The Future of Warfare: Iron Man is Coming!

iron_man_suitsAccording to a report filed last Tuesday by the US Navy’s top SEAL, the ambitious plan to build a high-tech armored suit for elite commandos has entered a new phase. After years of development, the military is preparing to analyze three new design concepts, and will begin receiving prototypes of these “Iron Man” suits by the summer.

Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said the military will receive the prototypes by June. This project, which was started last year, aims to revolutionize the capabilities and protection of Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, and other elite commandos who perform some of the U.S.’s most dangerous and violent missions.

TALOSOfficially known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) – named after the Greek automaton made by Zeus to protect Europa – the designs have already been nicknamed the “Iron Man” suit. Obviously, the name is a nod to all the futuristic technology that powers the suit, including a powered exoskeleton, liquid armor, built-in computers and night vision, and the ability to monitor vital signs and apply wound-sealing foam.

However, there’s a catch with the prototypes. According to McRaven, who addressed reporters at a special operations conference in Washington. the prototypes will be unpowered. As it stands, no known means exists to provide a powered armor suit with the kind of electricity it would need without resorting to a gas-powered generator, or connecting the suit to the local grid.

Warrior_Web_Concepts_WideAs he explained, the challenge of finding a way to power a suit that is portable and ergonomic remains:

Obviously if you’re going to put a man in a suit – or a woman in a suit – and be able to walk with that exoskeleton… you’ve got to have power. You can’t have power hooked up to some giant generator.

Essentially, this means that the days of a genuine “Iron Man” suit are still years away. Best-case scenario, the admiral wants the suit to be used in combat situations by August 2018. Still, he also emphasized the “astounding results” that has been observed in the project so far. The prototypes in assembly now will be evaluated, with the results incorporated into the suits the U.S. will eventually deploy to the battlefield.

ghost_recon_future_soldier-1920x1080It’s unclear what the total price of the project may be, but McRaven said he would like to offer a $10 million prize to the winner in a competition. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s likely the cost of developing the suit would be many times that, most likely ranging into the billion-dollar bracket. But of course, McRaven thinks it will be worth every penny:

That suit, if done correctly, will yield a revolutionary improvement to survivability and capability for U.S. special operators… If we do TALOS right, it will be a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give the warriors the protection they need in a very demanding environment.

The admiral said the project was inspired by a U.S. special operator who was grieving the loss of a comrade in combat.  Despite more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. still doesn’t have a way to adequately protect commandos who “take a door,” a reference to the controversial raids that kill and capture insurgents all over the globe.

iron_man_destructionAlready, SOCOM has predicted the suit will include futuristic liquid body armor that hardens when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied. This is the most futuristic aspect of the suit, giving the soldier flexibility, mobility, and providing superior protection against ballistic objects. It also will include wearable computers, communications antennae, and a variety of sensors that link it to its wearer’s brain.

By merging digital technology, wireless access to army communications, GPS satellites and databases, and upgraded targeting and protection into one package, a single commando unit will likely have the combat effectiveness of an entire platoon. And from all indications, it’s only a few years away. I imagine the US Special Forces will see a serious boost in recruitment once the suits are available.

And of course, there’s a concept video provided by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) showing what TALOS has to offer:


Sources: complex.foreignpolicy.com

Stealth Aircraft of the World

F-35Like many guys, I went through a period in which I was highly fascinated by aircraft, to the point that I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Years later… well, not much as changed. I still love aircraft, and sometimes entertain fantasies of flying one! Perhaps an aerospace fighter, if and when aliens try to invade us! But I digress…

Of all the aircraft that I’ve ever studied, stealth craft remain the most cool and interesting. And in honor of this ongoing fascination, I’ve decided to do a list of the world’s various stealth fighters, stealth bombers, and miscellaneous stealth craft. Due to the fact that many new ones are under development and the subject of much secrecy, I’ve decided to stick to those that are currently or have been in operation.

I present them now, in alphabetical order. Enjoy!

