There is another contender — the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
So, yeah, there is another massive bomb. It is a heavier bomb — 30,000 pounds compared to the 21,700 of the GBU-43 MOAB. But the 30-foot long GBU-43 is ten feel longer than the GBU-57, and at 40 inches, it is about 8.5 inches wider.
So, what is the deal with the MOP? Why get it when you had MOAB? It’s for the same reason you have a high-explosive round and an armor piercing round.
The MOAB, like the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” is like a giant high-explosive round. It detonates — either with the help of a standoff fuze or a proximity fuze — with the intent of using the blast to clear a large area or to leave a psychological mark on the bad guys.
The MOP, on the other hand, is like an armor-piercing shell. As its name suggests, it is designed to penetrate deep into a heavily-protected facility, then go boom. What sort of facility? Think bunkers and command posts.
The MOP, it should be noted, was also designed to fit inside a strategic bomber, notably the B-2A Spirit; but the B-52 Stratofortress (or BUFF) can also carry it.
Both bombs, by the way, use the Global Positioning System for guidance, allowing them to be dropped from high altitudes.
This not only allows the plane to escape the blast — something that was difficult with the unguided BLU-82 — but it also reduces the threat from air-defense systems. In the case of the MOP, altitude helps it go deeper underground, making sure that buried target you want to go away goes away.
(You can go ahead and make some penetrator jokes now.)
Everyone remembers their oath of enlistment ceremony, but how many people can say theirs was truly out of this world? Tomorrow, over 800 soldiers participating in a ceremony spanning more than 100 locations around the country will be able to say theirs was. What makes this ceremony so special? It’s being administered by Army astronaut Col. Andrew Morgan from the International Space Station.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us to partner with Space Center Houston to recognize future Soldiers across the nation with a truly unique experience,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, USAREC deputy commanding general in a press release. Michaelis will facilitate the ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan. “This is the first event of its kind and will allow us to show the nation the breadth and depth of opportunities the Army offers today’s youth.”
According to USAREC, Morgan is part of the U.S. Army Astronaut Detachment, which supports NASA with flight crew and provides engineering expertise for human interface with space systems. He is an emergency physician in the U.S. Army with sub-specialty certification in primary care sports medicine and was selected to become an astronaut in 2013.
Morgan is also a combat veteran with airborne and ranger tabs and also has served as a combat diver. He’s clearly conquered land and sea, and now space. He’s completed seven spacewalks and one flight to the International Space Station. In addition to the enlistment ceremony, he’ll be sharing his stories and experiences with program attendees on a 20 minute live call from outer space.
Michaelis said, “We need qualified and innovative people to help us continuously adapt to the changing world. The young men and women who will begin their Army story with the incredible experience with Col. Morgan are part of our future. They will perform the traditional jobs most people associate with the Army, like infantry and armor, but they will also take on roles many people don’t realize we do – highly technical and specialized careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
The oath of enlistment ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan will stream live on NASA TV, DVIDS, and U.S. Army Facebook and YouTube pages beginning at 12:50 pm eastern time. We’re over the moon about this event.
5.11 Tactical has been building gear for military personnel, law enforcement officers, and PMC/PSC contractors for years now (and of course for adventurer- and gun-carryin’ type civvies as well). We’ve received word they just released a new, limited edition version of its rolltop boxpack — in Multicam. But what sets it apart is that this time it’s in Multicam Black. MultiCam Black is pretty damned sexy if you ask us.
Go ahead, ask us.
The color will surely excite some (MC Black has become a defacto Gucciflage over the last year or so) and the pack itself will give others that tingly sensation — but there will be a few who piss and moan about it. Special operations forces, military security and three-letter agency types have been drooling over this pattern for their operational kit for a few years now.
5.11 Tactical takes a beating sometimes (as a company, we mean) for having its gear built overseas, and we understand that. We’re as pro “Made in the USA” as you can possibly get, but we’re also realists who try to be pragmatic about gear.
Lots of of reputable companies have their kit built in foreign lands where sweat smells funny and the food makes your guts rumble the first few times you eat it — and much of the equipment they make is worth using. When it comes to packs, bags, and plate carriers, 5.11 makes good stuff.
Besides, the ladies of Siam and Cathay are hawt.
Reminder: At the risk of sounding orgulous, this is just a gear porn notification — a public service if you will — letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. It’s no more a review, endorsement, or denunciation than it is an episiotomy.
The 5.11 “Covert Boxpack” is water- and weather-resistant (note, not -proof) and it’s built of 1680 ballistic polyester (the sames stuff they build tool belts with). It’s a rolltop model, with a dorsal pocket to access things you need in a hurry (primary or secondary handgun depending on your needs, spare mags, rin-no-tama, etc.) and a ventral pocket that’ll hold a ballistic panel.
What, you don’t roll every day with an extra mag or six and a trusty set of rin-no-tama?
Side pockets with elastic retention loops zipper down the sides and a bottom pouch can be used to sequester an IFAK, electronic gear, or whatever else you need to have compartmentalized.
The laptop pouch inside can be accessed through the rolltop or in through the zippered back. It features padded, reinforced shoulder straps and a slide-adjusting sternum strap, and their signature lined eye-pro pocket up top.
The description of the new pack reads largely the same as the regular version. We’ve copied that below from the actual product page. You can watch the manufacturer’s video detailing the original versions features below.
Take a few minutes to check it out. Some of our wretched minions have carried these things. They’re good to go.
The Limited Edition Multicam Black Covert Boxpack is engineered for speed, agility, and dependability in any environment. A slide-adjusting sternum strap and reinforced padded shoulder straps ensure a stable and comfortable carry when you’re on the move, and the roomy TacTec™ main compartment is designed to remain covert but allow fast access to your sidearm or backup. A water resistant finish keeps your gear dry in wet climates, dual side zip pockets are ideal for accessories or a hydration bottle, and internal elastic retention straps allow secure storage for additional magazines.
All-weather roll top backpack
Multicam Black™ exterior
Multiple externally-accessible pockets
Dual size zip pockets with internal elastic retention
Slide adjusting sternum strap
Reinforced padded shoulder straps
Bottom pocket for general storage
1680D ballistic polyester
Water resistant finish
Authentic YKK® zippers
Durable Duraflex® hardware
We picked this video because it’s labeled in Russian, which reminds us of Timka, but don’t worry, it’s narrated in English.
The M1 Abrams tank has a reputation for being very hard to kill.
According to Tom Clancy’s book “Armored Cav,” in one instance an Abrams got stuck in the mud during Operation Desert Storm and was attacked by three T-72s tanks.
