By the end of the Civil War, Los Angeles was still a relatively new U.S. city. It was ceded to the United States with the rest of California in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War. In 1869, the population was up to 5,000, with more coming in all the time.
They had one City Marshal and a Sheriff to police them. Soon, the murder rate and public drunkenness demanded more police officers. Six men wore the badges and Winchester lever-action rifles of the new LAPD.
LA in 1869. Somewhere a drunk cowboy is complaining about Mercury in retrograde while his buddy asks for gluten-free hummus.
Early LAPD Sheriffs had a short lifespan. The second-ever City Marshal was murdered in 1853. Sheriff James Barton was assassinated in 1857. The murder rate was as high as one every day, with many coming from LA’s 400 gambling halls and 110 saloons. Until these six men were deputized in 1869, mob rule and vigilantism were the usual method of justice.
This was when the American police department received its iconic dark blue uniforms. The Los Angeles Police Department’s first official uniforms were Army surplus — the dark blue of the Union Army of the American Civil War. And they looked exactly like Union soldiers too.
Still, that didn’t ease much for the City Marshal, who was also the dog catcher and tax collector. Marshal William C. Warren didn’t even get along with his deputies, one of whom shot and killed him six years later.
LA had 16 police chiefs between 1879 and the turn of the 20th century, averaging almost a new guy in the position every year. By 1893, the cowboy hat in the Union Army uniform was replaced with a stovepipe hat — the helmet in the style of British “Bobbies” — for the beat cops and flat tops for the sergeants and officers of the force.
Many cities like Los Angeles adopted the same practice of using Union Army surplus uniforms in the days following the Civil War. Similar photos of NYPD officers wearing the old uniforms and “Bobbie”-style helmets can be seen as early as 1893.
Leave it to Los Angeles to set the first vintage clothing trend.
The pay? A six-figure salary, from $124,406 to $187,000 a year, plus benefits.
A rare and cosmically important position
While many space agencies hire planetary protection officers, they’re often shared or part-time roles.
In fact, only two such full-time roles exist in the world: one at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.
That’s according to Catharine Conley, NASA’s only planetary protection officer since 2014. Business Insider interviewed Conley most recently in March.
“This new job ad is a result of relocating the position I currently hold to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which is an independent technical authority within NASA,” Conley told Business Insider in an email on Tuesday. (She did not say whether she planned to reapply for the position, which is held for at least three years but may be extended to five years.)
Catharine Conley, NASA’s sole planetary protection officer. Photo from Paul E. Alers/NASA
The position was created after the US ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically to support Article IX of the document:
“States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”
Part of the international agreement is that any space mission must have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world.
“It’s a moderate level,” Conley previously told Business Insider. “It’s not extremely careful, but it’s not extremely lax.”
This is why NASA’s planetary protection officer occasionally gets to travel to space centers around the world and analyze planet-bound robots. The officer helps ensure we don’t accidentally contaminate a pristine world that a probe is landing on — or, more often, is zooming by and photographing.
Still, there’s a chance the robot could crash-land — so someone like Conley comes in to mitigate risk.
Conversely, the officer helps ensure something from another world, most imminently Mars, doesn’t contaminate Earth.
The oceans of Mars. Illustration from European Southern Observatory.
The red planet is a frequent target for NASA because it’s similar to Earth. It may have once been covered in water and able to support life, which is why many scientists are pushing hard for a Mars sample return mission, ostensibly to seek out signs of aliens.
While the expectation is not to scoop up freeze-dried Martian microbes — only ancient, microscopic fossils — there’s always the chance of contamination once those samples are in earthbound labs.
Again, this is where the planetary protection officer and her team come in. They help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce such risks.
“The phrase that we use is ‘Break the chain of contact with Mars,'” Conley previously said.
No one ever said defending Earth had to be glorious all the time, though — Conley said a typical week mostly involved a lot of emails and reading studies, proposals, and other materials.
Who qualifies as a candidate
An out-of-this-world job like Conley’s requires some equally extraordinary qualifications.
