These are the Army's high-tech helicopters that will fly in 2030 - We Are The Mighty
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These are the Army’s high-tech helicopters that will fly in 2030

The Army is preparing for the first official flights of two high-tech, next-generation aircraft now being designed with a wide range of abilities to include flying faster, flying farther without needing to refuel, operating in high-hot conditions and having an ability to both reach high speeds and hover like a helicopter.


The new aircraft are part of an Army-led effort, called Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, aimed at paving the way toward ultimately engineering a new fleet of aircraft for all the services to take flight by 2030.

Also read: Here’s what the US military’s future helicopter fleet could look like

Construction of two different high-tech, future-oriented demonstrator helicopters is already underway in anticipation of ground testing later this year and initial flight testing next year, Dan Bailey, JMR TD program director, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

“Things are moving along very well. We are on schedule with exactly what our industry partners have planned,” he said.

While some of the eventual requirements for the new aircraft have yet to be defined, there are some notional characteristics currently being sought after by the program. They include an ability to travel at airplane-like speeds greater than 230 knots, achieve a combat radius of 434 kilometers, use a stronger engine and operate in what’s called “high-hot” conditions of 6,000-feet and 95-degrees Fahrenheit.

“We had set 230 as the speed requirement because we wanted to push the technology.  We wanted people to bring new ideas and new configurations to the table,” Bailey said in an interview with Scout Warrior several months ago.

A faster, more manueverable helicopter that can fly farther on one tank of fuel would enable forces in combat to more effectively engage in longer combat operations such as destroying enemy targets or transporting small groups of mobile, lethal ground fighters. The new helicopter will also be designed to use next-generation sensors to find enemies on the move and employ next-generation weapons to attack them, Army officials describe.

SB-1 Defiant. Sikorsky Photo

The JMR TD technology effort will inform a planned program of record called Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, which will design, build and test a series of next-generation aircraft for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

“FVL is a high priority. We have identified capability gaps. We need technologies and designs that are different than what the current fleet has. It will carry more equipment, perform in high-hot conditions, be more maneuverable within the area of operations and execute missions at longer ranges,” Rich Kretzschmar, project manager for the FVL effort, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

.The first flights of the demonstrator aircraft, slated for 2017, will include developmental helicopter/aircraft from two industry teams – Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team.

TWO HELICOPTER DESIGNS

The Bell offering, called the V-280 Valor, seeks to advance tilt-rotor technology, wherein a winged-aircraft with two rotor blades over each wing seeks to achieve airplane speeds and retain an ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter.

Bell’s V-280 has finished what’s called a system-level design review where Army and Bell developers refine and prepare the design of the air vehicle.

“They have an air vehicle concept demonstrator that they call the third-generation tilt-rotor. Their fuselage was completed and it is being delivered to Bell for the build-up of the aircraft,” Bailey said.

Along with Boeing, Bell makes the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft which is currently praised by military members for its excellent operational performance in recent years. The Osprey has two rotating rotor blades which align vertically when the aircraft is in helicopter mode and then move to a horizontal position when the aircraft enters airplane mode and reaches speeds greater than 280 knots.

AH-64 Apache | YouTube

The V-280 Valor also has two propellers which rotate from horizontal airplane mode to a vertical position, which allows for helicopter mode.  Bell officials have said their new aircraft will be able to reach speeds of 280 knots. Bell and Army officials explain that their V-280 Valor substantially advances tilt-rotor technology.

“What Bell has done is taking its historical V-22 aircraft, and all the demonstrators before that, and applies them to this next-generation tilt-rotor. It is a straight wing versus a V-22 which is not straight. This reduces complexity,” Bailey explained. “They are also building additional flapping into the rotor system and individual controls that should allow for increased low-speed maneuverability.”

The Sikorsky-Boeing demonstrator, called the SB1 Defiant, uses a coaxial rotor system configuration. This is a design structure, referred to as a compound configuration, which relies upon two counter-rotating rotor blades on top of the aircraft and a thrusting mechanism in the rear.

“To make a rotorcraft go fast you have to off-load the rotor lift onto something else or else you run into problems when you try to reduce the speed of that rotor. Typically, you do that with a wing but Sikorsky-Boeing came up with a lift-offset design,” Bailey added.

The pusher-prop on the back of the aircraft is a small propeller behind the counter-rotating rotor heads. It is what can give the aircraft airplane-like speeds.  It operates with what’s called positive and negative pitch, allowing the aircraft to lean up or down and move both forwards and backwards, Boeing officials have said.

MISSION EQUIPMENT

The JMR TD program and the follow-on FVL effort will also integrate a wide range of next-generation sensors, weapons and avionics, Army officials explained.

Some of these technologies will include a “fly-by-wire” technology allowing for a measure of autonomy or automation so that the helicopter can fly along a particular course by itself in the event that a pilot is injured or incapacitated. This is the kind of technology which could, in the future, allow for unmanned helicopter operations.

