Embellished with the American flag, the presidential seal, and the words “United States of America,” the world’s most famous plane is as tall as a six-story building and gives an undeniable authoritative presence wherever it flies.
The three-leveled “flying Oval Office” is a custom Boeing 747-200B that has 4,000 square feet of interior floor space, including a conference room, dining room, private quarters for the president, offices for senior staff members, a medical operating room (a doctor flies on every flight), press area, two food-preparation galleys that can provide 100 meals, and multifrequency radios for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication.
Former President Barack Obama’s Air Force One cost taxpayers $206,337 every hour it was in flight, according to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter obtained by Judicial Watch.
We use our smartphones for just about everything, from mobile banking to hailing a cab, capturing and sharing photos, ordering food, and staying in touch with friends and family. As such, it’s important to make sure that the information on your phone remains secure and is only accessible to the people and apps you intend to share it with.
As data leaks become all the more common, with social apps like Instagram and Facebook, hotel chains like Marriott Starwood, and credit bureau Equifax all falling victim to breaches in recent years, keeping your web activity safe can be all the more critical.
Here’s a look at a few easy steps you can take to make using your smartphone more secure.
Using secure apps that employ techniques like encryption to protect your data can reduce the chances of intruders snooping on your conversations. Encryption is a process that makes information appear unintelligible when it’s being transferred from the sender to the recipient, increasing the likelihood that only the intended parties can see your text messages or emails.
Both Gmail and Outlook use encryption so long as the recipient is also using an email provider that supports it. Those who are dealing with extra sensitive information could also try Proton Mail, which doesn’t monitor web activity like large firms such as Google and only stores data in countries with strong privacy protections, such as Switzerland.
When it comes to messaging, the best choice for privacy-oriented users is Signal, which is available for iOS and Android and supports end-to-end encryption in addition to other security-centric features, like the ability to set your chat history to disappear. Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp also support end-to-end encryption by default.
2. Keep your phone’s software up to date.
Keeping your smartphone up to date is important for several reasons.
Not only does it often bring new features to your device, but it ensures that you’re running on the most secure version of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system. That’s because operating system updates sometimes include fixes for vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors if left unattended.
To see if your iPhone software is up to date, open the “Settings” menu, tap “General,” and choose “Software Update.” You can also choose to have updates installed automatically by tapping the “Automatic Updates” option in the “Software Update” settings.
On an Android phone, open the “Settings” menu and tap the “System” option to check whether an update is available for your device. Then choose, “Advanced” and select “System update.” If you don’t see the “Advanced” button, press “About phone.” These steps can vary depending on the Android device you’re using.
(Photo by Sara Kurfeß)
3. Limit which apps have access to your device and personal information.
From your location to the contacts in your phone book, apps can gather a broad array of data from your mobile device.
The best and most efficient way to cut down on the number of companies that may have access to your personal information is to delete any apps and their respective accounts you don’t use. Purge your app library and get rid of programs you haven’t opened in a while, especially apps you have may have downloaded for a specific event like a festival or a conference.
You can also manage which apps have access to certain aspects of your phone through the settings menu on iOS and Android.
On your iPhone, you can get started by launching “Settings” and scrolling all the way down to view the apps installed on your phone. Tapping an app will display what types of data and parts of your phone that particular app has permission to use. From there, you’ll be able to enable or revoke access. For example, tapping Google Maps will list the permissions that it requests, such as your location, Bluetooth sharing, microphone, and cellular data among others.
The process is similar for Android devices, although Google presents it differently. Open the “Settings” menu, choose “Apps notifications” and press the “Advanced” option. Then choose “App permissions” to see a list of all the different permissions apps can request access to. This includes data and components such as your contacts, calendar, call logs, and location, among others. Tapping each category will allow you to see which apps have access to that information and revoke access if desired.
(Photo by Markus Spiske)
4. Use a password manager.
Memorizing individual passwords for all of your online accounts can be difficult. And re-using the same password for multiple accounts is never a good idea.
That’s why apps like LastPass,1Password, and Keeper can be very useful. These apps generate complex random passwords and can automatically log you into websites. All you have to do is remember your master password for the service.
And when creating a master password — or any password — remember to create one that’s unique and difficult to guess.
