Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

Posts made in: January, 2016 (9) Currently Viewing: 1 - 9 of 9

January 7, 2016 at 12:07pm

Where birds and planes collide

Mr. Christopher Lang, McChord Field Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, poses for a photo near the McChord Field flightline, Dec. 3 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Tim Chacon

According to the Federal Aviation Administration report on wildlife strikes on civilian aircraft in the United States, more than 258 people have died and more than 245 aircraft have been destroyed since 1988. The year 2015 marked the sixth anniversary of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after Canada geese were ingested in both engines of the Airbus 320 aircraft.

With this incident, media attention and public knowledge of wildlife strikes over the last six years has increased and demonstrated that these strikes are a serious but manageable aviation safety issue.

To ensure this is properly managed with the 48 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Mr. Christopher Lang, McChord Field Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, manages the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard and Wildlife Hazard Working Groups.

"Wildlife hazards present a serious threat to the safety of the aircraft and crew," said Lang. "Bird strikes with aircraft are a concern for their ability to negatively impact the Team McChord missions by delaying flights, aborting missions, and even the potential for loss of life in catastrophic strike incidents.

"BASH focuses on the prevention of these wildlife conflicts with aircraft operations."

Lang explained his primary area of responsibility is McChord Field and with the 62nd Airlift Wing, and went on to explain that he does do some work at Moses Lake, Wash., due to the dependence of the 62nd AW at Moses Lake Airfield for training purposes.

"McChord's BASH program strives for a proactive approach to bird strike prevention," said Lang.  "A recently successful example would be adding to the wildlife fence to deter deer from crossing the runway and being struck by aircraft.

"Projects dealing with habitat management (e.g. grass height management, removing trees attracting wildlife, and attractive ponds management) are in the works to ensure the safety of aircraft and crew."

The priority of the BASH program is to minimize hazardous wildlife presence in the flight corridors of McChord's aircraft.

"Because wildlife are not stationary, their movement around the base needs to be controlled to reduce the likelihood of strikes," said Lang.  "At times, this can include areas as far away as five miles from the JBLM boundaries."

Recently, an initiative was completed on McChord Field to cut back numerous trees that were attracting birds that could have caused harm to the 62nd AW aircraft and crew.

"The tree removal project was focused on deterring some of the largest, most damaging wildlife, Canada geese, from McChord Field," said Lang.  "Bird strikes with Canada geese have resulted in the losses of multiple lives and aircraft throughout aviation history.  By removing the primary attractant, fruit trees, we can reduce the presence of these hazardous birds.

"More important to the BASH program is what species were struck and any damaging strikes that have occurred than the total number of strikes.  The way we track what species and areas to manage comes, in part, from strike reports and the quality of data provided by airmen and maintainers. Those reports determine the level of certainty we have in BASH management decisions.

"We have better data this year, with a 20 percent improvement from the previous three years, thanks to the support of airmen and maintainers."

Lang suggested it is support like continuing to report bird strikes and any hazardous wildlife activity witnessed on the airfield to the appropriate agencies, like Airfield Management and Operations or the Wing Safety office.

Another suggestion Lang had was to encourage airmen to not feed hazardous wildlife, like crows, gulls, ducks and geese at or on McChord Field.

For more information on the BASH program or the Wildlife Hazard Working Group, contact Lang at 253.982.1275 or email

January 8, 2016 at 11:35am

Protection from the elements

Senior Airman Nick Kotlowski, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, prepares to deice a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on the McChord Field flightline, Dec. 30. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Todd Wivell

With recent temperatures reaching well below the freezing mark of 32 degrees, airmen from the 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were working around the clock to ensure the fleet of 48 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft were protected from the elements.

Using a mobile truck mounted deicer, the airmen spray deicing fluid on the aircraft to protect it from ice buildup of aircraft surfaces, engines and aircaft sensors.

The process of deicing the aircaft can take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes and typically takes a crew of three airmen, with one in the bucket and two in the truck, to complete the mission.

As missions and local flights happen anytime, day or night, these 62nd AMXS deicing crews are called on at any given time to provide this service.

Deicing fluids come in a variety of types, and are typically composed of ethylene glycol or propylene glycol, along with other ingredients such as thickening agents, surfactants (wetting agents), corrosion inhibitors and colored, UV-sensitive dye.

