This attack plane made a bomb of a movie - We Are The Mighty
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This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

In 1986, the Naval Institute Press published Flight of the Intruder, the debut novel of Vietnam veteran Stephen Coonts. The book was an immediate hit. It held a place on the New York Times Bestsellers list for weeks on end, just as Tom Clancy’s debut thriller, The Hunt for Red October, had done a couple years earlier, in 1984. The true star of that novel (apologies to Jake Grafton, the leading human in the story) was the Grumman A-6 Intruder, an all-weather attack plane.

The Hunt for Red October was made into a film and it was a smash hit. So, it seemed only natural that the movie adaption of Flight of the Intruder was a sure thing, too. It hit theaters in January, 1991. It cost $30 million to make and grossed less than half of that at the box office, managing a paltry $14,587,732. Top Gun, it was not.

From that moment on, airmen had a new motto: “Fighter pilots make movies, attack pilots make… sh*tty movies.”


But it’s not right to assume that a sh*tty movie is the lasting legacy of the A-6. In fact, it’s downright unfair. The Intruder had a long, distinguished, and honorable career as an all-weather, carrier-based attack plane, that spanned 37 years. It took flight for the first time during the last year of the Eisenhower administration (1960) and coasted into retirement by 1997.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
An A-6 prepares to launch from USS Enterprise (CVN 65). (US Navy)

The A-6 Intruder was intended to replace a legend, the A-1 Skyraider — and it was equipped for the job.

The A-6 had a top speed of 644 miles per hour, a maximum range of 1,081 miles, and five hardpoints capable of carrying up to 18,000 pounds of bombs. The Intruder, at various times, also packed laser-guided bombs, like the GBU-12 and GBU-10, AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missiles, AGM-78 Standard ARM anti-radar missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
The upgraded A-F made it to the prototype stage, but met the big bad budget axe. (DOD)

 

However, by the time Flight of the Intruder hit theaters, the A-6 was on its way out the door. The A-12 Avenger had been cancelled by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, but not before he had also axed the A-6F and A-6G, improved versions of the Intruder. The plane was retired in 1997 and replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet.

Learn more about this all-weather attack plane that went on to bomb at the box office in the video below.

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Watch how sand from Omaha Beach brightens veterans’ tombstones

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) shared a video on Twitter of a remarkable ceremony. “The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward.”

It’s a quiet practice that adds to the many rituals that honor service members, including leaving coins on gravestones, placing wreaths on graves during winter holidays, or setting the American flag at graves for Memorial Day.

This video is particularly special to watch, as it clearly shows how effective the process is:


In the video, the soldier conjures the name of William A. Richards, a fallen World War II veteran, killed in 1944, with sand from Omaha Beach, one of the D-Day invasion sites. D-Day marked the turning of the war in Europe, where millions and millions of Allied service members perished.

Also read: Hero medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

Others began to respond to the tweet with their own experiences witnessing the ceremony, including the graves of their relatives. The sands from Normandy beaches are sent to military cemeteries throughout Europe. In the Netherlands American Cemetery, the graves of American service members have been adopted by Dutch families, who research the lives of the fallen and honor their graves with flowers.

 

For so many, these rituals are powerful reminders of the cost of freedom. The sanctity of a military funeral is one that is shared across the country — and, in the case of the world wars, across the globe. It can be easy for many Americans to feel separated, through both time and distance, from the horrors of World War I and World War II; but for our allies in Europe, the wars were fought in their own backyard.

The sands of Omaha Beach bring forth the names of those who died fighting against Nazi Germany and the enemies of freedom, lest we ever forget.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The USS Ford’s weapons are an impressive collection of firepower

The Navy is now integrating and preparing weapons systems for its advanced Ford aircraft carrier during a now-underway 12-month period called Post-Shakedown Availability (PSA) — one of several key final steps designed to prepare the ship for ocean warfare when the ship deploys in 2022.

While the Ford’s electromagnetic catapult, larger deck space and nuclear power technology are heavily emphasized in public discussion of the ship’s newer technologies, layered ship defenses, are commanding commensurate developmental attention – given the global threat environment.


This includes efforts to build in the latest interceptor missiles and close-range guns, such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Block 2 (ESSM) and the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS).

Therefore, alongside the more emphasized items for the PSA, such as the advanced weapons elevator and advanced arresting gear upgrades, preparing ship defenses for deployment will also function as an indispensable element of the Navy’s strategy for the Ford-class.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

USS Ford

(U.S. Navy photo)

“The scheduled 12-month PSA/SRA will install remaining combat systems, complete deferred work and correct remaining discrepancies identified during sea trials and shakedown,” William Couch, Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman told Warrior Maven.

The PSA is intended to build upon lessons learned and adjustments emerging from previous testing.

The ship’s crew has been “conducting post-delivery testing and trial operations that identify construction and design issues. They have been extremely effective in identifying any issues early, which helps us address them prior to returning to the fleet.” Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, said in a published Navy statement.

During testing and developmental phases immediately preceding the start of the PSA, the Ford successfully completed fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft integration and compatibility testing, air traffic control center certification and JP-5 fuel system certification, Couch added in the statement.

Demonstrating the ship’s defensive systems was also a vital element of these preparations for the PSA. While carriers often travel in Carrier Strike Groups, protected by cruisers and destroyers, the platforms are increasingly being viewed as ships in need of their own organic defensive weapons.

