15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now - We Are The Mighty
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15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is responsible for some of the world’s most significant scientific and technological breakthroughs.


DARPA has had a hand in major inventions like GPS, the internet, and stealth aircraft. And it’s always developing new technologies — military or intelligence-related systems that could end up having a huge impact outside the battlefield as well.

We’ve looked at some of DARPA’s active projects, and found some of the more astounding systems that are currently in the works.

Bullets that can change direction in flight

Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) are the military’s first self-guided bullets.

EXACTO bullets are able to change their path during flight to correct for the movement of a target or any other factors that might have driven the bullet off course.

The bullets feature optical tips that can detect lasers on a target. Tiny fins on the bullets then guide the bullet towards that laser.

The Pentagon successfully conducted a live-fire test utilizing these rounds.

High-energy lasers

The High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program is an ambitious DARPA project aimed at neutralizing surface-to-air missile threats that aircraft may encounter.

Generally, surface-to-air missiles are faster than the plane they’re targeting, making it difficult for an aircraft to evade fire. The HELLADS program attempts to use lasers to disable incoming missiles.

DARPA is also planning on increasing the strength of the HELLADS laser in order to make it an offensive weapon capable of destroying enemy ground targets.

Flying trucks

The ARES program, a Skunk Works extension of DARPA’s Transformer program, is an attempt to develop an actual flying car.

ARES will be a dual-mode vehicle capable of both driving on the ground and achieving high-speed vertical takeoff and landing. Twin tilting fans will allow the vehicle to hover and land. The vehicle can also configure itself for high-speed flight.

DARPA hopes that the ARES will be especially resistant to IEDs — while also being able to evade aerial threats, like air-to-air missiles.

Robotic pack animals

The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) introduced by DARPA and in development by Boston Dynamics is a mobile, semi-autonomous, four-legged robot that can function as a beast of burden on the battlefield.

Boston Dynamic’s AlphaDog can currently go70% to 80% of the places that troops are capable of walking. The prototype can carry hundreds of pounds of gear, lightening the burden for soldiers. It is currently taking part in testing trials alongside Marines in Hawaii.

Self-calculating gun scopes

DARPA’s One Shot XG program aims to improve the accuracy of military snipers through a small mountable calculation system that can be placed either on a weapon’s barrel or on its spotting scope.

The One Shot system is designed to calculate a number of variables, such as crosswind conditions, the maximum effective range of the weapon, and weapon alignment, using an internal Linux-based computer. The system would then indicate an ideal aim point for the marksman.

The One Shot XG began testing in March 2013.

A system that provides almost immediate close air support

The tactic of close air-support — in which soldiers call in attack aircraft to gain advantage in the midst of a ground engagement — has remained relatively unchanged since its emergence in World War I. In conventional close air support, pilots and ground forces focus on one target at a time through voice directions and a shared map.

DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program is aimed at radically redefining the concept.

PCAS would enable ground agents to share real-time situational awareness and weapons data with aircraft crews. This would allow an aircrew to focus on multiple targets simultaneously.

The PCAS is also designed to significantly reduce the time between calling in an airstrike and an aircraft’s arrival on the battlefield.

Material that allows soldiers to climb up walls

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

www.darpa.mil

Geckskin supporting 660 pounds on a glass panel

US soldiers must operate in ever condition imaginable, including environments rife with physical obstacles that require soldiers to rely on ropes, ladders, or other heavy-climbing tools.

To overcome this challenge, DARPA has initiated the Z-Man program.

Z-Man seeks to replicate the natural climbing ability of geckos and spiders. One of the main products of the Z-Man program is “Geckskin,” a synthetically produced high-grip material. In a 2012 trial, a 16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin successfully attached to a glass wall — and managed to hold a static load of 660 pounds.

Technologies that eliminate language differences

The Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) program is exploring ways to allow translation and linguistic analysis for both online and in-person communications.

The initial phases of the program are aimed at aiding soldiers and officials with active translation of English into a listener’s native language and vice versa. DARPA plans on eventually expanding BOLT into a tool that could allow everyone to communicate fluidly without having to learn each other’s language.

A drone that can stay airborne for years

DARPA awarded a $89 million contract to Boeing to develop the Solar Eagle unmanned drone.

Part of DARPA’s Vulture II program, the Solar Eagle is designed to stay in the air for a minimum of five years using solar energy. The drone will have a 400-foot wing span, equivalent to a forty-story building, and can fly at stratospheric altitudes.

The drone will have intelligence, communications, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions.

A system that gives soldiers enhanced optical awareness

The Soldier Scentric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) began in 2011 but is still at an early point in development. The program imagines a final system comprised of optical sensors that are both soldier and drone-mounted, allowing a synthesis of information that greatly increases battlefield awareness.

The program could provide soldiers with second-by-second information relating to their missions using a completely hands-free system.

A stratospheric airship

The Integrated Sensor IS Structure (ISIS) is a joint DARPA/Air Force project of “unprecedented proportions.”

The program aims to create an autonomous, unmanned high-altitude airship capable of conducting persistent wide area surveillance, tracking, and engagement of air and ground targets for a ten-year period. The airship will be fully solar powered as well.

Naval supply payloads hidden at the bottom of the ocean

Re-supply in remote sections of the ocean is one of the key difficulties that the Navy faces.

The Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program envisions the deployment of supply stockpiles throughout the bottom of the earth’s oceans. These supplies will be placed in capsules that can survive for years under extreme ocean floor-level pressure.

When needed, a passing ship would be able to send a signal to the supplies, causing them to rapidly rise through the water to the ship.

Helicopters that can function like planes

The VTOL X-Plane further pushes the boundaries of hybrid-wing aircraft beyond what the V-22 Osprey can already accomplish.

DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane envisions a new type of aircraft that can maintain a flight speed of 345 to 460 miles per hour, but is still capable of super-efficient hovering while carrying at least 4,800 pounds of cargo.

The X-Plane is scheduled for three phases of development between October 2013 and February 2018.

Satellites that can provide on-demand imaging

DARPA wants military personnel to be able to call upon satellites to provide up-to-date imagery for tactical pre-mission planning. Its Space Enabled Effects For Military Engagements (SeeMe) program would allow soldiers to look at updated satellite imagery on-demand.

