5 insane military projects that almost happened - We Are The Mighty
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5 insane military projects that almost happened

1. Winston Churchill’s plan for a militarized iceberg

Everyone knows that Winston Churchill is a certifiable badass — his military strategy in WWII led to the Allied victory over the Nazi Regime, and has secured him a spot amongst history’s greatest leaders.


What few people know, however, is that Churchill’s most glorious military scheme never saw the light of day — and for good reason. It was insane. What exactly was the Bulldog’s grand plan, you ask? To create the largest aircraft carrier the world had ever seen, and to make it out of ice.

Yes, you read that right. Churchill’s dream was to create a 2,000 foot long iceberg that would literally blow the Axis powers out of the water. The watercraft, dubbed Project Habakkuk, was going to be massive in every way: the construction plans called for walls that were 40 feet thick, and a keel depth of 200 feet — displacing approximately 2,00,000 tons of water. Habukkuk was no ice cube.

Eventually the Brits realized that frozen water may not be the hardiest building material, and opted to replace it with pykrete, a blend of ice and wood pulp that could deflect bullets.

Despite the fact that this “plan” sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi movie, Habakkuk almost happened. It wasn’t until a 60 foot long, 1,000 ton model was constructed in Canada that people realized how freaking expensive this thing would be — the 1940s were a strange time. A full-sized Habakkuk would cost $70 million dollars, and could only get up to about six knots. And at the end of the day, Germany could still potentially melt the thing, though it would probably take the rest of the war to make a dent in this glacier.

2. Napalm-packing suicide bomber bats

5 insane military projects that almost happened
A bat bomb in action Photo: schoolhistory.org.uk

 

Fire bombs were a huge threat during the height of WWII, and an excellent weapon to wield against unwitting enemies. The horrific damage done to London and Coventry during the London Blitz is a prime example of the power this weapon of war had when used on England and other Allied nations.

Determined to one-up the Axis forces, President Franklin Roosevelt approved plans for an even better bomb — one that was smaller, faster, and … furrier. That’s right. The plan was to strap tiny explosives to tiny, live bats.

Why people thought this would be a good idea is anyone’s guess. The guy who proposed the scheme wasn’t even military — he was a dentist, and a friend of FDR’s wife, Eleanor. But America didn’t care about that. It was time to blow the crap out of Japan, and they were going to do it with the one weapon Japan didn’t have — flying rodents.

FDR consulted with zoologist Donald Griffin for his professional opinion before giving an official green light, apparently worried this “so crazy it just might work” idea might just be plain-old insane.

Griffin was a little skeptical too, but ultimately thought the whole bat thing was too cool to pass on. “This proposal seems bizarre and visionary at first glance,” he wrote in April 1942, according to The Atlantic, “but extensive experience with experimental biology convinces the writer that if executed competently it would have every chance of success.” Aces, Griffin.

The official strategy was to attach napalm explosives to each individual bat, store about 1,000 bats in large, bomb-safe crates, and release about 200 of those cases from a B-29 bomber as it flew over Japanese cities. That meant up to 200,000 bats could be unleashed at once — which would be terrifying even if they weren’t on a suicide mission.

After they were released into the air, these little angels of death would roost inside buildings on the ground. Then after a few hours their explosives would detonate, igniting the building and causing total chaos.

At least, that was the plan. In reality, the bats were a little too good at their job, and escaped to nest under an American Air Force base’s airplane hanger during an experiment. You can guess how that went. Surprisingly, the incineration of the building didn’t put a damper on the operation — people were just more convinced of the bats volatility, and excited to see them used in real combat.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, let’s be real), the U.S. never got to add “weaponized bats” to its military repertoire. It was decided that equipping small flying animals with napalm bombs could yield unpredictable results, and the investment wouldn’t be worth the possible military gains. Shocker.

3. The “Gay Bomb” that would cause enemies to “make love, not war”

Hindsight is always 20-20, but how anyone took this “military strategy” seriously is completely beyond us. In quite possibly the least politically-correct display of derring-do in American history, the U.S. prepared to take its enemies out in a way they would never expect — by turning them gay.

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. The United States of America, one of the most powerful countries in the world, was convinced that getting the enemy to “switch teams” was the key to military prowess. Oh, and did we mention this happened in 1994?

The Wright Laboratory proposed a project that would require six years of research and a $7.5 million grant to create this bomb, along with other bizarre ideas — including as a bomb that would cause insects to swarm the enemy. So they really had the best and brightest American minds on this thing.

The goal was to drop extremely powerful chemical aphrodisiacs on enemy camps, rendering the men too “distracted” to um … leave their tents. Yes, this was a real idea that involved discharging female sex pheromones over enemy forces in order to make them sexually attracted to each other.

The project was still considered viable in 2002, when the proposal’s findings were sent to the National Academy of Sciences.

At the time the Pentagon and the Department of Defense held that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” consistent with Clinton’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The gay bomb never got off the ground because researchers at the Wright lab discovered no such “chemical pheromones” existed, leaving the crazy idea with zero means to execute it. The Wright Lab did, however, win the IG Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts, a tongue-and-cheek gesture from the Annals of Improbable Research.

4. B.F. Skinner’s pigeon-guided missile system

 

5 insane military projects that almost happened
DoD photo

 

WWII is a treasure trove of weird military experiments, and famed psychologist B.F. Skinner’s contribution to the American cause may be one of the most bizarre.

The plan? Place live pigeons inside missiles, and train them to direct it to the correct target, ensuring that no target was missed. The target would be displayed on a digital screen inside the missile, and the pigeon would be trained to peck the target until the bomb would correct its course and start heading in the right direction.

Despite pretty hefty financial investment in the idea, it was ultimately decided that the time it would take to train the pigeons, and the fact that missiles would have to be updated with tiny screens for them to peck at, wasn’t worth the trouble.

5. America tried to take out the Viet Cong with clouds

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Maybe Forrest Gump was experiencing Operation Popeye (Paramount Pictures)

 

This is one experiment that actually did happen, though that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous than our other contenders. When people think of the American military’s methods of chemical warfare in Vietnam, Agent Orange is what immediately comes to mind — but this chemical wasn’t the only weapon the U.S. employed in its battle against the Viet Cong. The CIA developed a strategy called cloud seeding in 1963, which would release chemicals into the air that would manipulate weather patterns, causing unusual amounts of rainfall for the surrounding area.

