Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the event occurred on a test vessel, not aboard the Ford as previously stated.
The Navy recently got a step closer to getting the first ship in its new class of aircraft carriers ready for combat missions with a live-fire test off the coast of California.
A drone was taken out by Raytheon’s latest integrated combat system that’s being developed for the supercarrier Gerald R. Ford, Raytheon announced Feb. 5, 2019. The event took place on a test vessel off the coast of California, said Ian Davis, a Raytheon spokesman.
The system the Navy used to take down the drone is called the Ship Self-Defense System. It integrates a myriad of equipment that will be used aboard the Navy’s first Ford-class carrier, such as sensors, missiles and radars.
Raytheon program manager Mike Fabel said in a release that the new system allowed for “seamless integration” when its sensors and missiles were put to the test.
Aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Christopher Delano)
“This first-of-its-kind test [proves] the ability of the system to defend our sailors,” Fabel said. “This integrated combat system success brings Ford [herself] one step closer to operational testing and deployment.”
At least five of the integrated-combat system’s capabilities, which are also used on amphibious assault ships, were used during the live-fire event, according to the release detailing the test.
That included a radar that searched for, tracked and illuminated the target; the Ship Self-Defense System, which processed the data and passed launch commands to the missile; and missiles that took out the targeted drone.
The Ford, which is the first in its class of next-generation carriers, is expected to deploy in 2022.
The first in the new generation of carriers, the flattop has faced a series of mechanical and technological setbacks. That has left lawmakers and the commander in chief pressing Navy officials to explain the issues, including those with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and advanced weapons elevators.
There can be no doubt that terrifying things can happen in times of war. However, in most cases it can at least be counted on that the enemy one faces is a living human being.
What happens when other, more supernatural forces creep into war zones? What are soldiers to do when faced with mysterious phantoms, ghosts, apparitions and entities against which they have no experience and which they have not been trained to fight? War zones have attracted tales of hauntings and supernatural phenomena since time unremembered, and certainly one of the more modern such places of paranormal terror is the desolate battlefields of the war in Afghanistan. This is a place that is not only plagued by fighting and violence, but also apparently strange forces that have shown some soldiers here that human enemies are not always the only thing to be scared of in these bleak, violent wastelands.
Several mysterious reports came from a United States Marine who had just come back home after serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The witness tends to be quite secretive about his role in the war, only stating that his unit was “relatively safe,” and only suffered two non-combat related casualties. The witness claims to have had a couple of potential encounters with ghosts during his service, and one of them occurred as he was sitting with some superiors and colleagues within a makeshift office in the desert which had three rooms. There were reportedly four other people in the cramped room with him when, as he was standing near the backdoor, he noticed his Lieutenant step through the door and enter a small adjoining contractor’s office. He saw the man clearly, but at this point there was nothing particularly strange about it, and the witness explained “he was wearing a FROG suit and everything. Nothing unusual about him. Even had the moustache.”
Just 30 seconds later a call came through asking for the Lieutenant and the witness went to the contractor’s office to fetch him. Strangely, the room was completely empty – nobody was there. Since there was no other door out of the office, the witness asked if anyone had noticed the Lieutenant leave, but nobody had, even though there were four others in the enclosed space and it seemed that somebody would have noticed such a thing. The witness went to the rear door of the office they were in and looked around but there was no one there either. Even a look outside showed no signs of anyone. It was as if the Lieutenant had just disappeared into thin air. The witness explained:
I said ‘Disregard Sgt., nobody is around, looks like I was seeing things.’ Then, my roommate a fellow Lance says to me “That’s bull****, you and I both know somebody is in that room,” and I just said “Nope. You saw it too. Someone walked in, and nobody came out, but nobody is there.
Another incident in the very same office happened one evening at around 10PM. The witness claims that he was alone after working late and on his way out when the door to the contractor’s room opened by itself and stayed open. He went to investigate and shone a flashlight about into the dim space but no one was there. He said that at the time he had a very strange feeling like he was being watched and that it was quite unsettling. The very same witness claimed to have seen other strange things during his tour. He also says that there was a mysterious heat signature that would be seen on infrared equipment wandering and pacing around out in the desert outside in the dark, yet when it was observed with different cameras or the naked eye, nothing was there and there was no response when they called out into the night.
Another witness who reported strange, ghostly figures in the desert claimed that his unit was plagued by a mysterious phantom that would appear around the outskirts of their camp and vanish in the blink of an eye. The first time it appeared was a little after dusk, a couple hundred yards from their position. One of the men, described as a “random PVT,” told the others that there was a person out in the wilderness just standing there. The witness looked and at first couldn’t see anything but after a moment could make out a dark blob in the vague shape of a person. The Sergeant apparently was called over and saw it too. When asked where the figure had come from, the private explained that it had “just popped up.” Whoever was out there there was just standing motionless with its back to them. The witness described the eerie scene and what happened next:
So we watch this “person” for about 3hrs, who just stands there, motionless, with its back to us. You could put optics on it and see it was a person, adult male, average height and build. Best part: we “borrowed” a thermal monocular and this f*cker doesn’t register in it. ZERO F*CKING HEAT SIGNATURE. Then randomly, just poof, gone. Random PVT spends the next 6 weeks telling everyone about the ghost we saw.
Around 6 months later, the same witness was out on patrol when two of his unit reported seeing two figures standing on top of a berm a couple of hundred yards away. Anticipating an enemy IED (Improvised Explosive Device), they stopped the vehicle and examined the figures, which appeared to be men just standing with their backs to them. They were motionless and would not respond when called to, just like the strange phantom previously seen 6 months earlier. The Lieutenant called it in and some of the men got out to go investigate. The witness would explain what happened next thus:
We dismount, LT calls over terp asks if he knows what’s up. Terp gives blank stare and shrugs. LT decides we should go have a look-see and do some hearts-and-minds sh*t. I stay in the truck (which feels like 140 f*cking degrees), 20min goes by LT comes back with weird look on his face and says ‘we’re outta here.’ Later that day I asked another guy WTF happened, he says they get within 50yds of aforementioned “persons” and, presto, gone. I ask “what do you mean, gone?” and he just looks at me with this blank stare and says “gone. They were there, and then they weren’t. Weird huh?’
In another account, a marine who served in Afghanistan and Yemen from 2009-2013 relates an odd experience. One evening at 1AM, the witness had just finished setting up a patrol base with four members of his squad while the other seventeen men slept. In front of the patrol base was a huge, open field and to the left was, rather spookily, an Afghan cemetery. As the witness was looking out over the field on watch duty, he claims that a rock came hurtling through the air to land at his feet. Thinking this to be peculiar he peered out into the darkness over the field, which was wide open with no blind spots or hiding places, but he couldn’t see anyone there nor any movement. As he was looking, another rock reportedly was tossed in his direction from the field. The witness put on night vision equipment but could still see no one there, and infrared turned up no heat signatures either. The night was completely quiet and that field was totally empty. Yet another rock would be lobbed at him as he tried to figure out what was going on, and the whole thing was quite unnerving. The marine would say of the eerie incident:
At this point I’m kinda freaked out. This happened right after my team leader died. So I was freaked out and nothing to rule out what threw rocks at me because no one was there.