The Iraqi rounds bounced off – including one fired from less than 500 yards away. After the crew evacuated, a platoon of Abrams tanks then fired a bunch of rounds with one detonating the on-board ammo.
The blow-out panels worked and it turned out that the only damage was that the gun’s sights were just out of alignment. The tank was back in service with a new turret very quickly. The old turret went back to be studied.
An Abrams tank doesn’t get much tougher to kill than that, right? You’d be wrong, especially when the Army equips it with an active defense system. According to a report by DefenseTech.org, three systems are in contention, with the Trophy Active Protection System by Rafael being the front-runner.
Army Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who is in charge of the Army’s programs in the area of ground combat systems, said that he was hoping to make a quick decision on an active protection syste, for the Abrams.
“I’m not interested in developing, I’m interested in delivering,” he said, noting that the Army is looking to upgrade the bulks of its inventory of armored vehicles. Only the M113 armored personnel carriers are being replaced by the BAE Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
The Trophy system works by using four radar antennas and fire-control radars to track incoming rockets, missiles, and rounds. When a threat is detected, one of two launchers on the sides of the Abrams would then fire a shotgun-type blast to kill the threat. Similar systems are on the Israeli Merkava 4 main battle tank and Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank.
T-14 Armata (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Some reports claim that Russia has developed a weapon capable of beating an active-defense system like Trophy. The RPG-30 reportedly used a smaller rocket in front of its main rocket to try to trigger the system.
But still, the Trophy can attack rockets and grenades at a distance, before the warhead even reaches the Abrams’ skin.
Fauquier County, Virginia, might not be the place you think of when you imagine covert ops training, but that’s exactly what’s happened at an isolated farmhouse and working dairy.
In use since 1803, “Vint Hill,” as it was initially known, had several owners before the Army purchased it in 1942 – just in time to train a group of service members in the fine art of espionage. Reframed and repurposed throughout the years, Vint Hill has served as one of the most essential intel-gathering sites you’ve probably never heard of.
Vint Hill is situated near the Signal Intelligence Service headquarters in Arlington but was far away enough from the city that its location and its purpose remained a secret. It was here that the Army housed its Monitoring Station No. 1, a covert spy base.
Established by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, the 701-acre farm was built in part because the Army needed a secure location near the SIS and a cryptography school.
The geography of Vint Hill was key in the Army’s decision to train there. Not only did it boast a quiet countryside vibe where trainees could really get into their coursework, but it also provided “quiet electromagnetic geology,” which made it the perfect place for intercepting radio signals. During WWII, that’s exactly what service members stationed at Vint Hill did.
Perhaps the most famous is the interception of a message from a Japanese ambassador to Germany. That message, sent in 1943, described German fortifications, contingency plans, and troop strength information.
Once the message was decoded, the information was instrumental in planning the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.
The NSA recently released documents that further detail the influence that Vint Hill had on WWII planning. It was a crucial intelligence-gathering station throughout all of WWII and beyond.
After WWII, Vint Hill became the first field station of the Army Security Agency, an arm of the NSA. The facility conducted signals intelligence operations.
Declassified Army intelligence lists Vint Hill as one of the largest intercept facilities in the world.
Not only did it serve as an intercept facility, but Vint Hill was also a signal school, signal training center, and a refitting station for selected signal units returning from or heading to deployments.
During and following the Korean War, the station’s footprint was expanded significantly, making it a major intelligence hub during the Cold War. Vint Hill personnel intercepted key Soviet diplomatic and military communication sent over teleprints that helped form and shape America’s military posture.
In 1961, the Army Electronic Material Readiness Activity moved to Vint Hill and took over the management of signals intelligence and electronic warfare maintenance for the Army Security Agency.
By 1973 however, Vint Hill’s mission had changed to research. Its main goal was to aid and assist in the development and support of intel and electronic warfare info gathering for the Army, DoD, and our partner allies. The EPA took over operations of Vint Hill’s photographic interpretation center from the DIA, and Vint Hill was renamed as the Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center.
However, that didn’t last long. By the late 1979s, Vint Hill was on the list of installations to be closed, and all projects on site were halted. A change in policy in 1981 reversed that decision, and Vint Hill remained open.
Serving as the “giant ear” of the NSA was the core focus of Vint Hill in the early 1980s and eventually became a development and testing site for signal equipment for the CIA and FBI. IN 1993, Vint Hill was once again on the chopping block. This time, the closure stuck. Most personnel were reassigned to Fort Monmouth and Fort Belvoir.
Vint Hill closed officially on September 30, 1997. Now, the site hosts several engineering and tech companies, including the FAAs Air Traffic Control System Command Center. There’s a Cold War museum open on-site, but most notably, the former intel-gathering installation is home to the Vint Hill Craft Winery and the Old Bust Head Brewery. There’s even a dance school and a gymnastics school run on the property. Talk about reinvention after time in service.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here is the best of what they shot this week:
Tech. Sgt. Timothy Cotterall, an Air National Guard emergency manager, is decontaminated following attempts to identify multiple biological contaminants in a simulated lab during a Global Dragon training event on March 18, 2015. Held at the Guardian Centers of Georgia, Global Dragon Deployment For Training provides a refresher course for Airmen, allowing them to put their skills to use to identify live chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents and materials.
The lights along the flightline at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, shine under the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights March 18, 2015. Eielson is home to RED FLAG-Alaska, a series of Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. forces, provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment.
WATERS NEAR GUAM (March 26, 2015) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), right, comes alongside the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197) for a replenishment-at-sea during Multi-Sail 2015.
WATERS NEAR GUAM (March 27, 2015) U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are underway in formation during Multi-Sail 2015. Multi-Sail is an annual Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 exercise designed to assess combat systems, improve teamwork and increase warfighting capabilities in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is participating in Multi-Sail for the first time.
The sun sets on Soldiers assigned to 2d Cavalry Regiment, after conducting a tactical road march from Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase to Smardan Training Area, Romania, March 24, 2015. The Soldiers are preparing to partner with Soldiers assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade and Romanian forces for a multinational training event in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Paratroopers assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, conduct an after action review after completing a night live-fire, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.during U.S. Army Alaska’s Exercise Spartan Valkyrie, March 23, 2015.
A Marine engages targets from a UH-1Y Venom with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) above San Clemente Island, California, March 20, 2015. COMPTUEX gives the Marines of VMM-161 the opportunity to practice real-world scenarios and hone their skill sets.
A Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, dives underwater to perform a self-rescue drill during a swim qualification course aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, March 18, 2015. The purpose of the course was to maintain proficiency, and enhance the Marines skills in water survival techniques.