And we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill thunderstorm, either. Vietnam gets a ridiculous amount of rain already (remember that clip from Forrest Gump?), so the U.S. needed weather that would literally wash away the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Or at least try to.

The mission, called Operation Popeye, involved dumping iodine and silver flares from cargo planes over Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Scientists predicted that these chemical agents would cause a surge in rainfall and even extend the monsoon period, screwing with the Viet Cong’s communication networks and basically making things more unpleasant for everyone involved.

The results weren’t fantastic, but the U.S. didn’t roll over. The operation continued for five years, undertaking over 2,000 missions and releasing nearly 50,000 cloud-seed chemicals throughout the trail. Lack of results aside, the dedication is still impressive.

Articles

Mattis orders separate reviews of F-35, Air Force One programs

Defense Secretary James Mattis has ordered separate reviews of the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Air Force One programs in hopes of restructuring and reducing program costs, an official announced Friday.


In two memorandums signed and effective immediately, Mattis said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will “oversee a review that compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent that the F/A-18E/F improvements [an advanced Super Hornet] can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective fighter aircraft alternative,” according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

Related: Mattis’ first message to the troops shows his leadership style

For the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, known as Air Force One, Mattis said Work’s review should “identify specific areas where costs can be lowered,” such as “autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, environmental conditioning [cooling], survivability, and military [and] civilian communication capabilities,” the memo said.

The memos didn’t specify if the review will reduce the planned number of aircraft.

“This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities,” Davis said in an email statement.

“This action is also consistent with the president’s guidance to provide the strongest and most efficient military possible for our nation’s defense, and it aligns with the secretary’s priority to increase military readiness while gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
How many people view the F-35 program at this point. | WATM /U.S. Navy photo

Both the F-35 stealth fighter and Air Force One presidential aircraft acquisition programs have been in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs in recent weeks.

Trump has criticized the high cost of the $4 billion Air Force One being developed by Boeing and the nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.

On Dec. 6, Trump tweeted “cancel order!” in reference to the Air Force One program. He brought up the issue again during a Dec. 16 speech in Pennsylvania, and also called the F-35 program a “disaster” with its cost overruns.

Also read: A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 22.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to cost nearly $400 billion in development and procurement costs to field a fleet of 2,457 single-engine fighters — and some $1.5 trillion in lifetime sustainment costs, according to Pentagon figures. It’s the Pentagon’s single most expensive acquisition effort.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
While it hasn’t caused quite the media firestorm the F-35 program has caused, Air Force One still has its share of cost overruns. | Wikimedia Commons photo

Trump has met with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s CEO Marillyn Hewson on multiple occasions and last week with Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

The company heads have vowed — in what they said were productive conversations with the president — to drive down costs on both programs.

“We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices,” Muilenburg said just days after Trump met with Hewson.

“All of that is going to provide a better airplane at a lower cost, so I’m pleased with the progress there,” he said. “And similarly on fighters, we were able to talk about options for the country and capabilities that will, again, provide the best capability for our warfighters most affordably.”

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This is what jail is like on an aircraft carrier

Most sailors who go out on deployment don’t get into trouble. Others may find themselves on the wrong side of the shore patrol, though. Much of that can be minor, and is usually addressed with a loss of pay, or placing a sailor on restriction. But in some cases, that sailor needs to be confined.


Now, when you’re deployed to the Middle East, Mediterranean, or some other hot spot, it’s hard to ship the guy (or gal) back to the States to lock them up. So, on carriers and other large ships, the jail is brought with them – and it’s called the brig.

And in case you think that an upcoming battle earns some leeway for misbehavior, you’d best keep in mind that heading towards a fight won’t keep a sailor from getting tossed in the brig. In the book “Miracle at Midway,” historian Gordon Prange related how Marc Mitscher, captain of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), threw a couple of sailors in the brig for minor infractions prior to the Battle of Midway.

In many cases where that is necessary, the sailors are sent to the brig after what is known as a “Captain’s Mast,” which is covered under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. According to Naval Orientation, the amount of time someone may be confined is limited. The exact limits depend on the rank of the commanding officer and the rank of the accused. The chart below from the linked manual explains those limits.

 

5 insane military projects that almost happened
(Scanned from US Navy publication)

The video clip below is from the 2008 documentary mini-series “Carrier,” produced by Mel Gibson’s production company. It provides a tour of the brig on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) as it was in 2005.


Feature image: Screen capture from video link.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Top 10 funniest war movie characters

Well, here it is, the ten funniest war movie characters of all time. Oddballs. Gallows humor. Hard asses. In exact order. Presented as fact. With absolutely no room for improvement. Don’t think so? Take it up with the complaint department below, because now that we think of it, everything is subjective and you probably have a very good idea that was missed by this perfect list.


5 insane military projects that almost happened
Universal Pictures

Brad Pitt in “Inglorious Bastards”

Hearing an undercover soldier from the deep south try to say “Gorlami” in an Italian accent is absolute comedic bliss. Watching him scalp some Nazis is bliss of another kind. Brad Pitt anchors this list off with this classy badass in the instant classic from the mind of Tarantino.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
First Look Studios

Cuba Gooding Jr. in “The Way of War”

Okay, so this one isn’t technically a comedy. But in the same way that a tomato isn’t “technically” a vegetable. If you haven’t seen heard of this movie– you are not alone. In fact, you are very, very crowded. I don’t think JK Simmons has heard of this movie, and he is in it. Watch it if you want to see Cuba Gooding: kill a guy with a shower curtain, call himself “the wolf” for no discernible reason, and threaten to murder the entire family of an innocent shopkeeper who SAVED HIS LIFE. It has a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is generous.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Universal Pictures

Damon Wayans in “Major Payne”

The idea of getting a wounded Marine’s mind off a shoulder wound by breaking his pinky is something only Major Payne could make funny. That and comforting a child with a hell-torn Fallujah version of “The Little Engine that Could.” This movie is silly. This movie is stupid. But so are you if you don’t laugh at it.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
20th Century Fox

Alan Alda in “M*A*S*H”

Uh oh, this one’s not even a movie–don’t care— there’s no way a list about the funniest war characters was going to leave out M*A*S*H. While there are probably 3-4 characters from M*A*S*H that could make the list (I’ll give you a hint, one wears a dress, and it’s not Margaret Houlihan). However, Alan Alda is so effortlessly sarcastic in this, that he left an impression on all dads in the US born between 1950-1969 with a TV.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”

I don’t think my father would continue to claim me as his own if I didn’t include Kelly’s Heroes on here. Donald Sutherland as “Oddball” is an offbeat performance which really captures the existentialism of conflict. Some men are fighting, some men are repairing a downed vehicle–Oddball is just “drinking wine and eating cheese and catching some rays, ya know?”