Along these lines, the Army is looking for technical solutions or mission equipment which increases a pilot’s cognitive decision-making capability by effectively managing the flow of information from an array of sensors into the cockpit, Army program managers have explained in previous statements on the Army’s website – Army.mil

Army JMR TD development documents describe autonomous capability in terms of the need to develop a Human Machine Interface, HMI, wherein advanced cockpit software and computing technologies are able to autonomously perform a greater range of functions such as on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection, thus lessening the burden placed upon pilots and crew, Army experts have explained.

In particular, cognitive decision-aiding technologies explored for 4th-generation JMR cockpit will develop algorithms able to track, prioritize organize and deliver incoming on- and off-board sensory information by optimizing visual, 3-D audio and tactile informational cues, prior statements on Army.mil have said.

V-280 Valor | Bell Helicopter

The idea is to manage the volume of information flowing into the aircraft and explore how to best deliver this information without creating sensory overload. Some of this information may be displayed in the cockpit and some of it may be built into a helmet display, Army officials said.

Manned-Unmanned teaming, also discussed by Army developers, constitutes a significant portion of this capability; the state of the art with this capability allows helicopter pilots to not only view video feeds from nearby UAS from the cockpit of the aircraft, but it also gives them an ability to control the UAS flight path and sensor payloads as well. Future iterations of this technology may seek to implement successively greater levels of autonomy, potentially involving scenarios wherein an unmanned helicopter is able to perform these functions working in tandem with nearby UAS.

COUNTERMEASURE SYSTEMS

Integration is key to the Army’s Mission Systems strategy, as the overall approach is aimed at fielding an integrated suite of sensors and countermeasure technologies designed to work in tandem to identify and in some cases deter a wide range of potential incoming threats, from small arms fire to RPGs, shoulder-fired missiles and other types of attacks, Army statements have said.

One such example of these technologies is called Common Infrared Countermeasure, or CIRCM, a light-weight, high-tech laser-jammer engineered to divert incoming missiles by throwing them off course. CIRCM is a lighter-weight, improved version of the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures, known as ATIRCM, system currently deployed on aircraft.

CIRCM, which will be fielded by 2018, represents the state of the art in countermeasure technology, officials said. Future iterations of this kind of capability envisioned for 2030 may or may not be similar to CIRCM, Army developers have said. Future survivability solutions will be designed to push the envelope toward the next-generation of technology, servcie information explains.

The mission equipment for the new aircraft will be tailored to the new emerging designs, service developers said.

Additional countermeasure solutions proposed by industry could include various types of laser technology and Directed Energy applications as well as missile-launch and ground-fire detection systems, Army officials said.

SENSOR TECHNOLOGIES

The new helicopter program is also working with its industry partners to develop a new technology which might improve upon the state-of-the-art Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or MTADS, systems currently deployed on helicopters; MTADS sensing and targeting technology provide helicopters thermal imaging infrared cameras as well stabilized electro-optical sensors, laser rangefinders and laser target designators, according to Army statements.

The current, upgraded MTADS currently deployed on aircraft throughout the Army were engineered to accommodate the size, weight and power dimensions of today’s aircraft, dimensions which will likely change with the arrival of a new Air Vehicle built for the new JMR demonstrator aircraft.

AGM-114 Hellfire missiles | Creative Commons photo

WEAPONS SYSTEMS

JMR Weapons Systems Integration is a critical part of this effort. The JMR aircraft will be engineered to integrate weapons and sensor systems to autonomously detect, designate and track targets, perform targeting operations during high-speed maneuvers, conduct off-axis engagements, track multiple targets simultaneously and optimize fire-control performance such that ballistic weapons can accommodate environmental effects such as wind and temperature, Army documents on the aircraft have stated.

AUTOMATIC AVOIDANCE

Air-to-Air “tracking” capability is another solution sought by the Army, comprised of advanced software and sensors able to inform pilots of obstacles such as a UAS or nearby aircraft; this technology will likely include Identify Friend or Foe, or IFF, transponders which cue pilots regarding nearby aircraft, Army officials have said.

Technical solutions able to provide another important obstacle avoidance “sensing” capability called Controlled Flight Into Terrain, or CFIT, are also being explored; in this instance, sensors, advanced mapping technology and digital flight controls would be engineered to protect an aircraft from nearby terrain such as trees, mountains, telephone wires and other low-visibility items by providing pilots with sufficient warning of an upcoming obstacle and, in some instances, offering them course-correcting flight options.

Using sensors and other technologies to help pilots navigate through “brown-outs” or other conditions involving what’s called a “Degraded Visual Environment” is a key area of emphasis as well, according to Army officials.

The Army is looking at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and communications equipment to see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together.

PROGRESS THUS FAR

In addition to conducting the first official Army-industry flight of the two demonstrators, the program is working on a Material Development Decision, designed to pave the way for the FVL acquisition program. This effort conducts a thorough examination of all the available technologies and their performance through what is called an “analysis of alternatives.”

A key advantage of a joint FVL program is that it will engender further inter-operability between the services and, for example, allow an Army helicopter to easily be serviced with maintenance at a Marine Corps Forward Operating Base, Bailey explained.

Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing teams are both done with their subsystem critical design review and the components are in fabrication and safety flight testing, Bailey explained.

