Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Discovery's "Weapons that Changed the World"

Discovery Channel's “Weapons that Changed the World” (link ), aired Jan 9, 2007, was a one-hour semi-reality documentary in which the ten most influential weapons systems, as voted on by about 120000 people in the defense business, were briefly presented, with a snazzy yellow screen introducing each one. The universe of weapons comprised those introduced or developed largely after World War II (otherwise one could have imagined the sword, the musket, even the smallpox epidemic during the French and Indian Wars). They were presented in reverse order. The presenter was Richard "Mack" Machowicz.

Number 1 was the Nimitz Aircraft carrier, and its strategic role in heading off a potential crisis with China over Taiwan in 1996 was mentioned.

Number 2 was the F117 Stealth Fighter, which looks like a UFO (or perhaps the WWII “flying wing”) and has planar surfaces covered with special rayon to reflect radar signals. This was credited with helping break the will of the Soviet Union to keep its Communist empire together, and to its collapse, starting with the Berlin Wall in 1989, leading to the Soviet Union itself at the end of 1991.

Number 4 was the B52 bomber, which was originally designed to deliver nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, was re-engineered for conventional weapons and was used for the politically volatile carpet bombing of North Vietnam in the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Number 7 was the AK47 rifle, of which there are over 100 million, and which has become the poor man’s symbol of insurgency. Even the M16, which replaced the M14 as a combat weapon early in the Vietnam war, was not as effective, apparently. In Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, DC in early 1968, we still trained entirely with the M14, including rifle range itself.

Number 9 was the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, so critical in all operations in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, controlled by the Navy and often launched from submarines.

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