Equally as bizarre as any of these accounts of strange intruders is that of another soldier who was operating with a special forces squad in the mountains of Afghanistan with the mission of setting up a hide-to-survey in a village several miles away that was believed to be harboring a Taliban person of interest who the military had been tracking for years. The squad’s main goal at the time was to observe the village for a few days for any suspicious activity or persons, as well as to collect any useful information that could be later used in a raid. To this end they set up a team of six men at the base and two others whose job was to creep in closer to observe from a different vantage point.
Things went well at first, but on the second day the squad began having trouble maintaining radio contact with the observation team and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). They found that transmissions were plagued by static and sometimes would not go through at all. It was chalked up to the magnetic content of the rocks in the area and the witness and some of the men went out to re-position the Satcom in order to get a better signal. As they were doing this at around dusk, one of the soldiers said he spotted a man wearing a white robe who looked to be flitting and running through the rocks outside of the village. When this was reported the men were immediately suspicious, and the witness would say:
There was something odd about the way he described it, but we were more worried about being compromised. Needless to say, we folded up our sh*t and got ready to move out. We weren’t going to end up in some Lone Survivor type clusterf*ck. We were the f*ck out of there. So at this point it’s late dusk, and we were moving pretty quick. Everyone is on high f*cking alert, we are a small element in a remote area without ready access to any kind of quick reaction force and we had no reliable comms.
The team continued their hasty trek back towards their outpost, and the witness took up the rear, walking backwards and making sure they weren’t being followed or leaving a clear trail, his gun trained on the darkness the whole time. As he did this he spotted a fleeting glimpse of something white moving in the distance, although he could not be sure just what it was or if it was following them. Oddly, he would later report that at the time he had begun to sense the smell of freshly baked bread permeating the air and a sudden onset of a feeling of peace and relaxation, which he sensed was emanating from the direction they had come from. This sensation was so profound that he actually slowed down, and thoughts danced through his head of running over to this comfortable place he felt pulling at him from where they had been. He shook off this daze and reported to the other men what he had seen and that he thought they were possibly being trailed, to which an officer replied that he had seen something white moving as well. The witness would say:
I asked my dudes to keep their eyes open for anything, because I thought I had seen someone trailing us. Our senior scout piped in “That’s strange mom, (I was mom, long story) I thought I saw some dude in white on the ridge in front of us.” At this point all the hairs on my neck are standing up. Everything felt strange. The air felt heavy, and sort of sweet. The silence hummed loudly.
With the night steadily moving in, a sense of urgency, panic, and dread set in and the men picked up the pace, even though they were already exhausted from hauling their heavy packs over the uneasy, rugged terrain. As darkness creeped over the landscape to slowly envelope them in pitch blackness, they put on their NODS (night vision goggles), turning the world into a green haze. The night was incredibly silent, even more than usual, and there was no movement out there in the mountainous moonscape bathed in the green cast of the night vision goggles. But this eerie silence would not last, and this is when things allegedly got very strange indeed. The witness describes it best:
Hallucinations happen. But what happened was beyond comprehension. First, we heard a sound like a huge airplane taking off. A loud low buzz that slowly increased in pitch. We had to yell over comms to hear each other. Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing what looked like glowing eyes staring back at me, but once i would center my focus on where I saw them, they would disappear. We were f*cking panicked. Everyone was holding their rifles at the high ready, we were expecting some kind of ambush attack and we started talking out the RP we would meet at if we needed to start a peel and move. Then it all just stopped. Everything got dark. The only thing I could hear was my breath and the blood pumping in my head. We stopped, dug into the side of the mountain, and performed SLLS (Stop look listen Smell) for about 10 minutes. Nothing. Not even bugs. The air and the land were silent.
Baffled, frightened, and overcome with fatigue, the men quickly resumed their trudge through the wilderness back to their camp, very aware that something very possibly malignant and beyond their experience was out there in the dark somewhere. As they scrambled over loose rock and through scrub and brush the witness claims that he suddenly noticed on a parallel hillside the very clear sight of a man dressed in light colored robes, which seemed to be slowly making his way towards their position. Bizarrely, it seemed that that the stranger was just passing through any obstacles he came across as he moved slowly but inexorably closer. The witness would describe the rest of the surreal encounter thus:
He seemed to melt over and around the rocks, it was f*cking unnatural the way he was moving. Through the NODS, his eyes glowed. I scoped up on him, and saw that he was looking directly at me. It was pitch black, there is no way he could have saw us from that distance without any kind of night optics. Suddenly, he stopped. He picked up one of his limbs and held it in the air, almost like he was waving at me. Then the arm melted back into his form, like it wasn’t an arm at all, but some kind of extendable proboscis that was meant to look like an arm from a distance. I was about to ask the guy’s if they could see him, when he suddenly disappeared.
The witness also saw lights flickering in the distance near the town, which he presumed to be the enemy closing in on the area where the booming sound had originated. The team moved on and managed to make it back to their recovery location. They went on to recount their strange experiences and were reportedly told that it was probably all attributable to weariness, panic, and adrenaline. The whole thing was more or less forgotten until a few days later, when the story would take another weird turn. According to the witness:
The reason we did the observation was so we could bring the intel back for a raid that was to be conducted. The raid was ‘successful’, in the sense that finding a deer hit by a car is a successful deer hunt. Apparently, the team that moved into the village found it completely abandoned. They also found several men in the area where I had seen the lights the night we were hauling ass out of there. The corpses had been ripped to shreds, and based on the sheer amount of blood, the general consensus was that there were more men that were killed there than just the bodies that were found. It went in the official records as a successful raid with several enemy KIA’s. Unofficially? No one has any idea what killed them. All I know is whatever it was…it chose. It chose those men and not us.