B-2 Spirit:
B-2There’s nothing like a classic… a big, bad classic! A strategic stealth bomber, the Spirit is one of the first stealth craft to be developed, though its entry into service was overshadowed by the F-117 (see below). A long range aircraft, the Spirit is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons. Developed in conjunction being Boeing and Northrop Grumman, development began during the late 70’s and continued into the 80’s.

It’s original purpose was to penetrate Soviet anti-aircraft defenses and deploying nuclear weapons against high-value targets. With the end of the Cold War, the program was scaled back and the B2 did not see active service until 1997. It was has participated in the Kosovo War in 99 and was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq for conventional, long-range bombing missions.

The Spirit requires a crew of two and contains two internal bomb bays in which munitions are stored, either on a rotary launcher or two bomb-racks. The B2 was the first to carry weapons in this fashion, which results less radar visibility than externally mounting of munitions. These internal weapons bays are capable of equipping conventional bombs, cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons. However, the bomber carries no surface to air missiles or guns, relying on its stealth technology to avoid encounters with enemy fighters.

Chengdu J-20:
Chendu-J20China’s been making a lot of waves in the news lately thanks to the development of its stealth fighter program. And though they may be thirty years late to the party, they are in a perfect position to take advantage of all the latest developments. Much like all 5th generation stealth craft, the J-20 is based on the concept of a twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft that is stealthy, not undetectable.

Beginning in the 1990’s, the J-20 was unveiled in 2011, though it is not expected to enter service between 2017 to 2019. However, China has publicized the creation of this fighter extensively as part of its modernization efforts. The source of the technology remains unknown, though some speculate that it was reverse engineered from samples taken from the downed F-117 in Serbia (see below). Chinese sources deny this, however, claiming it was the result of home-grown innovation.

And like other 5th generation craft, the J-20 has a belly-mounted internal weapons bay for short and long-range air-to-air missiles, and two smaller lateral weapon bays behind the air inlets for short-range weapons. From some photos obtained of the fighter, the armament capacity appears to be the same as the F-22 Raptor, with six weapons mounts.

F-117 Nighthawk:
F117-NighthawkThe first ever stealth craft to be unveiled, the Nighthawk will forever be known the “Stealth Fighter”, despite its ground-attack role. A single seat, twin-engine craft, the Nighthawk was developed in the late 70’s by Lockheed Martin. By 1983, it was introduced to the US Air Force but was not officially unveiled until 1988 when it began participating in military operations.

The first was in 1989 during the US invasion of Panama. However, this would be overshadowed by its more publicized role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There, it took part in 1,300 sorties, scored direct hits on 1,600 high-value targets in Iraq and was one of the few US and Allied aircraft to actually take part in strikes on downtown Baghdad. Throughout that war, and despite the proliferation of AAA, not a single craft was shot down.

During the Kosovo war, in 1999, the first F-117 was shot down outside of Belgrade by a Serbian missile brigade that had been experimenting with short-wave detection. This one incidents remains the only combat loss in the aircraft’s operational history, which ended in 2003 due to the introduction of the F-22 and other newer generations of stealth aircraft.

F-22 Raptor:
F-22A_Raptor_-03-4058
The original 5th generation fighter, the Raptor is a single-seat, twin-engine supermaneuverable fighter aircraft that uses stealth technology in a revolutionary way. Unlike previous generations of fighters, like the F-117, that attempted to be invisible on radar, the F-22 was designed to be difficult to detect, thus affording it a tactical advantage against enemy aircraft. Hence, it was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but has additional capabilities that include ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles.

Development of this fighter craft began in the early 80’s with the intention of replacing the older F-15 and F-16 fighters, largely in response to the development of newer Soviet aircraft (such as the SU-27 and MiG-29). By the early 90’s, the first prototypes were released and highly publicized, with the first test flight taking place in 1997. In addition to its internal bays, thrust vectoring, and state-of-the-art control systems, the F-22 also incorporated stealthy materials and molded surfaces to minimize radar signature.

Since it entered service in 2005, the production of F-22’s has been stalled and restarted a few times over, largely in response to the development of the F-35. In 2010, funding for further production was officially cut. Nevertheless, the F-22 remains one of the most imitated designs in the world, inspiring the Sukhoi PAK FA and the Chendu J-20.

