This is the Army's super secret special ops aviation unit - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is widely considered to be the best unit of its kind in the world. Known to recruit only the best pilots the US Army has to offer to fly its MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-6 Little Birds and MH-47 Chinooks, the 160th routinely flies in support of America’s most elite troops — Green Berets, Delta Force operators, Army Rangers, and the like.


Not much is actually known about the 160th, and for good reason — it’s still a special operations unit, as its name suggests. But even this outfit is still too “public” for some of the most clandestine missions the Army and Joint Special Operations Command wishes to send its elite operators on.

So the Army stood up an aviation unit that hides deep in the shadows

This outfit is most commonly referred to as “Flight Concepts Division,” though its name has changed many times in the past in order to preserve its cover. Though very little is known about the unit today, we can still infer its role and capability based on what little the Army has released on the Division’s past.

Originally founded as a special ops unit unto itself,first known as SEASPRAY — a highly classified aviation outfit with a number of fronts and covers to protect its identity from public view. Thousands of pilots, cherry-picked from around the Army, were invited to try out for SEASPRAY, but only a handful were selected to continue with the recruitment and training process. Once training was complete, these pilots would go on to fly top secret missions across the world, especially in Central and South America, in support of American special operations objectives.

 

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
An OH-6 Cayuse carrying special operations personnel. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, in the mid-1980s, SEASPRAY was disestablished by the Army in the wake of a scandal, its components dispersed and moved to other units to fulfill a similar role.

By the 1990s, the Army had moved chunks of SEASPRAY over to Delta Force, standing up Echo (E) Squadron to support Delta operators with aerial surveillance, insertions and extractions on missions. Pilots and aircraft were transferred over and brought into the fold quickly, receiving further training in assisting Delta assault troops in taking down hijacked cruise ships, inserting operators behind enemy lines and other risky missions.

According to Sean Naylor in his book, “Relentless Strike,” E Squadron pilots were trained and rated to fly a variety of foreign aircraft, including Russian military helicopters popular in the Balkans at the time of the crises there in the mid-to-late ’90s, allowing them to blend in and fly virtually unnoticed. As time passed, whoever, E Squadron’s effectiveness grew so much that brass within Joint Special Operations Command wanted to excise it from Delta Force and stand it up as its own separate unit once more.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Hughes MD500. SEASPRAY and Delta Force’s E Squadron have been known to operate helicopters like these in civilian markings (Hughes Helicopters, public domain)

Fast forward to the late 1990s, and Flight Concepts Division came into play. Earlier known by a number of other covers and fronts, such as Aviation Technical Services, Quasar Talent and Latent Arrow, this unit provided immeasurable support for “black operations” troops in the Balkans, ferrying them into and out of combat zones surreptitiously without anybody the wiser.

Flight Concepts Division still remains an active unit today with a vague name and an equally obscure mission description. What it actually does in support of American special operations is anybody’s guess, especially while it operates in the shadows cast by its big brother unit, the 160th SOAR. Its aircraft are masked, painted with civilian markings and otherwise kept out of sight, its pilots and aircrew indistinguishable from the average pedestrian on any of America’s streets.

But those who serve with the division are more than likely the best of the very best, the cream of the crop – the elite black ops aviators called upon by Joint Special Operations Command and the president for top secret missions we’ll not hear of for decades to come.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This 30-year-old helo does the Coast Guard’s most important work

The H-60 “Jayhawk” is an incredible airframe, to say the least. Today, it’s one of the most-produced helicopters in the world and it’s in service with a vast number of countries. The United States Army alone has almost 3,000 either in service or on order. But there’s one user of the H-60 that doesn’t get much attention: The United States Coast Guard.

Currently, according to a Coast Guard representative, the USCG has 45 MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters in service. Originally, the Coast Guard got 42 HH-60Js from Sikorsky, but in the years since, three Jayhawks were operational losses and six were re-manufactured from former U.S. Navy SH-60F helicopters.


Just as the Navy replaced their SH-3 Sea Kings with SH-60/MH-60s, the Coast Guard is turning to the HH-60J to replace HH-3 Pelican search-and-rescue helicopters. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the first 42 HH-60Js were delivered between 1990 and 1996, making this one of the youngest versions of the H-60 in service.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Coast Guardsmen with Coast Guard Station San Diego participate in a search and rescue exercise (SAREX) in an HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter near Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island, Calif.

(DoD photo by Sgt. Keonaona C. Paulo, U.S. Marine Corps)

The original HH-60J was an unarmed helicopter, optimized for the search-and-rescue mission. It was equipped with a radar for locating ships and could also accept a forward-looking infrared camera. In 2007, the fleet was rebuilt to the MH-60T standard. This new and improved helicopter has a top speed of 204 miles per hour, a maximum range of 808 miles, and a crew of four.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

The crew of an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter work together to carry an injured woman to emergency medical personnel at the Kodiak Municipal Airport in Kodiak, Alaska

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Tracey Mertens)

This new Jayhawk packs heat two ways: it has a M240 7.62mm machine gun and a Barrett M82A1 .50-caliber sniper rifle. This is known as the Airborne Use of Force package, and it was first installed on MH-68 Stingray helicopters used by the Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiciton Tactical Squadron, or HITRON.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

A Coast Guard Air Station MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew deployed in Cold Bay diverted from a training flight near Dutch Harbor to medevac a 26-year-old male who reportedly suffered head injuries aboard the 58-foot fishing vessel Cape Reliant.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley)

The Coast Guard is planning to keep the Jayhawk in service until 2035. By then, this helicopter will have enjoyed a 45-year-long service career.