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Icon Productions/ Wheelhouse Entertainment

Sam Elliot in “We Were Soldiers”

“Good morning Sgt. Major.” … “How do you know what kind of God damn day it is?” Sam Elliot (a.k.a the voice in those “Coors Banquet Beer” commercials) keeps this entire movie on its feet by his rugged portrayal of the hilariously pissed off Sgt. Major Plumley. Plus his voice sounds like beef jerky tastes.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Dreamworks Pictures/ Paramount Pictures

Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”

“I know who I am. I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude.” This line alone about sums up Robert Downey Jr.’s “Tropic Thunder” performance. One of only three other Oscar-nominated performances on this list (almost, Cuba), Robert Downey’s ballsy meta performance is as controversial as it is hilarious.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Touchstone Pictures

Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”

This one is just a requirement. Like it feels like if it wasn’t on here, there would (rightfully) be an uproar. Not to say that Robin Williams isn’t hysterical in this–he is. In fact, he’s so good that it’s an unexciting pick. It’s like, duh, Good Morning Vietnam is amazing, and Robin Williams is unbelievably funny. And he improvised a lot of it. It should be higher, but this list is subjective, and nothing matters.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Columbia Pictures

Bill Murray in “Stripes”

This role spawned (or popularized, rather) an entire archetype in comedies–the slack off reluctantly leading a rebellion of misfits. Bill Murray’s portrayal of John Winger is played seemingly with a wink to the audience throughout the whole movie. The character was even adapted by Dan Harmon as the lead in the popular series “Community” and named “Jeff Winger.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Columbia Pictures

Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

Everything is up for debate except for this spot. Peter Sellers plays three completely unique and separate characters, and they all have made me spackle my laptop screen with Doritos bits with laughter. The scene where Peter Sellers plays “Dr.Strangelove” an obvious Nazi scientist who is eternally fighting against one arm that is permanently possessed with exaltation for the Third Reich. It is physical comedy at its purest form. Legend has it that this scene is the only thing that has ever made Stanley Kubrick laugh on set–and apparently to tears. Even in the final cut, you can see some background actors bite their lips to stop smiling, and hear stifled laughter.


-Feature image: Columbia Pictures

Articles

The Navy is closing in on a next-generation Tomahawk missile

The Navy is accelerating deployment of an upgraded Maritime Strike Tomahawk missile designed to better enable the weapon to destroy moving targets at sea, service officials said.


The missile, which has been in development by Raytheon for several years, draws upon new software, computer processing and active-seeker technology, which sends an electromagnetic ping forward from the weapon itself as a method of tracking and attacking moving targets. The electronic signals bounce off a target, and then the return signal is analyzed to determine the shape, size, speed, and contours of the enemy target. This technology allows for additional high-speed guidance and targeting.

Also read: New silent killer welcomed into Navy fleet

The Navy’s acquisition executive recently signed rapid deployment paperwork for the weapon, clearing the way for prompt production and delivery, an industry source said.

“The seeker suite will enable the weapon to be able to engage moving targets in a heavily defended area,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling told Scout Warrior.  “The Maritime Strike Tomahawk enables the surface fleet to seek out and destroy moving enemy platforms at sea or on land beyond their ability to strike us while retaining the capability to conduct long-range strikes,” she said.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
A Tomahawk missile launches from the stern vertical launch system of the USS Shiloh. | US Navy photo

The active seeker technology is designed to complement the Tomahawk’s synthetic guidance mode, which uses a high-throughput radio signal to update the missile in flight, giving it new target information as a maritime or land target moves, Raytheon’s Tomahawk Program Manager Chris Sprinkle said in an interview with Scout Warrior.

The idea is to engineer several modes wherein the Tomahawk can be retargeted in flight to destroy moving targets in the event of unforeseen contingencies. This might include a scenario where satellite signals or GPS technology is compromised by an enemy attack. In such a case, the missile will still need to have the targeting and navigational technology to reach a moving target, Sprinkle added.

An active seeker will function alongside existing Tomahawk targeting and navigation technologies such as infrared guidance, radio frequency targeting, and GPS systems.

“There is tremendous value to operational commanders to add layered offensive capability to the surface force.  Whether acting independently, as part of a surface action group, or integrated into a carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group, our surface combatants will markedly upgrade our Navy’s offensive punching power,” Yingling said.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
A Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile launches from the forward missile deck aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut during a training exercise. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leah Stiles

Rapid deployment of the maritime Tomahawk is part of an ongoing Navy initiative to increase capability and capacity in surface combatants by loading every vertical launch system cell with multimission-capable weapons, Yingling explained.

Tomahawks have been upgraded several times over their years of service. The Block IV Tomahawk, in service since 2004, includes a two-way data link for in-flight retargeting, terrain navigation, digital scene-matching cameras, and a high-grade inertial navigation system, Raytheon officials said.

The current Tomahawk is built with a “loiter” ability allowing it to hover near a target until there is an optimal time to strike. As part of this technology, the missile uses a two-way data link and camera to send back images of a target to a command center before it strikes.The weapon is also capable of performing battle damage assessment missions by relaying images through a data link as well, Raytheon said.

The weapon is also capable of performing battle damage assessment missions by relaying images through a data link as well, Raytheon said.

The Navy is currently wrapping up the procurement cycle for the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk missile.  In 2019, the service will conduct a recertification and modernization program for the missiles reaching the end of their initial 15-year service period, which will upgrade or replace those internal components required to return them to the fleet for the second 15 years of their 30-year planned service life, Yingling said.

“Every time we go against anyone that has a significant threat, the first weapon is always Tomahawk,” Sprinkle said. ” It is designed specifically to beat modern and emerging integrated air defenses.”