“Bell has a completed fuselage that is undergoing the nuances of getting landing gear attached to it and holes for wiring. They are complete with their wing build and they are just starting to make it to the engine itself,” Bailey said.

Bell engineers have been mounting  the wing to the fuselage.

“It really is starting to look like major components to the aircraft. By May it will likely look like a complete aircraft but it will not have all the subsystems,” he added.

The Sikorsky-Boeing – fuselage is complete as well, Bailey said.

“The transmission, main rotor and hubs have been forged and cast – they are in the process of preparing for final assembly,” he explained.

Both companies we have completed the final design and risk review, which is the government review of their process to say the Army understands the final design and the risks going forward.

“The demonstrators help to inform the feasibility both from the technical and affordability aspects of a future program of record,” Bailey said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Soldiers hailed as heroes for saving crash victim from burning car

On Sept. 3, two Soldiers were working as volunteers and representatives for the “No DUI Program” coordinated by Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) and received a call asking for a ride home.


Spc. Basar Bozdogan, an automated logistical specialist, and Pfc. Jacob Kranjnik, an infantryman, both assigned to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, immediately jumped into action and drove their government vehicle to pick up a Soldier to ensure he made it home safely.

“After approximately 15 minutes into the drive, we called the Soldier saying that we were close by,” said Kranjnik. “He told us he found another ride.”

A little disappointed, they turned around and headed home. As they were driving southbound on Highway 24 on Fountain Boulevard, they saw a wreck.

“We noticed a three-vehicle collision,” said Kranjnik. “There was no one else around or on the road. I believed that the wreck happened maybe 30 seconds before we got there.”

Spc. Basar Bozdogan, an automated logistical specialist for Alpha Company, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, sorts through supplies Jan. 9, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor)

Bozdogan and Kranjnik quickly pulled over to see what had happened.

“We noticed one person who was helping people get out of their vehicle,” said Kranjnik. “We assisted as well. Once everyone was out of their vehicles, I looked back and noticed someone was still stuck inside. At first, I didn’t want to move him because he looked like he was injured pretty badly. Then, I noticed there were flames under the vehicle. It started to get bigger really fast. I screamed to Bozdogan and yelled that the vehicle is catching on fire.”

Bozdogan immediately recognized that there was a person in the vehicle as well.

“We didn’t want to pull the guy out of the vehicle unless we had to,” said Bozdogan.

Bozdogan and Kranjnik jumped into action, flung open the door, took the injured man’s seatbelt off, and carried him to safety.

Also Read: This drill sergeant saved 8 soldiers in the most heroic way

“As we were carrying him away, the whole car caught on fire,” said Kranjnik. “If we would’ve waited longer, it would’ve been a devastating situation. He could’ve also suffered burn injuries, or even died.”

Bozdogan said everything happened for a reason.

“That man would not have had a chance if it weren’t for us. In my heart, I knew right away that I was not going to watch him burn alive. We were meant to be on that road. We were trying to prevent an accident with a Soldier and ended up saving someone else’s life that night. What are the odds?”

Bozdogan and Kranjnik did not feel like heroes. They felt like they did the humane thing to help people who were in need.

Pfc. Jacob Kranjnik, an infantryman, for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducts maintenance on his Bradley Fighting vehicle, ensuring its readiness for upcoming missions, Fort Carson, Colorado, January 9, 2018. Kranjnik and his fellow Soldier Spc. Basar Bozdogan are credited with saving a civilian from a burning car wreck, Sept. 3, 2017. (Photo from U.S. Army)

“I joined the Army to save lives here and abroad,” said Bozdogan. “It doesn’t matter where I’m at, I just have that instinct to react when I see someone who needs help. It’s not all about being a hero, it’s about making a split second decision at the right moment to ensure the safety of others.”

Bozdogan and Kranjnik, two Iron Soldiers, have been nominated for the Soldier’s Medal.

The Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest peacetime award for valor. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, the directive that outlines military awards and decorations, the performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.

MIGHTY TRENDING

‘Marauding’ Marine makes mark with Viking manuscript

Former jack-of-all trades Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. David Roach spent six years learning infantry tactics, machine gunnery, bulk fuels, and heavy equipment while serving in the Marine Corps from 2002-2008.

Throughout his security career, he’s gone from a mall cop and security guard to being in charge of security personnel for hospitals, airports, and companies. Currently, he’s a global security manager focused on crisis management, disaster monitoring and open source intelligence.

He also worked with the Coast Guard, doing search and rescue missions and anti-drug interdiction out of Monterrey Bay, California. He used all of his experience for material for his books.


“In security, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had people try to stab me. I’ve gotten into lots of fights and take downs,” Roach said. “I hate going into crowded places. I’m definitely a person who enjoys being out in the wilderness.”

He also used the military family experience of his wife, Amanda, to add to the realism behind the fantasy of his characters in his five-novel Vikings series called Marauder.

“I come from a Marine family,” Amanda said. They’ve been married 11 years. “My grandmother and grandfather actually met in the Marines. She was Marine in the 1950’s. She was tough as nails. My brother and cousins are also Marines.”