The SeeMe program would consist of a number of satellites that travel in a set band across the earth. This satellite constellation would provide precise imagery for any location within the pre-set band within a 90-minute time frame, making the program a potentially invaluable asset for military intelligence.

The constellation satellites would fly for 60-90 days before burning up in the atmosphere, leaving behind no space debris behind.

A precise lightweight laser weapon

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

DARPA

The Pentagon is constantly attempting to reduce combat risk in urban situations where less-precise conventional weapons may cause unintended collateral damage.

DARPA’s Excalibur program is aimed at allaying these fears through light-weight laser weapon. Eventually, DARPA hopes the program will produce a 100-kilowatt laser that could be used in precision strikes against ground and air targets.

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Army voting assistance officers stand by to help Soldiers register

This election season, many Soldiers will face the same crucial question, and it’s not necessarily the one you think. It’s not, “Who do I vote for?” It’s “Can I vote?”


For the many Soldiers stationed overseas or facing deployments, the answer isn’t always clear.

In 2014, 69 percent of the active-duty Army was registered to vote, compared to 65 percent of the civilian population, according to a 2014 Federal Voting Assistance Program report to Congress. But when it actually came to voting in the 2014 election, only about 20 percent of active-duty Soldiers did, compared to 42 percent of the general population.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
U.S. Army Maj. Ashantas Cornelius, from Macon, Ga., fills out her absentee ballot form while Pfc. Crystal Miller, from Auburn, N.Y., looks for her city’s mailing address during a voting assistance drive at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. | US Army photo by Dustin Senger

This election season, the Army is making sure that, for Soldiers who do choose to take advantage of the freedom they signed up to defend, the answer is always, “yes.” They can cast a vote from wherever they are.

Rachel Gilman, who manages the Army Voting Assistance Program, oversees the more than 3,000 voting assistance officers Army-wide who are dedicated to ensuring Soldiers everywhere have the tools and information they need.

“Our program really focuses on awareness, assistance, providing education, and really training voters about where to go and what information they need,” Gilman said.

“Voting is a very personal choice. If they decide to vote, we are there to help them. If somebody wants to make changes on issues that are important in their hometowns and communities, that’s what we are there to provide.”

Soldiers who want to vote in November should act now, Gilman said. Whether the Soldier is stateside, forward-stationed overseas, or deployed, the way to do that is by seeking out a unit voting assistance officer and then filling out a Federal Post Card Application.

“The (Federal Post Card Application) … that’s your form, your go-to form,” Gilman said.

Also known as GSA Standard Form 76, the Federal Post Card Application will begin the process of registering a Soldier to vote in his or her correct voting district. It will also inform election officials as to which voting district to send the ballot to. The form is not just for Solders, but for any voter who wants to cast a ballot outside of his or her home district.

To obtain the form, Soldiers can download it from the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at the FVAP.Gov, or visit a voting assistance officer wherever they are stationed.

The voting assistance officer can also help Soldiers determine the state and location of their voting district, information that is required on the Federal Post Card Application. Soldiers can also use the FVAP website to make that determination.

The FVAP.Gov website provides deadlines for registering to vote, requesting a ballot, and mailing a ballot. Each state has different requirements, Gilman said, but kicking off the process now is better than waiting.

“It’s really important, especially for overseas voters and those Soldiers who are deployed,” she said. “Once they receive their ballot, it’s important that they immediately fill it out and send it back due to the mailing time.”

The Army doesn’t require Soldiers to vote or even register to vote, Gilman said. But she thinks it’s important that they do. Preserving the right to vote, she said, is one of the reasons that Soldiers serve in the first place.

“I think it’s really important for Soldiers to vote, because it’s a freedom they defend,” Gilman said. “I think it’s an opportunity to have their voices heard. It’s important for them if they want to change issues in their communities, their home towns, for their families. I think it’s very important that they have their voices heard.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Unit Cartoonist: How the Grinch burned down Christmas

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

(Featured cartoon: The unfortunate Christmas fire started by the Grinch here is likened to the great Chicago Fire of 1871, when a cow being milked by owner Catherine “Cate” O’Leary kicked over an oil lantern that started a hay fire in the barn they were in. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed over 17,000 structures)

Quite a lot of the nation tends to kick back and cut slack during the holidays. Some functions cannot do that by sheer nature of the importance of their contribution. Others will not simply because…they don’t want to.

That was the attitude of my Special Mission Unit. It was a year that we felt we needed to train more, but were just running out of days in the year to do it. It was then that we ran our live-fire urban combat training all the way up to the 24th of December.


15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

Not even Christmas was a candidate to compromise our resolve to train to standard.

Our urban combat training site was an abandoned neighborhood just off the far end of the runway of a major American airport. The property values had sunk out of sight due to the constant roar of the aircraft overhead. The houses were pretty old, but I don’t think they were older than the airport. It begged the question: “why would anyone think it was a good idea to build a community so close to the flight path of such a large airport?”

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

An abandoned hood such as this makes an excellent complicated urban target

subject.

[David Lohr, Huffington Post]

While some real estate investor had come up bust, Delta had gained a 360-degree free-fire city where anything could go into the tactical fight. Our operations cell had worked on the hood for weeks preparing it with modifications: pop-up targets in windows and doors, on roofs, and even behind bushes. Some of the targets moved across streets mounted
on rollers that ran along the tops of cables. There simply was just no way to even modestly know what to expect.

The keyword there is what lends the greatest to the realism of the training venue — not knowing what to expect; to be coaxed into expecting the unexpected. The whole ambiance of the scenario begged every man to constantly scan overhead and wonder just what might burst forth from out of the ground. Therein lies a formidable test of our true live-fire marksman skill.

The Grinch was our Bravo Assault Team Leader. He was a painfully no-nonsense one-man wrecking machine with combat experience in Lebanon, Somalia, the Iraqi Wars, and Afghanistan. “Asscrackistan,” the Grinch would say, “is no place for a fatherless boy.” Yes, just what exactly he meant by that no sane man knew, but it was his version of humor, and knowing that we all laughed each time he said it.