Articles

13 funniest military memes for the week of March 3

Military memes are some of the best things on the internet. Here are some of the best military memes available.


1. Every military career should have a deadpan narrator (via Pop smoke).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Also, things are almost never good. They are sometimes rewarding, but very rarely good.

2. None given, none expected (via Sh-t my LPO says).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Now we want to know what that code means.

3. Everyone should bring a friend with three years remaining when they go to meet the career counselor (via The Salty Soldier).

5 insane military projects that almost happened

ALSO SEE: Watch China launch planes from its only aircraft carrier

4. Ummm, families, you’ve been sent a template. You’re supposed to put your soldier’s rank, their last name, and their first name (via The Salty Soldier).

5 insane military projects that almost happened

5. Getting punished for Course 15 isn’t a big deal for people already at their personal peak rank (via @texashumor).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
So keep your Course 15. And 14. And any others you come up with.

6. For reals? Did you take a particularly hard hit on your head this week?

(via Team Non-Rec)

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Just wait till he reverses the direction on his rifle as well.

7. Think about how apathetic the original terminal lances were when the Marine Corps was much smaller (via Team Non-Rec).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
That apathy must’ve been more concentrated than the salt in their cammies.

8. Gonna be honest, we would give everything to a properly tuxedoed penguin (via Sh-t my LPO says).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Little bow tie and everything.

9. That bar owner is gonna have to work hard to get open in time for lunch chow (via Military Memes).

5 insane military projects that almost happened

10. “Wait, we’re done? I can leave? Already?”

(via Air Force Nation)

5 insane military projects that almost happened

11. Yeah, it’s pretty magical (via Air Force Nation).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
That’s why everyone should buy their own jet.

12. The chipping paint and rust is just seasoning (via Coast Guard Memes).

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Dropped meat: It’s what’s for dinner.

13. “What? I closed the door and stuff.”

(via Shit my LPO says)

5 insane military projects that almost happened

MIGHTY HISTORY

A pilot describes his role in the historic Berlin Airlift

Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.

With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.


More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.

Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.

The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.

5 insane military projects that almost happened

German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.

(National Archive photo)

Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.

“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.

However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.

“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.

On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.

Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.

He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.

“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”

The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.

“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.

It never came.

The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.

The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.

Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.

Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.

“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”

The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”

Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.

Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.

“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.

“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”

Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.

Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.

By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.

“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”

Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.

(US Air Force photo)

One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.

Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.

The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.

Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.

It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.

He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.

Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.

“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”

Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.

Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.

That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.

Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.

“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.

(US Air Force photo)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

Articles

How you too can look like a sci-fi robot with the Maximus headlamp

SureFire has released a number of shiny shining products recently, and one of them is the Maximus Headlamp. The Maximus (not to be confused with any of the brutal killers from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator or a concert in São Paulo) pushes out one thousand (1,000) lumens of light from an organic lithium-ion battery. It also features a “long-running” SOS beacon for exigent circumstances. (“Long-Running” was SureFire’s phrase; we’re not sure how many hours that actually is).


Grunts: exigent.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
The SureFire Maximus Headlamp in all its glory.

It’s rechargeable and directional with a variable-outfit LED headlamp. This will allow you to go full potato like Gort, or to dial it back down to just enough lumens sufficient to navigate a campsite or shady bordello…or any level in between. This will also of course affect the runtime, though it’s important to note this thing comes with a gas gauge (which we reckon is a welcome feature). Its readout gives you the battery charge status.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
We bow before Gort, the humanoid robot from The Day The Earth Stood Still.

The Maxiumus features a large, knurled dial to make those adjustments, which you can do with one hand. This should help you get it where you want it under stress, in inclement weather, or when wearing gloves. You can also aim it with one hand, as the light assembly rotates up and down 90 degrees.

The LED is backed by one of SureFire’s proprietary reflectors, which enables it to throw out a wide, diffused beam they describe as “optimized for your natural field of vision.”

Also Read: This is all of the coolest stuff from this year’s SHOT Show Convention

As for what it does to your noggin, SureFire says this:

“Built from tough, lightweight magnesium, the SureFire Maximus thrives in harsh conditions. It’s also comfortable to wear, thanks to its no-chafe fine-weave headband and moisture-wicking Breathe-O-Prene forehead pad.”

Grab one right here if you’d like.

Be forewarened, the MSRP is $275. SureFire lights ain’t cheap, and neither is their performance. If you want a task light you can afford to lose in a drunken stupor or something to just look around your tent with, this might not be for you. If you’re doing serious work where serious gear is important, the Maximums might be worth a look.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
The Maximus may not have the same lethal power as The Destroyer, but it’s the next best thing for non-Asgardians.

Here are the specs:

  • Virtually indestructible LED emitter regulated to maximize output and runtime
  • One-hand output adjustment from 1 to 1,000 lumens
  • Precision reflector produces a wide, smooth beam optimized for your field of vision
  • Light assembly rotates up and down 90 degrees
  • Built-in SOS beacon can run for days on end
  • Tough, lightweight magnesium body with durable black finish
  • IPX4 Water Resistant
  • Built-in fuel gauge indicates battery charge level
  • Comfortable no-chafe headband with moisture-wicking Breath-O-Prene® forehead pad
  • Includes long-life lithium-ion rechargeable battery with wall (AC) and car (DC) chargers

About the Author: We Are The Mighty contributor Richard “Swingin’ Dick” Kilgore comes to us from our partners at BreachBangClear.com (@breachbangclear). He is one half of the most storied celebrity action figure team in the world. He believes in American Exceptionalism, holding the door for any woman, and the idea that you should be held accountable for every word that comes out of your mouth. He may also be one of two nom de plumes for a veritable farrago of CAGs and FAGs (Current Action Guys and Former Action Guys). You can learn more about Swingin’ Dick right here.

5 insane military projects that almost happened

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force may train enlisted pilots for the first time in 75 years

Eugene Taylor remembers how eager enlisted airmen like him were to fly.

Taylor, who enlisted in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam, first worked as an avionics technician. Nearly a decade later, Taylor, a tech sergeant, became a T-37 and T-38 flight simulator instructor with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. He became so adept that he was occasionally given the chance to fly the T-38, with permission from the pilot, during stateside flights.