The amount of fluid necessary to deice an aircraft depends on a wide variety of factors. Deicing a large commercial aircraft typically consumes between 500 U.S. gallons and 1,000 U.S. gallons of diluted fluid.

January 14, 2016 at 10:35am

'Death not to be feared'

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. LaPaul Williams stands with his friends who were there for Williams during his treatment and surgeries. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Tim Chacon

Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."  - Maximus

This quote from the movie Gladiator rings powerful and true to Tech. Sgt. LaPaul Williams, who said, "I don't believe death is to be feared."

Williams, a 5th Air Support Operations Squadron fighter duty technician stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans affects the lower back and is typically seen in people under the age of 18 and over the age of 45. Williams was 29.

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans looks like a bump on your back, then it grows and starts to get taller and pink at the top, Williams explained.

"I thought it was nothing," he said. "I thought it was just a bump."

Williams returned from a temporary duty assignment to Hawaii and went to the doctor to check on the growing bump. The doctor informed him there was nothing he could do, and sent him to a dermatologist. The dermatologist decided that surgery to remove the bump would be best.

On Oct. 17, 2014, Williams headed in for surgery. His wife, Chineka, was with him the entire time. Everything was going as planned. He was making light of the situation, joking with the intern who was learning how to cut people's backs open, commenting on the giant needle they used to numb his back.

Williams said once they cut most of it out, the doctor stopped and made a statement that there was something wrong.

"It's tumors," the doctor said. "I don't know what kind, but there are tumors deeper in your back."

They had to have the tumors x-rayed and looked at, so they sewed Williams up and went from there.

Once they confirmed the dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, Williams told his family.

"The afternoon I told my parents, as most mothers would be, she was freaked out," Williams said. "We're a very close knit Christian family. They asked if I was alright, if I needed them here."

Williams' wife was there supporting him every step of the way.

"I don't sit down," Williams said. "She would tell me to rest, but I was a pain in the butt."

Williams wasn't scared with his diagnosis. He was a little shocked, but he wanted to know what he did to cause it and how he could fix it. The doctor told Williams there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Williams was extremely hopeful during the entire ordeal.

In November, Williams said they needed to remove more of the tumors. They cut a diamond shape out of his back to remove them.

For six weeks, he had a tube from his back to his chest as his back was healing from the fluid that was being drained. He healed quicker than normal.

Because of the nature of Williams' job, he was immediately moved off duty and sent to see if he was allowed to stay in the Air Force. But, Williams said he had an extremely supportive Air Force family.

His supervisor, peers and commander were all hopeful for him, offering their support through it all. They let him know if there was anything he needed, he just had to ask.

"They didn't bother me or limit me," Williams said of his chain of command. "They watched my back and let me take care of myself."

During his diagnosis, Williams said his family helped him most. They never looked at Williams with sad eyes, or blamed anything or anyone for what happened. They told him they would help him get through it, if he needed anything to call and they would stop and make time for him.

"There are a lot of things you can buy and replace," Williams said. "But time spent with a person is something you can't. When people decide to use some of their time for you, it's humbling."

Williams also said a positive attitude was key to facing this type of diagnosis.

"Positive thoughts have absolute results when it comes to healing," Williams said. "Those who are hopeful and have positive thoughts regardless of the situation, they turn out the best."

In December, Williams was in remission.

He said there is always a chance for the cancer to come back, and if it does, it will be worse and more aggressive. He still goes to the doctor every six months to make sure it hasn't returned, and that will continue for the rest of his life.

"I understand I am playing on borrowed time," Williams said. "I'm still able to serve, and I'm thankful for that. I'm still ranking up and making friends. Anything that's worth it is worth the effort."

Williams' advice to those who are still battling is to do whatever it takes to get positive, because it can change your reality.

"I have your back," he said. "If you need to call me, call me. We'll talk about life. Even if that means talking at one, two or three in the morning, I'll be up. I'll make some tea and we'll sit down and talk about it."

Williams said to those who are supporting someone fighting this battle, "encourage them. Encouragement will make the difference."

