This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

It could be argued that the one persistent challenge faced by the Air Force over its 70-year history is how to best integrate Airmen with cutting-edge technology.


Most pressing, from the earliest days of aviation, was the need to protect the human body from the potentially deadly forces generated by advances in aircraft speed, maneuverability and altitude capabilities.

Even in the pre-Air Force days leading up to WWII, altitudes were being achieved that necessitated aircraft with oxygen systems to keep pilots and crews coherent and alive during missions. This was closely followed by the development of aircraft with a pressurized fuselage, such as the B-29, which allowed crews to fly high-altitude missions without oxygen masks and cumbersome heated flight suits to protect them from sub-zero temperatures.

The advent of the jet age led to ever increasing altitudes and gravitational forces (G-forces) on the pilot, necessitating the development of G-suits to push blood to the pilot’s brain, minimizing blackouts, and ejection seats to allow pilots to safely escape aircraft operating at high speed and altitude.

The testing of these technologies quickly became the public face of the Air Force’s human performance research and human factors engineering.

Baby Boomers routinely saw newsreel films and photos in magazines of researchers testing ways to protect pilots from the effects of high G-forces and altitudes with rocket sleds, centrifuges, atmospheric chambers and even balloons used in Project Excelsior as an Airman, Col. Joseph Kittinger, protected by a pressure suit, made a free-fall jump from 19 miles above the Earth’s surface.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Cognitive research led to everything from the development of the mouse, optimizing how a person inputs information into a computer, to eye-tracking studies to analyze how Airmen best recognize and utilize intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance information displayed on a monitor, to wearable devices that can measure a human’s current physical state, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH

It was physiological research necessary to keep advancing the Air Force’s capabilities in the air, and later, in space. But it also made for good theater for the public.

However, from the very beginnings of the Air Force, there has been concurrent, less theatrical study of another interface between humans and their machines that has been just as ground breaking; that between the machine and the human brain.

It is research that is pivoting from an emphasis on optimizing tools for use by Airmen to creating technologies that will work with Airmen, as a partner.

Cognitive research by the Air Force began with an issue created by the U.S.’s enormous production output during WWII: lack of uniformity between aircraft cockpits and displays.

“There wasn’t such a thing as a standard cockpit configuration and aviators were confusing things like landing gear and putting flaps down,” said Dr. Morley Stone, the Chief Technology Officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. “Of course, that was leading to a variety of mishaps … Really, that gave birth to the whole field of human factors engineering.”

Lt. Col. Paul Fitts led the research team at Wright Patterson AFB that developed a consistent method for laying out an aircraft cockpit and instruments allowing a pilot to quickly and efficiently comprehend the current state of the aircraft. They also developed methods to manipulate controls more reliably, no matter the airframe.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider.
ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH

“That key research that occurred here at Wright-Patterson (AFB), as well as elsewhere, enabled the standardization of the key instrumentation needed to fly an aircraft,” said Mark Draper, a principal engineering research psychologist with the 711th Human Performance Wing at the AFRL. “It’s called a T-scan pattern. Pilots quickly learned the T-scan to rapidly ascertain if their aircraft is doing they want it to do. That became the standard for decades.”

However as new weaponry, on-board radars, sensors, communications and command and control technologies were added to airframes, pilots and crews quickly became overwhelmed by too much information for the human brain to process efficiently, a condition that pilots call a “helmet fire.”

“A key milestone, which was really significant, was the introduction of the glass cockpit,” said Draper. “Over several decades of just adding more controls and hardware instruments here and there, the real estate became really limited.”

“If we were able to put in computer monitors, if you will, into the cockpit, we would be enabling the re-using of that real estate. We could tailor the information towards a particular mission or phase of flight. The controls and the displays could be changed. That opened up a wealth of opportunity to not only provide more capability to the pilot, but also to enable the introduction of graphics into cockpits to make the information more easily understood and utilized.”

These concepts advanced by human factors engineering at AFRL has led to further research making the workflow of Airmen in many career fields more efficient and has even crossed over into the public sector.

According to Stone, this type of research led to everything from the development of the mouse, optimizing how a person inputs information into a computer, to eye-tracking studies to analyze how Airmen best recognize and utilize intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance information displayed on a monitor, to wearable devices that can measure a human’s current physical state, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
The Air Force in its history has focused very strongly on the cockpit and crew stations for aircraft. However, where we’re going is expanding well beyond the cockpit. The Airman and machine will share decision making, and at times one or the other takes the lead depending on the particular context. In this case, Airmen and drones will be working together to deliver supplies to sometimes dangerous locations without putting Airman at increased risk for harm.ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH

Yet for all of these advances in streamlining interfaces and presenting data in more digestible packets on ergonomic displays, the limits of human cognition still present an ubiquitous obstacle for the future Air Force to efficiently integrate main and machine.

Stone and Draper believe one way to scale this obstacle is to enable Airmen to share some of their workload with a partner – a silicon-based partner. Draper and his team at the Human Autonomy Lab at the AFRL focus on how to better interconnect human intelligence with machine intelligence as we move into the future.

“Seventy years into the future, we’ll still be limited by the fact that we have a very limited short-term memory, we get bored easily, we’re not known to just sit there and stare at one place for a long period of time. That’s why our eyes move a lot,” said Stone. “We’re looking at a whole variety of tools, not just wearable sensors, but other types of non-invasive standoff sensors that look at things like heart rate and respiration and other physical cues … and trying to get that information out in such a way that you can make it readable to that future synthetic teammate.”

These sensors, coupled with ever increasing computing capabilities, could lead to Airmen of 2087 routinely conducting missions with a synthetic partner that will not only shoulder some of the workload, but constantly monitor the carbon-based Airman’s physical, mental and emotional state before recommending mission options.