(Photo by Bernard Hermant)
5. Use a virtual private network when connecting to Wi-Fi in public.
We transfer sensitive information over Wi-Fi networks every day, which is why it’s critical to make sure you’re doing so in a secure and private way. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, can help with that.
A VPN establishes a secure Wi-Fi connection that masks your device’s internet protocol address, therefore hiding your phone’s location and identity. That extra layer of security also makes it far less likely that intruders will gain access to sensitive information being shared over Wi-Fi than if you were to use a regular public network. Some popular VPN services include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and PureVPN.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With the entire world focused on COVID-19, it’s a great time to build your bug out bag.
A bug-out bag isn’t just for secret agents anymore.
We Are The Mighty’s resident operator, Chase Millsap, served three combat tours as a Marine Infantry Officer in Iraq and as a Green Beret leading counter-terrorism missions in Asia.
We asked him what he’s packing in his bag in case he needs to escape on short notice for any reason. Here’s what he says you must have, at minimum.
12. Water filter.
Given optimal conditions, a person can last up to a week without water. Extreme conditions are likely to cut that time (and yours) short. Additionally, drinking water from untreated sources can lead to a number of infections and diseases.
If you’re unfamiliar with a “woobie,” it’s how some U.S. troops refer to their issued poncho liner. It makes for a great blanket, cushion, or pillow. It’s not waterproof, but in temperatures above freezing, it’s very effective at keeping in body heat.
10. Two days of food.
This should be self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t, remember: You can go for weeks without food. If you’re on the move, however, that time is cut short. You can’t carry all the food you need with you, but you should have enough to last until you can make it to an area where you can get more or be rescued.
9. Lockpick kit.
The reason one carries lockpicks is fairly obvious: to get into things that are locked. We can’t predict why you’ll be evacuating your home, but if you’re going to be out on foot for a while, you may need this. Think about it: When the looting stops, everything that was easy to get is already gone. What’s left is under lock and key.
8. Fire starter with dryer lint.
You can’t depend on a lighter or matches. You’re going to need to start a fire the old-fashioned way: with sparks and kindling.
7. Solar or hand-crank battery.
You should have electronic devices with you, namely your means of communication. A zombie apocalypse notwithstanding, you’re going to want to be rescued at some point, so secure the means of keeping your phone and/or radio alive and at the ready.
6. 550 cord and a carabiner.
Anyone who’s served in the military knows how useful 550 cord and carabiners are. If you want to augment their usefulness, learn to braid and to tie knots.
5. Medical kit.
Let’s be honest, most of you are not Green Berets — and if you were Navy SEALs, you would have told us by now. Since the name of the game is surviving in a potentially hostile environment, we should be prepared for injuries sustained on our way out of the disaster area. If we want to be prepared to help ourselves and others, we need a med kit.
4. Face mask.
Dirt and debris fly everywhere during a disaster or in a disaster area. Heck, the air itself can be chalked full of dirt and harmful particles.
Be prepared for it.
3. Gloves and boots.
You shouldn’t need to be told this: Bring your boots. The best part about these items is they don’t add to the weight on your back.
If you need to be seen from a distance (namely, by rescue aircraft), nothing is more effective than what the U.S. military already uses, the VS-17 signal marker is the thing for the job. Best of all, that’s exactly what search and rescue teams are trained to look for.
Many military members are familiar with the sight of a shift change at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Only the U.S. Army’s finest can join the Old Guard and walk the carpet as a tomb sentinel, so the highlight of any visit to Arlington is catching the Changing of the Guard, where the guard’s M-14 rifle is famously inspected during the ceremony.
What you might not notice is the duty NCO’s sidearm, holstered but clearly ready for use. This weapon is as clean as the rifle the NCO inspects, with one important difference for the guards.
The M-14 rifles used by the Tomb Sentinels are fully functional, the Old Guard says. While the unit would not discuss further security measures due to the sensitive nature of what they do, it’s clear the rifle isn’t loaded when it’s carried by the men walking the line in front of the Tomb. An M-14 with a magazine is distinctly different than one without. Furthermore, when the rifle is inspected during the Changing of the Guard, the inspection would eject a round from the rifle, were there a round in the chamber.
No one really knows if there are live rounds in the nearby tent or another means for the sentinels to defend themselves in case of an active shooter. But the NCOs are packing.