Whatever that “it” was remains unknown. Another account that most certainly belongs here is one given by a commenter on another article of mine on mysteries in the war in the Middle East. It is an account that seems hard to really categorize, but seeming to deal with ghosts, demons, or some other supernatural beings. The commenter, Jerry Aberdeen, related a truly bizarre experience that happened to him when he was stationed in Mosul, Ninewah Province in 2004, and it is so intriguing and fitting that I felt compelled to share it here. Jerry Aberdeen explains his very weird story thus:
I was attached to 2/3 INF 3 SBCT at FOB Patriot. A call went out on the radio that FOB Diamondback (the airfield) was under attack. Everyone on every FOB from, Courage, Blickenstaff, Patriot and Marez jumped into the closest vehicle and headed to the airfield to counter the attack. I was in a vehicle with some other infantry guys, an engineer and a PsyOps guy. When we got to the airfield we saw some dudes trying to climb over the wall. The gunner opened up on them and the rest of us took up a position in a ditch on the other side of the road and opened fire. There were three of us side by side, the engineer, the PsyOps guys and myself. We fired and one guy and he dropped from the top of the wall (hard to tell who actually shot him). Right after he fell there was stream of black smoke coming out of him. The engineer made that comment that he must have been wearing a suicide vest and it malfunctioned. A few seconds later the black smoke grew larger and started to take a human looking form. What happened next all three of us saw and there was no doubt. The now fully materialized black smoke was standing upright and now had red smoky glowing eyes and a weird looking mouth. The damn thing actually smiled at us and turned to, sort of run but it just dissipated after it took a few steps. Very hard to describe how it all happened. All three of us just looked at each other wide eyed for a second or two. After it was all over we only spoke about once then never again.
So far here we have been looking at assorted isolated incidents of the strange and supernatural, but the war in Afghanistan also seems to have certain places that draw in such bizarre tales. One such place is a lonely outpost called Observation Point Rock, also known as simply “The Rock,” which sits exposed around 20 meters (65ft) above the desert and situated near what appears to be a looming, giant rock, but which is actually the ruins of a caved-in, ancient mud fort, complete with arrow slits and the crumpled remains of turrets. Captured from the Taliban in 2008, the isolated outpost typically holds a small contingent of U.S. Marines to keep watch and guard it, and in addition to its reputation as being a harsh, forbidding place full of dust and grit and sporadic rocket attacks by Taliban fighters, it has also gathered about it an even more sinister reputation of being an intensely haunted and cursed one.
Almost as soon as the Marines moved in there were strange stories and dark rumors swirling about the place. It was said that Taliban fighters had been buried alive in the caves below, and that there were numerous bodies of Russian soldiers buried here during the failed Soviet invasion of these lands. One group of Marines digging a trench claimed to have come across a human leg bone, which led to the discovery of another piece of human remains, followed by another and another, including skulls and whole desiccated corpses and skeletons, which were all believed to have possibly been Russian since a stake with Russian writing was found. They would later find out that a contingent of Russian soldiers had been supposedly executed there in the 1980s after being found by the Taliban while using the rock as a hideout. Also among the macabre remains were found shards of ancient pottery long buried within the dry earth with more inscrutable, unknown origins.
With the creepy ambiance and all of the bodies said to be entombed here it was perhaps no surprise that weird reports would start popping up amongst those stationed here in these badlands. Noises with no discernible source, objects moving on their own, strange lights, disembodied cries or screams, the sound of footsteps or crunching gravel even when there was no one there, the sudden onset of heavy feelings of dread … the men serving here were often plagued with various strange phenomena. Electrical equipment was also said to often malfunction here, and that fresh batteries had a habit of going dead within minutes. On some occasions, machine gun fire or incoming rockets could be heard, but nothing was hit and none of the guns had been fired. There were cases of movement seen on the perimeter only to turn up no trespassers on thermal equipment and no footprints. A Sergeant Josh Brown, 22, once said of Observation Point, “The local people say this is a cursed place. You will definitely see weird-ass lights up here at night,” and another soldier named Lance Corporal Austin Hoyt, 20 has said:
This place really sucks. The Afghans say it’s haunted. Stick a shovel in anywhere and you’ll find bones and bits of pottery. This place should be in National Geographic — in the front there are weird-looking windows for shooting arrows. You know, they say the Russians up here were executed by the Mujahidin.
Strange phenomena were said to have been going on before they had even arrived. The British soldiers who had occupied the base before them also supposedly had experienced such strangeness, and even warned the American troops of what to expect when they got there. They claimed that lights prowled the bleak landscape, that phantoms and shadows moved about in the desert which were only briefly glimpsed by infrared cameras before vanishing, that there were dancing lights that could be observed through night vision goggles, that there were often noises and voices from nowhere, screams or shrieks out in the desert at night, and that to touch any relics or bones found there was to invite great misfortune.
Although the tales of the supernatural surrounding the haunted base are numerous, some stand out as particularly creepy. One Corporal Jacob Lima had a few spooky stories to tell concerning the Observation Point Rock. In one account he claimed that one night he was startled by a chilling scream coming from one of the men. When Lima ran to investigate, he found a Corporal Zolik cowering in fear at his guard post. Zolik claimed that as he had been sitting there, he had felt breath on his ear and heard a clear voice whisper something in Russian. The man was so terrified that he begged Lima to stay with him until his shift was finished. As they waited there together Lima said on several occasions they heard footsteps up on the observation post above them, even though no one else was there. At one point during the night Lima was scanning the area with thermal imaging and allegedly saw what looked like another soldier with “balled fists” standing out in the desert. As he tried to discern whether it was friend or foe, the mysterious figure vanished into thin air right before his eyes. The whole incident was enough to make Zolik desperately requested a transfer out of there. Interestingly, other men also frequently reported hearing disembodied whispers in Russian around the outpost.
On another occasion, Lima was on watch and suddenly heard a dog that was kept there, named Ugly Betty, barking wildly at something. Thinking it could be the enemy, Lima put on his night vision goggles and scanned the night for movement, which turned up what appeared to be a figure in the distance. Not sure what he was seeing, he switched to thermal imaging and tried to find the figure again but it was gone. When he went back to night vision he was able to see the mysterious figure again, which had inexplicably closed a large distance in just moments. A switch back to thermal once again turned up no heat signatures at all, even though Lima was sure that the whatever-it-was was still there. At some point in all of this switching between thermal and night vision, he lost sight of the figure altogether, at which point he claims he felt a heavy tap on his shoulder. When he turned around there was supposedly no one there. Somewhere out in the night, the dog was still barking.
Observation Point Rock is not the only supposedly haunted military outpost in Afghanistan – another notorious one is called Forward Operation Base Salerno. The location of the base already lends itself well to spooky tales, as on its outskirts is an old Afghan graveyard, which is overlooked by two high watchtowers. Indeed, it is these towers that are said to be intensely haunted by what appears to be the spirit of a little girl, said to be sometimes heard or seen wandering around aimlessly either in the towers themselves or in the area around them.
One frightening report concerns two paratroopers with the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment named Painter and Jackson, who one night were on watch duty when they were startled by a blood curdling, shrill laugh emanating from their radio, so high-pitched as to almost cause pain. The laugh was described as sounding like that of a little girl, and Painter would claim that “No grown man in the Army could have made it.” When the unearthly laugh stopped, the two men radioed to others on watch but it turned out that no one else had heard a thing. The very next evening, the two men were on watch duty again in the same place, still rather unnerved by what had happened the night before. As they sat there in the dark, they claim that they heard movement and footsteps in the tower, particularly on the trap door that led to another level, even though they were the only ones there. The room also allegedly suddenly became very cold for no apparent reason.
