Chinese media on Thursday indicated ongoing work on a new long range air-to-air missile that seems tailor-made to give the US Air Force problems when operating in the Pacific.
As Business Insider has previously covered, tensions between the US and China have been steadily ratcheting up over the last few years, and they have spiked since Donald Trump took office after breaking with decades of tradition and taking a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Photographs posted on IHS Jane’s and on Chinese media show China’s J-11B and J-16 fighters carrying an as-of-yet unnamed missile that Air force researcher Fu Qianshao told Chinese state-run media has a range of almost 250 miles — much further than current Chinese or even US capabilities.
“The successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough,” Reuters reports Fu as telling a Chinese state-run newspaper.
According to Fu, the missile would enable the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to “send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are the ‘eyes’ of enemy jets.”
The US’s airborne early warning and control planes (AWACS), basically giant flying radars, are the “eyes” Fu refers to. These planes can detect enemy movements and give targeting data to US fighter jets and bombers. Without them, the US Air Force faces a steep disadvantage.
This echoes analysis provided to Business Insider by Australia Strategic Policy Institute‘s senior analyst Dr. Malcolm Davis, who told Business Insider that “the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS and refueling planes so they can’t do their job … If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”
The new Chinese missile could grant the PLA Air Force the ability to cripple the US’s airborne support infrastructure, and figures into a larger anti-access area denial (A2AD) strategy the Chinese have been developing for years now.
According to Davis, the US’s advantage over adversaries like China has faded over the last few years. “The calculus is changing because our adversaries are getting better,” Davis said of China’s emerging capabilities.
Davis said that adversaries like China and Russia are “starting to acquire information edge capabilities that [the US] has enjoyed since 1991 … The other side had 20 years to think about counters to the Joint Strike Fighter (the F-35). Given the delays, by the time [the F-35] reaches full operation capability, how advanced are the Chinese and Russian systems going to be to counter it?”
As a possible solution, Davis recommended pairing fleets of unmanned vehicles with the F-35 to give the US a quantitative advantage as Chinese advances, like the new missile and plane, erode the US’s qualitative edge.
“We don’t have time to be leisurely about the fifth generation aircraft,” said Davis. “The other side is not going to stand still.”
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.
From St. Nicolas Island, Calif., the United States fired its latest gift for Vladimir Putin’s Russian Army – a new medium-range missile that would have been banned under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987. The accord, also known as the INF Treaty, bans nuclear-capable weapons with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
The United States left that treaty earlier in August 2019, after blaming Russia for violating the agreement first. The Russians aren’t happy about it at all.
Russia’s 9M729 missile, the one that broke the 1987 INF Treaty.
The Aug. 18, 2019 missile test saw the projectile deliberately fly beyond the 500-kilometer range that would have seen it banned by the INF Treaty. Newly-minted Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wants missiles like this new one deployed throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but that effort was hampered under the old agreement. Now the U.S. is free to pursue the relevant technology.
“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” the Defense Department said.
Meanwhile, the Russians were openly upset about the Americans pulling out of the treaty and then having a new weapon within the same month.
“All this elicits regret, the United States has obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions. We will not succumb to provocations,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. “We won’t allow ourselves to be pulled into a costly arms race.”
Bold words from a government who has, according to the United States government, already violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty on several occasions, most notably after it developed and deployed a prohibited missile, known by its apparent Russian designation Novator 9M729, a land-based cruise missile with a range of more than 500 kilometers.
“Russia has violated the agreement; they have been violating it for many years,” Trump said after a Oct. 20 campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.” But it’s not just the President who is denouncing the Russian military. The State Department came to the same conclusion.
“The United States has determined that in 2016, the Russian Federation (Russia) continued to be in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” according to the State Department’s April 2017 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments report.
The new U.S. missile isn’t nuclear-equipped (at least, not for this particular test) and resembles the more common Tomahawk missile in looks and the once-banned intermediate-range Tomahawk missile last seen in 1987. But the Russians weren’t the only ones upset about the looming new Cold War.
