Pentagon reassures public that its autonomous robotic tank adheres to "legal and ethical standards" for AI-driven killbots

The Pentagon is seeking bids to improve its Advanced Targeting and Lethality Automated System (ATLAS) so that it can "acquire, identify, and engage targets at least 3X faster than the current manual process." Read the rest

Pentagon Inspector General reveals widespread retaliation against whistleblowers with impunity for the retaliators and the wrongdoers

Last November, the Pentagon's Inspector General presented Congress with a "little-noticed" report on whistleblowing in the US military, revealing that those who come forward with claims of misconduct including sexual harassment and safety problems face a "culture of retaliation" including black marks on their service records, demotion, and suspension of security clearance; the IG also reported that in nearly every case, the officers who retaliated against whistleblowers faced no consequences for their actions. Read the rest

US Air Force proposal: pause the Earth's rotation so nukes would miss targets

In 1960, the US Air Force asked the RAND Corporation to evaluate the possibility of using stationary rockets to pause the Earth's rotation in the event of a nuclear attack. Called "Project Retro," the idea was that the "a huge rectangular array of one thousand first-stage Atlas engines... (would) be fastened securely to the earth in a horizontal position." As missiles approached, the rockets would fire, stopping the Earth's rotation just enough for the nukes to overshoot their targets. In the book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg, who assessed the problematic proposal, wrote that everything “that wasn’t nailed down, and most of what was as well, would be gone with the wind, which would itself be flying at super-hurricane force everywhere at once." Not only that, he says, but the plan would actually require one million billion rockets:

If you do the maths, that’s about 2.6 x 1021 kilograms of propellant – or to put it another way, that’s about 500 times the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere.

So even assuming you could build that many engines, once you fired them for the time that was needed to change the Earth’s rotation, you would have put 500 times as much gas into the atmosphere, and this would all be incredibly hot combustion products.

So even if your targets were to survive the nuclear war, everyone would then be incinerated by all the exhaust gases spreading around the planet.

"That Time the U.s. Air Force Proposed Using Rockets to Stop the Earth’s Rotation" (Daily Grail)

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg (Amazon)

For even more on Project Retro and RAND, listen to my old friend Ken Hollings's excellent 2008 BBC radio documentary "RAND: All Your Tomorrows Today"

(image: detail of "Wernher von Braun with the F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the U.S. Read the rest

Predatory lender found to have swindled veterans' pensions for eight years, so Trump's CFPB fined him $1

Mark Corbett has settled with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- founded by Elizabeth Warren and then gutted by Trump appointee and awful person Mick Mulvaney, now the White House Chief of Staff -- over the complaints that he ran an illegal loan-sharking operation that swindled veterans out of their pensions for a decade.

He has been fined $1. Read the rest

U.S. Strategic Command tweets nuclear war joke on New Year's Eve

Happy nuke year, everyone! Man, the Trump administration's recklessness really makes people feel like they can just say whatever they want with no consequences. Read the rest

Ukraine asks Canada to continue training troops to oppose Russia's invasive bullshit

Russia is back on its Ukraine bullshit again: last week, the Russian navy boarded and seized a Ukrainian gunboat and a tugboat taking the crews of the vessels prisoner, at least for the time being. NATO is sitting on their hands, just like they did when Putin sent mercenaries and unflagged Russian special forces operators into Ukraine to wrest control of the Crimea peninsula back in 2014. There's a lot of finger wagging and tut-tutting, sure. Trump said that he was calling off his chat with Putin last week as a result of the Russian military's aquatic clusterfuck...but then he met with him anyway.

After four years of putting up with Russian occupation of a chunk of their territory, Ukraine knows better than to leave sorting it out to diplomacy: the seizure of the nation's vessels could well be Putin's way of gauging the west's reaction to a larger action--one that could lead to a large-scale assault on Ukrainian turf.

In response to Putin's dry run, Ukraine has called up its citizen reservists, declared martial law in some parts of the country, and has been toying with the idea of refusing entry to any Russian male of fighting age. Oh, and they've asked Canada to renew the assistance that they've been giving them for the past few years.

From The CBC:

Canada is being asked to renew its military training mission to Ukraine — a proposal that's taking on a whole new level of urgency as border tension ramps up with Russia.

