Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion - We Are The Mighty
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Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

Whatever the future holds, Ukraine is as ready as it’s ever going to be. If the Russians invade the central European country, Ukraine is much better equipped and trained to give them as good a fight as possible. If they are able to join NATO, then a Russian invasion is much more unlikely. 

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
30 countries are currently members of NATO. Will Ukraine be the 31st?

As Russia steps up its military presence on its border with Ukraine, adding around 30,000 troops as of April 2021, Ukraine is getting ready for them. Both sides of the border held military drills in the middle of the month, on their respective sides of the border. 

Ukraine sees the Russian troop presence as a direct threat to Ukraine’s national borders and internal security. Russia says its military buildup is a direct response to possible American intervention in the region, as two U.S. Navy ships entered the Black Sea in the week before Russia’s military exercises. 

In the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution that brought current President Volodymyr Zelensky to power, the Russian military entered the Crimean Peninsula, captured strategic sites in the area, and installed a pro-Russian government there. It then initiated a referendum among its populace that allegedly voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation. 

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal addresses Soldiers of the JMTG-U as TF Illini transfers authority to TF Raven.

Two days after the vote, Russia annexed the peninsula. But that didn’t stop the fighting in the region. In the aftermath of the revolution in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists rose up in the Donbass region of the country and have been fighting Ukrainian government forces ever since. 

The two areas that comprise the Donbass region, Donetsk and Luhansk, have declared their independence and are being supported financially and militarily by Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow. 

But that conflict started years ago. When Russian forces entered Crimea, the Ukranian military was largely inexperienced and untrained. After seven years of low-intensity conflict, the military leadership in Kiev believes it fields a battle-hardened army of veterans. 

Russia maintains a large military force, with one million troops on active duty and two million in reserve compared to Ukraine’s army of 255,000 in active service and 900,000 in reserve. The bulk of the Russian military’s combat experience is from the recent actions in Syria, and large portions of the Russian army do not deploy outside the country. 

Still, observers are concerned that the 30,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s doorstep is the largest buildup of Russian forces since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Ukraine, for its part, has not only been fighting a war for years on end, giving its troops valuable real-world combat experience, it has also strived toward NATO membership. The gains it made in recent years have dwarfed the gains made under its former pro-Russian leaders. 

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Members of TF Raven, 81st SCBT, Washington National Guard watch the Ukrainian Brigade command lead their forces in a simulated exercise as part of training with the JMTG-U

In the first 18 months of Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidency, the country has met 96 of NATO standards compared to the 196 made by his predecessor over  five years. Zelensky’s government has also increased military spending by 1.4% since 2019, now spending 3.4% of its GDP. 

NATO membership for Ukraine is still a long way off by most expert opinions. Zelensky has called for four-way talks with Russia, Germany, and France  to ease tensions with Moscow and end the military buildup along his eastern border. 

Intel

This forgotten Cold War-era technology is actually alive and well

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Image: YouTube


During the Cold War, the Soviets exploited the ground effect phenomenon by creating some of the largest and fastest vehicles of the time called “Ekranoplans.” They were not quite airplanes or hovercraft but something else in between known as Ground Effect Vehicles (GEVs).

Related: These Soviet airplanes were built to fly fast right over the surface of water

Although the technology already existed, they took it to the next level by scaling these vehicles to three-quarters of a football field, weighing more than 350 tons and traveling at speeds beyond 400 miles per hour.

The technology was reportedly used from 1987 to the late 1990s. There was a transport version, a battle version, and even a hospital version of the Ekranoplan. The last of its kind was 90 percent complete when funding ran out. It now sits unused at a naval station in Kaspiysk off the Caspian Sea.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Image: Google Maps, Orvelin Valle

Today, the ground effect technology is making a come back in small hobby vehicles and glorified water taxis. GEVs are fuel and power efficient and become even more economical as they get bigger, according to the video below. “In theory, wing in ground effect works better as the craft gets bigger, so a really big craft would be very, very efficient. That’s where the economics starts to make sense and you can start to build a business out of it.”

This video shows how ground effect technology is making a comeback decades since the Cold War.

Watch:

YouTube, Science Channel

Intel

The Air Force just cut the time it needs to train pilots almost in half

Seven Air Force officers made history by becoming the first to graduate from a new pilot program earlier this month.

The “Accelerated Path to Wings” (nicknamed XPW) program promises to significantly shorten the time it takes for pilot candidates to finish their basic education.