“This measure from the U.S. will trigger a new round of an arms race, leading to an escalation of military confrontation, which will have a serious negative impact on the international and regional security situation,” Chinese Foreign Minister Geng Shuang said, adding that the U.S. should ditch its Cold War mentality.
When Ann Mills-Griffiths sent out her regular National League of POW/MIA Families newsletter in September 2018, she included an announcement that Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills, missing in Vietnam since 1966, had been recovered, his remains positively identified by the Pentagon.
She did not mention that he was her own brother.
“DPAA [Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency] announced on 8/24/18 that CDR James B. Mills, USNR, CA, was accounted for on 8/20/18,” Mills-Griffiths’ simple announcement read.
The newsletter said that the accounting for Mills and another MIA from Vietnam, Air Force Col. Richard A. Kibbey, “brings the number still missing from the Vietnam War down to 1,594.”
So why did Mills-Griffiths withhold that the latest identification was that of Jimmy, her older brother by just 11 months?
“It would’ve been wildly inappropriate,” she told Military.com in an interview.
In her role as head of a POW/MIA advocacy group, “I’ve never mentioned my brother’s case in any official capacity,” she said.
Fighting for all families
Given her position, in which she works closely with the government on recoveries and policy, Mills-Griffiths said she didn’t like to draw special attention to her brother’s case.
“The other part is we never expected to get my brother accounted for — ever,” she said.
At age 77, Mills-Griffiths said she had no plans to retire from her position at the League, where she currently serves as chairman, just because her brother has been found.
Ann Mills-Griffiths, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families.
She acknowledges that she has been combative, and at times controversial, in pressing various administrations and defense secretaries over the years for a full accounting on the missing.
She has also become a lightning rod for other advocacy groups and what she calls the “nut fringe.”
She has been outspoken in accusing some groups of raising false hopes among the families that their loved ones would come back alive, if only the so-described appeasers and bureaucrats in government would get out of the way.
Mills-Griffiths once had a staff of seven. She now has just one staffer, but she dismissed any suggestion of stepping down as head of the League.
“Why would I do that just because of my brother? I have to keep [DPAA] on the right track,” she said. “I’m still trying to make sure DPAA is informed and going in the right direction.”
Her longevity with the issue has proven invaluable to the government in getting more cooperation from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to DPAA officials.
Despite Mills-Griffiths’ reticence to give her brother special attention in her official role, he still got a hero’s welcome back home. At California’s Bakersfield High School, where Mills lettered in three sports for the “Drillers” and was active in student government before graduating in 1958, a welcome home event in his honor featured current students.
They paraded on California Avenue in front of the school, sang the national anthem, waved flags and chanted “Once a Driller, Always a Driller,” Bakersfield.com reported.
“This is a very teachable moment, and the kids are embracing it big time,” said history instructor Ken Hooper.
“If he was part of my family, I would want to welcome him home,” senior Kareli Medina said. “He’s a Driller. We are his family.”
“That was amazing,” Mills-Griffiths said of the rally at the school where her late father, E.C. Mills, was once vice principal. “It was really something that they took that up and had that nice patriotic demonstration. Nicely done, guys.”
A “miracle” discovery
For 52 years, the rib bone of an American had been at the bottom of the South China Sea in shallow waters off the North Vietnamese coastal village of Quynh Phuong.
The rib had been there since Sept. 21, 1966, when a Navy F-4B Phantom from Fighter Squadron 21, flying off the carrier Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission to North Vietnam, disappeared from radar without a “Mayday” or contact with other aircraft. The reasons for the disappearance are still unknown.
A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4B-21-MC Phantom II (BuNo 152218) of Fighter Squadron VF-21 “Free Lancers” flying in Vietnam.
From 1993-2003, Defense Department teams conducted a total of 15 investigations in a fruitless effort to determine what had happened to the aircraft and where it went down.
