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

The Future of Transit: Parking Chargers and Charging Ramps

electric-highway-mainWhen it comes to the future of transportation and urban planning, some rather interesting proposals have been tabled in the past few years. In all cases, the challenge for researchers and scientists is to find ways to address future population and urban growth – ensuring that people can get about quickly and efficiently – while also finding cleaner and more efficient ways to power it all.

As it stands, the developed and developing world’s system of highways, mass transit, and emission-producing vehicles is unsustainable. And the global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, with just over 6 billion living in major cities, more of the same is just not feasible. As a result, any ideas for future transit and urban living need to find that crucial balance between meeting our basic needs and doing so in a way that will diminish our carbon footprint.

hevo_powerOne such idea comes to us from New York City, where a small company known as HEVO Power has gotten the greenlight to study the possibility of charging parked electric vehicles through the street. Based on the vision of Jeremy McCool, a veteran who pledged to reduce the US’s reliance on foreign fuel while fighting in Iraq, the long-term aim of his plan calls for roadways that charge electric cars as they drive.

Development began after McCool received a $25,000 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs and put it towards the creation of an EV charging prototype that could be embedded in city streets. Designed to looked like a manhole cover, this charging device runs a type of electromagnetic wireless charging technology proposed by researchers Marian Kazimierczuk of Wright State University and professor Dariusz Czarkowski of NYU’s Polytechnic Institute.

hevo_manholeThe charge consists of two coils – one connected to the grid in the manhole cover, and the other on the electric vehicle. When the car runs over the manhole, the coils conduct a “handshake,” and the manhole delivers a charge on that frequency to the car. Though HEVO has yet to test the device in the real world, they are teamed up with NYU-Poly to develop the technology, and have already proven that it is safe for living things with the help of NYU’s medical labs.

So far, McCool says his company has commitments from seven different companies to develop a series of delivery fleets that run on this technology. These include PepsiCo, Walgreens, and City Harvest, who have signed on to develop a pilot program in New York. By creating regular pick-up and drop-off points (“green loading zones”) in front of stores, these fleets would be able to travel greater distances without having to go out of their way to reach a charging station.

electric_carIn order to test the chargers in New York City in early 2014, HEVO has applied for a $250,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The organization has already granted a feasibility study for the green loading zones. According to McCool, Glasgow’s Economic Development Corps is also exploring the idea of the technology in Scotland.

But looking ahead, McCool and his company have more ambitious plans than just a series of green loading zones. Already, HEVO is developing a proof of concept to place these kinds of chargers along major highways:

The concept is simple. There is a way to provide wireless charging in an HOV lane. That’s a small strip at every yard or so that has another wireless charging plate, so as you go down the street you’re collecting a charge. One wireless charging highway.

However, this is just a first step, and a major infrastructure project will still be needed to demonstrate that the technology truly does have what it takes to offset fossil fuel burning cars and hybrids. However, the technology has proven promising and with further development and investment, a larger-scale of adoption and testing is likely to take place.

roadelectricityAnother interesting idea comes to us from Mexico, where a developer has come up with a rather ingenious idea that could turn mass transit into a source of electricity. The developer’s name is Héctor Ricardo Macías Hernández, and his proposal for a piezoelectric highway could be just the thing to compliment and augment an electric highway that keeps cars charged as they drive.

For years, researchers and developers have been looking for ways to turn kinetic energy – such as foot traffic or car traffic – into electricity. However, these efforts have been marred by the costs associated with the technology, which are simply too high for many developing nations to implement. That is what makes Hernández concept so ingenious, in that it is both affordable and effective.

roadelectricity-0In Macías Hernández’ system, small ramps made from a tough, tire-like polymer are embedded in the road, protruding 5 cm (2 inches) above the surface. When cars drive over them, the ramps are temporarily pushed down. When this happens, air is forced through a bellows that’s attached to the underside of the ramp, travels through a hose, and then is compressed in a storage tank. The stored compressed air is ultimately fed into a turbine, generating electricity.

