Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.
Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.
The Navy will soon finish initial prototyping of new weapons tubes for its Virginia-Class submarines designed to massively increase missile firepower, bring the platform well into future decades and increase the range of payloads launched or fired from the attack boats.
The new missile tubes, called the Virginia Payload Modules, will rev up the submarines’ Tomahawk missile firing ability from 12 to 40 by adding an additional 28 payload tubes – more than tripling the offensive strike capability of the platforms.
Prototyping of the new submarines amounts to early construction, meaning the missile tubes now being engineered and assembled will be those which will ultimately integrate into the completed boat. In essence, construction and metal bending for elements of what will become the first VPM are underway.
“Prototyping is underway,” Rear Adm. Charles Richard, Director of Undersea Warfare, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Increasing undersea strike capability is a key element of the strategic calculus for the Navy as it continues to navigate its way into an increasingly high-tech and threatening global environment; potential adversaries are not only rapidly developing new quieting weapons and sonar detection technologies but also fielding long-range, precision-guided anti-ship missiles designed to target surface ships at long ranges.
The nation’s newest and most advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine and the lead ship of its class, PCU Virginia. | U.S. Navy photo by General Dynamics Electric Boat
The Chinese DF-21D and subsequent follow-on weapons in development are engineered to destroy carriers, destroyers and other surface vessels from distances as far as 900-miles off shore; if there is not a suitable defense for these kinds of long-range “anti-access/area-denial” weapons, the Navy’s ability to project power and launch attacks could be significantly limited. Carriers, for example, could be forced to operate further from the coastline at ranges which greatly complicate the aerial reach of many fighter aircraft which would launch from a carrier air-wing. If carriers are forced by the threat environment to operate at ranges further than fighter aircraft can travel, then new potentially dangerous aerial refueling options become much more complicated and challenging.
Navy strategy is therefore looking much more closely at the size and mission scope of its submarine fleet moving into the future, as undersea assets will most likely have an ability to conduct reconnaissance or strike missions far closer to an enemy shoreline – locations where it may be much harder for surface ships to operate given the fast-increasing threat environment. While the service is, of course, massively revving up its surface-ship offensive and defensive weaponry designed to allow vessels to better operate in so-called “contested” or high-threat areas, submarines are expected to increasingly play a vital role in a wide range of anticipated future mission requirements.
For example, improved increased sonar and quieting technologies referred to as Navy “acoustic superiority” are expected to allow submarines to conduct undersea reconnaissance missions much closer to enemy forces – and possibly behind defended areas. Such an ability could prove to be particularly relevant in coastal waters, shallow areas or islands such as portions of the South China Sea. These are precisely the kinds of areas where deeper draft surface ships may have trouble operating.
Building Virginia payload modules
The Navy plans to engineer a new 84-foot long module into the length of the submarine in order to add four 87-inch launch tubes into the body of the ship.
The tooling and initial castings are now nearing completion in preparation for the first prototyping of the VPM tubes which will be finished in 2017, developers explained. Construction of the first VPM boat is slated for 2019 en route to being finished and operational by 2024 or early 2025. Initial work is underway at an Electric Boat facility in Quonset Point, R.I.
“The first tube fabrication begins next April,” Ken Blomstedt, Vice President of the Virginia-Class Program here at Electric Boat, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The second submarine construction among the planned Block V Virginia-class attack submarine will be engineered with integrated VPM. It is called SSN 803, Blomstedt explained. The last 20 ships of the class, in Blocks V, VI and VII, will have VPM integrated.
A new massive module will be emerging from an Electric Boat manufacturing facility in Quonset Point, R.I.
“We are able to add that amount of strike capability in for a 15 percent increase in the price of the vessel – all on-track coming in very nicely. We are excited about the progress of the design. We are finishing up the castings of the integrated tube and hull,” Richard said.
“Tube and hull” forging
Electric Boat developers tell Scout Warrior the VPM technical baseline has now been approved by the Navy, clearing the way for initial construction.
“The module consists of four 87-inch vertical payload tubes. The module is broken up into three sections – a forward support base, center section with four vertical payload tubes and an internal ballast tank to preserve or restore buoyancy for increasing the length of the ship,”
The technical baseline, which was informed by 39 key decisions, has been formally submitted and approved by the Navy as of February of this year.
“Will be exciting to see that first 184-foot module with VPM installed. Key to the module is using an integrated tube and hull approach,” Blomstedt added.
