Life detection radar works on the Doppler principle and only detects movement

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingMost forms of radar are blocked by walls and other solid objects, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers), but there are also through-the-wall “life detection” radars:

These use ultra-wideband radio waves, which can go through solid walls as easily as air. Life detection radar works on the Doppler principle and only detects movement, in particular the movements associated with human life — breathing and heartbeats. First responders use portable units in rescue operations to detect if there are people alive in a building. It is imprecise but will give the number and approximate location of any people inside. The technology is also used by the military and police.

Dull, dirty, and dangerous

Tuesday, April 9th, 2024

Area 51 by Annie JacobsenThe development of drones become a national security priority, Annie Jacobsen explains (in Area 51), when Taiwanese “Black Cat” U-2 pilots got shot down over “Red” China:

Drones could accomplish what the U-2 could in terms of bringing home photographic intelligence, but a drone could do it without getting pilots captured or killed. Ideally, drones could perform missions that fell into three distinct categories: dull, dirty, and dangerous. Dull meant long flights during which pilots faced fatigue flying to remote areas of the globe. Dirty included situations where nuclear weapons or biological weapons might be involved. Dangerous meant missions over denied territories such as the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China, where shoot-downs were a political risk. Lockheed secured a contract to develop such an unmanned vehicle in late 1962. After Yeh Changti’s shoot-down, the program got a big boost. Flight-testing of the drone code-named Tagboard would take place at Area 51 and, ironically, getting the Lockheed drone to fly properly was among the first duties assigned to Colonel Slater after he left Taoyuan and was given a new assignment at Area 51.

“Lockheed’s D-21 wasn’t just any old drone, it was the world’s first Mach 3 stealth drone,” says Lockheed physicist Ed Lovick, who worked on the program. “The idea of this drone was a radical one because it would fly at least as fast, if not faster, than the A-12. It had a ram jet engine, which meant it was powered by forced air. The drone could only be launched off an aircraft that was already moving faster than the speed of sound.” The A-12 mother ship was designated M-21, M as in mother, and was modified to include a second seat for the drone launch operator, a flight engineer. The D-21 was the name for the drone, the D standing for daughter. But launching one aircraft from the back of another aircraft at speeds of more than 2,300 mph had its own set of challenges, beginning with how not to have the two aircraft crash into each other during launch. The recovery process of the drone also needed to be fine-tuned. Lovick explains, “The drone, designed to overfly China, would travel on its own flight path taking reconnaissance photographs and then head back out to sea.” The idea was to have the drone drop its photo package, which included the camera, the film, and the radio sensors, by parachute so it could be retrieved by a second aircraft nearby. Once the pallet was secure, the drone would crash into the sea and sink to the ocean floor.

The first test encountered some problems:

Park hit Ignite, and the drone launched up and off the M-21. But during separation, the drone pitched down instead of up and instantly split the mother aircraft in half. Miraculously, the drone hit neither Park nor Torick, who were both trapped inside.

The crippled aircraft began to tumble through the sky, falling for nearly ten thousand feet. Somehow, both men managed to eject. Alive and now outside the crashing, burning airplane, both men were safely tethered to their parachutes. Remarkably, neither of the men was hit by the burning debris falling through the air. Both men made successful water landings. But, as Slater recalls, an unforeseen tragedy occurred. “Our rescue boat located Bill Park, who was fine. But by the time the boat got to Ray Torick, he was tied up in his lanyard and had drowned.”

Kelly Johnson was devastated. “He impulsively and emotionally decided to cancel the entire program and give back the development funding to the Air Force and the Agency,” Johnson’s deputy Ben Rich recalled in his 1994 memoir about the Lockheed Skunk Works. Rich asked Johnson why. “I will not risk any more test pilots or Blackbirds. I don’t have either to spare,” Johnson said. But the Air Force did not let the Mach 3 drone program go away so quickly. They created a new program to launch the drone from underneath a B-52 bomber, which was part of Strategic Air Command. President Johnson’s deputy secretary of defense, Cyrus Vance, told Kelly Johnson, “We need this program to work because our government will never again allow a Francis Gary Powers situation develop. All our overflights over denied territory will either be with satellites or drones.”

Three years later, in 1969, the D-21 drone finally made its first reconnaissance mission, over China, launched off a B-52. The drone flew into China and over the Lop Nur nuclear facility but had then somehow strayed off course into Soviet Siberia, run out of fuel, and crashed. The suggestion was that the drone’s guidance system had failed on the way home, and it was never seen or heard from again. At least, not for more than twenty years. In the early 1990s, a CIA officer showed up in Ben Rich’s office at Skunk Works with a mysterious present for him. “Ben, do you recognize this?” the man asked Rich as he handed him a hunk of titanium. “Sure I do,” Rich said. What Ben Rich was holding in his hand was a piece of composite material loaded with the radar-absorbing coating that Lovick and his team had first developed for Lockheed four decades before. Asked where he got it, the CIA officer explained that it had been a gift to the CIA from a KGB agent in Moscow. The agent had gotten it from a shepherd in Siberia, who’d found it in the Siberian tundra while herding his sheep. According to Rich, “The Russians mistakenly believed that this generation-old panel signified our current stealth technology. It was, in a way, a very nice tribute to our work on Tagboard.”

Kelly Johnson expected planes to be pilotless soon, when he wrote his memoir in 1985.

The medication rattled as she set it on her desk

Friday, April 5th, 2024

Troubled by Rob HendersonWhen Rob Henderson got to Yale, he explains (in Troubled), he helped a female senior with some boxes:

We entered her room, and I set the boxes down. She opened the larger box and pulled out a large case of pills.

The medication rattled as she set it on her desk.

“Nice stash. Anything for sale?” I joked.

“Yeah, the Adderall is.” She didn’t appear to be joking.

I thought back to my first day in high school, and how my neighbor offered to sell me drugs. Now here I was at this fancy college, and this senior is offering to sell drugs, too. Later, I’d observe rampant drug and alcohol use on campus. This was at odds with the widespread belief, which I held at the time, that poverty was the primary reason for substance abuse.