Learn more about this long-lasting bird in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEZsGPTxtcM

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MIGHTY CULTURE

MacGyver meets Bourne: 3 experts weigh in on improvised weapons for self-defense

In theater, improvisation — or simply “improv” — is the art of spontaneously performing an unscripted scene. Performers might have props and/or prompts to work from, but the point is for an actor or comedian to build confidence and courage on the stage by figuring it out as they go.

We do the same thing in everyday life, reacting to and overcoming unexpected or unforeseen circumstances using the tools we have at our disposal. And the more we improvise in small ways, the more confident and comfortable we become in our ability to make quick decisions and problem solve when the situation turns serious.


This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Richard Dean Anderson as Macgyver.

(Photo courtesy of Paramount Television)

What would you do if your life — or the life of a loved one — was at stake and you didn’t have a weapon? The answer: channel your inner MacGyver and improvise. Utilizing an improvised weapon should never be the primary choice in self-defense; carrying a firearm along with appropriate defensive handgun training is a much more reliable option.

However, there are times when you may be without your primary defensive weapon and need to get creative. Traveling by air to a shady location and can’t take a gun or knife? Grab a cup of hot coffee from a gas station — it can be thrown in an attacker’s face should the need arise. The goal of an improvised weapon is to create distance or break contact and get away.

For some of us, the closest we’ll ever get to an improvised self-defense situation is using a shoe to squash a sinister and suspicious spider. But there are bad people in the world who are intent to do harm, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll never be a target. Confidence in utilizing improvised weapons requires the right mindset. Some would argue this is paranoia, but paranoia is a state of worry or fear — the opposite of a confident and prepared state of mind.

To gain a deeper perspective, we sought out the experts.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Clint Emerson is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and author of “100 Deadly Skills.”

(Photo courtesy of Clint Emerson)

In addition to being a retired U.S. Navy SEAL with over 20 years of experience, Clint Emerson is also the author of “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation.”

Emerson explained that self-defense is based on your environment and what you have access to. What you might be able to use to defend yourself at home, work, and other frequented locations should be thought about ahead of time, not mid-crisis.

“If you’re to the point that you’re reaching for anything around you to use as an improvised weapon while a threat is on you, it’s gone too far,” Emerson said during a recent phone interview with Coffee or Die. “They’re already too close, and that’s a bad day.

“You always want distance,” he continued. “If you have to pick up a baseball bat or you’re down to using your hands, things went wrong and you’re too close.”

If you don’t have a firearm in your home, Emerson suggests utilizing wasp spray or oven spray. Wasp spray can shoot a stream up to 30 feet and has the chemical strength to stop a threat long enough to allow you to escape. While oven cleaner is similar, it doesn’t provide the distance. Emerson said that the chemical agents are not natural and are therefore stronger than mace spray. He cautions, however, that this is for the home only. Carrying these as a form of self-defense outside the home could result in serious legal consequences.

In the case of close-quarter threats, Emerson recommends a pen made by Zebra, model F701, which can be found at most office supply stores. The stainless steel pen features a pointed tip and can be taken anywhere, even on an airplane. Its design and durability make it an ideal improvised weapon. Emerson said it’s important to practice your grip and defensive motions with it to better prepare yourself in case you’d ever need to use it. A solid grip combined with proper placement lend good puncture capability and can cause serious damage. Remember that the goal is to break contact and get away.

“It’s a mindset, a daily mindset that needs to become a natural part of us,” Emerson said. “We put our seatbelts on without even thinking about it — we just do it. Creating good habits now is better than being caught off guard in a bad situation or natural disaster. Staying prepared helps eliminate the element of surprise and that increases our chance of survival exponentially.”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Jeff Kirkham was a U.S. Army Green Beret who now runs ReadyMan, an organization focused on survival skills. Kirkham is also the inventor of the Rapid Application Tourniquet (RATS).

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Kirkham)

Jeff Kirkham served almost 29 years in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret. He’s also the leader of ReadyMan, an online resource for information, training, skills, and products to equip people for life, survival, emergency, and tactical situations. ReadyMan focuses on mindset, situational awareness, kidnap avoidance, escape restraints, and more.

Kirkham’s strongest piece of advice is to avoid — do everything in your power to be aware and not be a targeted victim — and the best way to do that is through training.

“The key to successful self-defense training is finding something that inspires you,” Kirkham said. “There are many great instructors out there and when it comes to training, something is better than nothing.”