Normally, the Air Force can create new pilots in about 12 months. The new pilot program slices five months out of that and produces pilots in just seven.

During the XPW program, pilot candidates completed their undergraduate training curriculum in the T-1 Jayhawk, making it simpler than if they were using more airframes for their basic education. The XPW program is part of the Air Education and Training Command’s (AETC) attempt to transform, improve, and shorten the current pilot program.

“We had students from various backgrounds, including five who had completed their initial flight training and two who had earned their private pilot’s license,” Lieutenant Colonel Eric Peterson, the commander of the 99th Flying Training Squadron, said in a press release.

“This is a great program for students who want to go fly heavy aircraft in Air Mobility Command, or who want to go fly certain aircraft in special operations or in Air Combat Command.”

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Graduates from the first-ever “Accelerated Path to Wings” class gather in front of a T-1 Jayhawk aircraft after receiving their pilot wings March 12, 2021 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Accelerated Path to Wings is part of Air Education and Training Command’s pilot training transformation program, a two phase T-1 only pilot training tract. The 99th Flying Training Squadron is responsible for executing the seven month training mission that culminates with students earning their pilot wings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sean Worrell).

Traditional pilot training is divided into three phases where pilot candidates first fly the T-6 Texan II before going over to the T-1 Jayhawk. The XPW program, which has two phases, does without the T-6 Texan II phase and puts students straight in the cockpits of the T-1 Jayhawk. After the standard preflight academics and aviation terminology phase, students go on the simulator where they develop extensive training profiles.

“It feels amazing to have endured the last seven months of pilot training to reach this point. It’s all been worth it. I’m extremely proud. I can’t wait to begin flying around the world,”  2nd Lt. Kassandra Fochtman, who is slated to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, said.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
An air-to-air view of a T-1 Jayhawk during a training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Terry Wasson).

“Graduating from the first XPW class is pretty special,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Button. “I volunteered for this not knowing if it would work out or not, but I just put my trust in the Air Force. I want to give credit to my family and the world-class instructor pilots at the 99th FTS.” Button is slated to fly the C-17 Globemaster III transport out of Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.

The Air Force is suffering from a shortage of qualified pilots, a shortage so big that now the service is offering close to half-a-million bonuses for pilots to stay. If implemented fully, the XPW program might help address the issue.

Feature photo: U.S Air Force Col. Jeannie Leavitt, 4th Fighter Wing commander, signals her crew chief before taking flight at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., July 17, 2013. After being stood down for more than three months, the 336th Fighter Squadron was finally given the green light to resume flying hours and return to combat mission ready status. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley/Released)

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Intel

Watch Marines fight a Nerf war against military brats

Marines typically go after some of the world’s toughest fighters in fierce battles, but apparently they’re cool with Nerf war against little kids as well. Marines stationed at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan fought against school children, mostly Navy brats and other military dependents, at the base last May.


Watch the video below.

NOW: Watch UFC fighters get stomped by Marine Corps martial arts experts

Intel

US, UK Sign Agreement to Merge Forces for Historic Joint Carrier Deployment

Top U.S. and United Kingdom defense officials signed an agreement this week to merge some military forces in 2021 to form a combined carrier strike group.

Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and the Navy destroyer The Sullivans will deploy as part of the strike group, former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced Monday. The U.K.-U.S. combined strike group will be led by the U.K. aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth.

The agreement was signed by Miller and U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace. The strike group is scheduled to sail out of Portsmouth, U.K., later this year.

Read Next: New Acting SecDef, Service Secretaries Named as Biden Takes Office

“This deployment underscores the strength of our bilateral ties and demonstrates U.S.-U.K. interoperability, both of which are key tenets of the U.S. National Defense Strategy,” the Pentagon’s announcement on the agreement states.Advertisement

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in November that the task force will operate in the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and East Asia.

“Next year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades,” he said. “… We shall forward-deploy more of our naval assets in the world’s most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation.”

Ten Marine F-35B Lightning II fighter jets embarked on the Queen Elizabeth in September as part of a training deployment. The embark was in preparation for this year’s full-length deployment, Marine officials said last year.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the former head of Marine Corps aviation, said in 2019 that the F-35 embark would serve as a “new norm” for how the U.S. will conduct operations with maritime partners.

Wallace said the deployment embodies the strength of bilateral ties between the U.S. and U.K., and reflects the depth of the vital defense and security partnership.