Another famous Grinch-ism: he was once formally quoted to have said to a man: “Well, that’s your opinion, and it’s wrong!” Any attempt to explain the absence of degrees of right or wrong of an opinion was in danger of being met with a lung-collapsing blow to the chest; that’s just how the Grinch rolled. Ours was never to reason why with the Grinch, ours was to pop the snot bubble and move out.

We spent half days planning our assaults on our “Slim City” as we called it: methods of infiltrations onto target, exit strategies, routes of movement to objectives, and contingency plans. The second halves of the days we executed our assaults on targets.

A meeting with the City Mayor’s office and Police Chief was required to secure the use of the abandoned neighborhood that was scheduled for demolition. After presenting a description of the training we planned to do, the Mayor asked our senior officer: “What guarantee can you give me that your men will not miss some of these targets and send bullets whizzing through my city?”

The response: “Because they’ll be told not to,” the senior officer replied — sold!

During the last assault (it’s always on the last assault) the Grinch skillfully maneuvered his pipe-hitters from building to building. The booming of flash-bang grenades and the quick staccato of double-tap* rifle shots was almost rhythmic, to the extent that we could pretty much tell how far through the buildings he was.

Then “it” happened…

The Grinch slammed a flash-bang in a room. It bounced off a wall and came to rest near the open entrance door. When it exploded it shoved the locked door shut. It was a metal door that did not respond to mule kicks from the powerful Grinch: “put a man on it and the rest of us by-pass it!” the Grinch instructed. When they finished clearing the structure, it had become filled with smoke that was coming from the locked room.

“BLOW IT!!” the Grinch called out, and a man immediately slapped a full 80-inch high explosive charge on the door and fired it. With an Earth-rocking explosion, the door was pushed inside the room…but immense flames shot out of the doorway. The Grinch keyed his microphone and called in the situation as structural fire out of control. The Command and Control element had the city fire department alerted.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

It became painfully clear that most the the neighborhood was going to burn.

The old building was consumed totally and in short order by flames which spread from building to building. Soon an entire block was a raging inferno of flame and choking smoke. The pumper trucks from the local fire department showed up. The boys were there to meet the trucks:

“Thanks, we’ll take it from here,” the boys told the fire crews, who stood stunned for many moments, then ultimately had to concede the pipe-hitters who bore no grins upon their faces. It was no joke.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

“They… they took our trucks.

The fire crews huddled at the hood entrance while the boys fought the fires, knocking them down with high-pressure hoses and water canons. The assault tactics on fire were the status quo for any assault, just that water was now being launched. The last of the flames succumbed to the deluge with a small number of structures hardly worth the count.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

The brothers knocked down the flames with high pressure water the best they could.

“Who on God’s Earth is responsible for this?” demanded our ranking officer later into the night where he addressed the balance of the men. The mighty Grinch, offering no sugar coating, took a mighty step forward.

Saying nothing as he stood with hands on hips, and stared the Major down.

“Ok… we’re all tired from a very long day and night; let’s knock it off and get some sleep!” the major conceded.

*Double-tap: two shots of rifle or pistol that are fired very quickly to the chest area of a threat target. Often time they are fired so fast as to be barely discernible as two separate shots fired. Double-taps are often fired with a slower third “clean up” shot to the head. The meter of the event will “sound” like this: “Ba-Bam… bam, Ba-Bam… Bam.”

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
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The Soviet conspiracy that almost started World War III will blow your mind

In 1967, a Soviet submarine armed to the teeth with a deadly payload of nuclear missiles mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Hawaii.


During the Cold War, it was not unusual for Soviet and American subs to patrol each other’s coasts for months at a time waiting for orders to pull the trigger in case the war went hot.

“The Soviets called these patrols: ‘war patrols,’ ” said Red Star Rogue author Kenneth Sewell in the video below. “To them, we were at a state of war, and they took this very, very seriously.”

Related video:

Although no one knows for sure what happened to the sub, a conspiracy has emerged painting the captain as a hero for sacrificing his ship and crew to divert the apocalyptic scenario.

According to Sewell, Soviet sub K-129 was hijacked by a band of rogue KGB commandos to provoke a war between America and China by making it appear like China attacked Hawaii á la Pearl Harbor.

“They did that to weaken the United States, to strengthen the Soviet Union. Get your two enemies to fight and you pick up the pieces,” Sewell said.

But when the captain realized the mutiny wasn’t authorized by the Soviet government, he gave the KGB operatives the wrong launch codes to his missiles, Sewell alleges.

“When you had an attempted launch with the wrong code it would detonate the warhead, which would cause the missile to explode, which sank the submarine,” Sewell said. “We owe him a really big debt of gratitude. He’s one of these unsung heroes of history that will never really get credit.”

This American Heroes Channel video portrays how the conspiracy would have played out.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, Youtube

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6 Navy bombers that flew for the Air Force

The Air Force and the Navy have their own little rivalry going.


Granted, United States Navy pilots are pretty good in many respects, and so are the planes, but the Air Force claims they’ve got air superiority. So when they need to buy a plane from the Navy, it’s… awkward — especially when it involves bombers, something that should be the purview of the Air Force.

Here are six of the most…notable acquisitions the Air Force ended up making from the Navy.

1. Douglas A-24 Banshee

While better known as the SBD Dauntless, the Army Air Force bought a number of these planes. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that some were intended to help defend the Philippines, but the outbreak of World War II saw them diverted to New Guinea. Others saw action in the Aleutians and Gilbert Islands.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
A-24B Banshee, the Army Air Force’s version of the SBD Dauntless, at a base on Makin Island. (U.S. Air Force photo)

2. Curtiss A-25 Shrike/Helldiver

The Army Air Force got the SB2C — the notorious “Son of a [Bleep] Second Class” — during World War II. Joe Baugher noted that the Army Air Force never even bothered using them in combat, either exporting them to the Royal Australian Air Force or handing them over to the Marine Corps for use from land bases.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
An A-25A Shrike in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

3. Douglas B-66 Destroyer

When the Air Force was looking for a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader as a tactical bomber, they settled on a version of the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior. However, the Air Force planned to use it very differently, and so a lot of changes were made, according to Joe Baugher.

