Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in 'Star Wars' - We Are The Mighty
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Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Star Wars boasts some of the most hardcore fans of any franchise, but some might not know the impressive military background of the Empire’s most fearsome warlord. Darth Vader, the main villain of the original Star Wars trilogy and the tragic protagonist of the prequel trilogy, is one of the most recognizable figures in movie history. His black samurai armor, flowing cape, and red lightsaber are known the world over. What most fans may not know is that before he was the Emperor’s enforcer, Vader earned his Ranger Tab.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
A Best Ranger competitor traverses a rope over Victory Pond on Sunday, April 14, the final day of the 2019 Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia. Photo by Marty Skovlund Jr./Coffee or Die Magazine.

James Earl Jones, the iconic voice behind Vader’s wheezing mask, accepted a commission into the Army in 1953, just as the Korean War was ending. He attended the Army’s Infantry Officer Course and later Ranger School. Jones even sharpened his teeth in the Rocky Mountains, where he helped establish a new cold-weather training program.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
James Earl Jones helped establish a US Army cold-weather training program in the Rocky Mountains. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Summers, courtesy of DVIDS.

The elite few who have earned the right to wear the prestigious Ranger Tab on their left shoulder are known for their prowess in combat and aggressive approach to every armed conflict they find themselves in. Maybe that’s where Darth Vader learned to kick ass and take names as one of the galaxy’s most infamous killers. The fan-favorite scene where Vader single-handedly slaughters an entire rebel defense force at the end of Rogue One looks a lot like a direct-action raid (a Ranger specialty), complete with an explosive-breach entry. 

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Vader isn’t the only Star Wars legend with a military background. Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren in the recent trilogy, was a Marine mortarman. Christopher Lee, who plays Count Dooku, was a World War II veteran of the famed British Long Range Desert Group and later the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Alec Guinness, the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, also served in World War II. He commanded a British landing craft during the invasion of Sicily. Young Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, has a brother who was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and adopted the coolest call sign of all time: Obi-2. Jason Wingreen, the original voice of Boba Fett, was a World War II veteran who served in Europe with the US Army Air Force, before using the GI Bill to study acting.

The movie franchise named after space combat has a roster full of real-life warfighters. May the Force be with you. 

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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Why the Queen of England took a member of Parliament hostage

They do things a little differently over in Britain. They say the U.S. and the UK are two nations separated by a common language — but we’re also separated by food quality and bizarre traditions. Just as the English might be a little concerned when the Leader of the Free World pardons a turkey every year, we’re a little leery when we see Queen Elizabeth II holding a member of Member of Parliament hostage — as she does every year.


It’s now more a Parliamentary tradition more than the political necessity it once was, but every year, the English monarch does take a member of Parliament hostage.

While this may seem like a strange tradition for one of the world’s top ten powers, remember that the United States purposely keeps a lower-ranking member of the Presidential Cabinet away from the State of the Union Address just in case everyone in that room dies somehow.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

For example, this would have been your President if something like that happened at the 2018 State of the Union Address. If you know who that is without looking it up, you are 70 percent more ‘Murica than everyone else.

Related: What a ‘designated survivor’ does during the State of the Union

At the opening of Parliament every year, the reigning monarch delivers a speech from the throne. It’s just one part of a grand tradition that really showcases a lot of British governmental history. But before she gets to the throne, a number of fascinating events take place. They first ensure there aren’t any Guy Fawkes impersonators loading gunpowder in the cellar, then the members (called “Peers”) assemble. Then, before the monarch leaves the palace, one of the members of the body is taken hostage to ensure the safe return of the Queen.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
“Let us all be prepared to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumble.”
(Crown photo)

The reason for this was that Parliament hasn’t always been a welcoming place for the monarch. In fact, a very long war resulted from this division that left Britain under the rule of a de-facto military dictatorship for a few years. King Charles I was actually beheaded in 1649 as part of that Civil War.

Nowadays, Parliament keeps Charles’ execution warrant displayed in the monarch’s dressing room as a reminder of what can happen if the Queen oversteps her authority.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
Savage.

Once the monarch’s crown and regalia arrives and the Hostage MP is under guard, the Queen departs Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster (where Parliament meets). The Commons are called to assemble in the Lords chamber, where the monarch will deliver her speech.

The sitting monarch has not entered the Commons chamber since Charles I burst in, trying to arrest five members of Parliament whom he believed were using a Scottish invasion as a pretext to rally the people of London to rise against him. We already covered where this took the English Monarchy and Charles I personally.

Savage.

Once assembled in the House of Lords’ Chamber, the Queen will give a speech, written by the Prime Minister and the cabinet, outlining the body’s agenda for the coming year. The whole procession is then done in reverse, with the monarch departing Westminster for Buckingham Palace.

Once the Queen has safely returned to the Palace the Hostage MP is released, presumably unharmed.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

7 rules for milspouses to stay savvy on social media

Have you seen the hilarious memes surrounding military spouses and social media? It’s a wild frontier, y’all. Military spouses are not bound by the same standards as their service members, yet there are definitely some guidelines that should steer any digital footprint — and we’re not just talking OPSEC. Here are 7 rules to keep milspouses savvy on social:


Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Just because you aren’t employed…

Relaxing standards when you’re not working feels good. But for a community who finds themselves walking in and out of careers, we’re suggesting not going full-blown IDGAF online. The digital dirt you’re kicking up doesn’t settle in the virtual world. Instead, every sassy comment or a drunken rant you go on is all there for your future employer to find. If what you’re about to type would likely get you fired if you were employed, opt for yelling into a pillow instead.