“I am delighted that the U.K. now possesses a 21st-century carrier strike capability, which has been greatly assisted by the unswerving support and cooperation of the United States at all levels over the past decade,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Intel

The military’s best air combat exercise is getting a new twist

Red Flag is legendary among fighter pilots. This exercise, held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, located near Las Vegas, is where American combat pilots have gone to hone their skills since the end of the Vietnam War.

“Red Flag-Nellis was originally created to give fighter pilots their first 10 combat missions in a large force exercise before deployment to contingency operations,” Lt. Col. Christopher Cunningham said in an Air Force release. “Vietnam War analysis had proven that pilot survivability increased dramatically after surviving 10 combat missions.”


Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

The success of the original Red Flag has left Air Force pararescue personnel, like those taking part in a 2016 demonstration, little to do.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)

In terms of military exercises, Red Flag has been a blockbuster hit. The first major conflict since Vietnam, Desert Storm, saw very few pilot losses. While new technology certainly contributed, Red Flag played a vital part as well, giving pilots their first taste of “combat” over the course of two weeks. Other countries, like Israel and the Netherlands, have come up with their versions of this exercise. One of the unintended consequences of this improved readiness, however, is that it has made combat search-and-rescue missions less frequent. Less real-world experience means an increased need for specific training exercises.

To address that need, a spin-off of Red Flag was created. Red Flag Rescue took place last month at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. This exercise replaced Angel Thunder, a program for Air Force pararescue personnel (along with foreign air forces) who are responsible for carrying out the combat search and rescue mission.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

Red Flag Rescue was not just for the Air Force. Army personnel, like this soldier taking part in a 2017 demonstration, also took part, as did the Marines and Navy.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

Red Flag Rescue brings together Air Force pararescuemen and the other armed services for fifteen days to practice combat search and rescue in contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environments. While Air Force pararescue personnel — and others who handle combat search-and-rescue — have gained much from this, the ultimate beneficiaries will be the pilots saved from dire circumstances in the real world.

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This is the Air Force vet who forced KSM to reveal his darkest secrets

James Mitchell had a successful 22-year career in the U.S. Air Force — most notably as a top trainer at the Air Force’s survival school — before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.


And while he earned some awards and accolades for his service as a SERE leader, it was what he did as a contractor for the CIA after his retirement that truly marks his career.

See, Mitchell is the man who broke al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (often called “KSM”) and other high-ranking members of the terrorist group in the months and years after 9/11.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Photo provided by Crown Publishing

After the release of his new book about the interrogation program titled “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” Mitchell sat down for an interview with Marc Theissen, a Washington Post columnist and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

During the 90-minute discussion, Mitchell both clarified details about the controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” he used and provided insights into the minds of the terrorists.

 

First, Mitchell explained the difference between interrogation and what he describes as “how do you do” visits.

“These enhanced interrogations that I was part of really only dealt with about 14 of the top folks. I didn’t have anything to do with the mid-level or low-level folks at all,” Mitchell, who’s a licensed psychologist, said. “And most of these interrogations took place over a period of time of about two weeks. KSM’s took about three weeks. And then after that, there was no enhanced interrogations for KSM — you know, none at all.”

He later added, “[O]ur goal in doing enhanced interrogations was to get them to make some movement, to be willing to engage in the questions instead of rocking and chanting and doing the other sorts of things that they had previously been doing.”

Once they broke, it was all about “cigarettes and beer,” to borrow a quote from Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis.

“We switched to social influence stuff because we know that the real way that you get the cooperation that you want is not by trying to coerce it out of them,” Mitchell said. “It’s by getting them to provide the information in a way that they don’t feel particularly pressured to do it.”

Mitchell made it clear that after the terrorists broke, the nature of his visits were more along the lines of maintenance. During one of those visits, he described how the mastermind of 9/11 revealed that he had personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

“He describes cutting his head off and dismembering him and burying him in a hole. And [we] asked him, was that difficult for you to do, thinking emotionally this had to be hard to do,” Mitchell said. “And he said, ‘Oh, no. I had sharp knives. The toughest part was getting through the neck bone’ — just like that.”