The minimum order is a box of five

Thursday, April 4th, 2024

Just as small, agile drones are starting to look like the future of war, David Hambling notes, small agile suppliers may be the future of defense procurement:

Steel Hornets, “a private manufacturer of weapons systems for unmanned aircraft systems”, is essentially a mail-order drone bomb company sending munitions directly to users.


Steel Hornets, “a private manufacturer of weapons systems for unmanned aircraft systems”, is essentially a mail-order drone bomb company sending munitions directly to users.


Steel Hornets provide their munitions without explosive filling or detonator. This makes them safe to handle and easy to distribute via the postal service, allowing Steel Hornets to supply drone operators quickly and efficiently wherever they are.

To arm the munition, the operator fits it with a standard military MD5M or KD8A detonator, devices the size of a thumb drive available by the million. Then also pack the bomb body with plastic explosive.

A spokesman for Steel Hornets said that explosive was typically drawn from supplies for demolition work, or scavenged it from other munitions. For example, the UR-77 Meteorite demining system uses line charges filled with over 1,450 kilos / 3,200 pounds of plastic explosive to blast a path through minefields. One line charge contains enough explosives for several hundred drone bombs.

Steel Hornets are also exploring other ways for users to source explosive filler. With commercial plastic explosive costing just a few dollars a pound (the U.S Army pays $22 a pound for small demolition charges but they do not do things cheaply), it should not add much to the cost of the finished munition.


Steel Hornets produce three types of drone bomb: armor-piercing shaped charges for use against tanks and other vehicles, fragmentation weapons effective against personnel, and dual-purpose munitions which combine both functions. All three require considerable design, so munitions from Steel Hornets give a real advantage over garage-made or field-improvised alternatives.

The aerodynamics plastic bomb casings are 3D printed with fins to ensure they fall in straight. They are also well balanced so they can be carried without affecting the stable flight of the drone.

“It’s not the cheapest, but it’s a very flexible manufacturing method,” says the Steel Hornets spokesman.

It allows them to make in very small batches, and also to change the design instantly with no need for re-tooling. But the more significant element is inside.


For example Steel Hornet’s BP 75mm replacement for the standard PG-7 warhead weighs 850 grams/ 30 ounces, somewhat lighter than the original. In tests Steel Hornets’ shaped charge with a copper liner penetrated 180mm / 7 inches of steel plate. This is less than the original which can go through 260mm/ 10 inches of armor, but this is not seen as a problem.

“We are seeking a compromise between weight, size, and cost,” the Steel Hornets spokesman told Forbes. “Additionally, we are making the shaped charge jet thicker, which often results in more confident penetration, albeit slightly reducing the penetration thickness.”


The miniature tank busters are a bargain at $14 a time. As with other Steel Hornets products the minimum order is a box of five. This gives an idea of how different they are to traditional arms companies dealing in orders of thousands.

The enemy would only ever see expendable unmanned drones, loitering overhead permanently and holding everything underneath at risk of instant, laser-guided destruction

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingA laser illuminator, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers), is not a laser designator:

The Raven’s most conspicuous battlefield shortcoming is the lack of a laser designator to highlight targets for Hellfire missiles and other guided munitions. It has a laser illuminator so it can “sparkle” targets, highlighting them for helicopter gunners or others to aim at, but it cannot “lase” a target to guide a missile to the aim point.


Laser designators are large because they have to put out a beam powerful enough for the laser seeker on an incoming missile to lock on to.


Back in the early 2000s, the US Army’s “portable” laser designator weighed almost forty pounds. The latest version is below ten pounds.


Previously laser guidance was confined to bigger and more expensive weapons like the Hellfire and 500-pound bombs. These days, there are small, cheaper laser seeker heads. Not only are there laser-guided artillery rounds and rockets a quarter the size of Hellfire, but even mortars can fire laser-guided bombs. The mortar might have a range of ten miles, but still needs someone within eyeball range of the target to light it up with the designator. If artillery spotters could do this with a small drone, they would be able to direct precise fire to anywhere.


Standard, unpowered laser-guided bombs can hit targets fifteen miles away if the plane dropping them has enough speed and height. More advanced gliding bombs, like the recent SDB II, have a range of up to forty miles and almost qualify as drones in their own right.

Air strikes can be carried out by simple “bomb trucks” like transport aircraft which have no need for high speed and maneuverability to avoid anti-aircraft defenses. The enemy would only ever see expendable unmanned drones, loitering overhead permanently and holding everything underneath at risk of instant, laser-guided destruction.

The Black Cats flew the deadliest missions in the U-2’s 55-year history

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

Area 51 by Annie JacobsenPreparing for “Oxcart” missions — that is, preparing to fly the CIA’s A-12, precursor to the Air Force’s SR-71, over enemy territory — involved punishing survival-training operations, Annie Jacobsen explains, in her book about Area 51:

“I crawled slowly through the brambles, bugs, and mud for about thirty minutes when, suddenly, I hit a trip wire and alarms went off. A glaring spotlight came on and ten Chinese men in uniform grabbed me and dragged me to one of their jeeps.” Collins was handcuffed, driven for a while, put into a second vehicle, and taken to so-called Chinese interrogation headquarters. There, he was stripped naked and searched. “A doctor proceeded to examine every orifice the human body has, from top to bottom—literally,” which, Collins believes, “was more to humiliate and break down my moral defenses than anything else.” Naked, he was led down a dimly lit hallway and pushed into a concrete cell furnished with a short, thin bed made of wood planks. “I had no blanket, I was naked, and it was very cold. They gave me a bucket to be used only when I was told.”

For days, Collins went through simulated torture that included sleep deprivation, humiliation, extreme temperature fluctuation, and hunger, all the while naked, cold, and under surveillance by his captors. “The cell had one thick wooded door with a hole for viewing. This opening had a metal window that would clank open and shut. A single bright light was on and when I was about to doze off, the light would flash off, which would immediately snap me out of sleep.” For food, he was given watery soup, two thin pepper pods, and two bits of mysterious meat. “I had no water to drink and I was always watched. I didn’t know day from night so there was no sense of time. The temperature varied from hot to very cold. The voice through the viewing window shouted demands.”