Everything changed in 2006, when a fisherman from the village snagged something in his net. He pulled up what turned out to be part of a cockpit canopy.
Joint field activities by DPAA’s forensics and scuba teams resumed, including five underwater investigations, the agency said in a release. More parts of the aircraft were pulled up.
In 2011, the Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory, now part of DPAA, concluded that the aircraft was the one flown by pilot Capt. James Bauder, then 35, of La Canada, California, and his radar intercept officer, Mills — who would have been 78 on Aug. 31.
In 2017, the recovery teams found bone material. And in June 2018, DPAA determined through DNA analysis that the remains were those of Capt. Bauder.
The teams had found not a trace of Mills’ remains. Mills-Griffiths said the family had long ago accepted that Mills’ remains would never be found, but were grateful that the F-4B had been located and Bauder’s family had been notified.
“None of us ever had any of what folks would call ‘false hopes,'” she said. “What are the chances? It’s not like we knew he was on the ground, it’s not like anybody last saw him alive … Our chances of ever knowing anything specific were not high and we knew that all along.”
Mills-Griffiths said she learned earlier this year that divers were about to go down on the site again.
“If you don’t get it, that’s still the last time I want you to go there,” Mills-Griffiths said she told DPAA.
In June 2018, another DPAA excavation turned up new remains.
“It turned out to be a rib bone, and they were able to get a cut and take a DNA match quickly,” Mills-Griffiths said. “It was a virtual miracle.”
New headstone at Arlington
Cmdr. James Mills, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Navy through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. His eyesight wasn’t good enough to become a pilot under the standards of the time, and so he became a backseat Radar Intercept Officer on Phantoms, Mills-Griffiths said.
He was a lieutenant junior grade when his plane went missing on his second tour off Vietnam.
Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills.
He flew off the carrier Midway on his first tour. He did not have a spouse or children.
Mills-Griffiths said her brother had volunteered to return “so that other radar officers who had wives and kids wouldn’t have to go back.”
“He was not an optimist” about the war, as were so many others who served at the time, she said. “He believed in what he was doing, even though he didn’t believe in the way the war was being run.”
Mills-Griffiths said she can’t remember how many times she’s been to Vietnam and the region.
“I stopped counting at 32,” she said.
In that time, the Vietnamese officials she first knew as junior officers and diplomats have come into leadership positions, she said.
Her brother already has a place at Arlington National Cemetery. The headstone over an empty grave for James B. Mills simply reads “In Memory.”
DPAA officials said that Mills’ name also is listed on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for,” DPAA said.
Mills-Griffiths said a ceremony for the burial of her brother’s remains will be held at Arlington on June 24 2019. The headstone will be replaced with a traditional one listing his name, rank, date of birth and date of death on Sept. 21, 1966.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day will be observed on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
US Air Force General John E. Hyten, the Commander of US Strategic Command, made a worrying admission on March 20, 2018, about the state of US defenses against hypersonic weapons: They don’t really exist.
While hypersonic weapons are still largely in either the conceptual or testing phase, Russia and China have been making headway on their respective programs.
China tested a functional hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in November 2017, and Russia tested a hypersonic weapon only a few weeks after President Vladimir Putin boasted that he has an “invincible” hypersonic missile in early March 2018.
When asked by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the committee chairman, what kind of defenses the US had against such weapons, the general responded, “our defense is our deterrent capability.”
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” Hyten said.
The general said that the only “defense” the US had was the threat of nuclear retaliation, adding, “our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the Triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
More specifically, Hyten said that low-yield submarine-based nuclear weapons were the primary defense.
Hyten added later in the hearing, responding to a question from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, that the US needed to “pursue improved sensor capabilities” in order to “track, characterize, and attribute the threats wherever they come from.” Detection of ICBMs is mostly done through satellites orbiting the earth.
The General acknowledged that there are still issues, primarily due to lack of resources and aging equipment. “Right now we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and our limited number of radars that we have around the world,” Hyten said.