The B-66 turned out to be an ideal electronic-warfare platform. One was famous under the call-sign “Bat 21,” leading to one of the most famous — and costly — search and rescue efforts in history.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
An EB-66E Destroyer electronic-countermeasures plane. (U.S. Air Force photo)

4. Lockheed RB-69A Neptune

The Air Force was looking for some planes for electronic intelligence missions around the Soviet Union and China when they settled on taking seven P-2 Neptune maritime patrol planes from the Navy, and designating them as RB-69As.

Aviation historian Joe Baugher reveals that the exact origin and ultimate fate of these planes is a mystery, probably intentionally so, given the top-secret nature of intelligence-gathering flights over China and Russia.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
One of seven RB-69A Neptune ELINT planes the Air Force acquired. (U.S. Air Force photo)

5. Douglas A-1 Skyraider

Joe Baugher reported that the Air Force found this classic warbird to be so suitable for the counter-insurgency mission in 1962, they took 150 A-1Es from Navy surplus. The planes were modified for dual controls.

In fact, the Air Force wanted the plane as early as 1949, but harsh inter-service rivalry (including controversy stemming from the “Revolt of the Admirals”) meant the Air Force had to wait to get this plane. It was a fixture on search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
An Air Force A-1E Skyraider loaded with a fuel-air explosive bomb. (U.S. Air Force photo)

6. Vought A-7 Corsair

This is probably one of the most successful purchases of a Navy bomber by the Air Force. As was the case with the Air Force basing the B-66 off the A3D, they made changes to the A-7.

Most notable was giving it the M61 Vulcan and a thousand rounds of ammo. Yes, the Air Force gave the A-7 the means to give bad guys the BRRRRRT! The A-7s saw action over Panama in 1989, and were even used to train F-117 pilots. The A-7D was retired in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Three U.S. Air Force A-7Ds in formation. Air Force Corsairs flew thousands of sorties with only four losses. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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Today in military history: Ernest Hemingway wounded on the Italian Front

On July 8, 1918, Ernest Hemingway was wounded while serving on the Italian Front in World War I.

Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross when the war broke out. While handing out chocolates to Italian soldiers, Hemingway was struck by an Austrian mortar shell, taking fragments to the right foot and knee, thighs, hand, and head.

“Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red,” he recalled in a letter home.

Two men died in the attack, and a third was rescued by Hemingway, who, after regaining consciousness, carried the man to safe cover.

Hemingway received an Italian medal of valor for the act and later wrote about his war experiences in one of his most well-known novels, A Farewell to Arms, which explores love, war, masculinity, and femininity against the backdrop of the Italian campaign in World War I. Falling in love with his Red Cross nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, may have helped a tiny bit with the novel’s inspiration.

He would also become the recipient of a Bronze Star for bravery in World War II, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and a Nobel Prize for Literature.

According to Thomas Putnam for Prologue Magazine, “No American writer is more associated with writing about war in the early 20th century than Ernest Hemingway. He experienced it firsthand, wrote dispatches from innumerable frontlines, and used war as a backdrop for many of his most memorable works.”

Commenting on this experience years later in Men at War, Hemingway wrote, “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you…. Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.”

Featured Image: (Left) Hemingway working on his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, in December 1939; (Middle) Hemingway in American Red Cross Hospital, July 1918; (Right) Hemingway in uniform in Milan, 1918.

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These 4 aircraft were the ancestors of the powerful SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 Blackbird is the arguably the most popular and easily recognizable airframe ever used by the U.S. Air Force. It maintains the speed record it set back in 1976 (even with a broken engine). The Blackbird’s missile evasion technique is legendary; it simply flew faster than the whatever was chasing it.


Not one SR-71 was ever shot down.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

It could take a full photo of the entire country of North Korea in seven minutes and fly across the entire United States, lengthwise, in just over an hour.

Not bad, but that capability didn’t happen overnight. The Air Force actually developed more than one supersonic plane for its reconnaissance and strike missions.

1. XB-70 Valkyrie

Only 2 of North American Aviation’s B-70 bombers were ever built, and the program only lasted for the five years between 1964 and 1969. The Valkyrie was a six-engine bomber, capable of flying Mach 3, designed to outrun enemy interceptor aircraft with speed and altitude. At the time, interception was the only defense against bombers.

Surface-to-air missiles changed the game.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
The XB-70 is shown climbing out during take-off. Most flights were scheduled during the morning hours to take advantage of the cooler ambient air temperatures for improved propulsion efficiencies. The wing tips are extended straight out to provide a maximum lifting wing surface. The XB-70A, capable of flying three times the speed of sound, was the world’s largest experimental aircraft in the 1960s. (NASA photo, 1965)

The XB-70 was still fast enough to fool radar, but its limited range and expense made the B-52 a more economically efficient choice for production. Though short-lived, the Valkyrie did blaze a trail for the structural dynamics that would be so crucial to the SR-71.

The last XB-70 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

2. Lockheed A-12 “Archangel” or “Oxcart”

Not to be confused with the later naval stealth fighter proposal dubbed the A-12 Avenger II, the A-12 Archangel was a recon aircraft developed by Lockheed for the CIA between 1962 and 1967. The defense giant’s “Skunk Works,” the nickname given to its Advanced Development Programs department, developed the A-12 for the CIA’s Oxcart Operation.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
An A-12 in flight. This aircraft was lost over the South China Sea on June 6, 1968.

Oxcart was the agency’s effort to replace the U-2 spy plane after it became increasingly susceptible to Soviet SAMs. They were wildly successful – the planes boasted a host of new technologies designed just for the program. They were built with titanium to handle hypersonic speeds (strangely obtained from the Soviet Union).

Though designed to fly over Cuba and the USSR, the Lockheed A-12 never executed that mission. It flew over North Vietnam and North Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.

The North Vietnamese were able to track the A-12 via radar, and routinely launched missiles at it. It never took a direct hit from a SAM but did get debris from an exploding missile lodged in its fuselage.

Since the A-12 was never going to fly over the Soviet Union and the use of satellite photography was on the rise, the program was scrapped almost as soon as it had begun. The A-12s were either stored in Palmdale, California, or sent to museums.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
A-12s in storage in Southern California. (CIA photo)

The A-12 could fly higher and faster than the SR-71, but the Blackbird’s side-looking radar and cameras could see enemy territory without penetrating their airspace.