Soon Collins began to hallucinate. Now it was interrogation time. Naked, he was led to a small room by two armed guards. He stood in front of his Chinese interrogators, who sat behind a small desk. They grilled him about his name, rank, and why he was spying on China. The torturous routine continued for what Collins guessed was several more days. Then one day, instead of being taken to his interrogators, he was told that he was free to go.

Halfway across the world, the Chinese interrogators were real:

A CIA pilot named Yeh Changti had been flying a U-2 spy mission over a nuclear facility in China when he was shot down, captured by the Chinese Communist government, and tortured. Yeh Changti was a member of the Thirty-Fifth Black Cat U-2 Squadron, a group of Taiwanese Chinese Nationalist pilots (as opposed to the Communist Chinese, who inhabited the mainland) who worked covert espionage missions for the CIA. In the 1960s, the Black Cats flew what would prove to be the deadliest missions in the U-2’s fifty-five-year history, all of which were flown out of a secret base called Taoyuan on the island of Taiwan. When the CIA declassified most of the U-2 program, in 1998, “no information was released about Yeh Changti or the Black Cats,” says former Black Cat pilot Hsichun Hua. The program, in entirety, remains classified as of 2011.

Colonel Hugh “Slip” Slater, the man who would later become the commander of Area 51, remembers Yeh Changti before he got shot down. “His code name was Terry Lee and he and I played tennis on the base at Taoyuan all the time. He was a great guy and an amazing acrobat, which helped him on the court. Sometimes we drank scotch while we played. Both the sport and the scotch helped morale.” Slater says that the reason morale was low was that “the U-2 had become so vulnerable to the SA-2 missiles that nobody wanted to fly.” One Black Cat pilot had already been shot down. But that didn’t stop the dangerous missions from going forward for the CIA.

Unlike what had happened with the Gary Powers shoot-down, the American press remained in the dark about these missions. For the CIA, getting hard intelligence on China’s nuclear facilities was a top national security priority. On the day Yeh Changti was shot down, he was returning home from a nine-hour mission over the mainland when a surface-to-air missile guidance system locked on to his U-2. Colonel Slater was on the radio with Yeh Changti when it happened. “I was talking to him when I heard him say, ‘System 12 on!’ We never heard another word.” The missile hit Yeh Changti’s aircraft and tore off the right wing. Yeh Changti ejected from the airplane, his body riddled in fifty-nine places with missile fragments. He landed safely with his parachute and passed out. When he woke up, he was in a military facility run by Mao Tse-tung.

This was no training exercise. Yeh Changti was tortured and held prisoner for nineteen years until he was quietly released by his captors, in 1982. He has been living outside Houston, Texas, ever since. The CIA did not know that Yeh Changti had survived his bailout and apparently did not make any kind of effort to locate him. A second Black Cat pilot named Major Jack Chang would also get shot down in a U-2, in 1965, and was imprisoned alongside Yeh Changti. After their release, the two pilots shared their arduous stories with fellow Black Cat pilot, Hsichun Hua, who had become a general in the Taiwanese air force while the men were in captivity. Neither Yeh Changti nor Major Jack Chang was ever given a medal by the CIA. The shoot-down of the Black Cat U-2 pilots, however, had a major impact on what the CIA and the Air Force would do next at Area 51. Suddenly, the development of drones had become a national security priority, drones being pilotless aircraft that could be flown by remote control.

States are never more vulnerable than when they attempt to reform themselves

Sunday, March 31st, 2024

Napoleon by Andrew Roberts Alexis de Tocqueville would write that states are never more vulnerable than when they attempt to reform themselves, Andrew Roberts notes (in Napoleon: A Life), and that was certainly true of France in the autumn of 1795:

It was in the ‘Sections’, forty-eight districts of Paris established in 1790 which controlled local assemblies and the local National Guard units, that the insurrection was focused. Although only seven Sections actually rose in revolt, National Guardsmen from others joined in.


The Sections included middle-class National Guardsmen, royalists, some moderates and liberals, and ordinary Parisians who opposed the government for its corruption and domestic and international failures. The very disparate nature of the rebellion’s political make-up made any central co-ordination impossible beyond establishing a date for action, which couldn’t be kept secret from the government.


On the evening of Sunday, October 4, Napoleon was at the Feydeau Theatre watching Saurin’s play Beverley when he heard that the Sections intended to rise the following day. Very early the next morning — 13 Vendémiaire by the revolutionary calendar — Barras appointed him second-in-command of the Army of the Interior, and ordered him to use all means necessary to crush the revolt. Napoleon had impressed the most important decision-makers in his life — among them Kéralio, the du Teil brothers, Saliceti, Doppet, Dugommier, Augustin Robespierre and now Barras, who had heard of him from Saliceti after the victory at Toulon.


(He later recalled with amusement that the politician who had had least qualms about the spilling of blood at Vendémiaire had been the priest and political theorist Abbé Emmanuel Sieyès.)


From Napoleon’s reactions to the two Tuileries attacks he had witnessed in 1792, there was no doubt what he would do.

This was Napoleon’s first introduction to frontline, high-level national politics, and he found it intoxicating. He ordered Captain Joachim Murat of the 21st Chasseurs à Cheval to gallop to the Sablons military camp two miles away with one hundred cavalrymen, secure the cannon there and bring them into central Paris, and to sabre anyone who tried to prevent him. The Sections had missed a great opportunity as the Sablons cannon were at that point guarded by only fifty men.


He then spent three hours visiting each of his guns in turn. ‘Good and upstanding people must be persuaded by gentle means,’ Napoleon would later write. ‘The rabble must be moved by terror.’

Napoleon prepared to use grapeshot, the colloquial term for canister or case shot, which consists of hundreds of musket balls packed into a metal case that rips open as soon as it leaves the cannon’s muzzle, sending the lead balls flying in a relatively wide arc at an even greater velocity than the 1,760 feet per second of a musket shot. Its maximum range was roughly 600 yards, optimum 250.


‘If you treat the mob with kindness,’ he told Joseph later, ‘these creatures fancy themselves invulnerable; if you hang a few, they get tired of the game, and become as submissive and humble as they ought to be.’