In this respect, Hernández’s concept does not rely on piezoelectric materials that are expensive to manufacture and hence, not cost effective when dealing with long stretches of road. By relying on simple materials and good old fashioned ingenuity, his design could provide cheap electricity for the developing world by simply turning automobile traffic – something very plentiful in places like Mexico City – into cheap power.

piezoelectric_nanogeneratorMacías Hernández points out, however, that in lower-traffic areas, multiple ramps placed along the length of the road could be used to generate more electricity from each individual vehicle. He adds that the technology could also be used with pedestrian foot-traffic. The system is currently still in development, with the support of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, and will likely take several years before becoming a reality.

Exciting times these are, when the possibility of running an advanced, industrial economy cleanly may actually be feasible, and affordable. But such is the promise of the 21st century, a time when the dreams of the past several decades may finally be coming to fruition. And just in time to avert some of our more dystopian, apocalyptic scenarios!

Well, one can always hope, can’t one?

Sources: fastcoexist.com, gizmag.com

Remembrance Day 2013

lest-we-forgetIt goes by many names the world over. In Canada, Britain and Australia, we call it Remembrance Day. In the United States, it’s called by Veteran’s Day. In New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia, it’s known as Armistice Day. And to the Polish, it’s Independence Day since the end of World War I was also the occasion when their country achieved statehood.

Interestingly enough, the war that it originally commemorates also goes by many names. To those who fought in it, it was the Great War, but also the “War to end all wars”, as no one who lived through it could fathom that any nation would ever go to war again. And to those who have went to war again just 27 years later, it would come to be known as World War I or the First World War.

remembrance-day-poemRegardless of the name, November 11 is a day when people the world over come together to mark one of the worst periods in our history, celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and reflect upon the terrible lessons that were learned. And while it is easy to look upon the world and imagine that we’ve learned nothing, I choose to believe otherwise.

When the world went to war in August of 1914, the news was greeted with general elation for those involved. In Berlin, Paris and London, crowds emerged to celebrate the fact that their nations were mobilizing against their enemies. In Canada, people readily volunteered to serve overseas and “fight the Hun”. The propaganda mills of every nation were running overtime, stoking the fervor of war, claiming rightness, and that God was on their side.

Royal_Irish_Rifles_ration_party_Somme_July_1916Four years later, few retained these romantic notions of war. Those who survived the carnage were known as “The Lost Generation”, and those born after the war entered into a world struggling to leave the memory behind and get back to normal. When war was once again declared in 1939, few were enthused, and the general attitude was one o fear.

In fact, part of the reason “Appeasement” – the strategy of giving in to Hitler’s demands, or accommodating Japanese and Italian expansion in Africa and East Asia – was permitted was because no one wanted a repeat of the last war. Even in the Axis nations of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the general public entered the war only reluctantly, convinced they had no choice and fearful for how it might turn out.

Berlin-1945_croppedSix years, 70 million lives, 1600 cities, and several attempted genocides later, the victorious nations of the world once again came together with the common goal of lasting world peace, human rights and economic development. This was embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.

Despite the prevailing mood that a new “Cold War” was already brewing between east and west, the word’s “Never Again” were spoken by people on all sides. After two World Wars and the near total-destruction of many nations, it was understood that the world would not be able to endure a third. Somehow, and despite the arms race of the latter of the half of the 20th century, peace would endure.

Cuban-missile-crisis-photo-from-Oct-29-1962Lucky for all of us, the Cold War ended some two decades ago and the specter of World War III with it. While many wars took place during the intervening period and there were a few close calls (The Cuban Missile Crisis being foremost), a nuclear crisis was continually avoided because all sides understood that no one would emerge the victor.

Today, wars still rage in the underdeveloped regions of the world and even amongst the so-called “developed” nations – the rational ranging from fighting extremism to trying to foster nation building. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back today and think that those who died and sacrificed so much taught us something invaluable and enduring.

nuclear1Sure, the Great War did not end all wars, nor did those that followed it. But with every mistake, with every new sacrifice, with every new conflict, surely we have learned something. Were it not for the UN and the spirit multilateralism the prevailed after the Second World War, World War III may have been unavoidable, and might still be a possibility.

