The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers - We Are The Mighty
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The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers

ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.


The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.

Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.

It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.

Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
PACIFIC OCEAN — Petty Officer 3rd Class John Cartwright, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmember, releases the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”

The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.

With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.

Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.

In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.

Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.

The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.

Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
PACIFIC OCEAN — The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle watches the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from afar during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.

The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.

The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.

As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.

That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.

Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.

“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.

The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.

At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.

Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.

But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.

Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.

Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.

The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.

More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.

“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.

“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”

Articles

Here’s what the people who fly and fix the F-35 have to say about history’s most expensive weapons system

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Maryland — In a nondescript US military hangar, steps away from Air Force One, sits America’s priciest weapons system.


“The F-35 is a needed aircraft to get us to where we need to be for the future of warfare,” said US Air Force Maj. Will “D-Rail” Andreotta, the commander of the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team.

“What it’s giving to the pilots is everything I’m seeing on my screens added to that the helmet, the situational awareness, and the advanced avionics that we have on the aircraft is gonna allow us to fight wars in places that we have very limited capabilities in right now,” Andreotta told Business Insider.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, a US Air Force Warfare Center commander, walking to an F-35A Lightning II with Lt. Col. Matt Renbarger, a 58th Fighter Squadron commander, before his final qualification flight at Eglin Air Force Base. | US Air Force photo

In August, US Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, declared initial combat capability of 15 Air Force F-35A jets — a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which has been set back by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.

Also read: The F-35 just proved it can take Russian or Chinese airspace without firing a shot

“When you look at where the Air Force is headed, you look at coalition warfare and spend time in the Pacific, what this means to the interoperability, the ability to operate with others in the battle space and create the coalition warfare that we will always, always, fight with in the future, the centerpiece of that is gonna be the F-35,” Carlisle said at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space Cyber conference.

“The integration, the interoperability, the fusion warfare that this here plane brings to the fight … it changes the game.”

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
An F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft flying with its afterburner over Edwards Air Force Base on a night mission in 2013. | Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The fifth-generation “jack of all trades” jet was developed in 2001 by Lockheed Martin to replace the aging aircraft in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

The fighter is equipped with radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, and “the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history,” Jeff Babione, the head of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, said in a statement.

And for an enemy to engage an F-35 would be like jumping into a boxing ring to “fight an invisible Muhammad Ali,” as Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe, told Business Insider.

In short, the F-35 gives pilots the ability to see but not be seen.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
An F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), flies near its base a MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. | Lockheed Martin

 

What’s more, Andreotta added, the F-35A is easy to fly.

“The F-35 is a very, very easy airplane to fly — that kinda sounds funny, but it really is … Things that were difficult and time-consuming and task-saturating in an F-16 have now become easy,” said Andreotta, a pilot in the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona who has 1,600 hours in an F-16.

“I can take information that I’m getting from the F-35 and push it out to other aircraft that don’t have the capabilities that I have. That’s huge. I would have killed for that when I was flying an F-16.”

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Maj. Justin Robinson flying the 56th Operations Group flagship F-16 Fighting Falcon, escorting the first F-35 Lightning II to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in 2014. | US Air Force photo

Unlike any other fielded fighter jet, the F-35 can share what it sees in the battle space with counterparts, which creates a “family of systems.”

“Fifth-generation technology, it’s no longer about a platform. It’s about a family of systems, and it’s about a network, and that’s what gives us an asymmetric advantage,” Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, said during a Pentagon briefing.

Elaborating on the advantages, US Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, the director of the F-35 integration office, said the aircraft was “one our adversaries should fear.”

“In terms of lethality and survivability, the aircraft is absolutely head and shoulders above our legacy fleet of fighters currently fielded,” said Pleus, an F-35A pilot and former command pilot with more than 2,300 flying hours.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
An F-35A performing a test flight on March 28, 2013. | Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Alongside Andreotta, US Air Force TSgt Robert James, also of the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team and a pilot in the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, offered some insight as a crew chief.

“Aircraft maintenance is aircraft maintenance, but with the F-35 there is an ease in maintenance,” James told Business Insider.

“What they did with the F-35, I feel, and again I do this every day, is that they thought about the maintainer as well as the pilot. They designed the aircraft in a way that the maintainer could do their job better,” James said.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
An F-35A Lightning II team parking the jet for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho on February 8. | US Air Force photo

And while the F-35 has become one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defense, US Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Program executive officer, said “the program itself is making progress.”

“Any development program is going to encounter issues,” Bogdan said. “If you’re building a development program and you don’t find anything wrong, then you didn’t do a good enough job building that program.”

He added: “So it’s not a surprise to me that on any given day that we encounter things wrong with this airplane. Now is the time to find those things and fix them. The perfect example is our insulation problem we have right now.

