This is why the US military gave GPS away for free - We Are The Mighty
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This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

One of the most ever-present devices in modern times is the navigation system in everything from cell phones and wrist watches to in-dash car displays. All of them are made possible with just a few constellations of satellites, most of them launched by the U.S.


But the systems use the satellite signals for free despite a cost in the billions to create and launch the satellites, and $2 million is spent daily to maintain the U.S. system. So why are civilians across the world allowed to use them for free?

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
An Su-15 Flagon fighter like the one that downed Korean Air 007. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense).

The big turning point was in 1983 when a Korean Air passenger jet flying near the Soviet border accidentally crossed into Russian territory in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Russians were worried that the plane was a U.S. bomber or spy plane, and made the catastrophic decision to attack the jet, downing it and killing all 269 passengers and crew members on board.

American officials later admitted privately that the error was an easy one to make and that the passenger jet was — probably accidentally — traveling on almost the exact same route that a U.S. spy plane was flying at the same time.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
(Reagan Library photo)

President Ronald Reagan publicly condemned the attacks and turned to his advisors to find a way to prevent other mix-ups in the future. He opened the GPS signals to public use with an executive order — but added scrambling to reduce accuracy.

This made the signals less valuable to rival militaries.

Civilian companies sprang up around GPS and worked to create devices that were perfectly accurate despite the scrambling. After almost a decade of the military increasing scrambling to foil technological workarounds, President Bill Clinton ordered that the scrambling come to an end.

Instead, the U.S. jams GPS signals locally when they’re in combat with a force that uses them.

This jamming works by interrupting the signals, allowing the U.S. to scramble signals from its own satellites as well as those launched in more recent years by Russia, China, India, and Japan.

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How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.


That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.

The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
A Nakajima Ki-43-IIa Oscar. (Wikimedia Commons)

In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.

Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
A Nakajima Ki-43-III-Ko Oscar takes off as young girls wave. The plane was sent on a kamikaze mission against the American fleet off Okinawa. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.

Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAtUV0JQXL4
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This Marine better watch his footing in the new thriller ‘Mine’

After an assassination gone wrong, a Marine sniper, played by Armie Hammer, is stranded in a dry oasis after stepping on one of at least 33 million mines that occupy the desert region.


In this psychological thriller, Mike will have to battle himself, his enemies, and all the dangerous elements of his environment without lifting a foot until help arrives — 52 hours away.

Mine blasts its way into theaters and On Demand April 2017.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A World War II widow discovered her husband is a hero in France

Peggy Harris was married for six weeks when her husband went missing in action over France during World War II. No one ever tried to tell her about her husband’s fate. A fighter pilot, Billie Harris’ last mission came in July 1944. That’s when the confusion started, a confusion that is much more circuitous than the regular fog of war.


Billie Harris was listed as Missing in Action when he failed to come home from a mission over northern France that day in 1944. Then, the Army Air Forces informed his wife that he was alive and coming home. They then rescinded that as well. To her horror, he was killed and buried in a cemetery in France. And then they told her he was in a different cemetery. Then she was informed by the War Department that they weren’t even sure if the remains they had were Billie’s.

His devoted wife waited and waited, for years and decades, waiting for news about her husband. Until she finally decided to write her Congressman about the issue. Over and over for decades she waited and wrote to members of Congress – all the way through 2005.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

In 2005, she got an answer from the Representative from the Texas panhandle, Mac Thornberry. His office informed Peggy that Billie was still listed as MIA, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. Billie’s cousin took it upon himself to look for Billie’s remains personally, to give Peggy some peace. His first stop was requesting the service and medical records for his missing cousin. The records that came back actually revealed his final resting place: Normandy.

First Lieutenant Billie D. Harris died July 17, 1944, the day he went missing. His headstone is one of the hundreds of bright white crosses that adorn the grounds of Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. So what happened? A CBS report found that Thornberry’s office never searched for the record. When CBS did the search, they found Harris listed as KIA.