This was unsettling enough, but then there came a call over the radio from the other watch tower, claiming that they were detecting a small, 3-foot-tall figure wandering around in the dark outside. Creepily, although no details of the strange phantom could be seen, what did appear to be clear was that whatever it was reportedly seemed to be waving at them. Jackson says he went out onto the balcony to investigate but saw nothing but the desolate nighttime landscape and that graveyard out in the murk. A scan of the surroundings with thermal imaging equipment also turned up no heat signatures of any kind. After that, the scared men reluctantly continued the rest of their shift with no further such phenomena. Interestingly, although this incident was indeed frightening, neither of the men felt that the ghost was malevolent, but rather that it seemed to just want to play.
In this case the figure had been small but rather indistinct, yet other stories add more eerie detail. On another occasion that supposedly happened years earlier, two Marines were in one of the watch towers when they looked out and clearly saw through their night vision goggles a young girl walking along in the desert night with a goat, but when they took the goggles off the both the girl and the goat were gone. As soon as they put the goggles back on the girl was back, this time shockingly standing on the watchtower balcony, much to the horror of the guards. The event was so upsetting that these toughened Marines were supposedly reduced to tears and refused to go back to the tower. This is not even an isolated incident, and there have been other sightings of a ghostly little girl out walking abut, either by herself or with a goat, both always undetectable by thermal imaging or night vision.
Adding to ghostly lore of Forward Operating Base Salerno is the account of an Airman who had done two deployments in Afghanistan and had spent much of that time stationed at the base, where he stayed at a compound designated for aviation personnel. One night, he says he was out with another person from his platoon to go visit a friend of theirs who was doing guard duty at one of the towers. The friends spent some time chatting and, by the time they left the guard, it was quite late and the moonless night was pitch black, making it hard to get back to their compound since they did not have night vision goggles with them. They got lost and decided to head back to the guard tower to ask for directions back. As they set out into the night again towards the compound, they claim they heard a rustling and footsteps like someone coming up behind them, but when they looked, no one was there. This would happen several times as they picked up their pace and finally reached their destination. Could this have been the same spectral little girl? The mysteries of this place have yet to be explained, and there have been so many strange, unexplained phenomena at Forward Operating Base Salerno that it has become almost legendary in the region among military personnel.
What lies behind cases like these? Is there anything to them, or is this all the result of a scared mind seeing the world through the cracked sense of stress, horror, fatigue, and hallucination? There are many who say that this is precisely what it is. However, although I can see this being the case with lone, isolated individuals, it becomes harder to explain in these terms when the apparition is seen and experienced by several men at once. Is this possible that it is just a mass hallucination where each one sees exactly the same thing at exactly the same time down to every detail? Is this something that truly happens with mere hallucinations? There is also the fact that they may be lying, which is a possibility, but then again we are dealing with men with more on their mind, like staying alive and combating the enemy, than coming up with fanciful tales for the amusement of it all. Then there is the possibility that something truly strange is really going on, but what that could be remains evasive.
In the end, it certainly seems that war zones can attract just as many strange specters, phantoms, and assorted entities and spooky tales of hauntings as any old derelict house or secluded, darkened forest. In fact, some of the most haunted places in the world are places that have been cast under the shadow of violent battle and strife, whether that is happening now or a dark piece of history from centuries ago. War zones and battlefields consistently draw to themselves such eerie stories, as if they are not only collecting ghosts in the sense of memories of a bloody past, but also literal ones as well. Is it because places so saturated with killing, anguish, and horrific struggle somehow tether the spirits of the dead to them? Does all of this negative energy manifest itself in some bizarre and mysterious fashion beyond our understanding? Is it because the gruesome horrors of war have managed to pervade the landscape and etch themselves onto the very fabric of reality, like light onto film, with events and individuals playing back like a video? We may never know the answers to questions such as these, but one thing that becomes apparent when looking at these accounts is that sometimes those in the field face terrors both human and otherwise, and must come face to face with fear both living and dead.
So, what was the Massachusetts State Police doing with a robot dog?
The loan agreement between Boston Dynamics and Massachusetts State Police explains it’s being used, “For the purpose of evaluating the robot’s capabilities in law enforcement applications, particularly remote inspection of potentially dangerous environments which may contain suspects and ordinances.”
Videos of Spot in action depict the dog-like robot opening doors and performing surveillance — it was used by the Bomb Squad and only the Bomb Squad, according to the lease agreement.
Though Spot was loaned to the Massachusetts State Police for testing, a representative told WBUR that Spot was deployed in two “incidents” without specifying details.
Both Boston Dynamics and the Massachusetts State Police say that the agreement didn’t allow robots to physically harm or threaten anyone.
A fleet of Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini pull a Boston Dynamics truck.
“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” Boston Dynamics VP of business development Michael Perry told WBUR. “So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody.”
State police spokesman David Procopio echoed that sentiment. “Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments.”
Moreover, that’s how Boston Dynamics is handling the first commercial sales of Spot.
“As a part of our lease agreement, for people who enter our early adopter program, we have a clause that says you cannot use a robot in a way that physically harms or intimidates people,” Perry told Business Insider in a phone call on Nov. 25, 2019.
Boston Dynamics announced earlier this year that Spot would be its first robot to go on sale to the public.
Those sales have already begun through the company’s “Early Adopter Program,” which offers leases to customers with certain requirements. If a customer violates that agreement, Boston Dynamics can terminate the relationship and reclaim its robot — it also allows the company to repair and replace the Spot robots it sells.
Perry said the Massachusetts State Police is the only law enforcement or military organization that Boston Dynamics is working with currently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Despite steadily mounting infections from the coronavirus in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has so far refused to cancel a massive parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet triumph Nazi Germany.
The annual Victory Day parade on May 9 typically includes tens of thousands of troops, military equipment, and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The event came under fire last week after social media footage showed thousands of re-enactors rehearsing for the event, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
One video, found by Rob Lee, an open source military researcher who focuses on former Soviet militaries, shows re-enactors at a military base in Alabino, outside of Moscow.
Video purportedly of Russian troops at the Victory Day Parade rehearsals in Alabino who aren’t quite meeting the 1.5 meter social distancing requirement instituted by local officials.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “May 9th is a sacred date for millions upon millions in Russia and [ex-Soviet] countries. The Victory Day parade is scheduled (sanitary measures taken) and will march on Red Square,” according to the Guardian.
Alternative plans being considered for the parade, according to multiple Russian media outlets, include conducting the parade for TV cameras without a live audience, or postponing it until other historically significant anniversaries in September or November.
The idea of turning “swords into ploughshares” — that is to say, converting military technology and/or equipment into materials with a peaceful civilian purpose — is a very old concept. The phrase comes from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah 2:3-4:
And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This is where Sword Plough draws its name. The company sells unique designer handbags and accessories made from discarded military surplus items. Co-founded by the daughters of a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, Col. (ret.) Joseph Núñez, Sword Plough is a veteran-owned-and-operated business, dedicated to hiring and supporting veterans.