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In close-encounter situations, Kirkham said the best weapons are the ones we always have with us: hands, feet, knees, and elbows. Training to utilize the weapons we were born with will provide the confidence to engage the threat. Outside of that, anything in your hands can be a weapon — a pen, a book, a laptop case. It doesn’t have to be amazing, you just need to think and do whatever it takes to get away.

Everything is fair game when it comes to saving your life or avoiding injury. Kirkham classifies fingernails and teeth as secondary weapons and advised not to underestimate their power or be timid in their use. A dog can be another important asset, Kirkham said. Whether you obtain a trained protection dog or have one for a pet, man’s best friend can be a valuable protection source. Even a small dog can be enough of a distraction to buy time to escape.

To find out where you rate on the scale of preparedness, ReadyMan offers a Plan 2 Survive self-assessment. It encompasses everything from financial stability to survival situations and natural disasters and is a great way to evaluate yourself and become better prepared.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Fred Mastison is an international firearms instructor and expert in the fields of defensive tactics, firearms, and executive protection.

(Photo courtesy of Fred Mastison)

Rounding out the expert panel is Fred Mastison of Force Options USA. Mastison is an Army veteran and professional instructor in the fields of defensive tactics, firearms, executive protection, and close-quarter combatives. He also holds a seventh-degree black belt in Aikijitsu. Mastison trains law enforcement and civilians internationally.

Mastison echoed Emerson’s sentiment that when it comes down to being close enough to have to utilize an improvised weapon, things have gone too far. Situational awareness, avoidance, and distance are vital. However, when things get sideways, violence of action is key.

“If you can utilize a sharp object, like a pen, you would want to strike the face,” Mastison said. “The eyes and the bridge of the nose are very sensitive areas — if all you have are your hands, gouge the eyes or bite. The key is to do it with intent and force to break contact and escape.”

The common thread among this panel of experts is clear: situational awareness is vital. The proper mindset, training, and a clear understanding of your surroundings can help you avoid becoming a target. There are a variety of classes available for developing physical and mental self-defense tactics — seek them out. Being prepared and vigilant is crucial to our survival, whether it’s a human threat or natural disaster. It is up to each of us individually to be proactive and prepared, to be ready to protect ourselves instead of relying on someone else to save us.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

What it’s like to be strapped into the U-2 Dragon Lady

The Air Force needs new spy pilots, especially for the Cold War-era U-2 Dragon Lady that has flown since 1955, but piloting the U-2 is different from nearly any other aircraft in the world right now. Pilots are strapped into the plane by a dedicated crew and then fly at the edge of space, capturing photographs and signals intelligence.

Here are 13 photos that show what that’s like:


This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Reynato Acncheta, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, and Senior Airman Willy Campos help Maj. Sean Gallagher don his helmet before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

First, it really is a team effort to get pilots suited up. Flying at the edge of space exposes pilots to all sorts of hazards, from extreme cold to solar radiation. The extensive gear required would be nearly impossible for the pilot to put entirely on themselves, so enlisted airmen help them get in gear.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, helps Maj. Sean Gallagher don his flight suit before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The pilot’s entire body is covered by the suit, and it helps regulate their blood pressure, even at high altitudes. The pilots also have to breathe in pure oxygen for a while before the flight to get the nitrogen out of their blood. Otherwise, they would develop decompression sickness, similar to when divers get the bends.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, gets in a vehicle to take him to his aircraft before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The pilots leave the prep room and ride to the plane in trucks converted for the purpose. The airmen bring the pilot’s gear along, including the hoses and pumps that feed air to the pilot. The pilot will also receive liquid food, water, Gatorade, and caffeine through hoses as missions can be very long.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, greets his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The U-2 is an ungainly beast on the ground, necessitating a ground crew. But once pilot and plane are together, the possibilities are great.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, ensures that Maj. Sean Gallagher’s flight suit is properly connected before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The crew straps the pilot into the bird and plugs them into the systems in preparation for taxiing and takeoff.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Colin Cortez, a U-2 Dragon Lady crewchief assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, signals a U-2 aircraft as it taxis to a parking spot after flying a mission while deployed to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andy Kin)

The jet taxis on permanent gear that sits under the fuselage as well as two sets of wheels that are placed under the plane’s wings.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

A U-2 Dragon Lady flies over the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco, California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

Once they’re in the air, though, they’re graceful and sleek with large wings supporting a thin fuselage. They can zip through the air at low altitudes, but they specialize at high-level flight, taking photos and collecting signal intelligence from up to 70,000 feet in the air or higher.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

A U-2 Dragon Lady flies above the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

When flying at high altitudes, the plane’s lightweight construction and powerful engines allow it to continue even when the air gets thin and oxygen is scarce. This was vital in the 1950s when satellites didn’t yet exist. The Air Force thought they could retire the plane in 1969, but the date has been continuously pushed off or canceled. Most recently, the Air Force decided to cancel a 2019 retirement.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Ice forms around the canopy glass of a U-2 Dragon Lady flying over California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

This allows the U-2 to fly above the range of many air defenses and even the engagement altitudes of many jets. During the Cold War, some U-2s were caught in Soviet airspace and escaped simply because MiGs and Sukhois of the time couldn’t reach them. This isn’t quite immunity, though. As the war dragged on, the Soviets developed weapons that were quite capable of reaching near space, and China and Russia can both reach U-2s in flight.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U-2 Dragon Lady pilot lands on the runway at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.