“Computational power is getting ever more powerful. Also, computational power is becoming more miniaturized, so you can start putting it more places,” said Draper. “At the same time, you’re increasing the reasoning capabilities of the machines to collect domain knowledge, assess the conditions and create courses of action.”

“We have sensors becoming very miniaturized and able to sense the human physiology without even being attached to the human,” Draper added. “In a vision of the future, Artificial Intelligence can serve to continually monitor the human while the human is engaged in various tasks, and then dynamically adapt the interaction with the machinery, the interaction with the environment, and the off-loading of tasks. All with the express purpose of better team performance.”

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
As autonomy becomes more trusted, as it becomes more capable, then the Airmen can start off-loading more decision-making capability on the autonomy, and autonomy can exercise increasingly important levels of decision making increasing our capability to control the battlefield.ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH

According to Draper, one of the Air Force’s first forays into the realm of operational autonomous computing was the introduction of flight management systems into cockpits during the 1980s.

“Up until then, you had pre-planning and the pilots did all the navigation with a navigator,” said Draper. “Then they introduced a flight management system, which would automatically generate routes … give you the waypoints all the way from point A to point B. However, the initial design of these systems was less than great and we ran into lots of problems, lots of mishaps. This inspired research in order to better design how humans interact with automation which is critical, especially when we start talking about increasingly intelligent systems that are going to be introduced to future military systems.”

These initial steps were the beginning of a slow gradation from applying of autonomous systems as advisors, to allowing them to shoulder some mission requirements, to a possible future of handling some tasks on their own.

“The Air Force in its history has focused very strongly on the cockpit and crew stations for aircraft. However, where we’re going is expanding well beyond the cockpit,” said Draper.

“The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider … We want to reduce the overall workload associated with the Airmen, but the Airmen still retain key decision making authority.”

The key ingredient in a symbiosis between carbon-based and silicon-based Airmen is the development of trust.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Consider the amount of trust you have that your consumer grade GPS or cellular navigation system will correctly plot the best route to your destination and give you timely cues to execute that route. This is the bridge that must be designed and optimized between Airmen and their synthetic counterparts.

“As autonomy becomes more trusted, as it becomes more capable, then the Airmen can start off-loading more decision-making capability on the autonomy, and autonomy can exercise increasingly important levels of decision making,” said Draper. “That’s a migration you slowly incorporate as you unleash autonomy, as its capability dictates, and then you reel it back in when you need to, when your trust in it drops and you know that you need to become more engaged, you tighten the leash. The Airman and machine will share decision making, and at times one or the other takes the lead depending on the particular context.”

Draper said this trust will be achieved by a paradigm designed with a series of checks and balances, where Airmen can override an autonomous decision and Artificial Intelligence can sense an Airman’s fatigue, stress or miscalculation and suggest an alternative course of action.

“Humans make errors too, right? We all know this,” said Draper. “We should have an almost equivalent Artificial Intelligence looking at overall system performance, telling the aiman, ‘Hey, human! What you’re doing here potentially can really disrupt some complex things. Do you really want to do that?'”

Draper believes autonomous systems will never be given the keys to the kingdom and turned loose to execute missions completely on their own without human management and authorization. There will always be an Airman in the loop working with technology, to do the right thing. The nature and level of Airman engagement will change with new technology, but the critical role of the Airman, as supervisor, teammate, overseer, will persist.

“Imagine a perfect assistant with you while you work on a car. You’re struggling and you’re switching between many different tasks. All the while, you have this intelligent assistant that is constantly supporting you; reaching and moving tools out of your way and bringing in new tools when you need it, or showing you pictures and giving you computer readouts of the engine at exactly the right time. That sort of symbiotic tight-synced relationship between humans and autonomy is what I envision 70 years from now. True teammates,” said Draper.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what it takes to guard the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’

Every year, approximately 4 million people travel to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice defending our great country. Most gather in solemn awe at the historic site of “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” standing atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C.


If you plan your visit accordingly, you may get to witness the awesomeness that is the changing of the guard, which occurs every 30-minutes during the hot summer and every hour during the cold winter.

Related: This is the story behind the pre-inauguration wreath laying ceremony

In April of 1948, the 3rd US Infantry Regiment proudly took on the responsibility of guarding the tomb 24-hours day. Being a sentinel guard isn’t just about walking back and forth keeping a close eye out, it takes professionalism, honor, and most importantly commitment as one must volunteer for the role.

 

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Tomb Sentinels at the Changing of the Guard, Arlington National Cemetery. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

 

Prospects are hand-selected after volunteering and undergo either a 2 or 4 week TDY to learn rifle precision, uniform maintenance, and marching, as well as to, memorize seven pages of knowledge. Verbatim.

 

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Sentinel prospect practice drill marching together before heading out for their watch. (Source: 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment/Screenshot)

On average, 60% of the hopefuls will not graduate, but those who do complete the training will move on and become “Newman”.

Newmans assist sentinels prior to guard changes, maintain their uniforms, and must endure three more tests before earning their future position. The entire training takes six to nine months and has a fail rate of 90%.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
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Sentinels stand a 27-hour guard shift, walking their post a dozen times. Contrary to popular belief, they are allowed to verbally discipline tomb visitors.

Check out 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment‘s video for more behind the scenes of what it take to guard the tomb.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This F-35 ‘Lightning Carrier’ test frees up supercarriers, makes US more powerful

The US Navy sent the USS Wasp into the South China Sea early April 2019 loaded with an unusually heavy configuration of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

“We are seeing a fleet experiment going on right now,” Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and naval-affairs expert, told Business Insider, explaining that the Navy and the Marines are experimenting with the “Lightning Carrier” concept.

Light carriers armed with these short landing and take-off F-35s could theoretically take over operations in low-end conflicts, potentially freeing up the “supercarriers” to focus on higher-end threats such as Russia and China, or significantly boost the firepower of the US Navy carrier force, experts told Business Insider.