Quit pulling faux or metaphorical rank on each other

In case you haven’t heard, your service member’s rank does not carry over to you. Nothing is more annoying or quite frankly detrimental to the spouse community than when the perfume you’re wearing stinks of superiority. Sharing help, tips, insight and posting questions online should be met with equality, not discrimination or judgment. So be nice.

Oversharing is emotional vomit

It’s amazing what the digital world has done for military friendships and connectivity, but it’s not (always) the right space to show everyone your private stash of special. Spouses need to use online pages for their intended purpose, and that purpose only. Don’t divulge your marital issues on a “for sale or free” page. Instead, ask for local run chapter pages of organizations like InDependent, a dedicated space for overall spouse wellness and connection.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Dirty laundry goes in the washer, not on the internet

What’s the easiest way to spot a spouse going through a life change or marital issue? They go from cardigan selfies to bikini shots real quick. We’re hoping for all of humanity that decorum isn’t dead and everyone ready to step it up in a rough patch would have first put that amount of energy into saving their marriages.

Stop telling hackers all of your information

How gullible do you have to be to not realize that the “list your last 5 hometowns in order, or cars or pets names” isn’t a total scam? Stop sharing it. We’re lucky enough to have six street names and five possible cities to use for a password that might actually make it difficult to guess. Why spoil it by just divulging all of that with the world?

Make social media work in your favor

Scrolling isn’t all bad, in fact, it could lead to your next career. Building up a network of potential leads, resources and communities can work in your favor if you play your cards right. If you’ve followed suggestion number one, your social profile becomes a bit resume-like in the best way. Researching the major players in your next area before you move and “showing up” as who you want the world to see you as might just catch the eye of your next boss.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Keep pages separate

What’s more annoying than your online friend going from zero to MLM salesman of the year? Nothing, nothing is more annoying. Take it from someone who enjoyed one or six careers in their life and keep social media pages consistent or make a new one. You can’t go from daily donut love to a fitness “expert” in the blink of an eye. Authenticity takes time, so take the time to consider if this next stage is here to stay, or would be better suited as a group or subpage.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia probably can’t actually build its doomsday weapons

Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, have made a lot of waves and headlines in recent days with their claims of magnificent weapons that can fly faster than the speed of sound, hit targets with untold destructive capability, and deliver a stunning Bolshoi suplex that just knocks the Guile right out of opponents.


The last example was actually from Street Fighter, but Putin’s plans for the promised miracle weapons are just as real as Zangief.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

This is the real Cold War.

The prime case in point is a recent, incredibly deadly nuclear explosion near a weapons site in Severodvinsk, Russia on Aug. 8, 2019. It killed two people, and emergency responders had to get to the site in hazmat suits. This was no rocket engine test, unless that engine is nuclear-powered. Which it was.

The United States has tested a missile like the one Russia was testing in August. NATO has dubbed the Russian nuclear-powered missile the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. When the U.S. put a nuclear reactor on a missile, we called it Project Pluto. Whatever you want to dub it, know that it’s basically a nuclear missile with a nuclear reactor, spreading nuclear material from its engines wherever it goes.

American scientists scrapped it because it would be an environmental disaster. Putin seems to have no such reservations. But that doesn’t matter.

Whatever the test was, there are nuclear weapons experts who cast doubt on the idea that Russia has the finances or technical ability to create such superweapons. One of these experts believes the Russians are just throwing weapons ideas at a wall like spaghetti to see what sticks.

“I don’t think it can all stick,” Ian Williams, the deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Foreign Policy. “It’s just the novelty of it. No other country is even considering this kind of thing. It’s the most technologically unproven, probably the most expensive in the long run.”

More likely, Putin is trying to sell the idea of Russian superweapons, hearkening back to the good old days of the Soviet Union, where Russians had pride, dammit, even if they couldn’t always buy cucumbers. Putin is promising as much in recent days, introducing the superweapons in a March 2018 address to the nation. It’s only been a couple of years since Russia emerged from a financial crisis caused by the devaluation of the Russian Ruble – but with more and more economic sanctions imposed on it, the country is hardly out of the woods.

When Putin introduced the weapons last year, he challenged Russia’s top brass to name the weapons. I’m sure we could do better – how about the Pipe Dream torpedo or the Fukushima Missile?

MIGHTY TRENDING

B-52 bomber takes flight with hypersonic weapon for the first time

America’s longest-serving bomber just took flight with a new air-launched hypersonic weapon for the first time, the US Air Force announced on June 13, 2019.

A B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bomber took to the skies over Edwards Air Force Base in California on June 12, 2019, with an inactive, sensor-only prototype of the new AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), one of a handful of hypersonic weapons the Air Force is developing for the B-52s.