It has been decades since enlisted airmen had the chance to sit in the cockpit. But as the Air Force faces the greatest pilot shortages since its inception, service leaders are contemplating a return to a model that includes enlisted pilots. A Rand Corp. study, set to be completed this month, is exploring the feasibility of bringing back a warrant officer corps for that purpose. And another, separate Air Force study is examining, in part, whether enlisted pilots could benefit from new high-tech training that leverages artificial intelligence and simulation.

With these moves, the Air Force is inching just a few steps closer to someday getting enlisted airmen back in the cockpit, on a formal basis, for the first time since World War II.

“We have enlisted airmen in our Guard and reserve component who have private pilot’s licenses and fly for the airlines. So it’s not a matter of can they do it, or hav[ing] the smarts or the capability, it’s just a matter of us, as an Air Force, deciding that that’s a route that we want to take,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

Military.com sat down with the service’s top enlisted leader in February 2018, to talk about enlisted aviators and reinstituting the warrant officer program.

“It’s something we walked away from years ago, and I won’t say that we haven’t been willing to relook at [it],” Wright said, of having enlisted pilots. “It’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”

Creating a Cadre

Wright noted there may be a few bumps in the road before an enlisted cadre could be instituted.

The main challenge would be to structure an appropriate career development path for the airmen, answering questions regarding when and how they would promote and when they would rotate to a new squadron. Wright said thus far officers “naturally float” to a flight commander or squadron commander from base to base, according to a system that has been in place for decades, but questioned whether the same system would work for enlisted pilots.

Additionally, the service would have to study whether enlisted airmen should be granted the right to employ weapons from an aircraft.

“Whether it’s manned or unmanned, if there’s an enlisted airman that’s going to be flying and employing weapons, it requires certain authorities we would have to get by,” Wright said.

For example, enlisted airmen are currently only authorized to be remotely piloted aircraft pilots on the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, a surveillance-only platform.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
One of Eugene Taylor’s trainees at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, straps into a flight simulator, circa 1978-79.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor

“That’s just part of our age-old doctrine, that the employment of weapons, that the authority and responsibility lies with officers,” he said.

Reinstituting the warrant officer program could also help leaders decide on acceptable policies that would “determine if it makes us a more lethal and ready fighting force,” Wright said.

“What this is about is not just aviation or flying — it’s about maintaining the technical expertise,” Wright said. “In some cases, having warrant officers will allow us retain that talent and keep those folks doing what they love.”

The Air Force in the past has commissioned studies to look into bringing back warrant officers, with another study from RAND, a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy, on the way.

“The Air Force is partnering with RAND for a study on the feasibility of warrant officers and we are projecting a completion by the end of March 2018,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff told Military.com.

February 2018, the Air Force began a separate study on whether it could benefit from someday allowing enlisted pilots.

Air Education and Training Command said the study, called the pilot training next initiative, explores how pilots can learn and train faster “by using existing and emerging technologies that can decrease the time and cost of training,” but with the same depth of understanding to produce quality pilots.

That includes using virtual reality simulation and A.I. to get airmen in an aircraft faster, with the potential of expanding the streamlined training.

The study is expected to conclude in August, in hopes of advancing all 20 students in the program: 15 officers and five enlisted airmen.

Foundation of Skills

Taylor, the Vietnam-era airman, served in the 341X1 career field for T-37 and T-38 trainers, which would quickly disappear once the Air Force reasoned enlisted personnel were needed elsewhere.

Once airmen were taught scenarios in a classroom, they would go to him to practice the maneuvers in the simulator.

“I was one of those people as an enlisted instructor, and it was the best job I ever had,” Taylor said in a recent interview with Military.com.

Through months of simulation tech school paired with his past experience working on planes, Taylor had gained the skills he needed to know the aircraft. Taylor’s instructor career field, however, dissolved only a year later, and he moved back into avionics at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. But he remembers his “flight time” and experience with the T-37 and T-38 fondly.

“As a master avionics superintendent, I did get to fly in the back seat of the [T-38] aircraft six times to perform aircraft maintenance at off-station sites,” he said. “I told the pilot that I was a flight simulator instructor pilot at Vance. And when I flew, the pilot would say, ‘You know how to fly this, you do it.’ So, I would,” Taylor said.

Taylor recalled flying the aircraft from Columbus to MacDill Air Force Base,Florida.

“I [then] repaired another T-38 from our base and flew the aircraft back to Columbus. The pilot made the takeoff and landing on both legs of the flight, but I did all radio calls, and navigation,” he said.

Taylor would fly similar routes twice more with the same pilot.

“So yes, enlisted people can definitely perform the job,” he said.

According to a 1992 paper for the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, the 341X1 and 341X2 career fields, born out of very early service ideals that enlisted members should work side-by-side with officer pilots, were Analog and Digital Trainer Specialists. The fields were part of the larger Aircrew Training Devices 34XXX specialty.

“The contributions of the enlisted men and women in the training devices career field were great,” noted the paper, written by Air Force student Senior Master Sgt. G. A. Werhs of the Senior Noncomissioned Officer Academy. “From its very beginning in 1939 until its end in the late 80s, [the 34XXX] was [an] entirely enlisted career field. All maintenance and operations were performed by highly skilled personnel. Every aircraft in the Air Force inventory had a simulator associated with it and enlisted members were there to operate and maintain it.

“[H]ow many people realize that for nearly 50 years those pilots received much of the initial training on the ground from enlisted soldiers and airmen[?]” Werhs asked.

Taylor suggested the career field closed because the service didn’t want enlisted troops to get to that next level: flying among officers. The service, he said, also had an abundance of pilots at the time.

“The Vietnam War had wound down, so they had more pilots than the Air Force needed,” Taylor said. “By taking away the enlisted instructors, it let them use the pilots that were qualified to fly the T-38 instead of kicking them out of the service.”

But there are many who believe that enlisted airmen, in some capacity, deserve the chance to once again get up in the air.

Rooted in History

Before the Air Force became a breakout service independent of the Army, enlisted pilots were known as “flying sergeants,” receiving a promotion to staff sergeant once they completed pilot training.

Enlisted pilots, in one form or another, date back to 1912. But it wasn’t until 1941, when Congress passed the the Air Corps Act of 1926 and Public Law 99, that enlisted troops were able to receive qualified training.