“The mark of a good program is not that you don’t have any problems but that you find things early. You fix them. You make the airplane better, the weapons system better, and you move on.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korean troops fired 40 rounds at the defector in the DMZ

Four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at a comrade fleeing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border in more than 30 years, the South’s military said Nov. 14.


South Korean soldiers did not fire their weapons, but the Nov. 13 incident occurred at a time of high animosity over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North has expressed intense anger over past high-profile defections.

The soldier is being treated at a South Korean hospital after a five-hour operation for the gunshot wounds he suffered during his escape across the Joint Security Area. His personal details and motive for defection are unknown and his exact medical condition is unclear.

South Korea’s military said he suffered injuries in his internal organs but wasn’t in a life-threatening condition. But the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul said the soldier was relying on a breathing machine after the surgery removed the bullets. Lee Guk-jong, a doctor who leads Ajou’s medical team for the soldier, described his patient’s condition as “very dangerous” and said the next 10 days might determine whether he recovers.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
A South Korean soldier stands guard within the Joint Security Area of the DMZ. Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson.

On Nov. 13, he first drove a military jeep but left the vehicle when one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled across the JSA, with fellow soldiers chasing and firing at him, South Korea’s military said, citing unspecified surveillance systems installed in the area.

Suh Wook, chief director of operations for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that North Korea fired a total of about 40 rounds in a shooting that his office suggested started while the soldier was in the jeep.

Related: The 9 most-ridiculous North Korean propaganda claims

The solider was found beneath a pile of leaves on the southern side of the JSA and South Korean troops crawled there to recover him. A U.N. Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou medical center, according to South Korean officials.

The North’s official media haven’t reported the case as of Nov. 14. They have previously accused South Korea of kidnapping or enticing North Koreans to defect. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Sgt. Dong In Sop, a North Korean defector was interviewed by two members of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission at UNCMAC headquarters on the Yongsan Army Garrison on September 16, 1999. The interview was moderated by Maj. Gen. Peter Sutter (Swiss member) and Maj. Gen Kurt Blixt (Swedish member). Sgt. Dong In Sop defected to South Korea on September 14, 1999. During the interview Sgt. Dong In Sop expressed a strong desire to remain in South Korea. (U.S Army photo by Spc. Sharon E. Grey)

The JSA is jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only meters (feet) apart. It is located inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2 1/2-mile-wide) Demilitarized Zone, which forms the de facto border between the Koreas since the Korean War. While both sides of the DMZ are guarded by barbed wire fences, mines and tank traps, the JSA includes the truce village of Panmunjom which provides the site for rare talks and draws curious tourists.

Monday’s incident was the first shooting at the Joint Security Area since North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire when a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the JSA in 1984. A North Korean soldier defected there in 1998 and another in 2007 but neither of those events involved gunfire between the rivals, according to South Korea’s military.

The 1984 exchange of gunfire happened after North Korean soldiers crossed the border and fired, according to the U.N. Command. In Monday’s incident, it wasn’t known if the North continued firing after the defector was officially in the southern part of the Joint Security Area. The U.N. Command said Tuesday that an investigation into the incident was underway.

The Joint Security Area was the site of some bloodshed during the Cold War but there hasn’t been major violence there in recent years. In 1976, North Korean soldiers axed two American army officers to death and the United States responded by flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ in an attempt to intimidate the North.

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Army Abrams to get robotic attack drones

The Army is preparing to configure Abrams tank prototypes able to control nearby “robotic” wing-man vehicles which fire weapons, carry ammunition and conduct reconnaissance missions for units on the move in combat, service officials said.


Although still in the early stages of discussion and conceptual development, the notion of manned-unmanned teaming for the Abrams continues to gain traction among Army and General Dynamics Land Systems developers.

Algorithms are progressing to the point wherein they will be able to allow an Abrams tank crew to operate multiple nearby “wing-man” robotic vehicles in a command and control capacity while on the move in combat.

Also read: New Abrams protection system can detect, track and destroy enemy projectiles

Army researchers, engineers and weapons developers are preparing to prototype some of these possibilities for future Abrams tanks, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout warrior in an interview.

“As I look to the future and I think about game-changing technologies, manned-unmanned teaming is a big part of that. There’s a set of things that we think could be really transformational,” Bassett said.

This kind of dynamic could quickly change the nature of landwar.

Autonomous or semi-autonomous robotic vehicles flanking tanks in combat, quite naturally, could bring a wide range of combat-enhancing possibilities. Ammunition-carrying robotic vehicles could increase the fire-power of tanks while in combat more easily; unmanned platforms could also carry crucial Soldier and combat supplies, allowing an Abrams tank to carry a larger payload of key combat supplies.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
US Army photo

Also, perhaps of greatest significance, an unmanned vehicle controlled by an Abrams tank could fire weapons at an enemy while allowing the tank to operate at a safer, more risk-reducing stand-off range.

