This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

The M247 Sergeant York was officially designated as a “self-propelled anti-aircraft gun” but was for all intents and purposes a tank chassis with anti-aircraft guns attached to the top. The vehicle was named for one Alvin York, a famous and highly decorated WWI hero who captured over 100 German soldiers pretty much single-handedly. Unfortunately for the U.S. tax payers who spent just shy of $2 billion on it (about $4.8 billion today or, humourously enough, after appropriately adjusting for inflation to make the dollar values match, about 1/11th what the entire Apollo program cost), the final version of the weapon ended up being so useless its automatic targeting system couldn’t distinguish between a toilet vent fan and a jet plane, the vehicle itself couldn’t keep up with the tanks it was designed to protect, and it was made obsolete by advances in enemy weaponry after only a few dozen faulty units were made. Here now is the story of the forgotten M247.


This particular weapon was developed by the defunct off-shoot of Ford known as Ford Aerospace in response to a contract put out by the U.S. Army in 1977 requesting what they referred to as an, “Advanced Radar-directed Gun Air Defense System.” This was later re-dubbed, “Division Air Defense” which was itself shorted to DIVAD in official documentation.

In a nutshell, the Army wanted a drivable anti-aircraft system that was to serve alongside their newly developed M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley tanks in battle. The contract was put out in direct response to a battle tactic known as “pop-up” which essentially involved helicopters harassing tanks from a distance by hiding behind cover and then popping up briefly to let loose a volley of anti-tank missiles (which themselves were a newly developed technology) before hiding once again.

The U.S. Army found that the tactic was almost impossible to counter with the ground-based weapons it had available at the time as their leading anti-aircraft weapons system, the M163 Vulcan, only had a range of 1.2 KM (3/4 of a mile), while newly developed anti-tank missiles, such as the 9K114 Shturm used by the Soviets, could hit from a range almost five times greater than that. To add insult to injury, the Soviets had no problem countering the pop-up attack method thanks to their ZSU-23-4 Shilka, which is essentially what the United States wanted to copy.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
An M247 Sergeant York on display at Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park, Tennessee. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

To minimize production time and cost, the Army specified that the basis of the newly developed system had to be mounted atop an M48 Patton tank chassis (something the Army had in great surplus). Further, the system had to more or less use off-the-shelf parts, rather than anything being developed from scratch.

As to the final specific capabilities it was supposed to have, it had to be able to keep up with the M1 and M2’s cruising speed and be able to lock onto any target within 8 seconds, all with a minimum 50% chance to hit a target from 3 KM (1.9 miles) away with a single 30 second volley. It also had to be able to continually track up to 48 moving aerial targets, automatically identifying enemy aircraft, and intelligently prioritizing which should be shot down first. All the gunner had to do then was to select the target from the generated list and fire.

Several companies responded to the request with proposed systems, with the Army ultimately narrowing it down to two entrants- one developed by Ford Aerospace and one by General Dynamics, with both companies given $79 million to develop prototypes.

After extensive testing of two prototypes made by each company, in which General Dynamics’ reportedly shot down 19 drones vs. Ford’s 9, Ford was awarded the contract…

As you might have guessed, this decision was controversial, not just because the General Dynamics prototype outperformed Ford’s by a considerable margin, but because, unlike every other entrant, the M247 used more costly 40MM shells instead of 35MM ones which were extensively used by NATO at the time. Rumour had it that Ford stood to make more money from the use of 40MM rounds due to a business deal they had with the manufacturer. However, it should also be noted that the Army may have had good reason to favour the 40MM given its larger size and a newly developed 40mm round that had a proximity sensing fuse built in.

Whatever the case, Ford Aerospace won the lucrative contract and began immediate production of M247s in 1981.

And this is where hilarity ensued.

Read More: In World War I, Alvin York captured 132 German soldiers pretty much single-handed

Every M247 Ford produced had problems, mainly centered around their automatic targeting system. This ultimately led one soldier to speculate that the only way the M247 would manage to take out an enemy would be by “driving over the top of it.”

As an example of some of the issues here, in 1982 Ford was set to demonstrate the M247 to a gathered crowd of VIPs and military brass. However, the moment the M247’s tracking system was turned on, it immediately targeted the stands the gathered people were sitting in, resulting in complete chaos as those present trampled one another to get out of the way. Of course, the M247 required the operator to tell it to fire, so there was no real danger here, but one can imagine staring down a pair of 40mm cannons in a live demo would be a tad frightening.

After a while, the engineers thought they’d managed to fix the issue and the demo resumed, only to see the M247 shoot into the ground rather than the drone target it was “locked on” to.