“We never thought about whether we wanted to be an enlisted pilot or an officer pilot,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Wenglar, a former enlisted pilot. “We just wanted to be pilots, and we would gladly have stayed privates forever just to have the chance to fly,” Wenglar said in a 2003 service release.

Wenglar, who served overseas during World War II, holds the distinction of “achieving the highest rank of any former enlisted pilot,” according to the Air Force. He died in 2011.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Will Stafford stands third from left in this 1977 photo.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor

During World War II, whoever was in the cockpit got grandfathered in and could remain flying. But in 1942, the passage of the Flight Officer Act meant new enlisted recruits no longer got the chance to fly.

The act, Public Law 658, replaced the program’s sergeant pilot rank with the warrant officer rank.

When the Air Force was created in 1947 out of the Army Air Forces, it would bring more than 1,000 legacy warrant officers in. The service stopped the program in 1959, the same year it created the senior and chief master sergeant ranks. The last warrant officer would retire from active duty in 1980.

With more than 3,000 enlisted sergeant pilots throughout the service’s history, 11 of them would become generals and 17 would become flying aces, according to information from the Air Force. More than 150 enlisted pilots would be killed in action.

“Our careers as enlisted pilots made us better men and gave us opportunities later in the civilian world that we never would have been offered,” Wenglar said in 2003.

New Focus on Warrant Officers

“If the Air Force is so very concerned about the pilot shortage, they should consider warrant officers in … the transport pilot, flight engineer, boom operator and drone pilot fields,” said Will Stafford, a former staff sergeant with similar maintenance, tech and simulator experiences as Taylor.

While in the Air Force in the 1970s and 80s, Stafford, outside of his military duties, would fly smaller aircraft such as Cessna 310s, Beechcraft Model 18s and some Douglas DC-3s. On his own, he would eventually become qualified “on 25 different makes and models of fixed-wing aircraft,” he told Military.com.

“If the [Air Force] wants their veteran airmen and airwomen to return, then they had better look at how it has squandered the talent, training and dedication that many of us had, and make some serious changes, beginning with the restart of the warrant officer corps,” Stafford said, referencing the Air Force’s initiative to bring back retirees into staff-rated positions to balance out the ongoing pilot shortage.

“This is cost-effective, and many professional fully-rated civilian pilots who have military experience would have no problem,” he said.

Stafford has tried, unsuccessfully, to start a White House petition on Whitehouse.org to get the administration’s attention about reinstituting the warrant officer corps. He has even tried to petition the Air Force directly by writing to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who Stafford got the chance to meet and work with when Schwartz was just a captain.

Schwartz told Stafford it just wasn’t in the Air Force’s plans.

Key Decisions Ahead

Wright says the new RAND study may give him and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein fresh perspectives.

“We have to be smart about this, right?” Wright said. “This can’t just be, ‘Oh, this is nice to have.’ We have to know exactly what we’re buying [into] and we have a plan to implement it.”

Wright said cost-benefit analysis would play into the decision.

“I’m looking to learn, and the boss [Goldfein] is looking to learn, again, that simple question: Will this make us a more lethal force? Will it make us more efficient?” Wright said.

“There is a chance through the RAND study and through some of our internal studies that the evidence reveals and the analysis reveals that warrant officers won’t move the needle that much,” he said.

While Wright said it’s hard to say when enlisted pilots or a warrant officer program may come back into the Air Force’s ranks, he believes the feat can be achieved in roughly five to 10 years.

“I think it would help would shortages in career fields, I think it would help with retention, I think it would help with career development.

“Now there’s nothing that says that, within our current system we can’t do that same thing. But if you’re asking me what the obvious benefits are,” he said, ” … I think it’s a good thing.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

China passes Russia’s weakened military to be the US’ top rival

Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, always possessed an outsized military and grew quickly into the role of the US’s chief rival after World War II, but despite prioritizing nuclear and military power above social welfare for decades , the Kremlin has been surpassed.

Russia still wields enviable cyber warfare prowess, tremendous conventional military strength, the world’s most dangerous nuclear weapons, and electronic warfare capabilities among the best on earth.


But nobody is talking about Russia as the US’s top military threat anymore. Today, it’s China.

Under President Donald Trump, the US has introduced a new National Security Strategy that lists China and Russia as its main strategic threats, rather than terrorism or climate change. China is listed first, and mentioned more often throughout the report.

5 insane military projects that almost happened

The T-14 Armata, another great idea that never really happened.

The culprit behind Russia’s decline? Stagnation

The Russian threat is a known quantity. NATO exists to counter Russia in Europe. Besides Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, its constant aggressive behavior towards its neighbors hasn’t really changed much over the decades.

Russia’s newest generation of nuclear weapons promises to evade and trick all existing US missile defenses, but that’s also old news. Even the US’s 1970s Minuteman III nuclear missile can likely evade Russian defenses. In any case, nuclear war has been a moot point since the establishment of mutually assured destruction.

Russian systems near Eastern Europe can out-range and in some cases overwhelm its NATO counterpart, but Russia stands to gain little in conventional conflict, and under President Vladimir Putin it’s mainly chosen to engage in hybrid warfare and to push its foreign policy goals with hacking and other nefarious plots.

Where are the real innovations in Russia’s military hardware? Russia introduced the Su-57, supposedly a stealth jet that could take on the US’s F-35 and F-22 fighters , but it couldn’t get the money together to order more than 12 of them. Likewise, Russia’s T-14 Armata tank, framed as a NATO tank-killer, will not see serial production.

For the T-14 and Su-57, economic stagnation caused by flat or falling oil prices and US sanctions likely struck the final blow.

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Aircraft Carrier Liaoning CV-16.

China running wild

China used to buy and reverse engineer Russian weapons systems, which provided it a healthy base to start building its military, the largest in the world, but now it’s clearly surpassed Russia in terms of high-end warfighting.

China, not Russia, provided the first foreign answer to the US’s total dominance in stealth aircraft with the Chengdu J-20 . China has also leapfrogged ahead in software and computing, pursuing both quantum computing and artificial intelligence at a break-neck place.

Just as Putin has changed Russia’s geography by taking Crimea, Beijing changed the very seas they border on by building up military strongholds across the South China Sea and steadily enforcing claims there with a firmer and firmer hand.

