The skies above the United States and its allies aren’t just an intelligence battleground anymore, they’re also a big business arena. Some of the world’s top aircraft designers are looking to get their designs airborne with America’s most top secret missions.
Today, Sweden’s air forces are flying nondescript, ulta-secret spy missions in what appear to be the swankiest luxury aircraft on the market. In April 2021, Sweden flew a pair of luxury airplanes off the coast of Russia, where Russian military signals and radar were highly active.
It looked like a luxury private jet that could have belonged to any corporate officer from anywhere in the world. The converted Gulfstream IV was nothing of the sort; it was filled with the latest and greatest in signals intelligence collection equipment.
This isn’t the first time Sweden has employed its sleek fleet of Gulfstream spy planes over the past few years. They’ve been seen flying around Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. Sweden isn’t alone in employing them – other governments are bringing a demand for converted luxury aircraft.
According to Reuters, the market for selling special mission business jets to intelligence agencies is worth more than $3 billion worldwide. Using converted luxury aircraft is apparently a lower-cost alternative to converting larger passenger planes or military aircraft.
One defense and military analyst believes the shift is coming from the advanced listening and intelligence systems. As they get smaller and more powerful, the size of the aircraft needed to house them also gets smaller.
These special missions can vary from passive radar detection, communications interception, and early-warning systems. Countries from South Korea to France to the Israel Defense Forces are looking for more inexpensive ways to continue these missions using advanced equipment and smaller planes.
A private corporate jet can cost anywhere from $20 million to $60 million, the Reuters report says. Conversion to a spy plane with the latest technology could run state actors upwards of another $200 million.
The new demand for smaller aircraft is a boon to the private aviation industry, according to industry executives, who saw a drop off in demand from the civilian sector. A focus on military conversion means the companies will be more dedicated to that sector.
Although using luxury private aircraft as spy planes is a tradition that dates back to the Cold War, the breakthroughs in signals intelligence technology mean that smaller planes can be as effective as larger ones in singular “special mission” roles. The only threat to this new, emerging marketplace for corporate aircraft: special mission drones.
Unmanned aerial vehicles can be a slightly cheaper alternative for some countries looking for so-called “special mission aircraft,” but they aren’t that much cheaper. The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV will still run about $130 million.
But converted executive aircraft are a good investment. The U.S. military purchased a number of Grumman Gulfstream I planes in the early 1960s, converting many to long-range command and control aircraft. They remained in service until 2001.
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17,1775. (Wikimedia Commons).
In 279 BC, the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Roman Army at Asculum in a relatively even matchup. The historian Plutarch wrote that the battle lasted two days and Pyrrhus was never able to fully deploy the war elephants that had won him victory in previous battles. The end result was a staggering loss of life for the victorious Greek invaders.
After the battle, Pyrrhus famously said “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” He was right, and it didn’t even take one more battle. Pyrrhus realized he could not defeat the Romans so far from home and left to fight elsewhere. Pyrrhus’ words have since echoed through the ages, giving a name to battles that were technically won, but were devastating to the victors.
The United States has lost battles in its time, but the following were the battles that inflicted the heaviest, most devastating casualties on the enemy “winner.”
1. The Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775
There’s a reason this is one of the Revolutionary War’s most celebrated fights, despite recording a loss for the patriot forces. The British were coming to Boston to take the hills surrounding the city and thus control of the harbor. The patriots constructed fortifications on Breed’s Hill while occupying it and adjacent Bunker Hill in the middle of the night.
The next day, June 17, 1775, the British discovered the occupation of the hills and mounted an assault. It took three successive waves to dislodge the defenders, waves that killed or wounded a third of the British force. The king’s troops learned that day the Americans wouldn’t give up so easily.
2. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, 1781
In this North Carolina battle of the Revolution, the British wanted to expel the Continental Army from the Southern Colonies for good, following up a string of victories in Georgia and South Carolina. Outnumbered more than two to one, they instead started a series of events that would lead to an American victory in the war.