When an NCO of the Old Guard attends to the Changing of the Guard, the NCO is equipped with a custom, U.S. Army-issued weapon, the Sig-Sauer M17. The weapon was built by the gunmaker specifically for the Tomb Sentinels and comes with a number of beautiful features. There are only four like them ever created, and all are carried exclusively by NCOs in the Old Guard.
The hardwood in the grip of these special pistols comes from the deck of the USS Olympia, a cruiser first laid in 1895 and seeing service in the Spanish-American War and World War I. Marble from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is superheated, converted into glass, and added to the weapon’s sights, making for one of the most unique weapons created for the military anywhere.
Since things are so tight at the Pentagon in terms of operational security, it’s not known whether the NCOs are carrying ammunition for the sidearms, but since there is a magazine in the weapon, they certainly could be. After the 2014 shootings at Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and subsequent spree on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, they certainly should be.
A US Air Force general said this week that the US needs a lot more bombers if it is going to stand up to great power rivals like China and Russia.
Speaking at the Air Force Association’s Air-Space and Cyber Conference, Gen. Timothy Ray, an Air Force four-star who heads Global Strike Command, said that the number of US bombers needs to increase from 156 to at least 225, although he says the number probably actually needs to be much higher.
“The number is north of 225,” Ray revealed at the conference, according to the Warrior Maven, a defense publication.
“There are currently only 156 US strategic bombers,” the general explained, according to a Department of Defense news report. “But, studies have shown that between 225 and 386 are needed to get the US to the low-risk posture.”
An Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber performs a touch-and-go maneuver at Royal Air Base Fairford, England, Sept. 11, 2019.
(Photo by Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Barley)
Last fall, the Air Force announced plans to increase the number of squadrons from 312 to 386, with each squadron consisting of eight to 24 planes depending on the airframe.
“The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do,” former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. “We have 312 operational squadrons today. The Air Force we need has 386 operational squadrons by 2030.”
At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 squadrons, but that number shrank as the US focused its attention on the counterinsurgency fight. As the US shifts its focus back to great power competition, the service is pushing for a larger fighting force.
“Certainly,” Ray said, according to Breaking Defense, “that means good growth for the bombers. “The plan would see the addition of at least five more bomber squadrons.
Under this plan, Defense News reported this week, the force size requirement for bomber aircraft is 225 planes. But, the retirement of aging bomber aircraft, even with new bombers like the B-21 coming online in a few years, is expected to keep numbers below 200.
U.S. Air Force artist rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber.
(U.S. Air Force Graphic)
The US has also had trouble maintaining its bomber fleet.
In July 2019, it was revealed that while the US has a total of 61 B-1B Lancers, only six of the supersonic heavy bombers are fully mission capable, meaning that this aircraft has an abysmal readiness rate of only 11 percent.
“Unfortunately, the Air Force has been consistently under-resourced for over 20 years. As a result, the U.S. Air Force is the oldest, smallest, and least ready in the entire history of its existence,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Warrior Maven. “We are no longer facing near-peers, but peers given the advancements in the Chinese and Russian military.”
In addition to calling attention to the need for a more robust bomber force, Ray also expressed concern about other elements of the nuclear triad outside of the bomber force, noting the ages of the US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines that carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The F-22 Raptor is kind of an underrated badass. Now overshadowed by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Raptor never really got its chance to stand out on its own. But with the U.S. Air Force increasingly butting heads with other air forces around the world, the real power of the Raptor is starting to show.
General Mark Welsh, then-Air Force Chief of Staff once told the story of a Raptor pilot who snuck up on an Iranian F-4 Phantom who was moving to intercept and shoot down a U.S. drone. After flying below two Iranian planes to check out their armaments, he pulled up to their left wing, surprising them, and told them to go home. They did.
The F-22 was born out of a desire to replace both the F-16 and F-15 with an air superiority fighter unrivaled in air-to-air kills. Even with the development of the F-35, there are those who still believe the F-22 is the superior airframe and that Raptor production stopped too soon.
They have a valid point.
Nowadays, the F-22 is mostly being wasted on patrols and alert missions or other exercises that don’t require the Raptor’s particular set of skills, according to a Government Accountability Office report. And since such missions don’t require the F-22 specifically, pilots aren’t able to trained to make use of capabilities unique to the aircraft, meaning it rarely has its full range of abilities realized.