In the aftermath, a Ford Aerospace executive claimed the “glitch” had been caused by the M247 being washed before the demonstration, damaging the targeting system. This explanation didn’t sit well with military brass or the many journalists present, one of whom, Gregg Easterbrook, mused that perhaps Ford Aerospace didn’t realize that it rained in Europe where the M247 was to be deployed.

Other problems with the M247’s targeting system included its seeming inability to tell the difference between helicopters and trees and its penchant for locking onto random other ground-based objects as threats. The most infamous example of this was that time an M247 ignored a passing drone it was supposed to be targeting and instead locked onto a nearby latrine exhaust fan, marking it as a low priority, slow-moving target.

The M247’s targeting system was so poor that even when presented with an unrealistically favorable scenario, such as a helicopter hovering completely still in mid-air, it still missed and took an agonizing 12 seconds just to acquire the target.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
M247 Sergeant York DIVAD (Wikimedia Commons photo by Ryan Crierie)

How was this targeting system so bad, given that it was developed using off-the-shelf parts that were shown to be reliable already? Mainly because the radar was one designed for the F-16 fighter jet. (In fact, it worked very well in the open air.) However, despite the efforts of the Ford and Army engineers, the random objects on the ground continually wreaked havoc on the radar’s ability to track low flying aerial targets like pop-up attacking helicopters. It also had significant problems tracking high flying targets because when the turrets were raised up they got in the way of the radar… (*queue Yakety Sax*).

On top of all this, the M247’s turret also couldn’t turn fast enough to track fast-moving targets and the hydraulics leaked in even marginally cold weather. Not a problem, of course, given it’s always balmy in the regions that were once the former Soviet Union… (In truth, even if it was balmy, it turns out the tracking system also struggled in high ambient temperatures and had trouble dealing with vibrations, such as generated continually when the M247 moved over the ground.)

Another major problem, as previously mentioned, was that the M247’s top speed wasn’t sufficient to keep up with the M1 and M2’s cruising speed, meaning it literally couldn’t drive fast enough to travel with the things it was specifically designed to protect. You might at this point be thinking that one’s on the Army because they’re the ones that made Ford use the M48 Patton tank as the base, and that’s not an entirely unfair thought. However, it should be noted that the M48 was previously capable of keeping up here, but Ford added about 17 tons to the original 45 in their modifications of the turret, making the tank much slower than it had previously been.

Despite all these problems to units being delivered, the Army continued to pump money into the project, mostly because there wasn’t a backup option and there was a very pressing need for such a weapon. However, rumors of the Army faking positive results for the M247 via putting it in unrealistically favorable conditions (such as hovering the drones and attaching radar reflectors), including Oregon state representative Dennis Smith going so far as to publicly accuse them of this, ultimately led to something of an inquiry on the matter. Specifically, in 1984, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger decided to oversee a set of amazingly expensive tests costing $54 million ($144 million today) to better determine what this weapon could and couldn’t do.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
The man for whom the M247 Sergeant York was named. This battle scene was painted in 1919 by artist Frank Schoonover. The scene depicts the bravery of Alvin C. York in 1918. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The tests did not go well. When the system utterly failed to hit any realistically flown drones, they resorted to having them fly in a straight line.  After further failures to actually hit a target, the drones were made to hold still and equipped with radar reflectors… (Rather ironic for a weapon named after a famed WWI soldier known for his incredibly sharpshooting ability.)

All was not lost, however. In one of the rounds of tests where a drone was moving the M247 did manage to slightly damage it, knocking it off course, at which point the safety officer remotely self-destructed it as he was supposed to do if a drone did such a thing. Nevertheless, this was interpreted by the press as the military trying to make it look like the M247 had actually managed a kill, leading to even more outcry that the Army was just trying to fake the results to make the massively expensive M247 look good.

(As to that cost, while it’s widely reported today that the project cost close to $7 billion (about $18 billion today), in fact, that number includes about three decades of anti-aircraft weapon development leading up to and including the actual figure of about $1.8 billion (about $4.8 billion today) spent on the development of the M247s.)

In any event, around the same time of the debacle that was the 1984 tests, the Soviet Union were deploying longer-range anti-tank missiles that were capable of being fired outside of the then current range the M247 could effectively counter the attacks, even if the system did aim properly.

Thus, despite the pressing need for such a system with little in the way of a backup, Weinberger, with support from Congress, some members of which had been present at the test, canceled the project rather than trying to sink more money into it to fix it. In the coming years, most of the M247s found their way onto target ranges where they were destroyed in various tests by weaponry that could actually aim properly. Today, only a handful of M247s still exist, one of which can be found at the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park.