This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

The USS Wasp with a heavy F-35 configuration, with 10 Joint Strike Fighters on its flight deck.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The USS Wasp has been drilling in the South China Sea with at least 10 F-35s on board.

The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, is participating in the ongoing Balikatan exercises with the Philippines. It deployed with at least 10 F-35s, more than the ship would normally carry.

“With each new exercise, we learn more about [the F-35Bs] capabilities as the newest fighter jet in our inventory, and how to best utilize them and integrate them with other platforms,” a Marine Corps spokesperson told Business Insider.

The Wasp was recently spotted running flight operations near Scarborough Shoal, a contested South China Sea territory.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

The USS America.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson)

The Navy and Marine Corps began experimenting with the “Lighting carrier” concept a few years ago.

The Marine Corps did a Lightning carrier proof of concept demonstration in November 2016, loading 12 F-35B fighters onto the USS America, the newest class of amphibious assault ship intended to serve as a light aircraft carrier.

“The experiments led to the realization that this is an option,” Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert and former special assistant to the chief of naval operations, told Business Insider.

“I think the Marine Corps may be realizing that this is the best use of their large amphibious assault ships. I think you are going to see more and more deployments like that,” he added.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Possible Lightning Carrier configuration.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

A Lightning carrier might carry almost two dozen F-35s.

The Marine Corps elaborated on its plan for the Lightning carrier in its 2017 Marine Aviation Plan, which suggests that the Marines should be operating 185 F-35Bs by 2025, more than “enough to equip all seven” amphibious assault ships.

“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier,” the corps said, “it can be complementary if employed in imaginative ways.” These ships, the America-class ships in particular, could theoretically be outfitted with 16 to 20 F-35s, along with rotary refueling aircraft.

“A Lightning Carrier, taking full advantage of the amphibious assault ship as a sea base, can provide the naval and joint force with significant access, collection and strike capabilities,” the service said.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

An AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron 311 landing aboard USS Bonhomme Richard.

(U.S. Navy)

The Lightning carrier is based on an older concept that has been around for decades.

The Lightning carrier concept is a rebranded version of the classic “Harrier carrier,” the repurposing of amphibious assault ships to serve as light carriers armed with AV-8B Harrier jump jets.

“We would load them up with twice or even three times as many Harriers as what they would normally send out with an amphibious readiness group and then use it as, essentially, a light carrier to provide sea and air control in a limited area,” Hendrix said.

The “Harrier Carrier” concept has been employed at least five times. The USS Bonhomme Richard, for example, was reconfigured to serve as a “Harrier Carrier” during the invasion of Iraq, the Navy said in a 2003 statement.

“This is not the norm for an amphib,” a senior Navy officer said at the time.”Our air assets dictate that we operate more like a carrier.”

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

F-35B Lightning II aircraft on the USS Wasp.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)

The Lightning carrier could boost the overall firepower of the US carrier force.

Lightning carriers, while less effective than a supercarrier — primarily because of the limited range of the F-35Bs compared with the Navy’s F-35Cs and the much smaller number of aircraft embarked — offer a real opportunity to boost the firepower of the carrier force. “You are going to see an increase in strike control and sea-control potential,” Hendrix told Business Insider.

The amphibs could be integrated into carrier task forces to strengthen its airpower, or they could be deployed in independent amphibious readiness groups with their own supporting and defensive escorts, dispersing the force for greater survivability and lethality.

“You can turn the light amphibious ships into sea-control, sea-denial, or even strike assets in a meaningful way to distribute the force and bring this concept of distributed lethality to bear,” Hendrix said, adding that this is a “wise” move given the rising challenges of adversaries employing tactics such as long-range missiles and mines to deny the US Navy access.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

The USS Wasp.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)

Deploying light carriers armed with F-35s to deal with low-end threats also frees up the supercarriers to address more serious challenges.

“What we’ve been seeing over the past year is the Navy using Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARGs) with [amphibious assault ships] in the Middle East in place of Carrier Strike Groups,” Clark said.

The Navy has then been able to focus its supercarriers on the Atlantic and the Pacific, where great powers such as Russia and China are creating new challenges for the US military.

Last fall, the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, sailed into the Persian Gulf, and it was during that deployment that a Marine Corps F-35B launched from the ship and entered combat for the first time, targeting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The USS Harry S. Truman, initially slated for service in the Persian Gulf, relocated to the north Atlantic for participation in NATO exercises.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This American ally is increasingly isolated in a pro-China world

Taiwan lost one of its largest diplomatic allies when the Dominican Republic cut ties to officially establish relations with China instead.

Within the communique to create diplomatic relations with China, which was signed by the Dominican foreign minister in Beijing on May 1, 2018, was the declaration that “the Government of the Dominican Republic severs ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan as of this day.”


Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu said his government is “deeply upset” about the two countries new ties.

Taiwan’s political situation is highly contentious as the democratic island is self-ruled, and a pro-independence party has been in power since 2016.

But Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province of China that will eventually be fully reunified.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu

As a result, China refuses to have diplomatic relations with nations that deal diplomatically with Taiwan, as that treats the island like an independent country. And if Taiwan’s global recognition increased, that could jeopardize China’s claim to the island.

A statement released by the Dominican Republic confirmed the nation’s changed allegiances.

“The Dominican Republic recognizes that there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory,” the statement read.

Without the Dominican Republic, there are only 19 remaining countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, notably Guatemala, Burkino Faso, and Haiti.

Dollar diplomacy may have been a factor

The statement released by Taiwan’s foreign ministry hints at the nation’s growing frustration at China.

While being headlined and initially formatted the same as similar statements in the past, it’s roughly twice the normal length and overtly calls out China’s method of picking off Taiwan’s allies.

“We strongly condemn China’s objectionable decision to use dollar diplomacy to convert Taiwan’s diplomatic allies,” the statement read. “Developing nations should be aware of the danger of falling into a debt trap when engaging with China.”