As the British advanced on the Americans, they came under enfilading fire on multiple sides of their formation. To even the odds, the British used grapeshot in their cannons that not only killed the Continentals, but also their own men. The Americans left the field, but word spread and recruitment of loyalists dropped. Continental Gen. Nathaniel Greene was able to push back into South Carolina and British control of the south crumbled.
3. Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863
Lee’s “Perfect Battle” was actually far from perfect for the enlisted men who fought it. Confederate general Robert E. Lee was heavily outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac under Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, so he went against military doctrine and divided his forces. Twice. Somehow, the plan worked.
The win at Chancellorsville can be attributed more to leadership than to any wise strategy, however. Hooker made several crucial mistakes that also went against military doctrine that allowed the better-led Confederates to win the day. Lee lost 20% of his forces and one of his best commanders, Stonewall Jackson, at Chancellorsville, while the Union lost less than 10%. The Union could replace its losses, Lee could not.
4. Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 1942
With the Pacific War less than a year old, American and Japanese carriers met for the fourth time. As the two sides’ ground forces were slugging it out for control of Guadalcanal, their navies were locked in an intense naval air battle for two days during October 1942.
Both sides sailed away with bloody noses, but the United States took the worst of it, losing seven ships, including the aircraft carrier Hornet and more than 80 planes. It was a tactical victory for the Japanese Navy, but one it couldn’t afford. It still took a beating during the win and lost half the aircraft in its fleet, along with irreplaceable pilots.
5. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir
As American forces pushed the North Korean Army past the 38th parallel and close to the Chinese border, the People’s republic of China suddenly entered the war for its communist ally. Its main advantage was its numerically superior forces, because when U.S. Marines and soldiers found themselves suddenly outnumbered, they were outnumbered 10-to-1.
For 17 days, the two sides fought in deep snow and freezing temperatures, but the only difference the superior numbers made was creating a target-rich environment for the retreating Marines. The Chinese managed to give the U.S. the boot from North Korea, but of the 10 divisions facing the U.S. forces, eight would never fight again.
As debate continues on the impact of President Trump’s executive order which halted the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, and placed a temporary 120-day ban on people coming from seven Muslim-majority countries that President Obama listed as “concerning” in 2015, are the ways the U.S. military has been affected.
Members of Arizona’s Air National Guard have been working with Iraqi pilots since 2012 to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The program was expected to continue through at least 2020, according to a Department of Defense press release when the program began. Under Trump’s travel pause, no more Iraqi pilots will be able to enter the country.
Arizona Sen. John McCain is working to exempt Iraqi pilots from the executive order, and released a joint statement with fellow Rep. Sen. Lindsey Graham over the weekend.
“At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies,” the statement read. “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred.”
Interpreters for US troops stuck in limbo
Many combat veterans who worked with interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan are angry that the travel ban has compromised the safety of those who they say were instrumental in keeping them safe during combat deployments.
“Doing so would send a strong signal to those who show such immense courage to advance U.S. security interests at a risk to their own safety, as well as the many veterans and warfighters who’ve relied on the service of these individuals for their own protection and to accomplish their objectives,” the letter said.
Increased tensions with countries in the Middle East
Several allies in the Middle East sent cables to the White House on Monday, warning that the ban could be used as a propaganda tool for ISIS, and make the area more dangers for U.S. troops and coalition forces.
Qatar was the most critical of the executive order, with a senior official telling U.S. diplomats, “You could not have given our adversaries better propaganda material,” according to CBS News. He mentioned that despite the beginning decline of ISIS, “The timing of this has given the group a lifeline.”
In an interview with CBS, former CIA deputy director Mike Morell echoed the sentiments, saying, “It’s playing right into the ISIS narrative. ISIS has not said anything about this yet, but people around ISIS, who amplify its message, are talking about it, and they are saying, ‘See? We told you, this is a war against Islam.’ So this is going to be a recruitment boon for ISIS.