January 14, 2016 at 10:40am

Airman saves girl from drowning

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness noncommissioned officer in charge, poses for a photo Jan. 6, 2016 at Carter Lake. Photo credit: Senior Airman Divine Cox

Whether in uniform or not, the United States Air Force requires all airmen to uphold to its core values and encourages airmen to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness noncommissioned officer in charge, had his situational awareness tested Jan. 1 when a little girl fell through the ice on Carter Lake, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Siegele was at the park next to Carter Lake with his daughter. While there, his daughter spotted three girls playing and asked if she could play with them.

"Yes, you can go play," said Siegele. "As long as you stay off the ice, I'm okay with that."

Siegele said as he watched the girls play, the oldest girl would try and talk the other girls into seeing how far they could walk across the ice. He advised them not to do that, because it might not be safe.

"I took control of my daughter," said Siegele. "The other girls shrugged me off and proceeded onto the ice."

Siegele said later that afternoon, before sunset, one of the girls yelled "It's time to go home!"

"As soon as I looked up, I could hear screaming," said Siegele. "I looked back to where I last saw the little girl on the ice and seen that she had fallen in. She was waving her arms in the air and screaming for help."

Siegele made the quick decision to run around the lake to the side closest to her so he could reach her safer.

"I knew the ice couldn't hold my weight," said Siegele. "Running around to the other side was my only option to try to save her."

Siegele said as he rounded the fence line, he saw a man get out of a silver van and run towards the lake.

"I followed the individual into the ice," said Siegele. "We were determined to help this little girl."

The individual got to the girl before Siegele. Siegele and the guy started swimming back to the shore with the little girl between them when suddenly the guy went underwater and Siegele lost grip of the girl and she went under, too.

"I reached for her, but I couldn't feel her," said Siegele. "So I dove under to find her and managed to pull her up by her jacket."

Siegele and the little girl resurfaced and headed to shore just as the other guy reached the shore.

"Once we got to shore, I took off her jacket and the individual grabbed my jacket that I took off before entering the water and put it on her," said Siegele.

Siegele said as he picked up the phone to call 911, the girl's Dad arrived to the lake in a panic state.

"The dad grabbed his little girl and headed home," said Siegele. "We all exchanged information, but I was so cold and out of it, I forgot everything."

Later that night, Siegele contacted the parents of the little girl, after finding their phone number in his phone to see if she was okay.

Siegele said her parents thanked him for saving their daughter.

"I'm just glad I was there," said Siegele. "All the training I've got through my years in the Air Force prompted me to react quickly enough and ultimately save her life."

January 15, 2016 at 12:05pm

New MDS program helps airmen get in shape

An airman from the 62nd Medical Squadron, wearing his Garmin Connect fitness monitor, conducts push-ups Jan. 7, at the McChord Fitness Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Katie Jackson

Fitness and activity trackers, such as Fitbits and Garmin Connects, have been becoming very popular among those in the fitness industry, and have become a useful tool for individuals trying to lose weight.

These trackers have capabilities which include tracking physical activity and steps, heart rate, quality and quantity of sleep and provide tools to track food and water consumption.

To utilize these tools in conjunction with a health improvement program to help airmen who are not successful on their fitness examinations, Dr. Danielle Knutson, 62nd Medical Squadron health promotion coordinator, brought this program to McChord Field.

"This program helps support the Air Force Health Promotion Mission: health promotion will coordinate, evaluate, and promote installation-specific, evidence-based interventions that support healthy behavior change to optimize health and resilience in Air Force communities," said Knutson.

The program, led by Knutson, began in September 2014. So far, 125 airmen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, have participated in the 90-day program, which is currently able to support 75 participants at one time.

"This program shows great potential. I'm currently conducting a literature review on activity trackers and behavior aspects to conduct a research project to help add to the gap in the research that is needed on activity trackers and their capabilities of helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals," said Knutson.

Currently, the program is only offered to airmen who have not been successful on their fitness tests and airmen who are struggling to maintain fitness standards.

Airmen who are unsuccessful on their fitness tests are directed to sign up, and struggling airmen may request to sign up through their Unit Fitness Program Manager and commander for the mandatory BE WELL Health Improvement Program.

One of these airmen, Airman 1st Class Martavia Martin, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 crew chief, has been very successful in achieving his fitness goals, thanks to this program.

"My goal was to lose five inches off my waist and I ended up losing six-and-a-half inches," said Martin.

In addition to losing six-and-a-half inches off his abdominal circumference measurement, he has lost more than 28 pounds, has successfully completed a fitness test, and would recommend the program to others struggling with their personal fitness.

