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Posts Tagged ‘rangers’


Running title: Army of None – Autonomous Weapons And The Future of War.

Several years ago, I wrote a review for P.W. Singer’s Wired For War: a book that talked about the growing use of robots in the military. In the 80s, movies such as Short Circuit (Johnny 5 alive !!!) and the Terminator was among many factors that drove me in the arms of undergraduate engineering academia. And though I don’t work in the field, like a really great ex-wife, the interest still remains (just don’t mention that to my librarian career … she can be vicious). So, needless to say, when I discovered that this book was sitting on the (library) shelves, I homed in on it like a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone (yeah, I couldn’t help myself … and yes, I need to go out more). But enough of the bollocks and be on with it, yeah.

Drones have come a long way since their debut in the military. They’ve practically infiltrated many facets of society which, in some cases, seem odd but over the years have become one of those “what-would-we-do-without” moments. From aerial shots/videos in real estate listings and weddings to research to the occasional tosser out there that wants to watch female neighbours undress (yes, grade A wanks have been caught doing this … sad commentary there). Drones, love them or hate them, have become that the tool that we’ve always wanted but never knew. Written by Paul Scharre, a former Army ranger that served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, None is a well-researched and informative piece about what is quite active and what’s on the horizon in military automatons. And some of it is possibly , downright scary. Are we talking Skynet? Not quite, and as we speak there is still some reluctance in folks to commit Artifical Intelligence (AI) onto some decent and lethal weapons system (with no human interaction) and expect something “good” will happen. An even scary revelation about this is that America isn’t the only person with the cool “toys” on the battlefield, for there are now over 16 nations that employ robotic weaponry in their military. And to make you sleep even more soundly at night: they are finding themselves in hands of groups like ISIS and Hezbollah though not as sophisticated as those in the US military. But … still. Though based around military uses, the book explores the development of non-weaponized autonomous machines such as self-driving cars, etc. Apparently, we are in a sort of an AI development race. Interesting terms that’ll be added to your mental database: supervised autonomy and loitering munitions. Currently weapon systems that exist today and categorized as autonomous are actually a supervised autonomy (i.e. there is human that is still in the loop when using these systems). Unlike nuclear weapons, it is refreshing to see that there is a lot of thought going into developing and using fully automated, AI controlled systems and not usher in the age of SkyNet. Oh well, there goes my hopes of running off into the desert with Linda Hamilton. Of course it only takes one person to open that Pandora’s box and drink from that forbidden fount … and before you know it … SkyNet (and desert living with Linda, fingers crossed).
Like Wired For War, Army of None is informative and yes, a very cautionary about the use of autonomous military vehicles, but riveting and eye opening to the wonderful and promising non-military applications. Makes you wonder what the world would have been like if someone had spent the time writing about nuclear energy with the same passion of Singer or Scharre. BTW, as I always like to take the time and extend a bit of salutations to authors that have served in uniform and so I say to Mr. Scharre, thank you for your service and God Bless you and yours, mate.

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The Reaper by Nicholas Irving

Running Title: The Reaper – Autobiography of one of the deadliest Special Ops snipers.
Co-author: Gary Brozek

The first time I learned about this book was from an article in a local NYC newspaper: The New York Daily News. It a featured a very non-dignifying picture of Mr. Irving, with his tongue stuck out as if auditioning for Gene Simmons in a KISS biopic, with his team as he cradled an SR-25 rifle. At first (and I’ll be honest about this) I was a bit turned off and sort of rolled my eyes whilst muttering something to the likes of “the one time we get to see a story of a black sniper and we’re being graced with this cocky picture”. It was tempting to avoid the book, but since I don’t judge book by their covers (or in this case … as it turns out … a badly chosen photo), when it landed in my stacks, my curiosity got the better of me. At a quick glance at some of the pictures in the book, it was clear that the folks at the Daily News were a bunch of tossers and could have chosen a much better picture … for there were many. I guess someone bollocksed up on that one.
In reading the first two chapters of the book, it is pretty clear that Mr. Irving is quite down-to-earth and straight shooter (pun possibly intended). He is also very modest despite his accomplishment as the first Afro-American to serve as a sniper for the Army’s Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Regiment. Sure, he could have run with the whole legend bit where they hyped up the number of confirmed kills and he would have probably been backed up by a ton of his brothers-at-arms. Instead he simply sets the record straight and humbly lists his confirmed kills, earlier in the book: it is 33. The book takes you back and forth through his upbringing, his training and experience in combat. It is interesting to note that Mr. Irving actually tried out for the SEALs and could not qualify due to one technicality: he discovered he was colour-blind. So you may ask, how did he wash out of SEAL qualification but it to the Rangers? Let’s just say that some nurse saw a young man that was eager to serve his country and provided him with some “aid” in qualifying. Hopefully someone did not lose their job, and considering the lives he may have saved … I guess a pay raise or promotion might have been a better deal. As delve deeper into the book there is a sense of déjà vu and Chris Kyle flashes in the one’s mind. Except for the subtle differences. Kyle is white, a Navy SEAL, and endured major combat operations in Iraq. Nicholas is black, an Army Ranger and endured major combat operations in Afghanistan. The stories of combat and the action is just as riveting, harrowing and in many cases, gut wrenching. One chapter called “The Chechen”, reads like a blockbuster movie where the bad guy is a Chechen sniper that has been hunting American soldiers, even down to the firefight that ensues … up until the reader wakes up to the reality that “bloody hell” this is not a movie but it is real. And frightening. And what those brave men and women deal with in Afghanistan. Bloody sobering. It is not all gut wrenching, and white-knuckled-gripping excursions. There are a few moments of embarrassing details about Afghan and Taliban forces that go under the category of TMI: such as some in the Afghan forces in the barracks getting their male-on-male jollies on (for some strange reason) Thursday nights, Irving and his team unwittingly stumbling onto what pretty much amounted to a Taliban male orgy (a Taliban sausagefest in the worst way). And there is even talk of drones picking up videos of in-field bestiality. Did you lose your lunch, or burp-vomitted into your mouth … I apologize, sorry about that mates.
Captivating, filled with adrenaline-inducing action, and heart-wrenching, Reaper, even though it was set out to tell the story a young Army Special Ops sniper turns out to be yet another delightful tribute to Mr. Irving’s brothers-at-arms. One such person is Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, who put his life on the line to provide suppressing fire during the unit’s encounter with the Chechen. Even in death, Cpl. Kopp went on to save lives since he was an organ donor.. A truly noble, honourable man. The real definition of courage (not some bloke in a white dress going through a “change”). It never ceases to amaze me about the humility of these brave men, these silent professionals. They are truly America’s best. Thanks for your service Mr. Irving. May God bless you and yours and your days under the sun.

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