FOX News Podcasts+ just released its latest investigative audio series: Alchemy of Violence: Narcos, Reapers and Survival. And it’s hosted by a bad-ass Marine veteran, of course.
Retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Johnny Joey Jones is a familiar face. A frequent FOX News contributor, speaker and FOX Nation host — now viewers can listen in on his no-nonsense journalistic approach with this latest podcast series created by the news media company. Though the service is subscription based, episode one is available completely free to all listeners on FOXNewsPodcasts.com.
The premium audio series brings listeners behind the curtain and into the lives of Mexican law enforcement officials tasked with targeting the violent cartels terrorizing the country. For Jones, it was an important project to be a part of.
“I think we view the ‘drug cartels’ sometimes as if it’s this romanticized Scarface movie or a godfather-like group of gangsters. Much like the ‘honor among thieves’ farce we get in movies,” he explained. “The truth is, these are evil vicious groups who terrorize innocent people and operate in our own backyard. I hope this helps Americans see the truth about this dangerous problem.”
In Mexico, the cartels are known to hunt down police officers and kill them in their own homes. Since 2006 over 300,000 individuals have lost their lives to cartel violence.
In the first episode listeners will be introduced to former Mexican parliamentary law enforcement officer, Ed Calderon. The in-depth first-hand account of the skills he was required to learn and use in order to survive would make most special operatives nervous.
The intensity of what Calderon had to do was a surprise, even for Jones. “I think It’s really amazing how Ed not only survived his time in the Narco world but learned tactics and techniques out of pure necessity for survival that some of our most highly trained warriors have adopted,” he said.
Despite Calderon’s dedication to taking down the dangerous cartels and serving his country, the rampant corruption would lead to him running for his life. The former law-enforcement officer takes listeners in and through his new journey of survival.
After making it out alive, the former law enforcement officer re-committed his life to serving others who’d experienced similar traumas. Using his own experiences, he now educates on the importance of understanding the cartel mindset and how they can infiltrate cities so easily. Calderon also instructs those who attend his courses on how to stay alive.
The 11-episode podcast series will bring listeners on an extraordinary journey through life south of the border. Unlike the excitement of blockbuster Hollywood movies, living through cartel control is somber and deadly reality for millions. Calderon’s commitment to justice, grit and unwavering determination promise to be an inspiration.
For the combat-wounded host, it’s an interview the nation itself needs to listen to. “I think Ed’s message is really timely for most Americans,” Jones said. “No matter how dire a situation is or how unlikely success may seem, surviving and thriving starts with believing and preparing. That’s powerful.”
It’s the dreaded last step in clearing out of a unit to either PCS to another duty station or ETS back into the civilian world — turning gear into the Central Issuing Facility.
We get it. Nobody wants to stand around for six hours to have a grouchy civilian give you hell for having a tiny bit of Afghanistan dust stuck to your rucksack, but it’s just one of those things that needs to be done. Uncle Sam gave you a bunch of high-priced gear and he expects it back — even if the gear is well past its issuing date.
You likely won’t ever have a fantastic, enjoyable time at CIF, but it doesn’t have to be terrible. Here’re a few tips that many troops and vets before you have used to breeze through.
There’s nothing a little elbow grease and a bit of “f*ck you” can’t solve.
Clean. Everything. Spotlessly.
This is a no-brainer. CIF wants their gear clean and they’ll kick it right back if they see dirt. If you know that you’ve used your gear at least once since getting it, give it a wash. Your more well-used stuff is going to require a lot more extra attention. Give yourself a week to get it all done. It might take all manners of cleaning products to get that one friggin’ stain out of the knee pads you know you barely used, but it’s got to be done.
It helps to volunteer for working parties that involves the supply room. Stay on their good side.
Sweet talk your supply NCO.
Everyone takes for granted how much the supply NCO can really help with missing, broken, or un-returnable gear. They have connexes upon connexes of gear that isn’t really accounted for that could easily help you out.