One daughter, Emily Núñez Cavness, is SP’s CEO, and is also an active duty Army 1st. Lt. serving with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Emily co-founded Sword Plough with her sister Betsy Núñez, who is the Chief Operations Officer.
“We have received such an incredibly positive and supportive response from our community,” Núñez Cavness says. “We’re still a young company, but we’re growing fast and we have a lot happening in the new year. In addition to expanding our product line, we have a number of exciting brand partnerships in the works and we’re planning to grow our wholesale business to brick and mortar shops throughout the country.”
“What sets Sword Plough apart is our commitment to a quadruple bottom line,” she continues. “People, Purpose, Planet, Profit. This means that we are simultaneously focused on improving veteran employment and supporting American jobs, bridging the civilian-military gap, repurposing surplus material, and donating 10% of our profits back to veteran organizations.”
One of their biggest passions is supporting veteran entrepreneurship.
“Betsy and I grew up on Army posts across the country and we couldn’t be more excited to be able to give back to the military and veteran community,” Núñez Cavness says. “One of the most rewarding parts of both serving in the Army and leading Sword Plough is the ability I have to bring the knowledge of starting a business to the veteran community. Many soldiers and veterans approach me with exciting ideas and ask for advice on how to start. Mentoring aspiring veteran entrepreneurs is one of my favorite things to do. Veterans already have so many of the leadership and management skills necessary to be successful in entrepreneurship or business. It is such an energizing experience to help chart realistic pathways to bring their ideas to reality.”
Since launching in 2013, Sword Plough repurposed over 35,000 pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, donated 10 percent of profits annually, and shipped over 10,000 products globally. Not a bad startup period.
Their father commanded Army forces at the company and battalion level, taught political science at West Point, and deployed to Haiti in 1994 in support of Operations Restore Democracy and Uphold Democracy. Their uncle, Kenneth Cameron, served in the Marine Corps. Cameron is a retired Colonel and was an aviator, test pilot, engineer, and NASA astronaut who piloted three missions to outer space.
Being from such a strong military family, Emily Núñez Cavness is herself an ROTC graduate of Middlebury College. She recalls her introduction to the civilian-military divide, which happened as she walked to a military science class one morning.
“I was abruptly stopped when an upperclassman walked out of the fine arts building,” she says. “He meandered toward me and asked, ‘Hi there, What play are you in?! I’ve never seen you around here.’ I didn’t have a lot of time to talk since I’d be late for my class, so I quickly explained that my uniform was not in fact a costume, but my actual government issued uniform for Army ROTC.”
This would be the first of many instances to leave an impression on her. They would come to help influence Sword Plough’s mission to empower veteran employment and bridge that divide in any way they can. But it doesn’t stop there. The summer after her sophomore year at Middlebury, Núñez Cavness found herself at the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“Even though I grew up in a military family on several Army Posts, this was the first time I was training next to Soldiers as a fellow service member rather than as a military kid,” she recalls. “We would spend almost every day quickly running from place to place in our helmets and boots, only to wait for hours under the hot sun until it was our turn to practice the parachute landing fall or how to properly pull a slip.”
1st Lt. Emily Núñez Cavness
“It didn’t take long for these periods of downtime to become some of my favorite moments of the course because it was then that the students to my left and right would open up to me about their past experiences in the Army and their goals and hopes for the future. Some expressed an interest in leaving the military in the near future but were seriously worried about their job prospects after talking to veteran friends who had been unemployed for a long time after leaving military service. At the time, I didn’t always know what to say, but I never forgot those conversations. It seemed like such an injustice to me that a group of people who had sacrificed so much and become such proven leaders would face this type of adversity.”
Fast forward one and a half years and Núñez Cavness is listening to Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, give her keynote speech during Middlebury’s first Social Entrepreneurship Symposium. She was talking about a business which incorporated recycling into its business model. The talk had young Núñez Cavness’ mind running 100 miles per hour.
“The way she described it immediately made me reflect on my own life,” Núñez Cavness said. “I asked myself, ‘what in my life is wasted on daily basis that could be harnessed and made into something beautiful?’ Having grown up on Army posts, I immediately thought back to the huge piles of military surplus I used to see that were going to be buried in a landfill or burned. As I looked around the audience, I noticed that every student had a backpack or bag of some kind propped up next to them. And then… it clicked! Why don’t I take the military surplus that would otherwise be discarded and turn it into stylish bags?”
Their newer Wool Handbag and Wool Crossbody are also very popular items.
As part of its dedication to giving back to veterans, Sword Plough makes financial contributions to veteran-focused organizations like Rocky Mountain Human Services, Feeding Our Vets, and Got Your 6. They support charitable organizations by donating their products for fundraisers.
These donations have helped recipients raise thousands of dollars through blind and live auctions. They also donate products to events which can raise general public awareness about veterans’ issues and the civil-military divide. To date, they have made more than $10,000 worth of product donations to organizations like the Navy SEAL Foundation, the 3rd and Goal Foundation, the Headstrong Project, and more.
Núñez Cavness designed the first three bags herself, but Sword Plough now has a creative director to design products. They also have a number of products designed by veterans.
“The military relies on cutting edge gear and technology to carry out its missions,” Núñez Cavness says. “This relationship with their equipment has definitely influenced the way we think about design and fashion. We repurpose military surplus equipment not only for the environmental benefits and vintage appeal, but also for its durability. Our team draws inspiration from cities that we live in, the people that we interact with, the feedback from the SP community of supporters, the history of the materials we use, and we try to honor tradition by constantly innovating and keeping functionality in mind.”
The one thing that seems to be a constant in Saigon is the delicious smell of food cooking – from the street vendors, open air cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries – it was that way in the late 60’s and remains so today. The first time I came to the city I remember walking to the headquarters with an officer I’d served with in Ban Me Thuot and stopping at a small coffee shop for a coffee and croissant – both were delicious and the whole event seemed surreal given what was going on in the rest of the country at the time.
This time, when I arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon the first thing I saw were customs officials wearing what I remember as North Vietnamese Army uniforms – a bit of a flashback. Stepping out of the terminal I breathed deeply of the humid tropical air – a familiar scent that almost seemed comforting. Driving through the city on the way to the hotel I noticed the beautiful French inspired architecture which added a touch of grace to the cityscape.
In 1969 Saigon was a multi-faced city, bustling with the business of war. The people were pursuing their livelihood as best they could, while hip deep in the middle of a war zone. They were trying as hard as they could to make life tolerable and better for their families. Today, later generations of those families are doing that same thing, less the war, making life better and succeeding on a grand scale.