Hypersonic weapons are a key research and development area in the ongoing arms race between the great-power rivals Russia, China, and the US. Hypersonics are particularly deadly because of their high speeds, in excess of Mach 5, and their maneuverability, which gives them the ability to evade enemy air-and-missile defense systems.


The hypersonic weapon carried by the B-52 on June 12, 2019, did not contain explosives and was not released during testing, the Air Force said, explaining that the focus of the test was to gather data on drag and vibration effects on the weapon, as well as evaluate the external carriage equipment.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress.

(US Air Force photo)

For the B-52, a nonstealth bomber that might struggle to skirt enemy air defenses, the standoff capability provided by a weapon like the ARRW helps keep the decades-old aircraft relevant even as the US prepares to fight wars against high-end opponents.

Standoff is one area the US military has been looking closely at as it upgrades its B-52s to extend their service life.

The Air Force, much like the Army and Navy, is pursuing hypersonic weapons technology as quickly as possible.

“We’re using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to quickly bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter,” Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a release.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

A B-52H Stratofortress.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)

The Air Force’s ARRW is expected to achieve operational capability by fiscal year 2022.

“This type of speed in our acquisition system is essential — it allows us to field capabilities rapidly to compete against the threats we face,” Roper said, apparently referencing the challenges posed by near-peer competitors.

Russia, for instance, has developed the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile that can be carried by both bombers and interceptor aircraft.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the Air Force wants new, cheap, lightweight planes

The US Air Force started the second phase of its Light Attack Experiment on May 7, 2018, putting the A-29 Super Tucano and AT-6B Wolverine aircraft through more testing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Air Force officials have touted light-attack aircraft as a cheap option to address low-end threats, like ISIS or other militant groups, and free up advanced platforms, like the F-22 and F-35, to take on more complex operations.


Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein has described the light-attack aircraft as part of a networked battlefield, connecting and sharing information with partner forces in the air and on the ground.

“We’re looking at light attack through the lens of allies and partners,” Goldfein told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A big part of the Light Attack Experiment is a common architecture and an intelligence-sharing network, so that those who would join us would be part of the campaign against violent extremism.”

Phase 2 of the experiment

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
A Beechcraft AT-6 experimental aircraft during ground operations is prepared for takeoff from Holloman AFB. The AT-6 is participating in the US Air Force Light Attack Experiment (OA-X), a series of trials to determine the feasibility of using light aircraft in attack roles.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Ethan D. Wagner)

The latest phase of the Light Attack Experiment will be a three-month, live-fly experiment intended to gather more information about each aircraft’s capabilities, networking ability, and potential interoperability with partner forces, the Air Force said in a release.

The first phase of the experiment took place at Holloman in August 2017, with four aircraft. In February 2018, the Air Force announced that it had narrowed the field to the two current aircraft.

The second phase at Holloman comes in lieu of a combat demonstration, which Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in February 2018, the service would forgo.

“This second phase of experimentation is about informing the rapid procurement process as we move closer to investing in light attack,” Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, the military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said in the release.

Fighter, attack, and special-operations pilots will take part in this phase of the experiment, working with test pilots and flight engineers from the Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. They will carry out day and night missions doing air interdiction, close air support, armed overwatch, and combat search and rescue.

Addressing the Air Force’s pilot shortage

Adding light-attack aircraft to the fleet would mean more airframes on which pilots could train in order to maintain their qualifications and prepare to transition to more advanced aircraft — helping address a pilot shortage caused in part by bottlenecks in the training pipeline.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
Two Afghan A-29 Super Tucanos flies over Afghanistan during a training mission before the beginning of the 2017 fighting season, March 22, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo)

“If we can get light attack aircraft operating in permissive combat environments, we can alleviate the demand on our 4th and 5th generation aircraft, so they can be training for the high-end fight they were made for,” Bunch said in the release.

The Air Force has not committed to pursuing a contract for a light-attack aircraft after the experiment, however. Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, deputy chief of staff for requirements, told Flight Global that the Air Force hasn’t made a final decision, though he said service has reserved more than $2 billion over the next six years should it go forward with production.

Critics have said operating such aircraft, even in permissive environments, will expose pilots to more risk.

“The last time the US did this in Vietnam, oh boy, it really wasn’t pleasant,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for aerospace-consulting firm Teal Group, told Air Force Times in February 2018. “They took a lot of casualties, for predictable reasons. It’s low, it’s slow and vulnerable, and the air defense environment has become a lot more sophisticated.”

The A-29 Super Tucano is already in service with the Afghan air force, and Wilson said in 2017 that none of those aircraft had been shot down in 18 months of operations.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Japan is bothered by the Korean Unification Flag

Ahead of the historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea on April 27, 2018, political emblems depicting unity have been rolled out across South Korea.

One of these is an outline of the full Korean Peninsula, like on the Korean unification flag seen prominently at the Olympics. Inside Peace House, where Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In will meet, chairs have been engraved with the same outline and a miniature version of the flag will be placed on a dessert later in the day.

But not everyone views the symbols favorably.


The Korean unification flag features a set of disputed islands between Japan and South Korea that have been a source of tension for over a millennia.

Both South Korea and Japan claim the pair of nearly uninhabitable islets located in the Sea of Japan, which are controlled by South Korea. South Korea refers to the islands as Dokdo, while the Japanese refer to them as Takeshima.

