GARPA #18 Authors: Dan Pinkham and Lloyd Sabin May 10, 2013 Spring is well under way even though we are still freezing are butts off here in the northeast at night. Which More »
Author: Jim Zabek
Mankind has been inspired by birds for as long as we could appreciate their ability to fly. We have marveled at their ability to take off on a moment’s notice, soar effortlessly through the sky, and alight somewhere that we could never aspire to climb. Nature, fantastic and wonderful, has managed to perfect through evolution some fantastic creatures.
Mankind, always inventive, seems determined to take that evolutionary perfection and improve it to his own ends. Nowhere could this be more obvious than during the Cold War, when the CIA concocted a brilliant scheme to teach cats to spy on people. The idea was simple: surgically implant a microphone and transmitting device inside of a cat, then teach that cat to walk up to a suspected pair of people having a suspect conversation, and Presto! The purrrfect eavesdropping device. Operation Acoustic Kitty was born.
There was only one minor obstacle. As anyone who has ever owned a cat knows, they are amazingly poor choices to carry out orders from humans.
Never one to let common sense get in the way of a great idea, the CIA proceeded with the experiment and obtained predictable results: upon release to the target, the cat, having been the beneficiary of wondrously high tech surgical implants and specialized stealth training to search out and find suspected spies and traitors did what any well-trained cat would do in those circumstances. It ran like hell to get away from its owners and, if reports are accurate, managed to get run over by a vehicle in the street, thus giving the CIA a road test of its technology for durability under realistic conditions.
Operation Acoustic Kitty was not the first nor surely the last time that we’ve attempted to use animals in defense of our nation.
Often (though not always) elegant to watch, most of us assume birds are superb pilots. Luminaries no less than the famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner himself conducted experiments with birds during World War II in an attempt to create the first “smart bombs.” Through the use of intensive training he trained birds to peck at the image of a target and home in on it.
The hope was to use the bird’s training to guide a bomb dropped from a plane toward a target such as a ship. Level flight bombers were having great difficulty hitting a moving ship during the war and while the idea of having a directed munition aimed at a ship would prove to be the wave of the future, hooking pigeons up to an elaborate electronically guided nose cone would see limited success. Supposedly cats were also used in an attempt to right an unstable bomb – the theory being that a cat always lands on its feet. However, the stress of falling several thousand feet without touching land tended to cause cats to lose consciousness, thus rendering them poor material for intelligent delivery systems.
Clearly the formula of mixing animals with military objectives has had mixed results.
I have uncovered evidence that birds are unsuitable for use as dive bombers. It may come half a century too late for B.F. Skinner, and high tech software may have rendered using animal brains as obsolete, but I intend to record my findings for the sake of posterity. You know, just in case anyone were to decide to go back and attempt to recycle an old idea.
I now present to you, dear reader, the clearest evidence yet that birds are terrible dive bombers. We have all heard stories of people who have been subject to the abuse of birds. Who hasn’t been told of a hapless victim with flawlessly coiffed hair that was ruined by a bird which pooped on it as it zoomed past? But think: why is it that those stories are so rare? How is it that we have all heard these stories yet so seldom encounter fresh ones? The answer is obvious: birds are terrible dive bombers.
How do I know this? Photos were taken to perform bomb damage assessment, of course. Allow me to present the evidence. Here we see the target: patio furniture. Measuring 34.5 inches by 34.5 inches and standing 40 inches high, at first glance this would seem to be a difficult target to hit. However, consider that birds have been pooping from the air for literally millions of years and you will begin to appreciate how finely honed their sense of targeting should be.
Consider also the compete suppression of AAA. This target is only lightly defended by three ground-based canines and they spend most of their time sleeping.
Further, from the evidence it is clear that multiple runs have been taken at this target. It is not unfamiliar. Yet look at how inaccurate the birds’ aim is.
I’ve seen fraternity brothers after a keg party have better aim. One thing is certain. Do not use birds as dive bombers. Even with complete AAA suppression, free availability of approach, and a thorough reconnaissance of the area they are highly inaccurate.