And while there were still wars between proxy nations during the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam taught us the futility of political conflicts, a lesson which helped end the Iraq War sooner and with less loss of life than would have otherwise been possible. These sentiments have since been applied to the war in Afghanistan and the drone wars, two more unpopular campaigns that are sure to end in the near future as well.

holocaustWhat’s more, the genocide of the Jewish, Roma and Slavic peoples all across Europe taught us the evils of ethnic cleansing and man’s capacity for hate, lessons which have helped us confront and combat genocide in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and elsewhere. They have also forced us to contemplate genocides which have taken place on our soil, in Australia, Canada, the US and Latin America.

To look at the state of the world today, it is easy to grow cynical and say that we’ve learned nothing. But when you consider that fact that we no longer live in a world where total war is seen as glorious, where two superpowers are aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at each other, and where aggression and genocide are actively ignored or accommodated, you begin to appreciate what we have and who made it possible.

Vimy RidgeBut most importantly of all, to say we’ve learned nothing is to disrespect those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention those who came home forever changed and scarred. For these veterans, servicemen and women, and people who risked life and limb to ensure that war would bring peace, that people would remain free, and that greater evils would not be allowed to prevail, saying “it was all in vain” renders what they did for the rest of us meaningless.

With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that next year, in April of 2014, my family and I will be visiting Europe to witness the Centennial of World War I. While we’re there, we will be visiting the grave sites of those who died overseas, several battlefield from the First and Second World War, and will bear witness to one of the greatest historic events in our lifetimes.

My father made the trip once before and remarked with awe how to people over there, the wars are not something that are commemorated once a year, but on a regular basis. But next year, it is expected to be especially poignant as people from all over the globe converge on Flanders to pay their respects. I expect it to be very eye-opening, and you can expect to be hearing about it the moment I get back!

A sober and reflective Remembrance Day to you all. Peace.

remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

Drone Wars: New Leaks Reveal Human Cost of Drone Strikes

drone-strikeIt would be an understatement to say that drones and UAVs are hot button issue right now. As an ongoing part of the “war on terror”, the use of remotely piloted vehicles to target terrorism suspects remain a popular one within the US, with 56% of respondents indicating that they supported it (as of Feb. 2013). However, when the matter of civilian casualties and collateral damage is introduced, the issue becomes a much stickier one.

What’s more, it is becoming increasingly evident that how the drone program is being presented is subject to spin and skewing. Much like the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, it is in the Obama administration’s and the Pentagon’s best interest to present the issue in terms of “hunting terrorists” while categorically avoiding any mention of the real costs involved. And thanks to recent revelations, these efforts may prove to be more difficult in the future.

drone_mapIt was just over weeks ago, on July 22nd, that London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a leaked Pakistani report that detailed numerous civilian casualties by drone strikes in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). For years now, obtaining information about civilian casualties caused by US and NATO strikes in this region has been incredibly difficult – information which these documents have now provided.

The 12-page dossier was compiled for the the authorities in the tribal areas, the Bureau notes, and investigates 75 CIA drone strikes and five attacks by NATO in the region conducted between 2006 and 2009. According to the document, 746 people were killed in the strategic attacks. At least 147 of the victims were civilians, and 94 were children.

on April 3, 2009 in Now Zad in Helmand province, Afghanistan.This directly contradicts inquired made by the United Nations, which began investigating the legality of the drone program and strikes last year. According to the U.N.’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights (Ben Emmerson) Pakistan then claimed at least 400 civilians had been killed in U.S. strikes in the country since 2006. Quite the discrepancy.

And while a majority of other tallies relied on media reports of drone strikes, the FATA list was compiled by government officials who were sent out to investigate damage firsthand in the wake of attacks. According to the Bureau, on several occasions officials registered different casualty rates than the media outlets reported.

Drone-strike-damageThe Bureau went on record to say that there were gaps in the information provided, like why none of the names of the casualties were provided, or why civilian casualties were not provided for 2009, the last year covered in the report. It is possible that logistical factors played a role, such as the lack of accurate census data in the FATA region, and that casualty figures for the year 2009 were difficult to obtain due to the acceleration of drone strikes during that year.