Internationally, they have been given the name of Liancourt Rocks to avoid dispute.

Japan claims it acquired the islands in 1905 as terra nullius during its occupation of Korea, while Korea maintains it was illegally occupied and that Japan’s claims to the islands amount to continued imperialism.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’
The Liancourt Rocks.u00a0South Korea refers to the islands as Dokdo, while the Japanese refer to them as Takeshima.

The islands holds significant symbolic importance to South Korea but Japan has protested the use of the islands in the Korean unification flag.

On April 25, 2018, Japan’s foreign ministry lodged a formal complaint about the use of the flag, which is set to be featured on top of a mango mousse served during the inter-Korean summit on April 27, 2018.

A Japanese official met with the South Korean embassy in Tokyo, telling them the use of the flag is “deeply regrettable and unacceptable for Japan,” according to NHK News.

The Japanese Embassy in Seoul has also lodged a complaint with South Korea’s foreign ministry.

This is not the first time the symbol has angered Japan.

In February 2018, Japan lodged a protest against the unification flag which was on display during a women’s ice hockey match between the joint North-South Korean team and Sweden.

South Korea later said it would not depict the islands on the flag it intended to use during the Olympics. But pictures of North Korea’s cheerleaders at the games show they appear to have used the controversial flag anyway.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran tries to blame U.S. for horrible terror attack

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley rebuked comments from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that blamed US support for a terror attack on a military parade Sept. 22, 2018, that killed 25 people and wounded 60.

Haley waved off Rouhani’s condemnation of America, and said in the aftermath of the attack, “he needs to look at his own home base.”

“The Iranian people are protesting,” Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sept. 23, 2018. “Every ounce of money that goes into Iran goes to his military. He has oppressed his people for a long time.”


Haley continued: “He can blame us all he wants, but the thing he’s got to do is look in the mirror.”

Rouhani lashed out at America’s support for mercenary countries in the Persian Gulf, saying it helps to “instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose relevant sanctions crippled the economy and drew ire from leadership, Haley said.

“They don’t like the fact that we’ve called them out,” Haley said. “We have called them out for ballistic missile testing. We’ve called them out for their support of terrorism. We’ve called them out for their arms sales. And they don’t like it.”

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Despite the tensions, Haley contradicted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani‘s claims from a day earlier the US was seeking a regime change and promised Trump would remain strict with Iranian leadership.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted immediately after the attack Sept. 23, 2018, to blame regional countries and their “US masters,” calling the gunmen “terrorists recruited, trained armed and paid” by foreign powers, raising tensions in the region amid the unclear future of Tehran’s nuclear deal.

“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter Sept. 23, 2018.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to “Fox News Sunday” before Rouhani’s statement, calling Zarif’s comments “an enormous mistake.”

“The loss of innocent life is tragic, and I wish Zarif would focus on keeping his own people secure rather than causing insecurity around the world,” Pompeo said.

Haley said the September 2018 United Nations General Assembly would be a chance for countries to sort out tension, but Trump isn’t planning on a meeting with Iranian leadership, as Rouhani “has to stop all of his bad behavior before the president’s going to think he’s serious about wanting to talk.”

Haley added: “There is no love for Iran here in the United States, and there’s no love for the United States in Iran.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran warns US aircraft carrier is a ‘target,’ not a ‘threat’

As US troops and weaponry pour into the Middle East to counter Iran with threats of “unrelenting force,” Iran warns that US forces are “targets,” not threats.

A little over a week ago, the White House, following approval from the Pentagon, announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force composed of B-52 Stratofortress heavy, long-range bombers were being immediately deployed to US Central Command as a warning to Iran, which the US believed might be planning an attack on US interests.


The Pentagon announced May 10, 2019, that additional assets, including an amphibious assault vessel and an air-and-missile defense battery, were also being sent into the region. The US has said that it will respond to any Iranian attack with “unrelenting force.”

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron taxis for takeoff on a runway at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 12, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Gardner)

Iranian military leadership pushed back over the weekend.

On May 11, 2019, Yadollah Javani, the deputy head of political affairs of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said that the US “wouldn’t dare to launch military action against us.” His comments came shortly after Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad, a high-ranking cleric in the Iranian government, warned that US forces will face “dozens of missiles.”

Another IRGC commander followed suit May 12, 2019.

“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past,” Amirali Hajizadeh said. “But, now it is a target.”

“If (the Americans) make a move, we will hit them in the head,” he added.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

Ghadir-class submarine.

Iran’s state media released an animated video back in February showing one of Iran’s Ghadir-class submarines sinking an American aircraft carrier. Such an aggressive act, the success of which is far from guaranteed, would be a bold and dangerous move for Iran.

“The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence,” Bryan McGrath, an influential naval consultant, previously told Business Insider. “The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of God will come down on them.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hackers are trying to bring down entire countries, and it’s a matter of time

Gatwick Airport is Britain’s second busiest by passenger volume, and Europe’s eighth. And yet it was brought to a standstill for two days by two people and a single drone.

