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.

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This sniper rifle company is trying to lighten the M240 medium machine gun

Let’s face it, today’s soldiers and Marines have a lot weighing on them.


Between gear, ammo, and weapons, some are carrying over 100 pounds. But how do you reduce that burden?

Barrett Firearms, which created the mighty M82A1 and M107 .50-caliber sniper rifles, has managed to do just that by improving the M240 medium machine gun. Now, the M240 is based on the FN MAG, which is is a classic machine gun used by many NATO allies.

This gun even replaced the M-60, which was the backbone of squad firepower for the U.S. military through Vietnam and Desert Storm.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
Lance Corporal Kendall S. Boyd (left) and PFC Ryan J. Jones (right), combat engineers, Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, hone their machine gunnery skills by firing the M240G medium machine gun in 2004. Note the rivets on the receiver. (USMC photo)

The question comes: How do you improve a machine gun used by just about all of the Western world? The Army has developed the M240L, which uses titanium to lighten the gun, but they kept the riveted design, albeit with a 5-pound weight reduction.

However, Barrett managed make its 240LW medium machine gun five and half pounds lighter than the M240B without the use of exotic materials. The secret was in how they made the receiver. Barrett machined the receiver from forgings and welded them together, according to a brochure handed out at the National Defense Industry Association’s 2017 Armament Systems Forum.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
This is the receiver of the Barrett 240LW – note that there are no rivets. (Photo from Barrett.net)

Not only did this reduce the number of components from 64 to two, it also helped take about five and half pounds off the machine gun. The change also has boosted the reliability of the gun – by removing the rivets – which can be shaken loose by firing thousands of rounds.

There’s also less metal, due to the fact that there is no need to overlap the metal components.

Will the 240LW make an impact with the United States military? That remains to be seen, but it does show how Barrett manages to be very innovative when it comes to designing – or improving – small arms.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the Army is replacing the Hummer

The famous HMMWV’s days are numbered. The Army has made its fifth order for the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, officially coming in four versions: the M1278 Heavy Guns Carrier, the M1279 Utility, the M1280 General Purpose, and the M1281 Close Combat Weapons Carrier.


According to a release by OshKosh Defense, this order consists of 748 vehicles and over 2,350 installed kits. The vehicle is currently in Low-Rate Initial Production, and the first units are expected to be equipped with the vehicle by the middle of Fiscal Year 2019,with a planned Initial Operating Capability by the end of 2020.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
Computer image of a JLTV rolling out. (Youtube Screenshot)

The HMMWV has served for over 30 years, but like the Jeep it replaced in the 1980s, it was proving to be incapable of meeting the demands of a modern battlefield. For the Jeep, the problem was keeping up with armored fighting vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank and the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

During the War on Terror, the HMMWV proved it could keep up with vehicles, but it was also very vulnerable to a favored tactics of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan: the improvised explosive device. Up-armored HMMWVs were developed, but they still proved vulnerable and eventually the military bought Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, including the M-ATV from OshKosh, for use on many missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Joint Light Tactical Vehicle production model is displayed by Oshkosh on the floor of the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exhibition in the Washington Convention Center Oct. 4, 2016. | US Army photo by Gary Sheftick

OshKosh notes that the JLTV is 33 percent smaller and 33 percent lighter than the M-ATV. The company stated that the program remains on time and “on budget” in the release. A decision on full-rate production is reportedly pending.

It will still take a long time for the JLTV to replace the HMMWV: Over 281,000 Humvees have been built since it entered service in 1985. This order represents less than one half of one percent of the total Humvee built.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Philippines want Russian subs because U.S. ones ‘implode’

The leader of a close US ally is turning to rival Russia for submarines, arguing that if his country were to buy American submarines, they would probably “implode.”

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte lashed out Aug. 17, 2018, after the US warned the Philippines against purchasing Russian Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines. He accused the US of selling its ally only hand-me-down weapons that endanger the lives of Filipino troops, according to local outlet Rappler.


“Why did you not stop the other countries in Asia? Why are you stopping us? Who are you to warn us?” Duterte asked Aug. 17, 2018, at an event in his hometown of Davao.”You give us submarines, it will implode.” He asserted that the US sent his country “used” and “rusted” North Atlantic Treaty Organization helicopters, claiming the poor condition of the platforms led to the deaths of local forces.

“Is that the way you treat an ally and you want us to stay with you for all time?” he asked. “You want us to remain backwards. Vietnam has 7 submarines, Malaysia has 2, Indonesia has 8. We alone don’t have one. You haven’t given us any.”

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

Russian Black Sea Fleet’s B-265 Krasnodar.

Duterte’s latest outburst was triggered by a warning issued Aug. 16, 2018, by Randall Schriver, the US Department of Defense Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

“I think they should think very carefully about that,” he said, referring to the Philippine government’s interest in acquiring Russian submarines. “If they were to proceed with purchasing major Russian equipment, I don’t think that’s a helpful thing to do [in our] alliance, and I think ultimately we can be a better partner than the Russians can be.”