Read the rest

Here's how the Pentagon swindled Congress with $21 trillion worth of undocumented, untraceable, unaccounted for expenditures

Remember when the Department of Defense's own internal auditor revealed that the agency had committed $6.5 trillion in accounting fraud in just one year? Read the rest

Trump spent $200,000,000 on the election stunt of sending 6,000 troops to the border, then withdrew them before the caravan arrived

Trump's "Operation Faithful Patriot" was a $200,000,000 exercise in which 6,000 US troops were deployed within the USA, to the US/Mexico border, nominally to repel the migrant caravan of desperate, poor, terrified asylum seekers. Read the rest

Hiding secret messages in whale song

Most military underwater surveillance systems filter out whale calls along with other ambient ocean noise. This inspired researchers from China's Tianjin University to create a form of "bio-inspired steganography" in which recordings of whale songs can be edited to contain secret messages and then electronically transmitted underwater. From Newsweek:

In research published in IEEE Communication Magazine, the team said there are two ways to hide signals in whale pulses—changing the signal to include encrypted information or making the signal weaker.

The former is problematic because it would stand out from other naturally occurring signals, Jiang told SCMP. However, the second method holds promise. Researchers could build a coding system around the whale sounds. They could then edit whale sounds so they are indistinguishable from other whale calls. When they are received by the coding system, they can be deciphered. The main drawback for this approach is that it would be difficult to send a message over a long distance.

"Bio-Inspired Steganography for Secure Underwater Acoustic Communications" (IEEE Communications)

Image: "A mother sperm whale and her calf off the coast of Mauritius" by Gabriel Barathieu Read the rest

Report: Canada's military unprepared to stop attacks on their assets in space

For a country the size of Canada, we've got a pretty small military budget. In order to secure our borders and work with our NATO pals overseas and in operations on our home turf, The Canadian Forces is often forced to do a lot with very little. Our Army, Navy and Air Force are tightly integrated, making it possible for us to make the most of our military infrastructure, supplies and training. Right now, Canada's military personnel are playing a game of hurry-up-and-wait while long-promised new equipment, upgrades to existing hardware, and better care for current members come into play. Unfortunately, as the Canadian government struggles to keep up with the basics of defining its borders, an internal Department of National Defence report obtained by the Canadian Press warns that the nation's armed forces could be ripe for getting dinged on a largely undefended frontier: space.

From The CBC:

Satellites vital to Canadian military operations are vulnerable to cyberattack or even a direct missile strike — just one example of why the country's defence policy must extend fully into the burgeoning space frontier, an internal Defence Department note warns.

The Canadian military already heavily depends on space-based assets for basic tasks such as navigation, positioning, intelligence-gathering, surveillance and communications. Canada is also working on the next generation of satellites to assist with search-and-rescue and round-the-clock surveillance of maritime approaches to the country, including the Arctic.

Unfortunately, as the hardware and software required to compromise satellite systems has become way less expensive over the past decade, the number of state and non-state actors with access to the gear needed to smoke our space hardware has grown. Read the rest

Little Green Terracotta Army Men

Forget Little Green Army Men in Yoga Poses; they're totally 2016; the contemporary Little Green Army Man is a mashup with the terracotta warriors: they're $41 from Hobbylink Japan. (via Super Punch) Read the rest

This little known government agency is responsible for bringing the remains of missing or captured U.S. soldiers home to rest

Founded after the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office were folded into a single agency, the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency (D.P.A.A.) is an incredibly important part of the United States military. They're responsible for the locating and identification of the remains of soldiers who were deemed to be Missing in Action or who died as prisoners of war.

Sometimes, the task of identifying and repatriating remains can be conducted with immediacy. In other cases, the realities of war--that a body can be torn asunder, rendering it near unidentifiable--or discovering the remains of skeletal remains of a soldier decades after they died, can slow this process down. In such cases, forensic experts are brought in to assist in identifying the dead.

This past August, the North Korean government allowed the U.S. military to repatriate 55 coffins full of the mixed skeletal remains of American soldiers who died in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. That nothing's left of these soldiers but bones would make identifying them difficult enough. When the bones are mixed in with one another? That's a puzzle that few people are qualified to deal with. Dr. Paul Emanovsky is one of those few. He's a forensic anthropologist that's worked to bring closure to the lives of the loved ones of missing military personnel since 2002. If you're interested in a fascinating, morbid read, the New York Times recently published an interview with Dr. Emanovsky, where he talks about his work and the recovery projects that the D.P.A.A. Read the rest

Old weird war technology like parachuting pigeons and and flying sharks

Peter Taylor was doing research at the UK's Imperial War Museums when he stumbled across the story of parachuting pigeons. In 1914, the British were seeking intelligence about German troop numbers and movement in Belgium. So they parachuted homing pigeons into the region from balloons and planes. Attached to the pigeons were instructions for civilians to write down what they had seen and then to allow the birds to fly back to base. Inspired, Taylor went on to collect unusual war stories and compiled them into two books, Weird War One: Intriguing Items and Fascinating Feats from the First World War and its sequel Weird War Two: Intriguing Items and Surprising Stuff from the Second World War.