Its vulnerability reminded me of a conversation I had two years ago, at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon with cybersecurity investor Sergey Gribov of Flint Capital. He was talking up one of his investments, an industrial cybersecurity firm based in Israel called CyberX. Half-bored, I girded myself for his pitch. They usually go like this: “The internet is full of hackers! They want to steal your data and your money! If only companies used my company’s awesome product, we would all be safe!”


I have heard hundreds of pitches like this.

But my conversation with Gribov was different. It was … extreme. The criminals who break into the web sites of banks or chainstores and steal personal data or money are not the scariest people out there, he told me. The hackers we really ought to be worrying about are the ones trying to take entire countries offline. People who are trying to take down the internet, switch the lights off, cut the water supply, disable railways, or blow up factories.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

(Flickr photo by Richard Patterson)

The West’s weakness is in the older electronics and sensors that control processes in infrastructure and industry. Often these electronics were installed decades ago. The security systems controlling them are ancient or non-existent. If a hacker can gain control of a temperature sensor in a factory, he — they’re usually men — can blow the place up, or set it on fire. “The problem people don’t realise is it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You can take down a whole country. It can be done,” he said.

And then, how do you respond? Does the country that was attacked — the one struggling to get its power grid back online — launch nukes? Probably not, he said, because “you have no idea who did it.”

“You can have a team of five people sitting in a basement and be just as devastating as WMDs,” he said. “It’s really scary. In some sense it’s a matter of time because it’s really easy.”

At the time, I discounted my conversation with Gribov. His VC fund was invested in CyberX, so he had an obvious interest in propagating the idea that the world is full of bad guys.

But in the years since we talked, two unnerving things happened.

Darth Vader has a ranger tab, and other military veterans in ‘Star Wars’

The scope of the 2016 internet outage after the attack on Dyn.

(Wikimedia, CC)

“Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes

Both attacks were conducted by relatively unsophisticated actors. The Dyn attack was done by three young men who had created some software that they merely hoped would disable a competitor’s company, until it got out of control. The Mauritania attack was probably done by the government of neighbouring Sierra Leone, which was trying to manipulate local election results by crippling the media.

Apparently, it is possible to take the world offline.

It’s not merely that “someone” out there is trying to figure out how to take down the internet. There are multiple someones out there who want that power. In June 2018, Atlanta’s city government was hobbled by an attack that wiped out a third of its software programs. The FBI told Business Insider earlier this year that it believed terrorists would eventually attempt to take America’s 911 emergency system offline.

Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes.

Three major power suppliers simultaneously taken over by hackers

Next, I talked to Nir Giller, cofounder and CTO of CyberX. He pointed me to the December 2015 blackout in Ukraine, in which three major power suppliers were simultaneously taken over by hackers. The hackers gained remote control of the stations’ dashboards, and manually switched off about 60 substations, leaving 230,000 Ukrainians in the cold and dark for six straight hours.

The hack was almost certainly done by Russia, whose military had invaded Crimea in the south of the country in 2014.

“It’s a new weapon,” Giller says. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a sophisticated, well-coordinated attack.”

The fact that the hackers targeted a power station was telling. The biggest vulnerabilities in Western infrastructure are older facilities, Giller believes. Factories, energy plants, and water companies all operate using machinery that is often very old. New devices and software are installed alongside the older machinery, often to control or monitor it. This is what the industrial “internet of things” looks like. Hackers don’t need to control an entire plant, the way they did in Ukraine. They only need to control an individual sensor on a single machine. “In the best-case scenario you have to get rid of a batch” of product, Giller says. “In the worst case, it’s medicine that is not supervised or produced correctly.”

CyberX has done work for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California. It claims to be the largest seawater desalination plant in the US. And it serves an area prone to annual droughts. Giller declined to say exactly how CyberX protects the plant but the implication of the company’s work is clear — before CyberX showed up, it was pretty easy to shut down the water supply to about 400,000 people in San Diego.

2010 was the year that cybersecurity experts really woke up to the idea that you could take down infrastructure, not just individual companies or web sites. That was the year the Stuxnet virus was deployed to take down the Iranian nuclear program.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking”

The principle behind Stuxnet was simple: Like all software viruses, it copied and sent itself to as many computers running Microsoft Windows as it possibly could, invisibly infecting hundreds of thousands of operating systems worldwide. Once installed, Stuxnet looked for Siemens Step7 industrial software. If it found some, Stuxnet then asked itself a question: “Is this software operating a centrifuge that spins at the exact frequency of an Iranian nuclear power plant that is enriching uranium to create nuclear weapons?” If the answer was “yes,” Stuxnet changed the data coming from the centrifuges, giving their operators false information. The centrifuges stopped working properly. And one-fifth of the Iranian nuclear program’s enrichment facilities were ruined.

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Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking,” Giller says.

Groundbreaking, but extremely sophisticated. Some experts believe that the designers of Stuxnet would need access to Microsoft’s original source code — something that only a government like the US or Israel could command.

Russia is another state actor that is growing its anti-infrastructure resources. In April 2017 the US FBI and the British security services warned that Russia had seeded UK wifi routers — the little boxes that serve wireless internet in your living room — with a hack that can read all the internet traffic going through them. It’s not that Vladimir Putin wants to see what you’re looking at on Pornhub. Rather, “What they’re doing there is building capability,” says Andrew Tsonchev, the director of technology at Darktrace Industrial, a London-based cybersecurity firm that specialises in artificially intelligent, proactive security. “They’re building that and investing in that so they can launch attacks from it across the world if and when they need to.”