Revisiting Saigon and Vietnam after forty some years reaffirmed my faith in humanity – it doesn’t matter who won or lost, doesn’t matter who is in power – it’s all about the people. The Vietnamese people have always been entrepreneurs, caring for their families and their country and have made it a powerhouse in Southeast Asia. It gladdened my heart and closed a circle for me in a most positive way.
This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.
The US Air Force set out to return to Cold War numbers by growing nearly 25% and taking on hundreds more planes to form an additional 74 squadrons, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced on Sept. 17, 2018.
The US Air Force, which typically acquires aircraft only after long vetting and bidding processes, will attempt the radical change in short order to fulfill President Donald Trump’s vision of a bigger military to take on Russia and China.
In the US’s new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump administration redefined the US’s foremost enemies not as rogue groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda, but China and Russia.
While the US has fought counter insurgencies against small terror groups and non-state actors nonstop since Sept. 11, 2001, the resurgence of an aggressive Russia now at war in Ukraine and Syria, and the emergence of China now unilaterally attempting to dominate the South China Sea, has renewed the US military’s focus on winning massive wars.
This chart shows how many new squadrons the Air Force wants and how they’ll be distributed. The Air Force announced a goal of 386 squadrons, up from 312. Depending on the airframe, a squadron can have 8-24 planes.
For the bomber squadrons, which include nuclear capable bombers like the B-52 and B-2, that number will grow only slightly and likely include the mysterious new B-21 Raider bomber, which no one has ever seen outside classified circles.
In the fighter jet department, it’s likely F-35s will comprise most of this growth. Aerial tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, likely drones, will also see a big bump.
The Air Force hopes to build the force up to 386 squadrons by 2030, but has not provided any information on how it plans to fund the venture. The US Air Force has requested 6 billion for next fiscal year, already a six percent bump over the previous year. While Wilson promised to streamline acquisition, which famously can take years and cost billions, there’s real doubts about how fast the organization can move. The US Air Force started working on the F-22 in 1981. It first flew in 1997 and first went into combat in 2014. The F-35 started in 2001 and just last year experienced its first combat in Israel’s service.
“We are not naive about the budget realities,” Wilson said at the Air Force’s annual Air, Space Cyber Conference. “At the same time, we think we owe our countrymen an honest answer on what is required to protect the vital, national interests of this country under the strategy we have been given, and so we believe this is, if not the perfect answer, it is an honest answer to that question: What is the Air Force we need?”
Currently, China’s military is in the midst of building up a tremendous air force and navy while also threatening some of the US’s core interests and most promising technologies.
The biggest US Air Force defense projects involve stealth aircraft, like the B-21 and F-35. As of yet unpublished research on China’s military reviewed by Business Insider found Chinese fighter aircraft now number around 1,610 compared to about 1,960 US fighters.
China has made strides towards quantum radars designed to negate the US stealth advantage as well as a stealth fighter of its own, the J-20.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The F-15 Eagle is a legendary air superiority platform with an unparalleled modern air-to-air record of 104 kills with zero loses, but when we think of aircraft that can really take a beating, our minds tend to conjure images of planes like the A-10 Thunderbolt II — landing on forward airstrips with more holes punched in them than a brick of Swiss cheese.
Of course, there’s good reason for the A-10’s toughness. The aircraft was purpose built around the positively massive GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling-style auto cannon for close air support. The A-10 was built to fight Soviet tanks from low altitude, with titanium armor and bullet-resistant glass wrapped around the pilot to keep the plane in the fight.
The F-15 was a product of the Cold War, not unlike the A-10, but was designed with a very different purpose in mind. With a top speed of Mach 2.5 and enough hard points to carry 11 air-to-air missiles into a fight, the F-15 might be thought of as a Ferrari compared to the gun truck that is the A-10, but that doesn’t mean these blistering fast fighter-killers aren’t pretty tough on their own.
Despite being an American aircraft, the F-15 has done a great deal of fighting under the banners of a number of allied nations. In fact, a good portion of the F-15’s air-to-air record was earned by Israeli pilots — but the most incredible thing an Israeli pilot may have ever pulled off with the venerable F-15 came in 1983, when pilot Ziv Nedivi and instructor Yehoar Gal managed to land the top-tier fighter after losing its entire right wing in a mid-air collision.
Back in the early 1980s, the F-15 was still a flashy new ride, having just entered service in the United States in 1976. As a part of training, two Israeli F-15Ds (the two-seater variant of the jet) were squaring off in a mock dog fight against four older Douglas A-4N Skyhawks over the Negev desert.
Now, here in the United States, pilots training against one another are required to maintain what’s known as a safety bubble. A five hundred foot or more “bubble” is maintained around each aircraft to ensure collisions don’t occur during the high speed maneuvering inherent to dog fighting, or as pilots tend to call it, executing Basic Fighter Maneuvering (BFM).
As the two Israeli F-15s swung into action against their A-4 aggressor opponents, the reason for this training bubble became pretty apparent. One of the two F-15s, the one with Nedivi at the stick, collided with one of the A-4s, almost instantly destroying the older fighter. Nedivi’s aircraft immediately entered a downward spin and his instructor, Gal, issued the order to eject.
Nedivi, the student in that setting, was senior in rank to his instructor, and opted not to punch out as he regained some degree of control over the aircraft. As the plane leveled off, he and Gal looked over their right shoulders to see fuel vapor pouring out of the wing area, but because of the cloud of fuel being lost, neither could see the extent of the damage beyond it. As Nedivi reduced their airspeed, the aircraft once again began to roll. Nedivi, aware that there was an airstrip just over ten miles out, made a decision.
He hit the F-15’s two powerful afterburners, capable of increasing the engine output of the fighter from 14,590 pounds of force to a whopping 23,770 pounds. With fuel pouring from the wing of the aircraft and the twin Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 engines dumping the rest into the burn, it was a gutsy call, but it managed to level the aircraft out and get them pointed in the right direction.
What Nedivi and Gal didn’t know was that their mid-air collision with the Skyhawk had actually sheared the entire right wing of their F-15 straight off the fuselage just about two feet from its root. With ten miles to cover and little more than vapor left in the fuel lines, the two men were doing the impossible: They were flying in a fighter jet with just one wing.
In order to keep the aircraft stable, Nedivi had to maintain a high air speed, which made touching down a difficult proposition. Nedivi knew that the recommended airspeed for landing an F-15 was right around 130 knots, just shy of 150 miles per hour. As he lowered his tail hook and brought the F-15 down to the tarmac, they were actually flying at 260 knots (right around 300 miles per hour). The tail hook Nedivi hoped would slow their landing was ripped off of the aircraft almost instantly, and for a split second, it seemed their miraculous flight was for naught, as the barricades at the end of the airstrip were fast approaching.
With only about 10 meters left before collision, the F-15 finally came to a stop. As Nedivi tells it, it was only then that he turned to shake hands with his instructor Gal, only to finally see the real extent of the damage. The right wing of the aircraft hadn’t been present for the last ten miles of their flight.