F-35 Lightning II:
f-35s
The latest 5th generation stealth craft to be developed in the US, the Lighting II is a revolutionary design that incorporates all previous innovations in the field of stealth fighters. Developed in the 90’s as part of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, the F-35 was intended to replace the aging F-16, A-10, F/A-18, and the British and American Harrier jump jets.

Though not officially in service yet, it made its debut flight in 2006 and is expected to join the US Air Force by 2016. In total, three variants have been proposed, each designed to fill a different type of mission profile. The F-35A is a conventional take and landing fighter, the B variant incorporates short-take off and vertical-landing capabilities, while the C is designed to be a carrier-based model.

Much like its predecessor, the F-22, the Lightning II possesses thrust vectoring, meaning it can adjust the angle of its thruster to assist in difficult turns. In the F-35B model, the engine nozzle is capable of being aimed straight down and, combined with a centrally-mounted turbofan, allows the craft to hover in place and land vertically. It’s internal weapons bays, stealthy shape and materials – all of which are adapted from the F-22 – also give it a low radar signature. In summary, it is the most advanced and versatile stealth fighter yet to be introduced to the world.

Sukhoi T-50:
Sukhoi_T-50
Last, we have Russia’s answer to the 5th generation stealth fighter challenge. Beginning in the late 1980’s as a successor to the Mig-29 and SU-27, the T-50 is the culmination of Russia’s PAK FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) program. A single-seat, twin engine jet fighter, the T-50 represents the former Soviet blocs efforts to develop weapons comparable to the Western Allies.

The T-50 made its first flight in 2010 and is expected to join the Russian Air Force by 2015/16. Much like all 5th generation fighters currently in development or in operation, it’s armaments consist of two internal bays for missiles and either one or two GSh-301 30mm cannons.

In terms of its profile, the T-50 bears a striking resemblance to the F-22. However, it has some clear differences, such as the absence of thrust vectoring. However, it also takes advantage of some of the latest in avionics technology. These include three X-band arrays planted in the front and sides of the plane, as well two L-band placed in the wings. This allows for greater detection abilities, especially where stealth craft are involved. What’s more, the new technology enables fighter to fighter information sharing.

Final Thoughts:
Pretty cool huh? Given the advance of technology over the years, it seems like only a matter of time before fighters incorporate direct control through neural links, and polymorphic frames that can change shape based on altitude and air resistance. What’s more, in a few years time, we’re likely to see aircraft that can take advantage of the latest in adaptive camouflage and real-life cloaking technology, making the terms “stealth fighter” and “undetectable” quite literal! Cool indeed!

Red Dawn Relaunch

Oh boy, I thought as when I heard about this preview. Another reboot of a cult-classic huh? As I’m sure I’ve said a million times before, why doesn’t Hollywood just admit that they are out of ideas. Sure, this relaunch of the movie about a possible Soviet Invasion will star Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and sure they are taking a slightly more realistic take by making at least one of the “Wolverines” an actual combat veteran (as opposed to say, a bunch of teenagers and Patrick Swayze).

However, beyond that, there doesn’t appear to be anything new or remotely realistic about this movie. For one, the plot has been updated so that small town America is invaded by Cuba and North Korea. Really? Two tottering Soviet-era dictatorships that can’t even feeds their own people and are on the brink of collapse manage to circumvent America’s coastal defenses and occupy the United States? Really? This movie sounds like Cold War propaganda, sans the actual Cold War!

At first, I thought I saw some meager potential here. But that was before I read the actual description of the plot. After that, I felt like grabbing the producers and execs who thought this was a good idea and giving them a good shake. “This is why you can’t reboot Cold War Era ideas in the post-Cold War world!” I’d say. The first movie made sense in that it resonated with Americans who were hearing about Russia’s fortunes in Afghanistan. Red Dawn played to the imagery coming out of that war, where young fighters were running around, their heads wrapped in bandanas, and taking out Russian tanks and helicopters with Stingers and RPGs.