“We have to understand the nature of this regime in Russia. I don’t need to go through the full laundry list: Crimea, Ukraine, the chemical attack in the UK,” he added, “So, you’re investing not only in the platforms, but you’re making a statement about a relationship.”

An interest in Russian weapons systems has strained relations between the US and a number of allies and international partners in recent months. As Duterte pursues an independent foreign policy often out of alignment with US interests, the Philippines has increasingly looked to develop defense ties with Russia. The country is looking to Russia for submarines as it looks to modernize its military.

“For a nation with maritime territory specially island nation, its national defense is incomplete without (a) submarine,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in early 2018, according to the Philippine Star.

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

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These new mini-drones could revolutionize ground warfare

Many researchers are working to create the next revolution in drones for both war and peace. At the University of Pennsylvania, teams of researchers headed by Dr. Vijay Kumar are making progress on autonomous UAVs. Since they’re autonomous, they don’t need human operators, just the command to begin a task.


The robots created at Kumar Labs are designed for disaster relief and agricultural work, but could change the way the infantry operates, assaulting contested buildings and objectives alongside troops and performing a variety of services.

The first step to moving drones from overwatch in the skies to clearing buildings with squads is getting them into the buildings. The autonomous UAVs created by researchers weigh between 20 grams and 2 kilograms, feature a quad-rotor design that allows hovering, and are nimble, allowing them to fly through small windows or openings.

Of course, if multiple drones are needed on a mission, the drones have to be able to enter the building and move around without interfering with each other or the human squad. UPENN researchers have created different ways for the drones to behave around each other. The copters can simply avoid one another while working independently or on a shared task, follow a designated group leader, or operate in a coordinated swarm as shown below.

Once inside of a building or a village, the drones would get to work. They could move ahead of the squad and create 3D maps of buildings the squad or platoon expects to hit soon.

The little UAVs are capable of lifting objects on order individually or as part of a team. Fire teams that are decisively engaged could quickly request more ammo be brought to their position and see it arrive slung underneath the autonomous drones. Medics could designate a casualty collection point and begin combat casualty care as more supplies are ferried to them. Drones could even be used as suicide bombers, moving explosives to a point on the battlefield and detonating their cargo.

The drones can also construct obstacles. While currently limited to cubic structures made from modular parts, the drones build according to preset designs without the need for human oversight. Platoon leaders could designate priorities and locations of simple construction and the drones would begin completing their assignments. Metal frames could be placed inside windows and other openings to prevent enemy drones from accessing structures. Mines or flares could be placed by drones on the approaches to the objective, slowing an enemy counterattack and warning friendly forces.

Of course, the copters are also capable of completing the traditional drone mission: Surveillance. While not as fast as the larger drones already in use, they could extend the eyes of the drone fleet into buildings. Also, since they can follow preset waypoints, the drones could continuously patrol an assigned area on their own, only requiring a human’s interaction when they spot something suspicious. The drone can even perch on an outcropping or velcro itself to a landing spot, allowing it to turn off its motors and become silent.

Dr. Kumar discussed the robots, the science behind them, and where he hopes to take them during a 2012 TED Talk.

NOW: DARPA’s new robot can jump hurdles, chase you down, and haunt your dreams

OR: The 7 coolest high-tech projects the military is currently working on

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This is what a Mk 38 Bushmaster can do to an Iranian speedboat

You’ve probably followed the reports of how Iranian speedboats have harassed U.S. Navy vessels. Frustrating, aren’t they? Well, think about it this way… we’ve been “showing restraint.”


The thing is, those speedboats are not really Iranian Navy. Instead, they belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. These speedboats, which are often equipped with heavy machine guns, rockets, and other weapons, got a reputation for attacking merchant traffic in the Iran-Iraq War. Back then, they were called “Boghammars” after the Swedish company that built the first boats used by the Iranians.

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

Today, their primary threat to an American warship could be as a suicide craft. That said, American ships have options to address these craft. Two of the most prominent are the Mk 38 Mod 2 Bushmaster and the M2 heavy machine gun. The M2 is a legend. It’s been used on everything from tanks to aircraft to ships, and against just about every target you can imagine.

Now, the Mk 38 Mod 2 Bushmaster is not as well-known. That said, it’s been in quite common use. It got its start on the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, where the Army calls it the M242.