Hypersonic weapons can be destabilizing. HGVs and hypersonic cruise missiles can travel Mach 5 and above (340 miles every 6 minutes), can maneuver to avoid ICBM defenses, and can impact a target just minutes after being detected.
The RAND Corporation published a report that predicts that hypersonic weapons will be deployed to the battlefield in the next 10 years. At that point, the primary defense against ICBMs and nuclear missiles could no longer be kinetic or proximity interception of the missiles themselves, but the Cod War-era concept of mutually assured destruction.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II, popularly known as the Warthog, was originally designed as a “tank-killer”. In fact, the entire aircraft was essentially built around a 30 mm rotary cannon, known as the GAU-8 Avenger, a fearsome name for a gun capable of spitting out depleted uranium shells the size of soda bottles designed to shred heavy Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers into mental confetti.
While the Avenger’s primary use has been as the A-10’s main weapon, seeing combat action from the Persian Gulf War onward, the US Army once considered making this cannon its own by mounting it on the very thing it was created to destroy: tanks.
In the late 1970s, the US Army began looking to replace their aging force of self-propelled anti-aircraft guns with newer, more effective systems that could do a similar job with even more lethality and effectiveness than ever before. The result of this search for new air defense artillery would be fielded alongside the Army’s newest and fighting vehicles — namely the M1 Abrams main battle tank and the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, as part of the service’s vision for the future.
A competition under the Division Air Defense name was thus created.
The goal of the DIVAD program was to design, build and field a self-propelled air defense gun system, able to engage and shoot down low-flying enemy aircraft with controlled bursts of shells from a cannon mounted on a turret. The system would be manned by a small crew, aided by a radar tracking system that would pick up targets and “slave” the gun to them before firing. In concept, the DIVAD vehicle could go anywhere, dig in and wait for enemy aircraft to appear, then shoot them down quickly.
One of the various participants in the competition, according to Jane’s Weapon Systems 1988-1989, was General Electric, fresh from designing the GAU-8 Avenger for what would be the Air Force’s next air support attack jet – the A-10 Warthog. General Electric had the bright idea to take a modified version of the Avenger and place it in a turret, configured to hold its weight while moving the cannon around quickly to track and hit new targets as they appeared.
The turret, in turn, would be mated to the chassis of an M48 Patton main battle tank as per program requirements, giving it mobility. Able to spit out shells at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute at an effective range of 4000 feet, the Avenger would’ve been a major threat to the safety of any aircraft in the vicinity, sighted through its radar.
However, General Electric’s entry, referred to as the Air Defense Turret, didn’t advance during the DIVAD program. Instead, Ford and General Dynamics were given prototype production contracts to build their designs for testing, with Ford ultimately winning the competition. Known as the M247 Sergeant York, Ford’s anti-aircraft gun system was much more conventional, significantly lighter and apparently somewhat cheaper to build than the Avenger cannon concept.
However, it under-performed severely, much to the embarrassment of its parent company and the Army.
The DIVAD program soon proved to be an abject failure, with nothing to show for pouring millions into the project and the Sergeant York prototypes. The M247 couldn’t adequately track target drones with its radars, even when the drones were made to hover nearly stationary.
In 1985, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger finally put the program out of its misery, noting that missiles were the future of air defense.
The Avenger cannon nevertheless does serve in a somewhat similar role today, functioning as the core of the Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System, found on a number of modern warships around the world. Goalkeeper is designed to engage surface-skimming missiles aimed at naval vessels and obliterate them by putting up a “wall of steel” – essentially a massive scattered burst of shells which will hopefully strike and detonate the missile a safe distance away from the ship.
Still, one can’t help but wonder just how incredibly awesome mounting a 30mm Gatling cannon to a tank could have been, had the Army chosen to pursue General Electric’s idea instead of Ford’s.
While it was a clear message to North Vietnamese forces that American troops were moving away from just a support role for South Vietnam, the Marine landing was an administrative landing in friendly territory. The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines would not come under enemy fire in their initial foray into the country, according to Global Security.