It is this last aspect which is likely to give many pause, since it was the decision of the outgoing Bush administration to intensify drone strikes during the last few months of his presidency, a decision which the Obama administration adopted and maintained. And the list provided only shows a gap between the official numbers and those obtained on the ground during the years of 2006 and 2009, when the strikes began.

drone_loadoutWhat are we to make then of the years running from 2009 to 2013, where drone strikes in the western region of Pakistan became a much more common occurrence and the body count – civilian or otherwise – can only be expected to have escalated? This could another reason that figures were omitted from 2009, which is that the Pakistani government was concerned that they might spark outrage if they were to ever be made public.

However, that is all speculation at this point, and more time and investigation are certainly needed to determine what the cost in human terms has been. One thing is for sure though, the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are likely to become increasingly controversial as more information emerges and an accurate picture of the death toll is presented.

drone_map1For years now, the US government has denied that large civilian casualty counts exist, but it continues to withhold the numbers. But some claim those numbers will not shed any real light even if they are released, since it is still not clear how the US forces distinguish between civilians and “militants” or “combatants”.

In a major speech on national security in May 2013, Obama strongly defended the drone program but said the administration would codify the process it goes through before ordering attacks and would work with Congress to create more oversight. However, no promises were made about the number of deaths leading up to this declaration, whether or not those facts and figured would be made public, and strikes continue to take place which violate this new mandate.

obama_dronesAs the saying goes, “the first casualty of war is the truth”. And without much effort, one can easily draw parallels between this latest phase in the “war on terror” to the vagaries of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, where information was withheld, numbers debated and legalities issued in order to justify highly questionable acts.

And for those old enough to remember, the specter of Vietnam is also apparent here. Then, as now, the public is forced to rely on leaked information and confidential informants simply because the official stories being issued by their government are full of discrepancies, denials, and apparent fabrications. One would think we had learned something in the last five decades, but apparently not!

Sources: huffingtonpost.com, thebureauinvestigates.com

Cyberwars: Snowden Reveals NSA’s Been Hacking China

nsa_aerialEdward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the NSA and its domestic surveillance program – aka. PRISM – has reemerged to reveal some additional secrets. It seems that in addition to spying on their own citizens, the NSA has been using its resources to spy on tens of thousands of operations around the world. Not surprising, but what Snowden revealed showed that when it comes to nations like China, surveillance was just the tip of the iceberg.

Snowden, who has been hiding in Hong Kong since May 20th, revealed in an interview on Thursday with the South China Morning Post that the NSA has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. Among the targets in Hong Kong were the Chinese University of Hong Kong, public officials, businesses and even students in the city.

?????????????All told, Snowden estimated that there are more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with at least hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland. The tactics, he claimed, involve selecting large targets and infiltrating in many places at once:

We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one.

Snowden also explained his motivation for blowing the whistle on the NSA’s foreign operations. It seems that in light recent tensions between the US and China, which has been characterized by ongoing accusations and recrimination, he felt the need to tell the truth behind the lies. As he told the SCMP, his motivation was based on:

the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries….Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.

Edward-Snowden-660x367Though Snowden also discussed possible plans to seek asylum in Iceland or elsewhere during an interview last week, he told the SCMP  that he’s staying put in Hong Kong for now. He emphasized that his stay in China was not an attempt to avoid justice, but to reveal criminal behavior.  He also expressed admiration for countries that have offered asylum (such as Russia), claiming that he was “glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power.”

The Guardian newspaper, which has published information from documents leaked by Snowden, has said that it has more than a thousand other documents that Snowden managed to smuggle out or download from the NSA using a series of laptops and a thumb drive. These documents are to be disclosed in the coming weeks, according to the paper, so more revelations are expected to come.

secret_documentsThough there are those who question his motivations and methods, no one can deny that thanks to Snowden, some very questionable  behavior has been revealed that involved people at the top echelons of government. One can’t help but be reminded of Richard Clarke, former head of the NSA, who came forward in 2004 to testify before to the 9/11 Commission and reveal the extent to which the Bush Administration failed to prevent the largest terrorist attack in history, or how it sought to pin that attack on the Iraqi government.