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 areas DARPA needs your help in developing its drone swarms

DARPA is looking for people with innovative ideas to participate in its “swarm sprint” exercises. The project would inform tactics and technologies for large groups of unmanned air and ground robots in certain environments.


The OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program envisions future, small-unit infantry forces using small, unmanned aircraft systems and/or small, unmanned ground systems in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments. By leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities to the field.

Roughly every six months, DARPA plans to solicit proposals from potential sprinters, with each swarm sprint focusing on one of five thrust areas:

  • Swarm tactics
  • Swarm autonomy
  • Human-swarm teaming
  • Virtual environment
  • Physical testbed

Here’s more about the project:

DARPA is awarding Phase 1 contracts to teams led by Raytheon BBN Technologies and the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Each team will serve as a swarm systems integrator tasked with designing, developing, and deploying an open architecture for swarm technologies in physical and virtual environments. Each system would include an extensible, game-based architecture to enable design and integration of swarm tactics, a swarm tactics exchange to foster community interaction, immersive interfaces for collaboration among teams of humans and swarm systems, and a physical testbed to validate developed capabilities.

Also Read: See DARPA quadcopter drones fly an obstacle course without GPS

Participants for the first core sprint are needed now. The focus of this effort is the generation of swarm tactics for a mixed swarm of 50 air and ground robots to isolate an urban objective within an area of two square city blocks over a mission duration of 15 to 30 minutes. Visit DARPA to learn about where to submit your proposal.

Articles

A Green Beret reported killed during the Vietnam War may have been found alive 44 years later

U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hartley Robertson, a Green Beret, was in a helicopter shot down over Laos in 1968. His body was never found and was presumed dead. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Army officially lists him as Killed In Action.


This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
John Hartley Robertson in Vietnam, 1968.

In 2013, a fellow vet named Tom Faunce claimed to have traced the men killed in the crash to those taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese Army around the same time. The men were taken prisoner and tortured, but Faunce claims the men all survived. The claims sparked renewed interest in finding and repatriating possible POWs remaining in Vietnam for so long after the war.

In a documentary film called Unclaimed, Faunce teamed up with Emmy-winning director Michael Jorgenson to find a man they thought to be Robertson, then 76-years old, 44 years after the crash. The missing Green Beret was supposedly living in a village of south-central Vietnam. The man had no memory of being Robertson, had no memory of his children, his own birthday, or even the English language.

https://vimeo.com/90875597

Master Sgt. Robertson’s family believed he could have survived the event and even claimed to have supporting documentation that he had been held in an NVA prison. Jorgenson maintained the U.S. government has had proof of Robertson’s survival since 1982, but did not do anything with the information.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

Still, the filmmaker was skeptical and went to Vietnam with Faunce believing they would uncover a hoax. The man who would be Robertson, now calling himself Dan Tan Ngoc, said he was held, beaten, and tortured but eventually released into t he care of a local nurse, whom he married and with whom he later had children.

The Army fingerprinted Dan Tan Ngoc at a U.S. Embassy, but said it was not enough to prove Dan Tan Ngoc was indeed John Hartley Robertson. The film shows a reunion of the man who would be Robertson meeting a fellow vet he trained and Robertson’s own sister, Jean, who said “There’s no question. I was certain it was him in the video, but when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother.”

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Jean Robertson in the film Unclaimed

Except, he may not be.

In 2014, DNA testing proved Dan Tan Ngoc could not be John Hartley Robertson. Robertson’s niece, Cyndi Hanna, called the result “very disappointing.” Yet, the Robertson family still believes Ngoc is their missing loved one. Gail Metcalf, daughter of Robertson’s sister, Jean bases this on a oxygen isotope analysis performed on the man’s tooth. The family set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise money for DNA testing and Master Sgt. Robertson’s repatriation. Salt Lake City’s IsoForensics Inc., performed the test for the filmmakers and came to the conclusion  it is “very likely” Ngoc grew up in U.S., a result the family takes to heart.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Robertson (far left) in 1968, the year he went missing in Vietnam

“We only want to do right by my Uncle John,” Metcalf told Stars and Stripes. “If that means exploring the possibility that the U.S. government has made a mistake or that the man claiming to be my uncle is actually another lost American and doesn’t know who he is, we intend to seek the truth on our own terms.”

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Ngoc/Robertson in the film Unclaimed

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s the firepower the US is sending to take on Iran

The US military is sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East as a show of force to Iran. There is a ton of firepower heading that way.