3. M-21 Drone Carrier

The M-21 variant of the A-12 was designed to carry the Lockheed D-12 Drone. This variation had a cockpit for the drone’s launch control officer who released the autonomous drone which was mounted on the back of the M-21 airframe.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Modified A-12 (codename M-21) carrying D-21 drone (Project Tagboard – CIA photo)

The D-21 was launched from the back of the A-12. Once its mission was complete, the drone would eject the data it collected at a preprogrammed point and then self-destruct. The ejected data was caught in mid-air by a C-130.

This program was canceled in 1966 when a drone collided in midair with its launcher. The M-21 crew all bailed out, except for the LCO. From then on, the D-21 would be launched from under the wing of a B-52.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
A B-52 carrying a D-21 reconnaissance drone and rocket booster. This photo was taken by a crewman in the tail of a tanker aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

4. Lockheed YF-12

The YF-12 was a twin-seat version of the A-12. Designed to be an interceptor, the YF-12 set the speed records that would only be surpassed by the legendary SR-71. It also has the distinction of being a publicly announced aircraft, which had benefits of keeping the A-12 a secret because the public couldn’t tell the difference.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
The YF-12 (U.S. Air Force photo)

The cost of the Vietnam War kept the YF-12 from the Air Force inventory. And by the time the funds were available, the YF-12 wasn’t necessary to defend the mainland U.S., so the program was scrapped.

The aircraft did successfully test the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which was the predecessor to the Phoenix missiles. The YF-12 also tested how AWACS could command bombers in a tactical environment, which later helped the development of the B-1 Bomber.

The YF-12 also tested how engine inlet performance affected airframe for NASA, as well as issues related to propulsion interaction, boundary layer noise, heat transfer under high-mach conditions, and altitude hold at supersonic speeds – all necessary to develop the SR-71, not to mention the Space Shuttle program.

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China’s airpower may overtake the US Air Force by 2030

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
China’s J-20 stealth fighter | YouTube


In a stark assessment, the US Air Force chief-of-staff warned that China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will be poised to overtake the US Air Force by 2030.

On March 2, General Mark Welsh told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that currently it is estimated that the US has a “couple thousand more aircraft” than China, The National Interest reports.

The PLAAF is larger than the US Air Force in terms of personnel, and that size will be represented by the number of aircraft China has in the coming years.

“At the rate they’re building, the models they’re fielding, by 2030 they will have fielded—they will have made up that 2,000 aircraft gap and they will be at least as big—if not bigger—than our air forces,” Welsh told the subcommittee.

More importantly than just the number of aircraft and personnel in the PLAAF, though, is Beijing’s trend of acquiring and successfully fielding more and more advanced weapons systems. This drive by the PLAAF will also shrink the commanding technological advantage that the US currently holds over China.

“We are not keeping up with that kind of technology development,” Welsh said. “We are still in a position of—we will have the best technology in the battlespace especially if we can continue with our current big three modernization programs.”

Welsh also went on to warn that China “will have a lot of technology that’s better than the stuff we’ve had before.”

China is currently constructing prototypes for two different fifth-generation fighters that are specifically tailored to different mission sets. It’s J-20 is thought to be making quick development progress, while it’s J-31 is believed to be the equal of the F-35 due to espionage and Chinese theft of trade secrets.

Additionally, China is also developing a stealth drone as well as seeking to buy Russia’s highly capable Su-35S fighter aircraft.

All these measures taken together will cumulatively make China a significantly more capable military force that could project its will against US protest across East Asia.

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How China’s navy rapidly modernized to rival the US’s

A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service details how China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has undergone a stunning modernization push that puts it near parity with the US.


In fact, China’s military posture and prowess in the Western Pacific presents the US with a challenge unseen since the end of the Cold War.

By perfecting deadly ballistic and cruise missiles, by buying and designing submarines, planes, and surface ships, by cracking down on corruption and improving internal organization and logistics, the PLAN presents US naval planners with plenty to think about going forward.

Though few expect a military conflict to emerge between the world’s two biggest economies, China’s brinkmanship in the South China Sea has lead observers to describe their strategy of escalation as a kind of “salami-slicing,” or steadily taking small steps to militarize the region without taking any one step that could be viewed as a cause to go to war.

However, the US military, with its global network of allies, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing which conflicts to get involved in, and therefore must take every threat seriously.

In the slides below, see how the PLAN has shaped into a world-class navy capable of dominating the South China Sea, and even the entire Western Pacific, if left unchecked.

China’s naval mission

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy recruits | Xinhua

Those who observe China’s specific modernization goals, as well as their expressed intents in their actions, have determined that the PLAN’s mission most likely focuses on the following goals:

1. To possibly curb Taiwan’s continued attempts at independence militarily.

2.  Asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and generally exercising more control over the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of trade passes every year.

3.  Enforcing China’s assertion that it has a legal right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone, despite the protestations of their neighbors in the region.

4. Defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication with military and trading partners.

5. Usurping the US as the dominant regional power in the Western Pacific, and promoting China as a major world power.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Ballistic missiles

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
The DF-21D rolls through China’s 2015 military parade. | William Ide via Wikimedia Commons

China’s DF-21D “Carrier Killer” ballistic missile is the cause of much concern for US naval planners. The missile has a tremendous range of about 810 nautical miles, far beyond the range of a US aircraft carriers’ highest-endurance planes, effectively denying them the luxury of lurking off China’s coast in the Western Pacific while in striking range.

The DF-21D uses a range of sensors to adjust its course during firing. This means that it can hit a moving target at sea in sub-optimal conditions and presents difficulties to any missile trying to intercept it. The DF-21D can deliver a high-explosive, radio-frequency, or even cluster warheads, which all but guarantee a kill, even against a formidable target such as a US aircraft carrier.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Submarines

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
China’s Yuan-class attack submarine. | Congressional Research Service

The PLAN’s submarine fleet continues to undergo a modernization push that focuses on “counter-intervention” tactics against a modern adversary. The force has acquired 12 of Russia’s Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines and launched no fewer than four new classes of indigenously made submarines, all of which are vastly more capable than the Cold-War era vessels they’re replacing.

The PLAN has launched two diesel-electric (Song and Yuan class), and two nuclear classes (Jin and Shang class). But the Shang class was stopped after only two hulls were produced, which led the DOD to speculate that the PLAN may be exploring an updated version of this class.