A candidate must have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, plus have “advanced knowledge” of planetary protection and all it entails.
If you don’t have “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance,” you may be wasting your time by applying.
The job involves a lot of international coordination — space exploration is expensive, and the costs are frequently shared by multiple nations — so NASA needs someone with “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”
Did we mention the advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics? You should have that on your résumé, too.
Adam West was born, and drafted into the Army, as William West. In the military, he was in charge of standing up TV stations at San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But if it seems odd that the star of a farcical show like the 1966 version of “Batman” got his start in the Army, it was actually the perfect way to prepare for such a ridiculous show.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Renaming everything to some arbitrary standard like “bat cuffs,” “bat time,” and “bat channel,” makes sense for anyone who has had to relearn names for Velcro, Duck Tape, and zipper
Those are ridiculous ways of referring to Velcro, Duck Tape, and zippers, which are all brand names that the Army can’t use in official doctrine. So young Billy West would have gotten used to using the Army names. It was probably easy to start calling everything “bat” later in life.
2. Dealing with a group of ne’er-do-wells like the “Batman” villains is old hat for anyone who has dealt with an Army squad
Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Archer, and other crazy villains were always hatching insane schemes in the Batman TV show. But, once again, the Army would’ve prepared the future Bruce Wayne for this.
Soldiers decide to get high with spice and bath salts? Yup, sounds about right. Troops smuggling liquor overseas by pouring it into Listerine bottles and mixing in food coloring? Seen it. Enlisted hijinks are basically Silver Age Batman ridiculous, just without the fancy gadgets and costumes.
3. Having to mentor a grown adult while treating them like a child is how all specialists deal with new privates
One of the more awkward truths about the Batman is that Robin, the Boy Wonder, was actually a 21-year-old man when the show began. The grown adult Adam West had to act like mentoring another grown man while treating him like a child wasn’t sort of weird.
But again, the Army is perfect preparation for this. After all, most specialists have only been in the military for a few years and they can be assigned responsibility of a private first class who has been in the Army a couple of years. So, 24-year-old supervising 20-year-olds.
4. Spending all of your time with an attractive lady without giving in is easy for any NCO who had to ignore their co-ed lieutenant’s good looks
One of Batman’s greatest villains was Catwoman, who definitely had a thing going on with Batman. But Batman refused to give in to it (though he almost kissed her once, and a later incarnation of Batman ran off to Europe with her).
But any specialist or sergeant who has pulled overnight duty with an even moderately attractive officer knows what it’s like to weigh the consequences of “fraternization” over and over. Chances are, young and attractive Billy West had to say no to a few female sergeants and officers, or at least find the right place to give in without getting caught.
5. Only in the military and “Batman” can the little stuff be crucial during an emergency
This is a small one, but most organizations will let little things go during an emergency. But Batman doesn’t accept any of that crap from Robin. Proper grammar is important, and Batman corrects Robin even as Catwoman tries to get away on a rocket.
You know, just like a sergeant major yelling about gloves during a firefight or reflective belts during literally anything.
6. Working within made-up rules is easy for anyone who has dealt with UCMJ and Rules of Engagement
Batman runs into some pretty stupid bureaucratic problems during the show, like that time the Riddler sues Batman (while using riddles to explain his scheme, because of course he did) for false imprisonment and assault.
While the United States was busy destroying terrorist networks and making the world a generally safer place, rivals like China and Russia were making new kinds of weapons. They needed an edge against the U.S. military’s dominance and some of them found one.
Being forced into the job of the world’s policeman is nothing new, but it’s pretty messed up for our rivals to plan ways to kill us while we’re keeping the peace out here. So now that the Global War on Terror is taking a backseat to these backstabbers, America’s military has some catching up to do.
Here are five weapons we need to counter before getting into a war with an old foe.
1. China’s DF-21D
The Chinese communists’ Rocket Force has developed a road-mobile missile platform designed just to rain death on America’s massive aircraft carriers. The DF-21D has a range of 780 nautical miles and fires an anti-ship projectile like an ICBM in two stages–first into orbit, then down on the carriers at five times the speed of sound.