Depending on what the supply room has to offer, you could save a lot of money by simply asking nicely. Sure, they probably can’t swing you an entire sleeping bag system without doing a bunch of paperwork — but they could probably take yours and swap it out with another… Maybe.
Some times those “tacticool” retirees know what’s up.
Buy what you’re missing off-post.
But the supply NCO can’t help you with everything — and you’re not going to want to take that hit from the Statement of Charges that says you owe the government 0 for a single missing ammo pouch. Thankfully, there’s an entire market dedicated to selling used military gear just outside the main gate.
First of, it’s best to simply not consider the legality of how the place received all that gear — there’s a non-zero chance it was pilfered from some poor sap’s wall locker at reception and sold by some grade-A blue falcon. Just pay the , get your replacement gear, and tell yourself that it was probably surplus — or it “fell off some truck somewhere.”
Plus, that moment when you correct them and say, “as you can clearly see” while pointing to the relevant document is priceless.
Bring any and all paperwork from previous visits to CIF.
Don’t just show up with your clearing paperwork and the slip of what your supply NCO says you were issued. Bring any document that may even remotely have anything to do with your gear.
Best case scenario: Everything goes without a hitch and you can jam that paperwork back into the plastic box you keep in the closet. Worst case scenario: They say that you were issued something that you clearly never were and you have proof that there was some kind of mistake.
This goes double if the CIF is using troops to help with the workload. Just don’t be an asshole.
Don’t give the workers a hard time.
This one should be basic human knowledge — or at least ingrained in military customs and courtesies. Don’t be a dick to the civilians who work at CIF. The reason the lines are so long is because they’re constantly helping loads of troops, each and every day.
Rank and position don’t mean the same thing to them because you’re in their world, they’re not in yours. They will help each and every troop, from private to general, when their number is called. It doesn’t matter if they’re as pleasant to be around as that slug lady from Monster’s Inc., don’t give them any extra incentive to kick your stuff back — even if that means swallowing your pride.
The Syrian war is a mess, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions have been displaced and a new terror group has emerged called ISIS. What started off as a civil war is now a proxy war dividing most of the Middle East that has drawn in both Russia and the United States.
This Vox video attempts to decipher the tangled web of who’s fighting who and why in Syria.
On September 14, 2020, the German Armed Forces selected the Haenel MK 556 to replace the Heckler & Koch G36 as its standard-issue rifle. Over 100,000 rifles will be delivered by 2026. The Haenel is the first service rifle used by the Bundeswehr to be produced by a company other than Heckler & Koch. It is a fully-automatic version of the civilian Haenel CR 223 rifle which has been in use with German law enforcement agencies since 2017. In January 2021, the Swiss firearm company B&T announced that it will import the CR 223 for sale in the United States as the B&T-15.
Haenel is no stranger to the firearm industry. In fact, the company produced what is widely considered to be the first modern assault rifle, the StG 44. Also known as the MP 43 and MP 44, the late-WWII rifle featured the first widespread use of an intermediate cartridge. In January 2019, Haenel’s MK 556 was shortlisted alongside the H&K HK416 and HK433 as a candidate to replace the Bundeswehr’s G36 service rifle.
The G36 replaced the H&K G3 service rifle in 1997. Since then, it has also seen use with elite units like the German GSG9, the French GIGN, and the British SAS. Chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, the G36 uses a short-stroke piston gas system and has been adapted into both carbine and squad automatic weapon variants. While the MK 556 retains the short-stroke gas system of the G36, it is currently only offered in a standard rifle configuration.
With the AR-15 market expanding rapidly in the United States, B&T made the decision to import the Haenel CR 223 and market it to American shooters. The weapon’s high-precision German engineering and selection by the military make it a highly desirable product to the discerning customer. Named the B&T-15, it features a short barrel and will be imported and sold in the United States as a pistol. Customers will need to equip it with a pistol brace or file a Form 1 with the ATF and classify it as a short-barrelled rifle.