Instead of encountering bullets, the Marines were greeted by welcoming South Vietnamese troops and pretty girls giving them leis of flowers.
“Nevertheless, a new phase of the Vietnam war had begun. About one-third of the Marine ground forces and two-thirds of the Marine helicopter squadrons in the Western Pacific had been committed to South Vietnam,” reads an official Marine Corps history of the service’s involvement in Vietnam.
It wouldn’t be long before U.S. troops were involved in major combat operations. In August, four Marine infantry battalions launched Operation Starlite in order to repel Vietcong forces from the area around the Chu Lai Air Base.
From The Guardian:
The landing was carefully stage managed. The troops were given a warm welcome by a delegation of smiling children and traditionally dressed Vietnamese women brandishing garlands of flowers. A sign held aloft read: “Welcome, Gallant Marines.” It was an incongruous beginning for the marines, and their mission – to defend the city’s air base during the Operation Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against targets in the North – seemed straightforward. Nobody on the beach that day had any idea of the long and tortuous conflict that was to follow. By the end of the year, nearly 185,000 troops had been deployed as the war escalated. A decade later when Saigon fell and US soldiers made their final exit, more than 540,000 Americans had served in Vietnam – more than 58,000 were killed.
Aluminum has served in war since ancient times, but its most common application today is as armor, allowing for well-protected but light vehicles that can tear through rough terrain where steel would get bogged down. But aluminum has an unearned reputation for burning, so troops don’t line up to ride in them under fire.
Crewmen in the coupla of an M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle elevate the barrel during a 1987 exercise.
(U.S. Army Pfc. Prince Hearns)
Aluminum got its start in war as alum, a salt composed of aluminum and potassium. This was one of the earliest uses of aluminum in military history. Ancient commanders learned you could apply a solution of the stuff to wood and reduce the chances it would burn when an enemy hit it with fire.
As chemists and scientists learned how to create pure aluminum in the 1800s, some military leaders looked to it for a new age of weaponry. At the time, extracting and smelting aluminum was challenging and super expensive, but Napoleon sponsored research as he sought to create aluminum artillery.
Because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, it could’ve given rise to more mobile artillery units, capable of navigating muddy lanes that would stop heavier units. Napoleon’s scientists could never get the process right to mass produce the metal, so the ideas never came to fruition.
But aluminum has some drawbacks when it comes to weapon barrels. It’s soft, and it has a relatively low melting point. So, start churning out cannon balls from aluminum guns, and you run the risk of warping the barrels right when you need them.
Instead, the modern military uses aluminum, now relatively cheap to mine and refine, to serve as armor. It’s light, and it can take a hit, making it perfect for protection. The softness isn’t ideal for all purposes, but it does mean that the armor isn’t prone to spalling when hit.
But aluminum’s differences from steel extend deep into the thermal sphere. While aluminum does have a lower melting point than steel, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and specific energy (basically, it takes more heat to heat up aluminum than it does to heat up steel). So it can take plenty of localized heat without melting away.
An armored personnel carrier burns in the streets of Egypt during 2011 protests.
(In industrial applications that rely on aluminum burning, the process is usually started by burning another metal, like magnesium, which burns more easily and releases enough heat, and the aluminum is crushed into a fine powder and mixed with oxygen so that the soot doesn’t halt the reaction.)
In a book published in 1993, after the Bradley became one of the heroes of Desert Storm, he claimed that the vehicles survived because of changes made after those tests. But while the Army might have switched the locations where ammo was stored and other design details, they didn’t change the hull material.
But, again, aluminum does melt. And the few Bradley’s that did suffer extended ammo fires did melt quite extensively, sometimes resulting in puddles of aluminum with the steel frame sitting on top of it. This spurred on the belief that the aluminum, itself, had burnt.
The M2A3 Bradley is capable, but troops don’t love its aluminum hull.