A simple extortion device disabled Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon

Then, in 2017, the Wannacry virus attack happened. Like Stuxnet, Wannacry also spread itself through the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. Once activated, it locked up a user’s computer and demanded a ransom in bitcoin if the user wanted their data back. It was intended as a way to extort money from people at scale. The Wannacry malware was too successful, however. It affected so many computers at once that it drew attention to itself, and was quickly disabled by a security researcher (who ironically was later accused of being the creator of yet another type of malware).

During its brief life, Wannacry became most infamous for disabling hundreds of computers used by Britain’s National Health Service, and was at one point a serious threat to the UK’s ability to deliver healthcare in some hospitals.

The fact that a simple extortion device could disable Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon did not go unnoticed. Previously, something like Stuxnet needed the sophistication of a nation-state. But Wannacry looked like something you could create in your bedroom.

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A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand.

Tsonchev told Business Insider that Wannacry changed the culture among serious black-hat hackers.

“It managed to swoop across, and burn down huge sectors in different countries for a bit,” he says. “In the course of that, the shipping industry got hit. We had people like Maersk, and other shipping terminals and operators, they went down for a day or two. What happened is the ransomware managed to get into these port terminals and the harbours that control shipping … that intrigued attackers to realise that was something they could deliberately try and do that wasn’t really in their playbook at that point.”

“Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry”

“So this year, we see follow-on attacks specifically targeting shipping terminals and ports. They hit the Port of Barcelona and the Port of San Diego and others. That seemed to follow the methodology of the lessons learned the previous year. ‘Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry.’ A couple years ago they were just thinking about stealing credit card data.”

Another scary thing? The Wannacry attack was in May 2017. By December 2017, the US government confirmed that the North Korean government was responsible for the attack. The North Koreans probably just wanted money. The hermit-communist state is chronically poor.

But it may have taught North Korea something more useful: You don’t need bombs to bring a nation to its knees.

Oddly, you have a role to play in making sure this doesn’t happen. The reason Russia and North Korea and Israel and the US all got such devastating results in their attacks on foreign infrastructure is because ordinary people are bad at updating the security software on their personal computers. People let their security software get old and vulnerable, and then weeks later they’re hosting Stuxnet or Wannacry or Russia’s wifi listening posts.

National security is, somehow, about “the absurdity of the mundane,” says Tsonchev. “These little annoying popups [on your computer] are actually holding the key to national security and people are just ignoring them. Individuals have a small part to play in keeping the whole country safe.”

So if you’re casting about for a New Year’s resolution right now, consider this one: Resolve to keep your phone and laptop up to date with system security software. Your country needs you.

Featured image by Ivan David Gomez Arce.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 reasons why being a Roman Legionnaire would suck

The Roman Empire stretched from modern-day Syria to modern-day Spain. To maintain that amount of real estate, you have to have an amazing military to protect it. The Roman Legion was one such force.

But every military that has made its mark on history was notorious for rigorous training and extremely harsh conditions that make today’s toughest Special Operations training look like Air Force boot camp. Here’s why, in reality, being a Roman Legionnaire would’ve sucked.


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Suddenly, Sergeant Major doesn’t seem so far away.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Judith L. Harter)

Minimum enlistment requirement

It was 25 years. These days, when you sign the dotted line, you’re in for a minimum of four years and you have the option to stay longer to earn a pension and retirement benefits. The average Roman Legionnaire was expected to serve 25 years — no exceptions.

The retirement benefits, however, involved getting a nice piece of land within the empire to spend the rest of your days — If you don’t die first, that is.

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It doesn’t make this suck any less, right?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brennon A. Taylor)

Long, forced marches… Every day.

If you think the 20-kilometer hike you just did last Wednesday, the 25 kilometers you had to do the night before Christmas leave, or the 30-mile hike you did in Korea sucked, just think about what you’d have to do as a Roman Legionnaire. These guys had to carry their entire kit 90 miles, every day.

This kit included their armor, weapons, shield, and a backpack, which contained the equipment needed to help build camps. Additionally, they had to carry their rations and cooking gear.

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Remember this? It would be more regular as a Roman Legionnaire.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)

Marching cadence

Remember those 90-mile forced marches we mentioned? Imagine your company commander calling cadence the whole time. Well, that’s what Centurions did for their Centuries. They would call, “right, left,” the whole time, starting with the right, of course, because the left was seen as wrong or evil.

That’s why issued rifles are made for right-handed war heroes.

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The amount of training probably saved a lot of lives…

(History Answers)

Weapons training

In the Roman Legion, you wake up in the morning and eat breakfast with your seven tent mates and then you do a little weapons training. By a little, we mean a lot. You’re training every morning with your gear and wooden weapons and shields that weigh twice as much as your regular gear, constantly going against your friends to become a much better warrior.

This is a good thing, but you know you complain about three-day field ops. Yes, you do.