Coast Guard members from Coast Guard Sector Boston, Coast Guard Station Merrimack River and the First Coast Guard District conduct flare training on Plum Island, Mass., Dec. 15, 2014. The participants fired several different types of flares to gain familiarity with the operation and appearance for each type of flare.
As the sun sets, a crew member acts as lookout aboard Barque Eagle in the North Atlantic, April 2, 2014. Coast guard Cutter Eagle is the only active commissioned sailing vessel, and one of only two commissioned sailing vessels along with the USS Constitution, in American military service.
Growing up relatively close to an Air Force Major Command base toward the end of the Cold War, we were constantly reminded of one thing: If the “big one” ever came, we were among the first to be toast. But were we really? Thankfully, now there’s a way to find out for sure.
The short answer is yes.
This simulation is a map of the effect of a 25-megaton strike on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from a Soviet R-36 intercontinental ballistic missile warhead. The R-36, introduced in 1974, gave the Soviets a first-strike capability with a rapid reload ability and a missile that could carry up to 10 independently targetable warheads.
The green area represents an immediately lethal dose of radiation, the yellow represents the initial fireball burst, and the red is a 20 psi air blast, capable of completely destroying most structures and projecting a 100-percent casualty rate. The dark circles surrounding the outermost red area represent different air pressures inflicted by the blast on the local population. The orange-ish area shows where third-degree burns and other radiation injuries are likely.
Estimated fatalities number more than 319,000 with another 375,000-plus injured.
It could always be worse. This is a 150-Kiloton North Korean nuclear strike on Los Angeles.
These simulations are brought to you by The Nukemap, a project created by Alex Wellerstein of the New Jersey-based Stevens Institute of Technology. Wellerstein is a professor at SIT, and his expertise is in the history of science and nuclear weapons technology. He also runs the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Professor Wellerstein has devoted his life and career to the study of the effects of nuclear weapons on societies and geopolitics.
“The Nukemap is aimed at helping people visualize nuclear weapons on terms they can make sense of — helping them to get a sense of the scale of the bombs. By allowing people to use arbitrarily picked geographical locations, I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different sizes of nuclear weapons change the results.”
Wellerstein’s previous work wasthe MissileMap, a way to see that a country’s nuclear arsenal was even capable of hitting your hometown.
Sorry, Ohio. You’re toast.
Nukemap needs the user to enter the location of the target, the yield of the warhead used, and if the explosion is a surface explosion or airburst. If you don’t know anything about nuclear weapons, that’s okay: there are numerous possible presets available. For example, you can target New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other American cities. But since the United States and Russia aren’t the only countries with nuclear capabilities, Nukemap also offers the effects of all potential nuclear attackers, including Israel, Iran, North Korea, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, Japan, and South Korea.
You can even see historical presets, from the effects of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima blasts to the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear device ever exploded on Earth.
Which would devastate four of the five New York City boroughs, if you were curious.
The Office of Strategic Services Detachment 101 was a predominantly Army unit set up to conduct guerrilla operations in Burma during World War II. Originally ordered to conduct limited sabotage and reconnaissance missions, the unit grew to lead almost 10,000 local fighters that killed thousands of Japanese, rescued hundreds of Allied pilots, and enabled the success of Merrill’s Marauders.
The detachment began by sabotaging infrastructure in the area. The first operation, three simultaneous strikes against key bridges, went badly as only one bridge was destroyed and the U.S. teams suffered casualties. The next two operations suffered from rushed planning and little reconnaissance and failed.
One of the Kachins’ preferred methods for killing Japanese were to set up ambush areas. They planted improvised bamboo spikes known as pungyi sticks in the undergrowth and then carefully placed their weapons in concealment.
When the Japanese arrived, the Rangers would attack, forcing the Japanese to decide between taking heavy machine gun and rifle fire in the open or diving into the undergrowth where pungyi sticks awaited them.
Initially, there was a small number of U.S. personnel leading a small number of guerrillas, but as the mission became more successful it got better funding and drew more local recruits. One Catholic missionary, Father Dennis MacAllindon, could speak Kachin and helped the Americans recruit.
So the Kachins carefully watched the Japanese and noted the locations of airfields, supply caches, headquarters, troop buildups, and other threats. American radio operators then relayed this targeting data to bomber units that would strike.
In once case, a Japanese force had hidden their planes in holes covered in sod at an old airbase, making it appear unused from the air. Detachment 101 sent a heads up to the rest of the Army and they bombed the whole thing into ancient history.
Detachment 101 grew to encompass almost 10,000 Americans and locals, still mostly Kachins. When the rest of the Army became serious about retaking sections of Burma, mostly to reopen routes into and out of China, Detachment 101 was a key part of the mission.
The famed Merrill’s Marauders formed the core of Operation Galahad, but Kachin forces protected their flanks, guided patrols, and even helped move equipment by elephant.
Whether they are kept for a few weeks or a lifetime, animals in shelters and foster homes around the nation rely on dedicated and caring individuals that can help them find a forever home.
To ensure these animals receive the support they need, Air Force Capt. Daniel Hale, the officer in charge of plans and scheduling for the 563rd Operations Support Squadron here, and his veterinarian wife, Dr. Kristen Hale, decided to take on the responsibilities that comes with fostering rescue animals.
The Hales began their animal rescue efforts with their dog Squish.
“When I worked emergency, Squish came in at four weeks old after sustaining injuries from being trapped under a couch,” Dr. Hale said. “We decided to take him in as a foster and he’s been with us ever since.”
After adopting Squish into their family, the Hales continued to foster companion animals. In the past three years, the couple has fostered more than 20 sheltered pets.
Unfortunately, not all fostered pets in the care of the Hales are immediately adopted by families due to the medical condition of the animals.
“A lot of the pets we take in [have] specific medical needs,” Dr. Hale said. “Without a foster family to give them the individual attention they need, many of the animals would have never found homes because they would have been put down.”
Benny, a dog being fostered by the Hale family, rests on a couch in Vail, Ariz., May 6, 2017. Benny was fostered by the Hale family for three months before he was fully healed and adopted.
Thanks to the help of local rescue shelters, foster families don’t have to worry about paying for the medical expenses of the animals while the rescue pet is in the family’s care.
Because of the nature of some of these medical conditions, the time it takes to nurse the animals to full health can vary.
“We’ve had animals anywhere from three days to six weeks,” Capt. Hale said. “After we’ve made sure they are ready to be adopted, we get them as much exposure as we can through local rescue shelters to increase their chances of finding a family.”