The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which consists of the carrier and its powerful carrier air wing, as well as one cruiser and four destroyers, is moving into the region with an unspecified number of B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers, according to US Central Command.

These assets, according to US Central Command, are being deployed in response to “clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces in the region.” This is in addition to strategic assets already in the area.


This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch)

Aircraft carrier: USS Abraham Lincoln

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, previously described aircraft carriers as “tremendous expression of US national power.” A carrier strike group is an even stronger message. “CSGs are visible and powerful symbols of U.S. commitment and resolve,” US European Command said in a statement on May 7, 2019.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, a mobile sea-based airfield, is the lead ship for the carrier strike group that bears its name and is outfitted with a highly capable carrier air wing.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

An F/A-18E Super Hornet.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik)

Carrier air wing: fighters, electronic-attack aircraft, early-warning aircraft, and rotary aircraft

Carrier Air Wing Seven consists of F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft, E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, and a number of rotary aircraft from multiple squadrons capable of carrying out a variety of operational tasks.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

The USS Leyte Gulf.

(US Navy photo)

Cruiser: USS Leyte Gulf

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers are multi-role warships that run heavily armed with 122 vertical-launch-system (VLS) cells capable of carrying everything from Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles to surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine-warfare rockets.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

The USS Mason.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anna Wade)

4 destroyers: USS Bainbridge, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason, and USS Nitze

Like the larger cruisers, destroyers are also multi-mission vessels. Armed with 90 to 96 VLS cells, these ships have air-and-missile defense capabilities, as well as land-attack abilities.

Early in the Trump presidency, two US Navy destroyers devastated Shayrat Airbase with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to punish the Syrian regime in the aftermath of a chemical-weapons attack.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

The B-52 with all its ammunition.

(US Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Robert Horstman)

Bombers: B-52s

The B-52 is a subsonic high-altitude bomber capable of carrying nuclear and conventional payloads. These hard-hitting aircraft can carry up to 70,000 pounds of varied ordnance and can be deployed to carry out various missions, including strategic attack, close air support, air interdiction, and offensive counter-air and maritime operations.

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

Articles

This is how to fire a Civil War cannon, step-by-step

With ATACMS, MLRS, HIMARs, the M109A6, and the M777, American artillery can and does deliver a huge punch at a distance. Compared to them, Civil War cannons look downright puny.


Don’t take that to the bank, though. These old cannon were pretty powerful in their day. The Smithsonian Channel decided to take a look at how to fire a Civil War cannon from start to finish using the Model 1841 12-pound howitzer.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Model 1841 12-pound howitzer. (Photo by Ron Cogswell)

According to Antietam on the Web, the howitzer of the time had a 4.62-inch bore (117 millimeters) and a 53-inch long barrel. It had a range of 1,072 yards – or about the same distance an M40 sniper rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO can reach out and touch someone.

It had three types of ammo: canister, which was essentially a giant shotgun shell; spherical case shot, which became known as a shrapnel shell; and a common shell, which was your basic impact-fused or time-fused explosive shell.

Without further ado, here’s the video from the Smithsonian Channel showing how to fire this cannon, using an authentic replica.

MIGHTY TRENDING

NASA’s still flying to the moon but not how you think

NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of 2019, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency’s long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars.


Watch This Space: The Latest from the Moon to Mars

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“The Moon has unique scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Its proximity to Earth makes it especially valuable as a proving ground for deeper space exploration.”

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon.

“This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon,” said Steve Clarke, SMD’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The selected payloads, along with those that will be awarded through the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads call, will begin to build a healthy pipeline of scientific investigations and technology development payloads that we can fly to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities,” he said.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon July 20, 1969.

(NASA image)

The selected payloads include a variety of scientific instruments.

  • The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer will measure the lunar surface radiation environment.
  • Three resource prospecting instruments have been selected to fly:
    • The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System is an imaging spectrometer that will measure surface composition.
    • The Neutron Spectrometer System and Advanced Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface are neutron spectrometers that will measure hydrogen abundance.
  • The Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer for Lunar Surface Volatiles instrument is an ion-trap mass spectrometer that will measure volatile contents in the surface and lunar exosphere.
  • A magnetometer will measure the surface magnetic field.
  • The Low-frequency Radio Observations from the Near Side Lunar Surface instrument, a radio science instrument, will measure the photoelectron sheath density near the surface.
  • Three instruments will acquire critical information during entry, descent and landing on the lunar surface, which will inform the design of future landers including the next human lunar lander.
  • The Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies will image the interaction between the lander engine plume as it hits the lunar surface.
  • The Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers payload will monitor how the landing affects the lunar exosphere.
  • The Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing payload will make precise velocity and ranging measurements during the descent that will help develop precision landing capabilities for future landers.
Celebrating Apollo as We Push Forward to the Moon

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Celebrating Apollo as We Push Forward to the Moon

There also are two technology demonstrations selected to fly.