As unmanned vehicles, robotic platforms could be agile and much lighter weight than heavily armored vehicles designed to carry Soldiers into high-risk combat situations. By virtue of being able to operate without placing Soldiers at risk, tank-controlled ground drones could also be used to test and challenge enemy defenses, fire-power and formations. Furthermore, advanced sensors could be integrated into the ground drones to handle rugged terrain while beaming back video and data of enemy locations and movements.

“You don’t need armor on an auxiliary kit,” Michael Peck, Business Development Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

Manned Abrams tanks, therefore, could make use of advanced thermal sights, aided by robotic sensors, to locate and destroy enemies at ranges keeping them safe from enemy tank fire. Sensor robots could locate enemy artillery and rocket positions, convoys and even some drones in the air in a manner that better alerts attacking ground forces.

Land drones could also help forces in combat breach obstacles, carry an expeditionary power supply, help with remote targeting and check route areas for IEDs, Army and General Dynamics statements said.

Some of the early prototyping is being explored at the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Warren, Mich.

Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has consistently emphasized that manned-unmanned teaming and autonomy central to the Army’s preparations for the future, Bassett explained.

“The Chief has been really candid with us that what whatever we build for the future has that concept in mind that we are laying the architectures in that will support that,” he added.

Thus far in the Army, there are both tele-operated vehicles controlled by a human with a lap-top and joystick as well as platforms engineered with autonomous navigation systems able to increasingly perform more and more functions without needing human intervention.

For instance, TARDEC has developed leader-follower convoys wherein tactical trucks are engineered to autonomously follow vehicles in front of them. These applique kits, which can be installed on vehicles, include both tele-operated options as well as automated functions. The kits include GPS technology, radios, cameras and computer algorithms designed for autonomous navigation.

Also, the Army has already deployed airborne manned unmanned teaming, deploying Kiowa and Apache helicopters to Afghanistan with an ability to control the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones in the air; in addition, this technology allows helicopter crews to view real-time live video-feeds from nearby drones identifying targets and conducting reconnaissance missions. Autonomy in the air, however, is much easier than ground autonomy as there are less emerging obstacles or rugged terrain.

Air Force Navy Robotics

The Army is by no means the only service currently exploring autonomy and manned-unmanned connectedness. The Air Force, for instance, is now developing algorithms designed to help fighters like the F-35 control a small fleet of nearby drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy air defenses and carry ammunition.

In similar fashion, Navy engineers are working on an emerging fleet of Unmanned Surface Vehicles able to create swarms of attacks small boats, support amphibious operations by carrying supplies and weapons and enter high-risk areas without placing sailors at risk.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Lockheed Martin photo

These developments represent the cutting edge of technological progress in an area known as “artificial intelligence.” Among other things, this involves the continued use of computers to perform an increasingly wider range of functions without needing human intervention. This can include gathering, organizing or transmitting information autonomously.

The technological ability for an autonomous weapons system to acquire, track and destroy a target on its own – is already here.

Pentagon doctrine is clear that, despite the pace at which autonomous weapons systems are within the realm of realistic combat possibilities, a human must always be in-the-loop regarding the potential use of lethal force. Nevertheless, there is mounting concern that potential adversaries will also acquire this technology without implementing the Pentagon’s ethical and safety regulations.

At the same time, despite the promise of this fast-emerging technology, algorithms able to match the processing power of a human brain are quite far away at the moment. Engineering a robotic land-vehicle able to quickly process, recognize, react and adjust in a dynamic, fast-changing combat environment in a manner comparable to human beings, is a long way off, scientist explain. Nonetheless, this does not mean there could not be reasonably short-term utility in the combat use of advanced autonomous vehicles controlled by a nearby Abrams tank crew.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the 65-year old B-52 Stratofortress just keeps getting better with age

Usually as planes get older, they become less capable. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has been a decided exception to that rule.


In fact, as it gets older it get even more deadly.

Part of this venerable bomber’s ascent to a new level of combat capability is new electronics. The short version: The B-52 is becoming “smarter” through the addition of the Combat Network Communication Technology package, or CONECT.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Airmen assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load an inert AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile onto a B-52H Stratofortress during a munitions loading exercise July 13, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Ann Henderson)

According to a 2014 Boeing release, CONECT allows a B-52 to use intelligence in real time on moving map displays, the re-targeting of weapons in flight, and also gives the BUFF a state-of-the-art computing network. This makes the B-52 a much more flexible asset, meaning ordnance doesn’t have to be brought back if the target is gone for one reason or another.