There are rumors that the missile has trouble with accuracy during land-based target testing, but intelligence on the weapon is limited. What we do know is if the DF-21D is capable of sinking a ship like the USS Gerald Ford, 6,000 sailors could be at the bottom of the Pacific in the blink of an eye.
2. Russia’s 3M22 Zircon Hypersonic Missile
Vladimir Putin and his Russian cronies are looking to add this hypersonic missile to take down U.S. Navy submarines and other ocean-going vessels. The Russians boast that during testing, the Zircon was able to strike targets at 10 times the speed of sound.
With just one aircraft carrier, the Russian Navy doesn’t have the ability to counter American air or sea power, so the Zircon missile would be an effective means of leveling the playing field without having to worry about a ship’s missile defense.
3. Iran’s fast in-shore attack craft
Small attack craft disrupting American Navy operations anywhere may seem like a goofy idea to some, but that is how Iran will likely fend off an American amphibious invasion or other kind of seaborne operation. Iran can’t build aircraft carriers or battleships, but it can swarm U.S. vessels with anti-ship missile firing fast boats.
If this doesn’t seem like a plausible weapon, consider that these boats are how retired Gen. Paul Van Riper beat the U.S. Navy in the Millennium Challenge exercise. It’s also how Venezuela intends to repel American incursions.
4. China’s Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon
The J-20 is China’s fifth generation fighter aircraft, and only the third fifth generation fighter produced anywhere in the world. The other two are the American F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, and if the F-35 is a feared flying machine, the J-20 should be, too. The J-20’s armaments and stealth capabilities are said to come from the F-35 program via Chinese hackers.
Without getting into specifics, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the J-20 puts a lot of American capabilities at risk, especially surface assets, flying tankers and AWACS battlefield systems.
5. Russia’s nuclear underwater drone
Although it didn’t have an official name when Vladimir Putin announced its existence in 2018, the weapon is basically a nuclear-tipped long-range torpedo. These underwater submersibles are a hundred times smaller than a submarine and would be harder to detect when moving into unfriendly waters.
Once inside the defenses, the drone can detonate a dirty bomb-style warhead, throwing contaminated waste into the area, causing lasting damage after the initial explosion. Add on to that the fact that it can run deeper and faster than other submarines, making it nearly impossible to intercept.
The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington’s most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets, and drones.
But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.
Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls ” Little Sparta,” has even larger ambitions.
From Protectorate to Protector
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.
The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban.
Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.
Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.
The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran’s resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen.
In 2011, the UAE acknowledged working with private military contractors, including a firm reportedly tied to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to build up its military. The Associated Press also reported that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, a program by several Arab countries, including the UAE.
“As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions,” Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official, said in a statement on the state-run WAM news agency.
Media in Colombia have also reported that Colombian nationals working as mercenaries serve in the UAE’s military.
In 2014, the UAE introduced mandatory military service for all Emirati males between the ages of 18 to 30. The training is optional for Emirati women.
“Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message,” Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote at the time on Twitter.
War in Yemen
In Yemen, UAE troops are fighting alongside Saudi-led forces against Shiite rebels who hold the impoverished Arab country’s capital, Sanaa.
Areas where the UAE forces are deployed include Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, and the port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is stationed.
Additionally, the UAE appears to be building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemeni territory that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al- Mandeb Strait, according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.
That strait, some 16-kilometers (10-miles) wide at its narrowest point, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Dozens of commercial ships transit the route every day.
Already, the waters have seen Emirati and Saudi ships targeted by suspected fire from Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis. In October, U.S. Navy vessels came under fire as well, sparking American forces to fire missiles in Yemen in its first attack targeting the Houthis in the years-long war there.
“More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene,” the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy warned in March.
UAE forces and aid organizations have also set foot on Yemen’s Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, after a deadly cyclone struck it. It too represents a crucial chokepoint and has seen recent attacks from Somali pirates.