Electric Boat is using an emerging construction technique, called “tube and hull forging” design to expedite building and lower costs. The tactic involves connecting the top section of the tube to the pressure hull as one monolithic piece, he said.
“From a technology standpoint, we are broadening the base with a one-piece casting. That piece comes into the missile tube fabricator,” Blomstedt said.
Along with firing Tomahawk missiles, the additional 87-inch payload tubes are being engineered to accommodate new weapons as they emerge and possibly launch other assets such as unmanned underwater vehicles.
The Navy will likely use the pace for a whole bunch of future payloads that they are just starting to think about,” Blomstedt said.
While it is certainly conceivable that Torpedoes and other weapons could eventually be fired from VPM tubes, Virginia-Class boats currently have a separate torpedo room with four torpedoes able to launch horizontally
A ballast tank has a pressure hull where the crew can operate, water levels inside the boat are adjusted to raise or lower the boat within the ocean; the weapons are designed to fire out of the launch tubes from a variety of different depths.
“When you submerge the ship, there is normally sea water all around the tubes,” he said.
Need for more undersea fire power
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy developers have explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.” These boats were among US military assets that provided firepower during action against Libya in 2011 – by firing Tomahawks from undersea at key locations such as enemy air defenses designed to clear the way for strike aircraft.
If the VPM action is not taken, the Navy will lose about 60-percent of its undersea strike launchers when the SSGNs retire in the 2020s. When VPM construction begins in 2019, that 60-percent shortfall will become a 40-percent shortfall in the 2028 timeframe.
Accordingly, building VPMs is designed to eliminate the loss of firepower. The rationale for accelerating VPM is to potentially mitigate that 40-percent to a lower number, Navy developers have said.
Virginia-class submarines, engineered to replace the 1980s-era Los Angeles-class attack submarines, are being built in block increments. Blocks I and II, totaling 10 ships, have already been delivered to the Navy. Block III boats are currently under construction. In fact the first Block III boat, the USS North Dakota, was delivered ahead of schedule in August of 2014.
The first several Block IV Virginia-class submarines are under construction as well — the USS Vermont and the USS Oregon. Last April, the Navy awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding a $17.6 billion deal to build 10 Block IV subs with the final boat procured in 2023.
Also, design changes to the ship, including a change in the materials used for the submarines’ propulsor, will enable Block IV boats to serve for as long as 96-months between depots visits or scheduled maintenance availabilities, Navy developers explained.
A major defense corporation has announced that their RQ-4 Global Hawk drone has successfully flown test missions carrying the Optical Bar Camera broad-area synoptic sensor, an imaging device originally deployed on the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane.
Northrup Grumman has been testing the RQ-4 with new sensors in an attempt increase the types of missions for which the aircraft can be deployed. The SYERS-2 intelligence gathering sensor, another item commonly deployed on U-2 missions. The SYERS-2 collects multiple sources of energy and can detect teams burying explosives or dismounts on the move, even from high altitude.
Adding U-2 equipment to the Global Hawk makes a lot of sense because the two aircraft are both focused on high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance. The drone can fly for 30 or more hours on a mission with ground-based pilots and sensor operators switching control in shifts.
With the new cameras, the RQ-4 could become an even more valuable eye in the sky for the Air Force. And it might allow the Global Hawk to take over some of the U-2’s missions at a fraction of the cost.
“The successful flight of the Optical Bar Camera is another significant step in the evolution of Global Hawk,” said Global Hawk’s Northrup Grumman Program Manager, Mick Jaggers. “It’s the result of our focus on increasing capability, reducing sustainment costs and fielding the open mission systems architecture that enables faster integration of cutting edge sensors at lower costs.”
Northrup Grumman is also looking at testing the MS-177 multi-spectral sensor on the RQ-4. The MS-177 has similar imaging capabilities to the SYERS-2B and is often deployed on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the JSTARS.
The MS-177 does provide a significant advantage over the SYERS-2B. While the SYERS is a “wet-film” camera that requires film processing before the image can be analyzed, the MS-177 uses an electro-optical sensor, which allows digital files to be sent to the ground station while the drone is still in flight.
In the early 1860s, Spain was dealing with the loss of many of its overseas colonies. Spain also suffered a series of minor insults to their prestige at the hands of Peru, a former Spanish colony. In an effort to save face and collect on debts left over the Peruvian War of Independence, Spanish forces launched a fleet of ships in April 1864 to seize the valuable Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru.
