Bigger guns and missiles are on the move in response to the Russian threat.

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The U.S. Army’s only ground combat unit in Europe, the Second Cavalry, is getting better armored vehicles complete with heavier guns and built-in anti-tank guided missiles. It’s all part of a response to Moscow’s military aggression in the region, giving the regiment’s light armored vehicles the ability to defend themselves against Russian tank forces.

The end of the Cold War was marked by a major drawdown in U.S. Army forces in Europe. During the 1980s, U.S. Army Europe was home to more than four combat divisions, who were facing down many more combat divisions from Warsaw Pact areas including East Germany, Poland, and beyond. As the threat of war evaporated most U.S. Army forces were called home and disbanded. The only ground combat unit left in Germany, the Second Cavalry Regiment, has only about 1/16 the vehicles and personnel of the U.S. Army in Germany in 1987.

Strykers outside Mosul, Iraq, 2005.
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At the same time, the Second Cavalry isn’t equipped with heavy M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Rather, it is equipped with the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle. Light, air transportable, and capable of moving at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour, the Stryker emphasizes strategic and tactical mobility at the expense of firepower and protection.

For a post-9/11 era populated by wars against lightly armed guerrillas and terrorist factions, the Stryker seemed like a good choice. But then came the resurgence of the Russian military threat.

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In light of the annexation of the Crimea and Russian military intimidation of its neighbors, the Second Cavalry could now be called upon to reinforce NATO allies in the Baltics—Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—in case the neighboring Russians invade. While the Second Cavalry has a handful of Strykers armed with heavy TOW anti-tank missiles, there is not enough vehicle-mounted firepower in the unit, leaving the regiment poorly prepared for squaring off with Russian tank and motorized rifle divisions equipped with heavily armed and armored T-90 and T-72B3M tanks.

Russian Army T-90 tanks taking up positions before firing.

The U.S. Army requested and got emergency funding to increase the Stryker’s firepower in 2015. The solution: a new gun turret that mounts on top of a Stryker. The new, unmanned turret includes a new XM813 30-millimeter gun and a M240 7.62-millimeter machine gun. The XM813 is powerful enough to penetrate the armor of lighter armored vehicles, including the Russian Army’s BMP-2, BMP-3, BTR-90, and BTR-82/87 infantry fighting vehicles. The Second Cavalry is scheduled to receive its first, up-gunned Strykers in January 2018.

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Here’s a prototype Stryker firing the XM813 while on the move:

Half of the regiment’s Strykers will be equipped with the new turret. The other half will mount the new Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station – Javelin (CROWS-J) that allows Javelin missiles to be fired from inside the Stryker. While the Second Cavalry’s dismounted cavalrymen carry the Javelin missile, Russia’s extensive use of artillery in the Crimea means that in the event of conflict with Moscow, these troopers will probably stay mounted inside their vehicles as long as possible. Here’s a Breaking Defense video showing CROWS-J in slow motion:

The new Stryker armament plan is a good one that increases Stryker firepower to meet high-end threats. In the event of war, half of the Strykers can kill enemy tanks (and virtually everything else, from buildings to helicopters) with Javelin missiles, while the other half can mow down enemy infantry fighting vehicles, air defense vehicles, and others with the 30-millimeter gun.

The Second Cavalry still has one big problem, though. While firepower has received a big boost, armor lags. The Stryker armored vehicle can be easily killed by the 125-millimeter main guns of the Russian T-90 and T-72B3M tanks, and its armor can be penetrated by anti-tank missiles and the gun armament of BMP-2, BMP-3, and BTR-82/87 wheeled armored vehicles. It is also vulnerable to artillery shrapnel.

BTR-82A wheeled infantry fighting vehicle in Moscow, April 2017.

The Army is looking at protecting Strykers using so-called active protection systems (APS) like the Israeli Trophy, which combine millimeter-wave radar sensors ringing the vehicle with kinetic energy interceptors that shoot down incoming rockets and missiles. The relatively light APS system, which usually weighs a ton or less, can provide armor protection equal to that of 30 or more tons of steel armor.

The Strykers of the Second Cavalry will form an effective tripwire defense for NATO, rushing off to reinforce friendly countries to protect them until heavier armor arrives from the USA. This is the return of big power warfare, where the enemy is no longer guerrillas with grenade launchers but armies with tanks that can take over entire countries. The new weapons and armor fielded by the Second Cavalry should be up to the task.

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Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits at the Alcatraz East crime museum speaks about the museum’s offerings on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.

Pigeon Forge – The Alcatraz East Museum opening Dec. 16 in Pigeon Forge has O.J. Simpson’s gloves.