The Air Force, though, has also been tinkering with the bomb bays on the 76 B-52s in service to add the ability to carry more weapons, according to a 2014 announcement by the service. This would not be the first time such a modification was done on B-52 bomb bays.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
B-52D dropping 500-lb bombs – it was able to carry 84 internally and 24 on the wings. (Image: Wikimedia)

In 1965, the Air Force modified most of the B-52D versions of the Stratofortress to carry a lot of conventional bombs. The modifications increased the number of bombs from 27 to either 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound M117 bombs. These bombers proved effective, first in the bombing missions in support of ground troops, then during Operation Linebacker II.

When the modification program is complete, the B-52H bombers in service will be able to carry a dozen missiles like the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on the wing pylons and eight in the bomb bay. In essence, each B-52 will be able to carry 20 weapons, as opposed to 12 — that’s a 66 percent increase in targeting capability.

It means fewer sorties, and less strain on a force that has just turned 65 years old.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Once the modifications are done, imagine this happening 20 times per B-52. (YouTube: Lockheed Martin)

That’s not a bad thing. You can see a video about the upgrades to the B-52 below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Remembering the pilot of first Challenger flight

Paul Weitz, a retired NASA astronaut who commanded the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger and also piloted the Skylab in the early 1970s has died. He was 85.


Weitz died at his retirement home in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Oct. 23, said Laura Cutchens of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. No cause of death was given.

A NASA biography says Weitz was among the class of 19 astronauts who were chosen in April 1966. He served as command module pilot on the first crew of the orbiting space laboratory known as Skylab during a 28-day mission in 1973.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
NASA Astronaut Paul J. Weitz, pilot of the Skylab 2 mission, works with the UV Stellar Astronomy Experiment S019 during Skylab training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, March 1st, 1973. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Weitz also piloted the first launch of the ill-fated shuttle Challenger in April 1983. The five-day mission took off from the Kennedy space Center in Florida and landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Challenger was destroyed and seven crew members killed during its 10th launch on January 28, 1986.

In all, he logged 793 hours in space and retired as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in May 1994.

Also Read: This is what the potential US Space Corps could look like

Weitz was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on July 25, 1932, and graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1954, according to NASA. He then joined the Navy, serving on a destroyer before being chosen for flight training and earning his wings as a Naval Aviator in September 1956. He served in various naval squadrons, including service in Vietnam, before joining the Astronaut Corps.

According to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, Weitz returned to the Navy after his mission on Skylab mission and retired as a captain in July 1976 after serving 22 years. He then came out of retirement to re-join NASA.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
Space Transportation System Number 6, Orbiter Challenger, lifts off from Pad 39A carrying astronauts Paul J. Weitz, Koral J. Bobko, Donald H. Peterson and Dr. Story Musgrave, April 4, 1983.

“Paul Weitz’s name will always be synonymous with the space shuttle Challenger. But he also will be remembered for defying the laws of gravity – and age,” said Curtis Brown, board chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and an astronaut and veteran of six space flights. “Before it became commonplace to come out of retirement, Paul was a pioneer. He proved 51 was just a number.”

The foundation is supported by astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle, and Space Station programs and annually provides scholarships for 45 students.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The real-world air combat origins of ‘The Last Jedi’

This article contains spoilers. If you have not seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi yet, you may find it better to stop reading this article here and come back later.


Avoiding spoilers? Try this: 15 Star Wars memes we can all relate to

Hurtling toward the villain nation’s massive fortified Armageddon machine the hero-pilot has one chance, and one chance only, at hitting his target. Victory will mean one man will save his people, failure could mean a war that may lead to destruction of the planet. It is all or nothing, and this audacious attack could determine mankind’s survival.

It’s not a scene from writer/director Rian Johnson’s new film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That narrative is a dramatization of the real-world Operation Opera, the daring June 7, 1981 Israeli air raid on a nuclear reactor and atomic weapons fuel manufacturing facility at the Osirak nuclear reactor outside, Iraq.

This is just one example of art imitating air combat history in the new Hollywood blockbuster that hit theaters this past weekend and of nearly every previous film in the Star Wars series. Almost every intergalactic battle scene in the Star Wars films borrows heavily from actual air combat history. And if you are a fan of air combat history, some of the scenes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi may feel familiar.

Director Rian Johnson and the visual effects in The Last Jedi opened with a classic piece of air combat doctrine that has been seen many times in modern air combat. An attacking aircraft poses as performing one mission to deceive an enemy, act as a decoy and buy time before a secondary attack is launched. If this time-proven set of tactics sounds familiar, it is.

You may be recall the real-world tactics of “Wild Weasel” SAM suppression missions flown in Vietnam and Iraq. It may also bring memories of “Operation Bolo”, the audacious January 2, 1967 attack meant to destroy North Vietnam’s air force flown by USAF Colonel Robin Olds. Col. Olds’ F-4 Phantoms behaved like defenseless B-52 F-105 bombers over North Vietnam as decoys to lure enemy MiG-21s into attacking. When they did, Col. Olds’ fighters sprung their trap.