“It was a mixture of proper research—talking to curators, reading books, trawling through the archives—and suitably strange research: for example, (mis)using the museum’s database by typing in odd words for hours to see what came up (‘Socks,’ ‘Disguise,’ ‘Secret,’ ‘Insect’)," Taylor told Air & Space. "It’s hard to have a completely sensible plan for finding strange and surprising things.”

Below, an illustration of a propaganda idea involving flying machines shaped like sharks.

Read the rest

Those weird sonic attacks at U.S. embassies? Microwave weapons, experts say.

Remember the stories over the past year or so about mysterious attacks at U.S. embassies harming diplomatic staff and their families? William J. Broad's story in the New York Times today reports that doctors and scientists are now coming to the conclusion that microwave weapon strikes capable of causing “sonic delusions” and brain damage are to blame. Read the rest

Watch pilots eject at over Mach 8 on test track

Servicemembers willing to undergo dangerous test pilot duties are remarkably brave. The military is now conducting tests on different body sizes to ensure women serving as pilots get the same safety benefits. Read the rest

Could Brazil become a military dictatorship once again?

Brazil escaped the clutches of a military dictatorship three decades ago. But fascism is really hot right now, so the nation may be about to get back on its bullshit once more.

From The New York Times:

Retired generals and other former officers with strong ties to the military leadership are mounting a sweeping election campaign, backing about 90 military veterans running for an array of posts — including the presidency — in national elections this October. The effort is necessary, they argue, to rescue the nation from an entrenched leadership that has mismanaged the economy, failed to curb soaring violence and brazenly stolen billions of dollars through corruption.

And if the ballot box does not bring change quickly enough, some prominent former generals warn that military leaders may feel compelled to step in and reboot the political system by force.

For those in Brazil old enough to have lived through the last time the country was run by a bunch of violent tools in matching slacks, it’s a worrisome notion. The last time that nation was ruled by its military, 434 people "disappeared" or were killed by Brazil’s military government, not to mention the scores tortured and abused during the dictatorship’s 21-year reign.

A lot of analysts believe that the possibility of the military taking over the Brazilian government again is remote. However, given the jump to right-wing politics, authoritarian rule, kleptocracy and dictatorships that countries like Nicaragua, Poland, Turkey, the United States and the Philippines have been wallowing in of late, anything is possible – especially in light of the nation's rising violent crime rates, a 13% unemployment rate, and a growing underground economy. Read the rest

Graffiti has been a part of military life for at least 5,000 years

War is a thing of terror, traditions, heartache and often, boredom. Passing the time between patrols, and the banality that comes from life in the field, is a constant challenge. Some people read. Most exercise. Everyone complains about the food. Soldiers write, train and call home--if there's someone there that'll pick up the phone. Video games? Totally a thing, in some instances. If you have a Sharpie, or a knife, there's a good chance that you might wind up doodling, scratching or scrawling something, at one point or another, to prove that you were there, where ever ‘there’ might be.

Jonathan Bratt, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a current company commander in the National Guard, put together a great read on the history of military graffiti for The New York Times. Starting with 5,000-year old cave paintings and navigating conflicts across the span of history, Bratten touches on the artwork and vandalization that soldiers, living in Death’s shadow, undertook to cure themselves of boredom and, in some cases, serve as proof of their existence.

From the New York Times Magazine:

World War II brought U.S. troops to Europe by the millions, and this time they were accompanied by a friend: Kilroy. Kilroy was a mysterious phantom, asserting his presence in the scrawled phrase “Kilroy was here,” often accompanied by a cartoon doodle of a bald head just peeking over a wall, nose and fingers visible. And Kilroy was everywhere. Troops claimed that when they’d storm a beach or take a village, they’d somehow find that Kilroy had gotten there before them.

Read the rest

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