  • The Solar Cell Demonstration Platform for Enabling Long-Term Lunar Surface Power will demonstrate advanced solar arrays for longer mission duration.
  • The Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator will demonstrate a navigational beacon to assist with geolocation for lunar orbiting spacecraft and landers.

NASA facilities across the nation are developing the payloads, including Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Nine U.S. companies, selected through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) in November 2018, currently are developing landers to deliver NASA payloads to the Moon’s surface. As CLPS providers, they are pre-authorized to compete on individual delivery orders.

NASA also released the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payload (LSITP) call in October 2018 soliciting proposals for science instrument and technology investigations. The final LSITP proposals are due Feb. 27 and awards are expected to be made this spring.

“Once we have awarded the first CLPS mission task order later this spring, we will then select the specific payloads from the internal-NASA and LSITP calls to fly on that mission. Subsequent missions will fly other NASA instrument and technology development packages in addition to commercial payloads,” said Clarke.

Commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and developing lunar landers for large payloads, to conduct more research on the Moon’s surface is a vital step ahead of a human return.

As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA has announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface by 2028.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New era of warfare on brink as Army robots take on more advanced obstacles

Some interesting implications are on the line with the success of new military robots. The U.S. Army has been experimenting with robots in hopes of creating a more competent unmanned instrument for battle. The robots took on a variety of complex tasks, each associated with a real-world battlefield application—like sorting through minefields and clearing anti-tank trenches. Not only were the robots successful, but they actually began to complete the tasks faster with each successive attempt. The exercises took place at Yakima Air Base (WA).


This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

Some military robots have mundane uses like these LS3 “robot mules” designed to carry heavy gear and cargo.

The Yakima Air Base exercises were spearheaded by Lt. Col. Jonathan Fursman and Capt. Nichole Rotte of the 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion. The team was tasked with creating complicated breach obstacles (within the context of “a realistic and plausible scenario”) for the robots to overcome.

According to Defense News, these breaches included: anti-tank trenches, minefields, and razor wire. The robots also had to breach all of the obstacles while under fire while paving the way for a counterattack into enemy lines.

The exercise was also monitored by a quadcopter, deployed under the watch of the Alabama National Guard, to monitor the use of any chemical, nuclear, or biological agents used. Another separate unit, using an unmanned Polaris MRZR vehicle, shrouded the breach with a smokescreen that clouded the field and heavily impaired (human) vision.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

A “battlefield extraction assist” bot prototype designed to transport wounded soldiers.

At the very start of the breach, the U.S. Army robots used two NGCVs to lay down clear lines of suppression fire at the “enemy.” In a bizarre backward glimpse into the future of warfare, a humvee controlling yet another humvee—was equipped with a 7.62mm gun. This robot-meta suppression fire humvee (I’m sure the Army will come up with another alphabet soup acronym for these in the coming years) was accompanied by an M113 armored personnel carrier (actually controlled by a human).

While the “enemy” was hunkered down by suppression fire, two ABVs (assault breacher vehicles) took on the actual obstacles laid out by Fursman and Rotte. These ABVs were controlled by the Marines Corps (as it is quickly becoming apparent that manned robots should be clarified).

The initial ABV led the way and cleared a safe path through the minefield—leaving stakes in the ground to highlight a path of safety through the exercise for the other ABV.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

Could we see robot infantry within the decade?

The second ABV used a blade to fill a tank trench and, once filled, led a clean path for allied forces to form an assault on the “enemy.”

According to Defense News, via Rotte, the initial breach exercise took “two and a half hours,” but the subsequent attempt took only two hours. The second, faster, attempt matches the same time frame it would take human soldiers to complete the same task. This leads us to the important question: are we on the brink of seeing robotic warfare replace boots on the ground?

The answer lies only in how quickly these machines can begin to operate efficiently and be productive on a mass scale. There were some hangups in the exercise, such as latency issues (lag, as gamers would call it), camera feed problems, and other hiccups. Reports indicate that none of these posed too much of an issue.

The unmanned machines were easy to control. Finding human soldiers to operate the machines isn’t necessarily a problem, as the machines in this exercise were all operated with a standard Xbox One controller—seeing as most members of the armed forces have trained themselves with the intricacies of an Xbox controller in their spare time.