Former Marine Lance Cpl. David Roach, writer of the Marauder series, uses his real-world Marine Corps and security training for his characters, as well as the experiences of his friends and family who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Photo by Shannon Collins)

Roach said he researched the history of Vikings, Scandinavian culture and the realities of their lives during that time period.

“I try to keep it as realistic as possible and then throw in the monsters and the Gods. That’s when it gets fun and exciting,” he said smiling. “But everything else, I try to keep as realistic and close to real life as possible so that the readers can relate.”

He said his books reflect his military experience because he doesn’t shy away from dark humor, cursing or the brutality of war. “These are not kids’ tales. They’re brutal. I’m always trying to find the historical curse words, the slang they would’ve used at the time. This is what it was like during that time. That was what real life was like,” he said.
“I started going to re-enactment battles as well,” Roach said. “I got to get into a shield wall. I saw how easy it is for a shield to splinter or for weapons to bend or how quickly things could go wrong if you get flanked or if someone is careless.”

For Roach’s Civil War book, When the Drums Stop, he wrote in the footsteps of his ancestor, a low-ranking Union soldier. He drove cross-country and visited the National Civil War Museum and stopped at battlefields for inspiration.

Roach said that anyone in the military who even has an inkling of becoming a writer, whether it be for a novel or for a website should just start doing it.

“Don’t wait for somebody’s permission. Don’t wait for a publication or publisher to tell you you’re good enough because most of them will say, ‘No’ because they want to make sure you’re a sure thing before they even spend a dollar on you,” he said. “Just do it. As I take up more virtual book space, more people are finding me. More people are starting to pay attention.”

Roach started with self-publishing his first few novels but a positive review from a professor of Norse archaeology, he picked up a publisher.

“Just like with the military, if you work hard at it and have that perseverance, eventually it’s going to pan out for you,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

DoD releases new biodefense strategy for man-made, natural threats

The new National Biodefense Strategy is a living document designed to counter man-made and natural biological threats, National Security Advisor John Bolton said during a September 2018 White House briefing.

“This is critical, we think, for our defense purposes looking at the range of weapons of mass destruction the United States our friends and allies face,” he said.

While nuclear weapons are an existential threat to the United States, chemical and biological weapons also pose dangers to Americans. Bolton noted that biological weapons often are called “poor man’s nukes” and said the biodefense strategy aims at countering that threat.


Steering Committee

“What we’ve done is establish a Cabinet-level biodefense steering committee to be chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. “This is the approach best suited for carrying out the strategy operationally.” HHS Secretary Alex Azar will chair the committee.

Participating agencies include the departments of Defense, Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

Bolton stressed that this is just one part of the nation’s biodefense strategy and does not encompass what the U.S. offensive response would be to a biological attack. He also said the strategy will evolve as needed. As new techniques or new medical treatments or new threats emerge, he added, the strategy will change.

A nurse takes a patient’s pulse in the influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., near the end of the Spanish Flu epidemic, Nov. 1, 1918. Fresh air was believed to help prevent the spread of the disease, which killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide. Pandemic flus such as this are rare, occurring just three times in the 20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Library of Congress photo)

Azar, who also spoke at the briefing, noted that the strategy has to cover a range of threats, from nation-states to individuals. He noted that the anthrax attack of 2001 was launched by an individual, while the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 that infected a quarter of all Americans and killed almost 700,000 was natural.

The threats are real and growing, Azar said. The world is growing more urbanized and interconnected, which speeds the spread of infectious threats. He noted the early summer 2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Such is the ease of travel between countries now that just in the DRC, more than 100,000 people are being screened at border crossings every day,” he said. “We also face accidental and man-made threats. Today’s rapid technological advances have great potential to improve public health and human health, but they also create the opportunity for new kinds of threats and for more and more actors to make use of biological weapons.”

The strategy looks to promote research into combating pandemics and coordinating response to attacks or outbreaks. It looks to work with allies, the United Nations’ World Health Organization, the Red Cross and others.

Featured image: National Security Advisor John Bolton.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia may be preparing a ground invasion of Ukraine

Ukraine on Nov. 26, 2018, imposed martial law in parts of the country as President Petro Poroshenko warned of the “extremely serious” threat of attack by Russian forces.

Poroshenko on Nov. 26, 2018, said in a televised address that the move was necessary after Russian ships attacked Ukrainian vessels off the coast of Crimea on Nov. 25, 2018.

“Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country for a fifth year. But with an attack on Ukrainian military boats it moved to a new stage of aggression,” Poroshenko said.


Ukraine says Russia opened fire on its navy and seized three of its vessels, injuring at least six of its servicemen. Russia claims the ships entered Russian waters illegally, and gave them warning to turn back.

Poroshenko said in his video address that martial law was necessary as intelligence services had evidence that Russia was preparing for a massive incursion.

“Here on several pages is a detailed description of all the forces of the enemy located at a distance of literally several dozens of kilometers from our border. Ready at any moment for an immediate invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

Flagship of the Ukrainian Naval Forces.

The country’s parliament granted him emergency powers in areas of the country most vulnerable to attack, and suspended elections for 30 days.