In combat zones, the mere presence of an F-22 commands respect. Currently, Russian, Syrian, and Iranian aircraft are operating in the skies above Syria. In 587 encounters there, the Raptors forced the other aircraft to back off without further aggression.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jet (front) taxis past a C17 aircraft after landing at Kadena U.S. Air Force Base on Japan’s southwestern island of Okinawa
The success (though limited) in Syria showcases not only the capability of the Raptors and their pilots, but also what other air forces’ pilots think of the airframe — and the potential for future roles in other battlespaces, specifically China.
The Commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Charles Brown, has an idea of what that role might look like. While the Chinese are certain to try to jam U.S. communications in the event of a conflict, Brown wants the F-22 to frustrate and confuse the Chinese. The idea has been dubbed “Rapid Raptor” and features four escort F-22s and a USAF C-17 transport plane to be deployable within 24 hours to go anywhere in the PACOM area of responsibility.
The “Rapid Raptor” idea calls for the Elmendorf AFB, Alaska-based 3rd Wing of F-22s to quickly disperse in the event of a conflict, being able to refuel from the C-17’s wing tanks wherever they go. The idea quickly spread to the rest of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet, most notably in Eastern Europe where F-22s are a deterrent to Russian aggression. The Air Force even wants to use the Rapid concept on other airframes.
In the event of a conflict, these spread-out fighter formations could more easily communicate through Chinese jamming via the use of satellite communications. They would also receive target orders this way. In the event of the Chinese disabling or destroying satellites, the small formations would have enough information to make informed battlefield decisions and operate independently.
Stats? Projections? F$%k that noise. Numbers can’t guarantee wins, but being a tough as nails sure helps. As the 2018 NFL Season enters its second week and fantasy football fans continue to debate advanced metrics, the veterans at We Are The Mighty are taking a different approach to finding the best players across the league.
This week, our team of self-declared fair-weather fans scouted the NFL to find the players worthy of serving on one the military’s most elite units: the Army Special Forces — Operational Detachment Alpha, known exclusively as the “A-Team.”
A Special Forces team is full of quiet professionals, each of whom has a set of unique, special skills, ranging from demolitions to weapons to communications. Earning your place on a Special Forces team takes training, time, and a little luck, but it ultimately comes down to one simple question: Can you perform under pressure?
This results-based mentality is exactly the same approach used by NFL players across the league and, in the season’s opening week, five players have distinguished themselves worthy of making the inaugural “A Team Report.” Some earned this distinguished honor by breaking records while others made the list via sheer, viking-level badassery. Either way, all the players on this week’s A-Team Report stepped up when it mattered.
The Soviet Union was known for fielding extreme machines — from the largest submarines ever built to gargantuan nuclear-powered battle cruisers — unmatched by any other country in history. So it should come as no surprise that during the Cold War, they also built what is believed to be the fastest submarine in history.
Though NATO dubbed the submarine as part of the “Papa” class, it was the only boat of its kind ever built. The Soviet Navy commissioned the vessel the K-162 in late 1969, just around 10 years after the project which led to its creation was initiated.
Using the teardrop-shaped architecture which at the time was new and revolutionary in the submarine world, the K-162 was optimized for speed to the tune of nearly 45 knots (51 miles per hour) underwater during a high-speed dash. It was armed with a complement of 10 cruise missiles and 12 torpedoes with the purpose of attacking and destroying surface formations and flotillas of enemy ships.
At the time, the Soviet Navy sought to deal with the rising threat of American battle groups centered around the “supercarrier.” These battle groups, guarded by heavily-armed destroyers, cruisers and submarines, were incredibly powerful projections of American naval force, and were without equal in the USSR.
Instead of building up similar carrier groups, the Soviet Navy decided to task its submarines with inflicting irreparable damage on American groups to render them ineffective. The K-162 became a part of this solution, with its missiles serving as the primary method of attacking enemy surface vessels.
Using a pair of nuclear reactors coupled to steam turbines, the K-162 could achieve blistering speeds which would allow it to surprise a carrier group, launch an attack and then leave the area before the group could respond with a counterattack of its own. In 1971, the submarine demonstrated its ability to dash at high speeds, supposedly achieving 44.85 knots at maximum power.