Because of the efforts of families like the Hales, shelter adoption rates have steadily climbed over the years, leading to fewer overcrowded facilities.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, adoption rates have risen roughly 18 percent from 2011 to 2017, and shelter animal euthanasia rates have decreased approximately 42 percent.
“If you can’t keep an animal around for long or are not ready to make the commitment to permanently care for a pet, you can still make a difference by providing them with a foster home,” Dr. Hale said.
To find out more information on fostering and adopting companion animals, visit your local animal shelters.
A State Defense Force (SDF) is a state militia under the command of the chief executive of that state only. Twenty-five states in America have some kind of SDF, and all states have laws allowing one. Whether they call it state guards, state military reserves, or state militias, they are not a part of the National Guard of that state and only partially regulated by the federal government and cannot come under federal control.
In addition to its National Guard, if any, a State, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, or the Virgin Islands may, as provided by its laws, organize and maintain defense forces. A defense force established under this section may be used within the jurisdiction concerned, as its chief executive (or commanding general in the case of the District of Columbia) considers necessary, but it may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces.
During World War I, Congress authorized states to create Home Guards as reserve forces aside from the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. During WWII, the 1916 legislation was amended to allow state militaries to defend their own states. Now called State Guards, they were trained and equipped by the federal government but maintained their separation. It wasn’t until 1956 that Congress allowed for the continual existence of these units outside of a wartime role. For a time, these SDFs existed only on paper. During the Reagan Administration, that changed. Reagans Department of Defense wanted SDFs in all states.
The last part of the legislation says an SDF cannot be drafted into the Armed Forces of the United States, but that same legislation says that an individual member can. This is to ensure the independence of the SDF from the state National Guard. While typically organized as Army units, the SDFs vary, with some akin to the Navy and Air Force.
Before rushing to join your state’s SDF, be advised there are a lot of controversies surrounding SDFs. In the late 1980’s, the governor of Utah had to fire 31 officers for creating an SDF full of neo-nazis, mental patients, and felons. After September 11, 2001, Alaska disbanded its SDF because their lack of actual military training was more of a liability. New York’s SDF was full of Generals who have never had any military training, they were appointed by the governor as a reward for support. Some SDFs have no fitness or weight standards (California) while others are highly restrictive (Tennessee requires its SDF members be honorably discharged from the U.S. military).
State Defense Forces have assisted in many disaster-related capacities, however. They augmented forces in support of Hurricane Katrina relief, especially in states surrounding Louisiana, to assist with the expected influx of refugees. In Texas, the SDF responds to local emergencies (like flash floods) that aren’t declared disaster areas but need help anyway. They provide security augmentees for regular military forces and provide emergency medical training to National Guard units and other areas of the U.S. military.
The state SDF could be a good way for a military veteran to continue serving their country while providing those without that experience their much-needed expertise. Every state has a different enlistment process and requirements, so there isn’t a single portal to joining, but be sure to do the research on the training and operations for your home state before applying.
Germany wants to replace its fleet of 89 Tornado combat jets with a new aircraft that retains the plane’s nuclear capability, but doing so may mean the US gets a say about which aircraft the Luftwaffe ultimately picks, according to Defense News.
As part of a Cold War-era NATO deal, Germany’s Tornados were equipped to carry nuclear weapons in case of a major clash between the alliance and the Soviet Union. That threat waned after the Cold War, as did the number of US nuclear weapons in Germany, but about 20 of the weapons are still there.
Germany is deciding between three US planes — the F-35 and variants of the F-15 and F/A-18 — and a version of the Eurofighter Typhoon being developed by a European consortium.
A German air force Eurofighter Typhoon taxis to the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska before a combat-training mission, June 11, 2012.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Holzworth)
Berlin wants to replace the Tornado — which has been plagued by technical issues— by the mid-2020s. (Germany’s Typhoons have also had problems.) It is leaning toward the European-made Typhoon, but its desire to maintain that nuclear capability could mean the Trump administration will try to play politics with the purchase.
This spring, Berlin asked Washington whether it would certify the Typhoon to carry nuclear weapons, how long it would take to do so, and how much it would cost.
The certification process can take years. European officials working on the Typhoon have said they were confident it could be nuclear-certified by 2025, but US officials have said the process could take seven to 10 years, according to Reuters.
US officials have said that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified for nuclear weapons first, and a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News that while Germany’s Tornado replacement was “a sovereign national decision,” the US believes “that a U.S. platform provides the most advanced, operationally capable aircraft to conduct their mission.”
F-35As taxi down the flight line at Volk Field during Northern Lightning, Aug. 22, 2016
(Photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)
The Trump administration has pushed European countries to spend more on their own defense, and Trump’s broadsides against NATO have helped inspire European officials to do so. But the Trump administration has also sought to boost exports of US-made weaponry, and US officials have grown concerned about European defense initiatives reducing US defense firms’ access to that market.
Those latter concerns mean the Trump administration could try to nudge Germany toward a US-made aircraft.
But Trump’s contentious dealings with Germany have reinvigorated debate in that country about acquiring its nuclear weapons or developing them with other European countries — ideas that are still anathema for many in Germany, where memories of the destruction and division of World War II and the Cold War linger.
That aversion to nuclear weapons and wariness of Trump may mean Germany will continue doing what it has been doing — paying the financial and political price to keep the nuclear-capable Tornadoes in the air.
“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of government think tank the Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Remember The First Gulf War? Persian Gulf War? Desert Storm and/or Desert Shield? They’re all the same war. Whatever we call it now, it was the war which expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait, checked a decade of Saddam Hussein’s aggression toward his neighbors, and broke the looming spectre of Vietnam that hung over the U.S. military.
U.S. troops had seen smaller actions in before that time, but nothing like the scale and scope of a real “mother of all battles,” pitting Saddam’s Iraq vs. the United States and its UN-mandated coalition partners.
“Yours is a society which cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle.” — Saddam Hussein, July 25, 1990.
“This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” — President George H.W. Bush, Aug. 6, 1990.
The invasion of Kuwait is now just over 25 years old. It probably seemed like a quick victory, one unlikely to have lasting effects in the annals of history, but little did we know it was just setting the stage for the region’s next 30 years. There was no way to predict this war would even happen. In 1990, President Bush (41) was unable to shake off the “wimp” moniker bestowed on him by Newsweek in 1987.
In the post-9/11 world, the events leading up to and after the conflict came to lasting importance. Today, U.S. troops have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone from Iraq. The country has become America’s enduring sidepiece. Then Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom and with it Bayonet Lightning, Red Dawn and countless others who themselves gave way to Operation Inherent Resolve. There are troops in Iraq today who weren’t yet born when Saddam first captured the Kuwaiti oil fields, and Saddam himself didn’t live to see this day.
