In 2018, Boeing filed patents for a number of potential cannon mounting solutions for the supersonic heavy payload bomber, the B-1B Lancer, with the intent of creating a B-1B gunship similar in capability to the famed Spooky AC-130 and its most recent successor, the AC-130J Ghostrider. While the patents indicate Boeing’s interest in prolonging the life of the venerable Lancer, there’s been little progress toward pursuing this unusual design.
Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced plans to begin retiring its fleet of B-1Bs in favor of the forthcoming B-21 Raider, prompting us to ask ourselves: could we actually build a B-1B gunship to keep this legendary aircraft in service?
Could we really build a B-1B Gunship?
Boeing’s patents indicate a number of cannon-mounting methods and even types and sizes of weapons, giving this concept a broad utilitarian appeal. America currently relies on C-130-based gunships that, while able to deliver a massive amount of firepower to a target, max out at less than half the speed that would be achievable in a B-1B gunship. The Lancer’s heavy payload capabilities and large fuel stores would also allow it to both cover a great deal of ground in a hurry, but also loiter over a battlespace, delivering precision munitions and cannon fire managed by a modular weapon control system.
In theory, it all sounds well and good, but there are also a number of significant limitations. The B-1B Lancer’s swing-wing design does allow it to fly more manageable at lower speeds, but it would almost certainly struggle to fly as slowly as an AC-130J can while engaging targets below. Likewise, a B-1B gunship would be just as expensive to operate as it currently is as a bomber–making it a much more expensive solution to a problem one could argue the U.S. has already solved.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll never see this concept, or even these patents, leveraged in some way. If you’d like to learn more about the concept of turning a B-1B into a gunship, you can read our full breakdown (that the video above is based on) here.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II (AKA Warthog) was designed around its massive GAU-8/A Avenger nose cannon.
The gun and plane were developed in parallel, which resulted in the perfect marriage. In fact, without the nose cannon, the plane is completely off balance and can’t fly.
Developed by General Electric, the 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon was designed to combat tanks and provide close air support. Both the A-10 and its GAU-8/A gun entered service in 1977. This video explains the cannon’s role in today’s battlefield.
Encounters far from home in April underscored the US Coast Guard’s growing overseas role, which is set to expand as more attention and resources are dedicated to countering China.
On April 2, an Iranian ship repeatedly sailed in front of Coast Guard patrol boats Wrangell and Monomoy at “an unnecessarily close range” as they operated in the Persian Gulf, which the US deemed “unsafe and unprofessional.”
Three weeks later, Iranian vessels again approached US ships — Navy patrol boat Firebolt and Coast Guard patrol boat Baranof — in the Gulf. After verbal warnings to the Iranian ships went unheeded, Firebolt fired warning shots.
Wrangell, Monomoy, and Baranof are all based in Bahrain as part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside the US, which was set up in 2002 to support operations in the Middle East.
Hamilton had escorted two cutters sailing from the US to join Patrol Forces Southwest Asia but remained in Europe, sailing into the Black Sea on April 27. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that day that its Black Sea Fleet was monitoring Hamilton’s “actions.”
Hamilton is the first Coast Guard vessel to enter the Black Sea since 2008 and is “emblematic of our presence in the Black Sea,” Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said in response to a question from Insider at an Atlantic Council event on April 29.
The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department, but it often works with other branches of the US military and with foreign militaries.
“We particularly appreciate the Coast Guard’s ability to cooperate with other equivalent services … around the world, but in this case in the Black Sea,” Cooper said.
Cooper echoed Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, who said in March that while the service hadn’t operated in Europe “in a good number of years,” the deployment suited its ability to cooperate and compete.
“I think the Coast Guard brings access. The Coast Guard brings a different look. The Coast Guard brings some unique, complimentary capabilities,” Schultz told reporters after his annual address to the service.
‘We’re going to push them out’
The Coast Guard often ventures long distances to enforce US laws and help other countries assert their own.
Coast Guard ships patrol the eastern Pacific Ocean to intercept drug smugglers. Cutters were deployed to Africa’s Atlantic coast to assist countries there in 2019 and 2020 for the first time in nearly a decade. In late 2020, a cutter was deployed on a South Atlantic patrol for the first time “in recent memory.”