So when the Spanish landed 400 marines on the islands and formed a blockade of Peruvian ports, the Peruvian government was understandably angry. A political crisis followed as negotiations repeatedly failed to end the standoff. This stalemate drug on from April 1864 to September 1865.
That was when a Spanish ship went to a Chilean port to refuel with coal and the Chileans refused it on the basis that they couldn’t support Spain’s occupation of the islands and blockade of Peru. The Spanish commander, Vice Adm. Juan Manuel Pareja, sailed his flagship into the Chilean harbor and demanded a military salute from the town. When it was refused, Spain demanded reparations payments. The Chileans declared war in September 1865 instead. The Chincha Islands war was on.
Chile won an early victory at the Battle of Papudo when it captured a Spanish ship, the Covadongo. Peru then entered open hostilities with Spain and signed a treaty with Chile. Spain, Peru, and Chile fought for a year before Ecuador and Bolivia joined the fight against Spain in late-1866.
In early 1867 Spain crippled Chile’s merchant marine and shelled a Chilean city. While the attacks were militarily successful, the rest of the world was quick to condemn Spanish actions. Spain found itself with even fewer friends as Britain and America condemned the attacks.
Spain eventually gave up on the war without having captured any ground beyond the original guano-soaked gains in the Chincha Islands. As the Spanish withdrew, Peru took the islands again and have continued to collect the guano since.
The Chincha Islands War wasn’t the only conflict the nations fought for guano. The War of the Pacific from 1879-1884 was partially over guano deposits in the Atacama Desert.
This step, just days after US and Russian bilateral negotiations for a ceasefire fell through, shows the depth of Russia’s commitment to Syrian President Assad, who has shown a ferocious willingness to use chemical and banned weapons against his own people since the war started in 2011.
But the Russian S-300 and S-400 missile defense batteries pose a serious question about US and coalition military capabilities versus the Russians.
Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, went as far as to say that “all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality,” referring to the US’s fifth generation stealth aircraft, the F-22 and F-35.
While the US fields the greatest Air Force in the world, the capabilities of Russia’s S-300 and S-400 air defense systems in Syria represent a very real challenge to the US’s ability to operate in those zones without being shot down.
“Konashenkov is absolutely right – ‘stealth’ as ‘invisibility’ is just amateurs’ invention, not a technical term.”
However, according to Sutyagin, some of the Russian capabilities also fall in the category of speculation rather than hard capability.
For instance, as advanced as Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are, and they are really quite advanced, they still face very real limitations.
Russian “air defense systems are designed to intercept high flying targets at a maximum range of about 250 miles,” said Sutyagin. While this does pose a threat to US and coalition aircraft operating normally in the region, the missile defense can be outfoxed, as they less optimal against low flying planes or missiles.
Even though the Russian systems have great radar range and capabilities, in the real world obstacles abound, and that makes it very hard to get a clear picture of real world air spaces.
The Russian missile defense systems sit on trucks, ready to be positioned wherever needed in a specific region. Some reports indicate that Russian crews can get the missile battery up and running within 5 minutes of parking the truck. Additionally, the mobile missile batteries present an ever changing target, and a puzzle that incoming aircraft must solve anew each time they enter the air space.
But they battery is still just a truck on the ground. Parking it on a hilltop makes it visible. Parking it in a valley severely limits the range due to natural obstacles. So just as the US fantasy of “invisible jets” doesn’t completely pan out when the rubber hits the road, neither does the Russian fantasy of a 250 mile air defense zone.
Indeed to flesh out this idea of the Russians, they’d need to operate Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACs), or planes that carry large radars and can survey battle spaces free from obstructions on the ground, which Sutyagin says Moscow does not currently have in Syria.
But who would come out on top?
According to Sutyagin, stealth US planes like the B-2, F-22, and F-35 could knock out Russian SAM sites in Syria, but not without a fight.
“Yeah they can do it. In theory they can do it because they will be launching stand off weapons,” said Sutyagin, referring to long range missiles as “standoff weapons.”
“The tactics of these low visibility planes as they were designed originally was to use the fact that detection range was decreased so you create some gaps in radar range and then you approach through gap and launch standoff weapons,” said Sutyagin.
At this point, Russia’s “defenses will inevitably detect it, but maybe too late,” said Sutyagin, who emphasized that firing a missile doesn’t always mean a hit, and detecting a missile doesn’t always mean an intercept.