But this? This just seems like another excuse by Hollywood producers to do something that’s been done, throw in some cool new action sequences, and sit back and count their money. If they had any guts, they’d have made it China invading instead of Cuba and North Korea. But then again, you gotta hedge your bets right? Can’t piss off the real threats if you’re currently tied at the hip economically. Better to talk about the marginal countries that are under embargo and no one worries about anymore.

Ah well, at least the trailer looks cool. Might even be a good candidate for download.

Remembering 1812

Once in a while I like to break from sci-fi to honor major political developments or anniversaries. And since I missed out on honoring those who participated in D-Day on June 6th, I refuse to let this one pass without comment as well. As many are no doubt aware, it’s the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and in many countries, this occasion is being marked and commemorated. For many people in many nations, not just the historians among us, this war was extremely significant.

But what is most interesting is how it is remembered differently. For Canadians, 1812 was a decisive moment in which the country came together to repel a foreign invasion and declare its nationhood in the face of annexation. For Americans, it is remembered as a largely defensive affair in which a second British attempt at invasion was repulsed. For the the British, it was a largely colonial affair that was designed to distract them from the war on the Continent with Napoleon. And for the First Nations of Canada and the US, it was seen a loss which led to further annexation and loss of sovereignty.

And that’s just the Anglo-American perspective. If we were to set our sights a little farther abroad, we’d notice that people in Russia, Germany, and France also have thoughts of their own to share. For France, 1812 was a major setback in the larger affair known as the Napoleonic Wars. For this stout general/dictator from Sardinia, it was the beginning of the end for his rule and his empire. The Russians accordingly saw it as a great victory against a foreign invader, one which they would exploit in future wars to bolster morale. And for Germany, being forced to fight in Napoleon’s “Grand Armee” was a catalyzing event that helped to rouse national sentiment, ultimately leading to German unification in 1871.

Interesting how history can be relative, isn’t it, depending on who you ask and what their perspective is? But thanks to my own historical studies, I’ve learned much about this war, and can say that they all reflect a certain aspect of truth. In the end, all points of view and how we choose to remember the war tell us much of our national experience of it and confirm that the war was a very large affair that was experienced differently all around the world. I shall be brief, since the real historians are the ones you should be listening to. I just want to offer my humble two cents 😉

The American Perspective:
In the course of studying American history, I was interested to see just how the War of 1812 was treated. It was no secret to me that the popular American conception is that they won the war – here in Canada we say the exact same thing. But what I did find objectionable was the rather glaring ommissions that seemed to pervade the history textbooks on the subject.

For example, so many of the battles which took place on Canadian soil were not mentioned, the focus being on the battles America won and which happened for the most part on their own soil. These included the Battles of Plattsburgh, Chesapeake Bay, Washington DC, and especially New Orleans.

And yet, the best explanations I have heard for this come from American historians themselves. As one put it, “Americans, when they chose to remember the war at all, focus on the last year of the war when the battles were defensive in nature”. This, he claimed, is what gives rise to the illusion that America was fighting a defensive war which allowed them to think of it as a victory.

Another historian, who was also a General in the US Army, claimed that it is only in West Point Academy that a full and comprehensive treatment of 1812 is available in the US. Here, he claims, officers in training are taught that 1812 is a perfect example of what NOT to do in a war, namely go to war with overconfidence, an underfunded and staffed army, and a divided country.

And yet another claims that 1812 is America’s first “forgotten war”, beating Vietnam by over a century and a half. I especially liked this take on it since I’m a real proponent of how history repeats itself, just in different settings with different particulars. Seen in this context, 1812 was a less than stellar affair which quickly became overshadowed by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, both of which were decisive for America and had a far greater impact on their history and development as a nation.

The First Nation Perspective:
Compared to the other perspectives, this one is by far the most sobering and real. In fact, one could characterize it by saying that this is a case where people were invited to a war, made a big difference, and then were shut out in the cold to be forgotten while the other combatants came to terms and all had their own victory parties. Disgusting really, but it teaches us something about how history frequently screws people over.