China has a pattern of picking off Taiwan’s allies when a democratic party is in power, and using what’s commonly called “debt trap diplomacy” to offer aid and loans for infrastructure to poorer countries in an effort to build its global Belt and Road Initiative.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Belt and Road Initiative:u00a0China in Red, the members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in orange, and the 6 proposed corridorsu00a0in black.

But it appears Beijing may be using the same techniques to now lure countries away from Taiwan, with what the island calls “false promises of investment and aid.”

“This was the result of China’s efforts in offering vast financial incentives for the Dominican Republic to end their 77 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It also follows China’s actions last year in establishing diplomatic relations with Panama.”

Taiwan’s foreign ministry warned that former allies Costa Rica and Sao Tome and Principe have yet to receive more than $1 billion worth of assistance from China.

May 1, 2018, The Australian reported that the Solomon Islands, one of Taiwan’s six allies in the Pacific, is looking to China for investment for an airport, a move that could worry Taipei.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what troops do when hurricanes are about to hit

Each year, like clockwork, hurricane season strikes America’s southeastern states. Right now, another hurricane is knocking on the East Coast’s door and, coincidentally, many installations of the Armed Forces stand in the way of the storm’s projected path. While most people are busy either evacuating or hunkering down, the troops from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and everywhere between aren’t simply waiting out the storm — they’re rushing into it.

And the action isn’t reserved exclusively for each state’s National Guard. Natural disasters, like Hurricane Florence, make for some of the few times when active duty troops from every branch directly help their community. They’re springing into action now, helping locals prepare, and they’ll be around afterward, helping the affected recover.


This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

A simple meal and a smile goes a long way for people afraid of what’s coming.

(National Guard photo by Spc. Hamiel Irizarry)

It all begins with making proper preparations. Troops begin by stockpiling whatever resources may be useful for civilians, including blankets, MREs, and gasoline, to name a few. Then, they get out there and provide the locals with the essentials.

It may seem like a simple gesture, but being wrapped in a warm, dry military blanket and receiving a hot meal helps repair morale and lets those affected by the disaster know that everything is going to be okay.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

If there’s one thing soldiers know how to do, it’s fill sandbags…

(Georgia Army National Guard photo by Capt. William Carraway)

Next, manpower is put towards barricading specific locations that either serve as excellent shelters or hold significance to the community. This process often involves having troops fill countless sandbags to keep flood waters from reaching the people behind them.

But the Air Force and NOAA are responsible for one of the most important — and dangerous — tasks. They’re called “Hurricane Hunters.” Their mission is to fly directly into the hurricane to monitor weather patterns and determine the storm’s course from the inside.

Meanwhile, the Navy and Coast Guard use their vessels to have hospitals and emergency centers on standby for the moment the hurricane makes landfall.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

It’s one of the most beautiful and selfless things most troops will do stateside. BZ, guys. You’re making this country proud.

(Louisiana National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Rebekah Malone)

As much as lower enlisted troops may bemoan the process, they’re typically evacuated at the last possible moment. This ensures everything is in proper order and it gives civilians a head-start, allowing them to get out of town without being blocked in by clutter created by large military vehicles.

The troops who haven’t evacuated will shelter in place until the storm passes. Then, the rebuilding process begins…

MIGHTY TRENDING

This new tool shows what nukes would do to your home

Imagine a 150-kiloton nuclear bomb exploded in the city closest to you.


Do you know how the city, its surrounding region, and its inhabitants would be affected? If you can’t think of much more than “a lot of people would die,” you’re not alone.

“We live in a world where nuclear weapons issues are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis, yet most people still have a very bad sense of what an exploding nuclear weapon can actually do,” Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology, wrote on his website, NuclearSecrecy.org.

To help the world understand what might happen if a nuclear weapon exploded, Wellerstein created an interactive browser app called Nukemap.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
This is what a ground detonation of a nuke like the one North Korea recently tested would look like in NYC, according to Nukemap. (Image Nukemap)

“Some people think they destroy everything in the world all that (sic) once, some people think they are not very different from conventional bombs,” he wrote. “The reality is somewhere in between.”

Also read: These Air Force ‘rods from god’ could hit with the force of a nuclear weapon

To illustrate that, Nukemap lets you build a hypothetical nuclear bomb and drop it anywhere on Earth. The software uses declassified equations and models about nuclear weapons and their effects — fireball size, air-blast radius, radiation zones, and more — to crunch the numbers, then renders the results as graphics inside Google Maps.

Preset options let you pick historic and recent blasts, including North Korea’s latest test explosion and Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated. The tool can even estimate fatalities and injuries for a given weapon yield, altitude, and location.

The first version of Wellerstein’s tool came out in February 2012, but he upgraded it to version 2.5 this month. Users thus far have set off more than 124 million explosions in Nukemap.

Nukemap 2.5’s new features let you see where a cloud of radioactive fallout might drift based on local weather conditions. Fallout refers to the dirt and debris that get sucked up by a nuclear blast, irradiated to dangerous levels, pushed into the atmosphere, and sprinkled over great distances. The updated tool also lets you export your scenarios, load them into mapping software like Google Earth, and explore them in 3D.

“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 wrote on his site.

Picking a bomb and a target

We decided to test Nukemap 2.5 using its preset for the North Korean government’s underground test blast on September 3.

Some experts think that device, perhaps a thermonuclear bomb, yielded an explosion of roughly 150 kilotons’ worth of TNT. This was the country’s most powerful nuclear explosion to date — about 10 times as strong as the Hiroshima bomb blast of 1945, which caused some 150,000 casualties.