“There is no 100% reliability, but still it will be much more difficult” for Russian SAM sites to intercept missiles fired from US stealth aircraft that can get up close and personal and locate the site first. “If the standoff weapon is also low visibility,” the chances only improve, according to Sutyagin.
Additionally, Russian SAM sites in Syria have a limited magazine capacity.
“One air defense battalion with an S-300 has 32 missiles. They will fire these against 16 targets (maybe against cruise missiles they would fire a one-to-one ratio) but to prevent the target from evading you always launch two… but what if there are 50 targets?”
This limitation explains why Russia deployed the S-300 battery to Syria when they already have the more advanced S-400 stationed there.
According to Sutyagin, it takes “40-50 minutes to reload launchers.” The SAM sites are then unarmed, with their positions exposed and they’re “not well prepared to meet another threat.”
What it comes down to
So the US could overwhelm Russian defenses. Or Russia could shoot down US fifth-generation aircraft over Syria. What it comes down to, according to Sutyagin, is training.
Sutyagin says that overall, the situation is “very complicated” and that there is “no easy solution to suppress air defense, but there are opportunities.”
Each combat scenario brings unique challenges and opportunities that may benefit one side or another. Generally, there is reason to believe that the pilots of US fifth-generation aircraft are among the best in the world, and that they would have the edge in almost every situation.
Indeed, Sutyagin says that the US’s airborne capabilities put them in a better situation than the US was in during Vietnam, when Russian SAM sites shot down many US planes.
Though the details of the how US F-22 Raptor pilots would engage an enemy SAM site are classified, a pilot with the program recently told National Interest’s Dave Majumdar that the F-22 pilots are confident they could prevail.
But jets and SAM sites fight battles on air, over seas, and on land — not on paper.
“If American pilots will be not experienced in their fifth-gens, they will be shot down. If they are brilliant, operationally, tactically brilliant, they will defeat them,” concluded Sutyagin.
The most famous photograph of World War II was taken 70 years ago at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Just five days into a battle that would last a total of 35 days, Marines scaled Mount Suribachi and planted the American flag. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was there to capture it on Feb. 23, 1945.
It might be hard today to comprehend how a single image can become iconic, exposed as we are to streams of photographs and videos every day from our news and social media feeds. But Rosenthal’s image resonated with all who saw it and was swiftly reproduced on U.S. government stamps and posters, in sandstone (on Iwo Jima, by the Seabee Waldron T. Rich) and most famously in bronze, as the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington. The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and is considered one of the most famous images of all time.
Rosenthal’s image was the second raising of the flag on Suribachi that day. A few hours before the famous image was captured, a Marine photographer captured the first flag raising, which saw much less fanfare. The first, and smaller flag, was taken down and replaced since a U.S. commander thought it was not large enough to be seen at a distance, reports CNN.
According to the The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, American military planners thought the battle would only be a few days. Instead, it dragged on for five weeks, at a cost of more than 6,800 American lives. The Japanese lost more than 18,000.
If you wanted to visit the carrier the Doolittle Raiders flew from, the USS Hornet (CV 8), you need to go to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Specifically, the place to look is near the Santa Cruz Islands, where a major naval battle was fought 74 years ago. It is notable for being the last time the United States lost a fleet carrier.
So, what made Santa Cruz such a big deal? Partly it was because the Japanese were desperately trying to take Henderson Field, and felt they had a chance to do so. They had pushed the United States Navy to the limit after the battles of Savo Island and the Eastern Solomons. A submarine had also put USS Wasp (CV 7) on the bottom with a devastating salvo of torpedoes that also sank a destroyer and damaged USS North Carolina (BB 55).
Admiral Chester Nimitz had sent Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, who had just recovered from dermatitis that caused him to miss the Battle of Midway. Halsey decided to hit the Japanese Fleet first. The orders: “Attack – Repeat Attack!”
American planes damaged the carriers Shokaku and Zuiho, as well as the heavy cruiser Chikuma. The destroyer USS Porter (DD 356) took a hit from a torpedo fired by the Japanese submarine I-21 (although some sources claim the damage was from a freak incident involving a torpedo from a crashed TBF Avenger). USS Enterprise took two bomb hits, but was still in the fight, and would later retire from the scene after surviving two more attacks.
USS Hornet was hit by three bombs, two suicide planes, and two torpedoes in the first attack. Despite that damage, she was mostly repaired by eleven in the morning. However, that afternoon, a second strike put another torpedo into the 20,000-ton carrier. Halsey ordered the Hornet scuttled.