Mitchell also described KSM’s shock at George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks, revealing that the terror leader thought the U.S. would treat the attack as a law enforcement problem and not go to war over it.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed taken after his capture by American personnel. (Photo by DOD)

“And then he looks down and he goes, ‘How was I to know that cowboy George Bush would say he wanted us dead or alive and invade Afghanistan to get us?’ And he said it just about like that, like he was befuddled, like he couldn’t imagine it,” Mitchell said.

And Mitchell firmly denies that his EITs were torture.

“If it was torture, they wouldn’t have to pass a law in 2015 outlawing it because torture is already illegal, right?” Mitchell said. “The highest Justice Department in the land wouldn’t have opined five times that it wasn’t torture — one time after I personally waterboarded an assistant attorney general before he made that decision three or four days later, right?”

Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” is published by Crown Forum and is available at Amazon.com.

Intel

Spies can now use modified DNA to send secret messages

The world of espionage requires two equally important things: access to information and a means of getting that information back to the other side. Modified DNA might make that a little easier.

Throughout history, spies have concocted many different means of secret communication. In the earliest days of modern spycraft, ink and paper had to be concealed from prying eyes. Spies wrote with anything that could be used as a kind of invisible ink, everything from lemon juice to semen. Hey, sometimes spycraft is just stressful. 

As technology advances, using biology to enhance the ability to send covert messages is only increasing, but in a very different way.

Transmitting secret messages via radio or morse code carries risks. Israeli spy Eli Cohen ascended to a high rank in the Syrian Defense Ministry over four years by befriending important people in the Syrian government. The entire time he was transmitting information back to the Mossad through radio. He was caught red-handed during a transmission. 

Being able to deliver information will always be the most secure means of communication. Over time, complex cyphers, micro-dots that can hold thousands of documents on a mark the size of a period, and dead drops of actual documents were solid means of getting that information back to handlers. Spy agencies developed incredible technology to obtain information. 

A new biological means is taking that technology a step further, using specially-modified strands of DNA to imprint messages on a molecular level. 

Though the process is complex for the layman (at the moment, don’t sleep on the CIA’s technological engineers) anyone looking to send a secret message can create a strand of DNA with the coded message. Only the receiver will be able to decode it, and possibly even know it’s there.

Like the microdot, the hidden DNA message can be pasted on a dot in a standard letter and simply mail it to whomever is intended to receive it. 

A strand of modified DNA
DNA can be used to store information, but in very tiny pieces.

According to the New York Times, the procedure was developed by a civilian, Dr. Carter Bancroft, professor of physiology and biophysics at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. 

The idea is to arrange the four nucleotides that comprise DNA into a simple encryption cypher using the letters that denote the nucleotides: A,C, G, and T, then marking them with “primer” DNA. It would be mixed with human DNA and sent off. The receiver would have the key to the cypher.

DNA manipulation can be a useful way to send messages because of the complexity of human DNA. It can be “chopped up” into 30 million different strands. 

The Mount Sinai researchers then hid the DNA onto a microdot in a regular letter and mailed it through the U.S. Postal Service.

Once received, a spy agency would then use techniques common in DNA laboratories to replicate the strand containing the hidden message, so long as they know the “primer” sequence. If an intercepting agency suspects a DNA microdot but doesn’t know that sequence will have 30 million possibilities to sift through.

Until the Alan Turing of DNA cyphers is born, that is. To get the general idea of how it works, watch the video below.

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter carries a piece of the Wright Flyer

NASA announced its target date for the first powered, controlled helicopter flight on Mars as no earlier than April 8, 2021. The 4-pound helicopter, named Ingenuity, is attached to the belly of the Mars Perseverance rover which landed on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. Perseverance is en route to a designated “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt the historic flight. Upon successful deployment, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days (equivalent to 31 Earth days) for its test flight campaign.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Engineers prep the Ingenuity helicopter for its trip to Mars (NASA)

“When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”

Powered, controlled flight on Mars is significantly more difficult than it is on Earth. The Red Planet’s gravitational pull is about one-third of Earth’s and its atmosphere is 1% of what Earth’s is at the surface. Additionally, the surface of the planet receives only half the amount of solar energy that the Earth receives during the day. Conversely, Martian nights can be as cold as -130°F which poses a serious danger to exposed electrical components.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Ingenuity stowed onboard the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars (NASA)

Luckily, the engineers at NASA have designed Ingenuity specifically for the Martian skies. The helicopter had to be small and lightweight in order to hitch a ride on Perseverance. Engineers also fitted it with internal heaters to keep it from freezing during the night. To test its capabilities, Ingenuity’s systems were subjected to performance trials in vacuum chambers and test labs in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which simulated the conditions the helicopter would face on Mars.