The UAE has suffered the most wartime casualties in its history in Yemen. The deadliest day came in a September 2015 missile strike on a base that killed over 50 Emiratitroops, as well as at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain.
Outside of Yemen, the UAE has been building up a military presence in Eritrea at its port in Assab, according to Stratfor, a U.S.-based private intelligence firm. Satellite images show new construction at a once-abandoned airfield the firm links to the Emiratis, as well as development at the port and the deployment of tanks and aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones.
“The scale of the undertaking suggests that the UAE military is in Eritrea for more than just a short-term logistical mission supporting operations across the Red Sea,”Stratfor said in December.
UAE officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its military operations or overseas expansion.
South of Eritrea, in Somalia’s breakaway northern territory of Somaliland, authorities agreed in February to allow the UAE open a naval base in the port town of Berbera. Previously, the UAE international ports operator DP World struck a deal to manage Somaliland’s largest port nearby.
Further afield, the UAE also has been suspected of conducting airstrikes in Libya and operating at a small air base in the North African country’s east, near the Egyptian border.
Meanwhile, Somalia remains a particular focus for the UAE. The Emiratis sent forces to the Horn of Africa country to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, while their elite counterterrorism unit in 2011 rescued a UAE-flagged ship from Somali pirates. The unit has also has been targeted in recent attacks carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants from al- Shabab.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, presided over the launch of a new anti-ship cruise missile system on June 8 in Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast. And though the missiles performed well and struck their target, it was a pretty weak showing.
The missiles flew about 125 miles, South Korea said, and fired from tracked launchers with forest camouflage. The missiles themselves were not new, according to The Diplomat, but they showed off a new launcher that can fire from hidden, off-road locations within moments of being set up.
But those are about the only nice things you could say about these missiles.
In the photos released by North Korean media, it’s clear the missiles are striking a ship that isn’t moving.
The ship appears anchored, with no wake. Photo by Rodong Sinmun
In a combat situation, the ships would move and take countermeasures. For the US, South Korean, and Japanese navies, that often means firing an interceptor missile.
North Korea also lacks the ability to support these missiles with accurate guidance. The US would use planes, drones, or even undersea platforms to observe and track a target.
Photo by Rodong Sinmun
North Korea waited to test these missiles until two US aircraft carrier strike groups armed to the teeth with missile defense capabilities left its shores, perhaps to avoid embarrassment should the US knock them down.
Unlike its practice with ballistic-missile tests, which are banned under international law, the US did not publicly comment on this launch. North Korea is well within its rights to test a cruise missile in international waters.
Photo by Rodong Sinmun
But despite the rudimentary technology used in the launch, North Korea did show that it poses a real threat. Not only do the missile launchers leverage the element of surprise, but they represent yet another new missile capability.
In a few short months, North Korea has demonstrated a range of capabilities that has surprised experts and military observers. Though the missiles don’t pose a threat to the US Navy, Kim showed he’s serious about fighting on all fronts.
Henry Hughes deployed twice to Afghanistan as an airborne infantry officer and is now hoping his debut short film, “Day One” will bring home an Oscar on February 28.
Day One, which follows a female Afghan-American interpreter named Feda on her first day of patrols in Afghanistan, is Hughes’ first movie.
“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Hughes told WATM about being nominated for an Oscar for his first film. “It’s a wonderful, serendipitous, golden ticket-type thing.”
In the film, the interpreter and the infantry platoon she works with go to the home of a suspected insurgent. At the house, the mission quickly gets complicated as the insurgent’s pregnant wife goes into labor. The interpreter, the platoon leader, and the insurgent all have to navigate the needs of the mother, the child, and the social and religious customs of Afghanistan.
It’s complicated stuff and very intense.
The story is inspired by real events, and most of the details come from Hughes’ experiences in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He decided to focus on the interpreter instead of the platoon leader so the movie would feel fresh to audiences used to seeing things from a soldier’s point of view.
