🔷 The Raiders

Some of you have been asking for more history. This week’s for you.

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Credit: US Navy

The Doolittle Raid

This week marked the 82nd anniversary of one of the most important PSYOPS missions the United States has conducted.

After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt wanted to bomb mainland Japan ASAP. The problem was that, at the time, there were no bombers capable of doing it and no airfields anywhere in the region to use.

Then, a Navy submariner came up with the solution. While visiting the Navy’s newest carrier, the USS Hornet CV-8, Captain Francis Low observed that the nearby runway had a practice flight deck painted on it for naval aviators. Coincidentally, a handful of B-25s were also using the airfield—and their take-off distance seemed remarkably short. With a carrier deck so big and a bomber take-off distance so small…could B-25s launch from an aircraft carrier?

The Navy conducted a quick feasibility study, approached the Army Air Force, and launched the first joint military action between the services.

Lt Col Jimmy Doolittle was tapped to lead the air mission in what would become known as the Doolittle Raid.

The Plan

Even though the bombers would be carrier-launched, the USS Hornet had to stay far enough away from Japan to avoid detection. At that distance, the bombers would’ve been well out of range, so the B-25s were modified with tanks to double the amount of fuel carried.

To offset this added weight, the lower gun turret was removed, some comm gear was stripped out, and the tailguns were replaced with black-painted broomsticks.

OBTW: Once these bombers launched in the middle of the ocean, they were committed—they could not land on the carrier.

On April 18, 1942, it all happened: 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers launched from the deck of the USS Hornet—without fighter escort and with almost no defensive systems—to bomb Tokyo and land at airfields in China.


The naval task force was spotted by a Japanese ship, which radioed a report to warn Tokyo. The element of surprise was at stake, so the decision was made to launch—10 hours ahead of schedule.

As a result, the 16 B-25s (each with a 5-man crew) launched hundreds of miles further than the planned range. The 80 Doolittle Raiders committed themselves to a perilous one-way trip.

All 16 bombers made it to Japan unimpeded, executed textbook daylight bombing runs, turned towards China, and hoped for the best.

Without enough fuel to reach their planned airfields, 15 of the 16 bombers ran out of fuel and were forced to ditch. The one B-25 that managed to find a place to land did so by desperately flying north into the Soviet Union.

Credit: US Air Force

Miraculously, all but 3 airmen survived the ditching, and 73 of the 80 Doolittle Raiders lived to be repatriated (eight were captured—three of them were executed, and one died in captivity).

Strategic Impact

While the bombs did very little physical damage, they did have the intended psychological effect. It not only lifted American morale; it changed the entire calculus of the Japanese.

The Doolittle Raid proved that mainland Japan was vulnerable to attack and humiliated Japanese leadership. As a result, the Japanese made the hasty decision to attack US-occupied islands in what would become known as the Battle of Midway. The US intercepted the message, attacked the massive armada en route, decimated the Japanese fleet, and turned the tide of the entire War in the Pacific.

10 Things You Might Not Know

  1. The 80 Raiders weren’t told of the mission until after they had volunteered—they only knew it was "extremely hazardous"

  2. The mission went from concept to combat in just 98 days

  3. It was the first combat use of the B-25 bomber

  4. The mission was the first time any of the pilots had taken off from a carrier (they practiced on an airfield with the carrier deck dimensions outlined)

  5. The bombers had only 467 feet of takeoff distance

  6. The B-25s flew for 13 hours before running out of fuel

  7. The Japanese executed 250,000 Chinese for helping the Raiders evade capture

  8. The US went public with the raid immediately but kept the details of how the bombers reached Japan a secret for an additional year

  9. Jimmy Doolittle thought he would be court-martialed for the mission going astray. Instead, he was promoted two ranks to 1-star general and awarded the Medal of Honor

  10. This mission is why the Air Force’s new B-21 bomber is called the Raider

In That Number

$2 trillion

The F-35 program’s lifetime price tag is now estimated to top $2 trillion, mostly due to the Pentagon’s decision to sustain the fleet for an extra decade through 2088.


Which food does NOT have a military origin?

A) Cheetos
B) M&Ms
C) Skittles
D) Pringles

On the Radar

DARPA and the Air Force revealed they flew an AI-piloted F-16 (X-62) vs a human-piloted F-16 in a dogfight. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall will fly in the AI-piloted X-62 soon, presumably repeating this AI-vs-human dogfight flight test to see it with his own eyes.

  • The Merge’s Take: The government owns the programs and the press, but shout out to the companies who actually built the AI pilots: Shield AI, EpiSci, and PhysicsAI.


The Pentagon selected 13 companies for its next round of projects via the rapid tech fielding program known as APFIT. These companies will receive a total of ~$204m to deliver their defense tech to various users across the DoD. These projects add to the 4 previously announced; 2 more selections are expected later this year. APFIT was created as a tool to rapidly buy ready-for-use tech and propel innovations across the ‘Valley of Death,’ and this latest round brings the program total to 38 projects and $500m to date (it started in 2022).

  • The Merge’s Take: It’s a very small tool—roughly 0.17% of the Pentagon’s annual procure budget. That said, the tech it funds could have an out-sized impact…but it's hard to tell. There doesn’t seem to be much press, follow-up, or follow-through from previous awards. Where are they now? What worked, what didn’t, and why not?


Australia's first Ghost Shark submarine drone prototype was delivered this week. The Ghost Shark is a co-development, co-funded program with Anduril and 3 Australian government entities to build an extra large underwater multi-mission drone.

  • The Merge’s Take: This got big social media shout-outs this week for being done on budget and ahead of schedule, amplified due to VC-backed Anduril Industries’ heavy involvement. However, in the fervor, there was some conflation between the timeline for delivering the first prototype and the production variant—which is a gigantic difference. The goal of this project is to iterate through 3 prototypes in 3 years (starting in 2022), deliver the last prototype by mid-2025, and arrive at a production-ready variant by the end of 2025. If this first prototype was truly delivered a year early, the math says it would originally have had to arrive in April 2025—right about the time the last prototype was scheduled to be delivered. Time will tell if our math sucks or how the schedule plays out, but being within budget is itself a monumental feat in defense tech.

They Said It
“they are very, very secretive”

— NASA chief Bill Nelson on how many of China’s so-called civilian space programs are actually military programs

Knowledge Bombs

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C) Skittles, created in the 1970s by a British company, has no military origin. Cheetos, M&Ms, and Pringles came from US military food projects.