USS Mustin (DD 413) and USS Anderson (DD 411) put three torpedoes and over 400 five-inch shells into the Hornet before they had to retreat in the face of a substantial Japanese surface force. USS Hornet would not go down until the Japanese destroyers Akigumo and Makigumo put four Long Lance torpedoes into her hull.
All in all, Hornet took ten torpedoes, two suicide planes, and three bombs before she went down. Her sister ship, USS Yorktown (CV 5) had taken three bombs and four torpedoes before she went down at Midway, having also survived two bomb hits at the Battle of the Coral Sea that had not been completely repaired.
The lessons of the losses of USS Yorktown and USS Hornet would pay their own dividends. The United States would only lose one light carrier, USS Princeton (CVL 23), and six escort carriers for the rest of the war. Carriers like USS Franklin (CV 13) and USS Bunker Hill (CV 17) would survive severe damage in 1945, while USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and USS Forrestal (CV 59) would survive frightful fires during the Vietnam War.
With the surprising (to some) victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, one issue that will come into sharp focus is how he will handle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.
During the campaign, he promised to “bomb the sh– out of” ISIS. Realistically, with the militants hiding among civilians in densely populated cities in the Middle East, a “bomb the sh– out of” them campaign would be a tough sell. So maybe it’s a good idea to see what similar air wars are in the historical playbook to get an idea of the cost.
This is the crowning masterpiece of the career of Sir Arthur Harris. In mid-February 1945, four massive raids with 722 Royal Air Force bombers and 527 more from the United States Army Air Force (which also contributed over 750 P-51 Mustang fighters) delivered almost 4,000 tons of bombs on target.
Dresden was firebombed for several nights, killing an estimated 130,000 Germans. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
For the loss of eight planes, over 200 factories were damaged. Not a bad ratio, except of course the fact that over 100,000 civilians were estimated to have been killed in the days-long fire bombing.
Kinda why the Air Force developed precision bombing.
The B-29 bombing offensive against Japan had not been entirely effective using daylight attacks from high altitude. That was when Gen. Curtis LeMay decided to change the game. Instead of high-altitude bombing during the day, he sent 334 B-29s against Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945. He wanted to fly along with the raid, but since he had first-hand knowledge of top-secret military code-breaking efforts, the risk of his capture was too high and he was grounded.
Of the planes sent, 27 were lost due to enemy action.
But once again, 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped, annihilating 16-square miles of the city costing an estimated 130,000 lives. Emperor Hirohito toured the city in the aftermath of the raid, he began to work to get Japan out of the war.
With the Paris Peace talks stalled over ending the Vietnam conflict, President Richard Nixon acted decisively. For nearly two weeks in late December 1972, 207 B-52 Stratofortresses, along with hundreds of other planes, launched a massive aerial assault on Hanoi. Dubbed the “Christmas Bombing,” over that 11-day period, over 15,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the BUFFs, with the tactical aircraft dropping more. In all, 16 B-52s and 12 other planes were lost.
B-52 Stratofortress bombers dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on Hanoi during the Christmas bombing campaign. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The North Vietnamese ultimately resumed negotiations, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973. Some reports indicate nearly 1,000 Vietnamese were killed during the raids.
During Operation Desert Storm, the B-52Gs sent to targets over Iraq and Kuwait delivered up to 40 percent of the wartime bombing tonnage. Most of their operations involved carpet-bombing the Republican Guard and other Iraqi ground forces. Joe Baugher noted that in 1,620 sorties, one B-52G was lost due to an electrical failure on Feb. 3, 1991, and three others suffered combat damage.
5. War on Terror
The current bomber force may have drawn down, but in the 1990s, the B-52, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit were all equipped to handle precision-guided munitions. Today, they have been delivering lots of bombs on various terror groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.
The 107-country Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 prohibits nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons from being placed or used from Earth’s orbit. What they didn’t count on was the U.S. Air Force’s most simple weapon ever: a tungsten rod that could hit a city with the explosive power of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. used what they called “Lazy Dog” bombs. These were simply solid steel pieces, less than two inches long, fitted with fins. There was no explosive – they were simply dropped by the hundreds from planes flying above Vietnam.
Lazy Dog projectiles (aka “kinetic bombardment”) could reach speeds of up to 500 mph as they fell to the ground and could penetrate nine inches of concrete after being dropped from as little as 3,000 feet
The idea is like shooting bullets at a target, except instead of losing velocity as it travels, the projectile is gaining velocity and energy that will be expended on impact. They were shotgunning a large swath of jungle, raining bullet-sized death at high speeds.