Author: Jim Zabek
Airpower in warfare has been employed for over a century. Examples of its use go back as far as the American Civil War, where hot air balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance. The First World War saw an expansion of role of aircraft, and the typical roles that aircraft play in combat were largely defined during that conflict. Fighters, bombers, interceptors, and reconnaissance aircraft all emerged during World War One. But it was during the Second World War that airpower evolved from being a part of combined arms operations to being a fully-fledged combat arm of its own, capable of tipping the scales of battle on its own.
To be sure, infantry was then and remains now the Queen of Battle. Boots on the ground are what ultimately take and hold territory. But World War Two was the first time that airpower decisively and singularly tipped the tide of battle.
In Walter J. Boyne’s book Clash of Wings (later made into a historical mini-series for TV) Boyne claims that there were four significant battles during the Second World War.
“There were four great battles in World War II upon which the tide of history turned – the battles of Britain, Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad. Of these, two were truly revolutions in warfare, while two were classic examples of matériel-driven land battles.”
To be certain those four battles were not isolated events. Manufacturing ability, logistics, and manpower combined with clear strategies and objectives over the course of many years ultimately won the war. But the Battle of Britain, Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad were the major turning points of the war. Had they not taken place surely some other, similar battles would have filled the gap. But it was these four battles where the overall turning points of the war were seen.
If we accept those four battles as the turning points one obvious thing stands out: two were conducted solely by aircraft. To expand on that line of reasoning, the next logical step is to conclude that airpower, and airpower alone, determined one half of the significant battles of the Second World War.
Grogs, of course, will have no trouble recalling those four battles, but gamers less familiar with military history may want a quick refresher. The Battle of Britain was fought between the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Luftwaffe. A very close run thing, Britain’s victory over the Germans ensured that there could be no successful invasion of the islands. Midway, fought between the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and the United States Navy (USN) sank or damaged most of Japan’s aircraft carriers and ensured that the Japanese would remain on the defensive for the rest of the war. The US could then prioritize its efforts to win the war in Europe, before turning its full attention back to the Pacific. El Alamein saw the British Army overcome the Wehrmacht, driving Germany from North Africa, and opening the route to an ultimately successful invasion of Italy and Southern Europe, with the final goal being the successful removal of Italy from the war. Stalingrad saw the USSR’s Army engulf, besiege, and utterly destroy the Wehrmacht’s Sixth Army, putting the Germans on the Eastern Front in a strategically defensive posture for the rest of the war. Had the Allies failed at any of those battles the Axis might have had a high probability of winning the war. (Don’t agree? Debate about it in our forums!)
Winston Churchill famously remarked on the Battle of Britain that, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Those words could equally have been said of Midway. Both El Alamein and Stalingrad saw huge investments (and loses thereof) in manpower and equipment. Conversely, The Battle of Britain started with the Luftwaffe fielding 2500 aircraft of all types versus the RAF’s 700 fighters. Midway was settled by even fewer planes; the USN sent three aircraft carriers, Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet plus assorted escort ships settled by a few hundred planes and pilots. The Japanese had dispatched Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu and between those four carriers they had about 250 planes. The three American carriers fared slightly better. The Yorktown could carry 96 aircraft, Enterprise and Hornet could carry 90 aircraft each. In addition Midway Island had another 104 aircraft available to it. It’s difficult to believe that a battle that shifted the balance of power in the Pacific was determined by fewer than 650 planes, but that is exactly what happened.
The age of airpower had arrived. Four more hard years and millions of lives would be lost before the war would be over, but the 600 planes at Midway and the 3200 over Britain determined much of the fate of the war. Sharp and decisive, Midway was over in a matter of days. The Battle of Britain lingered and went through several phases but lasted no longer than a few months. For such significance it seems difficult to believe that so much of the war was determined by so few, but there it is.
Modern aircraft can seem almost obscenely expensive. Cost overruns, scope creep, and changes from the original design can cause a modestly expensive military aircraft to become much more expensive. No one can argue that efficiencies in military procurement aren’t necessary, but at the end of the day, the next time someone questions whether the military needs to improve the quality or quantity of its aircraft, remember back to the battles of Midway and Britain. Let us hope that never again will so much be owed by so many to so few.