And for those who have lived long enough to remember, these events also call to mind the Pentagon Papers of 1969. In this case, it was another whistle blower named Daniel Ellsberg who, through the publication of hundreds of government documents, revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war, the number of casualties, and the likelihood of its success. And let’s not forget  former FBI Ass. Dir. Mark Felt – aka. “Death Throat” – the man who blew the whistle on the Nixon Administration.

whistleblower-protectionIn the end, whistle blowers have a long history of ending wars, exposing corruption, and force administrations to take responsibility for their secret, unlawful policies. Naturally, there were those who are critical men such as Felt, Clarke, and Ellsberg, both then and now, but they have never been able to refute the fact that the men acted out of conscience and achieved results. And while I’m sure that their will be fallout from Snowden’s actions, I too cannot dispute that what he did needed to be done.

As Edmund Burke famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil  is for good men to do nothing.”

Sources: wired.com, scmp.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!

Generation Kill

Hey all. Today I’m stepping outside the box to cover a review in honor of a friend of mine. Master Seaman Chris Jenkins, who recently moved across the country and won’t be in our neck of the woods for the next three years. Ah, that’s going to be rough. Luckily, there’s still this thing known as the internet and the communications it allows for.

And like I earlier, I still owe him this review and I hope it finds him in good spirits when he gets to the other side of the country. And since I loved this series myself, I’m willing to step outside the confines of sci-fi to honor it. It was downright awesome, and historically relevant. So here goes…

Background:
For those who don’t know, Generation Kill was an HBO miniseries adapted from the book of the same name. Said book was the result of reporter Evan Wright’s own experiences as an embedded reporter with the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In the course of his time with them, he had a first hand view of the invasion and all the problems that resulted.

And therein lies the real value of this miniseries. Whereas many people who witnessed the invasion, particularly in the US, seemed to think that the initial phase of the war was a success, that problems didn’t arise until after the occupation began, this series and the book that inspired it shows that the problems that would come to consume Iraq were there from day one. These included lawlessness, incompetence on behalf of the civilian planners, civilian deaths, insurgency, and the glaring gap between the reality of the situation on the ground and how it was being portrayed by politicians and media.

Plot Synopsis:
The story, which begins with the invasion and culminates in the arrival and settlement of 1st Recon around Baghdad, is told through seven episodes. Each one catalogs a different phase in the war effort, showing events from multiple points of view of those who fought with Bravo Company, the Company which led the way during the invasion.

Episode 1: “Get Some”
The episode opens with the 1st Recon Battalion, Bravo Company, conducting training drills inside Kuwait outside of Camp Mathilda. The embedded reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, Evan Wright (Lee Tergesen), arrives at camp and is given to 2nd Platoon where he receives a frosty welcome. Considering him a member of the “left-wing liberal media” they don’t have much love for him, until they learn he used to write for Hustler magazine!

He quickly makes the acquaintance of the men of Bravo company whom he will be riding with in the lead Humvee. This includes Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard, Erik on True Blood), Cpl. Josh Ray Person (James Ransone), and relative FNG Lance Cpl. Harold James Trombley (Billy Lush). Throughout the first episode, we also get to meet many other “characters” of interest.

These includes Lt. Col. Stephen Ferrando (Chance Kelly), who was given the nickname ‘Godfather’ because throat surgery has left him with a harsh, whispery voice. Then there’s Lt. Nathaniel Fick (Stark Sands), the levelheaded commander of 2nd Platoon; Cpt. Craig ‘Encino Man’ Schwetje (Brian Patrick Wade), the well-meaning but incompetent commander of Bravo Company; Dave ‘Captain America’ McGraw (Eric Nenninger), the edgy and unstable commander of 3rd platoon; and Sgt. Rodolfo ‘Rudy’ Reyes, aka. “Fruity-Rudy” (played by himself), the metrosexual Marine who acts as the glue of Bravo Company.

Significance: This episode familiarizes the viewer with several realities that Marines in the 1st Recon had to deal with. The first and most obvious is shortages, which the Marines are constantly told to make do with. The second is the fact that much of Bravo Company’s own officers are inept, enforcing pointless rules instead of focusing on troop morale or making sure they have the right kinds of equipment.

Episode 2: “The Cradle of Civilization”
The invasion is now underway and 1st Recon is sent to An Nasiriyah where the invasion has stalled. Bravo Company begins to lead the way through the town and is given orders to fire on anyone they deem a threat. They encounter minimal gunfire until Cpt. McGraw, using a captured AK, opens fire on civilian cars for no apparent reason. They continue to press forward north into Mesopotamia, “The Cradle of Civilization”.