(Winifred Brown, U.S. Army)
But aluminum melts at over 1,200 Fahrenheit, hot enough that any crew in a melting aluminum vehicle would’ve died long before the armor plates drip off. Aluminum is great at normal temperatures, providing protection at light weights.
And so aluminum protects vehicles like the M2 Bradley and the M113 armored personnel carrier. The new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that is slated to replace the M113 has, you guessed it, an aluminum hull. But while troops might enjoy the increased space, they’ll probably leave off any discussion of the vehicle’s material while bragging.
Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.
So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?
The answer is an emphatic “yes” as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint at Fort Lee. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage “strength in numbers.”
“This is good for us,” said 30-year-old Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. “We come from American Samoa, and we’re basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day.”
American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.
The Samoans in training here — first, second, third, and fourth cousins — hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
“We wanted to stick together in training,” the 20-year-old said, noting her country’s communal culture.
Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.
American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, said Tuiolemotu. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.
“The thing we care about is supporting our families,” she said. “If that means (sacrificing) our lives, yes, we have to fight for them.”
It also is legacy. Many of the Soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.
“Most of my siblings are in the military, and I’m the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said 25-year-old Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform, and his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.
“Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them,” said the 19-year-old. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country.”
The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. The Quartermaster School’s Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, who organized the gathering, said there were smiles, hugs, and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions
“They are definitely a family,” he said.
At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life — family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture is comforting in light of the prospect, said Tuiolemotu.
“I’m the first one who will leave the group,” she said, noting a pending Fort Riley, Kansas, assignment. “I’m not worried because there are a lot of us out there. I’m bound to meet another relative somewhere. That’s for sure.”
The U.S. Navy plans to begin deploying interceptors that can shoot down hypersonic missiles aboard some Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers in just a few years. Though some critics counter that the Navy’s timeline seems awfully optimistic, as no existing missile defense system has proven capable of intercepting an inbound hypersonic weapon.
Hypersonic missiles fly in excess of Mach 5, and potentially much faster than that, making them so much faster than the ballistic and cruise missiles previously employed by national militaries that even advanced air defense systems like America’s destroyer-based Aegis Combat Systems can’t find and shoot down hypersonic missiles in flight. This has raised the alarm among many within the Defense Department, both in order to field America’s own hypersonic weapons and, of course, to find ways to defend against those employed by foreign militaries.
There are different methods of achieving hypersonic velocities with a missile, including scramjet propulsion that often requires either a rocket-assist at launch or deployment from fast moving aircraft, as scramjet motors require a high volume of airflow in order to effectively operate. Conversely there are also hypersonic “glide vehicles,” which are traditionally carried to a high altitude using a rocket motor similar to those employed on intercontinental ballistic missiles. The hypersonic glide vehicle then separates from the booster and travels back to earth at exceedingly high speeds. In fact, some of these missiles travel so fast that the kinetic transfer of their impact is enough to sink a vessel without the need for an explosive warhead.
The United States has been fairly public about its efforts to begin fielding its own suite of hypersonic missiles in the coming years, but until recently, America’s Defense Department has echoed the popular consensus that hypersonic weapons can’t be stopped. Now, however, America’s Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS) is seeing rapid development for the purposes of deployment specifically (at least initially) aboard America’s advanced destroyers.
America already relies heavily on its fleet of Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers for missile defense, which some critics have called a waste of destroyer bandwidth. When serving in an air defense role, U.S. Navy destroyers are left criss-crossing specific areas of ocean to maximize their ability to intercept inbound missiles, which, some argue, is a waste of a platform that’s capable of supporting a wide variety of defense operations. However, it seems the U.S. Navy’s plan for hypersonic defense will also leverage the multiple launch tubes available on America’s destroyers, effectively guaranteeing the continued use of destroyers for missiles defense for years to come.
The RGPWS system has apparently been designed specifically for use in the Mk. 41 vertical launch tubes utilized by America’s destroyers and other vessels, which will allow this hypersonic-intercept capability to be rapidly deployed and adopted aboard existing vessels with little need for modifications. According to the Navy, this will allow America to “proliferate the capability” across the force very rapidly.