“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, JPL’s Mars Helicopter chief engineer. “And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”

When Ingenuity attempts its historic flight on Mars, it will carry another piece of aviation history with it. On December 17, 1903 the first powered, controlled flight took place on Earth. On the dunes of Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright flew 120 feet in 12 seconds at the controls of Wright Flyer. He was joined by his brother, Wilbur. The Wright brothers made a total of four flights that day, each longer than the last.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Seconds into the first powered, controlled airplane flight in history by the Wright brothers (Public Domain)

A piece of the material that covered the Wright Flyer’s wing is now carried aboard Ingenuity. The small swatch of fabric is wrapped around a cable with insulative tape underneath the helicopter’s solar panel. Another piece of Wright Flyer material was carried by the Apollo 11 crew on their historic flight to the Moon in July 1969. The astronauts also brought a splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer with them.

“Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test – we want to see if we can fly at Mars,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. “There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window.” Stay tuned to NASA’s social media for updates on Ingenuity’s historic flight.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
An illustration of the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter on Mars (NASA)
Intel

The 18 funniest moments from ‘Generation Kill’

HBO’s “Generation Kill” chronicles the experiences of the 1st Recon Marines during their first wave on Baghdad in 2003. Though the show was based on a serious book by journalist Evan Wright, it was full of funny Marine Corps moments.


From Sgt. Maj. Sixta’s ass-chewings to “Captain America’s” WTF moments, here are some of the funniest scenes distilled into one short video (clips courtesy of HBO):

NOW: Here’s how Rudy Reyes got to star as himself in HBO’s ‘Generation Kill’

OR: 5 problems infantry Marines will understand

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Checkmate: The details on Russia’s new stealth fighter revealed

On Tuesday Morning, Russian aircraft manufacturer UAC unveiled the nation’s newest stealth fighter, the LTA Checkmate, at the MAKS air show at Ramenskoye airfield near Moscow. While information about this new 5th generation platform has steadily made its way to the media in recent months and some images even found their way onto the internet last week, we now have the most complete vision of this budget-friendly entrant into the stealth competition yet.

It’s important to remember that this new jet is not an operational platform, nor is there any strong indication that a flying tech demonstrator even exists. In other words, capabilities, cost, and even the overall design of this new fighter are all liable to change before this jet ever starts afterburning its way through production (if it ever does). Russia’s struggling economy and limited defense budget all but assure that the nation won’t be able to fund continued development, let alone production, of the LTA Checkmate single-handedly, so the future of this fighter program is largely in the hands of the foreign market. Russian officials have claimed that they invited delegations from 65 nations to come to the event and get a closer look at the fighter for this specific purpose.

According to today’s announcement, UAC believes they can start delivering new Checkmate fighters within five and a half years, with the first fighter for testing slated to be complete in 2023. ROSTEC officials predict orders of 300 aircraft, though they did not specify if they meant domestic, foreign, or total.

If Russia wants to make the LTA Checkmate its first successful stealth fighter on the export market (let alone in the sky), they need to make this jet look capable, reliable, and perhaps most importantly of all, affordable. These focal points were all on display on Tuesday, with mentions of the aircraft’s automated supply chain system and streamlined maintenance processes getting top billing alongside the usual fighter-fare.

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

And while it’s important to remember that this fighter is actively being marketed (in other words, exaggeration or extreme optimism may well be in play in terms of announced capabilities), it’s also equally as important to remember that Russia has a long and illustrious history of making grandiose claims about new military technology, only for it to fail to meet expectations…or even ever manifest, after the initial headline-grabbing announcements.

So, with a baseball-sized grain of salt, let’s dive into what UAC says their new fighter can do, and why it matters for the future of Russia’s ongoing staring contest with the West.

We’ve already analyzed where the LTA Checkmate fits into Russia’s defense apparatus and what it will take to get the fighter into service in this article. The following will largely pertain to newly announced information.

Related: Here’s what we already know about Russia’s new stealth fighter

The LTA Checkmate aims to be the cheapest stealth fighter on the market

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

To be clear, being budget friendly does seem to be the focus, or at least one of the focuses, of the Checkmate. According to UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar, this new jet will ring in at under $30 million per airframe, making it the least expensive stealth fighter anywhere on the planet by a wide margin (assuming that price holds). While projected operating costs were not specified, a press release distributed during the event also emphasized cost savings in that department.