As the DOD states:

Over the next decade, China may construct a new Type 095 nuclear powered, guided-missile attack submarine (SSBN), which not only would improve the PLA Navy’s anti-surface warfare capability, but might also provide it with a more clandestine, land-attack option.

Additionally, the Jin class can be armed with 12 JL-2 nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which, given the submarine’s range, could potentially hit any of the 50 states in the US from locations in the Pacific.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Submarine capabilities

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
A graph showing the relative difficulty of detecting different classes of Chinese and Russian submarines. | Congressional Research Service

The PLAN’s Russian-bought submarines remain some of the most capable in the fleet. Eight of the 12 Kilo classes (presumably the newer ones) carry the Russian-made SS-N-27 Sizzler cruise missiles, with a range of over 180 miles.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Cruise missiles

The PLAN possesses a large, varied inventory of cruise missiles. Some of their most capable missiles are Russian made, like the SS-N-22 Sunburn and the SS-N-27 Sizzler, but their indigenously made missiles are also rated highly.

China’s YJ-18 cruise missile goes into a supersonic-sprint phase when approaching a target, making it harder to stop. Other rangy platforms like the YJ-62, fired from surface ships, and the YJ-12, that can be fired from bombers, complicate the US’s naval plans with their versatility.

Source: Congressional Research Service

The Liaoning

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
China’s carrier Liaoning. | PLAN

The PLAN’s sole carrier, the Liaoning, has been referred to as a “starter” carrier, as its limited range and capabilities have made it primarily useful as a training craft. Having an aircraft carrier allows the PLAN to test carrier-launched aircraft and carrier-strike-group procedures in a realistic way.

The Liaoning has a displacement of about 50,000 tons and can support about 30 aircraft. US Nimitz-class carriers double both of those figures, and also provide catapults to launch planes with heavier weapons and fuel loads, increasing their range.

As the Liaoning is conventionally powered, and not nuclear-powered like the US carriers, it’s ability for long-range power projection is greatly diminished.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Future carriers

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
By late October 2015, with the installation of the 7.5-meter tall hangar below the soon to be flight deck, it’s pretty certain that this hull is going to be China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier. | Congressional Research Service

China is thought to be making rapid progress toward building additional aircraft carriers. Little is known of China’s future carriers, but they will most likely also feature the ski-jump platform of the Liaoning.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Carrier-based aircraft

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

With the help of the Liaoning, the PLAN has succeeded in fielding the J-15 “Flying Shark” carrier-based aircraft.

The J-15 is modeled after Russia’s Su-33 “Flanker,” just as much of China’s military hardware borrows from Russian designs. On land, the J-15 has a range of about 745 miles, but launching the plane from a ski-jump-style carrier platform means that it cannot carry as much fuel, and therefore has a reduced range. Only eight production J-15s are known to be flying at this time.

It has been previously reported that the PLAN seeks to create a short takeoff, vertical-landing plane for carrier-based use in the future. However, they still lack carrier-based reconnaissance plane like the US’s E-2 Hawkeye.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Land-based aircraft and drones

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Kevin A. McGill | Wikimedia Commons

The PLAN’s Air Force has been steadily developing new aircraft for “missions including offshore air defense, maritime strike, maritime patrol, antisubmarine warfare, and, in the not too distant future, carrier-based operations.”

The PLAN has been replacing their aging Chengdu J-7 variants and Shenyang J-8B/Ds with 24 Su-30MK2s, which were purchased from Russia in 2002.

Additionally, the PLAN has a licensed copy of Russia’s Tu-16 Badger bomber, the H-6 Badger, of which they likely have 30. The bombers are escorted by JH-7 Flounder fighter/bombers.

The PLAN, like most modern navies, is also pouring money into drones.

“Some estimates indicate China plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023,” according to the DOD.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Surface combatants

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
China’s Houbei-class (Type 022) fast-attack craft. | Congressional Research Service

Much like the submarine program, the PLAN’s fleet of surface combatants has grown rapidly since 1990, with the purchase of four Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia and the launch of 10 new classes of indigenously built destroyers and frigates, as well as a new class of corvettes.

US naval planners consider several of the newer frigate classes to be nearly as capable as Western models, and note that shipboard air defense have notably improved in the newer classes.

China’s coast guard, which it wields as a sort of paramilitary force for enforcing their maritime claims, has also benefited from a large number of new cutters.

The newer ships have sophisticated radar and missile capabilities across the board, and future vessels are expected to truly rival the systems used by the US.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Amphibious ships

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
An unconfirmed conceptual rendering of a possible design for China’s Type 081 amphibious-assault craft. | Global Times Forum

According to the DOD:

China has built four large YUZHAO class amphibious transport docks, which provide a considerably greater and more flexible capability than the older landing ships, signaling China’s development of an expeditionary warfare and OTH (over the horizon/long range) amphibious assault capability, as well as inherent humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and counter piracy capabilities.

The Yuzhao class vessels carry helicopters as well as two Russian-designed Zubr class cushioned landing ships, the largest military hovercraft of its kind.

However, after conflicts in Africa, the PLAN was unsatisfied with the firepower aboard the Yuzhao class and reportedly thought to create a new vessel, the Type 081 (pictured above).

Source: Congressional Research Service

Floating sea bases

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
A notional artist’s rendering of a very large floating structure. | Liang Jun, People’s Daily China

Perhaps one of the more novel ideas being explored by the PLAN is very large floating sea bases. Only in the concept stage currently, these floating bases could host airstrips, barracks, docks, helipads, or security bases across their massive proposed 2-mile-long surface.

But experts on the topic speculate that these platforms would have ample peacetime uses, like supporting offshore oil rigs or even tourist destinations with duty-free shops.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Nuclear and EMP capabilities

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
China’s Jin class-ballistic-missile nuclear-powered submarine. | Congressional Research Service

The DOD cites Bill Gertz, writing for The Washington Times, as saying the following:

China’s military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against US aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report made public on Thursday [July 21]…. The report, produced in 2005 and once labeled “secret,” stated that Chinese military writings have discussed building low yield EMP warheads, but “it is not known whether [the Chinese] have actually done so.”