Another tactic shown in The Last Jedi was forcing an enemy, in this case the fictional First Order, to commit all of their air defense assets to an initial feint attack, thus revealing their sensors and depleting their ammunition before a larger, secondary attack is launched on the main objective. In the opening scene of The Last Jedi, one X-wing fighter distracts and delays the giant enemy First Order battle spacecraft until it can effectively fly inside and below its defenses, then opens an initial attack, suppressing defenses and paving the way for the main rebel attack force.

Visual effects throughout The Last Jedi include inspiration from real world air combat of every era and from other air combat movies. It’s widely known that Luke Skywalker’s strike mission against the Death Star in the original Star Wars, where he pilots his X-wing fighter down a narrow mechanical canyon for a precision strike on the gigantic Death Star, was inspired in part by the 1964 Walter Grauman and Cecil Ford film about WWII Royal Air Force Mosquito pilots, “633 Squadron.” The cockpit of the Millennium Falcon spacecraft was inspired to the WWII B-29 bomber.

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers
B-29 Cockpit. (Image Public Domain)

It is also rumored that George Lucas may have had inspiration from either visiting or seeing images from low flying training areas like the Mach Loop in Wales and especially the now-famous R-2508 complex now referred to even by the military as either the “Jedi Transition” or “Star Wars canyon” in Death Valley, California just outside the Nellis Test and Training Range.

Despite Director Rian Johnson’s often accurate inspirations from air and space combat, he does take liberal license with physics and reality in the The Last Jedi. Gravity is selective in the film. Gravity bombs fall down in space where there is no gravity. Spacecrafts fly in a symmetrical up and down orientation nonexistent in space, and combatants pass from space with no atmosphere into pressurized spacecraft.

Some of the characters in The Last Jedi need a refresher from their officer training as well, as specific orders from commanders are executed selectively- and often disobeyed entirely. In the real world that offense that would lead flight officers a stint in the brig- look at how much hot water Iceman and Goose got themselves into in Top Gun just for buzzing the tower. Further departure from reality is seen with the gun-like weapons (as well as the above mentioned gravity bombs) used in place of long range stand-off weapons.

But at the risk of being that annoying guy in the theater pointing out technical inaccuracies, these are the elements of fiction that separate meaty fantasy from the admittedly more accurate, and “dryer” plot lines of, for instance, a Tom Clancy story unfolding in a more rigid version of the real world.

Rian Johnson must have watched plenty of video of F-22 Raptor and Sukhoi Su-35 displays since the opening space-combat sequence in The Last Jedi shows X-Wing combat pilot Poe Dameron execute a very Sukhoi-esque horizontal tail slide to evade a pair of attacking First Order fighters.

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F-22 vs Su-35s We Are The Mighty | Lockheed Martin | Creative Commons

The cockpits in the X-Wing fighters are a mix of new technology including advanced weapons sights and side stick controls and old tech like toggle switches that somehow seem more visually dramatic to flip than using a touchscreen like the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Speaking of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its advanced onboard situational awareness and networking system, the BB-8 droid that accompanies X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron on his missions is really a mix of the F-35s advanced avionics including the Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL), the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). These systems run aircraft diagnostics, keep the pilot informed about the aircraft health and tactical environment and help facilitate communications and systems operation through several command systems, in the case of the BB-8 droid on the X-Wing fighter, mostly using voice actuation.

Finally, if the large rebel bomber formation in the stunning opening battle scene in The Last Jedi feels visually familiar then you may liken it to footage and tales from the mass WWII bomber attacks over Germany and Japan by the allies, especially B-17 and B-24 strikes over Germany. The lumbering, mostly defenseless bomber stream attacks in tight formation under cover from X-Wing fighter escort, and suffers heavy losses. The bombers even feature a ball gun turret at the bottom of the spacecraft exactly like the one under a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Also Read: 15 Star Wars memes we can all relate to

Ball turret gunner Paige Tico becomes one of the first sacrificial heroes of The Last Jedi when she risks her life to release a huge stick of bombs in the last-ditch bomb run by the only surviving bomber in the opening attack on the First Order spacecraft. Paige Tico’s sister, Rose Tico, goes on to become a predominant hero of the film after she loses her sister in the heroic opening bombing raid.

You may also sense that the giant First Order Dreadnought Mandator-IV-class warship in “The Last Jedi” felt familiar. Design supervisor for The Last Jedi, Kevin Jenkins, revealed that inspiration for the Dreadnought warship came from several sources that included the WWII Japanese battleship Yamato. The Dreadnought was armed with two enormous orbital autocannons for large-scale bombardments and 24 point-defense remotely aimed anti-aircraft cannons on its dorsal surface. Dreadnought is also an enormous space gunnery platform at 7,669 meters long, that is more than 25,162.8 feet in length. Imagine a strategic attack space aircraft five miles long.