Here are 21 facts about your daddy’s Iraq War.
1. The Iran-Iraq War led to Iraq invading Kuwait.
Iraq owed $80 million in foreign debt from its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Saddam Hussein demanded Saudi Arabia and Kuwait forgive $30 billion in Iraqi debt, which he saw a result of protecting Kuwait from Shia Iranian forces for eight years. He then accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling.
Since Iraq’s economy depended on oil sales, Saddam hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production and repeatedly produced more than its quota, lowering prices in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of its border dispute with Iraq.
2. In 1991, Iraq had the fifth largest army in the world.
It’s true, Iraq’s armed forces boasted more than a million men in uniform in 1991, but only a third of those were skilled professional fighting forces. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait with 120,000 of these and 2,000 tanks. After the Gulf War started, he concluded Iraq’s peace with Iran and raised his occupying force levels to 300,000. Iraq conscripted three fourths of men between ages 15 and 49. Even so, Iraq’s Air Force was large but weak and its Navy was “virtually nonexistent.”
3. Saddam thought the United States gave him the okay to invade Kuwait.
President Bush’s Ambassador to Iraq was April Glaspie, who, in a meeting with the Iraqi dictator, stressed to him that the U.S. did not want a trade war with Iraq. Saddam reiterated his commitment to peace in the region, so long as the Kuwaitis agree to meet OPEC production standards. Ambassador Glaspie told Saddam:
“But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”
When nothing changed in Kuwait and Egyptian diplomacy failed, Saddam began the invasion. Saddam, frequently emphasizing a desire for U.S. friendship, was surprised to find his actions condemned by President Bush. When asked later why she said that to Saddam, Glaspie said: “We had no idea he would go that far.”
4. Saddam thought Arab states would be okay with Iraq annexing Kuwait.
The invasion happened during the first Palestinian Intifada, which enjoyed wide Arab support. As Palestinians tried to shake off Israeli occupation, Saddam tried to appeal to pan-Arab nationalism by being the strongman who would stand up to the West and Israel. He reasoned that the British illegally cut Kuwait out of greater Iraq in the 19th century and he was trying to right a Western wrong. The Arab League was not okay with this.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tried to negotiate a treaty to avert a war, but Saddam walked out after two hours. His forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Two-thirds of the Arab League states joined the UN in a resolution condemning the invasion as King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Kuwaiti leaders asked NATO for help. Iraq annexed Kuwait as its 19th province with Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka “Chemical Ali) as governor.
5. Iraq rolled over Kuwait in two days.
Unlike the Iran-Iraq War (which went on for eight years), Iraq’s Elite Republican Guard (with names which sound like they were made up by an American teenager, like the 1st Hammurabi Armored Division or the 4th Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division) swiftly defeated Kuwaiti forces, reaching Kuwait City in an hour.
They either overran Kuwaitis on the ground or forced them (like 80% of the Kuwaiti Air Force) into neighboring Saudi Arabia or the island of Bahrain. Kuwait had not mobilized for war despite Saddam’s constant threats.
Whenever possible, Kuwaitis resisted fiercely, even establishing an underground resistance movement, though it was largely untrained and incapable. In trying to capture Kuwait’s Emir, Iraqis assaulted Dasman Palace even though the Emir had already left. The Emir’s brother was killed after leading a 12-hour defense of the palace, outnumbered by an entire Iraqi division. His body was placed in front of a tank and run over.
6. Iraq occupied Kuwait between August 1990 and January 1991 — and it was brutal.
In that time, the Iraqi forces committed at least sixteen crimes against the Laws of Armed Conflict as outlined in the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Those crimes include running of at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City alone, torturing civilians to the point of death and disfigurement. Kuwaiti women were taken hostage and raped repeatedly. Iraqi occupation forces killed at least 1,082 Kuwaiti civilian noncombatants, including women, children, and the mentally handicapped. Then they rigged the oil wells to explode if they were attacked.
Coalition Forces didn’t begin to expel Iraqis from Kuwait until January 1991, after the UN-mandated January 15th withdrawal deadline. Once Coalition forces and Iraqi forces met in the field, the Iraqis committed more war crimes. Among them, they pretended to surrender to U.S. Marines, then opened fire on them. Iraqis would disguise themselves as civilians and then ambush Coalition forces. Iraqi troops also tortured prisoners of war.
7. The U.S. could not have prevented Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN passed resolutions condemning it, calling for the removal of Iraqi troops, and the nullification of Iraq’s annexation. Desert Shield began as the U.S. and the Coalition took six months building up air and naval forces in the region, enforcing the UN blockade of Iraq and U.S.-imposed sanctions. Until the buildup, however, Iraqi forces would have easily overwhelmed the Saudi defenses. Why Saddam didn’t immediately press his advantage is unknown.
Iraqi forces invaded Saudi Arabia at the January 1991 Battle of Khafji, capturing the city on the night of 29 January. By this time, however, it was far too late. Coalition forces had more than enough troops and hardware to repel the Iraqis. The attacks were fought off by U.S. Marines, Army Rangers, and Coalition aircraft and the city was soon recaptured by Saudi and Qatari forces, backed by U.S. airpower.
8. The Coalition built fake bases and units to dupe Iraqis into defending the wrong area.
The coalition used deception cells to create the impression that they were going to attack near the Kuwaiti “boot heel,” as opposed to the strategy actually implemented. The Army set up FOB Weasel near the opposite end of the Kuwaiti border, which was a network of fake camps manned only by several dozen soldiers. With computer-controlled radios, messages were passed between fictitious headquarters sections. Smoke generators and loudspeakers playing prerecorded tank and truck noises were used, along with inflatable Humvees and helicopters.
9. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf commanded a force larger and more complex than the D-Day invasion in WWII and didn’t want a ground war.
“Stormin’ Norman,” as he came to be known, was a highly-decorated and respected Vietnam War veteran. He commanded a Coalition of 670,000 personnel from 28 countries, along with combined Naval and Air Forces, with 425,000 troops from the United States. According to his memoirs, he implemented his operational plan to defend Saudi Arabia and expel Iraq from Kuwait using Gen. Colin Powell’s (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) doctrine of overwhelming force and incorporated Montgomery’s desert armor tactics from the second battle of El-Alamein in World War II, all in an effort to minimize casualties on both sides.
“I hate war. Absolutely, I hate war,” he once said. “When the war started, we were hoping that they’d come to their senses and stop right then,” he said. “After 38 days, we got to a point where we could launch the ground war and, by that time, they hadn’t withdrawn.” Once begun, the ground war lasted only 100 hours before Iraq capitulated.