That’s how Project Thor came to be.
Instead of hundreds of small projectiles from a few thousand feet, Thor used a large projectile from a few thousand miles above the Earth. The “rods from God” idea was a bundle of telephone-pole sized (20 feet long, one foot in diameter) tungsten rods, dropped from orbit, reaching a speed of up to ten times the speed of sound.
The rod itself would penetrate hundreds of feet into the Earth, destroying any potential hardened bunkers or secret underground sites. More than that, when the rod hits, the explosion would be on par with the magnitude of a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon – but with no fallout.
It would take 15 minutes to destroy a target with such a weapon.
One Quora user who works in the defense aerospace industry quoted a cost of no less than $10,000 per pound to fire anything into space. With 20 cubic feet of dense tungsten weighing in at just over 24,000 pounds, the math is easy. Just one of the rods would be prohibitively expensive. The cost of $230 million dollars per rod was unimaginable during the Cold War.
These days, not so much. The Bush Administration even considered revisiting the idea to hit underground nuclear sites in rogue nations in the years following 9/11. Interestingly enough, the cost of a single Minuteman III ICBM was $7 million in 1962, when it was first introduced ($57 million adjusted for inflation).
The trouble with a nuclear payload is that it isn’t designed to penetrate deep into the surface. And the fallout from a nuclear device can be devastating to surrounding, potentially friendly areas.
A core takeaway from the concept of weapons like Project Thor’s is that hypersonic weapons pack a significant punch and might be the future of global warfare.
Air Force pilots of the 1980s-era stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber plan to upgrade and fly the aircraft on attack missions against enemy air defenses well into the 2050s, service officials said.
“It is a dream to fly. It is so smooth,” Maj. Kent Mickelson, director of operations for 394th combat training squadron, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In a special interview designed to offer a rare look into the technologies and elements of the B-2, Mickelson explained that the platform has held up and remained very effective – given that it was designed and built during the 80s.
Alongside his current role, Mickelson is also a B-2 pilot with experience flying missions and planning stealth bomber attacks, such as the bombing missions over Libya in 2011.
“It is a testament to the engineering team that here we are in 2016 and the B-2 is still able to do its job just as well today as it did in the 80s. While we look forward to modernization, nobody should come away with the thought that the B-2 isn’t ready to deal with the threats that are out there today,” he said. “It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”
The B-2 is engineered with avionics, radar and communications technologies designed to identify and destroy enemy targets from high altitudes above hostile territory.
“It is a digital airplane. We are presented with what is commonly referred to as glass cockpit,” Mickelson said.
The glass cockpit includes various digital displays, including one showing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information which paints a rendering or picture of the ground below.
“SAR provides the pilots with a realistic display of the ground that they are able to use for targeting,” Mickelson said.
The B-2 has a two-man crew with only two ejection seats. Also, the crew is trained to deal with the rigors of a 40-hour mission.
“The B-2 represents a huge leap in technology from our legacy platforms such as the B-52 and the B-1 bomber. This involved taking the best of what is available and giving it to the aircrew,” Mickelson said.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
“Taking off from Whiteman and landing at Diego Garcia was one of the longest combat sorties the B-2 has ever taken. The bomber was very successful in Afghanistan and very successful in the early parts of the wars in Iraq and Libya,” Michelson added.
The B-2 crew uses what’s called a “long-duration kit,” which includes items such as a cot for sleeping and other essentials deemed necessary for a long flight, Mickelson explained.
As a stealth bomber engineered during the height of the Cold War, the B-2 was designed to elude Soviet air defenses and strike enemy targets – without an enemy ever knowing the aircraft was even there. This stealthy technological ability is referred to by industry experts as being able to evade air defenses using both high-frequency “engagement” radar, which can target planes, and lower frequency “surveillance” radar which can let enemies know an aircraft is in the vicinity.
The B-2 bomber is described as a platform which can operate undetected over enemy territory and, in effect, “knock down the door” by destroying enemy radar and air defenses so that other aircraft can fly through a radar “corridor” and attack.
However, enemy air defenses are increasingly becoming technologically advanced and more sophisticated; some emerging systems are even able to detect some stealth aircraft using systems which are better networked, using faster computer processors and able to better detect aircraft at longer distances on a greater number of frequencies. The Russian-built S-300 and S-400 air defenses, for example, are among the most advanced in the world today.