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All great fiction, including science fiction, is rooted in inspiration from the factual world, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi borrows significantly from the real world of air combat technology, tactics and history to weave a thrilling and visually sensational experience. In this way this film, and in fact, the entire Star Wars franchise, lives as a fitting and inspiring ode to air combat past, present and future and serves to inspire tomorrow’s real-world Jedi warriors.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Mount a Vulcan cannon to a Prius in 15 easy steps

Black Rifle Coffee Company’s Richard Ryan, who you may know from the popular YouTube channel FullMag, got the chance to fulfill a dream he’s had for over a decade: mounting an M61 Vulcan cannon to the top of a Toyota Prius.

Everyone knows what a Prius is, but the uninitiated may not be familiar with the beastly, Gatling-style M61 Vulcan. The Federation of American Scientists defines the M61 Vulcan as “a hydraulically driven, 6 barreled, rotary action, air cooled, electrically fired weapon, with selectable rates of fire of either 4000 or 6000 rounds per minute.” With that kind of incredible firepower, this angel of death has graced a variety of U.S. jet fighters since the 1950s, as well as the AC-130 gunship — it even felled 39 Soviet-made MiG’s during the Vietnam War.


The Prius Vulcan

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To pull off this ridiculously awesome feat, Ryan partnered with companies like Hamilton Sons, known for their involvement in restorations of large weapons and historical recreations, and Battlefield Vegas, which acquires rare equipment for the everyday bro or broette to use. Between Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) licenses and the actual manufacturing and acquiring of weapons, the logistics for a video of this scale is neither inexpensive nor easy, so great sponsors were key.

With all that hard work in the rear view, Ryan took some time to explain to Coffee, or Die Magazine exactly how his grand plan came to fruition:

Step 1: Watch “Predator” a lot as a kid and develop a deep appreciation for Jesse Ventura’s Old Painless minigun; fire an even bigger minigun as an adult and find it still isn’t satisfying enough.

Predator (1987) – Old Painless Is Waiting Scene (1/5) | Movieclips

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Step 2: Get tricked by clickbait YouTube videos that claim to have close-up or slo-mo footage of an M61 Vulcan but don’t. Vow to make your own video someday because fuck those posers!

Step 3: Drink a cup of strong coffee and devise an absurd plan — like mounting a Vulcan to a milquetoast hybrid vehicle instead of a fighter jet or tank (boring!). “I wanted that counterculture of the Prius. Mounting it to one of those would be epic.”

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 4: Wait. Drink coffee. Wait some more. For eons. Due to the National Firearms Act, machine guns manufactured before 1986 are extraordinarily expensive, and something as rare as a Vulcan cannon is essentially priceless.

Step 5: Six years later, become friends with awesome people, the kind of people who can get their hands on a Vulcan stripped off a demilitarized F-16. Thanks, Battlefield Vegas!

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 6: Bring all the pieces together to modify the gun and the car. Replace the gun’s hydraulic-fed system with an electrical-fed system, as well as electrical primers and new motors. At the same time, strip the entire interior of the car to handle the amount of kinetic energy put out by the weapon: new floor pan, roll cage, and mounting system for the roof, accidentally making the first Prius that someone might actually call “bad ass” in the process.

Step 7: Make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the job.

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 8: Get a quote from General Dynamics for the ammunition. It costs per round, meaning the gun will blow through 0,000 for one minute of sustained fire. Have small heart attack. Drink more coffee.

Step 9: Test everything. Go through six months of meticulous steps, not knowing if everything is going to work. “We were tiptoeing through, shooting five rounds here, three rounds there.”

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 10: Completely blow out the windshield due to overpressure. #mybad

Step 11: “Borrow” about 15 feet of leftover gym flooring from Mat Best’s new gym to roll up and put under the gun so you don’t blow out the windshield again. “I don’t want to Mad Max the vehicle; I want it to be street legal because I think that’s funnier.”

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 11.5: Take time to think about how awesome it is that it’s even possible for a Vulcan-mounted Prius to be street legal.

Step 12: Wait for monsoon season so that you don’t contribute to any forest fires.

Step 13: Look the happiest anyone has ever looked driving a Prius.

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 14: Finally achieve your dream of showing those YouTube weaponry rickrollers that anything can be done with a good cup of coffee and a can-do attitude.

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(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

Step 15: Share. Let everyone who worked on the project have a turn to shoot because you’re a generous gun god — but also because part of you feels safer standing at a distance.