Though it is marked 223, the rifle is chambered in 5.56mm and can accept both cartridges. It features a chromed bolt carrier group and ambidextrous controls like its European counterparts. The quick-detach handguard is M-LOK compatible rather than the KeyMod or picatinny configurations that are sold in Europe. This is likely due to the fact that M-LOK is regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and is restricted for sale outside of the United States. Another European feature is that the rifle can be placed on safe even after the hammer has been dropped.
The B&T-15 is 100% German-made and is as close to the new German Army rifle as the American market will get. Coupled with the fact that it’s a European import, the B&T-15 will have an MSRP of $3,000. This is consistent with the prices of other German military-grade firearms like the H&K MR556, the civilian version of the HK416. B&T says the new weapon will be available in the United States by mid-2021.
Two years ago, Air Force veteran Derek Blumke wound up staying in a sketchy neighborhood in Houston while on the road working for his first tech startup that had little money to spend on accommodations. After finding the external side door to his hotel ajar, he got to his room and saw — from the shoddy repairs to the hinges and the door frame — that the door had previously been kicked in “breach-style,” as he put it.
“I was texting my brother letting him know where I was in case he didn’t hear from me the next day,” Blumke said. At the same time, he quickly searched his phone for security apps and found none that fit what he needed. And so TripSafe was born.
“If you have a security system at home, why wouldn’t you have a smaller system that protects you when you’re away from your familiar surroundings?” Blumke asked.
With home security system functionality in mind, he set out to design something that was much more than what he called a “panic button app” on a phone. He wanted something that would cover all the undesirable contingencies surrounding a hotel stay — intrusion, theft, fire, whatever.
So he formed a team to make the product, drawing on the network of veterans he’d acquired while working in the entrepreneurial space. Joining him were former U.S. Army infantryman James McGuirk (Chief Hardware Officer and Co-Founder), former U.S. Navy diver and bomb technician Kathy Borkoski (Chief Operating Officer), and U.S. Marine Corps veterans Brian Alden (Technology Advisor and Co-Founder) and Adam Healy (Chief Technology Officer).
The TripSafe is basically two electronic door-stoppers magnetically attached to a base unit that has a video monitor, motion and sound sensors, and smoke and gas detectors. The user can tailor Smartphone alerts and a 24/7 emergency response. The system easily fits into a computer bag or purse.
“We can’t trust that everything will be fine everywhere we travel,” Blumke said. “And if I have these concerns as a 6-foot-tall former military guy, what does my girlfriend have in those sort of situations?”
When service members overseas make the ultimate sacrifice, a team of people goes to work to get them home and to rest with dignity. While each service provides personnel to escort their own fallen warriors home, the mortuary affairs airmen at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware receive the bodies and help ensure that they are buried with the full and proper honors.
These men and women opened their doors to Air Force journalists from Airman Magazine to show what it takes to do this important job that no one wants to have to do. From comforting children to preparing the final uniforms, these are stories of those who serve at Dover.
The US Army is moving forward on next-generation concealment technology to ensure that American soldiers can hide in plain sight.
Fibrotex has built an Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System that can be used to conceal soldier’s positions, vehicles, tanks and aircraft. The new “camouflage system will mask soldiers, vehicles and installations from state-of-the-art electro-optical sensors and radars,” the company said Nov. 8, 2018, in a press release sent to Business Insider.
Fibrotex has been awarded a contract to supply this advanced camouflage to conceal troops from night vision, thermal imaging, radar, and more.
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Soldiers, vehicles, and other relevant systems can just about disappear in snowy, desert, urban, and woodland environments, according to the camouflage-maker.
The new program aims to replace outdated camouflage that protects soldiers in the visible spectrum but not against more advanced, high-end sensors. ULCANS “provides more persistent [infrared], thermal counter-radar performance,” Fibrotex explained.