For the Cree Nation and the many nations that encompassed the Great Lakes Region, the war began long before 1812. Prior to this, American encroachment led many nations in the Ohio valley to begin to organize and militarize for the sake of defense. Seeing opportunity and common cause in this, the British began arming these nations and making alliances with them, knowing that any invasion northward would effect all. At the forefront of all this was a committed individual named Tecumseh, a Cree leader who was responsible for much of the cultural revival that was setting in and saw potential in an alliance with the British.

When war was declared, Tecumseh and his bands of fighters proved to be the decisive factor in several battles, not the least of which was at Fort Michigan, where they came upon the garrison by way of the river and took the fort with barely any casualties or shots being fired. In time, the collaboration between Brock (the British Commander) and Tecumseh led Brock to give him his overcoat as a personal gift. However, in keeping with his cultural traditions, Tecumseh conferred the honor onto a more senior warrior in his army. Brock was not offended.

During the American invasion of Upper Canada, the Mohawk nation also proved decisive. At the attack on Fitzgibbon, Mohawk warriors mounted a surprise attack on the unsuspecting American army and forced the surrender of over 500 troops. They had been tipped off by a young woman named Laura Secorde, a nurse who had been privy to the American plans while tending to wounded soldiers on Canadian soil.

In just about every subsequent battle on Canadian soil, Cree, Mohawk and Iroquois warriors were intrinsic to the fight. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that the presence of these seasoned warriors was often the difference between victory and defeat. Facing overwhelming numbers, the Angl0-Canadian forces were often bolstered by the fact that American troops were frightened of Native warriors, having been subjected to stories about their fearsome, bloodthirsty nature for so long.

Unfortunately, the war ended for the Cree Nation and Tecumseh during the Battle of Moraviantown (aka. the Battle of the Thames)i n southern Ontario. After the defeat of British naval forces on Lake Erie, British forces were ordered to pull back to where they could be reinforced and resupplied.

However, Tecumseh objected and voted instead to hold the line against the advancing American armies. Though he died and his forces were defeated at Moraviantown, this battle stalled the American forces long enough to give the British and Canadian forces time to regroup. As a result, the Americans were defeated at Lundy’s Lane six months later and the last invasion of Canadian soil was stopped.

The Canadian Perspective:
As I already stated, from the Canadian point of view, 1812 was a decisive war that saw the country come together to repel a foreign invader. This perspective does gloss over the fact that there were divisions between Upper and Lower Canada, that victory was owed in large part to its Native allies, and that Canada was still nominally a colonial possession of the British Empire. However, the perspective still holds true, as Canadian militia were the cornerstone of the small garrison of British regulars. In fact, Brock chose to dress all of his militia in the same red coats as his regulars in order to give the illusion that he had a larger force. This in turn would play a major role in ensuring the cohesion and organization of his forces in the battles to come.

And to top it off, Canadian forces did succeed in overcoming the odds against a much larger American invasion force. Whether it was the assaults on American border forts in Michigan and along the Great Lakes or defensive actions in Ontario and Quebec, Canadian forces managed to acheive an almost unbroken string of victories.

These included the Battles of Queenstown Heights, where the American forces that had crossed Lake Ontario and set fire to York (modern day Toronto) were defeated. The Battles of Chrysler’s Farm and Chateauguay were also decisive victories which forced the American forces to abandon their St. Lawrence campaign, the planned invasion of Quebec. And finally, Lundy’s Lane, though not a decisive victory, was seen as the final battle in which the invaders were stopped.

All of these experiences served to galvanize national sentiment and helped to inspired demands for reform which would culminate in the Rebellions of 1837. This is especially ironic seeing as how American planners believed that the Upper Canada Loyalists would welcome an American invasion and see it as a chance to throw off British rule. Instead, it inspired Canadians to reject union with the United States and demand a measure of independence on our own terms.