Napoleon’s force consisted of 4,500 troops and about 1,500 ‘patriots’, gendarmes and veterans from Les Invalides. Opposing them was a disparate force of up to 30,000 men from the Sections, nominally under the control of General Dancian, who wasted much of the day trying to conduct negotiations. Only at 4 p.m. did the rebel columns start issuing from side streets to the north of the Tuileries. Napoleon did not open fire immediately, but as soon as the first musket shots were heard from the Sections sometime between 4.15 p.m. and 4.45 p.m. he unleashed a devastating artillery response. He also fired grapeshot at the men of the Sections attempting to cross the bridges over the Seine, who took heavy casualties and quickly fled. In most parts of Paris the attack was all over by 6 p.m., but at the church of Saint-Roch in the rue Saint-Honoré, which became the de facto headquarters of the insurrection and where the wounded were brought, snipers carried on firing from rooftops and from behind barricades. The fighting continued for many hours, until Napoleon brought his cannon to within 60 yards of the church and surrender was the only option. Around three hundred insurrectionists were killed that day, against only half a dozen of Napoleon’s men. Magnanimously by the standards of the day, the Convention executed only two Section leaders afterwards. ‘The whiff of grapeshot’ — as it became known — meant that the Paris mob played no further part in French politics for the next three decades.


Before the end of Vendémiaire, Napoleon had been promoted to général de division by Barras and soon afterwards to commander of the Army of the Interior in recognition of his service in saving the Republic and possibly preventing civil war. It was ironic that he had refused the Vendée post partly because he hadn’t wanted to kill Frenchmen, and then gained his most vertiginous promotion by doing just that. But to his mind there was a difference between a legitimate fighting force and a rabble.

For a while afterwards Napoleon was sometimes called ‘General Vendémiaire’, though not to his face. Far from being uneasy about his involvement in the deaths of so many of his compatriots, he ordered the anniversary to be celebrated once he became First Consul, and when a lady asked him how he could have fired so mercilessly on the mob he replied: ‘A soldier is only a machine to obey orders.’ He did not point out that it was he who had given the orders.

The ‘whiff of grapeshot’ advanced the Bonaparte family hugely, and overnight. Napoleon would now be paid 48,000 francs per annum, Joseph was given a job in the diplomatic service, Louis advanced through the Châlons artillery school and later became one of Napoleon’s burgeoning team of aides-de-camp, while the youngest of the Bonaparte boys, the eleven-year-old Jérôme, was sent to a better school.

There are already several drones that can hook up to power lines and recharge

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingBattery-powered drones have limited range, David Hambling notes (in Swarm Troopers), but perching on power lines opens up the possibility of recharging by stealing electricity:

There are already several drones that can hook up to power lines line and recharge. Design Research Associates has developed such a system for small drones and a spin-off known as the “Bat Hook” for Special Forces. This really does look like something Batman would use – a small, sharpened boomerang with a line attached. Toss it over a power line and the sharp edge cuts through insulation. A device on the end of the line converts the high-voltage alternating supply into a regulated direct current for charging electronics. The Bat Hook can be popped off the line so it can be removed and reused.

The chances of anyone looking for it there are slim

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

I read and enjoyed Annie Jacobsen’s Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins, so I was paying attention when she announced her new book, Nuclear War: A Scenario, and I caught this interview, which actually meanders through all of her related books:

She mentions that most of her first book, Area 51, got much less attention than a small section on UFOs. Most of the book is a well researched summary of what we know about classified programs like the U-2, its successor the A-12, better known in its later Air Force configuration, the SR-71, and the F-117, and that small section on UFOs has to rely on much sketchier evidence:

Of the seventy-four individuals interviewed for this book with rare firsthand knowledge of the secret base, thirty-two of them lived and worked at Area 51.

Area 51 is the nation’s most secret domestic military facility. It is located in the high desert of southern Nevada, seventy-five miles north of Las Vegas. Its facilities have been constructed over the past sixty years around a flat, dry lake bed called Groom Lake. The U.S. government has never admitted it exists.

Key to understanding Area 51 is knowing that it sits inside the largest government-controlled land parcel in the United States, the Nevada Test and Training Range. Encompassing 4,687 square miles, this area is just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut—three times the size of Rhode Island, and more than twice as big as Delaware. Set inside this enormous expanse is a smaller parcel of land, 1,350 square miles, called the Nevada Test Site, the only facility like it in the continental United States.


Two early projects at Groom Lake have been declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency: the U-2 spy plane, declassified in 1998, and the A-12 Oxcart spy plane, declassified in 2007. And yet in thousands of pages of declassified memos and reports, the name Area 51 is always redacted, or blacked out. There are only two known exceptions, most likely mistakes.


According to most members of the black world who are familiar with the history of Area 51, the base opened its doors in 1955 after two CIA officers, Richard Bissell and Herbert Miller, chose the place to be the test facility for the Agency’s first spy plane, the U-2. Part of Area 51’s secret history is that the so-called Area 51 zone had been in existence for four years by the time the CIA identified it as a perfect clandestine test facility. Never before disclosed is the fact that Area 51’s first customer was not the CIA but the Atomic Energy Commission. Beginning in 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission used its parallel system of secret-keeping to conduct radical and controversial research, development, and engineering not just on aircraft but also on pilot-related projects—entirely without oversight or ethical controls.

That the Atomic Energy Commission was not an agency that characteristically had any manner of jurisdiction over aircraft and pilot projects (their business was nuclear bombs and atomic energy) speaks to the shadowy, shell-game aspect of black-world operations at Area 51. If you move a clandestine, highly controversial project into a classified agency that does not logically have anything to do with such a program, the chances of anyone looking for it there are slim.

Jacobsen contends that Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 fake-newscast adaptation of The War of the Worlds profoundly influenced authorities in the US and around the world:

“Thousands of persons believed a real invasion had been unleashed. They exhibited all the symptoms of fear, panic, determination to resist, desperation, bravery, excitement or fatalism that real war would have produced,” which in turn “shows the government will have to insist on the close co-operation of radio in any future war.” What these military men were not saying was that there was serious concern among strategists and policy makers that entire segments of the population could be so easily manipulated into thinking that something false was something true. Americans had taken very real, physical actions based on something entirely made up.