This system is specifically tailored toward the glide-vehicle method of hypersonic weapon propulsion, designed to engage an inbound hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) during its un-powered glide phase, which despite its extraordinary speed, is the point I which these platforms are most vulnerable to intercept.
Of course, in order to effectively intercept HGVs, the Navy will need advanced warning of their launch. In order to do so, the Navy is working with the Missile Defense Agency and the Space Development Agency to field a new space-based sensor system that is expected to be operational within the next three years. Using the early warning provided by this new sensor array, the RGPWS will theoretically be capable of projecting the trajectory of HGVs and intercept them before they’re able to reach their target.
While the RGPWS system will be limited to destroyers initially, these systems will likely find their way into a variety of platforms, including ground and air-launched varieties. If the U.S. is able to find a way to reliably intercept inbound hypersonic weapons, America’s naval stature, and many defense official’s position on the future of aircraft carriers, will both likely shift. Currently, many law makers and defense officials are looking to de-emphasize the role of carriers in near-peer conflicts over fear of losing them to indefensible hypersonic weapons.
As for exactly how the RGPWS system will work–that much remains a secret for now.
But all good things must come to an end, and Juno is no exception.
NASA planned to destroy the tennis-court-size robot by plunging it into Jupiter’s clouds sometime after July 2018. The rationale is similar to the Cassini probe’s recent demise: Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may be habitable to alien life, so carefully and deliberately ending the mission would prevent Juno from accidentally crashing into that moon. This would keep Europa’s ocean — which may have twice as much water as exists on Earth — from getting contaminated by any earthly microbes stuck to Juno.
However, the probe’s fiery end is now pushed back by at least three years to July 2021, according to NASA sources. Scientific work on the mission will continue through September 2022.
The extension is critical to one of Juno’s primary objectives. The probe has been mapping Jupiter as it orbits the gas giant with infrequent close passes called perijoves. Juno builds this map slice-by-slice using a suite of different instruments, including ones that record data about Jupiter’s gravitational field.
But due to lingering trouble with Juno’s propulsion system, by July 2018, the team will have completed only 14 of the 32 perijoves that it needs to finish mapping Jupiter.
Why Juno needs an extension to finish mapping Jupiter
(Scott Bolton / Southwest Research Institute)
Spending too much time in Jupiter’s powerful radiation field can damage sensitive electronics. As a result, Juno orbits the planet on a highly elliptical path that keeps the probe mostly out of harm’s way, yet regularly zooms it over the cloud tops for detailed observations.
When Juno arrived in July 2016, mission managers had the spacecraft orbit Jupiter once every 53.5 days. In October 2016, they planned to fire up the probe’s engines and speed Juno’s orbits to once every 14 days — until the team discovered some sticky valves in the engine’s plumbing. NASA ultimately decided to play it safe and not risk using the engines, delaying Juno’s mapping pace nearly four-fold.
“During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit,” Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a 2017 press release. “The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno’s science objectives.”
One representative told Business Insider that the agency hasn’t “put anything out yet about that” when asked about the extension.
“NASA is close to being able to announce a decision on the possibility of continuing the Juno mission at Jupiter,” another representative said in an emailed statement. (NASA declined to provide additional information.)
Extending Juno’s flight will help the probe finish mapping Jupiter — a project that primarily focuses on the planet’s gravitational field. That data may reveal what is going on deep inside the giant yet mysterious world.
“It is very exciting for us to be able to complete the mission pretty much as it was originally proposed, except with longer orbits,” Frederic Allegrini, a staff scientist at Southwest Research Institute who works on the Juno mission, told Business Insider.
If Juno stays operational and productive over the next few years, NASA might again decide to keep flying the probe around Jupiter beyond July 2021.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.
One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.
The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.
Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.
So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.
Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.
It was one year to the day since the war had started.
The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.
As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.
As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.
But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.
Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.
Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.
The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.
Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas butsince the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.
In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.
By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.
All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.
Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”