After taking a wrong turn, Bravo company rushes onward to reach to its next objective outside the town of Al Gharraf by nightfall. In the dark, Bravo company comes under fire by a group of armed Iraqis and takes them down without difficulty. They score their first kills and survive their baptism by fire, and Bravo company celebrates before moving on.

Significance: This episode is the first time that 1st Recon experiences combat and the first time that Cpt. McGraw commits a stupid act in the line of duty. His confiscating of an AK and firing randomly is a constant source of irritation as time goes on, but nothing is ever done about it. In addition, this episode, specifically the layout of the town, the bridge and the operation into the town, was the inspiration for COD: Modern Warfare 2, much like how scenes from Enemy at the Gates inspired Call of Duty 1 and 2 and COD: World at War.

Episode 3: “Screwby”
After surviving their first engagement, Bravo presses forward. When they reach a roadside hamlet, the company look on in disbelief as a regimental combat team arrives and obliterates the hamlet and its inhabitants, none of whom appeared to be armed. Shortly thereafter, Bravo heads north to the town of Ar Rifa, where Captain Schwetje orders a “danger close” artillery barrage on the settlement. Lt. Fick intervenes to try to prevent the unwarranted barrage, but to no avail. Once again, civilians are killed due to incompetence of senior officers.

Eager once more to press ahead, “Godfather” orders 1st Recon to push ahead another 40 km and capture an airstrip being controlled by Iraqi Republican Guard unit that is apparently equipped with tanks. Once again, Cpt. MgCraw begins to undermine morale by making all kinds of panicky statements, namely that they are going to die if they go up against the tanks. Also, in order to reach the airfield, they are forced to leave behind their supply trucks behind.

Once again, Bravo Company is given permission to open fire on anything that moves. In the lead Humvee, Cpl. Tromblay opens fire on people running along the roadside and severely injures a small boy. The Company secures the airfield, which appears to be abandoned, and then insists that command medevac the boy to a nearby base. Command is hesitant, but eventually agrees, and both Sgt. Colbert and Cpl. Tromblay are to told to expect consequences for the incident.

Significance: In this episode, we get a solid glimpse of how civilian deaths in Iraq are being swept under the rug and written off as justifiable. The soldiers are beginning to feel the weight of this and cracks begin to show in their morale and resolve. After both engagements, in the hamlet and Ar Rifa, they tell each other to put it out of their minds and move on, knowing that there isn’t much they can do about it.

Episode 4: “Combat Jack”
1st Recon reaches the airfield and encounters minimal resistance, the Republican Guard unit having already evacuated and left their tanks behind. This puts 1st Recon ahead of the rest of the American invasion, which is seen as something favorable to command. However, they soon learn that by leaving their supply trucks behind, that Iraqis have captured and looted them. Amongst the supplies was most of Bravo Company’s rations and an American flag, which means they are now down to one meal a day.

Alpha Company is then tasked with a different mission: to recover the body of a captured Marine who was murdered in Ah Shatra. The mission takes a turn when when CIA agents show up and declare that a special army of Iraqi Freedom Fighters will take the town for the sake of their propaganda campaign. However, the army deserts the next day after an artillery barrage fails to clear the town of the enemy. Meanwhile, Bravo company continues clearing hamlets along the northern route and sets up a roadblock outside of Al Hayy. The rules of engagement here are unclear, and Bravo ends up destroying a large truck and killing all passengers, uncertain if it even posed a threat.

Significance: Three major developments happen in this episode, all of which demonstrate a considerable amount about the unfolding war. First, it becomes clear to the Marines that their officers are making all the wrong calls, but as long as they continue to be successful, command will keep making them. The operation outside of Al Hayy shows just how important propaganda efforts are to the war effort, namely maintaining the illusion that the Iraqis welcome the invasion as liberation. And last, we get a first glimpse of how the Marines will have problems acting as police in the streets, mainly because they are not trained for the role.