Thornberry would later send Peggy an apology for bungling the search.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

Ever since discovering her husband’s final resting place, she sent his grave a bouquet of flowers ten times a year. Cemetery officials say Peggy Harris is the last widow of World War II’s killed in action who still visits the grave of her departed husband. But that’s not the only news the family discovered in their investigation.

His plane was shot down over Les Ventes, a small French town and he was a legend among the locals of the town – Billie D. Harris managed to avoid crashing into the village and instead went down in the nearby woods. The villagers buried him in their local cemetery, so grateful for his sacrifice. Ever since, the residents of the small town have walked down the main street of Les Ventes every year – a street called Place Billie D. Harris – to remember his sacrifice.

Ever since Peggy discovered her husband’s final hours and gravesite, she’s visited the cemetery and Les Ventes every year to celebrate her husband’s life and talk to the people who remember Billie D. Harris as a fallen hero.

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Athlete dedicates Invictus medals to soldier who saved his life

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free


As the Florida sun beat down mercilessly on the adaptive athletes, medically retired Army Sgt. Aaron Stewart competed in cycling and swimming at the 2016 Invictus Games here not for medals, but for a fellow fallen soldier.

Stewart dedicated his athletic performances to Leonard Sear, a fellow soldier who saved his life. Stewart, who is transgender, competed in the female category.

Competing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, Stewart earned silver medals in the time trial and criterium in cycling.  And in swimming, he earned silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle and a bronze medal in the 50-meter backstroke in his disability category.

In the 2014 Invictus Games, before he began hormone treatments, Stewart earned two gold medals in cycling in the time trial and criterium. At the Warrior Games in 2014, he earned seven medals in swimming, air pistol and the air rifle.

Having served in flight operations for eight years, Stewart has injuries to his back, spinal stenosis and sciatica, shoulder issues and also has post-traumatic stress from military sexual trauma. He said he met Sear while they were serving in a wounded warrior transition battalion in 2012.

Lifesaver

“They did recovery things there where we got together in groups and did yoga, rock climbing and things like that to help mentally bring us together,” Stewart said. “We were in the same unit. I attempted suicide about six months after we became friends, and he found me and saved my life. And then five months to the day after I attempted suicide, he died, so it’s a huge loss — someone that close to me to be gone.”

Thanks to Sear, support from friends like Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, and adaptive sports, Stewart said, he’s still here and doesn’t have suicidal thoughts any more. “”He saved my life, but adaptive sports have kept me alive since.”

Stewart recommends adaptive sports to any disabled service members or veterans who may need help in their recovery.

“When I first got injured, I was extremely depressed. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew my military career was over at that point,” he said. “Sports gave me something to look forward to. It gave me an objective and something to focus on. It got me out of that depression. It essentially saved my life. It’s kept me going.”

He said anyone thinking about taking up an adaptive sport should get out there and try it.

“You’re not accomplishing anything sitting where you are,” he said. “You’re not going to feel any worse getting out there. It was a life-changer for me, so I would definitely recommend getting out there and trying it. You gain a whole new family, a huge support group, and it’s a lifesaver, really.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

North Dakota was the world’s 3rd most powerful nuclear power

If you had to guess at the world’s strongest nuclear power, you would probably get the top two right. America and Russia are top dogs and have been so since Russia became an official country again. Before that, you guessed it, the Soviet Union was on top.

But do you know who is number three in the world? Well, for a few years in the Cold War, North Dakota could have claimed that spot by seceding.


Even more shocking, according to numbers in 2006, seven U.S. states would be in the world’s top 10 nuclear powers at the time if their arsenals had been counted separately. America’s nuclear arsenal in Europe could have formed an eighth.

At the start of the Cold War, America was the top atomic power because it was the only atomic power. Then, Soviet scientists created a bomb through their own research and theft of American secrets. For much of the Cold War, America’s arsenal was larger, in missiles as well as warheads and bombs.