We started with San Francisco, since according to Missilemap — Wellerstein’s companion tool to Nukemap — the city is within the estimated range of Hwasong-14, North Korea’s newest and farthest-reaching intercontinental ballistic missile.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Nukemap shows the impact of an air detonation over San Francisco, CA. (Image Nukemap)

Blast effects

By default, Nukemap assumed a 150-kiloton-yield warhead would explode 1.03 miles above the city.

An aerial detonation maximizes a nuclear bomb’s destructive power by allowing the blast’s energy to spread. If a bomb were to detonate on the ground, the soil would absorb more of that energy.

More reading: How Ukraine punked North Korea’s nuclear missile scientists

The main effects of the nuclear blast display as four colored zones:

  • Fireball (0.56 miles wide): In the area closest to the bomb’s detonation site, flames incinerate most buildings, objects, and people.
  • Radiation (1.24 miles wide): A nuclear bomb’s gamma and other radiation are so intense in this zone that 50% or more of people die within “several hours to several weeks,” according to Nukemap.
  • Air blast (4.64 miles wide): This shows a blast area of 5 pounds per square inch, which is powerful enough to collapse most residential buildings and rupture eardrums. “Injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread,” Nukemap says.
  • Thermal radiation (6.54 miles wide): This region is flooded with skin-scorching ultraviolet light, burning anyone within view of the blast. “Third-degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves,” Nukemap says. “They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation.”

Clicking the “radioactive fallout” option didn’t produce any exposure zones for this hypothetical explosion. A note toward the bottom of our Nukemap results explained: “Your choice of burst height is too high to produce significant local fallout.”

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Nukemap’s projection of the impact of a San Francisco ground detonation of a nuke like the one North Korea recently tested. (Image Nukemap)

Casualties and radioactive-fallout zones

When we switched the height to “surface burst,” a very different picture emerged: The thermal and air-blast zones shrank, but the fireball nearly doubled in area, and the radiation zone nearly tripled.

We also enabled the new radioactive-fallout settings based on local weather. And to see the human effects, we ticked the “casualties” option, too.

Luckily, local winds in this hypothetical scenario were moving west-southwest, blowing most radioactive fallout into the Pacific Ocean. If a person were to stand outside in a 100-rad-per-hour zone for four hours, they would get 400 rads of radiation exposure, which is enough to kill 50% of people by acute radiation syndrome.

According to Nukemap’s casualty estimator, however, this blast would still kill about 130,000 people and injure 280,000 over the next 24 hours. The tool says this does not include radioactive-fallout effects, among other caveats.

“Modeling casualties from a nuclear attack is difficult,” it says. “These numbers should be seen as evocative, not definitive.”

Google Earth’s view

We were eager to try the export feature, but it appears to need some work.

For example, the fallout zone appeared in an area different from the in-browser calculation — almost due south of San Francisco, instead of west-southwest.

But it was still useful — in a gut-wrenching way — to see the size of a nuclear fireball (the yellow half-dome in the image below) in 3D as it related to a major city, engulfing entire neighborhoods.

You can create your own nuclear-blast scenario and explore Nukemap 2.5’s options here.

Wellerstein and others at Stevens Institute of Technology — based in Hoboken, New Jersey — are working on a related project, called Reinventing Civil Defense, which aims to “develop new communication strategies regarding nuclear risk that have high potential to resonate with a public audience.” The project was awarded a $500,000 grant and is expected to debut in 2019.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Bombers are not on alert, but they’re ready any way

The Air Force is upgrading facilities at bases that house nuclear bombers.


But the Air Force and Strategic Command both say there are no plans to put those bombers on 24-hour alert.

Officials from the US Air Force and US Strategic Command have said there are no immediate plans to put nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert.

Questions about plans for US bombers came after a Defense One report that facility upgrades at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana were part of an effort to prepare for an order to go to 24-hour ready alert with US nuclear bombers.

“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Defense One, though he and other officials stressed that no such order had been given.

Among the upgrades planned at Barksdale are the renovation of quarters for crews who could man bombers stationed there and the construction of storage facilities for a nuclear cruise missile that is being developed. The B-52 and the B-2 are the only Air Force bombers capable of carrying out a nuclear attack.

While Goldfein is responsible for the Air Force and making sure its forces — including bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles — are trained and equipped for any scenario, Strategic Command makes operational decisions about US nuclear-weapons systems.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
A B-52H Stratofortress is parked on the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., July 31, 2017. The B-52 has an unrefueled combat range in-excess of 8,000 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong)

US Strategic Command chief Air Force Gen. John Hyten said through a spokesman that he was not currently considering putting bombers on alert.

“There are no discussions or plans for US Strategic Command to place bombers on alert. Any decisions related to the posture of nuclear forces would come from, or through, US Strategic Command,” the spokesman told Breaking Defense. “We constantly train, prepare and equip our personnel to ensure we have a combat-ready force that underwrites strategic deterrence in the 21st century.”

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek acknowledged that base-infrastructure upgrades, exercises, and equipment modernization were all happening but said they were needed to “maintain a baseline level of readiness.”

“We do this routinely as part of our organize, train and equip mission so our forces are ready to respond when called upon,” she told Defense News, noting that a return to alert status was not imminent.

Air Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas also told reporters on Monday that that he had spoken with Strategic Command and Air Force Global Strike Command, which are both responsible for nuclear-bomber missions, and said a 24-hour ready alert was not being considered.

“There’s not any discussions or plans to bring bombers on a 24-hour nuclear alert right now,” Thomas said, according to Military.com.

But, when asked if the facilities being upgraded could support a 24-hour ready alert in the future, Thomas said, “Absolutely they could be,” because they are built for nuclear command, control, and communications crews. (Air Force Global Strike Command set up a new entity at Barksdale to oversee Air Force NC3 operations in April.)

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
A close up on the B-2 Spirit.

Thomas added that the Air Force routinely upgraded its facilities but didn’t say if similar renovations were taking place at other facilities where nuclear bombers are stationed. He added that the Air Force would be ready to discuss going to ready-alert status, though he stressed that Strategic Command would be responsible for such a decision.