However, for its incredible speed, the K-162 came with a laundry list of limitations and drawbacks. The costs involved with designing and building the submarine, to begin with, were sky-high, and quickly deemed a poor investment as only one boat would be created, not an entire class.
The K-162’s speed proved to be its own undoing, as well. Noise is the primary method of detection for submarines, and the K-162 generated a lot of it, especially during its underwater high-speed runs. Its various engineering components and machinery were not appropriately “noise dampened,” making the vessel extremely detectable while at sea.
Further, the K-162 could not perform its high speed dashes without damaging itself. Any protrusions on the surfaces of the sub were buckled or bent out of shape due to the pressure of the water rushing over and around the hull. With poor hydrodynamics, the submarine couldn’t achieve the same speeds after, without a return to port for repairs and a refit.
Yet another failing was the fact that K-162 could only fire the opening shots of battle before having to return to port. In combat, a submarine could return to its tender, sailing a safe distance away, to rearm and reload. The K-222 could rearm with torpedoes, but its cruise missiles — its main armament for its primary mission — were only able to be replenished after returning to port.
The K-162 later renamed K-222, and was removed from active service in the early 1980s, though it has since been suspected that it was used to test technologies and practices that would later be used on future Soviet nuclear submarines like the Alfa and Victor class of hunter/killer attack boats.
The Russian Navy completed the K-222’s scrapping by 2010, marking the end of the fastest submarine to have ever existed.
Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky was designing bombers for the Russian Empire when World War I broke out. Nowadays, the company he founded in the United States makes the “choppers” that transport U.S. presidents. This is the story of how the “father of the helicopter” crossed the Atlantic and made it big — before designing the first aircraft to make regular flights across the major oceans.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal went to medical one day in June 2017, complaining of breathing issues. The Army doctors at Fort Bragg told him it was a case of pneumonia. Just a few months later, still having trouble breathing, he went to a civilian doctor – who found what the Army called “pneumonia” was actually a tumor, which had doubled in size and spread to other parts of his body.
Stayskal’s cancer was now stage four. He was terminal, and the father of two was given just a year or so to live. Stayskal’s lawyers say the mistake was critical, and Stayskal’s outcome would have been different if Army doctors had not missed what an “inexperienced resident would have seen.”
The Special Forces operator is well aware of just how fragile life can be. In Iraq’s Anbar Province, he was hit by a sniper in 2004. The bullet pierced one of his lungs and nearly killed him then. Stayskal, now 37 years old, kept the bullet to remember how close anyone can come to the edge. He would have done whatever it took to fight his cancer before it reached this stage.
Stayskal wants to sue the Army for medical malpractice – but he can’t. A 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States, prohibits lawsuits from active-duty troops when they are injured or killed due to medical mistakes in military hospitals. He’s been lobbying Congressional representatives and even President Trump ever since. His campaign is finally starting to pick up some steam.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal testifying in Congress.
The Feres Doctrine, as it has come to be called, is a Supreme Court decision based on three cases of negligence from the Army. Feres himself died in a barracks fire in New York State, and his estate wanted to sue the Army for not providing an adequate fire watch and for housing troops in a building known to have a defective furnace. Two other complaints accompanied Feres, including that of a plaintiff named Jefferson. Jefferson had undergone surgery in an Army hospital and later underwent surgery again – this time to remove a 30-inch towel marked “Medical Department U.S. Army” from his abdomen.
The Supreme Court found that even though the Army was negligent in the cases that made up Feres, it maintained that Active Duty troops were not protected by the Tort Claims Act because the incidents were related to their service and that families of the deceased are compensated under terms of their service without litigation.
The Supreme Court has already refused to hear a challenge to Feres in 2019, so it’s up to Congress to change the law.
The new law is called the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019, and it has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but the Pentagon is warning Congress against the Act. Military spouses, family members, and retirees are already able to sue the military, and did so to the tune of million in fiscal year 2018. The Defense Department estimates that opening up the Pentagon to lawsuits from troops could cost as much as 0 million over the next decade.
“It’s not going to cost that much money. If we get competent medical providers, I guess it wouldn’t be a problem,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, an Armed Services subcommittee chairwoman and lead sponsor of the bill.