This is particularly true in light of the often discussed threats of Chinese DF-21D “carrier killer,” a long range anti-ship guided missile reported to reach ranges greater than 900 miles.

There is much discussion about how the USS Ford’s massively-increased onboard power technology, driven by four 26-megawatt generators, will potentially enable emerging weapons, such as defensive lasers and railguns.

In the near-term, however, the USS Ford will use the PSA to solidify integration of several upgraded ship defense weapons.

“Besides carrying over 75 warplanes, the USS Ford has some serious destructive capability. Engineers and designers included ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile), RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile), and a Mk-15 Phalanx CIWS,” a report from Engineering.com writes.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

An RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew J. Haran)

Upgraded Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile

The USS Ford is expected to deploy with the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2, or ESSM, a weapon designed to track and destroy incoming enemy supersonic missiles and anti-ship missiles, among other threats.

The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called an active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, Navy and industry ESSM developers told Warrior Maven in previous interviews.

The current ESSM missiles use what’s called a semi-active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can receive electromagnetic signals bounced off the target by an illuminator; the ESSM Block 2’s “active” guidance includes illuminator technology built onto the missile itself such that it can both receive and send important electromagnetic signals, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.

A shipboard illuminator is an RF signal that bounces off a target. The antenna in the nose in the guidance section [of the missile] sees the reflected energy and then corrects to intercept that reflective energy, the Raytheon officials told Warrior.

The emerging missile has an “active” front end, meaning it can send an electromagnetic signal forward to track a maneuvering target, at times without needing a ship-based illuminator for guidance.

Also, the missile is able to intercept threats that are close to the surface by sea-skimming or diving in onto a target from a higher altitude, Navy officials explained.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

The MK-15 Phalanx CIWS

Phalanx Close in Weapons System

The Phalanx Close in Weapons System, or CIWS, is an area weapon engineered to use a high rate of fire and ammunition to blanket a given area, destroying or knocking enemy fire out of the sky before it can reach a ship. The Phalanx CIWS, which can fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute, has been protecting ship platforms for decades.

CWIS fires a 20 mm Vulcan cannon mounted on a swiveling base. An essay in Naval Forces magazine called “CIWS – the Last Ditch Defense,” further specifics that the weapon fires “armor piercing tungsten penetrater rounds with discarding sabots.” CIWS fires a M61A1 Gatling gun out to ranges of 3 km.

Navy officials say the latest CIWS Block IB provides ships the additional capability for defense against asymmetric threats such as small, high speed, maneuvering surface craft, slow-flying fixed and rotary-winged aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

A CIWS overhaul in recent years has consisted of numerous upgrades to the weapon itself, converting the existing systems into what’s called the Phalanx 1B configuration. At the same time, the CIWS overhaul also includes the development and ongoing integration of a new, next-generation radar for the system called the CIWS Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2, Navy officials explained.

The Phalanx Block IB configuration incorporates a stabilized Forward-Looking Infra-Red sensor, an automatic acquisition video tracker, optimized gun barrels (OBG) and the Enhanced Lethality Cartridges (ELC),

The FLIR also improves performance against anti-ship cruise missiles by providing more accurate angle tracking information to the fire control computer.

The OGB/ELC combine to provide tighter dispersion and increased first hit range, a Navy official added. The Phalanx 1B fires Mk 244 ammunition, using the Enhanced Lethality Cartridge specifically designed to penetrate anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Mk 244 ammunition is engineered with a 48 percent heavier tungsten penetrator and an aluminum nose piece, according to information from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

The Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2 radar upgrade is a new digital radar that provides improved detection performance, increased reliability and reduction in sailor man-hours for system maintenance, developers said.

The Baseline 2 upgrade mitigates obsolete components inherent in the existing analog radar by introducing COTS-based (commercial off-the-shelf) signal processing coupled with a new signal source and mixer.

CIWS uses “Ku-band radar featuring closed-loop spotting technology capable of autonomously performing its own search, detect, evaluation, track, engage and kill assessment functions,” the Naval Forces essay writes.

The Baseline 2 radar also provides the Phalanx CIWS with “surface mode,” meaning it adds the ability to track, detect and then destroy threats closer to the surface of the water compared with previous models of the weapon, developers explained.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

Articles

Why US battleships should stay right where they are — in mothballs

There’s a mystique to battleships. Whenever inside-the-Beltway dwellers debate how to bulk up the US Navy fleet, odds are sentimentalists will clamor to return the Iowa-class dreadnoughts to service. Nor is the idea of bringing back grizzled World War II veterans as zany as it sounds.


We aren’t talking equipping the 1914-vintage USS Texas with superweapons to blast the Soviet Navy, or resurrecting the sunken Imperial Japanese Navy super-battleship Yamato for duty in outer space, or keeping USS Missouri battleworthy in case aliens menace the Hawaiian Islands. Such proposals are not mere whimsy.

Related video:

Built to duel Japan in World War II, in fact, battleships were recommissioned for the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The last returned to action in 1988. The Iowa class sat in mothballs for about three decades after Korea (except for USS New Jersey, which returned to duty briefly during the Vietnam War). That’s about how long the battlewagons have been in retirement since the Cold War. History thus seems to indicate they could stage yet another comeback. This far removed from their past lives, though, it’s doubtful in the extreme that the operational return on investment would repay the cost, effort, and human capital necessary to bring them back to life.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

Numbers deceive. It cost the US Navy $1.7 billion in 1988 dollars to put four battlewagons back in service during the Reagan naval buildup. That comes to about $878 million per hull in 2017 dollars. This figure implies the navy could refurbish two ships bristling with firepower for the price of one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. One copy of the latest-model Burke will set the taxpayers back $1.9 billion according to Congressional Budget Office figures. Two for the price of one: a low, low price! Or, better yet, the Navy could get two battlewagons for the price of three littoral combat ships—the modern equivalent of gunboats. Sounds like a good deal all around.