Critics alleged that Poroshenko’s request for martial law was an attempt to postpone elections scheduled for 2019, though lawmakers confirmed the polls would take place as scheduled.

President Donald Trump said he was working with EU leaders to assess the situation, though he refused to condemn Russian aggression. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the incident “a dangerous escalation” and a violation of international law, and called on both countries to exercise caution.

Several countries, including Britain, France, Poland, Denmark, and Canada, denounced Russia’s use of force.

Russia has been steadily increasing its control around the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014. Nov. 25, 2018’s stand-off came to a head after Russia used a huge tanker to block passage through the Kerch Strait — the only access point to the Sea of Azov, which is shared by both Ukraine and Russia.

The Sea of Azov has been a flash point in the conflict between the two countries. In May 2018, Russia completed its construction of a massive 18-kilometer (11.2 mile) bridge linking the Crimea peninsula to mainland Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry accused Ukraine of “well-thought-out provocation” in order to justify ramping up sanctions against them. Russia also alleged that Kiev was working in coordination with the US and EU and warned of “serious consequences.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Iran tests advanced torpedo in Strait of Hormuz

Iran has tested an advanced high-speed torpedo in the Strait of Hormuz. The test is not only a provocation, but the torpedo is also a new threat to vessels in the international choke point.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the torpedo in question is called the Hoot, and appears to be a variant of the Russian Shkval, a rocket-powered torpedo capable of reaching speeds of 250 miles per hour, with a range of six miles. This torpedo could cover that distance in about a minute and a half.

A Russian-designed Shkval on display. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to GlobalSecurity.org, Russia designed the Shkval as a “revenge weapon” for use by submarines to take out a ship or submarine that fired on them. The original Shkval was tipped with a nuclear warhead. The 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World notes that an export version has about a 450-pound high-explosive warhead. Combat Fleets reported Iran was developing a variant of the Shkval known as the Dalaam.

The torpedo is a particular threat given the confined nature of the Strait of Hormuz, which is as narrow as 21 nautical miles.

The Shkval can be fired from any 21-inch torpedo tube — which means that the entire Iranian submarine force, three Kilo-class submarines and at least 16 Ghadir-class minsubs based on a North Korean design, plus another class of minisub called the Qa’em, can use this weapon.

Also read: Iranian cruise missile test fails

Iran has engaged in a number of provocations in recent months, including harassment of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) in April and close encounters with the missile-range instrumentation ship USNS Invincible (T AGM 24).

Iran also has handed off advanced weapons like the Noor anti-ship missile to various rebel and terrorist groups — and some of those missiles were subsequently used in attacks, notably against an Israeli corvette in 2006 and multiple attacks on the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) last year.

MIGHTY TRENDING

F-35s ready for war if Syrian tensions explode

The US has a small aircraft carrier hosting F-35B stealth fighter jets in the Middle East as Russia threatens US forces in Syria — and if fighting breaks out the US will have no choice but to send in the advanced fighters.

Russia and its ally, Syria, have launched a massive offensive against Idlib, the last rebel-held area in the country, and appeared to predict chemical weapons use in the process.

Syria’s government has been linked to 33 cases of chemical weapons use against its own people during the 7 year-long civil war, and along with Russia stands accused of war crimes such as the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and schools.


Russian media has accused terrorists and groups with US-backing of plotting to stage, and to actually carry out, a chemical weapons attack on children and families in Idlib to justify attacking the Syrian regime.

But Russia has made these claims before, and it hasn’t stopped the US from striking Syria in the past. This time, as Syria and Russia eye a bloody victory over the last remaining rebels, Russia has telegraphed that it would counter-attack the US if US missiles hit Syrian targets over chemical weapons use.

Russia, a weakened military power that often bolsters its image with propaganda, sat idly by while the US hit Syria twice before, but the US has spelled out that this time its penalty would take a much “stronger” form.

With a small armada of Russian ships in the Mediterranean, Russia too appears to have taken measures to look more committed to its cause.

F-35Bs aboard the USS Essex.

(US Navy photo)

Enter the F-35B

In the face of a massive Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean hugging Syria’s coast, the US doesn’t have a single carrier strike group anywhere near the region.

But the US does have the USS Essex, a US Navy small-deck helicopter carrier modified to carry US Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighters. The Essex and its accompanying ships across the Suez Canal from the Russian ships in the Mediterranean represents one of the greatest concentrations of naval power ever put to sea, and its main mission is simple — crisis response.

The long-awaited F-35Bs have updated software that grants them “full warfighting capability” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison told USNI News. That capability takes the F-35 beyond anything that F/A-18s, the US Navy’s standard carrier-based fighter, could do in an environment like Syria.

Syria has advanced Russian missile defenses, creating some of the world’s most challenging air spaces. Only a stealth jet with advanced sensors, like the F-35B, could safely take on the mission of fighting in the skies above Syria.

“The F-35’s ability to operate in contested areas, including anti-access/area-denial environments that legacy fighters cannot penetrate, provides more lethality and flexibility to the combatant commander than any other fighter platform,” said Harrison.

US Marines firing a howitzer in Syria.