America was not the only place where government officials were impressed by how easily people could be influenced by a radio broadcast. Adolf Hitler took note as well. He referred to the Americans’ hysterical reaction to the War of the Worlds broadcast in a Berlin speech, calling it “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.” It was later revealed that in the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had also been paying attention. And President Roosevelt’s top science adviser, Vannevar Bush, observed the effects of the fictional radio broadcast with a discerning eye. The public’s tendency to panic alarmed him, he would later tell W. Cameron Forbes, his colleague at the Carnegie Institution.

This leads us to Roswell, New Mexico:

During the first week of July 1947, U.S. Signal Corps engineers began tracking two objects with remarkable flying capabilities moving across the southwestern United States. What made the aircraft extraordinary was that, although they flew in a traditional, forward-moving motion, the craft—whatever they were—began to hover sporadically before continuing to fly on. This kind of technology was beyond any aerodynamic capabilities the U.S. Air Force had in development in the summer of 1947. When multiple sources began reporting the same data, it became clear that the radar wasn’t showing phantom returns, or electronic ghosts, but something real. Kirtland Army Air Force Base, just north of the White Sands Proving Ground, tracked the flying craft into its near vicinity. The commanding officer there ordered a decorated World War II pilot named Kenny Chandler into a fighter jet to locate and chase the unidentified flying craft. This fact has never before been disclosed.

Chandler never visually spotted what he’d been sent to look for. But within hours of Chandler’s sweep of the skies, one of the flying objects crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Immediately, the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or JCS, took command and control and recovered the airframe and some propulsion equipment, including the crashed craft’s power plant, or energy source. The recovered craft looked nothing like a conventional aircraft. The vehicle had no tail and it had no wings. The fuselage was round, and there was a dome mounted on the top. In secret Army intelligence memos declassified in 1994, it would be referred to as a “flying disc.” Most alarming was a fact kept secret until now—inside the disc, there was a very earthly hallmark: Russian writing. Block letters from the Cyrillic alphabet had been stamped, or embossed, in a ring running around the inside of the craft.

In a critical moment, the American military had its worst fears realized. The Russian army must have gotten its hands on German aerospace engineers more capable than Ernst Steinhoff and Wernher Von Braun—engineers who must have developed this flying craft years before for the German air force, or Luftwaffe.

This would be a much more reasonable hypothesis, if the cutting-edge craft had crashed near Soviet-controlled territory. All of this is sourced from “Interview with EG&G engineer.” EG&G was a defense contractor out of MIT that had worked on the Manhattan Project.

The first thing they did was initiate the withdrawal of the original Roswell Army Air Field press release, the one that stated that a “flying disc… landed on a ranch near Roswell,” and then they replaced it with the second press release, the one that said that a weather balloon had crashed—nothing more.


The first order of business was to determine where the technology had come from. The Joint Chiefs of Staff tasked an elite group working under the direct orders of G-2 Army intelligence to initiate a top secret project called Operation Harass. Based on the testimony of America’s Paperclip scientists, Army intelligence officers believed that the flying disc was the brainchild of two former Third Reich airplane engineers, named Walter and Reimar Horten—now working for the Russian military. Orders were drawn up. The manhunt was on.


The brothers were the inventors of several of Hitler’s flying-wing aircraft, including one called the Horten 229 or Horten IX, a wing-shaped, tailless airplane that had been developed at a secret facility in Baden-Baden during the war. From the Paperclip scientists at Wright Field, the Army intelligence investigators learned that Hitler was rumored to have been developing a faster-flying aircraft that had been designed by the brothers and was shaped like a saucer. Maybe, the Paperclips said, there had been a later-model Horten in the works before Germany surrendered, meaning that even if Stalin didn’t have the Horten brothers themselves, he could very likely have gotten control of their blueprints and plans.


A records group of more than three hundred pages of Army intelligence documents reveals many of the details of Operation Harass. They were declassified in 1994, after a researcher named Timothy Cooper filed a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. One memo, called “Air Intelligence Guide for Alleged ‘Flying Saucer’ Type Aircraft,” detailed for CIC officers the parameters of the flying saucer technology the military was looking for, features which were evidenced in the craft that crashed at Roswell.

Extreme maneuverability and apparent ability to almost hover; A plan form approximating that of an oval or disc with dome shape on the surface; The ability to quickly disappear by high speed or by complete disintegration; The ability to group together very quickly in a tight formation when more than one aircraft are together; Evasive motion ability indicating possibility of being manually operated, or possibly, by electronic or remote control.


A former Messerschmitt test pilot named Fritz Wendel offered up some firsthand testimony that seemed real. The Horten brothers had indeed been working on a flying saucer–like craft in Heiligenbeil, East Prussia, right after the war, Wendel said. The airplane was ten meters long and shaped like a half-moon. It had no tail. The prototype was designed to be flown by one man lying down flat on his stomach. It reached a ceiling of twelve thousand feet. Wendel drew diagrams of this saucerlike aircraft, as did a second German informant named Professor George, who described a later-model Horten as being “very much like a round cake with a large sector cut out” and that had been developed to carry more than one crew member. The later-model Horten could travel higher and faster—up to 1,200 mph—because it was propelled by rockets rather than jet engines. Its cabin was allegedly pressurized for high-altitude flights.

Horten H.IX V2 before a test flight


The next batch of solid information came from a rocket engineer named Walter Ziegler. During the war, Ziegler had worked at the car manufacturer Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW, which served as a front for advanced rocket-science research. There, Ziegler had been on a team tasked with developing advanced fighter jets powered by rockets. Ziegler relayed a chilling tale that gave investigators an important clue. One night, about a year after the war, in September of 1946, four hundred men from his former rocket group at BMW had been invited by Russian military officers to a fancy dinner. The rocket scientists were wined and dined and, after a few hours, taken home. Most were drunk. Several hours later, all four hundred of the men were woken up in the middle of the night by their Russian hosts and told they were going to be taking a trip. Why Ziegler wasn’t among them was not made clear. The Germans were told to bring their wives, their children, and whatever else they needed for a long trip. Mistresses and livestock were also fine. This was not a situation to which you could say no, Ziegler explained. The scientists and their families were transported by rail to a small town outside Moscow where they had remained ever since, forced to work on secret military projects in terrible conditions.