“On my second tour I had a female interpreter,” he said. “She is an American, an Afghan-American. And I kind of just realized that if I was going to tell a story about our community, about our experiences, we needed a new way to get into it.”
Following this woman who was new to the war gave him a chance to show the dual nature of combat.
“I thought, maybe we hadn’t seen something that was as enlightening as some of the moments in combat felt to me,” Hughes said. “Very sublime, hyperbolic. Where things are beatiful and kind of harsh at the same time. And I thought a way to do that would be to go through this woman who has to deal with both these gender issues and the culture issues.”
Learn more about the movie at its website and check out the trailer below. “Day One” will be available as a streaming movie for rental or purchase March 15th on Vimeo.
Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.
Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.
In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.
At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.
He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.
The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.
Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.
He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.
An ongoing petition on Change.org is seeking at least 15,000 signatures to convince Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to name DDG 127, an as-yet unnamed destroyer, after Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary L. Rehm, Jr., who allegedly gave up his own life while attempting to rescue six sailors in a flooding compartment on the USS Fitzgerald.
The Fitzgerald was struck by the ACX Crystal, a Philippine container ship, on June 17. The much larger Crystal impacted the Fitzgerald almost squarely on the sleeping berths, causing massive damage to the area where a number of sailors were resting.
As the water rushed in, the rest of the crew was forced to close the hatches while Rehm was still inside.
DDG 127, the ship which petitioners hope will be named after Rehm, is an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer like the Fitzgerald. The guided-missile destroyers can fire a variety of missiles against everything from land targets to aircraft to submarines to other ships and even missiles in flight.
The Fitzgerald is named for Lt. William C. Fitzgerald, an officer who began his career as an enlisted sailor before graduating from the Naval Academy. He later gave his life to cover the retreat of civilians and other sailors under attack by the Viet Cong on Aug. 7, 1967. The ship’s motto is “Protect Your People.”
Rehm’s actions, if proven during the Navy’s investigation, surely upheld the ship’s traditions and motto.
The other six sailors who died in the June 17 crash were Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; and Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24.
There was a reason he was known as “Give ‘Em Hell Harry.”
Truman was the last President to take office without a college degree and started his military career as an enlisted man in the Missouri National Guard. He wanted to join so bad, he memorized an eye chart to pass the Army physical – he couldn’t see well enough to get in on his own. He first enlisted in 1905.
By the time WWI rolled around, Truman re-enlisted and had been elected an officer. It was on the battlefields of France that he was given command of Battery D – dubbed “Dizzy D” for its bad reputation. The onetime Pvt. Truman was now Capt. Truman, in command of 194 men.
Those men tried to intimidate him at every turn, even giving him the “Bronx Cheer” after formations. But a guy like “Captain Harry” wasn’t about to take that garbage in his command. He began to hold his NCOs responsible for the junior enlisted behavior – and the discipline changed in a hurry.
His men began to obey him loyally, especially in combat, and Truman enjoyed his command. The only time they faltered was during an artillery exchange with the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, where both sides exchanged gas and high explosive shells for more than 30 minutes.
Truman was tossed from his horse, which fell on top of him into a shell crater. Panic and disorder gripped his company when they were supposed to fall back, but they had no horses to pull the artillery. The guns were getting stuck in the mud as German shells rained on them.
The company first sergeant ordered the men to make a run for it.
That’s when Capt. Truman was pulled out from under his horse. He stood on the battlefield and unleashed a string of curses so profane it actually shocked his enlisted men to turn around and run back into the hail of chemicals and explosions to man their guns.
Maybe it was his time as an enlisted artilleryman, or maybe the future President picked that language up while working on the Santa Fe rail lines and sleeping like a hobo. He sure didn’t pick it up at West Point – because he couldn’t get in.
During his presidency, Truman kept his spot as a U.S. Army reserve colonel, leaving after 37 years of service. When his presidency ended, he and his wife Bess drove back to Missouri, not to a corporate boardroom – which he considered it a black mark on the office of the president.