But colossal practical difficulties would work against reactivating the dreadnoughts at low cost, despite these superficially plausible figures. First of all, the vessels no longer belong to the US Navy. They’re museums. New Jersey and Missouri were struck from the Navy list during the 1990s. Engineers preserved Iowa and Wisconsin in “reactivation” status for quite some time, meaning they hypothetically could return to duty, but they, too, were struck from the rolls, in 2006. Sure, the US government could probably get them back during a national emergency, but resolving legal complications would consume time and money in peacetime.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
USS Iowa (BB-61) fires a full broadside of her nine 16″/50 and six 5″/38 guns during a target exercise near Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Photo from DoD.

Second, chronological age matters. A standard talking point among battleship enthusiasts holds that the Iowas resemble a little old lady’s car, an aged auto with little mileage on the odometer. A used-car salesman would laud its longevity, assuring would-be buyers they could put lots more miles on it. This, too, makes intuitive sense. My old ship, USS Wisconsin, amassed just fourteen years of steaming time despite deploying for World War II, Korea, and Desert Storm. At a time when the US Navy hopes to wring fifty years of life out of aircraft carriers and forty out of cruisers and destroyers, refitted battleships could seemingly serve for decades to come.

And it is true: stout battleship hulls could doubtless withstand the rigors of sea service. But what about their internals? Mechanical age tells only part of the story. Had the Iowa class remained in continuous service, with regular upkeep and overhauls, they probably could have steamed around for decades. After all, the World War II flattop USS Lexington served until 1991, the same year the Iowas retired. But they didn’t get that treatment during the decades they spent slumbering. As a consequence, battleships were already hard ships to maintain a quarter-century ago. Sailors had to scavenge spares from still older battleships. Machinists, welders, and shipfitters were constantly on the go fabricating replacements for worn-out parts dating from the 1930s or 1940s.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

This problem would be still worse another quarter-century on, and a decade-plus after the navy stopped preserving the vessels and their innards. Managing that problem would be far more expensive. An old joke among yachtsmen holds that a boat is a hole in the water into which the owner dumps money. A battleship would represent a far bigger hole in the water, devouring taxpayer dollars in bulk. Even if the US Navy could reactivate the Iowas for a pittance, the cost of operating and maintaining them could prove prohibitive. That’s why they were shut down in the 1990s, and time has done nothing to ease that remorseless logic.

Third, what about the big guns the Iowa class sports—naval rifles able to fling projectiles weighing the same as a VW Bug over twenty miles? These are the battleships’ signature weapon, and there is no counterpart to them in today’s fleet. Massive firepower might seem to justify the expense of recommissioning and maintaining the ships. But gun barrels wear out after being fired enough times. No one has manufactured replacement barrels for 16-inch, 50-caliber guns in decades, and the inventory of spares has evidently been scrapped or donated to museums. That shortage would cap the battleships’ combat usefulness.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

Nor, evidently, is there any safe ammunition for battleship big guns to fire. We used 1950s-vintage 16-inch rounds and powder during the 1980s and 1990s. Any such rounds still in existence are now over sixty years old, while the US Navy is apparently looking to demilitarize and dispose of them. Gearing up to produce barrels and ammunition in small batches would represent a non-starter for defense firms. The navy recently canceled the destroyer USS Zumwalt‘s advanced gun rounds because costs spiraled above $800,000 apiece. That was a function of ordering few munitions for what is just a three-ship class. Ammunition was simply mot affordable. Modernized Iowas would find themselves in the same predicament, if not more so.

And lastly, it’s unclear where the US Navy would find the human expertise to operate 16-inch gun turrets or the M-type Babcock & Wilcox boilers that propel and power battleships. No one has trained on these systems since 1991, meaning experts in using and maintaining them have, ahem, aged and grown rusty at their profession. Heck, steam engineers are in short supply, full stop, as the Navy turns to electric drive, gas turbines, and diesel engines to propel its ships. Older amphibious helicopter docks are steam-powered, but even this contingent is getting a gradual divorce from steam as newer LHDs driven by gas turbines join the fleet while their steam-propelled forebears approach decommissioning.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

Steam isn’t dead, then, but it is a technology of the past—just like 16-inch guns. Technicians are few and dwindling in numbers while battleship crews would demand them in large numbers. I rank among the youngest mariners to have operated battleship guns and propulsion-plant machinery in yesteryear, and trust me, folks: you don’t want the US Navy conscripting me to regain my proficiency in engineering and weapons after twenty-six years away from it, let alone training youngsters to operate elderly hardware themselves. In short, it’s as tough to regenerate human capital as it is to rejuvenate the material dimension after a long lapse. The human factor—all by itself—could constitute a showstopper for battleship reactivation.

Battleships still have much to contribute to fleet design, just not as active surface combatants. Alfred Thayer Mahan describes a capital ship—the core of any battle fleet—as a vessel able to dish out and absorb punishment against a peer navy. While surface combatants pack plenty of offensive punch nowadays, the innate capacity to take a punch is something that has been lost in today’s lightly armored warships. Naval architects could do worse than study the battleships’ history and design philosophy, rediscovering what it means to construct a true capital ship. The US Navy would be better off for their inquiry.