10. Desert Storm was a relatively cheap war.
Though the U.S. was the primary supplier, 39 countries contributed men and/or materiel to the Coalition in some significant way. Yeah, that’s Afghanistan in blue down there.
The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states covered $36 billion while Germany and Japan covered $16 billion. Still, as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (0.3%), Desert Storm was the cheapest war fought in U.S. history. The greater cost of the war to the region was likely more than $676 billion.
11. Saddam Hussein declared a jihad against the U.S.-led coalition.
Saddam began to convey a more Islamic, religious appearance in Iraqi media, showing himself praying at mosques and supporting the Palestinian cause, hoping to reframe the war as a struggle against Western imperialism and Israeli scheming.
The plan didn’t work. Sheik Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, the Saudis’ leading interpreter of Islamic law, called Saddam Hussein the “enemy of God.”
12. Desert Storm helped secure a Bill Clinton presidency.
The Iraqi invasion already caused the price of oil to more than double, which led to a worldwide recession in the 1990s and the defeat of George H.W. Bush at the hands of Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, despite being a popular, successful wartime President. Bill Clinton’s election team famously coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid” as their campaign mantra.
13. Iraq used oil as a weapon.
Smoke plumes from burning oil fields were intended to disrupt coalition aircraft and the heat from fires was expected to slow the advance of coalition troops. Iraqi combat engineers dug trenches filled with oil and ignited them to slow Coalition advances and spilled oil into the Persian Gulf in an effort to keep U.S. Marines from making an amphibious landing. Estimates of Iraqi oil spilled into the Gulf range from 4 to 11 million barrels, several time the size of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and was never cleaned up on Saudi Arabian shores. The 610 oil fires set by Iraq destroyed 85% of Kuwaiti oil wells. The total amount of oil burned is an estimated 1 billion barrels, worth $2.8 billion.
The oil fires took down a Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) C-130, killing 92 Senegalese soldiers and the 6 Saudi crew members. They allowed Iraqi Republican Guard units to get the jump on Americans at the Battle of Phase Line Bullet, one of the few Iraqi victories of the war.
14. Israel had the third largest casualty count, despite not being in the war.
Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel in an attempt to draw the country into the conflict, a move that would force many Arab states in the Coalition to choose between withdrawing or fighting alongside Israel, neither of which were appealing to the Arabs. In response, the U.S. and Netherlands deployed Patriot Missile Battalions to Israel and Turkey to keep Israel from retaliating (The Gulf War marked the first mid-air missile-to-missile interception).
Israelis in their home in Tel Aviv. Many feared Iraqi chemical attacks would come with the Scuds.
Seventy-four Israelis died as Iraq fired Scud missiles toward Tel Aviv. Many hit the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Gan which was, oddly enough, a neighborhood of Iraqi expatriates. Strangely, only three Israelis died from the missiles — the rest died of heart attacks or similar ailments as a result of the bombing. Iraq launched some 88 Scud missiles toward Israel and Saudi Arabia over the course of the war.
15. The Air War was one of the most massive, effective air campaigns ever.
The Iraqi Air Force was almost completely annihilated, and was never fully effective. The Coalition massed more than 3,000 airplanes leading up to the January 15th withdrawal deadline. It was the largest airlift effort in history, surpassing even the Berlin Airlift. The U.S. Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties (air missions) starting on Jan. 17th, 1991 and dropped more than 88,500 tons of bombs.
Iraqis lost 38 MiGs to Coalition air forces, while the rest fled to Iran rather than be shot down. There they were captured and held for years and Iran kept the planes. Coalition laser-guided “smart bombs” still caused hundreds of civilian casualties, even hitting a civilian air raid shelter, then hitting the civilian al-Fallujah neighborhood in Baghdad. When relatives and first responders rushed to the area in the wake of the bombing, they were bombed too.
16. One American pilot was believed missing in action for 18 years after the war.
Coalition forces captured some 70,000 Iraqis throughout the course of the war. At the end of the war Iraq was known to have held a total of 26 allied prisoners: 22 Americans, two Britons, an Italian and a Kuwaiti. Iraq also is believed to have abducted 30-40,000 Kuwaiti civilians. According to Marine Col. Jim Acree, the Iraqis followed the Geneva Convention “for all of 20 minutes.” American POWs were tortured, beaten, and starved. Many of these POWs forcefully appeared in Iraqi Propaganda.
For years afterward, U.S. Navy Lt. Col. Scott Speicher remained missing in action after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq, and his flight suit was found near the crash site. Speicher’s remains were found in 2009, and returned home.
“Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a statement at the time. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us.”
17. President Bush didn’t press on to Baghdad to abide by the UN Mandate.
President Bush only wanted to do what the UN Security Council authorized. Coalition forces expelled the Iraqi Army from Kuwait by February 27th and President Bush halted all offensive operations. This would be controversial until his son George W. Bush’s presidency, when we learned to respect our elders.
“Had we taken all of Iraq,” Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf wrote in his memoirs, “we would have been like a dinosaur in the tar pit — we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation.” In 2007, Colin Powell remarked, “In recent months, nobody’s been asking me about why we didn’t go to Baghdad. Pretty good idea now why Baghdad should always be looked at with some reservations.”
18. More Americans died from HIV infection in 1991 than in Operation Desert Storm.
An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the conflict, while the United States had only 383 fatalities in the region. 1991 was the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as infection rates increased 15.3% over the previous year. HIV/AIDS was the ninth highest cause of death in the U.S. that year, killing 29,850 Americans. The number of infected and dead from HIV/AIDS would double by 1993.
19. The First Gulf War brought about the rise of cable news, and thus, cable television.
Media Coverage was very restricted as Coalition commanders feared the horrors of war would lead to another Vietnam syndrome, where the imagery turns the public against war in general. The Pentagon gave regular briefings but few journalists were allowed to visit the front. At the same time, satellite technology allowed for live video of missiles firing off of aircraft carriers and airstrikes on Iraqi targets while night vision camera technology gave the war a futuristic, almost video game like feel. So much so, it came to be dubbed “The Nintendo War.”
Oil covered birds, Coalition war briefings, videos of rockets being shot down chimneys and immediate responses from Kuwaiti and Saudi civilians all made for great television imagery. CNN’s live reporting from a hotel in downtown Baghdad became the main driver of its viewership, as it was the only network broadcasting the war 24 hours a day. Since CNN was only available through cable, subscriptions spiked and pay TV became a permanent facet of American life, the first step in ending the dominance of the “Big Three” networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
20. The U.S. encouraged uprisings against Saddam’s regime.
President Bush gave speeches hinting the U.S. would support factions fighting against the Iraqi Ba’athist regime. A Shia rebellion began in Southern Iraq in 1991, but was not supported militarily by the U.S. or Coalition forces — even allowing pro-regime helicopters to brutally suppress the rebellion — despite the Southern No-Fly Zone. In the North, Kurdish fighters staged an uprising of their own, but since no U.S. help was forthcoming, Iraqi generals stayed loyal and massacred the Kurds.