(US Marine Corps photo)

Russia flirting with disaster

Russia specifically threatened US forces in southern Syria with retaliation. In the past, these US forces have come under attack from Russian-aligned forces and brutally beat them back with superior air power. But in that case, Russia held back its considerable bank of fighter jets in the region from the fight.

The F-35B has never tasted combat, but the Syrian war produced a rich list of firsts over the last seven years. Missile fires have taken down Israeli, Syrian, and Russian jets over the course of the war. Syria has seen the combat debut of Israel’s F-35I and the first US air-to-air kill between manned aircraft since 1999.

If Russia is serious about backing its ally and countering a possible US attack, it would no doubt need air power to do so. But not only does the US have stealth F-35s nearby ready to hit Russia with something it’s never seen, they have considerable air bases in the region that make Moscow’s threat appear less than serious.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The US military took these incredible photos in just one week-long period

The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


AIR FORCE

The Air Force and its mission partners successfully launched the AFSPC-5 mission aboard the Space and Missile Systems Center procured United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, May 20, 2015.

Photo: United Launch Alliance

Tech. Sgt. Bruce Ramos, a 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 1 radio operator, raises an American flag from an MC-130P Combat Shadow while it taxis at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 15, 2015.

Photo: Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson/USAF

NAVY

The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, perform a flyover during a graduation and commissioning ceremony for the Naval Academy Class of 2015.

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Anthony Koch/USN

The guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for an independent deployment.

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/USN

ARMY

BIG STEP – On Tuesday, May 19, students at the U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School conducted helocast drills. Helocasting is an airborne insertion technique used by small special operations forces to enter denied areas of operations.

Photo: Janice Burton/US Army

An Army AH-64 Apache air crew, assigned to 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division conducts pre-flight checks prior to an air-assault operation, part of the Network Integration Evaluation 15.2 exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Photo: Sgt. Jose D. Ramirez/US Army

MARINE CORPS

Landing craft air cushion conduct an amphibious assault during the MARFORPAC-hosted U.S. Pacific Command Amphibious Leaders Symposium (PALS) at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jason W. Fudge/USMC

An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires its 120 mm smoothbore cannon during a live-fire event as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2015 in Jordan.

Photo: Sgt. Devin Nichols

COAST GUARD

Rescue crews from the Coast Guard 1st District don immersion suits to practice cold water survival in Boston Harbor near the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse.

Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell/USN

A Coast Guard crew aboard a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium patrols Boston Harbor near the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse.

Photo: Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell/USCG

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MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea really is starting to dismantle a key nuclear site

North Korea has reportedly started dismantling rocket launching and testing facilities that President Donald Trump has said it agreed to in an off-the-books deal, and it’s a major US victory in what have been fraught, slow-moving talks.

Following the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the two sides released a joint statement that contained weak and vague language around denuclearization, much to the dismay of North Korea watchers hoping for concrete action.


But in a press conference after the summit, Trump announced two bombshells: The US would halt military drills with South Korea, and North Korea had agreed to dismantle a missile test site.

More than a month since the summit, the US has kept its end of the agreement, but only on July 23, 2018, did the West get any indication that North Korea was holding its end.

Satellite imagery reviewed by 38 North, a website that covers North Korea, suggests North Korea is dismantling key parts of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, where Kim has presided over the launch of rockets meant to put satellites in orbit.

So far, a rail-based site for transporting the rockets and a vertical engine testing stand have been dismantled, 38 North reports.

In absolute terms, this represents only a tiny fraction of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure. But the action there has key components that may give cause for hope.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Sohae Space Center for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

(KCNA photo)

These sites are vital

North Korea, in past negotiations with the US, has proved extremely lawyerly and adept at finding loopholes in its agreements.

In 2012, when Kim had just taken power, the US under President Barack Obama negotiated a freeze on North Korean missile testing. Later, North Korea announced it would instead launch a rocket intended to carry a satellite into orbit.

Satellite launch vehicles are not missiles. They deliver a satellite into orbit, rather than an explosive payload to a target.

But both satellite launch vehicles and long-range missiles use rocket engines to propel themselves into space, meaning that working on one is much the same as working on the other.

The US, troubled by this obvious betrayal of the spirit of the agreement, then exited the deal.

By removing the rail infrastructure to set up satellite vehicle launches, North Korea may have signaled it won’t look to exploit the same loopholes that have wrecked past deals.

At Sohae, where cranes have been spotted tearing down an engine testing stand, the North Koreans have previously worked to develop engines for their intercontinental ballistic missiles.

ICBMs threaten the US homeland in a way that could fray US alliances in Asia and eventually even unseat the US as a dominant power in the region. As Business Insider previously reported, freezing North Korea’s ICBM program has been a key focus of the Pentagon for years.

Only a small amount of actual work has taken place in dismantling the sites, but the significance of the sites, and their place in Trump and Kim’s budding relationship, gives reason for hope.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump.

(White House photo)

Confidence-building

So far, North Korea has dragged its feet even on simple tasks, like returning some remains of US troops killed in the Korean War, despite promising immediate action.