Let’s learn what we can from the past—but leave battleship reactivation to science fiction.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Croatia’s new F-16s are Israel’s old ones

When a country needs to replace increasingly obsolete fighters but can’t afford to buy new ones from the manufacturer, getting them second-hand is always an option. Croatia has found themselves in that very boat recently while seeking to upgrade their air force.


This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

A MiG-21 Fishbed with the Croatian Air Force. These aircraft were left after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Wikimedia Commons photo by Tomislav Haraminčić

According to a report by Agence France Presse, they found a solution in the form of 12 Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Israeli Air Force. The total cost of this deal was €403 million, nearly 0 million USD. That might seem pricey, but it’s a great deal when compared to the 5 million per new F-16 that Iraq paid, according to a 2011 Time Magazine report.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

This Israeli F-16A shot down six and a half enemy planes and took part in the 1981 Osirak reactor strike. Israel retired these planes in 2015, but some will have new life in Croatia.

Wikimedia Commons photo by Zachi Evenor

Israel’s used Falcons provide a cheap upgrade

Currently, the Croatian Air Force has 12 MiG-21 Fishbed fighters on inventory. The Fishbed entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1959. Almost 11,500 Fishbeds were produced by the USSR and the plane was widely exported, seeing service with dozens of countries, including Vietnam, North Korea, Serbia, and Iraq. The MiG-21 is equipped with a twin-barrel 23mm cannon as well as AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles. It has a top speed of 1,381 miles per hour and an unrefueled range of 741 miles.

Compared to the newer F-16, the Fishbed looks like ancient technology. An Air Force fact sheet reports that the F-16 Fighting Falcon has a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a maximum range of over 2,000 miles. The F-16 is capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions. While the AFP report did not state which model of F-16s Israel is selling to Croatia, GlobalSecurity.org notes that Israel retired its force of F-16A/B models in 2015.

Not Israel’s first used plane sale

This is not the first time that Israel has sold off old warplanes. Argentina bought IAI Nesher fighters from Israel that saw action in the Falklands War. Additionally, a private company acquired former Israeli Air Force A-4s, which will soon see action in a multi-national exercise hosted by the Netherlands.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Protests about Iran’s poor economy erupt in Tehran

Police in Tehran have fired tear-gas at a crowd of protesters who marched to the Iranian parliament on June 25, 2018, after swarming the city’s historic Grand Bazaar in anger over the country’s troubled economy.

The spontaneous protest erupted at the Grand Bazaar on the morning of June 25, 2018, after the black-market exchange rate for Iran’s rial currency fell by more than 10 percent in a single day despite moves by the government support it.

Video footage of the unfolding demonstration obtained by RFE/RL showed hundreds of angry demonstrators marching in and around the Grand Bazaar, forcing shopkeepers to close their stalls.


Shopkeepers who refused to do so were mocked by the crowd with the chant, “Cowards! Cowards!”

The protest came a day after demonstrators forced two major mobile phone and electronics shopping centers in the Iranian capital to close.

It was not immediately clear who led the protests. The semiofficial Fars news agency reported that traders gathered at the Grand Bazaar to protest “against recession,” exchange-rate fluctuations, declining demand from Iranian consumers, and rising prices.

But in videos obtained by RFE/RL, the crowd at the bazaar can be heard in Persian chanting “Leave Syria, think about us,” while some demonstrators shouted “Our enemy is here, not in the U.S.”

RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported that the protest at the bazaar began in a clothing market and soon spread to other markets — including a relatively more modern area where home appliances are sold.

Meanwhile, the Central Bank Governor Valliollah Seyf on June 25, 2018, responded to the rapidly falling value of the rial by announcing plans to launch “a second foreign exchange market” next week to battle black-market currency traders.

Speaking after a meeting between President Hassan Rohani and officials from the Economy Ministry, Seyf said the parallel market would operate based on different exchange rates for the U.S. dollar.

He was quoted by Iranian media as saying a rate of 42,000 rials per dollar would be set for “importing essential commodities including medicine,” and that importers and exporters would “have to agree on the rate for importing non-essential goods.”

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which is close to Rohani’s administration, reported on June 25, 2018, that a third exchange rate between 60,000 and 65,000 rials per dollar will be announced soon.

ISNA and the Mehr news agency also said that the state of confusion and ambiguity in the markets was reinforced by other officials who have spoken about plans for other foreign exchange rates.

The Tasnim news agency quoted the head of Iran’s Chamber of Guilds, Ali Fazeli, as saying that the situation at the bazaar had calmed and that protesters’ demands were being “delivered through the chamber to the government.”

He made those remarks after the demonstrators — chanting “Don’t fear, don’t fear, we are all together” — marched to the Iranian parliament building.

As the crowd filed through the streets of the capital calling on others to join them, the size of the demonstration swelled into the thousands.

Similar economic demonstrations broke out across Iran at the end of 2017 and quickly spread to some 75 cities and towns — growing into Iran’s largest protests since unrest over the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Violence at those demonstrations, which continued into early January 2018, left 25 dead and nearly 5,000 people detained by authorities.