It’s hard to let go. If you’re a sports fan, then you’ve probably watched your favorite players age well past their primes. They cling to their identities as athletes, as competitors, and they refuse to hang up their titles even as the competition gets younger, faster, and stronger around them. Well, this same thing can happen to planes, too.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was a technological breakthrough when it first flew in 1932. But, when combat came in 1941, it was hit by a double whammy of being obsolete and badly outnumbered — and the loss rate was abysmal.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane fighter to see service in the United States. It officially entered service in 1934 and remained the fastest fighter in the skies until 1938.
The P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane to enter American service, but within a decade of its first flight, it was greatly outclassed.
Not only that, this plane was also the first to introduce flaps to U.S. aviation — a piece of technology used to make landings easier and safer. The plane needed flaps because it had a then-blistering landing speed of just under 83 miles per hour.
In the skies, it reached a top speed of 227 miles per hour and had a range of 360 miles. The plane’s initial armament included two .30-caliber machine guns — one of which was later upgraded to .50-caliber. Either two 100-pound bombs or five 31-pound bombs could be carried for ground-support missions.
P-26 Peashooters on the flight line at Hickam Field, Hawaii.
The last P-26s to serve defended the Panama Canal until 1942, when they were exported to Guatemala. There, they hung on until 1957, four years after the Korean War saw jets fighting for control of the air.
Watch a classic video of these legendary planes in service below!
It’s safe to say that we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to the gear we carry with us into the great outdoors. Whether you’re in the market for a new pocket knife or a thirty-foot camper to tow behind your truck, there’s no shortage of options available to you, each claiming their own “extreme” superlatives to make sure you know just how rugged they are. Of course, there’s one phrase you may see pop up more than many others when it comes to toughness: “military grade.”
The idea behind claiming your product is “military grade” is simple: the consuming public tends to think of the military as a pretty tough bunch, so if you tell me a product has met some military standard for toughness, it stands to reason that the product itself must be pretty damn tough, right?
The military actually employs thousands of people to maintain and repair “military grade” equipment.
(Photo By: Master Sgt. Benari Poulten 80th Training Command Public Affairs)
The phrase “military grade” can be used on packaging and on promotional materials without going through any particular special toughness-testing. In fact, even when sticking closely to the intent behind the phrase, which would mean making the product meet the testing criteria set forth in the U.S. military’s MIL-STD-810 process, there’s still so much leeway in the language of the order that military grade could really mean just about anything at all.
The testing procedures set forth in the military standard are really more of a list of testing guidelines meant to ensure manufacturers use controlled settings and basic standards for reliability, and importantly, uniformity. The onus is on the manufacturer, not any military testing body, to meet the criteria set forth within that standard (or not) and then they can apply the words “military grade” to their packaging and marketing materials. In other words, all a company really has to do is decide to say their products are “military grade” and poof–a new tacti-tool is born.
It’s as simple as that. No gauntlet of Marines trying to smash it, no Airmen dropping it from the edge of space, and no Navy SEALs putting it through its paces under a sheet of ice near the Russian shore. The only real reason that pocket knife you just bought said “military grade” on the box is that the company’s marketing team knew plastering the phrase on stuff helps it sell.
Believe it or not, this is not how Marines test new gear.
(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel)
For those of us that have spent some time in uniform, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s never any shortage of jokes about the gear we’re issued coming from “the lowest bidder” for a reason: the gear we’re issued often really did come from the lowest bidder. Meeting the military standard (in mass production terms) usually means that a manufacturer was able to meet the minimum stated requirements at the lowest unit price. To be fair, those minimum requirements often do include concerns about durability, but balanced against the fiscal constraints of ordering for the force. When you’re budgeting to outfit 180,000 Marines with a piece of kit, keeping costs down is just as important in a staff meeting as getting a functional bit of gear.
But most products sold as “military grade” never even need to worry about those practical considerations, because the Defense Department isn’t in the business of issuing iPhone cases and flashlight key chains to everyone in a uniform. When these products advertise “military grade,” all they really mean is that they used some loosely established criteria to conduct their own product tests.
Of course, that’s not to say that products touting their “military grade” toughness are worthless–plenty of products with that meaningless label have proven themselves in the kits of millions of users, but the point is, the label itself means almost nothing at all.
The M203 grenade launcher entered service with the U.S. military in 1969 during Vietnam. It replaced the M79 “Blooper” stand-alone launcher, almost always being used as an under-barrel addition to an assault rifle.