China also possesses a nuclear triad, or the ability to launch nuclear-armed warheads from submarines, land-bases silos, and bomber aircraft.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Maritime surveillance and targeting systems

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE

China’s development and deployment of advanced and long-range radars in the South China Sea is well documented.

The PLAN can use these sensors, which “reportedly include land-based over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radars, land-based over-the-horizon surface wave (OTH-SW) radars, electro-optical satellites, radar satellites, and seabed sonar networks,” to guide their ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as more conventional forces.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Naval cyber warfare

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Wikimedia Commons

China’s military writing does not specify how they would use cyberwarfare in a naval conflict, but it should be assumed that network warfare would be part of any sea battle. The PLAN is known to have invested heavily in cyberwarfare.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Limits and weaknesses

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Lamar Salter

Though the PLAN has made major strides toward modernization and world-power status, they still lack in the following four key areas:

1. Joint operations with other parts of China’s military,

2. Antisubmarine warfare,

3. Dependence on foreign suppliers for some ship components,

4. Long-range targeting.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Conclusion

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Public domain

The PLAN and the other branches of China’s massive military have made impressive progress in modernizing they forces, but they still lag behind in some key areas.

The US Navy, unlike the PLAN, has commitments around the world. Currently two carrier-strike groups are stationed in the Mediterranean as the fight against ISIS rages on and Russia continues to threaten NATO territory and personnel.

The US would face extreme difficulties in abandoning their posts worldwide to focus on the Pacific, whereas China would leverage every possible dimension of warfare (psychological, informational, legal, cyber, conventional, and possibly even nuclear or electromagnetic) to assert their dominance in their immediate region.

However, the US has a built-in advantage that the Chinese cannot hope to design or buy — alliances. Through the US’s solid support of democratic and Western-leaning nations in the region, they have built a network of strong and determined allies that can band together against a rising authoritarian power like China.

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The VA just doled out $500k to a veteran for heart care delays

The Department of Veterans Affairs is now paying a veteran $500,000 to settle a lawsuit, in which the veteran alleged he suffered heart damage because of delays in care.


John Porter, an Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam War, sued the VA in 2016, saying that the staff at the Des Moines, Iowa VA medical center failed to inform him for years that he was suffering progressive heart failure, The Associated Press reports.

Porter recounted that he first went to the Des Moines VA in 2011 because he was beginning to feel chest tightness. Subsequent tests revealed that he might be suffering from heart problems. Another test three weeks later indicated that his heart was only performing at half the ideal level, according to the text of the lawsuit. Still, no one informed Porter that the test was essentially showing progressive heart failure, even though he continued to experience fatigue and dizziness.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Marines, veterans, and care providers watch as the American flag is walked to the flagpole at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Sgt. Justin Boling

It was only when Porter visited a VA hospital in Phoenix three years later in 2014 that doctors examined old tests from the Des Moines facility and told Porter the results.

“I’m just glad it’s over. They drug it out for so long,” Porter told The Des Moines Register.

Porter added that he didn’t place the blame on the facility as such and instead pointed to communication breakdowns at the facility.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Wikimedia Commons photo by Billy Hathorn.

“The Des Moines VA is full of knowledgeable, caring, and competent people,” Porter said. “I have nothing against the VA hospital.”

Although the VA did settle the suit, federal lawyers did not admit that any VA staff were negligent and further denied that Porter’s life was in any way shortened by the delay in care.

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The hilarious real reason why the F-22 can’t be hacked

Star Trek would be a lot less interesting if we found out the Enterprise didn’t run on an advanced isolinear computing system but instead ran on something like MS-DOS. We might laugh at how incredulous that work of science fiction would be. But in today’s U.S. Air Force, the F-22 – one of the most advanced fighters ever made – runs on a similar disparity.

But of course, the Air Force will remind you that it isn’t science fiction, it’s what they do every day.


15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

Every. Day.

The F-22 program was killed at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to reshape the U.S. military. The F-22 was designed as an air superiority fighter to take on advance fighters from China and Russia in air combat, not support troops on the ground. At the time, American troops were focused on insurgencies and ground combat. Until the terrorists started flying F-14s, there was little perceived need for such a fighter. Now that the U.S. military is refocused on great power wars, the need for such a program is becoming more apparent.

The F-22 is the fastest combat aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, even after the development of the F-35. It can detect and attack enemy aircraft from miles away, even if the enemy isn’t yet able to detect the incoming Raptor. In one instance, a Raptor was able to pop up from underneath two Iranian F-4 Phantoms and tell them to go home, which they promptly did, presumably to change their shorts.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.

Just the presence of a Raptor in a battlespace is enough to clear the skies of enemy aircraft. In a great power war with a country like China, the Raptor would be an indispensable part of the Air Force order of battle. Raptors will quickly disperse in order to keep China from targeting them with ballistic missiles. Their stealth and air combat abilities would then be used to escort C-17s and frustrate Chinese fighters, as well as any Chinese efforts to jam their communications. That’s due in large part to the pilots’ advanced training and the advanced stealth technology aboard the airframe. But the reason Chinese hackers couldn’t hack their computers is something different altogether.

The technology is more than 35 years old.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

Like this, except on one of the world’s most advanced killing machines.

When the billion fighter was cut from the Pentagon budget, there was a lot of joking surrounding the fighter, that the United States had developed a weapon it would never use in combat – after all, until that point the F-22 hadn’t flown a combat mission over either of the two wars the U.S. was actually fighting. Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, found a silver lining, telling the Wall Street Journal that at the very least, the plane’s computer technology was safe from Chinese hackers.

“No one in China knows how to program the ’83 vintage IBM software that runs them,” he said.

Ten years later, the F-22 has definitely flown combat sorties over Syria and the rise of China and Russia, and their fifth-generation fighters, some of the technology stolen from the United States, might have the Pentagon wishing they had more Raptors.

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Lockheed pitched arming the U-2 with anti-ship missiles

In the later years of the Cold War, Lockheed proposed arming their high-flying U-2 spy plane with experimental long-range anti-ship missiles that would have made it a terror over the high seas. Had the concept been coupled with American efforts to field the U-2 aboard aircraft carriers, it could have offered the U.S. Navy a ship killer with a long scope and even longer range.