The Coast Guard’s presence in the western Pacific Ocean is also increasing amid broader competition with China.
Since mid-2020, the service has stationed three new fast-response cutters in Guam, a US territory. Those ships have “about a 10,000-mile reach,” Schultz said in March.
“We’re going to push them out to some of the outer reaches of Oceania. We’re going to team them up with national security cutters on occasion,” Schultz added, referring to the service’s largest cutters, which include Hamilton.
Many recent Coast Guard operations have focused on countering illegal fishing, a growing source of friction with China. In December, a Coast Guard cutter helped Palau apprehend a Chinese vessel suspected of illegal fishing.
Coast Guard ships also work with the US Navy in the region. In May 2019, a Coast Guard cutter transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time, sailing alongside a Navy destroyer.
“I just think those lines are going to thicken,” Schultz said of Navy-Coast Guard cooperation.
The Navy’s operational tempo “has been very high for a considerable period … so it’s not surprising that they’d reach out and try to supplement” with the Coast Guard, said Michael Desch, a professor and international-security expert at Notre Dame.
But the Coast Guard’s more overt role comes as the US military’s service branches balance resources between current missions and modernization.
While the Coast Guard is very capable and often better suited than the Navy to work with foreign forces, the growing workload should raise questions about the scope of US commitments, Desch said.
The recent encounters “seem to be indicative of the fact that we’re being stretched by all the things that we’re doing,” Desch told Insider. “Rather than throwing everything we’ve got but the kitchen sink at some of these missions, we ought to ask ourselves, are these missions really essential?”
Earlier in March, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) had the opportunity to host the biggest annual special operations exercise in the U.S. military. Exercise Emerald Warrior is the largest joint special operations training event in the U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) calendar with Spec Ops units from across the different services and even the world participating. It prepares units and operators for a variety of contingencies and threats they might encounter on current and future battlefields.
But this year’s iteration (Emerald Warrior 21) came with a twist that showcases the Pentagon’s recent shift from counterterrorism to Great Power Competition.
Whereas past versions of Exercise Emerald Warrior focused on direct action and counterterrorism operations, this year’s iteration involved cyberwarfare, intelligence gathering and processing, space warfare, and information operations, among other mission sets. Granted, most special operators won’t get involved in space warfare, but it is useful to understand what the future battlefield might look like. And some of these mission sets, such as information warfare, are becoming increasingly relevant even for units that don’t normally conduct them.
In addition to American commandos, special operators from Lithuania and France also participated in Emerald Warrior 21.
“This year, we’ve expanded outside of our normal focal area to an all-domain construct, whether it be the increased use of space, cyber, intelligence, public affairs and information operations,” U.S. Air Force Colonel Kevin Koenig, overall commander of Emerald Warrior, said in a press release. “Our goal is to be prepared in all domains to deter adversaries now and avoid future conflicts. We’re also testing new elements within the command while still maintaining our partner nation and joint training.”
Exercise Emerald Warrior 21 placed special emphasis on cyberwarfare. With Chinese and Russian hackers seemingly running amok and stealing millions of data from the US government and American citizens.
“The cyber domain is getting bigger and bigger because of the prevalence of technology expansion amongst our competitors,” U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Louis Schuler, the cyber liaison officer with Emerald Warrior, said. “Our greatest strength is our ability to establish connectivity between different domains, so we must utilize our advantages so we can exploit the vulnerabilities of our adversaries and protect our operators.”
Space operations also had a prominent role in this year’s Emerald Warrior. Satellite communications, electronic warfare, and GPS all saw a use during the exercise.
“Our main focus was to provide situational awareness to the command and our operators on what’s going on around the world, kind of a peek around the curtain,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Kevin Aneshansley, AFSOC’s Chief of Space Weapons and Tactics, said. “Essentially, we looked at new ways we can integrate the high ground more efficiently with our human capital. Without space advantages, we would be doing ourselves a disservice when it comes to the great power competition.”