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

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Why the Viet Cong’s tunnels were so effective

The communist forces of Vietnam were largely successful, and for a lot of reasons. They were willing to undergo extreme discomfort and suffer extreme losses for their cause, they were resourceful, and they became more disciplined and well-trained over time. But there was a nightmare infrastructure that they created that also led to success: Those terrifying tunnels.


The fighting in Vietnam dated back to the 1940s when corrupt democratic officials turned the population largely against it. Communist forces preyed upon this, rallying support from the local population and building a guerrilla army, recruiting heavily from farming villages.

The ruling democratic regime patrolled mostly on the large roads and through cities because their heavy vehicles had trouble penetrating the jungles or making it up mountains.

By the time the U.S. deployed troops to directly intervene, regime forces had been overrun in multiple locations and had a firm foothold across large patches of the jungle, hills, and villages.

Viet Cong Tunnels and Traps – Platoon: The True Story

And while U.S. forces were establishing a foothold and then hunting down Viet Cong elements, the Viet Cong were digging literally hundreds of miles of tunnels that they could use to safely store supplies, move across the battlefield in secret, and even stage ambushes against U.S. troops.

The original Viet Cong tunnels were dug just after World War II as Vietnamese fighters attempted to throw off French colonial authority. But the tunnel digging exploded when the U.S. arrived and implemented a heavy campaign of airstrikes, making underground tunnels a much safer way to travel.

And with the increased size of the tunnel network, new amenities were added. Kitchens, living quarters, even weapon factories and hospitals were moved underground. The Viet Cong now had entire underground cities with hidden entrances. When the infantry came knocking, the tunnels were a defender’s dream.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
Wikimedia Commons

The tight tunnels limited the use of most American weapons. These things were often dug just tall and wide enough for Viet Cong fighters, generally smaller than the average U.S. infantryman, to crawl through. When corn-fed Nebraskans tried to crawl through it, they were typically limited to pistols and knives.

Even worse for the Americans, the Viet Cong were great at building traps across the battlefield and in the tunnels. Poisoned bamboo shoots, nails, razor blades, and explosives could all greet an attacker moving too brashly through the tunnel networks.

This led to the reluctant rise of the “Tunnel Rats,” American warfighters who specialized in the terrible tasks of moving through the underground bases, collecting intelligence and eliminating resistance. Between the claustrophobia and the physical dangers, this could drive the Tunnel Rats insane.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
Wikimedia Commons

Once a tunnel was cleared, it could be eliminated with the use of fire or C4. Collapsing a tunnel did eliminate that problem, and it usually stayed closed.

But, again, there were hundreds of miles of tunnels, and most of them were nearly impossible to find. Meanwhile, many tunnel networks had hidden chambers and pathways within them. So, even if you found a tunnel network and began to destroy it, there was always a chance that you missed a branch or two and the insurgents will keep using the rest of it after you leave.

And the tunnels even existed near some major cities. Attacks on Saigon were launched from the Cu Chi Tunnels complex. When U.S. and South Vietnamese troops went to clear them, they faced all the typical traps as well as boxes of poisonous snakes and scorpions.

And the clearance operation wasn’t successful in finding and eliminating the bulk of the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the ones used as staging points a weapons caches for the Tet Offensive.


Feature image: National Archives

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about firing squads

Throughout history, executions have been controversial ways of punishing heinous crimes against individuals, institutions, and governments. From hangings to lethal injection, executions have spanned the gamut of cruelty and, at every point, there has raged a debate over the moral grounds of taking a life for justice.

Historically, one form of execution has been reserved for military personnel: the firing squad. The concept is elementary: a prisoner stands against a brick wall or study barrier and is gunned down by a handful of soldiers. It might sound simple, but there are a few things about this deadly punishment that you might not know


The final walk

Out of grim curiosity, we’ve watched several videos of firing-squad executions found in the war archives. We noticed that the majority of criminals sentenced to die conducted their last walks under their own accord. Although this was likely their last moment of life, criminals weren’t dragged to their position.

We thought that was interesting.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

A firing squad in Cuba.

The crimes committed

Throughout many parts of the world, if a troop or civilian was convicted of cowardice, desertion, espionage, murder, mutiny, or treason, they would be sent up in front of a firing squad as punishment.

That doesn’t happen too often today.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

What it’s like facing a Spanish firing squad without a blindfold.

Blindfolds

In many cases, the prisoner was blindfolded before stepping in front of his executioners. However, some requested the opportunity to face the men who were about to unload their barrels.

That’s pretty ballsy.

According to the Crime Museum, when the condemned person was able to look into the eyes of their executioners, it diminished their anonymity. This made the event stressful for the shooters who were following orders.

The firing squad

Once given the cue by a superior, each soldier pulled the trigger of their rifle simultaneously, resulting in a kill shot by multiple rounds.

In some cases, only a handful of the executioners were given live rounds. The rest would receive blanks. This way, nobody could know who, exactly, was responsible for the kill.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie

Ronnie Lee Gardner in the the courtroom

(National Public Radio)

The last use of a firing squad for a convicted criminal.

According to NPR, the last person to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer, Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010. While already faced with a murder conviction in Utah, Gardner attempted to escape and, in the process, killed an attorney.

Gardner’s conviction came through before the state abandoned the use of the firing squads in 2004. He elected to be killed this way.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Welcome to space, Air Force — the Marines have been here for years

President Trump’s Space Force came as a shock and surprise to many, even if the U.S. Air Force isn’t quite sure how to move forward with it. NASA’s chief executive wants it. America’s pop culture astrophysicist Neil deGrasse-Tyson says it isn’t a weird move. Even the Trump-critical Washington Post says now is the time.