"It keeps me active and moving a lot more. Whenever I see the red light (on my device), I know that I've been sitting too long," said Martin.

The physical fitness of each member of a unit is important when supporting a mission. In addition to Knutson, Martin's unit has encouraged him throughout his journey.

"My supervision and chain of command has had my back throughout the entire process. A lot of them gave me advice on different diets and workouts. They made it easier for me to go to PT," explained Martin. "They worked out with me and showed me different programs. They told me about their downfalls and the things that didn't work for them."

"Other squadrons and units are taking advantage of this technology and that is outstanding," said Knutson. "My advice is to utilize a person who can keep the fitness challenges fun and exciting but also utilize the JBLM services such as Performance Triad, Jensen Health and Wellness Center, 62nd MDS Health Promotions, BHOP, and Madigan Nutrition Clinic to help support the members' health and wellness goals."

For more information on this program at McChord Field, contact Dr. Danielle Knutson, 62nd Medical Squadron health promotion coordinator, at 253.982.6947.

January 15, 2016 at 12:14pm

McChord airmen assists first responders following IED blast

(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Chad Huggins, Staff Sgt. Tobi Wagner, Master Sgt. Matthew Longshaw and Airman 1st Class John Michael Aradanas helped care for the wounded when a vehicle-borne IED detonated. Photo credit: Capt. Bryan Bouchard

Four Bagram airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron sprang into action following a terrorist attack on a compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 4.

The airmen were in Kabul as part of U.S. Central Command's materiel recovery element, inspecting equipment for air transport out of Afghanistan. While eating dinner at an eatery on the military side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, they heard and felt a blast. Something wasn't right.

"We were done eating and sitting there, then we heard (the blast) and we felt it," said Master Sgt. Matthew Longshaw, deployed from the Utah Air National Guard at Salt Lake City International Airport. "The building shook, and then Sergeant Huggins came in after that; he was pretty visibly upset."

Tech. Sgt. Chad Huggins, a St. Clairsville, Ohio, native, deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Deleware, was outside talking on the phone when he saw and felt the blast.

"You heard it, and saw the flash and the next thing it was like a movie," he said. "I got pushed into the wall and my phone went flying. I don't even know how to explain it."

Huggins said he picked up his phone and ran back into the restaurant to find his comrades. About a quarter-mile away, a 15-foot-deep crater sat where the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated.

"I was staring at these guys," Huggins said about the situation, "and they were staring back. Then they started speaking and I couldn't understand them; my ears were ringing. They asked, ‘Are you okay?' and I said, ‘Yeah, we need to go.'"

The team left the restaurant and went back to their temporary billeting, still reeling over what they had just experienced. Then came the call for help.

"One of the civilians came in from (Readiness Management Support) and asked for our help," Longshaw explained. "So we got up and started to help; did what we could and whatever we were asked to do."

Staff Sgt. Tobi Wagner, a Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, native, deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, had just lied down in his bunk. "Aradanas grabbed my ankle and said ‘Hey, we need to help those contractors. C'mon, let's go.' So I got up, put on some shorts and went to go help. I was still a little out of it so I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew I wanted to help."

Airman 1st Class John Michael Aradanas, an Anchorage, Alaska native deployed from McChord Field in Washington, is here serving on his first deployment. He said his adrenaline was "through the roof" at that moment.

"I was just trying to help," he said. "It went by quick, just watching all of these people come in and doing what I could to comfort them."

The four airmen all pitched in to help set up the temporary area, where nurses constantly checked on the civilians, mostly contractors, who were injured in the terrorist attack. Then they stuck around for the next eight hours, sitting with patients and comforting them; doing whatever was needed of them.

"It brought you back down to reality real quick," Wagner said. "They came in and were covered in debris and they were hurt. You'd see fresh cuts and blood. Everyone was kind of disheveled because they couldn't get any of their stuff."

The team commented how one man was knocked from his bed when the blast occurred near his living quarters. He walked his hallway in bare feet on broken glass until someone was able to find him some boots for him to wear. Another man was saved by a treadmill, where it created a pocket in the rubble under which he was buried for three hours until a crane was brought in to sift through the debris.

While scenes like this aren't necessarily the norm for most airmen deployed to Afghanistan, it's something which the airmen felt prepared to support.

