well as ending the practice of sending foreign labor overseas to earn funds for the regime.

South Korea’s government currently estimates the North’s hard currency reserves, which are believed to be about $3 billion, will dry up by October 2018.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch: Inside the Arctic Military Base at the center of U.S. – Russia tensions

Melting Artic ice might begin to raise some alarm bells for military leadership as near-peer enemies literally start to come closer. With Besides national security, commercial, environmental and search-and-rescue concerns are also at play. As the sea ice melts, the more human activity becomes possible in the Arctic. This allows countries like Russia and China another point of access to the US, one that didn’t exist when the barrier of the ice and cold prevented exploitation of the area. Watch this incredible video by the Wall Street Journal to learn more.

We should probably come up with a game plan

As the Arctic ice continues to melt, sea passages are forming in international waters, leading to competition for resources (like fish and oil) and strategic military placement. The US military is now having to revise its Arctic strategy in and around Alaska as a result.

The Cold War was a time of increased activity in the Arctic, but that eventually died down. With the waterways opening and the region warming, the Russians are increasing their Arctic activity once again. Only now, they are practicing attack strategies on the US and Canada in ways that were not possible before. Right now, the increased Russian activity seems to be a strategy: to remind the US of their power. This is worrisome to the US. If there were a conflict between Russia and the US, the Arctic provides the closest possible route of attack. Yikes.

Alaskan Military Bases are on the Frontlines Once Again

Tin City, Alaska is the closest mainland point in the United States to Russia. With only about 55 miles between them, that is way too close for comfort. The Tin City Air Force Station is the northernmost US military base and a long-range radar site with strategic placement specifically to keep a watch out for Russian bombers. Installed during the Cold War era, it only returned as a frontline post because of the melting Arctic ice.

The radar looks for unidentified aircraft. In recent years, the US military at Tin City Air Force Station has spotted Russian fighter planes and bombers in the area at double the normal rate. It is likely a test by the Russians to see how quickly the US responds. Newsflash Russia: the US military always responds at lightning speeds. The US government expects any aircraft that crosses the US Air Defense Identification Zone to identity itself, though (surprise, surprise) Russian aircraft don’t always comply. This prompts US jets to fly alongside them until they leave. The radar is in effect 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without fail.

A Disappearing Ice Buffer of Safety

The Arctic used to be a kind of buffer of protection for the US from potential threats, but the melting Artic ice is changing that, forcing the US to develop a new, notably more aggressive Arctic strategy with many additional resources. For instance, Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, is getting more involved in protecting the US Arctic border zone. Their new, cutting-edge F-35 planes are on the job now. Has Russia noticed? You can bet on that. Only time will tell how this unfolds.

Related: Here’s who would win if Russia, China, and America went to war right now.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s the group of veterans making the best NFL teams better

Every professional athlete will tell you there’s a science behind elite performance. Every coach will tell you there’s one for team dynamics as well. And, every military leader will say their best performing units are men and women who understand the importance of not just bettering themselves, but constantly working toward improving the group as a whole.


One Green Beret has cracked the code on understanding the battlefield and translating it to the professional playing field.

Jason Van Camp is the founder of Mission Six Zero, a leadership development company focused on taking teams and corporate clients to the next level. “We have some of the best military leaders you’ve ever seen,” said VanCamp. From Medal of Honor recipients Flo Groberg and Leroy Petry, Green Beret turned Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, to plenty of Marines, Delta Force, Rangers and Navy SEALs, their team is stacked with experience.

But that’s not where it ends. Van Camp has put research behind performance mechanisms with an equally impressive team of scientists to qualify their data and translate it into something teams can implement. One of the key factors to their success? “Deliberate discomfort,” said Van Camp. “Once you deliberately and voluntarily choose the harder path, good things will happen for you and for your team. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

The reviews of the program speak for itself. “I thought I knew where I stood in the football world,” said Marcel Reese, former NFL player. “But after my experience with Mission Six Zero, along with my team, I learned more than I could have ever imagined… mostly about myself as a teammate, leader and a man in general. I would strongly encourage all teams to work with these guys.”

Van Camp shared a story about one of the teams he worked with. A player asked him if the workshop was really going to make him a better player. He responded, “It’s not about making you a better player, it’s making the guy to your left and to your right a better player.” Van Camp took his lessons and parlayed them into a book with the title reflecting their greatest theory: “Deliberate Discomfort.”