21. Saddam Hussein publicly apologized for the Invasion of Kuwait
Sort of. The Iraqi information minister, Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf (who became known as “Comical Ali” or “Baghdad Bob” during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq), who also announced in 2003 that there were no U.S. troops in Baghdad as U.S. troops were rapidly capturing most of the city, read a statement:
“We apologize for what happened to you in the past,” he read for the Iraqi dictator. “The devoted and the holy warriors in Kuwait met with Iraqi counterparts” under their common creator against the “infidel armies” of “London, Washington and the Zionist entity.”
If we’ve learned anything, it’s to be careful about who you call a “wimp.”
Developed over the course of decades, GPS has become far more ubiquitous than most people realize. Not just for navigation, its extreme accuracy in time keeping (+/- 10 billionths of a second) has been used by countless businesses the world over for everything from aiding in power grid management to helping manage stock market and other banking transactions. The GPS system essentially allows for companies to have near atomic clock level precision in their systems, including easy time synchronization across the globe, without actually needing to have an atomic clock or come up with their own systems for global synchronization. The problem is that, owing to a quirk of the original specifications, on April 6, 2019 many GPS receivers are about to stop working correctly unless the firmware for them is updated promptly. So what’s going on here, how exactly does the GPS system work, and who first got the idea for such a system?
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. As you might imagine, this tiny satellite, along with subsequent satellites in the line, were closely monitored by scientists the world over. Most pertinent to the topic at hand today were two physicists at Johns Hopkins University named William Guier and George Weiffenbach.
As they studied the orbits and signals coming from the Sputnik satellites the pair realized that, thanks to how fast the satellites were going and the nature of their broadcasts, they could use the Doppler shift of the signal to very accurately determine the satellite’s position.
A replica of Sputnik 1.
Not long after, one Frank McClure, also of Johns Hopkins University, asked the pair to study whether it would be possible to do this the other way around. They soon found that, indeed, using the satellite’s known orbit and studying the signal from it as it moved, the observer on the ground could in a relatively short time span determine their own location.
This got the wheels turning.
Various systems were proposed and, in some cases, developed. Most notable to the eventual evolution of GPS was the Navy’s Navigation Satellite System (also known as the Navy Transit Program), which was up and running fully by 1964. This system could, in theory, tell a submarine or ship crew where they were within about 25 meters, though location could only be updated about once per hour and took about 10-15 minutes to acquire. Further, if the ship was moving, the precision would be off by about one nautical mile per 5 knots of speed.
Another critical system to the ultimate development of GPS was known as Timation, which initially used quartz clocks synchronized on the ground and on the satellites as a key component of how the system determined where the ground observer was located. However, with such relatively imprecise clocks, the first tests resulted in an accuracy of only about 0.3 nautical miles and took about 15 minutes of receiving data to nail down that location. Subsequent advancements in Timation improved things, even testing using an atomic clock for increased accuracy. But Timation was about to go the way of the Dodo.
By the early 1970s, the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging (Navstar, eventually Navstar-GPS) was proposed, essentially combining elements from systems like Transit, Timation, and a few other similar systems in an attempt to make a better system from what was learned in those projects.
Fast-forward to 1983 and while the U.S. didn’t yet have a fully operational GPS system, the first prototype satellites were up and the system was being slowly tested and implemented. It was at this point that Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which originally departed from New York, refueled and took off from Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, South Korea.
What does this have to do with ubiquitous GPS as we know it today?
On its way, the pilots had an unnoticed autopilot issue, resulting in them unknowingly straying into Soviet airspace.
Convinced the passenger plane was actually a spy plane, the Soviets launched Su-15 jets to intercept the (apparently) most poorly crafted spy plane in history — the old “It’s so overt, it’s covert” approach to spying.
A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor.
Warning shots were fired, though the pilot who did it stated in a later interview, “I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armor piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It’s doubtful whether anyone could see them.”
Not long after, the pilots of Korean Air 007 called Tokyo Area Control Center, requesting to climb to Flight Level 350 (35,000 feet) from Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet). This resulted in the aircraft slowing below the speed the tracking high speed interceptors normally operated at, and thus, them blowing right by the plane. This was interpreted as an evasive maneuver, even though it was actually just done for fuel economy reasons.
A heated debate among the Soviet brass ensued over whether more time should be taken to identify the plane in case it was simply a passenger airliner as it appeared. But as it was about to fly into international waters, and may in fact already have been at that point, the decision was made to shoot first and ask questions later.
The attacking pilot described what happened next:
“Destroy the target…!” That was easy to say. But how? With shells? I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about two thousand metres… afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on.
Two missiles were fired and exploded near the Boeing plane causing significant damage, though in a testament to how safe commercial airplanes typically are, the pilots were able to regain control over the aircraft, even for a time able to maintain level and stable flight. However, they eventually found themselves in a slow spiral which ended in a crash killing all 269 aboard.
As a direct result of this tragedy, President Ronald Reagan announced on Sept. 16, 1983, that the GPS system that had previously been intended for U.S. military use only would now be made available for everyone to use, with the initial idea being the numerous safety benefits such a system would have in civil aviation over using then available navigation tools.
This brings us to how exactly the GPS system works in the first place. Amazingly complex on some levels, the actual nuts and bolts of the system are relatively straightforward to understand.
To begin with, consider what happens if you’re standing in an unknown location and you ask someone where you are. They reply simply — “You are 212 miles from Seattle, Washington.”
You now can draw a circle on a map with radius 212 miles from Seattle. Assuming the person giving you that information is correct, you know you’re somewhere along that circular line.
Not super helpful at this point by itself, you then ask someone else, and they say, “You are 150 miles from Vancouver BC.” Now you’re getting somewhere. When you draw that circle on the map, you’ll see it intersects at two points. You are standing on one of those two points. Noticing that you are not, in fact, floating in the ocean, you could at this point deduce which point you are on, but work with us here people.
Instead of making such an assumption, you decide your senses are never to be trusted and, after all, Jesus stood on water, so why not you? Thus, you ask a third person — they say, “You are 500 miles from Boise, Idaho.” That circle drawn, you now know exactly where you are in two dimensional space. Near Kamloops, Canada, as it turns out.