But there was a problem for Americans in the Cold War. They didn’t know that. Thanks to the flawed Gaither Report and the rapidly accelerating fields of atomic and then nuclear research, there was a belief in the U.S. that the Soviet Union in the 1950s could be manufacturing up to five rockets per day with a sparkling new warhead on each. (We’ve previously written about that, here.)

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

Intercontinental ballistic missiles sit outside a base in Wyoming.

(U.S. Air Force R.J. Oriez)

So America raced to stay ahead of the Soviet Union, manufacturing hundreds and then thousands of missiles, bombs, and other weapons in the Cold War. In an effort to draw Soviet weapons away from American cities as well as to protect the country’s counter-strike capability, America put the newest missile and warheads in hardened silos in the Midwest.

So about 250 Minuteman III missiles were packed with up to three warheads each in sites across North Dakota. It was the largest missile arsenal of any state at the time, leading to North Dakota getting the moniker “world’s third-largest nuclear power.

In the modern era, if the U.S. arsenal was split into the states that house the weapons, North Dakota would be the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power. Russia is number one with about 6,800 warheads. But, according to this map from the Bulleting of Atomic Scientists in 2006, there are seven U.S. states with larger arsenal than France’s number 3 arsenal.

France has 300 nuclear weapons, putting it far behind Washington (2,364 weapons), New Mexico (1,914 weapons), Georgia (1,364 weapons), North Dakota (1,254 weapons), Louisiana (940 weapons), Nevada (902 weapons), and Montana (535 weapons). America’s arsenal in Europe is also larger than France’s at 400 weapons.

Many of these U.S. weapons are in storage or are scheduled for decommissioning. That’s the case in New Mexico and Nevada. Georgia and Washington house weapons that are deployed on ballistic and cruise missile submarines. North Dakota and Montana have missiles in silos as well as air-launched missiles and bombs. Louisiana houses air-launched missiles and bombs.

Now, of course, state governors don’t actually control those arsenals. The weapons were commissioned by the federal government and are still largely controlled by the active military and the Department of Energy. So, yeah, it’s a U.S. arsenal and not state ones. Still, it’s comforting to know that this author’s state would have the fourth largest arsenal in the world. Hope we don’t piss off Washington State, though.

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A war with China in 2025 would be bloody and unwinnable

A top defense strategy think tank recently released a report hat looks at the implications of a possible war between the U.S. and China. The news is almost universally bad, but the assessment of a full-scale war between the U.S. and China in 2025 paints a dire picture of the aftermath of a conflict between the world’s two biggest superpowers.


While a war today would be costly for the U.S., China’s increasing anti-access, area denial arsenal as well as its growing carrier capability and aircraft strength could make it impossible for the U.S. to establish military dominance and achieve a decisive victory in 2025, the report by the RAND Corporation says.

“Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored,” RAND says. “Technological advances in the ability to target opposing forces are creating conditions of conventional counterforce, whereby each side has the means to strike and degrade the other’s forces and, therefore, an incentive to do so promptly, if not first.”

Instead, the two sides would fight until its home populations got fed up and demanded an end to hostilities, something that may not happen until the body counts get too high to stomach.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare to provide Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with a demonstration of their capabilities during a visit to the unit in China on July 12, 2011. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

RAND declined to state a number of expected casualties in any potential war, but it estimated the loss of multiple carriers and other capital platforms for each side. Nimitz-class carriers carry approximately 6,000 sailors and Marines on a cruise. The loss of a single ship would represent a greater loss of life and combat power than all losses in the Iraq War.

The study predicts a stunning display of technological might on both sides, which isn’t surprising considering what each country has in the field and in the works. The paper doesn’t name specific weapon systems, but it predicts that fifth-generation fighters will be able to shoot down fourth-generation fighters with near impunity.