And then, six months into the investigation, on March 12, 1948, along came abrupt news. The Horten brothers had been found. In a memo to the European command of the 970th CIC, Major Earl S. Browning Jr. explained. “The Horten Brothers have been located and interrogated by American Agencies,” Browning said. The Russians had likely found the blueprints of the flying wing after all. “It is Walter Horten’s opinion that the blueprints of the Horten IX may have been found by Russian troops at the Gotha Railroad Car Factory,” the memo read. But a second memo, entitled “Extracts on Horten, Walter,” explained a little more. Former Messerschmitt test pilot Fritz Wendel’s information about the Horten brothers’ wingless, tailless, saucerlike craft that had room for more than one crew member was confirmed. “Walter Horten’s opinion is that sufficient German types of flying wings existed in the developing or designing stages when the Russians occupied Germany, and these types may have enabled the Russians to produce the flying saucer.”

The Soviets never went on to develop a flying wing, but another superpower did.

Jacobsen summarizes the Roswell incident near the end of her book:

The flying craft that crashed in New Mexico, the myth of which has come to be known as the Roswell Incident, happened in 1947, sixty-four years before the publication of this book. Everyone directly involved in that incident—who acted on behalf of the government—is apparently dead. Like it does about Area 51, the U.S. government refuses to admit the Roswell crash ever happened, but it did—according to the seminal testimony of one man interviewed over the course of eighteen months for this book. He participated in the engineering project that came about as a result of the Roswell Incident. He was one of the elite engineers from EG&G who were tasked with the original Area 51 wicked engineering problem.

In July of 1947, Army intelligence spearheaded the efforts to retrieve the remains of the flying disc that crashed at Roswell. And as with other stories that have become the legends of Area 51, part of the conspiracy theory about Roswell has its origins in truth. The crash did reveal a disc, not a weather balloon, as has subsequently been alleged by the Air Force. And responders from the Roswell Army Air Field found not only a crashed craft, but also two crash sites, and they found bodies alongside the crashed craft. These were not aliens. Nor were they consenting airmen. They were human guinea pigs. Unusually petite for pilots, they appeared to be children. Each was under five feet tall. Physically, the bodies of the aviators revealed anatomical conundrums. They were grotesquely deformed, but each in the same manner as the others. They had unusually large heads and abnormally shaped oversize eyes. One fact was clear: these children, if that’s what they were, were not healthy humans. A second fact was shocking. Two of the child-size aviators were comatose but still alive.

Everything related to the crash site was sent to Wright Field, later called Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio, where it all remained until 1951. That is when the evidence was packed up and transported to the Nevada Test Site. It was received, physically, by the elite group of EG&G engineers. The Atomic Energy Commission, not the Air Force and not the Central Intelligence Agency, was put in charge of the Roswell crash remains. According to its unusual charter, the Atomic Energy Commission was the organization best equipped to handle a secret that could never be declassified. The Atomic Energy Commission needed engineers they could trust to handle the work that was about to begin. For this, they looked to the most powerful defense contractor in the nation that no one had ever heard of—EG&G.

The engineers with EG&G were chosen to receive the crash remains and to set up a secret facility just outside the boundary of the Nevada Test Site, sixteen miles to the northwest of Groom Lake, approximately five and a half miles north of the northernmost point where Area 12 and Area 15 meet. A facility this remote would never be visited by anyone outside a small group with a strict need-to-know and would never have to be accounted for or appear on any official Nevada Test Site map. These five men were told there was more engineering work to be done, and that they would be the only five individuals with a set of keys to the facility. The project, the men were told, was the most clandestine, most important engineering program since the Manhattan Project, which was why the man who had been in charge of that one would function as the director of this project as well.

Vannevar Bush had been President Roosevelt’s most trusted science adviser during World War II. He held engineering doctorates from both Harvard University and MIT, in addition to being the former vice president and former dean of engineering at MIT. The decisions Vannevar Bush made were ostensibly for the good of the nation; they were sound. The men from EG&G were told that the project they were about to work on was so important that it would remain black forever, meaning it would never see the light of day. The men knew that a secrecy classification inside the Atomic Energy Commission charter made this possible, because they all worked on classified engineering projects that were hidden from the rest of the world. They understood born classified meant that no one would ever have a need-to-know what Vannevar Bush was going to ask them to do. The operation would have no name, only a letter-number designation: S-4, or Sigma-Four.


There was the crashed craft that had been sent by Stalin—with its Russian writing stamped, or embossed, in a ring around the inside of the craft. So far, the EG&G engineers were told, no one working on the project when it had been headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had been able to discern what made Stalin’s craft hover and fly. Not even the German Paperclip scientists who had been assigned to assist. So the crashed craft was job number one. Reverse engineer it, Vannevar Bush said. Take it apart and put it back together again. Figure out what made it fly.

But there was the second engineering problem to solve, the one involving the child-size aviators. To understand this, the men were briefed on what it was they were dealing with. They had to be. They were told that they, and they alone, had a need-to-know about what had happened to these humans before they were put in the craft and sent aloft. They were told that seeing the bodies would be a shocking and disturbing experience. Because two of the aviators were comatose but still alive, the men would have to transfer them into a Jell-O-like substance and stand them upright in two tubular tanks, attached to a life-support system. Sometimes, their mouths opened, and this gave the appearance of their trying to speak. Remember, the engineers were told, these humans are in a comatose state. They are unconscious; their bodies would never spark back to life.

Once, the children had been healthy humans. Not anymore. They were about thirteen years old. Questions abounded. What made their heads so big? Had their bodies been surgically manipulated to appear inhuman, or did the children have genetic deformities? And what about their haunting, oversize eyes? The engineers were told that the children were rumored to have been kidnapped by Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi madman who, at Auschwitz and elsewhere, was known to have performed unspeakable experimental surgical procedures mostly on children, dwarfs, and twins. The engineers learned that just before the war ended, Josef Mengele made a deal with Stalin. Stalin offered Mengele an opportunity to continue his work in eugenics—the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase desirable, heritable characteristics—in secret, in the Soviet Union after the war. The engineers were told that this deal likely occurred just before the war’s end, in the winter of 1945, when it was clear to many members of the Nazi Party, including Mengele, that Nazi Germany would lose the war and that its top commanders and doctors would be tried and hanged for war crimes.