It’s safe to say that McDonnell Douglas was well aware that their F-15 Eagle was an incredibly capable platform, but even they were reluctant to believe that the Israeli aviators had managed to fly one without a wing. Some have even quoted the firm as saying such a feat was impossible… that is, until they received a photograph of the plane flying just as the Israeli’s described: Riding on little more than a single wing and a whole lot of courage.
Further analysis determined that the F-15 was able to stay aloft thanks to its powerful engines and the lift created by its fuselage.
That particular two-seater F-15 wasn’t just a training aircraft. In fact, that very jet had already racked up four kills against enemy planes in the 1982 Lebanon War, known within the Israeli military at the time as Operation Peace for Galilee. In a testament to just how incredibly tough these aircraft really are, the damaged F-15 was transported to a maintenance facility in Tel Nof, where it was given a new wing and returned to service.
Two years later, that same jet would score yet another kill, this time against a Syrian Mig-23.
Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.” When most people think of Harry S. Truman, they think of the president who signed off on the first and only wartime use of nuclear weapons. But before Truman became the 33rd President of the United States during World War II, he was a senator from Missouri. One of the projects in which Truman was instrumental as a senator was establishing Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP).
LCAAP is the single largest producer of small-arms munitions within the Department of Defense. Initially operated by Remington Arms, the government-owned, contractor-operated facility is currently run by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK. Basically, they provide all branches of the U.S. military with every round of small-caliber ammunition they need. This goes beyond supply and demand — it’s a living legacy.
Lake City Army Ammunition Plant Installation Mission Video
uring an exclusive private tour of LCAAP, Whitney Watson, manager of media relations and communications with Northrop Grumman, divulged that the media hadn’t been granted access to the facility in years. However, being invited to visit Lake City and actually getting through the doors are two different things — the security process was unlike any I’d previously experienced. Once inside, though, it was like stepping back in time.
In 1940, the government purchased nearly 4,000 acres of privately owned property in Independence, Missouri. Then-senator Truman helped secure both the land and the funding for establishing LCAAP. Ground broke in December 1940, and the first round — a .30 caliber — came off the line on Sept. 12, 1941. In October 1941, the first shipment left by rail. LCAAP was up and fully functioning within nine months in an era before modern capabilities and technology while enduring a Midwestern winter and in the midst of war. During World War II, LCAAP employed 21,000 full-time workers and produced 50 million rounds per year.
Lake City lives up to its name, functioning as a self-sufficient city. The property contains 22 miles of road, 11 miles of railroad (not currently in use), military housing, a 24-hour police force, a hospital, nine medical locations, a cafeteria, a non-federal post office, a fire station (complete with a bunkhouse), a gym facility, a road maintenance crew, a water production plant, three wastewater treatment facilities, and indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.
An aerial view of the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant.
(Photo courtesy of the LCAAP Facebook page)
From the buildings to the machines, all of the original equipment remains functional and, to some extent, is still utilized. It was surreal to see the newer robotic equipment mixed in with the legacy equipment on the production floor. The legacy machines are the original machines installed upon the opening of LCAAP. As of today, they continue producing rounds as quickly and efficiently as their modern counterparts — this is 1930s technology functioning without fail in 2019! It speaks volumes for LCAAP and the pride with which they have maintained their facility and equipment.
The employees at LCAAP are often generational, and they share a deep understanding of the importance of their product, where it goes, and what it’s used for. The prevailing objective is that not a single round can fail — lives literally depend upon it. To ensure this, LCAAP has a prodigious process for case traceability. Each round has a specific stamp on the head, which allows it to be individually traced to the day, time, and machine that produced it. This way, if there is ever an issue during their extensive testing protocol, they can quickly ascertain why. Lake City produces 4 million rounds per day, so being able to trace each one is not only essential, it’s astonishing.
Another example of the pride and teamwork at LCAAP is the motto “One Team, One Mission,” which is visible at various places around the facility. The saying was originated by Watson.
LCAAP produces 4 million rounds of small-caliber ammunition per day.
(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die)
“In the years immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, with widespread military operations throughout the Middle East, Lake City employees could turn on the news every night and see the products they produce in action. In 2019, that isn’t the case. Even though we still have troops fighting all over the world, it’s not on the scale it was a decade earlier,” Watson said.
“We were looking for a way to remind Lake City employees that, first, we are all on the same team — regardless of what your job here is, every one of us is an important part of the team and we need to perform like it,” he continued. “And second, that our mission hasn’t changed: to produce the quality ammunition that the men and women who defend our country deserve.”
The phrase has been incorporated throughout the plant on signs, shirts, hats, and other items, and, according to Watson, it’s working.
LCAAP has a history of employing women, as well as generations of family members, that goes back to its World War II roots.
(Photo courtesy of Lake City Army Ammunition Plant)
“Our employee engagement has risen dramatically over the past few years,” he said. “Fewer employees are leaving for other opportunities (even in this historically low unemployment), and we are performing amazingly. I never served in the Armed Forces, but I am very proud to be a part of a team whose sole mission is to support the warfighter.”
LCAAP’s commitment to those who serve the country doesn’t stop when they turn in the uniform; the company also supports and values veterans. They partner with the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors to host an annual turkey hunt for veterans. The vets get to hunt the LCAAP property — 4,000 private acres of prime hunting land. While at the facility, the guests of honor are treated as such. They enjoy a hotel stay, catered food, dinners out, and a paid shopping spree for gear.
LCAAP is also involved in the Kansas City, Missouri, chapter of the Association of the United States Army. This spring, 100 LCAAP team members will participate in and financially support a project to build a home for a disabled veteran who is raising her young grandchildren. Watson said that a significant percentage of the workers at LCAAP are veterans and that hiring former service members is a top priority.
(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die)
When asked what Lake City Ammunition means to him, Watson responded: “My father fought in the Pacific during World War II. Even though we have some of the most modern manufacturing equipment in the industry, we also still use some legacy equipment that has been in operation since the early 1940s. It means a lot to me knowing that some of that equipment may have been used to produce the rounds he fired, either in training or in combat. The ammunition that may have helped save his life or the life of one of his buddies. Who knows? I do know that the ammo we make today definitely helps save lives. And that means more than I could express.”
Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is much more than a facility manufacturing small-caliber munitions — it’s a small community and an important asset to the U.S. military. With a 1.6 billion round per year production capacity, Lake City is vigilantly prepared to ramp up production at a moment’s notice. But most importantly, Lake City is a family — a family that extends to every individual who touches one of their rounds.
Pakistan and Russia have begun annual joint military drills to boost counterterrorism cooperation to tackle the growing threat of Islamic State stemming from neighboring Afghanistan.