So as unmanned operations become simultaneously more efficient logistically, and more simple practically—the idea of taking boots off the ground in place of robots isn’t a matter of if but a matter of when. If these exercises are any indication of the nearing of that all-important when—then we are well on our way to seeing a new era of battle in which casualties will be measured in gears and bolts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

 

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

 

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would have to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about Larry Nassar’s veteran judge

Veterans are a very outspoken group. When there is an injustice in the world, it’s beautiful to see a veteran take the reins to mend the situation. That is exactly what happened when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina presided over the sentencing of a man who officials have called, “the most prolific child molester in history.”


Aquilina served twenty years in the Michigan Army National Guard, eventually retiring at the rank of Major. She became the first female officer in the state’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) and earned the nickname, “Barracuda Aquilina.” Her hardcore reputation persisted after she put away her combat boots for the last time and has served her well throughout her legal career. She said in a 2014 Legal News article,

I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t let anyone create a mold for me. I’m going to make my own mold. I stand up for people and say, ‘we’re going to do what’s right.’

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Very much the veteran mentality after leaving the service. (Image via Lansing State Journal)

She is no stranger to high-profile or controversial cases. In 2006, she presided over the case of Ricky Holland, which involved the murder of a 7-year old child with a hammer. In 2013, she ruled that the Detroit bankruptcy violated the Michigan Constitution and state law, and sent an advisory memorandum to President Obama. She made national headlines recently because of her “Barracuda” attitude while presiding over the Larry Nassar case.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Judge Aquilina’s face speaks for all of us when he tried to get out of hearing victim testimony. (Screengrab via YouTube)

During the case, she allowed every single one of the over 150 young women and girls to address the court and Nassar. He wrote a six-page letter to the judge stating that it was hard for him to listen to his accusers in court. Judge Aquilina simply shook her head and said, “you may find it harsh that you are here listening, but nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands.” He defended his behavior and claimed he was manipulated into a guilty plea in November.

For much of the sentencing, she remained calm and collective, listening intently to each and every accuser that stepped forward. After much back and forth between her and Nassar, with Judge Aquilina’s wit being much sharper, she sentenced him to 175 years in prison that will follow his 60 years for pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

After announcing the prison terms, she famously said,

I just signed your death warrant. As much as it was my honor and privilege to hear the sister survivors, it is my honor and privilege to sentence you. Because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again.
Articles

This Marine Corporal is helping his fellow vets “cowboy up”

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Photos courtesy Semper Fi Fund


For Marine Corporal Alex Monaghan, who retired from the Corps in 2009 after four years as a rifleman during which he deployed twice (once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan), the phrase “boots on the ground” has taken on a far different meaning than those words typically suggest.

That’s because Alex is the first graduate of a brand-new Semper Fi Fund program: Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program, which helps service members learn valuable skills that they could one day leverage to start a business.

In Alex’s case, that skill is making high-quality cowboy boots.

It all began when Alex was considering going on “one of these horse stints,” as he describes it, as part of the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program. While filling out the paperwork, there was a question at the bottom asking, “Are you interested in learning any of these skills?” Among the skills listed were knife-making, silver-engraving, roping … and making cowboy boots.

“It was weird that it was on there,” Alex recalls. “I always wanted to design my own boots. It’s a two-week program in St. Jo, Texas. The days are long—12 hours a day, six days a week—and there’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time. You get a pair of customized boots when you’re done.”

The time may have been short, but Alex was learning from the best: The boot-making program is run by Carlton T. Chappell, a third-generation award-winning bootmaker who started in leathercraft in 1964 and has been recognized as one of the very best bootmakers in the world.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
“It’s pretty neat,” Alex says. “You can’t learn everything in two weeks—Carl is in his 70s or 80s now, and he’s still learning new techniques every day–but it’s interesting. There’s always something new to learn, a new skill to master.”

While making a quality pair of cowboy boots is intricate and artistic work, Alex felt he had something of a head start over his half-dozen or so classmates.

“I did tattoo work for a couple of years,” he explains. “As far as working with machines and stuff, you have this huge thing on the table—you still have to draw out your sketch pattern and sew it up. I felt as if I had some advantage, because I’d been doing something similar to it.”

After finishing the two-week seminar, Alex went on to serve a month-long apprenticeship in Vernon, Texas, with award-winning bootmaker Dew Westover. Dew spent 20 years as a working cowboy, attended Carl’s seminar in 2002 and opened his own boot shop in 2004.