We Put a Vulcan Cannon On a Prius.

www.youtube.com

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

popular

4 strange weapons of the Vietnam War

War brings out the very best in technological innovation. Humans have shown themselves to be remarkably adept in devising new, creative ways to kill each other. The Vietnam War brought out this human capacity for creative destruction on a grand scale, even if it manifested itself a little differently on both sides.

The United States was blasting into the Space Age and, with that surge of technology, came chemical defoliants, like Agent Orange and jet aircraft that could break the sound barrier. The Vietnamese expanded their work on tried-and-true effective yet obsolete weapons, like punji stick booby traps. The two sides were worlds apart technologically, but when it came to murderous creativity, the combatants were close peers.


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The XM-2 backpack mounted personnel detector.

1. People sniffers

The United States was desperately seeking a way to detect North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong movement across the DMZ and down the Ho Chi Minh trail, not to mention the bands of NVA and VC that were hiding in the dense jungles of South Vietnam. The U.S. infamously used the chemical defoliant Agent Orange to strip vegetation from entire areas, but it was more effective at giving everyone cancer than it was at outing hidden bands of the enemy.

So, the minds over at General Electric created a mobile cloud chamber that could detect ammonia, a component of human sweat. They called them the XM2 and XM3 personnel detectors, but the troops who used the devices quickly dubbed them “people sniffers.” While troops hated the XM2 backpack versions (and for good reasons, like the noise it made in an ambush area and the fact that it detected their sweat as well as the enemy’s), the XM3 saw widespread use on helicopters.

However, the enemy caught on and began to post buckets of urine around the jungle to create decoys for people sniffers. In the end, the device wasn’t even that great at picking up people, but it did detect recent cooking fires, which retained its usefulness.

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Gross dog poop. …or is it?

2. Poop

It’s fairly well-known by now that the punji stick booby traps used by the Viet Cong during the were sometimes smeared with poop as a means to cause a bacterial infection in the victim. The idea was to try to take as many people and resources from the battlefield as possible: one injured soldier, at least one more to help cart him away, and maybe a helicopter could be lured into an ambush trying to medevac the wounded.

What’s not as well known is the Americans also used poop to their advantage. This is, again, the result of trying to track the movement of men and materiel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The United States placed sensors along the supposed routes of the Trail but when discovered, these sensors were, of course, destroyed. The U.S. needed to place sensors that wouldn’t be detected or destroyed. The answer was poop – in the form of a poop-shaped radio beacon.

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An X-ray view of that same “poop.”

The Air Force dropped these sensors from the air and they would detect movement along the trail during the night, relaying the signal via radio. Since they looked like disgusting poop, the VC and NVA would often just leave them alone, thus ensuring the Americans would be able to listen along the trail.

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3. “Lazy Dog” Flechettes

Imagine an explosive device filled with thousands of tiny darts or nails. It’s not difficult – many anti-personnel weapons use some kind of shrapnel or fragmentation to wreak havoc on enemy formations. Flechette weapons in the Vietnam War were no different. American helicopters, ground forces, and even bombers would fire missiles and rockets filled with thousands of these darts, launched at high speeds to turn any enemy cluster into swiss cheese.

A unique version of the flechette weapons however, came from B-52 Bombers, who would fly so high as to be pretty much silent to enemy Viet Cong or North Vietnam Army formations on the ground. When dropped from such a high altitude, the darts didn’t need an explosive to propel them, as they fell to Earth, they gained in velocity what they would have had from such an explosion. The result was a deadly blast of thousands of darts that was both invisible and inaudible – until it was too late and death rained from the sky.

Fun fact: When dropped from space, a large enough object could hit the ground with the force of a nuclear weapon.

Now Read: These Air Force ‘rods from god’ could hit with the force of a nuclear bomb

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4. Tactical Tree Crusher

Throughout the war, the Army wrestled with the problem of clearing vegetation to find Vietnamese hiding spots. Since Agent Orange took too long and could be washed away by heavy rains, the U.S. needed another way to clear paths for the troops. In 1968, they leased two vehicles designed for logging companies and sent them off to Southeast Asia. These became tactical tree crushers.

A 60-ton vehicle with multi-bladed logger wheels knocked trees over and chopped the logs as it drove. The U.S. military version would have a .50-cal mounted on the rear for self-defense, as well as a couple of claymores on the sides to keep the VC away from the driver. The vehicle was very effective at clearing trees, but the engine was prone to giving out and the large design made it an easy target for the enemy, so the military version was never made.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marine Corps wants to transform JLTVs into aircraft-killing trucks

The Marine Corps wants to know whether the defense industry can transform its heavy weapons-mounted Joint Light Tactical Vehicles into mobile air defense systems for tracking and killing enemy drones, helicopters and fighters.

Marine Corps Systems Command recently invited defense firms to submit ideas for creating the Direct Fire Defeat System being developed by Program Manager Ground Based Air Defense, according to a March 27 request for information.