Mengele’s victims included Jewish children, Gypsy children, and people with severe physical deformities. He removed parts of children’s craniums and replaced them with bones from larger, adult skulls. He removed and transplanted eyeballs, and injected people with chemicals that caused them to lose their hair. On Mengele’s instruction, an Auschwitz inmate, a painter named Dina Babbitt, made comparative drawings of the shapes of heads, noses, mouths, and ears of people before and after the grotesque surgeries Mengele performed. Another inmate doctor forced to work for Mengele, named Dr. Martina Puzyna, recounted how Mengele had her keep detailed measurements of the shapes and sizes of children’s body parts, casting those of crippled children—particularly their hands and heads—in plaster molds. When Mengele left Auschwitz, on January 17, 1945, he took the documentation of his medical experiments with him. According to his only son, Rolf, Mengele was still in possession of his medical research documents after the war.

The EG&G engineers were told that part of Joseph Stalin’s offer to Josef Mengele stated that if he could create a crew of grotesque, child-size aviators for Stalin, he would be given a laboratory in which to continue his work. According to what the engineers were told, Mengele held up his side of the Faustian bargain and provided Stalin with the child-size crew. Joseph Stalin did not. Mengele never took up residence in the Soviet Union. Instead, he lived for four years in Germany under an assumed name and then escaped to South America, where he lived, first in Argentina and then in Paraguay, until his death in 1979.

When Joseph Stalin sent the biologically and/or surgically reengineered children in the craft over New Mexico hoping it would land there, the engineers were told, Stalin’s plan was for the children to climb out and be mistaken for visitors from Mars. Panic would ensue, just like it did after the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. America’s early-warning radar system would be overwhelmed with sightings of other “UFOs.” Truman would see how easily a totalitarian dictator could control the masses using black propaganda. Stalin may have been behind the United States in atomic bomb technology, but when it came to manipulating the people’s perception, Stalin was the leader with the upper hand. This, says the engineer, is what he and the others in the group were told.

For months I asked the engineer why President Truman didn’t use the remains from the Roswell crash to show the world what an evil, abhorrent man Joseph Stalin was. I guessed that maybe Truman didn’t want to admit the breach of U.S. borders. For a long time, I never got an answer, just a shaking of the head. Here was the engineer who had the answer to the riddle inside the riddle that is Area 51, but he was unwilling to say more. He is the only one of the original elite group of EG&G engineers who is still alive. He said he wouldn’t tell me more, no matter how many times I asked. One day, I asked again. “Why didn’t President Truman reveal the truth in 1947?” This time he answered.

“Because we were doing the same thing,” he said. “They wanted to push science. They wanted to see how far they could go.”

Again, the small sections on UFOs are wildly different from the rest of the book.

In a recent interview with Lex Fridman, 13 years after the book came out, she doesn’t quite walk back her claims about the Roswell flying saucer being a Soviet hoax, but she reveals who that anonymous source was to explain why he was so credible. It was Al O’Donnell, the technical expert who had wired most of the atomic bombs used in atmospheric tests, right after World War 2, while that was still allowed.

The Topographical Bureau was a small, highly efficient organization within the war ministry

Sunday, March 24th, 2024

Napoleon by Andrew RobertsIn August, 1795, Andrew Roberts explains (in Napoleon: A Life), Napoleon got himself attached to the Topographical Department of the Committee of Public Safety for the direction of armies:

The Topographical Bureau was a small, highly efficient organization within the war ministry that has been described as ‘the most sophisticated planning organisation of its day’. Set up by Carnot and reporting directly to the Committee, it took information from the commanders-in-chief, plotted troop movements, prepared detailed operational directives and co-ordinated logistics. Under Clarke, the senior staff included Generals Jean-Girard Lacuée, César-Gabriel Berthier and Pierre-Victor Houdon, all talented and dedicated strategists. Napoleon could hardly have been better placed to learn all the necessary strands of supply, support and logistics that make up strategy (although the word entered the military lexicon only in the early nineteenth century and was not one Napoleon ever used).


The Topographical Bureau was also the best place to make his own estimations of which generals were worthwhile and which expendable.


The Topographical Bureau’s curious office hours — from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. — allowed Napoleon plenty of time to write a romantic novella entitled Clisson et Eugénie, a swansong for his unrequited love affair with Désirée. Employing the short, terse sentences of the heroic tradition, it was either consciously or unconsciously influenced by Goethe’s celebrated novel of 1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which Napoleon read no fewer than six times during the Egyptian campaign, and probably first when he was eighteen.

The Pentagon does not have the budget to create anything as slick and sophisticated as the latest smartphone

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingThe smartphone industry’s research budget was around $150 billion in 2014, David Hambling notes (in Swarm Troopers), dwarfing the Pentagon’s entire R&D spend of around $60 billion:

In aviation, the Pentagon is the biggest player in the game; only a handful of other countries can afford to develop fourth and fifth-generation combat aircraft like the F-22. But when it comes to small electronics, the Pentagon does not have the budget to create anything as slick and sophisticated as the latest smartphone.

The other 28 M-1s keep fighting

Tuesday, March 19th, 2024

David Axe explains how the Russians are taking out Ukraine’s M-1 Abrams tanks:

The 47th [Brigade] lost its first M-1 on or before Feb. 26, when a Russian first-person-view drone struck the tank’s ammunition compartment and sparked a fire that ultimately destroyed it. It’s possible the blast door that normally would prevent flames from entering the compartment—and cooking off the 120-millimeter main gun ammo—was open at the time of the strike, but it’s hard to say for sure.

The second Abrams got knocked out on or before March 3—this time reportedly by a Kornet laser-guided anti-tank missile that hit the relatively thinly-protected side of the tank’s hull and passed right through the attached M-19 explosive reactive armor. Kornets have tandem warheads: the first charge clears the armor; the second explodes inside the tank.