The Air Force is progressing with a massive technological overhaul of its warzone-tested C-130 aircraft, giving the platform new radios, digital avionics, collision avoidance technology and reinforced “wing-boxes,” service officials said.
The Air Force remains vigilant about its C-130 fleet to ensure the airframes, wingboxes, avionics and communication systems remain safe and operational well into the 2030s and beyond. This is particularly true of the older 1980s-era C-130Hs, Air Force developers explained.
“The thing that causes the greatest risk to the airplane is the life of the wing. We monitor the wing of the aircraft and as the wings get past their service, life we bring the airplanes back in and bring in new structures — with the primary focus being the center wingbox which is the area where the wings mount to the fuselage,”Col. Robert Toth, Chief of Tactical Aircraft, Special Operations and Combat Search and Rescue Division, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
As for when a C-130 is in need of a maintenance upgrade to preserve and maintain service life, the Air Force uses an assessment metric referred to as “equivalent baseline hours.” The wing-boxes are changed once the aircraft reaches a certain “severity factor” in its operational service time. This is necessary because the wear and tear or impact of missions upon and airplane can vary greatly depending upon a range of factors such as the altitude at which a plane is flying, Toth said.
“Low-level flight may be three to four times the severity factor of flying at a higher level,” he said.
Also, by January of 2020 the entire fleet of C-130s will need to comply with an FAA mandate and be equipped with systems that will relay aircraft position to a greater fidelity back and forth between the airplane and the air traffic management authorities, he added. This will allow them to sequence more aircraft closer together and enhance an ability to move commerce.
Avionics Modernization Program, Increment 1 involves adding new 8.33 radios to the aircraft to improve communication along with initiatives to upgrade cockpit voice recorders and digital data recorders. C-130s will also receive new collision-avoidance technology designed to prevent the planes from hitting terrain or colliding with one another mid-air. Inc. 1 is currently ongoing and is slated to complete by 2019.
AMP Inc. 2 involves a larger-scale effort to integrate digital avionics throughout the airplane. Inc. 2 will require nine-months to one year of work and be completed by 2028, Toth explained.
“This will allow us to bring the airplane from analog to digital, integrate a glass cockpit and use touchscreen displays. We will get away from the old systems of avionics where we had dial-driven instrumentation to where it is all digital. This makes us able to process a lot more information,” Toth said.
As part of the C-130 modernization calculus, the Air Force will consider retiring some C-130Hs and replace them with newly-built C-130Js; the service has authority to acquire an additional 20 C-130Js, Toth added.
“We continue to evaluate where it makes sense to retire and older airplane and instead put that money into buying new airplanes,” he said.
AC-130 gunships make up a small portion of a fleet of roughly 500 C-130 planes throughout the Air Force and Special Operations Command, Toth explained.
The cargo planes are used to airdrop supplies, equipment, weapons and troops in forward deployed locations.
As a propeller-driven aircraft, the C-130s are able to fly and land in more rugged conditions and withstand harsh weather such as obscurants. The propellers make the aircraft’s engines less susceptible to debris flying in and causing operational problems for the engines.
“It really allows you to do that tactical movement of equipment and personnel to take the airplane to the last tactical mile. A lot of our transport strategic airlifters are meant to go to a hard runway to a hard runway somewhere and then they turn over the cargo to be moved to the forward areas to a C-130 or a vehicle. The C-130 allows you to take that cargo and land on a smaller runway or an unimproved airfield,” Toth added.
C-130s are used for domestic, international and warzone transport including homeland security, disaster relief and supply deliveries, among other things.
“There are probably missions that have yet to be dreamed up for the C-130,” Toth said.
The fleet consists of 135 more modern C-130J aircraft and 165 older C-130Hs which have been around since the 80s, Toth explained.
Also, MC-130Js are specially modified airlifters engineered to transport Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.
“They are essentially a C-130J further modified with defensive systems with radar countermeasures and infrared radar and advanced sensors for specialized missions. They also can perform in-flight refueling,” Toth explained.