The Air Force plans to operate the B-2 alongside its new, now-in-development bomber called the Long Range Strike – Bomber, or LRS-B. well into the 2050s.
B-2 modernization upgrades – taking the stealth bomber into the 2050s
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades in order to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades, Mickelson said.
One of the key upgrades is called the Defensive Management System, a technology which helps inform the B-2 crew about the location of enemy air defenses. Therefore, if there are emerging air defenses equipped with the technology sufficient to detect the B-2, the aircraft will have occasion to maneuver in such a way as to stay outside of their range.
The Defensive Management System is slated to be operational by the mid-2020s, Mickelson added.
“The whole key is to give us better situational awareness so we are able to make sound decisions in the cockpit about where we need to put the aircraft,” he added.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite in order to better facilitate communications with command and control. For instance, the communications upgrade could make it possible for the aircraft crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation.
“This program will help with nuclear and conventional communications. It will provide a very big increase in the bandwidth available for the B-2, which means an increased speed of data flow. We are excited about this upgrade,” Mickelson explained.
The stealth aircraft uses a commonly deployed data link called LINK-16 and both UHF and VHF data links, as well. Michelson explained that the B-2 is capable of communicating with ground control stations, command and control headquarters and is also able to receive information from other manned and unmanned assets such as drones.
Information from nearby drones, however, would at the moment most likely need to first transmit through a ground control station. That being said, emerging technology may soon allow platforms like the B-2 to receive real-time video feeds from nearby drones in the air.
The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.
This involves the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable being used right now – because the B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.
The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.
B-2 weapons upgrades
The comprehensive B-2 upgrades also include efforts to outfit the attack aircraft with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, service officials said.
The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation.
In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said.
The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, officials said.
Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.
The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.
The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Mickelson added.
“This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets,” he said.
At only two times in American history have father-son pairs both earned Medals of Honor. One pair was based in the Civil War and then World War II combat, and the other pair in the Spanish-American War and World War I combat. All four would make their last names famous for generations to come.
Arthur MacArthur earned his fame rushing the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge.
(Images: Public domain; Graphic: WATM)
Arthur MacArthur receives the medal for actions in 1863
First Lt. Arthur MacArthur was only 18 and an adjutant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry when the regiment was arrayed against stiff defenses on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee near the border with Georgia. The Confederates had used this position to harass and attack Union forces for some time, and it was the last great barrier to the invasion of Georgia.
But the Confederate forces had a line of rifle pits at the base of ridge and trenches and other defenses at the top. The Union attack was ordered against the ridge, and confused orders led to a successful melee in the pits, but then a sporadic and faltering attack up toward the trenches.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in World War II.
Douglas MacArthur defends the Philippines until all is lost
Arthur would retire as a lieutenant general, but one of his sons would eclipse him in valor awards and rank. Douglas MacArthur was already a full general, and the recipient of seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses when Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941.
It was quickly apparent that Japan would have the upper hand, but Douglas was at least as tenacious as his father. He had his men establish defensive line after defensive line, conducting a controlled withdrawal that soaked the ground in blood for every inch they gave up. Eventually, he was forced to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula, allowing his men to defend themselves in more mountainous terrain, but also cutting off further escape and giving up the cities.
Col. Theodore Roosevelt as the commander of the Rough Riders.
Teddy Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt campaigned hard for war with Spain, and when the U.S. declared that war in April 1898, he wasn’t about to leave the fighting to everyone else. But, he knew the war might be short and that he was not yet ready to command a regiment. So he agitated for the creation of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, but he used his connections to be the second-ranking officer, not the commander.
He got his wish and was brought into the Volunteer Army as a lieutenant colonel and sent to Cuba, but only 8 of the 12 companies were able to get space on the ships, and none of their horses were brought over. Still, they performed well and, on July 1, 1898, were sent against the defenses on San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba. By this point, Roosevelt had been promoted to commander.
At left, Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., he would later serve in World War II as a brigadier general and earn the Medal of Honor.
(Library of Congress)
His son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would never attain the presidency like his father did, but he would fight in World Wars I and II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in World War I, and then came back into service in World War II as an almost 60-year-old man. But still, he earned another two Silver Stars in combat in North Africa near one of his own sons (who also earned a Silver Star, there).