"When I was here two years ago they (terrorists) were much more active," said Wagner, on his second deployment. "It felt as if we were getting attacked constantly. So I was expecting a little bit of the same. Then I got (to Bagram) and there wasn't much of anything."

January 21, 2016 at 10:23am

Free tax services available to military members, families

File photo

With the holidays now over, servicemembers and their families might start looking toward another annual event, albeit one that generally garners far less excitement: filing taxes.

The Defense Department wants servicemembers and their families to know they can get free tax consultations and tax-filing software through Military OneSource, according to Erika Slaton, program analyst for Military OneSource.

"The financial environment in which we live is very complex," Slaton said. "When you combine that with the realities of military life that includes frequent moves and deployments, it can present some special challenges for servicemembers and their families."

The Defense Department, through Military OneSource, has teamed up, as it has in previous years, with H&R Block to offer the free tax services.

The services could save members and families hundreds of dollars, Slaton said. She encourages all those who are eligible to consider using the services.  

"It's extremely important because of those challenges (including) frequent moves and deployments, and because tax laws change every year," she said.

Military OneSource tax consultants are available January through April 15, seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time at 1.800.342.9647. After April 15, the consultants can be reached Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. eastern time.

While Military OneSource tax experts are available only via the phone, Slaton points out that other tax experts are available in person at military installations with a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, location.

The Military OneSource free tax software, which can be found at, is available at VITA locations as well.

File Electronically

The software is self-paced and walks users through a series of questions to help them to prepare their return. It allows individuals to electronically file a federal return and up to three state tax returns.

"If at any time during the course of completing their return, the user has any questions about their own tax situation, they can call Military OneSource," Slaton said.

Those eligible for the Military OneSource tax services include National Guard members, and active-duty and Reserve members of the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Immediate family members of those eligible and non-remarried survivors from any era can also use the services. Military members who retired or were discharged honorably are eligible up to 180 days after leaving the service.

Other groups are eligible, Slaton explained. She encourages people to check the website for further information or call Military OneSource to find out about eligibility.

Available Through June

The free tax preparation and filing software is available through the end of June.

The Military OneSource tax software is secure, as the vendor uses industry-recognized security safeguards, she said. The vendor stands by the filer in the event of an audit or mistake.

Military OneSource, which is a confidential DoD-funded program, offers many other resources, Slaton said, including counseling and services related to family and relationships, finances, health and wellness, education and employment.

"We encourage servicemembers and their families to call Military OneSource and just explore everything that Military OneSource has to offer," she said. "They can call, click and connect with Military OneSource today."

January 22, 2016 at 10:23am

AMC - 24 years later

For more than two decades, the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) has been the logistical powerhouse that allows American troops to respond to crises around the world.

"The mission of Air Mobility Command pretty simply is to provide global reach for America" explained Col. Michael Zick, deputy director of operations at AMC's headquarters on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Terry Johnson, a civilian and Gulf War veteran who works as AMC's director of staff for operations, called AMC "the world's largest airline."

The Air Force's experience during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 was a major factor that led to AMC's creation just a year later. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Today, as U.S. troops once again operate in Iraq, many are looking back at how that conflict changed how we fight.

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait shocked the world and prompted a swift - and massive - international reaction. The U.S. Air Force was critical to the initial response.

"Our expertise is to get over there as quickly as possible, so we basically brought the initial forces over there to actually hold while we brought the preponderance of the heavy force over by sealift," said Zick.

"(Air mobility) allowed us to put enough stopping power on the ground to hold the Iraqi forces at bay until the remainder of U.S. and coalition forces arrived," added Johnson.

"Back then, we probably were thinking we had a little bit more time to react to certain events," Zick said. "What we learned from that was ‘no, we need to be ready anywhere' to actually bring America's forces to the point of need."

Experiences in Desert Storm led to several changes in the way airmen approach these logistical operations.

"We've expanded the use of night vision goggles, airdrop, we're more effectively able to integrate with other combatant commands, (and) we've looked to increase our battlespace awareness through the use of more secure communications, tactical data links, etc.," Johnson explained.