The Army has awarded Fibrotex a 10-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract valued at 0 million. Full-scale production will begin in 2019 at a manufacturing facility in McCreary County, Kentucky, where the company expects to create and secure hundreds of new jobs in the coming years.
“Today, more than ever, military forces and opposition groups are using night vision sensors and thermal devices against our troops,” Eyal Malleron, the CEO of Fibrotex USA, said in a statement.
“But, by using Fibrotex’s camouflage, concealment and deception solutions, we make them undetectable again, allowing them to continue keeping us safe.”
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Enemies can’t see in, but US soldiers can see out
The result came from roughly two years of testing at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, where new technology was tested against the Army’s most advanced sensors.
Fibrotex noted that the netting is reversible, creating the possibility for two distinctly different prints for varied environments. And while outsiders can’t see through the netting, those on the inside have an excellent view of their surroundings, as can be seen in the picture above.
The new camouflage for troops and vehicles has reportedly been tested against the best sensors in the Army, and it beat them all.
The Mobile Camouflage Solution (MCS) takes concealment to another level, as “the MCS provides concealment while the platform is moving,” the company revealed. Business Insider inquired about the secret sauce to blend in moving vehicles with changing scenery, but Fibrotex would only say that their “technology combines special materials, a unique fabric structure and a dedicated manufacturing process.”
ULCANS and its relevant variants are based on “combat-proven technologies” designed by the Israel-based Fibrotex Technologies Ltd., the parent company for Fibrotex USA, over the past two decades. The company’s products have been specifically modified to meet the needs of the Department of Defense.
“We have more than 50 years of experience, with thousands of hours in the field and a deep understanding of conventional and asymmetric warfare. The U.S. Army tested our best camouflage solutions and the camouflage repeatedly demonstrated the ability to defeat all sensors known to be operating in the battlefield and throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,” Malleron explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A 95-year-old, 29 1/2-year veteran famous for being the single-known ace to achieve victories against both German and Japanese aircraft during WWII and later becoming a stunt pilot for 20th Century Fox film “Tora Tora Tora” in 1969, flew his 100th aircraft above “the birthplace of naval aviation,” July 9.
Retired Cmdr. Dean “Diz” Laird served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, operated in 175 combat and training missions, served on 12 different carriers, flew in the Navy’s first jet squadron, was the first person to land a jet-powered aircraft aboard USS Midway and has the most arrested landings on a straight-deck carrier.
“I want to thank everyone who took part in making this happen,” said Laird. “When I found out that I was going to be able to do this, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”
Laird added that flying his 100th plane wasn’t for an achievement, medal or trophy. He wanted to set this milestone for himself.
Laird flew in the rear seat of a T-34C Turbomentor with Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Johnson, a fleet replacement squadron instructor pilot with the “Flying Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122.
“I was so excited and honored to fly with a true legend, how many people can say they flew with ‘Diz’ Laird,” said Johnson. “Then he had to make me look bad by being a better pilot at 95 [years old]. It is men like this that paved the way for the rest of us.”
She continued to say that “aviation is a lot different now from what it was, especially when you think about how he is an ace. We train for air-to-air combat our whole career, but very rarely, in this day and age, does that actually happen. It’s phenomenal to have just had a conversation and fly with him. It’s fantastic and an honor.”
She added that flying 100 different aircraft is a tremendous achievement for any pilot. In comparison, Johnson has flown only 15 aircraft in her 12-year career as a pilot.
The 95-year-old legend had some words of advice for younger naval aviators. He said that his “policy has always been that every fighter pilot has two main assets once they’re airborne. One is altitude and the other is speed. Never give up one, without gaining something on the other.”
During the flight Laird and Johnson flew off the coast of San Diego for a little bit of sightseeing followed by conducting a few aileron rolls in a training area before coming in for a landing.
Laird has been recognized on Coronado’s Avenue of Heroes and continues to actively participate in Naval Aviation organizations.
Today’s most sophisticated aircraft are like something out of science fiction.