Though it has served faithfully and effectively for over 40 years now and will continue to do so for years to come, the M203 is being phased out of Army service and is being replaced by the new M320 designed and built by Heckler Koch.
For now the Marines are sticking with the 203, though many top infantry advocates in the service want the Corps to replace its current ones with M320s.
The M320 won a competitive bidding process and entered production in 2008 with over 71,000 of the weapons planned for the U.S. Army. Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division were the first to field the weapon operationally.
While the M203 was capable of operating independently, in practice it is rarely used in standalone configuration. In fact, the old M79 resurfaced during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a superior option for grenade launcher duties without a rifle.
The break-action blooper (or ‘thumper,’ based on who you ask) was touted as a superior tool for the job when the whole rifle/launcher combo was too heavy or unwieldy, and standalone M203 units were not up to the task or simply unavailable.
The M79 has greater range and better accuracy than the M203. While it has performed admirably since Vietnam, no one has ever claimed that the M203 provided pinpoint accuracy.
The M79, introduced in 1961, is even older than the M203. Much more importantly, it’s not capable of being used as an under-barrel launcher on an M4 or M16 rifle. While stand-alone launchers definitely have their place, the need for a grenadier who is also a rifleman is a crucial one in most cases. A new, better, under-barrel 40mm grenade launcher was needed.
The M320 filled that need. Using the same high-low propulsion system of the M79 and M203 to keep recoil low while firing a heavy 40mm projectile, the M320 has the same range as the M203 while increasing accuracy and coming with a number of improvements over the older model.
One of the most noticeable upgrades over the M203 is the M320’s side-loading mechanism. The barrel swings out for loading, rather than the M203’s forward-sliding pump-like barrel. This allows the use of additional, longer, ammunition, particularly non-lethal rounds. With the weapon’s introduction, the Army is able to move forward with the development of new, high-tech rounds that wouldn’t fit in the M203.
Another obvious feature of the M320 is the folding foregrip. The grip is intended primarily for use when the weapon is used separate from a rifle, but it can also serve as a forward vertical grip when mounted under a barrel. When not needed, the foregrip can be easily folded back and out of the way.
The sights of the M320 are certainly more advanced than those of the M203, and they benefit from being integral to the launcher itself, being mounted on the side of the unit. The M203’s sights were attached separately and had to be re-zeroed every time.
The M320’s leaf sight simply flips up when needed, and the integrated electronic sighting system allows users to dial in the range as determined by laser and tell if they’re on target. This alone makes the M320 easier to field and more accurate in more conditions more of the time. While operating the M79 was an acquired ability and accuracy with the M203 was more art than skill, the M320’s sight helps to make every operator a capable grenadier.
The M320 has a double-action trigger compared to the M203’s single-action unit and has an ambidextrous safety. This allows the operator more control over his weapon, its firing, and better capability to handle a misfire or simple unloading.
Despite the M320’s technical advantages over its predecessors, its introduction did not come without some hiccups. All new weapons systems suffer from some teething pains, particularly when introduced during a time of war, and the new grenade launcher was no exception.
While intended to be lighter than the M203, the M320 is actually slightly heavier, weighing in at 3.3 pounds compared to the M203’s 3.0 pounds. While this difference is small, combat troops are already overloaded and every ounce counts.
While the new sight provides significant advantages over the M203’s sight, some troops have complained that it’s a little fragile for hard use in the combat zone. This may be due to the fact that the troops are used to not worrying about an M203 because there was so little to break.
Another complaint is that when used stand-alone with the stock assembly, the buttstock is a little short for many operators.
Finally, the single-point sling attachment of the stand-alone M320 meant that the weapon swung around and was often bouncing in the way, with troops calling for a holster of some sort to use while carrying the launcher unmounted. The Army responded by launching an M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program.
The SEP was a “try-before-you-buy” program that used holsters from three different vendors and issued them to troops for testing and feedback. The holster solution will also address some of the concerns about the fragile sights, since the weapon won’t be bouncing around or getting dragged on the ground when the operator hits the dirt.
A comment found online from a soldier claiming to carry an M320 in Afghanistan says that the launcher is a pain in the ass and swings everywhere, he “wouldn’t trade it for anything else in a firefight.” It’s hard to come up with a better endorsement of the M320 than that.