When the U-2 first entered service in 1955, it brought with it an incredible jump in America’s reconnaissance capabilities. Designed and built by Kelly Johnson’s legendary team at Lockheed’s Skunk Works in less than a year, the U-2 was capable of flying at altitudes higher than 70,000 feet, well beyond the reach of even the most advanced and capable Soviet missiles or fighters of the day.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
Lockheed Martin

But it wasn’t just incredible altitudes that made the U-2 special. In an era when aerial refueling had only recently become commonplace for fighter operations, the original U-2 design could cover 3,000 miles without the need for tankers, giving it incredible range and endurance for covert operations over enemy territory. The original camera mounted in the payload bay of the U-2 could capture images with a resolution of just 2.5 feet from an altitude of 60,000, but the U-2 has since seen a slew of updated equipment housed within its fuselage, from the most powerful optical sensors in the U.S. arsenal to some of the first line-of-sight data link systems.

But with all the high-tech gear to grace the U-2 spy plane’s interior, one thing the aircraft has never carried is missiles… but Lockheed had plans to change that.

Lockheed was looking for a way to sell more U-2s

Earlier this month, we reported on America’s varied (and largely successful) efforts to field the U-2 aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers as part of a push to eliminate the CIA’s reliance on foreign airstrips. Pilots successfully landed and took off from the Navy’s flat tops with multiple iterations of the U-2 under both CIA and Navy programs, but neither organization ultimately found the practical value in the difficult operations.

An element of that story that got left on the cutting room floor during its initial edit was Lockheed’s drive to find a good reason to ramp up U-2 production and sell Uncle Sam as many high-flying Dragon Ladies as the taxpayer would allow. In all, Lockheed built and sold some 104 U-2 spy planes between 1955 and the end of the latest production run in 1989, but the firm knew they could dramatically increase that tally if only they could find another good use for the unusual platform.

By the late 1970s, Lockheed wasn’t considered one of the world’s best defense contractors as it had been in the past and would be again in the future. A series of financial scandals, poor business decisions, and terrible press had put the company’s future in jeopardy. In 1971, Lockheed was forced to accept a $200 million loss (about $1.3 billion in 2021 dollars) over cost overruns and contract disputes with the Pentagon.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
NY Times headline from Feb. 2, 1971

Related: How America really flew the U-2 spy plane off aircraft carriers

That same year, one of Lockheed’s primary commercial engine suppliers, Rolls Royce Ltd, filed for bankruptcy, and the firm was once again forced to approach the U.S. government for a $250 million loan to keep it in operation. By the end of the decade, Lockheed’s value had slipped all the way down to 6th place in the list of American defense contractors, lagging behind competitors like General Dynamics, coming off its success with the F-16, and McDonnell Douglas, who was riding high on their own fighter program, the F-15 Eagle.

Lockheed needed a win, and although they had a number of programs under development, the U-2 was already a proven performer with an existing production line. And despite being incredibly difficult to fly, there was good reason to look for ways to expand its operational uses. Some may have thought Gary Powers’ U-2 being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 would have spelled the end for the aircraft; after all, it was designed to fly high specifically to operate beyond the reach of Soviet air defenses, but the U-2’s broad capabilities as an extended-range, long duration, reconnaissance platform were too potent to ignore, even as the faster and higher-flying SR-71 came into service and satellites were coming of age.

If they could convince the U.S. Navy to buy into the U-2 program, it could have meant a fairly quick influx of revenue the company sorely needed.

Arming the U-2 with missiles to go ship hunting

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

Although Lockheed failed to convince the Navy to operate a sensor-packed version of the U-2 from aircraft carriers for maritime surveillance, they still had one more trick up their sleeve.

When U-2 designer Kelly Johnson first approached the U.S. Air Force with his CL-282 design that would culminate in the U-2, he was dismissed outright by legendary commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), Curtis LeMay. According to reports, LeMay told Lockheed that he had no interest in an airplane “without wheels or guns.”

Lockheed seemed to take that criticism to heart, and while they didn’t change out the landing gear or add any guns to the U-2, they did take a crack at missiles.

Dubbed the 315B design, this new iteration of the U-2 would come with a second crew station, not unlike the two-seat U-2 training aircraft Lockheed already had in production. That second crew member would serve as a sort of Radar Intercept Officer, not unlike the backseater in operational Navy fighters of the day like the F-14 Tomcat.

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
U-2 pilots are trained at Beale using five two-seat aircraft designated as TU-2S before deploying for operational missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Released)

The 315B U-2 would be armed with new and experimental (at the time) AGM-53 Condor long-range air-to-surface missiles to engage enemy warships at distances of up to 60 miles. The Condor missile utilized an electro-optical (television) guidance system with a data link back to the aircraft that would allow the secondary crew member to literally guide the weapon into its target via remote control. The missiles could also be “locked” onto a target using this system, freeing up the crew aboard the U-2 to start scouring for other enemy ships.

Eventually, the Condor missiles were intended to carry both conventional warheads and nuclear ones, which would have made the U-2 a potential nuclear attack aircraft had the 315B design and Condor missiles ever come to fruition. Unfortunately for Lockheed and for the Condor’s designer, Rockwell, neither effort would make it into production.

Related: Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

The missiles meant for the U-2 turned out to be duds

15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now
X-AGM-53 during testing

The AGM-53 Condor missile was riddled with issues and setbacks throughout its development in the latter half of the 1960s, from an unreliable propulsion system to the skyrocketing costs of fielding a capable data link for the weapon. Worse still, the missile’s relatively small warhead made its exorbitant price tag (largely due to the expensive data link technology) seem downright unreasonable. Despite originally placing an order for 250 missiles to be delivered in 1976, the program was canceled that year before any could be.

Like the missiles that would arm it, the 315B U-2 Lockheed proposed would never make it into service with the U.S. Navy either. Lockheed would find itself once again leading the way in military aviation just a few short years later, however, when the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, would begin test flights.

The U-2 spy plane would continue to find valuable uses for the U.S. Air Force extending all the way into the 21st century. Today, there are more than 30 U-2s in operational service filling a wider variety of roles than ever. Some have even been used as nodes in secure data links between the most advanced fighters the U.S. has to offer, the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter–both of which come from the same Lockheed Skunk Works stable as the U-2 did itself decades ago.

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

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