The U.S. recently fielded its second fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. America’s other advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has been in service since 2005. China is developing four fifth-generation fighters — the J-20; the J-32; the J-23; and the J-25.

The J-20 and J-32 will likely be in the field in 2025 and would potentially rival America’s fighters.

By 2025, China could have two more aircraft carriers for a total of three. It currently owns one functional carrier purchased from Russia and is manufacturing a second.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
The Navy’s Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford is moved from one shipyard to another in 2013. When launched, the Ford-class carriers will be the largest aircraft carriers in history. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aidan P. Campbell)

Despite America’s greater numbers of both fifth-generation fighters and total aircraft carriers, China’s growing missile arsenal would force America to act cautiously or risk unsustainable losses, RAND argues.

Outside of the conventional war, cyber attacks, anti-satellite warfare, and trade disruptions would hurt both countries.

Both belligerents have anti-satellite weapons that are nearly invulnerable to attack, meaning that both countries will be able to destroy a substantial portion of each other’s satellites. The destruction of the American satellite constellation would be especially problematic for the rest of the world since nearly all GPS units connect to American satellites.

Cyber attacks would cripple vulnerable grids on both sides of the Pacific, likely including many of the computer servers that maintain public utilities and crucial services like hospitals.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
Photo: Airliners.net CC BY-SA 4.0

Trade disruptions would damage both countries, but China would be affected to a much greater extent, RAND says.

A lot of American commerce passes through the Pacific, but China does a whopping 95 percent of its trade there and is more reliant on trade than the U.S. For China, any large Pacific conflict would be very expensive at home.

While it’s very unlikely that China could win a war with the U.S., RAND says the fighting would be so bloody and costly for both sides that even average Americans would suffer greatly. Service members and their families would have it the worst.

“By 2025, U.S. losses could range from significant to heavy; Chinese losses, while still very heavy, could be somewhat less than in 2015, owing to increased degradation of U.S. strike capabilities,” RAND says. “China’s [anti-access weapons] will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to gain military-operational dominance and victory, even in a long war.”

There are two pieces of good news. First, leaders on both sides are hesitant to go to war. Even better, RAND’s assessment says that neither country is likely to risk nuclear retaliation by firing first, so the war would likely remain a conventional affair.

The bad news is that increasing tension could trigger an accidental war despite political leaders best intentions. RAND recommends that leaders set clear limits on military actions in the Pacific and establish open lines of dialogue.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
The Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui fires its main gun at a towed target during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Senior Capt. Liu Wenping)

The American and Chinese military do participate in some exercises together. The Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark and the Chinese frigate Hengshui took part in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, but continued Chinese espionage against America and reported cyber attacks prevent a happy relationship.

Hopefully the U.S. and China can come to friendly terms because a war tomorrow would be catastrophic and a war in 10 years could be crippling for everyone involved.

The full report from RAND is available as a PDF for free here. It can also be purchased as a paperback. A Q A with the lead study author is available here.

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Mel Gibson’s next movie is about a soldier who earned a Medal of Honor despite his refusal to fight

Mel Gibson has started production on World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge in New South Wales, Australia, starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington. The first photographs for this new upcoming drama have been released.


This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

The movie is based on the life of Desmond T. Doss, a medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa, who refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

According to Wikipedia: “Drafted in April 1942, Desmond Doss refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He consequently became a medic, and while serving in the Pacific theatre of World War II he helped his country by saving the lives of his comrades, at the same time adhering to his religious convictions.

Captain Glover (played by Worthington) is in charge of the unit (77th Infantry Division), while Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell, whose job is to get the new recruits ready for battle.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

“While production has only just begun, there is already incredible camaraderie between the cast,” Gibson said in a statement. “Not only is Andrew perfect for the role of Desmond Doss, the entire cast are an incredible mix of experience, depth and exciting up and coming talent.”