Of course, $30 million isn’t something to scoff at, but when compared to America’s two stealth fighters, the F-35 and F-22, it’s an absolute steal. The F-22 was the world’s first operational stealth fighter, but was canceled with just 183 of 750 ordered jets built. That massive cut in volume dramatically increased the per-unit price of the fighter to more than $200 million. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has consistently lowered its per-unit cost over the years and now rings in at under $80 million per aircraft, but both Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been accused of fudging those numbers by the nonpartisan government watchdog, Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Two F-35s (Left) alongside two F-22s (Right) (USAF Photo)

In their analysis of F-35 costs, an F-35A actually costs the taxpayer around $110 million, with the F-35C ringing it at $117 million and the short take off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B breaking the bank at nearly $136 million a piece in 2020.

It isn’t as easy to ascertain costs for China’s Chengdu J-20 or Russia’s existing stealth platform, the Su-57, though experts have weighed in on both. The China Power Project established by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that the per-fighter cost of the J-20 could be as high as $120 million, with the Su-57 likely closer to $100 million.

If these numbers are broadly accurate, then the LTA Checkmate would cost less than a third of its least-expensive competition, making it a viable low observable option for nations that can’t drop nine-digit checks on a single piece of equipment.

Related: Is Russia’s Su-57 the worst stealth fighter on the planet?

Russia claims it uses AI to support pilot operations

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion

An ongoing concern for fighter pilots in a high-end fight is managing mental load. Traditionally, a fighter pilot has to keep track of multiple gauges and sensor read outs as well as the terrain, friendly nearby aircraft, the target, and any potential threats. Until recently, pilots had to combine all of this information in their heads, but flying supercomputers like the F-35 streamline the process and free up pilots to focus on the task at hand. Not only did UAC claim the Checkmate fighter would leverage onboard supercomputers, but they went a step further and claimed the aircraft would also use artificial intelligence, or AI, to further reduce the mental strain on its pilots.

This idea isn’t unheard of. In fact, it the was basis behind the U.S. Air Force and DARPA’s Alphadog Flight Trials held last year. The event pitted real human fighter pilots against AI in virtual dogfights, but the stated aim has long been to improve the AI while increasing pilot comfort with the idea. Eventually, the plan is to use AI in the cockpit as a co-pilot of sorts, handling monotonous tasks for the pilot, or even responding to inbound missiles faster than humans are capable of.

However, to date, AI hasn’t found a place in any fighter cockpit, and it seems unlikely that Russia will master the craft by 2023, when the first Checkmate is projected to take to the skies.

It is likely that the Checkmate fighter will leverage its onboard computers alongside some degree of sensor fusion to provide an enhanced awareness of the battlefield, like most fighters of its generation.

Related: AI wins flawless victory against human fighter pilot in DARPA dogfight

It won’t be able to match other 5th-generation fighters in a dogfight

Ukraine is ready to join NATO or fight off a Russian invasion
Rostec

All those cost savings have to come from somewhere, and even with the assumption that claims about the Checkmate will be exaggerated for marketing purposes, its claimed capabilities still fall short of the other jets of its class.

While every other 5th-generation fighter on the planet has a claimed structural limit that exceeds 9gs, the Checkmate claims only 8. G forces are measured in relation to the natural weight of gravity on earth; 1 G is what you experience all the time while walking around, so 9 Gs is literally 9 times that. Here’s an explanation from F-35 pilot instructor and Sandboxx News contributor Major Hasard Lee:

“Right now, as you’re reading this, you’re probably at 1G, or one time the force of gravity. Your weight is what you see when you stand on a scale. I weigh approximately 200 pounds, 230 with my gear on. For most people, the peak G-force they’ve experienced is probably on a rollercoaster during a loop—which is about 3-4G’s. It’s enough to push your head down and pin your arms by your side. Modern fighters like the F-16 and F-35 pull 9G’s, which translates to over 2,000 pounds on my body.”

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Hasard Lee experiencing High Gs in training.

You can read all about Hasard’s experiences pushing his F-16 to 9 Gs and just what an incredible toll it takes on your body in his article about it here.