(U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

When U-2s land, the pilots have a very limited visibility, so the Air Force assigns chase cars to follow the planes and radio guidance to the pilot. Sometimes the pilots can make do with very little guidance, but the chase cars are needed in case anything goes wrong. This is especially true after long missions where the pilots may be exhausted form 12 hours or more in the air.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

A U.S. Air Force maintainer from the 380th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron runs to the wing of a U-2 Dragon Lady from the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron to install a pogo support at an undisclosed location.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

Once its back on the ground, the U-2 is again limited by its paltry two sets of wheels which are lined up like a bicycle’s. So maintainers are sent out with “pogos,” the small sets of wheels that prop up the wings and keep the plane stable on the ground.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

A U-2, flying from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, approaches the maintenance hangar after the final sortie for one of its mission systems, December 15, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Carwile)

If the plane is landing at a new base or has flown through possible contamination, the pilot may have to take it through a wash down. This is also traditionally done when an airframe or a mission module has flown its final mission.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

U.S. Air Force Major Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, explains the U-2 Dragon Lady’s mission after landing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

Pilots then climb down from the high-flying bird, exhausted. But their missions ensure American safety and security by collecting intelligence that might otherwise be impossible to garner. Its sensors have collected data of enemy air defenses, troop deployments, and technology.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These 7 old warhorses of the sky just refuse to retire

There’s an old saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some aerial warhorses take that pretty literally. 


That definitely seems to be the philosophy used by many countries around the world in retaining large numbers of older aircraft as the mainstays of their air forces.

Fighters, attack planes, bombers, and even tankers, all populate this list of old warhorses that have served in wars you only read about in history textbooks today, yet still fly in modern conflicts such as the fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

Though you wouldn’t think that military planes like these could serve as long as they have, many remain on the front lines, with the promise of updates to keep them flying for many more years.

From youngest to oldest, here are seven military aircraft that refuse to go away:

7. North American Rockwell OV-10 “Bronco”

 

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Vietnam-era OV-10A Bronco prior to a mission. The Bronco still flies in combat today (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

At just 52 years old, the Bronco still serves in combat roles as a light air support aircraft, having been brought out of retirement with the US military in 2015 to fly air-to-ground sorties against ISIS in Iraq.

The Bronco first tasted combat in Vietnam, serving in the observer/recon and light attack roles. The Philippine military has also deployed their Broncos to combat zones, recently using them in their own fight against ISIS.

6. Douglas AC-47 “Spooky”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
An AC-47 Spooky during the Vietnam War (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Built off the even older DC-3/C-47 platform, the AC-47 served as a gunship with the US Air Force over the jungles of Vietnam in the mid-1960s before being replaced with the AC-130 series.

With a series of Gatling rotary cannons aimed out the Spooky’s left windows, and hard banking turns, this gunship could rain down serious firepower on North Vietnamese military positions, protecting friendly troops from ambushes and enemy advances.

Today, the Spooky — also popularly known as “Puff the Magic Dragon” for the smoke its guns would generate while firing — still serves with the Colombian air force in South America.

5. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 “Fishbed”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Polish MiG-21 Fishbed taxiing at an air base (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Having first flown in 1956, the MiG-21 has served an astounding 61 years as a frontline fighter with many air forces around the world, and it still flies in such a role today.

Originally designed in the Soviet Union as a cheap, highly-exportable supersonic fighter, it tangled with American aircraft over Vietnam and flew onward with the militaries of a number of Asian and Eastern European nations.

The Indian, Croat, Serbian and Egyptian air forces continue to use the MiG-21 today, along with many other African and Asian countries, though the aircraft’s days are numbered with replacement programs looming on the horizon.

4. Boeing KC-135 “Stratotanker”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A USAF KC-135 refueling an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Old warhorses still have their uses. (Photo US Air Force)

Also making its debut in 1956, the KC-135 has served continuously with the US Air Force for more than 61 years, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down!

Built to replace older refueling tankers and medium-range transports, the KC-135 was designed using Boeing’s commercially successful 707 airliner as the base model. It has served in virtually every American conflict since, functioning as a transport and a refueler for combat aircraft on the front lines.

According to Air Force brass, plans are in the works to keep the Stratotanker flying for another 40 years, meaning that it’ll be over 100 years old by the time it finally retires to the boneyard!

3. Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Russian Air Force Tu-95 launching from an airport in 2006 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

This old war horse relic of the early Cold War remains in service today with the Russian military, having first taken to the skies in late 1952 as the Soviet Union’s primary long-range nuclear bomber.

Extremely loud, very ugly and borderline annoying thanks to the high number of probe flights the Russian Air Force and Navy make near Western borders, the Bear has more than made its mark on the world of military aviation, and will likely continue to do so for at least another 30 years.