Other cast members include Richard Roxburgh, Luke Pegler, Richard Pyros, Ben Mingay, Firass Dirani, Nico Cortez, Michael Sheasby, Goran Kleut, Jacob Warner, Harry Greenwood, Damien Thomlinson, Ben O’Toole, Benedict Hardie, Robert Morgan, Ori Pfeffer, Milo Gibson and Nathaniel Buzolic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

There is undoubtedly no worse place for troops to live and fight in than the trenches of old. Soldiers would dig fighting positions into the ground and, with no way to continually clear out the rodents, water, sewage, and bodies, the fortifications would become ripe with disease.

The sand around you was your home. The sandbags above the parapet were your only protection from snipers. The walls that surrounded you could collapse under enemy artillery fire and quickly become your coffin.

Despite all of these glaring faults, their purpose is clear when you look at the bigger picture.


This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
They could fight for months and not even take a single inch.
(Imperial War Museums)
 

Trenches have been used as early as the Roman Empire, but the scale at which they were used swelled drastically on the western front of the First World War. During WWI, trenches were built in three distinct rows: The main firing trench (used for direct combat), the support trench (used as a second line of defense and as a place for officers, medics, cooks, and other supporting troops), and the reserve trench (used for housing).

Soldiers knew in advance where they’d hold off the enemy and they’d begin building fighting positions there for cover. The enemy would show up, see the trenches, and quickly dig their own at a safe distance. Inevitably, both sides would find it impossible to dislodge the opposition and so they’d dig in deeper.

Many of the problems we associate with trenches today ran most rampant within British units, as they believed that the trenches would be temporary and the war would keep moving — it didn’t.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

That entire red line was almost entirely a trench system between both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers

(The History Department of the United States Military Academy)

Meanwhile, many French and German trench systems were built with the long-haul in mind. They better fortified their walls and created much more hospitable bunkers. They understood that the systems weren’t to be used to advance, but rather to stall the enemy. Each row within the trench systems was designed to make it as difficult as possible for the enemy to take it over.

If the enemy managed to make it across No Man’s Land (the expanse of ground between opposing forces’ fortifications), they’d come across fields of barbed wire that would slow their movement and alert sentries that heard the rustling. Then, they’d come into the first trench, which was typically dug into asymmetrical zigzags that not only minimized the effect of shrapnel, but also provided as small of a field of fire as possible for invaders.

The rows were designed to be able to be taken from the rear. While enemy forces swarmed the first trench, defenders could hop over top the next trench back and open fire. This defense mechanism sounds like it’s begging to be exploited, but that would require the enemy to flank around the trench line first. Both sides would prevent this from happening by creating hundreds of miles of trench systems. Often, there was no way around.

The trenches did exactly what they were built to do. They ensured the enemy couldn’t get past. With no viable option for advancement, militaries were able to send men elsewhere — who would then dig even more and offer little room for the enemy.

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This is why sailors wear neckerchiefs with their dress uniform

Any enlisted Navy sailor can tell you that their dress uniform wouldn’t be as famous today without one of its most iconic pieces — the historic neckerchief.


Reportedly, the neckerchief made its first appearance in the 16th century and was primarily worn as a sweat rag and to protect the sailor’s neck from rubbing raw against their stiff collared shirts.

In some cases, the 36-square-inch silk fabric could also be used as a battle dressing or tourniquet in a life saving situation.

The color black was picked to hide any dirt or residue that built up during wear.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
The iconic Navy dress blue uniformed with a neckerchief being steamed before a uniform inspection.

In 1817, the Navy wanted each one of its sailors to tie their neckerchief the same way, so it introduce the square knot. The square knot was hand-picked because it was commonly used on ships to secure its cargo.

The knot was later added to the dress blue uniform to represent the hardworking Navy tradition, and it remains that way today.