The Marines thought it was time more than a dozen years ago.

Only back then the thinking was using space to bridge the time it took to get Marine boots on the ground. Earth’s ground. Writing for Popular Science, David Axe described this new way of getting troops to a fight as a delivery system of “breathtaking efficiency.”

Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or SUSTAIN (as the Corps’ idea wizards called it) was designed to be a suborbital transport vehicle that flew into the atmosphere at high speed 50 miles off the Earth’s surface, just short of orbiting the Earth. There, in the Mesosphere, gravity waves drive global circulation but gravity exerts a force just as strong as on the surface. It’s also the coldest part of the the atmosphere and there is little protection from the sun’s ultraviolet light. These are just a few considerations Marines would need to take.

This attack plane made a bomb of a movie
The Space Shuttle Endeavor breaching the Mesosphere.
(NASA)

This is also much higher than the record for aircraft. Even balloons have only reached some 32 miles above the Earth, so this pocket of Earth’s sky is an under-researched area that not much is known about. What the Marine Corps knows for sure is that going that high up means it doesn’t have to worry about violating another country’s airspace, and it can drop Marines on the bad guys within two hours.

The SUSTAIN craft would need to be made of an advanced lightweight metal that could be used in the liftoff phase but also handle the heat of reentry into the atmosphere. Each lander pod would hold 13 Marines and be attached to a carrier laden with scramjet engines and rocket engines to get above the 50-mile airspace limit.

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The layers of Earth’s atmosphere.

Objects moving in Low-Earth Orbit (admittedly at least twice as high as the SUSTAIN system was intended) move at speeds of eight meters per second, fast enough to circumnavigate the globe every 90 minutes. But the project had a number of hurdles, including the development of hypersonic missiles, a composite metal that fit the bill, and the size of a ship required to carry the armed troops and their equipment.

At the time the project wasn’t feasible unless ample time to develop the technology needed to overcome those hurdles was given to researchers. But if the SUSTAIN project was given the green light in 2008, maybe we’d have a Space Corps instead of a Space Force.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

5 of the worst weapons projects the US military has in the works

The US military, together with its industry partners, makes some of the finest weapons in the world, but the programs that produce them rarely run as smoothly as intended.

Some of the most problematic of the military’s recent projects belong to the US Navy.

The big problem for the Navy is that the service, just as other branches of the military have in the past, has rushed to develop platforms before the required technologies were ready, Bryan Clark, a naval affairs expert, told Business Insider, pointing to the new Zumwalt-class destroyers and the Ford-class supercarriers.

“We still have technology that is not fully mature even though the ship has been delivered,” he said, advising the service to slow things down and mature the technology rather than build an entire platform around an idea.


This issue is not unique to the Navy though. The Army is rethinking innovation at the newly-established Army Futures Command in the wake of past development failures, such as the Comanche helicopter or Crusader self-propelled artillery.

Here are 5 troubled projects the US military is desperately trying to get sorted right now.

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Three F-35Cs.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

1. F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” then-President-elect Donald Trump tweeted on Dec. 12, 2016.

US Air Force Lt. Gen Chris Bogdan briefed Trump on the F-35 program a week later. The presentation highlighted the program’s “troubled past,” which includes premature production problems, ballooning costs, delivery delays, and numerous technical challenges, among other issues, The Drive reported.

The Air Force presentation concluded that it is “difficult to overcome a troubled past, but [the] program is improving.” Still problems persist.

The Pentagon’s latest operational testing and evaluation assessment noted continued reliability and availability issues. And, according to Bloomberg, the lifetime program cost for the world’s most expensive weapons program has grown to id=”listicle-2638634792″.196 trillion.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has colorfully described the F-35 program as “f—ed up.”

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USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)

(US Navy)

2. Zumwalt-class destroyer

The US Navy has invested two decades and tens of billions of dollars into the development of these advanced warships, which lack working guns and a clear mission.

The two 155mm guns of the Advanced Gun System are incredibly expensive to fire. One Long-Range Land Attack Projectile costs around id=”listicle-2638634792″ million. Procurement was shut down two years ago, leaving the Zumwalt without any ammunition.

The guns never provided the desired range anyway, so now the Navy is talking about possibly scrapping the guns entirely.

The Zumwalt has also struggled with engine and electrical problems, as well as a potential loss of stealth capabilities due to the use of cost-saving bolt-on components.

While the Navy had planned to field more than 30 Zumwalt-class destroyers, the service now plans for only three.

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The USS Independence, a Littoral Combat Ship.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

3. Littoral Combat Ship

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), sometimes referred to as the “Little Crappy Ship,” has suffered from uncontrolled cost overruns, delivery delays, and various mechanical problems.

The Navy has pumped around billion over roughly 20 years into this project, which was started to create an inexpensive vessel that was small, fast, and capable of handling a variety of missions in coastal waterways.

The LCS was specifically designed to carry out anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasure, and surface warfare missions in contested littoral waters, but there have been a lot of problems with the modular mission packages designed to be loaded aboard.

There are also concerns that the ships are not survivable in high-intensity conflict and that they are not sufficiently armed to perform their missions, according to the most recent Department of Defense operational testing and evaluation assessment.

While the Navy initially aimed to build a fleet of 55 ships, the LCS order has since been reduced to 35. The Navy, which has struggled to deploy the ships it already has, is currently looking at new missile frigates to replace the LCS.