A second missile struck the turret, followed by an FPV drone, but it was the first missile—and the blaze resulting from its impact—that did in the 69-ton M-1.

The third confirmed Abrams loss, a week after the second, apparently also resulted from an anti-tank missile strike, which sparked a fire that cooked off the main gun rounds in the ammo compartment. The blast doors and the compartment’s exterior blowout panel must have failed.

A laser-detection system may have saved the two Abrams that fell victim to Kornets or similar missiles. But it wouldn’t have prevented the other loss. Nor would it prevent what’s almost certain to happen in the coming weeks and months as the war grinds on and the other 28 M-1s keep fighting: losses to mines, artillery and possibly even other tanks.

The maritime aspect of grand strategy was always one of Napoleon’s weaknesses

Sunday, March 17th, 2024

Napoleon by Andrew RobertsOn March 3, 1795, Andrew Roberts explains (in Napoleon: A Life), Napoleon set sail from Marseilles with 15 ships, 1,174 guns and 16,900 men to recapture Corsica from Paoli and the British:

His expedition was soon scattered by a British squadron of fifteen ships with fewer guns and half the number of men. Two French ships were captured. Napoleon wasn’t held responsible for the reverse, but neither did this quintessential landlubber learn the lessons of attempting to put to sea against a similarly sized but far more skilfully deployed force of the Royal Navy. Between 1793 and 1797, the French would lose 125 warships to Britain’s 38, including 35 capital vessels (ships-of-the-line) to Britain’s 11, most of the latter the result of fire, accidents and storms rather than French attack. The maritime aspect of grand strategy was always one of Napoleon’s weaknesses: in all his long list of victories, none was at sea.

The cost of each new generation of military aircraft rises exponentially.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2024

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingIn 1984, Norman Augustine, former Under Secretary of the Army, and CEO of aerospace company Martin Marietta, published a set of “laws” about military procurement, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers):

His most celebrated pearl of wisdom is Augustine’s Law 16, which says that the cost of each new generation of military aircraft rises exponentially.


Although intended facetiously, Augustine’s Law 16 has been remarkably accurate. The North American P-51 Mustang was one of the most important US fighters of WWII. Over fifteen thousand were built, at a cost of around $50,000 each in 1945 dollars ($655,000 in 2014). It was succeeded in the 1950s by the jet-powered F-100 Super Sabre at a cost of $700,000 ($6 million in 2014), ten times as expensive in real terms. The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, which first flew in 1960, broke the million-dollar barrier, costing $2.4 million apiece in 1965 ($18 million in 2014), tripling the cost of its predecessor. Even allowing for inflation, the upwards curve is steep.


The USAF’s new F-15 Eagle, also from McDonnell Douglas, was set to replace the F-4. The Eagle was a superb aircraft, but it had reached a new high, costing in excess of $20 million ($45 million in 2014), almost tripling again the cost of its predecessor.


Extensive flying exercises found that the big twin-engine F-15 was only slightly superior to the small, cheap fighters fielded by the Russians in a dogfight. If it came to a war, the small band of F-15s would be overwhelmed by swarms of Russian MiGs. Certainly, the F-15s would be able to knock out plenty of the Russians at long range, but when the survivors closed with them, the contest would be bloody and one-sided.

The Air Force decided to go for a “high-low” mix, supplementing the elite F-15s with a large number of cheaper aircraft known as lightweight fighters. The aircraft selected for the lightweight fighter role was the single-engine F-16 Fighting Falcon, two-thirds the size of the F-15. It was to be the embodiment of a concept by fighter guru John Boyd for an austere aircraft with extreme agility that could beat anything in a dogfight. Being less complex, it would be so cheap it could be acquired in vast numbers. The F-15 with its powerful radar was the champion at long-range combat; the agile F-16 was to be the champion in the “furball” of dogfighting.

During the development process, the purity of the F-16 was slowly corrupted. It became heavier, less agile, and more expensive as more and more capabilities were added.


At $15 million in 1998 dollars ($22 million in 2014), the F-16 was cheaper than the F-15, but more expensive than anything in the previous generation, including the big F-4.


The US Navy went through a parallel experience. They also replaced the F-4 Phantom, and chose the F-14 Tomcat, a $ 38 million (1998 dollars, $ 55 million in 2014) carrier-based fighter. Like the F-15 it had a big radar and impressive long-range capabilities.

Again the F-14 was too pricey to acquire in large quantities, and the Navy took up the idea of bolstering numbers with a smaller, cheaper aircraft. They chose the F-18 Hornet, originally a failed competitor in the Air Force’s lightweight fighter competition. The F-18s costs grew from a planned $5 million to around $29 million (2003 = $37 million in 2014).

Most American prisoners belong behind bars

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Contrary to the popular narrative, Rafael A. Mangual argues, most American prisoners belong behind bars:

Contrary to the claims in Michelle Alexander’s much-discussed 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow, drug prohibition is not driving incarceration rates. Yes, about half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges; but federal inmates constitute only 12 percent of all American prisoners—the vast majority are in state facilities. Those incarcerated primarily for drug offenses constitute less than 15 percent of state prisoners. Four times as many state inmates are behind bars for one of five very serious crimes: murder (14.2 percent), rape or sexual assault (12.8 percent), robbery (13.1 percent), aggravated or simple assault (10.5 percent), and burglary (9.4 percent). The terms served for state prisoners incarcerated primarily on drug charges typically aren’t that long, either. One in five state drug offenders serves less than six months in prison, and nearly half (45 percent) of drug offenders serve less than one year.

That a prisoner is categorized as a drug offender, moreover, does not mean that he is nonviolent or otherwise law-abiding. Most criminal cases are disposed of through plea bargains, and, given that charges often get downgraded or dropped as part of plea negotiations, an inmate’s conviction record will usually understate the crimes he committed. The claim that drug offenders are nonviolent and pose zero threat to the public if they’re put back on the street is also undermined by a striking fact: more than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime. It’s worth noting that Baltimore police identified 118 homicide suspects in 2017, and 70 percent had been previously arrested on drug charges.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.