2. Boeing B-52 “Stratofortress”

 

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A B-52G/H Stratofortress cruising above the clouds (Photo US Air Force)

Back when the US Air Force assigned the Space Age-y prefix “Strato-” to many of its shiny new aircraft, the B-52 Stratofortress made its debut – the latest in a long line of strategic bombers from the Boeing Company.

Though designed as a nuclear bomber, the B-52 has only expended conventional munitions throughout its long and storied service life. In recent years, the hulking bomber, affectionately known as the Big Ugly Fat F*cker, or “BUFF,” has taken to the skies over the Middle East, bombing ISIS with impunity.

Systems upgrades will allow this American icon to stay in the fight for years to come, at least until a newer strategic bomber comes online for the Air Force.

1. Antonov An-2 “Colt”

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
The civilian version of an An-2 Colt; extremely similar to the military variant (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Colt takes the crown (or walker and LifeAlert bracelet) for one of the oldest military aircraft still in service today.

First flying in 1947, two years after the end of WWII, this old warhorse has functioned in a variety of roles — from transport to makeshift bomber.

Today, North Korea and Estonia — among a handful of other countries — still have their Colts flying on active duty, though Estonia will most likely retire theirs soon. The North Korean military uses this old hunk of metal to ferry special operations troops into combat zones at low altitudes.

With Chinese aerospace companies exploring reviving the Colt line in the near future, it’s possible that this geriatric plane could keep flying for decades more.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US allies are ‘back in the big carrier business,’ but the US isn’t so sure how many flattops it’ll have in the future

While the US’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, was undergoing testing off the East Coast last month, the Royal Navy’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was landing and launching jets in UK waters for the first time in a decade and the venerable French carrier Charles de Gaulle was setting off on its first deployment since its 18-month-long midlife overhaul ended late last year.


That activity is a sign the French and the British “are now back in the big carrier business,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy’s recently reestablished 2nd Fleet, said this month in Washington, DC.

“Having that global carrier force is real beneficial. That helps our operational dilemma quite a bit,” Lewis added in response to a question about his command’s partnerships with European navies.

The Queen Elizabeth and its sister carrier, Prince of Wales, have a long life ahead of them, and France is wrapping up studies on a potential future carrier of its own. The Ford and the two carriers following it will also serve for decades, but changes could be coming for the size and role of the US carrier fleet.

Lewis deployed as an exchange pilot aboard the British carrier HMS Invincible, which was sold for scrap in 2010, and while on the USS Harry S. Truman, he sailed with the carrier HMS Illustrious, which was sold for scrap in 2016.

The Illustrious had already turned in its airplanes, “so we actually used US Marine AV-8Bs,” Lewis said, referring to the AV-8B Harrier short takeoff and vertical landing jet, which is being replaced by the F-35B.

“They used US Marine AV-8Bs on that ship then, and it’s something that’s pretty easy to do,” Lewis said. “The Queen Elizabeth is a pretty nifty ship because … it was basically designed around the F-35.”

The F-35B’s first landing on the Queen Elizabeth was in September 2018, as it sailed off the US coast. The Queen Elizabeth has since landed and launched British F-35Bs, but its first operational deployment, in 2021, will be with a US Marine Corps F-35 squadron.

“We’ll be sailing through the Mediterranean into the Gulf and then to the Indo-Pacific region with F-35B variants, both UK and US Marine Corps,” Edward Ferguson, minister counsellor defense at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, said this month.

“This is a really powerful, interoperable US-UK capability that has huge potential that hasn’t yet been tested in the high north, but I think we certainly see potential in the North Atlantic, up into the high north, as well as globally,” Ferguson said at an Atlantic Council event. “This is a 50-year capability. It’s been designed to be flexible.”

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MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters on the Ford’s flight deck, January 16, 2020.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Indra Beaufort

Time to think about the other things

The first-in-class Ford finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times. The second-in-class carrier, John F. Kennedy, was launched in December.

The next two Ford-class carriers have been named — Enterprise and Doris Miller, respectively — but won’t arrive for years, and it’s not certain what kind of fleet they will join.

“The big question, I think at the top of the list, is the carrier and what’s the future going to look like and what that future carrier mix is going to look like,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on January 29 at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event. Modly spoke as the Navy conducted its own force structure assessment.

The carrier and its strike group are now the Navy’s centerpiece, with the carrier air wing as the main offensive force and the strike group’s destroyers and cruisers mostly in a defensive role.

The future fleet will have to be “more distributed to support distributed maritime operations,” its sensors and offensive weapons spread across different and less expensive ships, Modly said.

Modly pointed to the Indo-Pacific region as one where the Navy has to be a lot of places and do a lot of things at once, and the Navy has experimented with breaking those escort ships away from the carrier to act in a more offensive role as surface action groups.

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet, left, and an E/A-18G Growler on one of the Ford’s aircraft elevators before being lifted from the hangar bay to the flight deck, January 21, 2020.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist Seaman Jesus O. Aguia

The Ford-class carrier “is going to be an amazing piece of equipment when it’s done,” but those carriers are billion apiece, Modly added, “and that’s not including the cost of the air wing and everything else.”