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

Van Camp and 11 other decorated veterans take you through their experiences – intense, traumatic battles they fought and won, sharing the lessons learned from those incredible challenges. Jason and his cadre of scientists further break down those experiences, translating them into digestible and relatable action items, showing the average person how they can apply them to their own lives and businesses.

The book is “gripping. Authentic. Engaging… prodigiously researched, carefully argued and gracefully written,” said Frank Abagnale, Jr., world-renowned authority on forgery (and also the author of Catch Me If You Can). It’s a heart-pounding read that will keep you turning the pages and wanting to immediately apply the lessons to your own life.

In addition to writing books, running a company and being just a badass in general, Van Camp also has a soft spot in his heart for the veteran community. He founded Warrior Rising, a nonprofit that empowers U.S. military veterans and their immediate family members by providing them opportunities to create sustainable businesses, perpetuate the hiring of fellow American veterans, and earn their future.

From the battlefield to the football field to the boardroom, with such an elite mission, it’s easy to see why Mission Six Zero is such an elite organization.

MIGHTY TRENDING

As Iran’s missiles get better, US presses for new sanctions

The U.S. special representative for Iran has urged the European Union to impose new sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, calling it a “grave and escalating threat.”

Brian Hook made the call on Dec. 3, 2018, two days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned what he described as Iran’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile “capable of carrying multiple warheads” and striking parts of Europe and the entire Middle East.


The Iranian military has said it will keep conducting missile tests despite Western condemnation.

The latest statements from Pompeo and Hook come amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which in 2018 imposed tough sanctions on Iran’s economy.

The move was part of a broader U.S. campaign to pressure Iran over what the President Donald Trump’s administration describes as its “malign conduct” such as missile development and support for militant groups in the Middle East.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

Remains of Iranian Qiam ballistic missiles seen at the Iranian Materiel Display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington.

(DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Tehran has repeatedly rejected negotiations over its missile program and insists the missiles are only to be used for defensive purposes.

Speaking aboard Pompeo’s plane as he traveled to Brussels for a NATO meeting, Hook told reporters that Washington “would like to see the European Union move sanctions that target Iran’s missile program.”

The U.S. envoy said that Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on Tehran since withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in May “can be effective if more nations can join us in those [sanctions].”

“It is a grave and escalating threat, and nations around the world, not just Europe, need to do everything they can to be targeting Iran’s missile program,” Hook said.

He also said that “progress” was being made on getting NATO allies to consider a proposal to target individuals and entities that play key roles in Iran’s missile program.

European countries have criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and are working to preserve the accord that lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities, even though they have also criticized Iranian positions on other issues.

In a Dec. 1, 2018 statement, Pompeo charged that Iran’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the Iran nuclear deal.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

(Photo by Mark Taylor)

Pompeo warned that Iran’s “missile testing and missile proliferation is growing,” and called on the country to “cease immediately all activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The French Foreign Ministry issued a similar call, condemning the Iranian missile test as “provocative and destabilizing.”

Iran’s military did not confirm or deny it had tested a new missile, but said it will “continue to both develop and test missiles.”

“Missile tests…are carried out for defense and the country’s deterrence, and we will continue this,” the semiofficial Tasnim news agency quoted Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, as saying on Dec. 2, 2018.

Shekarchi said such activity “is outside the framework of [nuclear] negotiations and part of our national security, for which we will not ask any country’s permission.”

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

Articles

Watch the F-35B execute a vertical landing in rough waters with ease

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)
An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on May 25, 2015. | US Navy Photo


ABOARD USS AMERICA — The Marine Corps’ F-35B is almost ready for its close-up.

The F-35B has entered the home stretch of sea trials on the amphibious-assault ship USS America off the coast of San Diego, California. The third and final stage of testing is 21 days of fine-tuning the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s capabilities.

Stacking the deck, planners purposefully placed the amphibious warship in rough waters in order to evaluate how the pilot and aircraft would adapt.

Also read: Dogfighting in an F-35 is ‘like having a knife fight in a telephone booth’

“There are smoother places that we could be,” Andrew Maack, government chief test engineer and site director of the naval variants at Patuxent River, Maryland said during a briefing aboard the vessel.

“But we are actually looking for increased deck motion so we asked for the ship to be here for the purpose of it being a little bit more challenging envelope for the airplane.”