In a few years, drones that can fit in the palm of a person’s hand and 117-foot-wingspan behemoths capable of launching satellites into space will both be a reality.
At the same time, drone and advanced-fighter technologies will spread beyond the US and Europe, and countries including China, Russia, and Iran will have even more highly advanced aerial capabilities.
Here’s our look at the most game-changing aircraft of the past few years — and the next few to come.
F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 program may cost as much as $1.5 trillion over its lifetime. But the fifth-generation fighter jet is also supposed to be the most fearsome military aircraft ever built, a plane that can dogfight, provide close air support, and carry out bombing runs, all with stealth capabilities, a high degree of maneuverability, and the ability to take off and land on aircraft carriers.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way so far, and problems with everything from the plane’s software system to its engines has both delayed its deployment and contributed to its astronomical price tag. And it isn’t nearly as effective in some of its roles as existing aircraft. For instance, the F-35 is notably worse at close air support than the A-10, which is slated for retirement.
The predecessor to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II is the single-seat, twin-engine F-22 Raptor, currently the most advanced combat-ready jet on earth.
The US is the only country in the world that flies the F-22s thanks to a federal law that prohibits the jet from being exported. Lockheed Martin built 195 F-22s before the last one was delivered to the US Air Force in May 2012.
Russia’s Su-50, also known under the prototype name of the T-50 PAK-FA, is the Kremlin’s fifth-generation fighter and Russia’s response to the F-35.
Though still in prototype, Moscow thinks the Su-50 will ultimately be able to outperform the F-35 on key metrics including speed and maneuverability. The stealth capabilities of the Su-50, however, are believed to be below those of the F-22 and the F-35.
The Kremlin plans to introduce the Su-50 into service by 2016. Once the plane is combat-ready, it will serve as a base model for the construction of further variants intended for export. India is already co-designing an Su-50 variant with Russia, and Iran and South Korea are possible candidates to buy future models of the plane.
The Chengdu J-20, which is currently in development, is China’s second fifth-generation fighter and a potential strategic game changer in East Asia.
The J-20 bears striking resemblance to the F-35 because of Chinese reverse engineering and extensive theft of F-35-related data. Once completed, the J-20 will possess stealth capability along with the range needed to reach targets within Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam after taking off from mainland China.
As of January 2015, Beijing had developed six functional prototypes of the aircraft, with new prototypes being released at an increasingly quick pace. Production of the aircraft reportedly began in late 2015, and the final iteration of the aircraft is expected to be released and combat-ready sometime around 2018.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine multirole fighter that was originally developed to be the Europe and NATO’s primary warplane.
The fighter jet is Europe’s largest military program and was started by Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK.
In 2011 the Eurofighter was deployed to its first combat mission, to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya during the NATO bombing campaign in the country. There are 402 Eurofighter jets designed for the Austrian, Italian, German, Spanish, UK, Omani, and Saudi Air Forces.
The Eurofighter has been called Europe’s version of America’s most expensive weapons system, the F-35 Lightning II.
MG-X Silent Hawk
The military’s secret MH-X Silent Hawk program was publicly disclosed only after one of the helicopters crashed during the US Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011.
It is unclear when the US Army Operations Security’s top-secret helicopter program began and how many of these stealthy aircraft are in service.
While the Silent Hawk appears to be a highly modified version of the widely known UH-60 Black Hawk, there are few unclassified details out there about this secret helicopter.
The Navy’s X-47B is a strike-fighter-size unmanned aircraft with the potential to change aerial warfare.
Northrop Grumman’s drone is capable of aerial refueling, 360-degree rolls, and offensive weapons deployment. It carried out the first autonomous aerial refueling in aviation history and has taken off from and landed on an aircraft carrier.
It cruises at half the speed of sound and has a wingspan of 62 feet — as well as a range of at least 2,400 miles, more than twice that of the Reaper drone.
The Stratolaunch will be one of the most astounding planes ever built.