“I think we agree with a lot of conclusions that [carriers are] more vulnerable,” Modly said. “Now of course we’re developing all kinds of things to make it less vulnerable, but it still is a big target, and it doesn’t give you that distribution.”

The Navy is required by law to have at least 11 carriers in service, and plans for a 355-ship fleet include 12 carriers, a number the Navy is set to reach by 2065. But Modly said the focus should be on the coming years rather than planning to 2065, when “we’ll all be dead.”

“You should think about what we can actually do,” he added, “and I think that number is going to be less” than 12.

Such a shift could spark backlash like when the Navy broached plans to cancel the Truman’s mid-life refueling, which would have cost billion and kept it in service for 25 years, in order to pay for unmanned vessels and other emerging technologies to counter the carriers’ vulnerabilities to new weapons, like long-range Chinese missiles.

The Navy relented on that, but Modly admitted the changes he mentioned would require further discussion with lawmakers.

“We’d have to talk to them about this, and I think this … can’t be a discussion that we just have inside the walls of the Pentagon,” Modly said. “I think as many people that get involved in this, the better. Congress obviously has interest. Our shipbuilding industry has interest. We all do.”

The carrier’s future will have to be considered when formulating the acquisition and building plan for the carrier after the Miller, the as-yet unnamed CVN-82, Modly said, adding that such thinking will be influenced by changes in the surface fleet and the threat environment.

But the Miller likely won’t arrive until the early 2030s.

“Thankfully, we have some time to think about that,” Modly said. “We don’t have time to think about the other things, like the unmanned systems, the smaller [amphibious ships], that amphib mix,” he added. “We’ve got to start getting answers to those now.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Navy needed Spruance-class destroyers

In the 1970s, the United States faced a problem. Many of the World War II-era destroyers of the Gearing and Allen M. Sumner classes were finally showing their age. Not only were these ships entering the tail-ends of their primes, they were also very numerous — the U.S. had built 98 Gearing-class ships and 58 Sumner-class vessels. In fact, if World War II hadn’t ended when it did, we’d likely had even more of these hulls!

Many of these ships were passed on to American allies, where they went on to enjoy long careers. But selling ships off doesn’t eliminate the need for a new destroyer. The Navy was hard at work building a lot of guided-missile destroyers for anti-air action (the Coontz and Charles F. Adams classes), but the Soviets had a lot of subs, and the U.S. needed a vessel highly capable of protecting aircraft carriers and merchant ships from this burgeoning, sub-surface threat.


This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Six Spruance-class destroyers in the process of fitting out. All 31 vessels of the Spruance-class entered service between 1975 and 1983.

(U.S. Navy)

The answer was the Spruance-class destroyer. These ships were fast, notching a top speed of 32.5 knots, and packed two five-inch guns, an eight-cell Mk 29 launcher for the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile, and an eight-cell Mk 16 launcher for the RUR-5 Anti-Submarine Rocket. The ships also carried two triple-mounted 324mm Mk 32 torpedo tubes, two quad Mk 141 launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, a pair of Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In-Weapon Systems, and two anti-submarine helicopters.

The United States built 31 of these ships — but passed on creating a variant capable of carrying four helicopters. Two dozen of these ships were later upgraded with a 61-cell Mk 41 vertical launch system that later replaced the ASROC launcher.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

USS Hayler, showing the upgrades to the Spruance design – including a Mk 41 vertical launch system.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Amy DelaTorres)

The ship proved so capable that the hull design was later reused for another 31 ships with advanced anti-air capability. Four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers and 27 Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers were built using the hull design of the Spruance.

Watch the introduction of the Spruance in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44X_JuPiVHc

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Russian Revolution brought the father of the helicopter to America

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.


 

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch: Marines rain fire on ISIS in dazzling drone footage

“One of the coolest, most creative videos I’ve ever seen produced by a military journalist.”

That comment from a Vimeo user is a pretty spot-on assessment of Steel Rain — a brief but beautiful video of a Marine artillery unit mercilessly raining fire on ISIS in Syria.

In the spring of 2017, then-Sgt. Matthew Callahan deployed to an undisclosed location in Syria with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to tell the story of artillery Marines deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The Marines conducted 24-hour all-weather fire support for the Syrian Democratic Forces as they fought the Battle of Raqqa.


drone footage captures U.S. artillery Marines conducting strikes against ISIS”

vimeo.com

After the SDF recaptured the city in the fall of 2017, Army Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell told Business Insider that US-led coalition forces were firing on ISIS in Raqqa “every minute of every hour” in order to keep pressure on the terrorist group, and the Marine fire supporting them was so intense that the barrels on two of the howitzers burned out.

Armed with a camera and drone, Callahan was there to capture all the steel-raining glory of the M777-A2 Howitzers and their crews. Now a civilian video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine, Callahan was the first service member ever named Department of Defense’s military videographer of the year and military photographer of the year simultaneously.