“Right now those discussions are not happening. Could they or would we be ready for them? Absolutely,” Thomas said. “Could we be doing the mission? We could stand that up very quickly. I just don’t want to overplay something.”

The alert facility at Barksdale has been undergoing work since August 2016, and Strategic Command provided some money for the renovations. While the facility could house nuclear-bomber crews, it is more likely to house crews manning the E4-B National Airborne Operations Center planes that are used by the defense secretary and other senior officials during times of emergency.

US has not had its nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert since 1991, and the 2010 New Start Treaty signed by the US and Russia prohibited putting heavy bombers on alert during peacetime.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Taliban have fought for days to take this capital back

Afghan government forces have retaken most of Ghazni from the Taliban as clashes continued for a fourth straight day after the militant group launched an assault on the eastern city, officials say.

Security forces recaptured some 90 percent of Ghazni after reinforcements were sent to the city, Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Javed told RFE/RL late on Aug. 13, 2018.


Javed said clashes continued into the evening on Aug. 13, 2018, in Ghazni’s Baghe Bahlool area, one of the last pockets that remain under Taliban control.

Earlier on Aug. 13, 2018, Defense Minister Tareq Shah Bahrami said that some 1,000 additional troops had been sent to Ghazni, the capital of the province of the same name, and were trying to clear the city of Taliban militants.

“With the new measures in place, we expect that there will be a considerable development in the next 24 hours in the situation in Ghazni,” Bahrami told reporters in Kabul.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

“We hope there will be a good development,” he added.

Afghan officials were quoted as saying that U.S. Special Forces units were on the ground helping to coordinate air strikes and ground operations but that was not confirmed by the U.S. military.

Ghazni is a strategic city located on the main road linking the capital, Kabul, with southern Afghanistan.

Three days after the militants launched their assault on the city of 270,000 people early on Aug. 10, 2018, information was difficult to verify with telecommunications services being shut down due to the clashes.

Bahrami said the ongoing battle had killed about 100 police officers and soldiers, as well as at least 20 civilians. He also said that 194 Taliban fighters were killed.

Officials at the Interior Ministry were quoted as saying that the fighting also left at least 15 civilians dead and more than 400 others wounded.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called on the parties to “protect the lives and rights of civilians and to protect civilian infrastructure,” particularly medical facilities.

“Medication at the main hospital is reportedly becoming very scarce and people are unable to safely bring casualties for treatment,” Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, acting humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

He also said it was “unsafe” for people to travel to larger cities where medical facilities are available.

Food supplies in the city were “reportedly running low,” he added.

Shah Gul Rezayee, a lawmaker from Ghazni, told RFE/RL on Aug. 13, 2018, that the “Taliban has torched many parts of the city.”

Some Ghazni residents who fled to other cities described panic and fear in the city, Rezayee said, speaking by phone from Kabul.

“They say dead bodies are laying uncovered in the streets, people are facing a shortage of food and drinking water, and there is no electricity in the city,” she added.

A communications tower was destroyed by the Taliban, cutting off cell-phone and landline access to the city.

“People can’t contact their relatives and friends, and it has added to the fear and panic,” Rezayee said.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

In May, the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah. After a day of intense fighting, Afghan commandos and U.S. air strikes drove the group to the outskirts of the city.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Even ‘limited’ nuclear war between India and Pakistan could trigger global famine

Deadly tensions between India and Pakistan are boiling over in Kashmir, a disputed territory at the northern border of each country.

A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

On Feb. 14, 2019, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian troops in a convoy traveling through Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan called Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India responded by launching airstrikes against its neighbor — the first in roughly 50 years — and Pakistan has said it shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of the pilots.


Both countries possess about 140 to 150 nuclear weapons. Though nuclear conflict is unlikely, Pakistani leaders have said their military is preparing for “all eventualities.” The country has also assembled its group responsible for making decisions on nuclear strikes.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

An Indian air force Mirage 2000 fighter jet.

“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Feb. 27, 2019’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.

For that reason, climate scientists have modeled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries — what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war — might affect the world.

Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”

“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”

Why a ‘small’ nuclear war could ravage Earth

When a nuclear weapon explodes, its effects extend beyond the structure-toppling blast wave, blinding fireball, and mushroom cloud. Nuclear detonations close to the ground, for example, can spread radioactive debris called fallout for hundreds of miles.

But the most frightening effect is intense heat that can ignite structures for miles around. Those fires, if they occur in industrial areas or densely populated cities, can lead to a frightening phenomenon called a firestorm.

“These firestorms release many times the energy stored in nuclear weapons themselves,” Mills said. “They basically create their own weather and pull things into them, burning all of it.”

Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.

The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.

The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20% to 50% of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years.

The bombs in the researchers’ scenario are about as powerful as the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, enough to devastate a city. But that’s far weaker than many weapons that exist today. The latest device North Korea tested was estimated to be about 10 times as powerful as Little Boy. The US and Russia each possess weapons 1,000 times as powerful.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.

Still, the number of weapons used is more important than strength, according to the calculations in this study.

How firestorms would wreck the climate

Most of the smoke in the scenario the researchers considered would come from firestorms that would tear through buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more. This smoke would rise through the troposphere (the atmospheric zone closest to the ground), and particles would then be deposited in a higher layer called the stratosphere. From there, tiny black-carbon aerosols could spread around the globe.

“The lifetime of a smoke particle in the stratosphere is about five years. In the troposphere, the lifetime is one week,” Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who worked on the study, told Business Insider. “So in the stratosphere, the lifetime of smoke particles is much longer, which gives it 50 times the impact.”

The fine soot would cause the stratosphere, normally below freezing, to be dozens of degrees warmer than usual for five years. It would take two decades for conditions to return to normal.