China has created a new run of missiles set to give the US Navy a run for its money . China once bought a used Soviet aircraft carrier as a training vessel. Now it has plans to build three or more carriers to project power across the seas. Russia, on the other hand, has had to shelve its sole carrier until 2022, and before that it couldn’t sail without a tug nearby. China has made a show of beating the US in technological races , even when they’re mostly superficial.

China, not Russia, has become the US military’s boogeyman despite sitting half a world away. And with ten times Russia’s population, and an economy set to displace the US as the world’s top, it’s unlikely Russia will hang around much longer in the conversation of top-tier militaries.

Russia can achieve many of its foreign policy goals by spreading its own brand of information in Western democracies and leaning on its smaller satellite states. But China is building an all-aspect military capable of fighting the US military head-on.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

The Russian military is getting ready for what is said to be an “unprecedented” military exercise, but as thousands of men and machines gather in Russia’s east, leaders in Moscow may be increasingly concerned about what’s going on in the West.

Early August 2018, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the upcoming Vostok-2018, or East-2018, exercises “the largest preparatory action for the armed forces since Zapad-81,” referring to a Soviet military exercise in 1981 involving about 100,000 to 150,000 troops, according to a CIA estimate at the time.


Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, that the Vostok-2018 exercise, scheduled for Sept. 11-15, 2018, will have some similarities to Zapad-81 but involve vastly more personnel.

“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills but in other ways they are, perhaps, even larger,” Shoigu said, according to Russian state-owned media outlet Tass.

“Over 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 servicemen at almost all the training ranges of the Central and Eastern Military Districts and, naturally, the Pacific and Northern Fleets and the Airborne Force will be fully employed.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

Russian troops participating in Zapad-2017.

(Russian Ministry of Defense)

The Russian military has already begun evaluating its forces’ combat readiness and logistical support with “snap inspections” that involve special drills and are done under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Just imagine that 36,000 pieces of military hardware are simultaneously in motion: these are tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and all this is, naturally, checked in conditions close to a combat environment,” Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, according to Tass.

Russia has invited military attaches from NATO countries to observe the upcoming exercises — an offer that a NATO spokesman told Reuters was under consideration.

Russia conducted another large-scale exercise, Zapad-17, or West-17, in September 2017. About 70,000 personnel took part in that — though only about 13,000 of them were part of the main event that took place in Belarus and western Russia. (The number of troops involved became a point of contention between Russia and NATO.)

Russian forces will not be the only ones taking part this time around. Chinese and Mongolian units will also take part, with Beijing reportedly sending more than 3,000 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 pieces of other military hardware.

Chinese participation in Russian military exercises “speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Aug, 28, 2018, according to Tass.

‘It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time’

Peskov was asked if the expense of the Vostok-18 exercise was necessary at a time when Russia’s economy is struggling and demands for more social spending are rising.

“The social security network and the pension system are a constant element of state policy and a very important component,” Peskov responded, according to Tass. “But the country’s defense capability in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly for our country, is justified, needed and has no alternative.”

Russia has consistently condemned Western military activity and NATO maneuvers as provocative, but Peskov’s reply may hint at a growing unease in Moscow, which is still uncertain about President Donald Trump as it watches the defense alliance deploy an array of units to its eastern flank.

Trump has signaled a conciliatory stance toward Russia and hostility toward NATO, but those attitudes haven’t translated significantly into US or NATO policy.

“We don’t like the picture we are seeing,” Vladimir Frolov, an independent political analyst in Moscow, told Defense News.

“NATO is getting serious about its combat capabilities and readiness levels. Trump may trash NATO and his European allies,” he said, “but it is the capabilities that matter, and those have been growing under Trump.”

5 insane military projects that almost happened

President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, July 16, 2018.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

NATO members have been boosting their defense spending and working to build military readiness — moves stoked recently by the combination of uncertainty about Trump and concern about assertive Russian action, like the incursion in Ukraine in 2014.

NATO troops, including US forces, are practicing tactics that have been little used since the Cold War. A number of former Soviet republics have embraced the West. NATO units have forward deployed to the alliance’s eastern flank, and Poland has even offered to pay to host a permanent US military presence.

Some European countries are also debating augmenting their own militaries and defense sectors. Germany, long averse to a large military footprint, is looking to recruit more troops, and some there have restarted debate about whether Berlin should seek its own nuclear-weapons capability.

Moscow has long used confrontation with the West to bolster its domestic political standing, and many leaders in the West have come to identify Russia as a main geopolitical foe — a dynamic that is likely to perpetuate tensions.

Early 2018 Russian officials called military exercises involving NATO and Ukrainian personnel “an attempt to once again provoke tension in southeastern Ukraine and in the entire Black Sea region” and said “countries … constantly accusing Russia of threatening regional stability shall be held responsible for possible negative consequences.”

NATO spokesman Dylan White told Reuters that countries have a right to conduct military exercises, “but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner.”

“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” White added. “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”

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

Articles

Here’s why almost 60K soldiers could lose their housing allowance

About 60,000 US soldiers will have their monthly Basic Allowance for Housing payments revoked if they don’t update their personnel files with documents proving they qualify for the benefit.


The mandate to update the documents, first reported Aug. 30 by the site US Army WTF Moments, will be released in an official message “soon,” Army officials said.

That message will direct soldiers to update their documentation in the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System, service officials told Military.com on Aug. 31.

“An ALARACT addressing the required documentation that should be loaded into iPERMS for BAH and the timeline for required actions is being drafted,” Army Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army manpower and reserve affairs spokesman, said in an email to Military.com.

“Currently, we have around 60,000 soldiers who are missing documentation in iPERMS,” he added.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Photo from USMC.

Whether a service member qualifies for BAH is based on paygrade and if he or she has dependents.

For those who qualify to live outside the barracks, the allowance amount is based on paygrade, dependents, and duty station zip code.

Dual military couples are both given a BAH payment at the “without dependents rate,” unless they have children. In that case, one of the members receives the “with dependents rate,” while the other does not.

5 insane military projects that almost happened
Newly promoted Staff Sgt. Heather E. Estes, a motor transport operator from 68th Transportation Company, pins the rank of staff sergeant on her husband, Staff Sgt. Trysen J. Estes, a motor transport operator from 68th TC, during a promotion ceremony for the dual military couple. Photo by Spc. Fabian Ortega.