In this roughly two-minute piece of cinematic wizardry, the award-winning filmmaker and photographer captures some of the sexiest footage you’ll ever see of the King of Battle raining righteous hellfire on America’s enemies. Watch Steel Rain above; then check out the four-minute extended cut that’s just as beautiful and more detailed here. You’ll be glad you did.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


popular

Why the Japanese knee mortar terrified Marines

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Army quickly mobilized to engage with Japan in the Pacific Theater. Fortunately for America, we had a few advantages on the ready. Not only did we have the semi-auto M1 Garand to face up against Japan’s bolt-action Arisaka. We also had the M1911 paired against the Japanese Nambu. For the most part, our weapons were far superior to the Japanese – with one major exception. Japan had the Knee Mortar and that was pretty scary. 

Don’t let the name mislead you. The knee mortar was really a grenade launcher. Japan called it Type 89, since it was introduced in the 2,589th year of Japan’s existence. 

The Knee Mortar makes its appearance

The Knee Mortar was created so Japan’s soldiers stood a chance facing off with the US. Even though their Army included some well-trained infantrymen, the Knee Mortar was definitely their back pocket weapon. 

A little history

The short version: Japan had pretty crappy tanks. Their artillery was not much better. When it came down to anti-tank weapons, they didn’t have much there, either. Furthermore, the Imperial Japanese Navy got a lot of the RD priority for new ships and planes. Japan figured – correctly – that their best course of action was to try to ensure naval dominance.

According to a U.S. Army manual, the Type 89 fired a 50mm round and weighed ten pounds. Depending on the round used, it had a maximum range of just under 750 yards. It could fire incendiary rounds, smoke rounds, and high-explosive rounds. Think of it as kind of an M79 grenade launcher on steroids. You didn’t want to fire it from your knee, unless you wanted to be on a medevac flight or ship home. Instead, you braced it on the ground.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Two Marine Corps legends, “Chesty” Puller and Merritt Edson, both came away very impressed by this weapon. Edson, who lead the Marine Raiders on Guadalcanal, noted that a Japanese soldier could carry that weapon and ten rounds with no problem. The weapon was issued in large quantities to Japanese troops and had a high rate of fire. As a result, it was believed to have caused 40 percent of American battle casualties in the Pacific.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

Today, the knee mortar is out of service, but the concept is alive in the form of “commando mortars” like the British L9A1, the South African M-4, and the Iranian 37mm “marsh mortar.” In short, grunts have options for lightweight firepower.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

NASA wants to build a ‘quieter’ supersonic aircraft

NASA has taken another step toward re-introducing supersonic flight with the award of a contract for the design, building, and testing of a supersonic aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale, California, was selected for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration contract, a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract valued at $247.5 million. Work under the contract began April 2, 2018, and runs through Dec. 31, 2021.


Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will complete the design and fabrication of an experimental aircraft, known as an X-plane, which will cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB), instead of a sonic boom.

Once NASA accepts the aircraft from the contractor in late 2021, the agency will perform additional flight tests to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, aircraft performance is robust, and it’s safe to operate in the National Airspace System.

Beginning in mid-2022, NASA will fly the X-plane over select U.S. cities and collect data about community responses to the flights. This data set will be provided to U.S. and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, which could enable new commercial cargo and passenger markets in faster-than-sound air travel.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A first look at this next-generation European stealth fighter

The French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation recently published a video that gives a glimpse into what the reported Franco-German next-generation aircraft might look like.

France and Germany announced in July 2017 that they would join forces to build an advanced “European” fighter to replace Dassault’s Rafales and Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoons, The War Zone reported summer 2017.



“As expected, 2-engine deltawing,” Sim Tack, the chief military analyst at Force Analysis and a global fellow at Stratfor, tweeted on July 5, 2018 about the new Dassault Aviation video, in which the conceptual fighter appears around 3:10.

“I think if they can pull it all off, this seems a legitimate candidate for a highly capable competitor to the F-35 and Su-57,” Tack told Business Insider.

www.youtube.com

Unlike the F-35, Dassault’s next-generation fighter is likely to have two engines and therefore much more thrust, Tack said.

“In terms of capabilities, the focus will probably be on stealth technology, and integration with information systems,” Tack said, such as “sharing information between aircraft, possibly commanding drones, etc.”

Tack added that it was up for debate whether this aircraft would be a fifth- or sixth-generation fighter.

The Dassault fighter also doesn’t appear to have a vertical stabilizer, something that would cut down on radar reflections from the side, giving it greater stealth capabilities, Tack said.