This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” the study said. That ozone damage would consequently allow harmful amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the ground, hurting crops and humans, harming ocean plankton, and affecting vulnerable species all over the planet.

But it gets worse: Earth’s ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Change in surface temperature (K) for (a) June to August and (b) December to February. Values are five- year seasonal averages.

(Earth’s Future/Michael J. Mills et al.)

The fine black soot in the stratosphere would prevent some sun from reaching the ground. The researchers calculated that average temperatures around the world would drop by about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the five years following the nuclear blasts.

In populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes could be more extreme (as illustrated in the graphic above). Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees colder and summers between 1 and 4 degrees colder, reducing critical growing seasons by 10 to 40 days. Expanded sea ice would also prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects sunlight away.

“It’d be cold and dark and dry on the ground, and that’d affect plants,” Robock said. “This is something everybody should be concerned about because of the potential global effects.”

The change in ocean temperatures could devastate sea life and fisheries that much of the world relies on for food. Such sudden blows to the food supply and the “ensuing panic” could cause “a global nuclear famine,” according to the study’s authors.

Temperatures wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Pakistani Missiles on display in Karachi, Pakistan.

The effects might be much worse than previously thought

Robock is working on new models of nuclear-winter scenarios; his team was awarded a nearly million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to do so.

“You’d think the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies would fund this research, but they didn’t and had no interest,” he said.

Since his earlier modeling work, Robock said, the potential effects of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan have gotten worse. That’s because India and Pakistan now have more nuclear weapons, and their cities have grown.

“It’s about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” he said.

Because of his intimate knowledge of the potential consequences, Robock advocates the reduction of nuclear arsenals around the world. He said he thinks Russia and the US — which has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons — are in a unique position to lead the way.

“Why don’t the US and Russia each get down to 200? That’s a first step,” Robock said.

“If President Trump wants the Nobel Peace Prize, he should get rid of land-based missiles, which are on hair-trigger alert, because we don’t need them,” he added. “That’s how he’ll get a peace prize — not by saying we have more than anyone else.”

Kevin Loria and Alex Lockie contributed to this article.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why soldiers and Marines get along so well

There’s a never-ending pissing contest between all of the branches of the U.S. Military but, at the end of the day, we’re all still one big, happy, dysfunctional family. We’ll always throw barbs at our brothers while we work with them because we expect the same jokes to be thrown our own way.

No two branches better demonstrate this love/hate relationship than the Marines and the soldiers. Yeah, the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy and yes, the Air Force was once a part of the Army, but — sorry, sailors and airmen — it’s the soldiers and the Marines who inevitably become the closer friends in the end.


This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Train. Go to the field. Deploy. Clean. That’s about it for both branches…

(U.S. Army)

1. Our missions are similar

Marines and soldiers often share the same FOBs, the same areas of operation, the same interpreters, and the same objectives. It’s bound to happen when both branches pride themselves on being Uncle Sam’s premier door kickers.

Hell, both branches even share the same joke about one another. You’ll hear both Marines and soldiers talk about how “we’re the first ones in and it’s up to those guys to clean up the mess!” And no matter who says it, there are historical examples of it being true.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

“Locker room talk” has nothing on “deployed smoke pit talk.”

(U.S. Marine Corps)

2. We get each other’s low-brow humor

When life gets rough, the only thing you can do is joke it off — the more stressful the situation, the raunchier the humor.

Don’t get me wrong. Sailors can tell some pretty dirty, messed-up jokes, but leave it to the Marines and the soldiers to find the line you shouldn’t cross… and then go a few clicks past it.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

There’s a certain finesse required to kicking in a door that only our brothers would find admirable.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

3. We share the same values

Can you shoot well? Can you max your PT test? Can you insult the boot/FNG to the point that they have to pull out a stress card? Can you and your boys drink an entire bar dry in a single evening? Awesome! You’re one of us.

We also both value our ability to speak with our fists over “soft skills,” like reasoning and negotiation. Don’t believe me? Just watch as either group shows up to a new FOB and there’s an open bunk in the back corner. Someone will get choked out and the winner will get a year in the best spot.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

And we both want to smack the ever living sh*t out of that one person who always jokes, “if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin’!”

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan)

4. We understand each other’s pain

Jokes about how much it sucks to be stuck in the motor pool until 2130 because the some butter-bar misread the serial number on a pair of NVGs are universal — because it happens all the friggin’ time to all of us.

But the empathy runs much deeper than that. Both groups also left in the field for a few weeks just to come back to the monotony of garrison life, where we spend most of our time cleaning things as we wait for the totally-going-to-happen-this-time visit from a general.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots

Here’s to you, you glorious bastards!

(U.S. Army)

5. We both mock our brother’s branch viciously

It’s beautiful when Marines and soldiers sh*t-talk each other. You poke fun at the Navy, and sailors will get defensive. You mock the Air Force, and airmen will probably just agree with you, sucking the fun right out of the joke.

When soldiers and Marines go at it, you’d be surprised by how even the lowest blow is matched by another vicious, hilarious comment… that gets laughed off just as quickly.

MIGHTY TRENDING

South Koreans are not happy to be Olympic partners with the North

A South Korean decision to allow North and South Korean athletes to march together under a unified Korea flag at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics may be costing President Moon Jae-in support.


A Gallup Korea poll released Jan. 26 indicates approval ratings for Moon, whose support had not dipped below 70 percent since he assumed office less than a year ago, now stands at 64 percent, local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported.

Moon’s nosedive in popularity comes at a time when North Korea may be taking advantage of the reconciliatory mood in Seoul, and calling for an “independent” unification that could split the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
‘2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games’ Torch Relay in Seoul. (Image Republic of Korea Flickr)

The United States may be making it clear to North Korea its tactics are not working.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Joint Chiefs of Staff director, said suspending drills that occur regularly is not an option.