Since the Singapore summit, satellite imagery has picked up signs that North Korea may actually have advanced its nuclear and missile programs. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea recently, Kim didn’t meet him and instead toured a potato farm.

Kim sent Trump a nice letter in mid-July 2018, but it contained no specifics on the US’s declared goal of denuclearization.

Trump said he negotiated the closing of these facilities with Kim after the joint declaration was signed, but North Korea waited over a month before delivering.

During that time, Trump repeatedly stressed that he believed North Korea would follow through based on his personal read of Kim’s personality.

In that way, North Korea has kept its direct promise to Trump and demonstrated, for perhaps the first time, a real willingness to scale back the key parts of its missile system.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

A classified unmanned space plane has been in orbit for over 500 days, but no one is telling the public what it’s doing.


Drones are in the news nearly every day. Tiny toys snapping exciting photos for our Instagram accounts. Commercial drones working for farmers and municipal agencies. Missile-armed drones performing strikes on enemy locations. Unmanned craft, in the air, on the ground, and in the sea, are conducting more missions for more people all the time.

So what was this space drone actually doing on its secret missions up there in outer space? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

Operated by the United States Air Force, the X-37B is at the top of the drone pyramid and is pushing the outside edge of the envelope as you read this.

The X-37B, sometimes called the Orbital Test Vehicle, is a small unmanned reusable spacecraft built by Boeing that looks a lot like a small space shuttle. It’s 29 feet-long with stubby wings and angled tail fins. Unlike the famous shuttle orbiters that it resembles, however, it lacks a vertical stabilizer. It launches atop an Atlas V 501 launch vehicle inside the booster’s payload fairing and, at the end of its mission, returns to earth and lands on a runway like the 80s-era space shuttle.

What the space plane does while it’s up there, though, is mostly a mystery.

The first X-37B mission, OTV-1, flew in 2010 and lasted for 224 days — close to the X-37B’s designed 270-day endurance. The second mission, flown by a second X-37B, flew in 2011 and lasted 468 days. The third mission, performed by the first spacecraft, lasted an astounding 674 days. The current mission, dubbed “OTV-4,” was launched on May 20, 2015, and recently passed 500 days in orbit.

The Air Force is tight-lipped about how long OTV-4 will last, though it must last until at least March 25, 2017, if it’s going to break OTV-3’s record.

The X-37B program began as a NASA project. One of the X-37’s primary missions was to have been satellite rendezvous for refueling and repair, and the small space plane would have been carried to orbit inside a space shuttle’s cargo bay.

As the program progressed, however, the plan shifted to launching atop an expendable booster and, in 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency took over the program. DARPA continued development of the X-37, resulting in the current X-37B for the US Air Force.

Once the project transferred to the military, it became classified.

Doesn’t exactly look like a friendly little space drone does it? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

The spacecraft itself is not terribly secret. For the past six years, numerous news stories have been run about the “secret” space plane and many photographs have been published.

What the X-37B does while it’s up there on missions lasting well over a year, though, is the source of much conjecture. The fact sheet for the X-37B on the official Air Force web site describes the mission as “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

That’s an explanation that doesn’t explain much, however, and doesn’t seem to justify the enormous expense of building, launching, and operating the spacecraft.

Of course, theories on the internet abound. Some have claimed that the X-37B is an advanced spy satellite. Some wonder if the X-37B could be an experimental space bomber. Others believe that the original mission of satellite rendezvous for maintenance could easily have been adapted to more nefarious purposes, such as interfering with or destroying satellites operated by nations such as Russia or China.

Ground observers have watched what they believe to be the X-37B make significant changes to its orbit, a maneuver in line with the space saboteur theory.

In 2012, during the OTV-2 mission, the editor of Spaceflight magazine claimed that the X-37B was probably spying on the Chinese space station Tiangong-1. Other experts, however, publicly doubted and dismissed the idea as improbable at best.

If you spend enough time online, you’re certain to find any number of wild ideas. One of the most outlandish theories about the X-37B is that it’s not unmanned at all. The idea is that a hibernating astronaut is onboard the space plane and that experiments are being conducted to prepare for long-duration manned missions to Mars or, perhaps, to station a quick-reaction force of soldiers in orbit for secret missions anywhere on the globe. Or above it.

Whatever the X-37B is up to, it seems to be doing a good job of it. Work is being done to make it possible for the drone to land at Kennedy Space Center on the space shuttle landing strip. Part of the shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility, without a mission since the shuttle program ended, is being modified to process X-37Bs.

A recent NASA presentation discussed the potential to develop a space ambulance which could service the ISS from the X-37B. An X-37C proposal, more than 50 percent larger than the current model, would possibly be able to carry astronauts.

The classified little space plane is a bit of a mystery but certainly one of the most exciting drones in use today. Even if we aren’t sure what’s it doing.

Articles

This battle against ISIS could be seen from space

The oil refinery in Bayji, a city in Tikrit, Iraq, has been heavily contested since ISIS first assaulted it in Jun. 2014. It was during that initial battle for Bayji that ISIS, attempting to force out hundreds of Iraqi troops and oil workers, launched a series of attacks that set the refinery on fire.