How to tie a square knot:

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
Step-by-step instructions for the tradition square knot. (Source: Navy.mil)

During the inspection, each sailor is carefully examined by a senior at least twice a year. While under observation, the sailor must display a properly tied square knot which needs to hang at the bottom of the jumper’s V-neck opening, and the ends of the neckerchief must appear even as shown above.

Do you remember your first uniform inspection? Comment below.

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Metal Giants ‘Queensryche’ Take On War

There has been a major split between lead singer Geoff Tate and the rest of the band in recent months, but a few years ago, legendary metal band Queensryche was tightly focused on “American Soldier,” the band’s take on the modern experience of war.


Here’s the first video they produced for the album:

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Does the U.S. Navy Need a 21st Century F-14 Tomcat?

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
A US Navy F-14D Tomcat aircraft flies a combat mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom | U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt. Lee O. Tucker


While the requirement for a carrier-based long-range strike capability is a frequent subject of discussion around Washington, the U.S. Navy’s need for improved air superiority capabilities is often neglected.

The service has not had a dedicated air-to-air combat aircraft since it retired the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in 2006. But even the Tomcat was adapted into a strike aircraft during its last years in service after the Soviet threat evaporated.

Now, as new threats to the carrier emerge and adversaries start to field new fighters that can challenge the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, attention is starting to shift back to this oft-neglected Navy mission — especially in the Western Pacific.

“Another type of new aircraft required is an air superiority fighter,” states a recent Hudson Institute report titled Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict, which is written by The National Interest contributors Seth Cropsey, Bryan McGrath and Timothy A. Walton. “Given the projection of the Joint Force’s increased demand for carrier-based fighter support, this capability is critical.”

The report notes that both the Super Hornet and the F-35C are severely challenged by new enemy fifth-generation fighter aircraft such as the Russian-built Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA and Chengdu J-20.

Indeed, certain current adversary aircraft such as the Russian Su-30SM, Su-35S and the Chinese J-11D and J-15 pose a serious threat to the Super Hornet fleet. It’s a view that shared by many industry officials, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and even U.S. Marine Corps aviators.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
US Navy photo

“Both F/A-18E/Fs and F-35Cs will face significant deficiencies against supercruising, long-range, high-altitude, stealthy, large missile capacity adversary aircraft, such as the T-50, J-20, and follow-on aircraft,” the authors note.

“These aircraft will be capable of effectively engaging current and projected U.S. carrier aircraft and penetrating defenses to engage high value units, such as AEW aircraft, ASW aircraft, and tankers. Already, the F/A-18E/F faces a severe speed disadvantage against Chinese J-11 aircraft, which can fire longer range missiles at a higher kinematic advantage outside of the range of U.S. AIM-120 missiles.

Nor does the F-35C—which suffers from severely reduced acceleration compared to even the less than stellar performance of other JSF variants — help matters. “Similarly, the F-35C is optimized as an attack fighter, resulting in a medium-altitude flight profile, and its current ability to only carry two AIM- 120 missiles internally [until Block 3] limits its capability under complex electromagnetic conditions,” the authors wrote.

“As an interim measure, the Navy and Air Force should significantly accelerate the F-35C’s Block 5 upgrade to enable the aircraft to carry six AIM-120 missiles internally.”

The F-35C was never designed to be an air superiority fighter. Indeed, naval planners in the mid-1990s wanted the JSF to be a strike-oriented aircraft with only a 6.5G airframe load limit with very limited air-to-air capability, according to one retired U.S. Navy official. Indeed, some naval planners at the time had discussed retiring the F-14 in favor of keeping the Grumman A-6 Intruder in service.

During this period, many officials believed air combat to be a relic of the past in the post-Cold War era. They anticipated most future conflicts to be air-to-ground oriented in those years immediately following the Soviet collapse. Together with a lack of funding, that’s probably why the Navy never proceeded with its Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter or A/F-Xfollow-on program.