Planners said the F-35B was testing in sea state 4 with swells of up to 6 feet accompanied with approximately 15 knots of wind.

The following 30-second video was shot from within an MV-22B Osprey and shows an F-35B hovering above the flight deck before executing a precise vertical landing.

Adjust the volume on your device before pressing play.


The jet is able to land perfectly and makes it look easy.

Ideal for the amphibious nature of the Marine Corps and unlike the Navy and Air Force variants, the F-35B is designed to perform short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The final round of testing aboard USS America is slated to conclude in mid-November.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 4 biggest new expenses you face when leaving the service

Leaving military life is a challenging transition for anyone, whether your service member is getting out after four years or retiring from the military after twenty years of service.

Even the most prepared may have a difficult time moving on to the civilian world when they decide leaving the military is right.

One of the biggest issues of transitioning out of the military is finances.

Ideally, military families should begin saving for life after the military long before their service member separates; but unfortunately, that isn’t always possible.


Either way, the impact on your bank account will be felt for sure. The bottom line is, we all need to start preparing for military to civilian transition no matter where we are on our military journey. If we don’t, we could be in for one heck of a case of sticker shock. Here are a few things you should start thinking about sooner rather than later.

1. Military salary vs civilian salary

If you break out your spouse’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), you’ll notice several different types of pay and allowances. Their “main” pay is their “base” pay, but stacked on to that are other entitlements, such as basic allowance for housing (BAH) and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS), as well as other special pay and allowances. All of these different types of pay ultimately make up your service member’s salary.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

In order to keep the same exact lifestyle you’re accustomed to now, start taking a look at the job market and looking at the salary ranges for civilian positions with your service member’s skill set. Sometimes it can be a significant bump in salary to find a civilian job doing pretty much what they’re doing now. Other times, you may find that civilian salaries hover around your service member’s base pay…without the bells and whistles of other allowances. You’ll want to take this into account well before transition is on your radar.

2. No More BAH

As military families, we’re not often afforded the opportunity to decide where we live, but as civilians we can move wherever we choose. As previously mentioned, BAH is an entitlement that’s tacked on in addition to our service member’s base pay. Once our service members exit the military, that money will cease to exist (unless we take that income loss into account when negotiating future salaries with civilian employers). Even if your family is retiring from military service, the lack of BAH might be a hard pill to swallow the first few months, so it’s best to start saving up for a transition buffer now. You’ll ideally want to add a 6-12 month buffer of savings to your exit strategy, which could take a while to accrue.

3. Taxes

Right now, our tax liability as military families is truly not a lot. But once we enter the civilian world, that tax bill will come to roost, so be prepared. You may not be subject to state taxes now, but if you decide to stay in the state you’re currently stationed in, you’ll need to crunch some numbers to see just how high your tax bill will rise. When leaving the military, you may want to consider moving to a state that doesn’t have income taxes. If your service member plans to retire, be sure to look at whether or not your state will tax their retirement pay. Wherever you plan to live after the military, you’ll want to decide where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

4. Medical costs

Medical costs are yet another expense you’ll have on the “outside.” Say what you will about TRICARE; the fact is that we’ll all be paying more for our healthcare once our service member takes off their uniform. If your spouse isn’t retiring from the military, your family will need to secure healthcare through other means, whether that’s a civilian employer or the healthcare exchange. If your service member ever served in combat, they have the option to receive VA healthcare for up to five yearsafter leaving the military, even if they don’t have a service-connected disability. But the VA only covers the family so you will need to talk with your spouse about finding a civilian insurance plan.

For those service members retiring from military service, you’ll still have access to TRICARE…but you’ll still have expenses. In addition to premiums, you’ll now have the added expense of co-pays. Thanks to the recent TRICARE reform, retirees using TRICARE now have higher co-pays. While $30 per specialty visit doesn’t seem like a whole lot, imagine having physical therapy twice a week, to the tune of $240 a month.

Whether your service member ends up getting out after four years or retires after serving twenty, you need to start preparing financially NOW. Even if they just re-enlisted for another tour, plan as if you’re leaving the military next year. Pay down your debt, start a transition savings account, and start researching where your family will set down their roots once military life is over.

I’m not telling you all of this to scare you. I’m telling you all of this because transition is NO JOKE and we all need to be prepared. These are the realities and how your family prepares for these realities will ultimately determine how positive or negative the impact of your transition to civilian life will be.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

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