Emerald Warrior 21 has paved the way to what competition with China or Russia might look like.
We never get tired of seeing the tricks pilots can pull off, but this video is particularly impressive.
The following footage was captured inside the cockpit of a Pakistan Air Force F-16 BM Block 15, an aircraft under the PAF 11th Squadron “Arrows.” In the video, Turkish Aerospace Industries test pilots Murat Keles and Murat Ozpala take the plane from parked on the runway to an altitude of 2.5 miles in only 45 seconds — insane by any military’s standards.
The actual flight time is less than 20 seconds, so you may want to watch this more than once. Buckle up.
Although “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart pulls no punches when talking foreign policy, specifically that which pertains to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s a strong supporter of the people serving in the military. When American Corporate Partners approached him about mentoring a veteran, he responded by creating the Veteran Immersion Program and taking on 24 veterans instead of one, according to ACP.
The program is a five-week boot camp for veterans looking to break into the entertainment industry. Participants learn first hand about the technical and creative opportunities that exist by working at The Daily Show. The program ends with a career fair with over twenty influential production organizations.
Even though Jon Stewart is ending his run with “The Daily Show,” rumor has it that he’s just getting started with helping veterans.
In the meantime, this video hosted by our very own August Dannehl and Veteran Immersion Program alumni shows the impact the program has had on those who’ve attended.
FILE PHOTO -- The Bird of Prey served as a highly classified project from 1992 to 1999 before Boeing Co. officials unveiled it Oct. 18. It will become part of the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, on July 16. (Photo courtesy of Boeing Co.).
In the early 1990s, stealth aircraft technology was still coming into its own. The United States had developed the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, but there was still more work to do. So Boeing, one of the United States’ most capable defense aircraft developers, went to work.
The company’s Phantom Works division created the Boeing Bird of Prey, a single-seater black project stealth aircraft that looks like the most futuristic plane ever developed. It’s not — but it sure looks like it.
Boeing’s Bird of Prey looks part F-22 Raptor and part science fiction-inspired deep space fighter. Not much is known about the experimental fighter aircraft’s true purpose. Even less is known about the specific technologies it might have been testing. Its association with Phantom Works and being developed and constructed at Area 51 means the skies are the limit for UFO junkies and big tech enthusiasts.
Despite its cool, futuristic appearance and the technologies it might have been testing, the program was a relatively cheap one for the aircraft manufacturer. At just $67 million dollars, the Bird of Prey is considered a “low-cost” program for a defense contractor.
What is known about the Bird of Prey is that it was a stepping stone in the development of low-observable technologies and aircraft design. Some of its “revolutionary” design elements were later incorporated into the X-45 unmanned combat aerial vehicle, one of the earliest tested drones developed by the Air Force.
The X-45 program was the first test the technology needed to, “conduct suppression of enemy air defense missions with unmanned combat air vehicles.”
Developing the Bird of Prey and its associated technology first began in 1992. The aircraft took its first flight in 1996. It never received an x-plane designation because it was never a true military test aircraft, but the tech it tested might later have been integrated into the F-22 and the F-35 fighters.
It’s also believed the Bird of Prey tested active camouflage technology for planes, which would allow it to change colors, luminosity or appearance mid-flight to blend into its environment.
Although the Bird of Prey was potentially packing a wide array of unknown and probably still-classified technologies, keeping costs down meant using commercially-available engines and manual controls, as opposed to computerized controls.
Aside from classified future technologies, the Air Force also says its tested tech that is now considered “industry standards.” This includes the lack of a horizontal tailplane and a conventional vertical rudder, which is used in later experimental stealth drone aircraft.
Boeing Phantom Works is an advanced prototyping arm of the aircraft manufacturer that has worked on a number of advanced vehicles and technologies, including the Boeing X-51 Waverider hypersonic vehicle and concepts for an as-yet unnamed sixth-generation joint strike fighter.
The Bird of Prey was officially ended before the turn of the 21st Century, even though it looks the part of an aircraft from this era. After (presumably) being stripped of all the nifty tech that would allow it to evade ground sensors (and maybe the naked eye), it officially ended its career in the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Visitors to the massive aircraft and air power museum can see the Bird of Prey in the Modern Flight Gallery – near its successor aircraft, the X-36 flight demonstrator and the museum’s F-22 Raptor.