Alex made two pair of boots during his apprenticeship, and now he’s studying business at Texas AM as part of an entrepreneurship for veterans program.

Looking back over the years since he’s left active duty, Alex has seen a number of ups and downs in his own life, but he credits the Semper Fi Fund with helping him get out and get active—and he encourages his fellow veterans to do the same.

“If there are vets who are thinking about these sorts of programs, and they’re itchy or worried about it, I say just give it a try.”

“A lot of vets create a bubble and don’t go out in public,” Alex continues. “I think it’s a great experience—you have buddies to hang out with, you’re pushing yourself to do things that your anxiety or PTSD is preventing you from doing. I do these things, it pushes me to get out and go on the road and deal with people.”

“I would encourage more vets to get out there and find something they enjoy. Whether it’s bike riding or horseback riding or whatever—I’m sure the Semper Fi Fund has something for them.”

To learn more about Alex, the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program and how these types of programs assist our nation’s veterans visit Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program.

 Special thanks to the incredible generosity of one very special family for helping to provide funding for this important program in memory of their brother who wished to remember whose who serve.

We Are The Mighty is teaming up with Semper Fi Fund and comedian Rob Riggle to present the Rob Riggle InVETational Golf Classic. The veteran-celebrity golf tournament will raise money and awareness for Semper Fi Fund, one of our nation’s most respected veteran nonprofit organizations, in support of wounded, critically ill and injured service members and their families. Learn more at InVETational.com.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Woman says naval hospital left broken needle in her spine

A woman is suing the Naval Hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, after discovering a portion of an anesthesia needle was left in her spine before a C-section at the facility in 2003, according to The Florida Times-Union.

Her lawsuit claims that hospital staff improperly administered the anesthesia, which caused the needle to break, then covered up the incident. According to the suit, about three centimeters — just over an inch — of the broken needle were left inside her body.


According to the Times-Union, medical records from the time make no mention of the needle breaking but do say that “the anesthesia did not take.”

Amy Bright, whose husband was a Navy corpsman stationed at the hospital, suffered from leg and back pain for several years, according to attorney Sean Cronin, who filed the lawsuit on her behalf.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

(Flickr photo by Nathan Forget)

Cronin told the Times-Union that the needle was discovered when Bright underwent a CAT scan in 2017. He told the newspaper that removing the needle is no longer an option, as Bright could suffer from further damage and even become paralyzed. Bright was reportedly never told about the needle.

“From our perspective this is a double failure,” Cronin told the newspaper. “It is a cowardly, unethical cover-up.”

Cronin told the Times-Union that hospital staff did not report the broken needle to Bright or the chain of command because “they did not want to get in trouble.”

In a statement issued to the Times-Union, representatives of the hospital said they could not provide comments regarding the lawsuit or Bright’s situation, citing patient confidentiality and privacy laws, but said they were “deeply committed to providing the best care to every patient entrusted to us.”

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

Articles

These stories of female concentration camp guards will haunt your dreams

At first, concentration camp guards during the Nazi regime of World War II were male. However, with the introduction of female guards to Auschwitz and Majdanek, a new era began and German officials soon learned that these incoming women were quite good at their jobs. By the end of the war, more than 3,500 women acted as camp guards, making up almost 7 percent of all Nazi guards employed.


With no special training or particular background, these women either volunteered or were recruited through shrewd marketing techniques. Mostly young women and unmarried, or possibly married to a man who worked in the camp. Many felt they were doing their duty to their country.

1. Maria Mandl

Maria Mandl was one of the head guards at Auschwitz, despite her gender, and was known for her cruelty, which aptly earned her the nickname “The Beast”. It’s supposed that she had her hand in up to half a million deaths. While she was unable to climb the ladder in her field to the very top as a woman, she had absolute control over all the female prisoners and the rest of the female employees. She was only forced to answer to one man. Her tactics vary, but tales of her behavior resonated with prisoners.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Maria Mandl after her arrest in 1945.

Many say she would stand at the entry gate and, if any inmate happened to look over at her, that individual would be taken away, never to be heard from again. She also put together an orchestra at the camp and, after regular work hours were over, the prisoners would be forced to march in time to the music. The orchestra often coincided with executions.

After Auschwitz was liberated, Mandl fled to Bavaria. After her capture, she underwent interrogations, and showed high levels of intelligence. She was turned over to Poland, and was sentenced to death by hanging.

2. Irma Grese

Grese was one of Mandl’s inferiors, who also worked at Auschwitz and served as a warden for female prisoners. Her reign, however, was short and she only made it to the age of 22 before being executed for her war crimes. This was still plenty of time for her to earn her own nickname, just like “The Beast” — her boss. Grese became known as the “Hyena of Auschwitz”.