Being limited to 8 Gs means Russia’s new Checkmate won’t be able to perform maneuvers as aggressively as other stealth fighters, or even non-stealth 4th-generation jets. Of course, that’s not necessarily a huge problem though. The Checkmate can bank on its low observability when squaring off against non-stealth fighters like the F-16, and this jet probably wouldn’t be sent out to pick fights with F-22s.

Related: What’s it like to pull 9Gs in an F-16? A fighter pilot weighs in

The Checkmate fighter has a claimed range of 3,000km (1,800+ miles)

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The single-engine Checkmate weighs in at significantly less than the twin-engine Su-57, and in conjunction with its stealthy but high-lift delta-wing design, seems to offer good range. It’s unclear whether its claimed 3,000km range is based on a stripped-down ferry-flight, but that seems likely.

If this range holds true into production, it would give the Checkmate superior range to that of America’s F-35s, the furthest-reaching of which is the carrier-capable F-35C with a maximum range of a bit shy of 1,400 miles in the best of conditions. The F-22 Raptor can beat the Checkmate’s proposed range, but just barely, and with the addition of stealth-killing external fuel tanks.

Russia claims the Su-57 has a combat radius of around 930 miles, which is significant (that suggests a total range of 1,860 miles with a combat load), and it seems the LTA Checkmate is similarly aiming for long-distance operations.

Its claimed service ceiling of better than 50,000 feet is on par with its 5th generation competition, many of which claim operational ceilings of “better than 50,000 feet” without further specifics.

Related: This Russian pilot just flew their stealth fighter like a convertible

It will be able to carry hypersonic air-to-air weapons internally

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According to Tuesday’s announcement, the Checkmate fighter will be capable of carrying three RVV-BD long-range air-to-air missiles internally without compromising its stealth profile. The RVV-BD (also known as the R-37M or by NATO as the AA-13 Arrow) is a hypersonic weapon originally designed to take out tankers, AWACS, and other command and control aircraft from beyond the range of their fighter escorts, or about 124 miles.

Capable of achieving speeds in excess of Mach 6, the missile is believed to leverage an active data link for guidance, supported by the fighter’s onboard computers rather than the pilot, before switching to active radar homing in the final leg of its flight path.

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Simulated cockpit view of the Checkmate fighter

Like the Checkmate itself, the RVV-BD was purpose-built with the export market in mind, and was designed to be easily mated to Russia’s export-iterations of both Su and MiG fighters. It seems logical, then, that the LTA Checkmate would be designed to leverage these weapons, as both stealth fighters and hypersonic weapons are currently considered extremely valuable for national militaries.

That added girth means a lot of added weight too. Depending on the source, the RVV-BD weighs in at between 1,100 and more than 1,300 pounds… meaning a single one of these missiles weighs as much as six Aim-9Xs, or nearly four AIM-120s. The most modern iteration of America’s furthest-reaching air-to-air missile, the AIM-120D, has a reported range of at least 87 miles, though its actual maximum range has never been disclosed. Unlike the RVV-BD, however, the AIM-120 tops out at around Mach 4, well below the hypersonic barrier of Mach 5.

However, storing three of these weapons internally is a pretty tall order. At around 13’9″, the RVV-BD isn’t that much longer than a normal air-to-air weapon, but its 15″ diameter is more than twice that of air-to-air weapons like the AIM-120 carried internally by the F-22 and three times that of smaller, short range weapons like the AIM-9X.

Those RVV-BDs will be housed in the aircraft’s primary weapons bay, with another smaller bay further forward on the fuselage that will likely house smaller defensive air-to-air munitions. Per the display, it seems likely that this new Checkmate fighter will also carry a 30mm cannon, similar to the GSh-30-1 autocannon found in the Su-57. Managing targets and other pertinent information will be accomplished via an all-glass cockpit dominated by one large primary display that’s sure to serve a variety of purposes based on the situation alongside the usual variety of cockpit bells and whistles one might expect of a fighter designed in the 21st century.

This article by Alex Hollings was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

Intel

Former SEAL & CIA officer on how US operations in Afghanistan will continue

On July 2nd, 2021, the Pentagon’s top spokesman announced that command of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan would be transferred to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, which previously commanded U.S. forces in the country, and which was most recently led by former U.S. Army former Delta Force officer, General Scott Miller. CENTCOM commander General Frank McKenzie, a career U.S. Marine officer, will now command the U.S. forces remaining in the country.