Air Mobility Command was established on June 1, 1992. It melded a worldwide airlift system from elements of the inactivated Military Airlift Command with a tanker force Strategic Air Command that had been freed from its strategic nuclear strike commitments by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Though the Cold War was over, the demands on the Air Force were far from reduced. Between operations in Somalia, the Balkans and other conflict flashpoints, as well as humanitarian disasters and day-to-day business, the new command has rarely had a shortage of responsibilities since its formation.

"I think it all rolls around to ops tempo," Zick observed. "If you think about it, from ‘91 to now, the mobility air forces have been engaged around the world, so the ops tempo hasn't really gone down for us."

While the tempo of operations remains high, AMC is frequently finding that it has to do more with less and find creative solutions.

"As budgets have reduced, we have to be smarter about how we utilize our resources and that's both manpower and equipment," Zick explained. "(The C-17) is doing great, but we're also looking for ways to recapitalize our older tanker fleet, so as we modernize the tanker fleet, we're looking at how to send it into denied environments."

A "denied environment" is one in which the enemy has enough anti-aircraft equipment and capabilities to seriously disrupt or endanger U.S. air operations.

AMC also tries to take advantage of the military's "total force" - which includes its Guard and Reserve components.

"Whatever we're (going) to go do, it's going to be a total force effort. Our Reserve and National Guard components are coming with us," Zick said. "With (more than) half of all mobility aircraft assigned to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command units, we lead the Air Force in operating as a total force."

Since 9/11, many of those operations have once again centered on the Persian Gulf and Iraq in particular. While President Barack Obama declared the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and thousands of troops from both countries have been withdrawn, operations continue in the region. In particular, Operation Inherent Resolve - the U.S.-led effort to battle ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria - has presented a new host of challenges.

"Really, it comes down to three things that have changed as a result to changes in our national security landscape and guidance from our senior leaders: time, distance and forward basing," explained Johnson. "As the United States draws down forward basing around the world, there's an increasing dependence on what we do. That makes us more reliant with partner nations or allies as well.

January 28, 2016 at 10:45am

The Terminator Conundrum

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers a question at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21. Photo credit: Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp

The military, the people of the United States and the people of the world need to understand the profound impacts of technologies on the horizon today, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Brookings Institution here last Thursday morning.

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva told a packed room that the world will be facing the "Terminator Conundrum" sooner rather than later, and that now is the time to discuss the affects new technologies will have on the Nation and on warfare. Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings moderated the talk.

"You and I are on the cusp of being able to own cars that will drive themselves," Selva said. "The technology exists today. Some of us in this room own cars that park themselves, and they do a substantially better job than we do."

The military has proven it can build and field unmanned underwater, aerial and ground vehicles, Selva noted. Still, he said, there is always a human in the loop - a remotely piloted vehicle still has a human pushing the buttons to fly the vehicle somewhere. "We can actually build autonomous vehicles in every one of those categories," the general said, "and that brings us to the cusp of questions about whether we are willing to have unmanned, autonomous systems that can launch on an enemy."

Selva called this a huge technology question that all people will wrestle with. There are huge ethical implications, implications for the laws of war and implications that the vice chairman said he calls the "Terminator Conundrum."

"What happens when that ‘thing' can inflict mortal harm and is powered by artificial intelligence?" he asked the audience. "How are we going deal with that? How are we going to know what is in that vehicle's mind?"

These are the problems that must be addressed in the technology sector, Selva said.

O'Hanlon noted that certain sea mines or submunitions are already there. Selva pointed out that the sea mine that detonates when it hears a certain signature still has humans who write the code and tell the mine when it is permitted to detonate.

"Deep learning" is a concept that is bandied about in technology companies, and it is also being looked at within the Defense Department, Selva said. "We both have a requirement to sort some of the largest databases in the world," he added.

The intelligence database for the United States is incredibly large, the vice chairman said. "How one might direct an analyst to look at part of that data to make human decisions?" he asked. "If we can build a set of algorithms that allows a machine to learn what's going on in that space and then highlight what is different, it could change the way we predict the weather, it could change the way we plant crops, and it could most certainly change the way we do change-detection in a lethal battlespace. What has changed? What is different? What do we need to address?"

Building these learning algorithms is a place the United States has to go in the future, the vice chairman said.

"The data sets we deal with have gotten so large and so complex that if we don't have something to sort them, we're just going to be buried," he said. "The deep learning concept of teaching coherent machines ... to advise humans and making them our partners has huge consequences."


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