The Navy’s F/A-XX program could be used to fill the service’s air superiority gap — which has essentially been left open since the F-14’s retirement and the demise of the NATF and A/F-X programs. But the problem is that the Navy is pursuing the F/A-XX as a multirole Super Hornet replacement rather than an air superiority-oriented machine.

“The danger in its development is that it suboptimizes the fighter role in the quest for a hybrid fighter/attack jet,” the Hudson Institute report notes. “This would leave the Joint Force without a carrier-based sixth generation air superiority fighter.”

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
US Air Force photo

As the Navy’s current director of air warfare, Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, has stated in the past, the authors also note that such “an aircraft could feature large passive and active sensor arrays, relatively high cruising speed (albeit not necessarily acceleration), could hold a large internal weapons bay capable of launching numerous missiles, and could have space to adopt future technologies, such as HPM [high-powered microwaves] and lasers.”

“This air superiority asset would contribute to Outer Air Battle integrated air and missile defense requirements and would be capable of countering enemy weapons, aircraft, and sensor and targeting nodes at a distance.”

Outer Air Battle, of course, refers to a Navy concept from the 1980s to fend off a concerted attack by hordes of Soviet Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bombers, Oscar-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines and surface action groups lead by warships like the Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruisers — as now deputy defense secretary Bob Work [he was the CEO of the Center for a New American Security at the time] described to me in 2013.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
These Soviet assets would have launched their arsenals of anti-ship cruise missiles from multiple points of the compass.

As Work described it, the Navy was relatively confident it could sink the Oscarsand surface ships before they could launch their missiles. They were far less confident about their ability to take out the Tu-22Ms before they could get into launch position.

The Tomcats, under Outer Air Battle, would try to “kill the archers” — the Backfires — before they could shoot and attempt to eliminate any cruise missiles that they launched. But, Work notes, no one knows how well it would have worked during a shooting war with the Soviet Union — and it’s a good thing we never got to find out. But with China’s emerging anti-access/area denial strategy, the threat is back.

While the F/A-XX and the Air Force’s F-X are in their infancy, it has become clear that they will be different aircraft designs that will probably share common technologies. The Navy does seem to be focusing on a more defensive F-14 like concept while the Air Force is looking for a more offensively oriented air superiority platform that could replace the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“As you’ll see over the coming years, the differences between the primary mission and the likely threats will drive significant differences between the F/A-XX and F-X programs as well as legacy systems like the F-22 and F-35,” one senior defense official told me.

 

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US special operators, artillery, gunships support Raqqa offensive

United States Special Forces have been deployed on several fronts around the Syrian city of al-Raqqa, supporting the offensive of the Kurdish militias and other allied factions laying siege to the city, according to a British war monitor.


US troops are deployed to the north, east, and west of al-Raqqa, considered the capital of the caliphate of the Islamic State, and includes US special ops units, US Marines artillery (155mm/M-777’s), and US Apache helicopter gunships supporting the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led armed alliance that launched an offensive to retake the city, according to the UK’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The US-led coalition’s aircraft are also providing the Kurdish fighters with intensive air support.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
Syrian Democratic Forces march in Raqqa in 2016

Currently, there are clashes between the SDF and the US Special Forces on one side against IS, on the other, at the former base of Division 17, North of al-Raqqa; also on the outskirts of the Haraqala area and around the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the West.

SOHR said the SDF controls 70 percent of the al-Meshlab area, on the eastern side of al-Raqqa, where progress is being hampered by IS snipers and mines, although the Kurdish militia stated on Wednesday it completely controlled the area.

There are no civilians left in this district since they were evacuated days ago by the radical fighters, who have dug trenches and tunnels to defend the area, the NGO said.

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For their part, the SDF reported in their Telegram account that they have managed to break into the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the western part of al-Raqqa.

On June 5th, this force launched an offensive on the city.

This offensive comes on the third anniversary of the proclamation of its caliphate on June 29, 2014, by IS in Syria and Iraq.

Currently, there are some 500 US troops deployed in Syria.

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