Episode 5: “A Burning Dog”
1st Recon finally gets some solid intel from the locals, which says that there is an ambush waiting for them up ahead. The ambush is attacked by some LAV’s, and Bravo is ordered to cross the bridge at night. However, they hit a snag along the way and the convoy gets stuck, just as a group of fresh ambushees show up to attack them. Schwetje once again shows his incompetence by being unable to resolve the situation, and Cpt. McGraw once again panics and begins screaming over the open radio. Things are only resolved when Rudy intervenes and inspires Cpt Schwetje to think outside the box.

By morning, Bravo company learns that they are not soldiers, but militiamen, many of whom came from Syria and farther abroad. On passports recovered from the bodies, it says that their reason for coming to Iraq was “Jihad”. Bravo continues north to Al Muwafaqiyah, where they are tasked with setting up another roadblock and with destroying the Republican Guard outpost, which, unfortunately, is in the town’s only school. Despite Colbert’s orders to hold their fire unless its absolutely necessary, Bravo has another incident at the road block and a small child is killed.

Significance: This episode is especially significant because it shows how the roots of the insurgency began long before the war ended. Whereas Captain Schwetje thinks this is proof of what Bush said about their being terrorists in Iraq, the others see from their passports that the “Jihadis” didn’t enter Iraq until the day after the US declared war. Already, the invasion is beginning to have consequences that no one seemed to plan for, particularly in how it is involving people from outside Iraq. What’s more, the mounting civilian deaths is forcing the Marines to question the war and what their role in it really is.

Episode 6: “Stay Frosty”
Outside of Al Kut, Cpt. McGraw nearly kills a prisoner with his bayonet after his Company defeats a small group of armed Iraqis. His men are becoming more disillusioned in his command, and Sgt. Eric Kocher (Owain Yeoman) of 3rd platoon learns that he is being held accountable for the incident. Afterward, McGraw’s men refuse to allow him to anywhere near prisoners, for fear that he will attempt to stab them again. In addition, 1st Recon learns that Godfather’s counterpart in the Regimental Combat Team is being relieved of command despite his success. Apparently, command is reigning people in due to problems with deaths and insubordination.

Problems also begin to arise between Captain Schwetje and Lt. Fick because of their earlier disagreements after he hearsof this. Schwetje’s NCO, Gunnery Sgt. Ray Griego (David Barrera), suggest to him that command is alluding to Fick’s own insubordination when they spoke of insubordination, and begins spreading rumors about Fick behind his back. While Fick is told not to question Schwetje orders again, Fick demands that Schwetje also reign in Greigo for his unprofessional and insubordinate behavior towards himself.

Shortly thereafter, 1st Recon is tasked with escorting Iraqi civilians fleeing from Baghdad down the highway, a mission which makes them feel humane amidst all the slaughter. Colbert is confronted by an Iraqi woman who speaks perfect English and challenges him on the nature of the war, which he appears to take to heart. Unfortunately, while attempting to peacefully force cars coming the opposite direction turn back, another Iraqi is killed, this time an old man.

Significance: The immediate value in this episode is in how it shows how the wrong people are being blamed for failures while those who continue to screw up remain in positions of authority. We also get to see how the war is being perceived by the Iraqis, which is put into words by the female student who challenges Colbert on the road from Baghdad. And last, the incident involving the old man shows once again how civilians are being killed because combat soldiers are being assigned police duties, again as the result of bad planning. And last, but not least, it is indicated that the troops are now within reach of Baghdad, which they hope will end the war and all the stupidity and craziness they have been forced to endure.

Episode 7: “Bomb in the Garden”
1st Recon finally reaches Baghdad and is treated to some rest and reprieve in an abandoned cigarette factory. However, the rest doesn’t last long as they are called upon to mount patrols into the city and deal with shortages, looting and sporadic sniper fire.

Having only one translator, they are limited in what they can do and realize the problems the residents are face are entirely beyond their abilities. This is complicated further by constantly changing orders, a lack of necessary supplies, unruly locals and cultural misunderstandings. The situation only gets worse and the city continues to descend into anarchy.

1st Recon is soon relocated to a soccer stadium away from the action. At their new digs, the tensions that have been simmering for weeks finally boil over during a friendly football game. Wright conducts his last interview with Godfather where he learns that McGraw is not going to be punished for two near-stabbings.