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USS Gerald R. Ford

(United States Navy)

4. Ford-class aircraft carrier

The billion USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier continues to suffer from a variety of problems even as the Navy moves forward with plans to build more Ford-class supercarriers.

The Ford was expected to be delivered to the fleet this summer, but delivery has been delayed until at least October due to persistent problems with the weapons elevators and the propulsion system.

This is not the first time the powerful ship has been delayed.

This massive flattop has also had problems with the basic requirements of an aircraft carrier, launching and recovering planes. The most recent Department of Defense assessment called attention to the “poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized, occasionally at inappropriate times, the new electromagnetic catapults, which still don’t work correctly. Just as he was critical of the rising F-35 costs, Trump has also frequently slammed the ballooning costs of the Ford-class carriers.

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An artist rendering of a railgun aboard a US Navy surface vessel.

(US Navy)

5. Electromagnetic naval railgun

The problem with the railgun was that the Navy began pouring time and money into research and development without really considering whether or not the weapon was a worthwhile investment militarily.

The railgun, which the Navy has invested more than a decade and over 0 million in developing, suffers from rate of fire limitations, significant energy demands, and other troubling technological problems that make this weapon a poor replacement for existing guns or missile systems.

“It’s not useful military technology,” Clark previously told Business Insider. “You are better off spending that money on missiles and vertical launch system cells than you are on a railgun.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson described the railgun project as a lesson in what not to do during a talk earlier this year. When asked about the program, the best answer he could offer was: “It’s going somewhere, hopefully.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is extraordinary

Since its founding in 1938, the Sturgis Motorcycle has been held every year with the exception of the three year period between 1939 and 1941; the rally did not take place due to gas rationing in support of the war effort overseas. However, the rally returned in 1942 and has been held every year since.

Here are 5 reasons why Sturgis is nothing short of extraordinary.


1. Persistence

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is no exception to Sturgis’ longstanding run. On June 16, the mayor of Sturgis announced that the city council had decided to move forward with the 80th Sturgis motorcycle rally. During a Facebook broadcast, he outlined that the rally will include, “modifications that provide for the health and safety of our visitors, and our residents and our town.” Ten days/nights of riding, food and music will take place in Sturgis, South Dakota from August 7-16.

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A ride during the 2019 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

2. Attendance

Historically, attendance at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has averaged around 500,000 people. Official attendance peaked in 2015 at 739,000 for the rally’s 75th anniversary. Billed as the largest motorcycle rally in the world, people come from all across the country to be a part of Sturgis’ famed rally. Many riders make it a family event, towing their motorcycles behind a camper and riding the last few miles into town. Others transport their rides via shipping companies and arrive by plane. In 2005, when the official attendance was 525,250 people, the rally’s director estimated that fewer than half the attendees actually rode there, a testament to just how many people came from far and wide to experience Sturgis.

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Rally Headquarters features vendors, rally registration, and city info booths (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

3. Fundraising

With so many people descending on the small town every year, the city of Sturgis capitalizes on the rally which makes up 95 percent of its annual revenue. In 2011, the city earned nearly 0,000 from the sale of event guides and sponsorships alone. On average, the rally brings in over 0 million to the state of South Dakota annually. While the Lakota Indian tribe has protested the large amount of alcohol distributed at the rally so close to the sacred Bear Butte religious site, they have also acknowledged the importance of the revenue that the rally brings into the region and the tribes.

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(Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

4. Entertainment

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is not just a bunch of bikers standing by their bikes in parking lots. Rather, the rally originally focused on motorcycle races and stunts. In 1961, the rally introduced the Hill Climb and Motocross races. Other forms of motorcycle entertainment included intentional board wall crashes and ramp jumps. Over the years, the rally was extended in length from a three day event to its current 10 day length. Entertainment and attractions also expanded to include vendors and live music. The first concert at the Sturgis Rally featured the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. Other big names have followed like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Montgomery Gentry, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Willie Nelson. This year, notable bands scheduled to perform include 38 Special, Quiet Riot and Night Ranger.

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Panels of the memorial (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

5. Veteran recognition

Regularly attended by veterans, especially Vietnam Vets, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes great pride in recognizing the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces. In 2019, the Sturgis Rally held a Military Appreciation Day presented by the VFW. Activities included a reception to honor a local veteran, entertainment and a flyover by a B-1 Lancer bomber. For 2020, the Sturgis Rally will feature the Remembering Our Fallen photographic war memorial. Highlighting service members killed during the War on Terror, Remembering Our Fallen is designed to travel and includes both military and personal photos.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The time and place for the Putin-Trump summit is set

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has confirmed that an announcement will be made on June 28, 2018, regarding a planned summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

“There will be an announcement on that tomorrow simultaneously in Moscow and Washington on the date and the time of that meeting,” Bolton said after holding talks on June 27, 2018, with the Russian president in Moscow.

Trump will raise a full range of issues with Putin, Bolton said, including alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, something Putin has denied.


The adviser said he did not rule out concrete results to come out of the summit, adding that the leaders believe it is important to meet, despite their differences.

Earlier, a Kremlin aide said the summit — the first full-fledged meeting between the two presidents since Trump took office in January 2017 — will be held in a third country that is convenient for both sides. He said several more weeks were needed for preparations.

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin said that Bolton’s visit “instills hope” that steps can be taken to improve badly strained relations between Moscow and Washington.