“We haven’t suspended, we’re de-conflicting during the period of the Olympics and exercises will continue immediately after the Olympics,” McKenzie said Jan. 25.

Senior South Korean and U.S. officials are expected to confirm the plans in Hawaii, with a ministerial-level meeting on the timing of post-Olympic drills and their scale, according to South Korean news network MBN.

But South Korea’s tough military stance on the North, which has shown no signs of giving up its nuclear weapons program, has not contributed to Moon’s standing in the polls.

Also Read: North and South Korea to train together at the Winter Olympics

According to Gallup, Moon’s approval rating has declined for two consecutive weeks, and decisions to unify the women’s ice hockey team and march in unison at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics are responsible for the fall.

Among South Koreans in their 20s, the approval rating dropped from 75 to 68 percent.

Other factors for the decline include a perception Moon’s administration is “retaliating” against past administrations and punishing conservatives, like former President Lee Myung-bak, according to the survey conducted this week.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis calls North Korea a ‘threat to the entire world’

The regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un remains a danger to the world, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Jan. 26 in Honolulu, while emphasizing diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.


The goal remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Mattis told reporters at U.S. Pacific Command‘s headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with South Korea Minister of Defense Song Young-moo.

“The Kim regime is a threat to the entire world,” Mattis said. “It’s an international problem that requires an international solution.”

He noted three unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolutions on North Korea.

“Our response to this threat remains diplomacy-led, backed up with military options available to ensure that our diplomats are understood to be speaking from a position of strength,” the secretary explained.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gives the keynote address to kick off the 2017 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9, 2017. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

U.S.-South Korea ‘ironclad and irreplaceable’ alliance

Mattis and Song reaffirmed the strength of their countries’ alliance and America’s pledge to defend South Korea and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The U.S.-South Korean alliance is “ironclad and irreplaceable,” Mattis said.

“Our combined militaries stand shoulder-to-shoulder ready to defend against any attack” on South Korea or the United States, he said.

Mattis praised South Korea’s “steadfast action upholding United Nations sanctions at sea,” noting South Korea has impounded two ships that were found violating the U.N. Resolutions using ship-to-ship transfer at cargo at sea.

Also Read: South Koreans are not happy to be Olympic partners with the North

South Korea “leads by example in carrying out the United Nations’ sanctions,” Mattis said, adding North Korea is reminded that “risking its economy to boost its rockets makes it less secure, not more.”

Enduring Pacific power

Mattis said Song is always welcome at the Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu. This was the last stop of the secretary’s trip that also took him to Indonesia and Vietnam.

“Here in beautiful Hawaii we’re reminded that America is an enduring Pacific power — five of our states plus territories all touch on this shared ocean,” he said.

Reckless rhetoric, dangerous provocations

Mattis said the United States and South Korea welcome the Olympic Games talks between North Korea and South Korea, but at the same time, “remain steadfast with the international economic pressure campaign to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.”

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
‘2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games’ Medal. (Image Republic of Korea Flickr)

The talks for the Olympics, Mattis explained, do not address the overarching problems with North Korea.

“Diplomacy should repose reason on Kim’s reckless rhetoric and dangerous provocations,” he said.

North Korea is sending athletes, including hockey players for a unified South Korea-North Korea team, to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. The games begin Feb. 9.

Articles

Here’s where the US military is going to deploy its most advanced weaponry

Long relegated to the world of science fiction, lasers and rail guns are increasingly appearing in real life.


Rail guns use electromagnets to fire projectiles at supersonic speeds, while lasers fire pure energy bursts.

In 2012, the US Navy test-fired a rail gun for the first time and later announced plans to put one on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt.

In 2014, the Navy mounted and tested a laser on the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock, successfully taking out the engine of a small inflatable boat containing a rocket-propelled grenade.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
The USS Ponce. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Kummer.

More recently, the US Army successfully tested a laser mounted on an Apache helicopter, and the Air Force is planning to put lasers on AC-130s.

Despite these many successful tests, the two weapons aren’t currently operational, Bob Freeman, a spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, told Business Insider, notwithstanding CNN’s recent story claiming that the laser aboard the Ponce is “ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew.”

The laser aboard the Ponce is “not the final product,” Freeman said. It is a low-energy laser that has been tested to shoot down drones. If the Ponce is threatened, they’ll still use conventional weapons.

So questions remain about when the weapons will be operational, how they will be used, and which will be used more.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

“They both have unique capabilities,” but, Freeman said, “it seems to me you have less options with rail guns.”

Lasers have more capabilities in that they can be set to different energy levels, giving the operators the option to deter or take out targets.

For example, if a US ship perceives an aircraft as a threat, “you can put [the laser] on low-power and scintillate the cockpit” and make the pilot turn around, Freeman said. He wasn’t exactly sure what the enemy pilot would experience but said he or she would see the laser and probably wouldn’t be injured.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

Or, if needed, the operators could turn the energy levels up and destroy the enemy target, either by melting precision holes through the craft or “cutting across” it, he said.

High-energy lasers, he added, are “still in development.”

But for larger targets, such as enemy ships, rail guns would probably be the best weapon.

“It packs a punch … and can go through steel walls,” Freeman said.

This is how the Air Force wants to turn its copilots into robots
One of the two electromagnetic rail gun prototypes on display aboard the joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop.

Once they are both operational, the US military will use them along with conventional weapons, and it’ll take years of evolution for one to make the other, or even conventional weapons, obsolete, Freeman said.

“They both have challenges to go through,” he told Business Insider, including where to get the power needed to fuel them. But they also offer other benefits in addition to their lethality: They’re cheaper and can even be safer for sailors, as they don’t require stores of ammunition that can explode.

As for exact tactics regarding how and when to use rail guns and lasers, the Navy and other branches employing them will decide once they’re operational, Freeman said.

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