No, not THOSE gloves.

These gloves are innocent-looking golf gloves — one white, one black. They’re displayed with a golf bag and clubs once owned by the football player-turned-accused murderer.


If the hearing goes as expected, Simpson would be eligible to leave prison on Oct. 1. USA TODAY Sports

Since they’re not the gloves key to Simpson’s 1995 trial, they could be overlooked in a two-story attraction devoted to crime and punishment. But it’s impossible not to notice the museum’s most famous O.J. item – that white Ford Bronco. Simpson, before his arrest for double murder, cowered in the back seat of the Bronco driven by friend Al Cowlings in a slow-speed Los Angeles police pursuit.

The car is among four at the 2757 Parkway museum. There’s also a roadster from the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”; real-life gangster John Dillinger’s shiny red 1933 Essex Terraplane; and serial killer Ted Bundy’s 1968 Volkswagen Beetle.

They’re among 600-plus owned or loaned artifacts in the 25,000-square-foot museum whose 19th-century prison design was inspired by the real Alcatraz and the Tennessee State Prison closed in 1992. The building’s easy to spot. A stripe-wearing convict mannequin scales the exterior faux stone wall as an armed guard mannequin watches from a tower.

This is an expanded version of the National Museum of Crime and Punishment that closed in 2015 after seven years in Washington, D.C. Businessman and attorney John Morgan began that museum after a visit years ago to the original Alcatraz, says Janine Vaccerello, Alcatraz East’s chief operating officer. The museum hopes to attract an annual 400,000-plus visitors.

Why a crime museum? “It’s America’s favorite subject,” she says.

“Every time you turn on the news, almost every news story is about crime. Movies, books, everything is about crime or law enforcement,” Vaccerello says. “People are fascinated by it. People either want to be the investigator, they want to figure it out, or they are psychologically fascinated by how could a criminal be so bad?”

Twenty-eight display areas are designed around five broad themes. Tours begin with the history of American crime and its consequences, move to forensic science and crime fighting and end with counterfeit products and pop culture-related crime. But artifacts like Simpson’s Bronco may be the main draw. Artifacts range from a medieval head cage torture device to 20th-century gangster Al Capone’s rosary to a display of law enforcement badges and uniforms to a baseball signed by serial killer Charles Manson. 

In Washington the most popular object was Bundy’s Volkswagen, Vaccerello says. It’s missing its front passenger seat; Alcatraz East Director of Artifacts and Exhibits Rachael Penman says that’s where Bundy placed some victims’ bodies.  Another Bundy item – a dental mold of his teeth – is new. That mold convicted Bundy in the death of a Florida State University coed.

Wild West fans will be drawn to the displays about outlaws like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. They’ll see Jesse James’s gun shoulder holster and blood-stained floorboards from the home of a James relative. It’s said Jesse James bled on the floor while recovering from a gunshot wound.

Other items belonged to 20th-century gangsters. A death mask of Dillinger’s face made after he was killed in 1934 by law enforcement is one of four. Another case holds bits of gunshot-shattered windshield from the death car of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, a Parker-typed poem and typewriter. Pop culture blends with reality; gangster-styled guns shown include props from “The Godfather” film.

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But items in the room focusing on serial killers can be very real and, for some, uncomfortable to view. A tall gray wall divides a corner of the room. Visitors who walk around the wall see items used by John Wayne Gacy, executed for 33 murders in 1994. That includes two clown costumes Gacy wore to charitable events, his prison paint set and an unfinished clown self-portrait.

More openly shown is the scoped Remington rifle Charles Whitman used from the University of Texas’ clock tower in 1966 to kill 16 people. The deaths were the first recognized mass shooting at a U.S. school, says Penman. The museum also memorializes more recent killings, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook.

Alcatraz East is part museum, part interactive attraction. Visitors can sit in a police car, be a thief dodging laser beams to steal a precious item or a police officer on the firing range. They can crack a safe in an exhibit detailing white-collar crimes from Revolutionary traitor Benedict Arnold to 21st-century financier Bernie Madoff. In one corner of the room a D.B. Cooper mannequin prepares to jump from a plane. In 1971 the real Cooper, wearing a parachute and money-filled bank bag, jumped from a plane north of Portland and was never found.

With areas designed as a police station, courtroom and prison cell, the museum also focuses on the American judicial system. Visitors can get booked and fingerprinted, stand in a lineup and take a polygraph. They can be judge, witness, attorney or defendant in a small courtroom replica. They can stand – and escape from – a small jail cell.