The British Perspective:
And last, but not least, we have what Merry Ol’ England thought of the whole affair. Far from seeing it as a mere diversion, the British were actually quite invested in what took place on North American soil, even if they did see it as a distraction from Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

For many years, Britain had been locked in a state of cold war with the US, monitoring the frontier with wary anxiety and taking every opportunity to bolster its defenses, either by supplying Native allies or making sure their were garrisons in Upper and Lower Canada and fleets on the Great Lakes.

Though these were by no means comparable to American forces, they did indicate how seriously the British took the prospect of an American invasion. And in the end, Britain felt pretty good about it’s conduct during the war. Their vaunted General Brock, though he died in the line of duty, organized a stalwart defense of the colonies while the British Navy harassed and assaulted many American ports. Though eventually these invasion attempts were rebuffed, they did meet with some success.

While Brock and Tecumseh managed to seize a series of key forts in the Great Lakes region and burned Detroit to the ground – in retaliation for the burning of York – they managed to set upon Washington DC and burned it to the ground. This is something which is commemorated extensively on the American side, particularly how a portrait of George Washington was saved before the old White House was set ablaze.

But of course, the defeated attempts at invasion did not go unnoticed either. Whether it was at Plattsburgh, Baltimore or the disastrous assault on New Orleans, it was clear that the war would end with American territorial sovereignty more or less intact. As a result, Britain would walk away from the war undefeated, but without much to show for it.

But of course, that was ultimately the goal in North America, to repulse the American invasion while at the same time ensuring that Napoleon’s defeat on the continent was assured. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and the war with France now over, Britain breathed a temporary sigh of relief. This would end with Napoleon’s return from Elba, but that too would be resolved with the Battle of Waterloo a year later. For the British, as well as the Americans, 1812 would fade into obscurity, something to be remembered mainly by historians and not popular consciousness.

Final Thoughts:
Well, that’s my limited appraisal of the war. For the full scoop, you really need to check in with the historical recreationists, especially those who maintain the border forts along the Great Lakes region. For example, if you’re in Kingston, best check out Fort Henry. I remember going there as a preteen and thinking just how awesome the whole affair was. Not only do they dress in period costume and tell you much about the history of the fort, they also conduct actual musket and cannon drills just to keep things interesting and authentic.

Also, be sure to do your own research on this and other “forgotten wars” of history. It’s often because they were so instructive that they are allowed to fade into obscurity, mainly because people would like to forget what happened. However, that is how lessons are avoided and convenient lies allowed to permeate. Those familiar with World War I and the legend of the “Stab in the back” will know what I mean by that! Had people not been in such a hurry to forget the carnage and pretend that the war was just a big misunderstanding, or that Germany had been betrayed and not defeated, World War II could very well have been avoided.

And for those veterans who fought in the Vietnam War, as well as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (two “forgotten wars” in the making), the lessons of a forgotten war cannot be allowed to go unlearned again. In fact, one could argue that if 1812 were taught in full in schools and academic institutions other than West Point throughout the country, wars like Vietnam and Iraq could have been avoided. When one reads of how men like Jefferson said taking Canada would be “a mere matter of marching”, slogans like “domino effect” and “we’ll be welcomed as liberators” suddenly ring very hollow!

In short, there’s a reason history is full of repeats. All too often, it seems that only a select few are able to discern the patterns and realize that this sort of thing has been done before, usually with disastrous consequences. And my father – who recently visited Europe as part of commemorative trip – would tell you, some people do remembrance right! In Belgium, especially in the town of Ypres, commemorative ceremonies are an almost everyday occurrence. Those who died in the defense of the country and the events which devastated it are solemnly remembered on a regular basis, not just once a year. One would get the impression that these things are important to them!

Okay, that’s enough out of me. Happy anniversary War of 1812. You accomplished much, remind us of much, and really deserve to be honored, regardless of the fact that you fell between the War of Independence and during the Napoleonic Wars. I tell ya, those wars are such attention hogs! In any case, I look forward to 2014 too, when the end of World War I will be commemorated the world over, but especially in Flanders where the people will holding all kinds of celebrations to mark the centennial of the end of the Great War. My wife and I plan to be in attendance. I know my folks will be front row center!

Good day and peace be with you, friends!