Putin said he regretted that ties between the former Cold War foes are “not in the best shape” and suggested their dire state is due in large part to what he called “the internal political struggle” in the United States — indicating he does not blame Trump.


“Russia has never sought confrontation, and I hope that we can talk today about what can be done by both sides to restore full-format relations on the basis of equality and respect,” Putin said.

Bolton said he was looking forward to discussing “how to improve Russia-U.S. relations and find areas where we can agree and make progress together.”

When Moscow and Washington had differences in the past, Russian and U.S. leaders met and that was “good for both countries, good for stability in the world,” Bolton said. “President Trump feels very strongly on that subject.”

Bolton also said he would like to hear Putin’s account of “how you handled the World Cup so successfully.” The United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.

Bolton met with Putin after holding separate talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a senior member of Putin’s Security Council, Yury Averyanov.

At least part of the meeting between Bolton and Putin was also attended by others including Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, and Fiona Hill, senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders tweeted that Bolton was meeting with Putin and other Russian officials “to discuss United States-Russia relations, as well the potential for a Presidential meeting.’


The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that in addition to bilateral ties, Lavrov and Bolton discussed current global issues including Syria and Ukraine — where Moscow’s involvement in military conflicts is a source of U.S.-Russian tension.

Bolton traveled to Moscow after meetings with U.S. allies in London and Rome on June 25-26, 2018.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview over the weekend that Trump is likely to meet Putin “in the not-too-distant future.”

Ushakov’s comments suggested that the summit is likely to take place at some point after Trump attends a NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12 and visits Britain on July 13, 2018. Vienna and Helsinki have been cited as possible venues.

An Austrian newspaper earlier this week said teams from the United States and Russia were already in Vienna preparing for a July 15, 2018 meeting between the two leaders.

However, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on June 26, 2018, that Finland’s capital, Helsinki, was the likeliest choice, but the final decision depended on the outcome of Bolton’s talks.

Trump and Putin have met twice on the sidelines of international summits and they have spoken at least eight times by telephone. Trump telephoned Putin to congratulate him in March 2018 after the Russian president’s reelection and said the two would meet soon.

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President Donald Trump

However, Russian officials have since complained about the difficulty of setting up such a meeting, as ties between Washington and Moscow have further deteriorated over issues including the war in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, which the West blames on Moscow.

Relations were already severely strained by tension over issues including Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was an “influence campaign” ordered by Putin in an attempt to affect the U.S. presidential election, in part by bolstering Trump and discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of being soft on Russia. Trump made clear during his campaign and into his presidency that he wants better relations with Russia and Putin, and has often praised the Russian president.

Bolton’s trip and the movement toward a Trump-Putin summit comes after Trump unnerved allies by calling for Russia to be readmitted to the G7, the group of industrialized nations it was ejected from in 2014 over its interference in Ukraine.

Trump has also sharply criticized a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the alleged Russian meddling and whether his associates colluded with Moscow. Russia denies it interfered, despite substantial evidence, and Trump says there was no collusion.

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

MIGHTY FIT

This is what happens to the body when troops take steroids

In 1939, German scientist Adolf Butenandt was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in documenting how hormones transfer signals between the body’s cells and organs to regulate bodily functions. His discoveries were revolutionary, paving the way for many of today’s medical necessities, including birth control and steroids.

These same scientific revelations lead, eventually, to the creation of anabolic steroids. Today, the business of manufacturing and selling synthetic testosterone is massive — and highly illegal.


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Nobel Prize winner and German scientist Adolf Butenandt.

Although the military is considered a team environment, if you’re looking for a promotion, it’s ultimately up to you to work extremely hard to stand out among your peers. Some troops who want to gain a physical edge on their fellow brothers-in-arms, however, turn to various types of anabolic steroids to, hopefully, more quickly achieve their goals. Not only is this illegal, it’s also potentially dangerous.

Unfortunately, finding a vial testosterone, especially on a military installation, is pretty easy and young troops don’t mind trying out the fabricated hormone in hopes it’ll make them jacked. The majority of service members who take the mass-building substance, however, usually don’t understand what it does to the body.

Note: This is a basic overview of how anabolic steroids affect the human body. As always, do your own research.

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When a soldier trains, their natural testosterone levels drop dramatically as the body releases other hormones, called glucocorticoids, which helps reduce inflammation. However, glucocorticoids have a secondary effect of sending your body into a catabolic state.

Being in a catabolic state means your muscle tissue is breaking down. During that state, steroids affect hormonal imbalance in two different ways. First, they replenish testosterone levels, which hastens muscle repair. Secondly, they’re known to block the glucocorticoids from breaking down muscle fibers.

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The basic breakdown of a muscle’s anatomy.
(Thermoworks.com)

When we tear a muscle during a workout, it’s the protein you’ve consumed during the day that makes its way to the damaged fiber and restores it, making it bigger and better each time. When someone takes a testosterone supplement, it quickly moves into your cells, activating protein synthesis and enhancing the rebuilding process.

According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, the average man produces between four and seven milligrams of testosterone per day. Compare that to a bottle testosterone enanthate, which can contain up to 300 milligrams per cc. This amount is injected by the average steroid user two to three times per week.

There are more than a few unpleasant side effects to taking anabolic, like acne, gynecomastia, fluid retention, and testicular atrophy. Long-term effects can include high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels, and liver and heart damage.

Note: WATM doesn’t condone the use of steroids, but if you’re going to do them, you should carefully review the potential risks involved.

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