Displays, photographs, wall panels and room scenarios focus on topics as varied as ballistics and fingerprinting, court trials, law enforcement training, prison life, cold cases, identity theft, presidential assassinations and domestic terrorism. Retired University of Tennessee forensic anthropologist and Body Farm founder and author Dr. William Bass is the subject of a crime detection exhibit. Nearby stands a pretend medical examiner’s autopsy table whose mannequin victim shows signs of multiple fatal injuries. “He had a very bad night,” says Penman.

But the museum’s best crime deterrent may be its display of society’s instruments of death. They include an 18th-century European beheading ax, dunking stool, guillotine, gas chamber, lethal injection machine and Tennessee’s Old Smokey electric chair. Old Smokey, used at the state prison in Nashville from 1916 to 1960, moved from Washington back to Tennessee with the museum.

Alcatraz  East
Address: 2757 Parkway, Pigeon Forge
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Admission: $24.95 adults, $14.95 ages 12 & younger, free ages 5 & younger

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Nigeria's former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke was one of the country's highest profile politicians before being implicated in a multi-million-dollar graft scandal

Nigeria’s former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke was one of the country’s highest profile politicians before being implicated in a multi-million-dollar graft scandal

A Nigerian court confiscated four large housing complexes worth $7 million from a former oil minister accused of corruption on Tuesday as fraud investigators continue to claw back her fortune.

Lagos high court judge Abdulaziz Anka ordered former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke to hand over the developments located across Nigeria that were found to have been purchased with suspect cash.

Nigeria’s anti-graft Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) argued in court that Alison-Madueke, along with her cousin Donald Chidi Amamgbo, had made the purchases through front companies.

During a search of Amamgbo’s property, investigators also found documents indicating that he owned some 18 companies and property in Britain and the USA — as well as Nigeria.

He told officers that he had registered the corporations in order to hold property on Alison-Madueke’s behalf, the court heard.

Amamgbo also revealed that Alison-Madueke had made mortgage payments worth more than $3.3 million (2.8 million euros) in cash.

Since leaving office in 2015, Alison-Madueke has been implicated in bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds, and money laundering cases in Nigeria, Britain, Italy and the United States.

The first female president of the global oil cartel OPEC — who was one of Africa’s most prominent female politicians — has always denied the allegations, which involve billions of dollars syphoned from oil deals and state accounts.

The ruling followed an application by the EFCC which earlier this month successfully confiscated a $37-million luxury apartment complex from the former official.

Alison-Madueke was appointed the country’s first female oil minister by former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2010.

She is currently on police bail in London after being arrested in connection with a British probe into international corruption and money laundering.

Alison-Madueke has 14 days to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

For a number of decades, Afghanistan was not a nation under threat from Isis or the Taliban, but a place of stability, tolerance and even moderation.

From the 1930s to the late 1970s, some termed this nation that has long been a pawn in the struggles of the great powers, the Paris of Central Asia. What’s more – some women even wore short skirts.

This week, after Donald Trump admitted to having changed his mind on sending troops to Afghanistan and committed to dispatching extra forces – the additional troops will probably total around 4,000 – it was reported one of the ways his advisors persuaded him to engage was to show him a photograph of women wearing such skirts.

For many years, Mr Trump said on twitter that he believed Afghanistan was was a lost cause and that Barack Obama was wrong to send additional troops there, as he did in 2009.

A number of senior military US officers – including those former officers now in the White House, support sending extra soldiers to Afghanistan. The Washington Post said Mr Trump’s national security advisor, HR McMaster, a former general, had persuaded Mr Trump to commit to sending those troops by placing a strking image in front of the President.

“He presented Trump with a black-and-white snapshot from 1972 of Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul, to show him that Western norms had existed there before and could return,” said the newspaper.

Donald Trump’s ever-changing views on Afghanistan

Some historians have suggested the idea of Kabul’s golden age has been somewhat overstated and that such Western-style dress was adopted only by a very small elite, during a period of rule by King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan who works as a researcher for Amnesty International, said in a 2013 report: “As a girl, I remember my mother wearing miniskirts and taking us to the cinema. My aunt went to university in Kabul.”

Elizabeth Gould, co-author of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, said several years ago that a US diplomat visiting Afghanistan in the early 1970s said its citizens were so passionate about democracy that he saw them debate their constitutional rights in the streets.

“The years after World War II, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, were the golden years,” said Ms Gould.

The king was deposed in a coup in 1973 and went into an exile that lasted 29 years. In December 1979, Soviet forces invaded the country and were not forced out until February 1989. 

The Taliban seized control of large parts of the country, including Kabul, in 1996 and held the capital until the US and UK invasion of 2002. That same year, the former king returned to oversee the holding of a loya jirga, or meeting to select a new government.