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Gen. McKenzie, U.S. CENTCOM commander, greets a Special Forces Commander at a Special Forces base in Southwest Asia July 22, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Alvarez)

Embedded in that announcement — in addition to the fact that command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will now fall under a regional combatant commander instead of a specific operational commander — was the news that a new operational command was being established in Afghanistan: U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward, to be led by Navy SEAL Rear Admiral Peter Vasely. 

What exactly do these announcements signify, as far as the nature of future American military operations in Afghanistan? Are we not completely pulling out of the country, as has been alluded to by members of the Biden administration, as well as by some press reports and commentary? It would appear that we are not, or at least, not so comprehensively. 

The establishment of the new U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward command was described in the press release as a “smaller security mission,” based in Kabul, which would report directly to CENTCOM and be supported by the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office – Afghanistan, based in Qatar and led by U.S. Army Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard. We can glean an assessment of the nature of the U.S. mission going forward in Afghanistan by looking at these latter two commands, and who is leading them. 

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Advisors from the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade conduct an advisory mission in Afghanistan in May 2019. (U.S. Army photo/ Maj. Johnathan Camire)

First, Rear Admiral Vasely is a Navy SEAL officer, he previously served at SEAL Team 6, he was recently assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) Afghanistan, and he has also served at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). All of that tells us that he has experience operating in and commanding SOF in theatre, as well as in Department of Defense HUMINT collection (from a management position, anyway). Secondly, General Buzzard (this author exercises great restraint in not referencing a potential new GI Joe villain name) was previously assigned to a number of G3 (staff operations) positions in the U.S. Army, including in the 3rd Infantry Division, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 82nd Airborne. This tells us that he has largely specialized in operational planning at the command level, presumably including in areas like force demobilization and allocation of resources.

In other words, we know that remaining in Afghanistan is this forward operations element (ostensibly for security, but commanded by a Navy SEAL flag officer), which reports operationally to the combatant commander of U.S. Central Command, and is supported by a more staff-oriented command with “defense security cooperation management” in its name. In addition, there are undoubtedly CIA operations personnel — both core collectors and likely paramilitary officers — who will remain in place in the country, dispersed throughout various strategic locations as they have been for two decades.

The conclusions we can draw based on these facts are: 

— Some number of U.S. Special Operations Forces will remain in country, “advising and assisting” Afghan forces on the ground in their struggle against the Taliban, and providing some level of quick reaction force to respond to both American and Afghan forces in extremis. This will likely entail seeing at least some amount of combat operations. Those same U.S. SOF will also possibly be involved in operations directed against various high-value terrorism targets that pop up in the country from time-to-time.

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Though the scale of U.S. “advisory and assistance” to Afghan military and security forces is sure to be much smaller, lower-profile military operations in Afghanistan figure be present for the foreseeable future (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)

— U.S. military and intelligence cooperation, including a financial component, will continue for the foreseeable future, though no longer emanating from the platform of a large deployed force at war. The relationship will likely shift to a more advisory-focused one, and for simplicity’s sake, can likely be described as an enhanced Foreign Internal Defense/Counterterrorism relationship. The day-to-day logistics and details of that relationship will likely be handled by a mix of diplomats, CIA officers, and military/DOD personnel such as General Buzzard.

— U.S. intelligence operations will continue in the country, and throughout the wider theatre, with counterterrorism personnel primarily focused on preventing a resurgence of al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups, and additional intelligence personnel focused on issues related to great power politics. I am, of course, assuming that such a shift — to a greater focus on traditional intel targets in addition to counterterrorism targets — was not already effected by the CIA in recent years.

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The drawdown of military operations in Afghanistan and removal of the U.S. main body of forces does not mean we will not maintain a Special Operations and intelligence presence there (U.S. Army)

Frankly, the above configuration of missions and forces seemed the most likely to take shape when the Biden administration first announced its intention to bring “all American forces home” from Afghanistan by 9/11/2021. Realistically, the United States was never going to completely abandon its hard-won strategic foothold in Central Asia, especially with a still-active al-Qaeda and ISIS there, and strategic rivals like Russia, China, and Iran located in the same general neighborhood. That would have been strategically short-sighted, and such a move would have been argued against — undoubtedly vociferously — by the national security establishment in Washington.

It appears, given what we know at this time about the American stay-behind elements that will remain in Afghanistan, that those national security voices ultimately prevailed on the politicians serving in the Biden administration.  

This article by Frumentarius was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps/ Staff Sgt. John Jackson

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