In the preparations for D-Day, he pushed repeatedly for permission to go ashore with the first wave, but his division commander kept denying it on the basis of the brigadier’s rank and age. So, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote to his distant cousin, then-President Franklin Roosevelt. Before the reply came back, the division commander finally relented and gave Roosevelt, Jr., permission, certain he would never see him again.
The 4th Infantry Division, like nearly everyone else that day, landed out of position, but they were lucky to have their deputy commanding general there to take charge. Roosevelt, Jr., personally led infantry waves into position under fire multiple times while walking with a cane. His re-making of the division landing plan was credited with keeping Omaha Beach open, and the commanding general gave his compliments when he landed with a later wave.
Six years ago, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jared Coons grappled with the grief of the death of his father. Mark Coons, 54, left part of his estate to his son, who in turn has taken that gift to help wounded troops, children and families.
Coons gave some $25,000 to the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. A $100,000 check covered two-thirds of the cost to build a playground for special-needs kids at the YMCA in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. An $85,000 donation benefitted local schools.
Smaller but still sizable donations funded outdoor camps and horse therapy programs.
The Marine Corps also recognized Coons for his charity. At a November 2013 ceremony at the Pentagon, it gave him the 2012 Spirit of Hope Award for his “extraordinary philanthropic contributions” of over $238,000 and noted his “generous and philanthropic character epitomizes the spirit of Bob Hope and was in keeping with the highest traditions” of the services.
But last year, Coons found himself in legal hot water. Why? He dug into his wallet several times in 2014 while serving as the logistics chief with a Japan-based Osprey squadron, VMM-262.
Tempo was high, he said, as the squadron was preparing to chop to another command for a shipboard deployment and prepping for training exercises in the region. Logistics are complicated business in the western Pacific, where units are further from military supply lines and stateside support.
Once, crunched for time, Coons spent about $1,400 to rent three large trash bins to haul away another unit’s property left in a Futenma Marine Corps Air Station hangar on Okinawa. Another time, he paid $1,450 to fund commercial Internet services from a contingency supply vendor for an exercise deployment to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
The unit needed internet access so the Marines could track flight activities and do their daily work to meet the mission, he said. But there wasn’t enough time to wait for the waiver from Washington, which would likely come too late. So he decided to cover the cost and file for reimbursement.
Coons, a 15-year veteran, said it wasn’t the only times the squadron came up short with getting supplies and equipment the Marines needed.
“We had a very high mission tempo and we rarely received the support we needed,” he said. Higher-ups “should have supported the squadron better than it did.”
Coons contends he had the OK from his boss to get those mission-essential purchases. But he saw no reimbursement. Instead, the squadron, with a new commander in charge, in July 2015 ordered an investigation into his 2014 purchases. Coons was counseled for “unauthorized commitment of personal funds.”
But it didn’t end there. After a contingency mission to Nepal following an earthquake there, the squadron blamed Coons for several general-purpose tent poles in palletized GP tents, which he initially had signed out for but which later had missing parts. The Marine Corps valued those poles at $2,288 – his attorney says the parts are worth less than $100 — and it garnished his pay to cover that bill.
Jane Siegel, a retired colonel and Marine Corps judge advocate now in private practice near San Diego, said the Marine was “pressured” to sign a form that he’d agree to the garnishment from his military pay. He did it so he could take requested leave, which she said was subsequently wrongly cancelled and meant the loss of $1,147 airline ticket for his short trip to the U.S.
The money garnished was “20 times the amount he actually owed” for the missing poles, Siegel wrote in an appeal to Marine Corps Forces Pacific command in Hawaii to right the wrongs, order a new investigation and reimburse the gunnery sergeant for $6,276, in all.
“This is about fundamental fairness and admission that the red tape does not keep up with the mission tempo,” she wrote. “When the mission absolutely, positively has to be done, call the Marines. This is what the gunny was trying to ensure.”
Coons has few options left for redress. Last year he rotated back to the states and is stationed at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and he’s spent this year trying to recoup the money for things he said the squadron needed overseas. Commanders up the chain agreed with the investigation, blaming Coons for requesting reimbursement.
He’s hit dead ends with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and III Marine Expeditionary Force’s Inspector General, all which have rejected his appeals to reinvestigate. Most recently, the Defense Department’s IG refused to reopen the case.
“We want someone to investigate. He wants a fair hearing – and he hasn’t gotten one,” Siegel said, calling Coons “an outstanding” Marine. “It’s not so much about the money. To him, it’s about the fact that he had to do these things. He had to outlay the money for the Internet, because he’s just that kind of a Marine.”