Now in construction, the plane will serve as a midair launch platform for vehicles that is capable of carrying satellites into orbit. The aircraft, whose 117-foot wingspan will be the largest of any plane ever built, will fly to an altitude of 30,000 feet and then angle upward before blasting its payload into space.
The plane would be a relatively cheap and reusable launch vehicle for satellites and has the potential to revolutionize how hardware and possibly even human beings can access orbital space. It could fly as early as 2016, although the project has faced some setbacks over the past year.
With the X-37B, the Air Force essentially has a reusable satellite that it can control and call back to earth. The ability to re-equip an orbital platform for specific mission types gives the US military unprecedented flexibility in how it can use outer space — and its long periods in orbit and reusability are also just impressive engineering feats.
These tiny Darpa-developed surveillance drones could become future military staples. Small enough to evade enemy detection or fire, the Nano Hummingbird can fit in the palm of your hand and relay images and intelligence from the air.
Most surveillance drones, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, are large aircraft that fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet. Drones such as the Nano Hummingbird, which is light, stealthy, and easy to launch, could be a routine part of a future soldier’s inventory.
Watch it in action here:
Iran has been under sanctions and a Western arms embargo for much of the past 30 years, something that has denied Tehran the chance to obtain high-quality European or American arms. But it has forced Iran to build its own domestic capabilities, and in 2013 Iran debuted an armed drone eerily similar to the US’ Reaper, called the Fotros.
Iran’s drones aren’t game changers because of their high quality but because of what they represent: Even countries chafing under international sanctions can develop their own drone technology with enough patience and technological expertise. The Fotros and Ababil-3 suggest that an era of widespread drone proliferation is just around the corner.
The United States Air Force needs aggressor aircraft. There is no geopolitical adversary for the United States quite like Russia and its Soviet-built airplanes. American combat crews need to train against someone, and the best we can get comes in the form of MiG-29 fighters and Sukhoi-27 aircraft.
It doesn’t matter that the aircraft are from the 1970s, so is the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 fleet. American airmen need targets, and these are the most likely real-world ones.
In 2017, onlookers spotted an F-16 engaged in a life or death dogfight over Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. with a Russian-built Su-27 Flanker aircraft. It’s highly unlikely an errant Russian fighter penetrated NORAD and began an attack on a specific base. The only logical explanation was that Nellis has a supply of Russian-built fighters for U.S. airmen to train against. It turns out, that is exactly what happened in the skies over Nevada that day. Make another notch in the win column for Occam’s Razor.
The United States Air Force has acquired and maintains a number of Russian and Soviet-built aircraft for airmen to fly against. Where they get the aircraft is anyone’s guess, but The National Interest reported it likely gets the most advanced fighters from Ukraine. Other fighters are on loan from private companies who acquired the Russian planes on their own. That’s another W for capitalism.
Anything is possible with enough money.
So even if the United States Air Force couldn’t afford to own and maintain its own supply of Russian aggressor aircraft, there are apparently a number of civilian contractors who have acquired them and are willing to loan those fighters out to the USAF. Among those come MiG-29s from a company called Air USA, MiG-21s and trainer aircraft from Draken International, and the two aforementioned Sukhoi-27 fighters from Pride International via Ukraine.
Let’s see the semi-Communist oligarchs in Moscow pull off acquiring an F-22 Raptor using their shady business dealings. But even if the United States couldn’t fight real Russian fighters, American pilots could still get excellent training.
The emperor has new clothes.
If you’re not sure what’s happening in the photo above, that’s an F-16 Fighting Falcon all dressed up as a Sukhoi-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter. While the F-16 may not have stealth and definitely isn’t a fifth-gen fighter, it still gives U.S. airmen training on what to look for while engaging a Russian in the skies. The paint job is used by the Russians to make the Su-57 look like a different, smaller aircraft from a distance. Acquiring real enemy aircraft and training under the conditions closest to combat will give American pilots the edge they need.
That is, if they ever need that edge against the Russians.