The U.S. Air Force may end the careers of four Texas pilots it believes were dealing ecstasy and pot.
There were no witnesses. No drug paraphernalia were found. The officers’ drug tests all came back clean.
The evidence the Air Force found? Text messages between those involved through a search conducted before a warrant was granted. The texts themselves were quotes from “Pop Another Pill” by JellyRoll, songs by Warren G., Miley Cyrus and quotes from the 2005 film “Wedding Crashers.” The pilots’ took a trip to Las Vegas, where Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” became a theme of their textual conversations after they heard it on the radio.
The four Airmen are already off of flight status, stripped of their wings, and have huge, glaring blemishes on their records, which will hurt their Air Force careers as well as any possibility of becoming a commercial pilot once they leave the Air Force.
One pilot told his buddy who was at a wedding to come meet him on the town afterward and to “bring you[r] bridesmaid bitches.” The pilots also joked about “poppin pills” and “smokin’ bud.” According to The Daily Beast, one of the accused wrote his commanding officer:
“I can’t imagine a scenario in which a group of Air Force officers would be texting about engaging in criminal acts if that’s what they actually had done,” told the CO. “Maybe I’m naive in this regard, but it makes no sense to me.”
He joined the military to escape a bad situation, and the rest is like something out of a Hollywood script. Benavidez walked into certain death when he volunteered to assist with the emergency extraction of a 12-man special forces team caught under extreme fire behind enemy lines.
Benavidez would serve 13 years before receiving the Medal Of Honor. When asked if he’d do it again, he said, “There would never be enough paper to print the money nor enough gold in Fort Knox for me to have, to keep me from doing what I did.”
The Fighting Season is a six part documentary series that captures what ending a war looks like. The film, which is out now, shows the sacrifices of the men and women who fought for the freedom and security of Afghanistan as America’s longest war drew to an end. Producer Ricky Schroder put himself in harm’s way as an embedded cameramen to deliver the best account possible.
In this edition of “At The Mighty,” Schroder discusses his motivations for filming this series and his experience with the troops in Afghanistan.
The M982 Excalibur is the world’s most sophisticated artillery munition designed for a weapons system that was introduced during the Vietnam War: The M109 Howitzer.
This smart munition was co-developed by U.S.-based Raytheon Missile Systems and Swedish BAE Systems Bofors to precisely kill targets from long range and eliminate collateral damage. It gives a projectile the same precision you’d expect from a missile.
“You can aim the gun off target up to 20 degrees off angle and the round will still fly itself back to your target,” said Jim Riley from Raytheon Missile Systems in the video below.
The United States Postal Service is intrinsically linked with the military. Military mail operates as an extension of the USPS and the postal service is one of the largest employers of veterans in the country with over 97,000 as of 2020. What many people may be surprised to learn is that the iconic right-hand drive mail trucks used by the USPS was manufactured by Grumman (now Northrop Grumman), the same defense contractor that made iconic Navy fighter planes like the F6F Hellcat and the F-14 Tomcat. However, the postal fleet of Grumman Life Long Vehicles have exceeded their service life. On February 23, 2021, the USPS announced that Oshkosh Defense had been awarded the design and manufacture contract for the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle to replace the LLV. “[It’s] the most dramatic modernization of the USPS fleet in three decades.”
The Grumman LLV was manufactured from 1987 to 1994 and was intended to have a lifespan of 24 years. Built at Grumman’s Montgomery, Pennsylvania plant, over 140,000 LLVs are in service with the USPS. The truck has also been exported and is used by Canada Post. Despite their intended lifespan, the majority of LLVs have been in use for over 27 years due to a service life extension program in 2009. The USPS has introduced vehicles to augment the LLV like the Dodge Caravan Cargo minivan, but a dedicated replacement was needed.