Officials said the “Druzhba-III” (Friendship-III) drills went into action Oct. 22, 2018, at the National Counter-Terrorist Center in the mountain town of Pabbi, where the Pakistan army’s commando unit, the Special Services Group, is headquartered.
Chief army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said this is the third exercise of the Pakistan-Russia bilateral training cooperation.
Russian military officials said during the two week exercises more than 70 Russian commando troops and their Pakistani counterparts will undertake joint tasks at an altitude of 1,400 meters.
Moscow and Islamabad launched the joint drills in 2016, a year after the local branch of Islamic State, known as Khorasan Province or ISK-P, unleashed its regional terrorist operations from bases in “ungoverned” border districts of Afghanistan.
ISK-P has carried out some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent months.
Pakistan-Russia bilateral training cooperation aims to boost counterterrorism cooperation to tackle the growing threat of Islamic State stemming from neighboring Afghanistan.
Russia maintains the Middle Eastern-based terrorist group is trying to use volatile Afghan regions next to the border with Central Asian countries to threaten Russian regional security interests.
Pakistan blames ISK-P for plotting terrorist attacks in the country from its Afghan bases.
The Islamabad-Moscow security partnership has strengthened and expanded since late 2014, when the two former rivals signed their defense cooperation agreement.
In August 2018, Moscow concluded an unprecedented contract with Islamabad, opening doors, for the first time, for Russian military training of Pakistani army officers.
The deal came amid Islamabad’s deteriorating relations with Washington, which has resulted in the halt of all military exchange programs with Pakistan and left a void that Moscow has stepped in to fill.
Moscow and Islamabad have been pushing for starting peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency for ending the war and preventing Islamic State from using the turmoil-hit country as a sanctuary.
Russia acknowledges its contacts with the Taliban, while Islamabad is accused of covertly supporting the insurgents to sustain and expand the 17-year-old Afghan war.
The United States is critical of Russia’s growing contacts with the Taliban, alleging Moscow is trying to undermine international efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. Washington has also cut defense ties with Islamabad for not doing enough to prevent Taliban insurgents from allegedly using Pakistani soil for deadly cross-border attacks.
Russian and Pakistani officials deny they are providing any military assistance or shelter to the Taliban and insist their ties with insurgents are meant to influence them to engage in an Afghan peace process.
It’s been almost 30 years since the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the primary crossing post between East and West Berlin, was taken down with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The original guardhouse was little more than a temporary shack for much of its life and has since been replaced. As the area in Berlin began to grow and become a tourist attraction, more and more Cold War-era sights were added to the checkpoint.
One of those sights is a photo of a real American soldier, looking East.
These days, the area in Berlin that saw some of the most intense showdowns between East and West is full of tourists and Berlin residents who probably wish they had taken a different route to work. For three Euro, you can take a photo with one of the soldier-reenactors who dress up to man the post. If you’re hungry, there’s a McDonald’s across the street. It’s very much not the Checkpoint Charlie of old, but still worth a visit. For military veterans approaching the once-legendary area, there might be a different question – who is that guy in the photo?
The “soldiers” holding the U.S. flag and posing for tourists were never troops, that’s just fun for the onlookers. But staring at the photo of the American soldier posted at the guardhouse, it’s clear that he’s wearing a real U.S. Army uniform.
His name is Jeff Harper.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the checkpoint’s rise as a prime tourist attraction in the German capital, the photos of Sgt. Harper and his Soviet counterpart on the other side have become as synonymous with the checkpoint as anything else in Cold War lore. But Harper wasn’t exactly the stereotypical Cold Warrior. He was a U.S. Army tuba player with the 298th Army Band in Berlin from 89-94 and never pulled guard duty at the checkpoint. He was just 22 when the photo was taken.
In an interview with the German publication Der Tronkland, Harper said he almost dropped his coffee when he first saw his face up on the sign. That was 1999.
“I am very proud to have become part of the story to this extent and still be part of what is happening in Berlin today,” Harper said. “I can hardly imagine in how many photo albums I have been immortalized.”
Harper has since retired from the Army, but he was still in Berlin for the fall of the wall.
Jeff Harper after his retirement in 2010.
The most important thing to know about the photos is that they’re not part of any authentic recreation of the site. They’re an art exhibit, called Ohne Titel – or “Light Boxes.” The photo was taken by Berlin photographer Frank Thiel in 1994, as an attempt to capture photos of the last Allied soldiers in the city. The young Russian troop isn’t wearing a Soviet military uniform, he’s wearing a 1994 uniform of the Russian Federation.
“… These portraits translate the omnipresent sector signs of the past – “You are leaving the American/British/French sector” – into picture form. They are likewise a reference to the historical moment when Soviet and American tanks faced off against each other right here,” said Thiel. “By using two portraits to symbolize almost 50 years of history, I am suggesting that these two faces are representative.”
These days, Harper is enjoying the retired life driving his motorcycle around the highways of the American West. He says the highlight of his career in Berlin was being able to play in the band for President Bill Clinton. As for the Russian soldier on the opposite side, no one really knows who he is or where he ended up.
One of the most anticipated games in college football is this weekend and the hype continues to build. The Army Black Knights from West Point stand at 8-3, while the Navy Midshipmen from Annapolis are at 6-5. Both teams have beaten the Air Force Academy, which means the winner of next week’s game takes home the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
While the intense soldiers versus sailors and Marines rivalry always draws a crowd, another fun aspect of this game is the uniforms. Even that annoying, sports-apathetic coworker who jokingly cheers, “yay sportsball!” gets excited about the new uniform unveilings. While the Navy is paying tribute to the Blue Angels with their uniforms in this year’s game, the Army is honoring their WWII roots with their “Pando Commando”-inspired uniforms.
The uniforms sport the traditional Army gold and white. They are clean and simple, but decorated with 10th Mountain insignias and patches. The uniform color choices aren’t just to differentiate the teams on the field, they’re an homage to the division. The gold represents excellence and the white is symbolic of mountain tops and of high aspirations.
Featured heavily is the unit’s distinctive ‘X,’ found on the helmet, jersey, and cleats. The ‘X’ represents wartime service, but is also the Roman numeral for ‘ten.’
On the chest is the 10th Mountain’s divisional coat of arms, along with the Latin phrase, “Vires Montesque Vincimus,” which means, “we conquer powers and mountains.” Under that is the division’s motto, “Climb to Glory.” The West Point Black Knight’s logo rests just below the neckline.
The cleats, however, have an exceptionally cool part of military history on stamped them: the original “Pando Commando” patch. The skiing panda with a rifle is a play on the unit’s origins. The unit is originally from Camp Hale of Pando, Colorado, where the 10th Mountain would train for combat in the Alps and the frigid North. The patch was later replaced in 1944 with the more commonly known “Mountain” tab that has stuck with the unit ever since.
The official Army West Point Sports Twitter has released the announcement video, which you can watch below. We Are The Mighty will be at the game, so keep an eye out for our insider perspective.