In any event, the next-generation fighter will probably be under development for the next 20 years, Tack said.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The U.S. Air Force’s venerable F-22 Raptor is widely seen as the world’s most capable air superiority fighter, but for a short time, it was nearly joined by a sister platform modified specifically for the Navy in the NATF-22.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor came about as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program that aimed to field an all-new aircraft that could not only compete with advanced Soviet jets like the Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29, but dominate them. The Su-27 and MiG-29 had both been developed with America’s F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon squarely in their sights, and although the Soviet Union was on its last leg by the late 1980s, the Air Force remained steadfast in their need for a new generation of fighter.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies in formation with a Polish MiG-29 during exercise Sentry White Falcon (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shaun Kerr)

Ultimately, the F-22 Raptor won out over its (arguably more capable) Northrop YF-23 competition, thanks in no small part to Lockheed’s flair for dramatic presentations and Northrop’s troubled reputation at the time. While the YF-23 boasted better range and stealth, the YF-22 and its operational F-22 successor offered a combination of solid capability and Lockheed Martin’s reputation for delivering highly capable military aircraft. While the YF-22 ultimately won the decision, either aircraft would have gone on to become the world’s first stealth fighter, establishing a new generation of fighters to come. Had the YF-23 won out, it would have been the defacto choice for a Navy fighter variant for consideration.

While some still contend that an F-23 could have been the superior fighter, the F-22 quickly separated itself from its operational competition thanks to a combination of low observability, high speed, and acrobatic performance. The Raptor was not only able to reach and sustain speeds as high as Mach 2.25, it also offered the ability to “supercruise,” or to maintain supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburners on its pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans. The thrust pouring out of those engines was managed by the aircraft’s Thrust Vector Control surfaces, which allowed the pilot to orient the outflow of the engines independent of the direction the aircraft was pointed. In other words, an F-22 pilot can point its nose (and weapons) down at you while it continues to push forward through the sky.

Related: COULD THE YF-23 HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN THE F-22?

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
F-22 Raptors during testing (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-22 proved so capable, in fact, that Congress pressed the Navy to consider adopting a sweep-wing version of the new fighter under the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program that began in 1988. In return for the Navy considering the NATF as a potentially lower-cost alternative to developing their own replacement carrier-based fighter, the U.S. Air Force agreed to evaluate a modified version of the carrier-based stealth bomber being developed under the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program as a replacement for their own aging F-111.

In theory, this agreement would allow the Air Force to leverage Navy R&D for their new bomber, while the Navy leveraged the Air Force’s for their new fighter. This approach to sharing development costs across branches, one could argue, would reach its zenith when multiple combat aircraft programs across the Navy, Air Force, and Marines were merged to create what would go on to become the (incredibly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Related: AN F-35 PILOT EXPLAINS WHY THE JET’S BAD PRESS MISSES THE POINT

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
F-35 Joing Strike Fighter (USAF Photo)

In a prelude of things to come, the NATF program, and its associated plans for an NATF-22, were soon seen as prohibitively expensive. By 1990, some seven years before the F-22 would first take to the sky, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, the man responsible for outlining the Navy’s requirements for a new fighter, was quoted as saying that he didn’t see any way the F-22 could be incorporated into an affordable plan for Naval aviation. As a result, the NATF-22 concept was dropped in early 1991.

Had the U.S. Navy opted to pursue a carrier-capable variant of the F-22, there would have been a number of significant technical hurdles to overcome. Aircraft designed for carrier operations have to manage a very different set of take-off and landing challenges than their land-based counterparts. The aircraft fuselage needs to be more physically robust to withstand the incredible forces applied to it during catapult launches and short-distance landings supported by a tailhook at the rear of the aircraft. The NATF-22 would also have to leverage the same sort of variable-sweep wing approach found on the F-14 to grant the aircraft the ability to fly slowly enough to safely land aboard a carrier.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
Artist’s rendering of the NATF-22

That variable-sweep wing design itself brought a slew of its own problems engineers would need to solve. First and foremost, the Navy was already dealing with the high cost of maintaining the sweep wing apparatus on the F-14 Tomcat. A new sweep wing design likely wouldn’t alleviate the high operational costs associated with the Tomcat. As the Air Force has gone on to prove, the Navy’s decision was probably right. Even with fixed wings, the F-22 remains one of the most expensive fighter platforms to operate.

It also stands to reason that the variable sweep wing design would compromise some degree of the aircraft’s stealth. If the connecting surfaces of the moveable wings produced a high enough return on radar to secure a weapons grade lock on the aircraft, the value of such a fighter would be fundamentally compromised. The F-22 may be fast and maneuverable, but the Navy’s existing F-14 Tomcats were faster — and despite their high maintenance costs, still significantly cheaper than building a new stealth fighter for the Navy’s flattops, even if it was borrowing heavily from the Air Force’s program.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
The F-14 utilized a variable-sweep wing design to offer it the ability to manage both low and high speed flight effectively. (U.S. Navy photo)

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why the U.S. Navy opted not to pursue the NATF-22. It was complicated, expensive, and may have only offered a slight improvement over the Navy’s existing carrier-based platforms if any at all. But, nonsensical as it may be in practical use, the very concept of a variable-sweep wing F-22 carrying on the legacy of the fan-favorite F-14 Tomcat aboard America’s super carriers is just too cool not to look back on a bit wistfully.

After all, with only 186 F-22 Raptors ever rolling out of Lockheed Martin’s factories, this king of sky combat is destined to have a painfully short reign. One has to wonder… could a Navy variant of the F-22 have been enough to save this program from the budgetary ax?

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

The truth is, probably not — but the pictures sure are cool to look at.

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

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