He then says goodbye to the men of 2nd Platoon being carried off by helicopter, an event which seems tearful after all they’ve seen together. One of the Marines begins to show the movie he’s put together from the footage he’s shot over the course of the war. While the men initially enjoy watching it, they slowly begin to lose interest and drift away, thanks to all the bad memories it evokes.

Significance: This episode is the most significant of all because of how it showcases the reality of life in Baghdad during and immediately after the war. Contrary to public perceptions, the chaos and violence were almost immediate, and it was abundantly clear that the military hierarchy had no idea what to do about it. this, above all else in the show, highlights the lack of planning on behalf of the Bush administration and the Pentagon before the war began. Faced with victory, the soldiers were completely unprepared for the situation they faced as soon as the shooting was over.

Of equal significance are the scenes at the soccer stadium, where everyone seems burnt out and angry despite the fact that the war is now over. No one is in the mood to celebrate; in fact, everyone seems itching for a fight for someone specific. During the pick-up game, Schwetje is punched in the face by one of his men, and Cpl. Person attacks Rudy for no apparent reason. During his final interview with Lt. Col. “Godfather” Ferrando, Wright learns that there will be no consequences for any of the officers who screwed up along the way, highlighting the lack of accountability that runs like a vein through the show.

And finally, the scene where the Marines watch the video – this is the only scene in the miniseries that is accompanied by background music. Not a word is said, and yet the mood and the point are conveyed so clearly. The war is done, they have won, and yet everyone feels terribly bitter and angry. All that we need to know about the Iraq War is said in this one scene, with the men who fought in it preferring not to see the replay because it reminds them of everything they want to forget.

Summary:
As if it wasn’t clear already, I LOVED THIS MINISERIES! The tone, the pacing, the subtle way things are conveyed, the gritty and realistic nature of it all. It captured the essence of war, and was so much better because you watch it knowing that it all happened. Some might say that since it is being told from one man’s point of view, it would reflect his own particular biases and perspective. However, the series is shot from multiple points of view and reflects the very in-depth interview process which Wright conducted before releasing the book.

This comes through immediately in the show, where Wright appears to be little more than a background figure until the very last few minutes of the last episodes. And even then, the focus shifts back to the troops, where it always was during the course of the series. This diversity of perspectives gives the show a very broad and varied feel and let’s the viewer become acquainted with all that is going on, which is essential given the nature of the show.

Even people who don’t like war movies will find something to enjoy here. It is historic, it is personal, it is human and it is real. The characters are very rich, and the series has absolutely no shortage of keen dialogue. Cpl. Josh Ray Person has to be the funniest man in the series, and the antics of the men in the first Humvee, where Wright was embedded, were priceless. Several discussions which still stick out in my mind include when the grunts learn that Wright once worked for Hustler, the many times “Iceman” Colbert calls Person a “Whiskey Tango” (phonetic alphabet for White Trash), and the discussion concerning the nature of “November Juliet” (you’ll have to watch the series to learn the meaning of that one!)

Above all, what makes this story so effective is that it is a first-hand account of the events that took place in 2003, told by a member of the same media that helped to sell the war to the American public. Defying the conventional view that the war was an act of liberation that was embraced by the Iraqis, and only went bad long after major combat operations ended, the series shows that this was an operation doomed from the get-go. All the problems that would later come to haunt the “rebuilding phase” – basic shortages, cultural misunderstandings, insurgents, civilian deaths, failure to plan, shifting orders, and negligence in dealing with rioters and insurgents – were all there from day one.

For many years after the invasion, the American people were left in constant state of confusion and controversy as an intransigent administration and hand-picked military spokespeople tried to spin the situation, refused to accept responsibility for the failures, and insisted the situation was salvageable. It was only with time that they came to realize that the truth was always there, happening on the front lines, and that it was kept from them for political reasons. The situation had not changed, only their perception of it.

Well, that’s all I got to say about Generation Kill. I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed watching the miniseries. And if you’re reading this Chris, I hope you especially enjoyed reading it. It got a little wordy there, I know. I’m known for that but this time, I really tried to keep it to 50, 000 words or less 😉