She managed to earn the second-highest rank available to females, and routinely participated in picking which of the prisoners would go to the gas chamber.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Irma Grese in 1945.

Greece’s actions are immortalized in a memoir that was written by one of the camp prisoners. It says that Grese loved to terrify the women in the camps, and that she specifically picked women who were remotely beautiful, sick, or weak.

During her trial, witnesses said she would allow half-starved dogs to attack prisoners; she also enjoyed shooting prisoners and would beat them to death with a whip. In addition, Grese also had several love affairs at the camp, one of which resulted in a surprise pregnancy; she then entrusted one of the prisoners to give her an abortion. After the war was over, she had hoped to pursue a career in acting.

3. Hermine Braunsteiner

Braunsteines was the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the United States. Working at Majdanek, she was known as the “Stomping Mare”.

Her most infamous actions include lifting children by the hair to throw them onto trucks headed to the gas chambers, hanging young girls, and stomping women to death. She became known for her crazy tantrums and could be expected to lash out with a riding whip at the slightest provocation.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Hermine Braunsteiner in 1946.

As the Soviets approached, Braunsteiner fled to Vienna, then remained jailed for a year. She was later granted amnesty and lived in Austria, under the radar, until she met an American on vacation. They married, moved to Canada and then later to the United States.

No one knew of her past and she became known as a friendly housewife. A Nazi hunter and a reporter ran across her in Queens and exposed her actions. While her husband said he knew of her work, he did not know exactly to what extent her cruelty ranged.

4. Margot Dreschel

Dreschel headed to Poland in 1942 for the new Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. She headed up all the camp offices and soon became known as a horrific sight for most prisoners. She often disguised herself as a doctor and went to conduct indoor selections within the camp. With a trained dog in tow, she would make all prisoners undress, take their shoes and then make them stand for hours, naked.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Margot Dreschel in 1945.

She frequently went to and from various camps to help with the selection of women and children for the chambers. She fled the camp after Germany’s surrender, and while in the Russian zone, several former prisoners abducted her and took her to the Russian Military Police. She was executed by hanging within the month.

5. Ilse Koch

Koch worked at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later at Buchenwald. She is mostly known for her participation in an experiment during which she picked out prisoners with tattoos to be murdered and then skinned. The skins would then be used for study, as one of her colleagues was writing a paper on the relation between tattoos and criminality.

She was arrested in 1943 by the Germans for charges of enrichment and embezzlement, then acquitted in 1944; however, she was arrested again by the U.S. in 1945.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military
Ilse Koch, taken after her capture.

The trial process was not easy, though. During her first trial, she announced that she was eight months pregnant, from one of her many affairs. She was given life in prison and then served two years, before her sentence was lessened to four years, due to lack of evidence. However, she was re-arrested and tried again. Witnesses stated they saw her with human-skin lampshades made from the tattooed skin.

She was delusional and thought that her victims were coming back to harm her. Eventually, Koch committed suicide in her jail cell at the age of 60. Her son, who regularly visited her after being born in prison, was shocked by the news. Now, her body rests in an unmarked grave.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Best medics ever: These docs gave absinthe

Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.

So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?


This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

The female mosquito sucks so hard.

(Center for Disease Control)

Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion’s outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier’s daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop’s chances of contracting malaria.

Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.

The artemisia genus of plants, of which wormwood is a member, is a traditional medicine in China for the treatment of parasites in general and malaria in particular, among other ailments. Legion use started with infusing wormwood into wine, and legionnaires who developed a taste for it found they could get a similar fix back in Paris with a new drink known as ‘absinthe.’

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

Absinthe looks pretty sweet, but stop burning off all your booze, man.

Absinthe is named for its iconic ingredient, wormwood, which has the Latin name, artemisia absinthium. The drink was invented in 1792 and mass production began in 1797.

Once absinthe became popular, it made as much sense to give that to the troops directly as it did to infuse issued wine with the herb, though the higher costs of absinthe likely limited how much troops got. An article in The Drinks Business gives a barracks rate of 5 centimes for the cheapest wine, 15 centimes for a more popular one, and a stunning 40 centimes for true absinthe.

This anti-aircraft tank was the worst thing ever built for the US military

“The Green Muse” was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She’s also known as the “Green Fairy,” but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.

(Albert Maignan)

Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn’t sell it instead.

Still, it must’ve made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The “Green Fairy” of absinthe lore.

No takers? Weird.

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