The pay was salt

And you thought your steady income and clothing allowance was bad. Granted, the Roman Legion did pay their soldiers but, at the time, salt was worth quite a bit. So, a soldier would get paid in salt.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FEKU9dpJaJTXLq.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.giphy.com&s=0&h=581a4a9fd34cc78e09410d8d43eea0624e3725ff08111e5366544cb8957e5122&size=980x&c=2866231099 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FEKU9dpJaJTXLq.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.giphy.com%26s%3D0%26h%3D581a4a9fd34cc78e09410d8d43eea0624e3725ff08111e5366544cb8957e5122%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2866231099%22%7D” expand=1]

Gunny Hartman would’ve had a great time, though.

The hazing was terrible

If you think your seniors duct-taping a mattress to you and having you take a leap of faith from the third story of your barracks was bad — it was so much worse the Roman Legion.

Remember those annoying Centurions from the marches? They carried a vine branch to whip the disobedient and it was totally okay for them to do so. Getting whipped for stepping out of line is pretty mild considering your friends could stone you to death for being a coward or trying to desert — and that’s only barely scratching the surface of Roman Legion punishments.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how US soldiers trained to fire a nuclear round

In the 1950s U.S. forces were stretched dangerously thin. U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower stated of this, “My feeling…remains, that it would be impossible for the United States to maintain the military commitments which it now sustains around the world (without turning into a garrison state) did we not possess atomic weapons and the will to use them when necessary.”

No surprise from this that, unsatisfied with the portability of their shiny new M65 nuclear cannons, which required a couple of very large trucks to transport, and further unsatisfied that firing it off in many tactical situations would be a bit like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade, in the late 1950s the U.S. military brass for once were thinking smaller. What they really wanted was a simple weapon that could launch a miniature nuclear warhead, could be carted around by a few soldiers, and be fired relatively quickly and reliably. This would allow a handful of soldiers to successful combat far superior forces on the other side, even at relatively close range, which none of the other nuclear weapons of the age could safely do — Enter the Davy Crockett.


Rumor has it the name was chosen in homage to the famed American politician owing to the legend that he once grinned a bear to death, with the idea referencing the association between Russia, and the Soviet Union in general, with bears.

Whether that’s actually the reasoning behind the name or not, the first prototype of the Davy Crockett was completed in November of 1958 and ultimately deployed about two and a half years later in May of 1961. Featuring a variant of the W54 warhead contained in an M388 round, the projectile was fired from an M-28 or M-29 smooth bore recoilless gun. This was capable of launching the 10 or 20 ton yield nuke as far as about 1.25 miles for the M28 or 2.5 miles for the M29.

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As for portability, the Davy Crockett could be either deployed and fired from the back of a jeep for maximum mobility, or even broken down into its components, with the pieces of the weapon carried by five soldiers on foot.

The general procedure for firing the 76 pound nuclear round was quite simple. First a spotting round would be shot from an attached gun to ensure the weapon was aimed reasonably well. After this, in order to get the nuke to end up more or less where the spotting round did, the angle of the gun would have to be adjusted. To do this, a small book with pre-calculated tables was carried giving adjustment figures for said angle.

However, it turns out test firings with non-live nukes showed again and again that the Davey Crockett was an obscenely inaccurate weapon, possibly both because of the angle adjustment and that the weapon itself was smooth bore. Of course, the fact that the Davey Crockett was shooting a nuclear warhead helped make this inaccuracy issue not as much of a problem as would be the case with other similar weapons.

Once the target was mildly locked on, the propellant charge would be inserted into the muzzle with a metal piston placed in after as a sort of cap. This was followed by the M388 round itself containing the W54 warhead. As the M388 was far too big to fit inside the bore, instead a rod would be attached to the back, with the nuke sitting at the front.

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As for how the warhead would know when to detonate, there was a timer dial that would be set based on estimated distance to the target, using figures given in the aforementioned book containing a spreadsheet of tables.

However, contrary to what is often stated, the timer was not actually the thing that triggered detonation. Rather, it simply armed the bomb once the time ran out. The actual trigger for detonation was a simple radar device in the back of the M388 that would detect how far above the ground the nuke was. There was also a high and low switch that could slightly adjust height of detonation based on the radar reading.

As you might have gleaned from all this, also contrary to what is often stated, this switch did not control the yield of the bomb, just what height it would detonate above the ground, roughly 20-40 feet AGL, depending on setting.

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It should also be noted that, unlike many other nuclear weapons, this was an otherwise dumb nuke. Once the timer was set and it was fired, it would either go off or prove itself to be a dud. There was no aborting detonation after launch.

If all that is involved in firing the Davey Crockett sounds like it might take a long time, it turns out not at all given the destructive power of this weapon. One former Davey Crockett section soldier, Thomas Hermann, notes that they were actually trained and well capable of firing a nuke every two and a half minutes!

So just how deadly could this weapon be? While extremely low-powered as nukes go, the weapon nonetheless produced a blast in the ballpark of as large as the highest yield non-nuclear explosive devices of the era. But unlike many of these, it was relatively small and portable. More important than that was its potential for extended damage long after the initial blast. This was particularly useful when fired around critical routes that enemy soldiers would have to traverse. Not only would the initial blast do significant damage to any soldiers and enemy vehicles around at the time, but the radioactive fallout, which would almost certainly be fatal to anyone within about a quarter of a mile of the initial blast when it went off, would remain long after, making a given route, such as a mountain pass, impassable for several days after if one was interested in not dying of radiation poisoning. Naturally, the Soviets could defend against this simply by equipping each of their soldiers with lead-lined refrigerators, but for whatever reason they never seemed to have chosen to go this route.