The NGDV contract includes an initial $482 million investment and calls for the delivery of 165,000 U.S.-built vehicles over a 10-year period with the first deliveries in 2023. Oshkosh Defense is no stranger to government contracts. The company currently supplies the majority of the military’s wheeled vehicles. These include the FMTV, HEMTT, JLTV (the Humvee replacement), and M-ATV, just to name a few. Like the improvements that these vehicles featured over older military vehicles, the NGDV promises to feature a number of improvements over the LLV.
Designed to meet 21st century needs, the NGDV will be larger, taller, and include airbags and air conditioning. It will also be equipped with back-up cameras, a forward collision warning system, automatic front and rear braking, and blind spot detectors. The NGDV will remain right-hand drive, but will feature an enlarged windscreen to improve visibility. These additions are huge improvements over the LLV and will greatly increase the safety and working conditions for the letter carriers that operate them.
Another issue with the LLV was its fuel efficiency. Despite an average EPA fuel economy of 17 mpg, the actual average fuel economy reported by the USPS is 10 mpg. This is due to the extensive stop-and-go nature of residential mail delivery. To address this, the NGDV will be available with two different engines. The first is a low-emission traditional internal combustion engine. The second is a battery-powered motor. To futureproof the NGDV, vehicles fitted with internal combustion engines will be able to be retrofitted with electric motors in the future. This will allow the USPS to slowly adapt its fleet as electric vehicle infrastructure grows while still meeting the needs of routes that electric vehicles wouldn’t be able to reach until then.
The LLV is expected to remain in service past the NGDV’s introduction in 2023. Total replacement of the LLV by the NGDV is not yet forecated. In the meantime, Oshkosh Defense is working to finalize the NGDV’s design and tool a dedicated assembly plant. If you’ve ever wanted a surplus Grumman product, but couldn’t afford an F-14, a retired LLV might be your best bet.
In the ongoing game of raising and lowering tensions on Russia’s doorstep, the United States Navy has once again raised eyebrows in the Black Sea. This time, it’s defending a number of drills it conducted in the area as “essential.”
The exercises, called Sea Breeze 2021, weren’t a surprise to anyone. It was a scheduled series of exercises, complete with photos and video available on the publicly available Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). It even has its own Twitter account. The exercise has been held annually since 1997, according to the U.S. Navy.
But this year is a very different year, as tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the United States and its western allies have been mounting in recent months.
From June 28-July 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine hosted the massive sea drill, attended by 32 countries from six continents providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations and dive teams.
Earlier in 2021, as many as 30,000-60,000 Russian ground troops were massing on its border with Ukraine, leading many to believe that an invasion similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was imminent. The United States and the United Kingdom attempted to move naval forces into the area as a show of support, which only angered the Russian government, increasing the tension there.
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and much of the large Russian force was withdrawn but not before the United States was forced to keep its naval forces away from the Crimean Peninsula. Even so, British and Dutch forces came in contact with Russian forces in potentially explosive confrontations.
When the long-planned Sea Breeze 2021 exercises kicked off, Russia condemned them as a military provocation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the western forces there risked provoking the Russians.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov even said the western ships “would be better off leaving their provocations aside next time and staying away from that area because they will get clocked in the nose.”
The Black Sea is just another front in the ongoing conflict over Ukraine, and Russia’s dwindling sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. While Black Sea waters are an important area for Russia’s foreign trade, the Russian bear also uses its influence there to choke Ukraine’s trading capabilities.
U.S. Navy officials say the Sea Breeze exercises are an essential element in deterring Russian aggression toward its former Soviet client states, especially ones like Ukraine who believe their future lies with the West. Ukraine is still fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern portion of its border areas.
Meanwhile, as Sea Breeze 2021 continued, Russia began its own series of naval and air exercises, which included air-to-air refueling, strategic missile carriers and air defense systems. These were all designed to counter what Russia believes is an attempt to establish new military installations closer to Ukraine, a threat to Russian sovereignty and something Vladimir Putin said he would not allow.
In a statement in July 2021, Putin told a gathering of reporters that in case of war between Russia and the West, Russia would prevail.
“They know they cannot win this conflict,” Putin said. “We would be fighting for our own territory; we didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to their borders, they did.”