Documents that show eligibility and should be in iPERMS can include birth, adoption, and marriage certificates.

Soldiers will be given 60 days from the release of the ALARACT message to upload their missing documentation, Taylor said.

After the 60 days, their with-dependents rate BAH payments will be reduced or, in the case of soldiers who do not otherwise qualify for BAH, eliminated.

They will be notified of the need to update by both email and by their unit, he said.

If soldiers still have not updated their documents within 90 days of the initial deadline, they will be referred to the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) under suspicion of BAH fraud, USAWTFM reported.

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Lt. Col. William Walker 49th Material Maintenance Group and his family prepare to cut the ribbon on their new home at the Soaring Heights Communities ribbon cutting ceremony at Holloman Air Force Base.

Taylor, whose initial response didn’t mention such a referral, said the iPERMS document requirement has been in place since 2013.

“Since 2013, there has been a Secretary of the Army directive mandating that key supporting documents are to be stored in the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System (iPERMS),” he said in the email.

“Loading KSD in iPERMS allows the Army to improve on its business processes and ensure all Soldiers are receiving the correct payments for their entitlements to include BAH,” he wrote.

The Pentagon is preparing for its first-ever full financial audit, which is to begin this fall. White House officials hope to have the audit completed by mid-2019.

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Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, center, discusses business transformation and best practices with representatives. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller.

Meanwhile, BAH payments and rates remain a point of contention on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers look to find cost savings by changing who can qualify for the higher with-dependents rates.

Lawmakers ultimately scrapped a 2016 proposal that would have severely limited the amount of housing allowance available to dual-military married couples and service members sharing off-base housing with other troops.

proposal in the 2018 authorization bill, which is still under negotiation between the House and Senate, would focus reductions only on dual-military couples, bumping both members down to a “without dependent” housing rate regardless of whether the couple has children.

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5 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about the French Foreign Legion

1. Legionnaires are instilled with a “fight to the death” attitude. Giving up is not really an option.

In April 1863, a battle between the French Foreign Legion and the Mexican army showed how effective and ballsy legionnaires really could be. With a total of just 65 men, the legionnaires fought back against a force of approximately 3,000 at the Battle of Camarón. Despite the overwhelming odds, the small patrol of legionnaires inflicted terrible losses on the Mexican forces and they refused to surrender.


Instead, their French officers actually called on the larger Mexican force to surrender multiple times. Holed up inside of a hacienda, only five men remained able to fight (most were killed or wounded) — and incredibly — mounted a bayonet charge against the opposing force, until they were ultimately surrounded and forced to surrender.

“Is this all of them? Is this all of the men who are left?” a Mexican Major said at the time, according to the book Camerone by James W. Ryan. “These are not men! They are demons!”

The Legion still celebrates and commemorates the battle today — and the wooden hand of their slain commander, Capt. Danjou, is the most prized possession at the Legion’s museum in Aubagne, writes Max Hastings.

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2. Legionnaires who are wounded are granted automatic French citizenship.

Though troops serving the Legion hail from 138 different countries, they can become French citizens eventually. After serving at least three years honorably, they can apply to be citizens. But they also have a much quicker path: If they are wounded on the battlefield, they can become citizens through a provision called “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”), according to The Telegraph.

The French government allowed this automatic citizenship provision in 1999.

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3. More than 35,000 foreigners have been killed in action while serving with the Legion.

Throughout its history, the French Foreign Legion — and the fighters who make up its ranks — were seen as expendable. The foreigners who continue to join do so accepting the possibility of their death in a far-off place, in exchange for a new life with some sense of purpose. But meaningless sacrifice has gradually become a virtue in itself, according to a Vanity Fair article about the Legion.

“It’s like this,” an old legionnaire told William Langeweische of Vanity Fair. “There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So f–k off with your worries about war.”

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4. The Legion used to accept anyone — criminals and misfits especially — with no questions, but now there is a thorough screening process.

Since its founding in 1831, the Legion has become the one place of escape for those with haunted pasts. Men with criminal records, shady business dealings, or deserters from their home country’s armies were accepted into the ranks, with no questions asked. Stripped of their old identity and given a new one, the new legionnaires are able to begin their new life with the slate wiped clean.

The legion will still accept deserters and other minor miscreants, but it’s not as easy as it once was. New recruits are given a battery of physical, intelligence, and psychological tests before they even get any kind of training. Later on in the process, recruits are screened for “motivation” in order to weed out those who don’t have the drive to make it in the ranks.

Some of the process was detailed by Simon Bennett at Vice:

Finally, after countless hours spent lingering in uncomfortable conditions, the only thing standing between us and a spot with the Legion was what was referred to as the “Gestapo.” Rumor had it that at this point, the Legion knew everything about you. The word Interpol is thrown around a lot—any financial, criminal, family, and employment background information is supposedly fair game. Call it a hunch, but I think that’s bullshit. Make no mistake, I believe someone, somewhere has access to all of that information. But a sweaty, apathetic French administration in a run-down, quasi-bureaucratic shithole in suburban Marseille isn’t that someone or somewhere. In any case, they called me in for an interrogation.

While they may not necessarily be running from their past when they join the Legion these days, all new legionnaires are still stripped of their old identities and given new ones, which they maintain for at least their first year of service.

“Legionnaires begin a new life when they join,” a legionnaire named Capt. Michel told NBC News. “Each and every one of them is allowed to keep his past a secret.”

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5. The pay is terrible, and so are the benefits.

Legion recruiters could easily steal the infamous U.S. Marine Corps recruiting poster with the slogan, “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” The pay is terrible, as are the benefits, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the promise of a very rough life and the possibility of being sent to fight anywhere, thousands continue to show up each year.

Legionnaires can expect deployments to austere environments and/or see plenty of combat. The Legion is currently in Afghanistan and Mali, for example.

Their starting pay is roughly $1450 per month for at least the first couple of years in. That’s a pretty small paycheck compared to the lowest-ranking U.S. Army soldier making $1546, which is guaranteed to go up to $1733 after being automatically promoted six months later (if they don’t get in trouble of course).

There is at least one bonus to the Legion if you fancy yourself a drinker: There’s plenty of booze. Even in a combat zone, legionnaires are drinking in their off time, and their culture of heavy drinking would make any frat-boy blush.

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