On the other end of things, neither did the Americans. This was despite the fact that the Davey Crockett was also not terribly safe for those firing it. While 1.25-2.5 miles away is plenty of range to keep the soldiers who pulled the trigger safe from being harmed by the blast itself, in real world scenarios the enemy being fired upon could be closer and some of your own troops might also be even closer still.

Critical to all of this was also wind direction. With no wind, the radiation kill zone in the immediately aftermath of the blast was approximately 1,500 feet, but wind could easily blow dangerous radioactive particles towards one’s own troops. As such, crew were instructed to, if possible, only fire the gun when suitable cover behind a hill or the like was available to help reduce radiation exposure.

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Photograph of a U.S. developed M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle on a tripod

(Department of Defense)

That said, presumably to try to get the soldiers operating the weapon to be slightly less hesitant about firing it, the instruction manual notes that the leader of the troop should instill a great sense of urgency in the soldiers operating the Davy Crockett and to remember that, to quote, “The search for nuclear targets is constant and vigorous!”

On top of that, the manual states that if the nuke failed to detonate for some reason, the soldiers should wait a half hour and then go and recover the supposed to be armed and ready to detonate at the whim of a radar trigger nuke…

Needless to say, while the Davy Crockett was deployed everywhere from West Germany to South Korea, with well over 2,000 of the M388 rounds made and 100 of the guns deployed, it was never actually used in battle.

That said, the Army did do one test fire of the Davy Crockett with a live M388 round. This occurred during Operation Sunbeam in a test code named “Little Feller I”, which took place on July 17, 1962. The nuke flew approximately 1.7 miles and detonated successfully about 30 feet above the ground, with an estimated yield of 18 tons from the blast. Interestingly enough, this was the last time the United States would detonate a nuke in the air close to the ground thanks to the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water. (And, yes, that is the real name of the treaty).

In the end, as cool as having a portable nuclear gun is and all, within only a few years the weapon would become antiquated, and by 1967 the Army was already beginning to phase it out, with it going the way of the Dodo completely by 1971. No doubt to the eternal relief of the soldiers tasked with firing the things should the need arise.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

DoD might get awesome stealth target drone thanks to cadets

Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy are working with aerospace instructors and industry partners to develop the Defense Department’s first large stealth target drone to test missile tracking systems.

“As far as we know, this is the first large stealth target drone,” said Thomas McLaughlin, the Academy’s Aeronautic Research Center director.

McLaughlin said the project is the DoD’s first aircraft development with significant contributions by cadets at a service academy.

“It has had cadet involvement in its evolution over several years,” McLaughlin said. “It’s quite rare that a student design has evolved to the point of potential inventory use.”


Dr. Steven Brandt and Cadet 1st Class Joshua Geerinck are among the Academy members who have worked to perfect the drone’s physical design for more than a decade. Brandt teaches aircraft design and is on the team of government and industry experts overseeing contractor work on the project.

“For the first five years, we just did design studies,” Brandt said. “Finally, in the fall of 2007, we said “let’s build an aircraft.”

Cadets and faculty have worked on the drone’s design since 2008 as part of that government industry team. The current version is 40 feet long, with a 24-foot wingspan and 9-foot-high vertical tails.

“It’s the size of a T-38 trainer aircraft,” Brandt said, referring to the Northrop T-38 Talon, a two-seat, twin-jet supersonic jet trainer. “[The target drone] uses two T-38 Trainer engines. We explored multiple options to refine its shape and helped eliminate designs that were not as good.”

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A T-38 Talon flies over Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 7, 2018.

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglianco)

McLaughlin said the project is important because of its implications in the national defense arena.

“The government owns the intellectual property rights, which makes for substantially reduced production and sustainment costs down the road,” he said.

Geerinck is one of three cadets on the project. He’s been testing the flight stability of the target drone in the Academy’s wind tunnel.

“We’re trying to find a combination of flight-control inputs that will always cause the aircraft to enter a backflip that will cause it to crash,” he said. “The system is important because it allows us to prevent injury or damage to other people or persons on the ground in case there is a catastrophic failure or loss of control.”

McLaughlin said cadets will stay involved in the development of the prototype through its initial flight test and beyond, should it go into production.

“The entire project is the validation of the Academy’s emphasis on putting real-world problems before cadets and expecting them to make real contributions to Air Force engineering,” he said. “In the Aeronautics Department, all cadets perform research and aircraft design — it’s not just for top students.”

Cadets don’t just learn about engineering at the Academy, “they perform it,” McLaughlin said.

“They put their heart and soul into their efforts, knowing that an external customer cares about the outcome of their work,” he said. “Our research program relies on a high level of mentorship that is as much about role modeling as it is about learning facts.”

Brandt said the government-industry team plans to demonstrate the target drone in September at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City. Depending on the results of that demo, the Defense Department could purchase the design or select it for prototyping.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

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