The smoke from Iraq’s largest refinery was so thick and dark that it could be seen on NASA satellites.

Photo: USGS/NASA

ISIS began the assault on Jun. 10 when a convoy of over 60 vehicles took the city of Bayji. They then turned to the refinery where 200 Iraqi troops held off 300-500 ISIS fighters for nearly a week.

On the morning of Jun. 18, a renewed ISIS assault broke through the Iraqi perimeter. Oil workers sheltered underground while the fighting ignited 17 gas tanks, creating the smoke that would be seen from space.

After hours of fighting in the clouds of oily smoke, the Iraqi survivors surrendered. ISIS took the facility and executed the 70 soldiers who had surrendered to them.

The Iraqi government launched an offensive and successfully captured the facility in Nov. 2014, but the back and forth ownership of the facility has continued ever since.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVD4n0NGleo

Currently, the facility is in the hands of the Iraqi government, taken by a combination of U.S. air support, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and Iraqi government forces in Oct. 2015.

Articles

That time the Russians rammed US Navy ships in the Black Sea

In February 1988, the American cruiser USS Yorktown was on a Freedom of Navigation mission in the Black Sea, just south of Crimea. With her was the USS Caron. Though outside of traditional sea lanes, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows for warships to leave sea lanes — even in another country’s territorial waters — as long as those warships were on “innocent passage.”


The Soviet Union disagreed.

They usually did. (MGM/UA)

Though the Russians routinely used their own naval vessels to shadow the Americans in the region, the case of the Yorktown and Caron was different. The Russians held that the two American ships were armed with more firepower than previous treaties allowed while in their territory. They also believed that they had the authority to clear ships entering their waters.

That’s why the Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyi warned the Yorktown it would “strike their ship with own” if the Americans entered Soviet territory. Meanwhile, another Soviet frigate confronted the Caron. The Americans blew off the threat, with the Caron responding: “I am engaged in innocent passage consistent with international law.”

That’s when the second Russian frigate slammed into the Caron’s port side aft. There was no damage except some paint scraping. The Caron pressed on and exited Soviet waters almost two full hours later.

Also in Soviet territory, the Yorktown was being shadowed by the Russian Bezzavetnyi. The Russian closed to within 50 feet of the Yorktown when it turned into the American ship, slamming into its port side. Bezzavetnyi’s anchor fell away, while Yorktown suffered minor hull damage, though with no breaches. The ship’s rear Harpoon missile launchers were damaged and unusable.

Yorktown completed her mission and left in a similar two-hour time frame.

The Russians had no intention of sinking either ship and no weapons were ever cleared for action. In after action interviews, the skipper of the Bezzavetnyi said:

“To be honest, no one in the in the command center put on his lifejacket, although the order had been given… Many members of the crew of Yorktown were on the upper deck, smiling and waving, taking pictures of us with cameras and videocameras. And the commanding officer of Yorktown, for example, appeared on the bridge in parade uniform. In a word, the Americans behaved as if they were participating in a show for entertainment.”

“Are you not entertained?” (U.S. Navy photo)

“Our view is that unless you exercise the right of freedom of navigation, inevitably you lose it,” said then-Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the incident. “If we start backing off we will eventually lose some of the rights that are absolutely essential for our freedom of navigation.”

Freedom of Navigation missions have been a cornerstone of the US Navy mission and of American foreign policy since 1979. The resolve of the Yorktown and Caron to press on are testament to the dedication to the mission.

Articles

This new radar could be the US Navy’s force field against Chinese ship-killing missile

The AN/SPY-1 system, more popularly known as “Aegis,” is arguably the best air-defense system sent out to sea. It has been exported to South Korea, Japan, Spain, and Australia. But the U.S. Navy has not been sitting still with the design.


The AN/SPY-6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar is planned for use on the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.

According to the Raytheon web site, this modular radar system is 30-times more sensitive than the SPY-1D used on the current Arleigh Burke-class vessels. This system can also handle 30 times as many targets as the SPY-1D. The system also used commercially-available computer processors in the x86 family pioneered by Intel.

A Raytheon SM-3 launches from the vertical launcher on the front deck of a ship. | Raytheon

The AMDR was tested July 27, 2017, by the Navy. According to a Navy release, the system successfully tracked the target — a simulated medium-range ballistic missile — or “MRBM.” According to the Department of Defense, MRBMs have a range between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers, or about 600 to 1,800 miles.

Perhaps the most notable missile in this category is China’s DF-21, which supposedly has a carrier-killer version.

“AN/SPY-6 is the nation’s most advanced radar and will be the cornerstone of the U.S. Navy’s surface combatants for many decades,” said Aegis program official Capt. Seiko Okano.

USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

The first Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS Harvey C. Barnum (DDG 124), is slated to enter service in 2024. These ships will have a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical launch systems (one with 32 cells, the other with 64 cells) capable of firing RIM-66 Standard SM-2 missiles, RIM-174 SM-6 missiles, RIM-161 SM-3 missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROCs.

It’ll also be armed with a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, and two MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

You can see a video from Raytheon about AMDR below.