This is more or less what’s happening with GPS, except in the case of GPS you need to think in terms of 3D spheres instead of 2D circles. Further, how the system tells you your exact distance from a reference point, in this case each of the satellites, is via transmitting the satellites’ exact locations in orbit and a timestamp of the exact time when said transmission was sent. This time is synchronized across the various satellites in the GPS constellation.
The receiver then subtracts the current known time upon receiving the data from that transmission time to determine the time it took for that signal to be transmitted from the satellites to its location.
Combining that with the known satellite locations and the known speed of light with which the radio signal was propagated, it can then crunch the numbers to determine with remarkable accuracy its location, with margins of error owing to things like the ionosphere interfering with the propagation of the signal, and various other real world factors such as this potentially throwing things off a little.
Even with these potential issues, however, the latest generation of the GPS system can, in theory, pinpoint your location within about a foot or about 30 centimeters.
You may have spotted a problem here, however. While the GPS satellites are using extremely precise and synchronized atomic clocks, the GPS system in your car, for example, has no such synchronized atomic clock. So how does it accurately determine how long it took for the signal to get from the satellite to itself?
It simply uses at least four, instead of three, satellites, giving it the extra data point it needs to solve the necessary equations to get the appropriate missing time variable. In a nutshell, there is only one point in time that will match the edge of all four spheres intersecting in one point in space on Earth. Thus, once the variables are solved for, the receiver can adjust its own time keeping appropriately to be almost perfectly synchronized, at least momentarily, with the much more precise GPS atomic clocks. In some sense, this makes GPS something of a 4D system, in that, with it, you can know your precise point in not only space, but time.
By continually updating its own internal clock in this way, the receiver on the ground ends up being nearly as accurate as an atomic clock and is a time keeping device that is then almost perfectly synchronized with other such receivers across the globe, all for almost no cost at all to the end users because the U.S. government is footing the bill for all the expensive bits of the system and maintaining it.
Speaking of that maintanence, another problem you may have spotted is that various factors can, and do, continually move the GPS satellites off their original orbits. So how is this accounted for?
Tracking stations on Earth continually monitor the exact orbits of the various GPS satellites, with this information, along with any needed time corrections to account for things like Relatively, frequently updated in the GPS almanac and ephemeris. These two data sets are used for holding satellite status and positional information and are regularly broadcast to receivers, which is how said receivers know exact positions of the satellites in the first place.
The satellites themselves can also have their orbits adjusted if necessary, with this process simply being to mark the satellite as “unhealthy” so receivers will ignore it, then move it to its new position, track that orbit, and once that is accurately known, update the almanac and ephemeris and mark the satellite as “healthy” again.
So that’s more or less how GPS came to be and how it works at a high level. What about the part where we said many GPS devices may potentially stop working very soon if not updated?
Near the turn of the century something happened that had never happened before in the GPS world — dubbed a “dress rehearsal for the Y2K bug”. You see, as a part of the time stamp sent by the GPS satellites, there is something known as the Week Number — literally just the number of weeks that have passed since an epoch, originally set to Jan. 6, 1980. Along with this Week Number the number of seconds since midnight on the previous Saturday evening is sent, thus allowing the GPS receiver to calculate the exact date.
Artist’s conception of GPS Block II-F satellite in Earth orbit.
So what’s the problem with this? It turns out every 1024 weeks (about every 19 years and 8 months) from the epoch, the number rolls back to 0 owing to this integer information being in 10 bit format.
Thus, when this happens, any GPS receiver that doesn’t account for the Week Number Rollover, will likely stop functioning correctly, though the nature of the malfunction varies from vendor to vendor and device, depending on how said vendor implemented their system.
For some, the bug might manifest as a simple benign date reporting error. For others, such a date reporting error might mean everything from incorrect positioning to even a full system crash.
If you’ve done the math, you’ve probably deduced that this issue first popped up in August of 1999, only about four years after the GPS system itself was fully operational.
At this point, of course, GPS wasn’t something that was so ubiquitously depended on as it is today, with only 10-15 million GPS receivers in use worldwide in 1999 according to a 1999 report by the the United States Department of Commerce’s Office of Telecommunications. Today, of course, that number is in the billions of devices.
Thankfully, when the next Week Number Rollover event happens on April 6, 2019, it would seem most companies that rely on GPS for critical systems, like airlines, banking institutions, cell networks, power grids, etc., have already taken the necessary steps to account for the problem.
The more realistic problems with this second Week Number Rollover event will probably mostly occur at the consumer level, as most people simply are not aware of the issue at all.
Thankfully, if you’ve updated your firmware on your GPS device recently or simply own a GPS device purchased in the last few years, you’re probably going to be fine here.
However, should you own a GPS device that is several years old, that may not be the case and you’ll most definitely want to go to the manufacturer’s website and download any relevant updates before the second GPS epoch.
That public service announcement out of the way, if you’re now wondering why somebody doesn’t just change the specification altogether to stop using a 10 bit Week Number, well, you’re not the first to think of this. Under the latest GPS interface specifications, a 13 bit Week Number is now used, meaning in newer devices that support this, the issue won’t come up again for about a century and a half. As the machines are bound to rise up and enslave humanity long before that occurs, that’s really their issue to solve at that point.
Ever notice that your cell phone tends to lock on to your GPS position extremely quickly, even after having been powered off for a long time? How does it do this when other GPS devices must wait to potentially receive a fresh copy of the almanac and ephemeris? It turns out cell phones tend to use something called Assisted GPS, where rather than wait to receive that data from the currently orbiting GPS satellites, they will instead get it from a central server somewhere. The phone may also simply use its position in the cell phone network (using signals from towers around) to get an approximate location to start while it waits to acquire the signal from the GPS satellites, partially masking further delay there. Of course, assisted GPS doesn’t work if you don’t have a cell signal, and if you try to use your GPS on your phone in such a scenario you’ll find that if you turn off the GPS for a while and then later turn it back on, it will take a while to acquire a signal like any other GPS device.
Starting just before the first Gulf War, the military degraded the GPS signal for civilian use in order to keep the full accuracy of the system as a U.S. military advantage. However, in May of 2000, this policy was reversed by President Bill Clinton and civilian GPS got approximately ten times more accurate basically overnight.
The military also created the ability to selectively stop others from using GPS at all, as India discovered thanks to the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. During the conflict, the U.S. blocked access to the GPS system from India owing to, at the time, better longstanding relations between the U.S. and Pakistan than the U.S. had with India. Thus, the U.S. didn’t want to seem like it was helping India in the war.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.