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The program is designed to arm Marine air-ground task force commanders with JLTVs equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, 30mm cannons and electronic warfare technology to “detect, track, identify, and defeat aerial threats,” the solicitation states.

“This system will provide new and improved capability to mitigate the risk of attacks from Unmanned Aerial Systems and Fixed Wing/Rotary Wing aircraft while maintaining pace with maneuver forces,” according to the document.

The U.S. military has begun to beef up its air defense capabilities as it prepares for a possible future war against near-peer militaries with sophisticated aviation capabilities.

The Army is in the process of modernizing its air-defense units with the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) system, which will feature Stryker combat vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles, a 30mm chain gun, a 7.62 machine gun and four Stinger missiles.

The Army is also working on equipping a platoon of four Stryker vehicles with 50-kilowatt lasers that are capable of engaging drones and combat aircraft, as well as rockets, artillery and mortars in fiscal 2022.

The Marine Corps’ direct fire system will be part of the initial phase of the Marine Air Defense Integrated System, or MADIS, which will feature the command-and-control software integrated into Mk1 and Mk2 variants of the Corps’ JLTV Heavy Guns Carrier, according to the document.

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The MADIS Mk1 features turret-launched Stinger missiles, multi-functional electronic warfare capability and a direct-fire weapon such as a 30mm cannon on a remote weapons station. The MADIS Mk2 will be the counter-UAS variant, with a 360-degree radar and command-and-control communications equipment, in addition to a direct-fire remote weapons station and electronic warfare tech.

The Mk1 and Mk2 form a complementary pair and are the “basic building block” for modernizing the service’s Low Altitude Air Defense Battalions, according to Marine Corps Systems Command’s website.

The Marine Corps last year deployed its Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, or LMADIS, using it to jam an Iranian drone that flew near a Navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Companies have until April 13 to submit proposals, including proof that they are capable of delivering 26 systems in support of low-rate initial production in the third quarter of fiscal 2021, as well as 192 systems in the third quarter of fiscal 2022, according to the document.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is on fire

Ukrainian authorities say a wildfire has broken out in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986, but radiation levels remained within safe limits.

“Radiation levels have not risen either inside the exclusion zone or in adjoining areas,” the zone’s administration said in a statement on June 5, 2018.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman wrote on Facebook that “radiation levels are safe. In Kyiv and in Chernobyl itself, including at the Chernobyl power station site, they are significantly below the acceptable limits. So there’s no need to worry.”


“I stress once more: the situation is fully under control,” he added.

The fire broke out in dry grass on the morning of June 5, 2018, in the area of high radiation less than 10 kilometers from the power station, and later spread over some 10 hectares of woodland, the state emergency service said in statements.

It published photographs of smoke billowing from woodland and flames spreading along the ground.

The state nuclear-industry regulator said the former nuclear power station was not at risk from the flames.

More than 130 firefighters were battling the fire as well as two planes and a helicopter that dumped water on the fire, the state emergency service said, adding that the wind was not blowing toward the capital, Kyiv.

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Entrance to the zone of alienation around Chernobyl.

Wildfires occur regularly in the woods and grassland around the power station. In 2015, a forest fire burned for four days.

Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor, which is about 100 kilometers north of Kyiv, exploded in 1986 during testing in the worst such accident ever.

Radioactive fallout from the power station contaminated up to three-quarters of Europe, according to some estimates, with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, all then part of the U.S.S.R., the worst affected.

A 30 kilometers radius around the power station is still an exclusion zone where people are not allowed to live.

The three other reactors at Chernobyl continued to generate electricity until the power station finally closed in 2000. A giant protective dome was put in place over the fourth reactor in 2016.

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

Articles

Vet congressman introduces legislation that tees up debate on females and the draft

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Marines and sailors from the female engagement team with Bravo Battery, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, conduct a medical outreach for residents in the village of Habib Abad, Afghanistan. (Photo: USMC)


Late yesterday afternoon Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca., added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require female American citizens to register for the draft when they reached 18 years old. The amendment passed in the House by a vote of 32-30. Ironically, Hunter voted against his own amendment, saying that he added it only to force a debate about the issue.

“A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill,” Hunter said. “The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies’ throats out and kill them.”

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca. (Photo: House.gov)

But it looks like the Marine Corps veteran lawmaker’s plan may have backfired in that the measure actually passed and seems to have the support of many of his colleagues.

“I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Ca., said.

Another veteran congressman, Rep. Martha McSally, who flew A-10s in combat and recently went after the Air Force over their close air support budgetary priorities, suggested that Hunter’s rhetoric was long on emotion and short on fact, pointing out that draftees aren’t all sent to the front lines but also used to fill support billets.

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