It needs a lot of luck to kill a tank, but it can bust up other infantry fighting vehicles, trucks, groups of infantry, even helicopters and aircraft. The Bushmaster made its way to the Marine Corps LAV-25.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Task Force Liberty Soldier from 3rd Infantry Division stands guard in an M3A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle near an Iraqi police checkpoint in Tikrit, Iraq. The Bradley main armament is the M242 25mm (Bushmaster) Chain Gun. The standard rate of fire is 200 rounds per minute, and has a range of 2,000 meters making it capable of defeating the majority of armored including some main battle tanks. (DOD photo)

The Navy put the Bushmaster on ships, and it comprises the main armament of the Cyclone-class patrol craft. Each Cyclone has two of these guns, one of which is paired with a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. The guns are also used on other surface combatants as well. The guns can do a lot of damage.

You can see the Mk 38 and the M2 go to work on a speedboat in the video below. One almost an imagine that the Iranian speedboat crews may be asking themselves the question that Harry Callahan told a bank robber to ask himself: “Do I feel lucky?”

Well, do they?

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Here’s Video Of The US Navy Testing A ‘Game-Changing’ New Missile

The US Navy has successfully altered a Raytheon Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) to be able to hit a moving target at sea, USNI News reports.


In a Jan. 27 test off of San Niolas Island, California, the Navy launched a TLAM which was guided into a moving maritime target through directions given by a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet flying overhead. TLAMs are capable of changing their direction mid-course.

Also Read: DARPA Is Building A Drone That Can Tell What Color Shirt You’re Wearing From 17,500 Feet

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, the Pentagon’s second-highest-ranked civilian, praised the successful test of the missile during a keynote speech at the WEST 2015 conference. He said the missiles were part of the Pentagon’s “Third Offset Strategy,” an initiative focused on research into new long-range weapons.

“A big part of the Third Offset Strategies is to find new and innovative ways to deploy promising technologies,” Work said. “This is potentially a game changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1000 mile anti-ship cruise missile.”

TLAMs are already used for land attack missions against static targets. By converting TLAMs into missiles capable of penetrating thickly-armored vessels at sea, the Navy plugs a serious gap in its current weapons capabilities. According to USNI News, TLAMs that have been converted into anti-ship missiles that could be used aboard the Navy’s newer guided-missile destroyers, which cannot currently use the service’s antiquated RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

The new converted TLAMs would have a range of almost 1,000 nautical miles, allowing the US to maintain a considerable edge over rival naval powers. One of China’s most threatening new military advancements is its development of its own advanced anti-ship cruise missiles. However, these missiles would only have half the range of a converted TLAM.

If fully adapted, the newest iteration of the TLAM will function as a stop-gap measure until the Navy’s next-generation Long Range Anti-Ship missile is ready for action.

Here is a video of the converted TLAM in action.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Copyright 2015. Follow BI on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The US will pay countries not to buy arms from Russia

It was a program designed by the State Department to help the former Warsaw Pact countries break away from dependence on the Russian economy – the United States would straight up pay the newly liberated former Soviet Union allies to buy American-made weapons instead of buying them from their former patron.


That program is back, and the United States is expanding it.

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

A Russian-built Hind helicopter in the Macedonian Air Force

It’s called the European Recapitalization Incentive Program and Eastern Europe is signing on for arms made in the good ol’ US of A. But the U.S. isn’t stopping at limiting Russian influence through arms sales, the American government is using the program to limit arms sales from China too. It’s a function of the State Department working hand-in-hand with the Pentagon in an effort to project American economic power and military goodwill.

“The goal is to help our partners break away from the Russian supply chain [and] logistics chain that allows Russian contractors and service personnel, and Russian-manufactured spare parts onto either NATO allied bases or partner military bases,” a State Department official told Defense One.

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

A Russian-built T-72 tank in the Slovakian Army.

The countries signing on to the revitalized program can’t just promise not to buy Russian or Chinese weapons from now on. They will also need to get rid of their old ones as well as purchase new American replacements. So instead of gifting these countries a hodgepodge of military arms or vehicles, the countries can invest in American military power while getting rid of old systems and updating their military capabilities. Some of the partner countries are still using Soviet-built weapons.

In the past year, the U.S. State Department has signed on six former Soviet Bloc countries to the program to the tune of 0 million, including Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia, and Slovakia. The program will even bring these countries up to NATO standards in many areas. If successful, the U.S. will expand the program beyond Eastern Europe to help other countries break free of Chinese and Russian dependence.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out the new 80-ton robotic assault breacher

Soldiers and Marines have risked life and limb in dangerous breach operations on the battlefield, but new technology will help keep them out of harms way.

“We never, ever want to send another soldier into a breach, so how do we do this completely autonomously?” Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, asked at Yakima Training Center in Washington state recently, Defense News reported.

The answer to the general’s question: A monstrous robotic Assault Breacher Vehicle, an 80-ton battlefield bulldozer built to rip up minefields and remove obstacles.


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

A M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) from 8th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division prepares to conduct gunnery qualifications.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

The Army and Marines have been using manned M1150 ABVs for breach operations for nearly a decade.

An Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) is essentially an M1 Abrams tank that has been upgraded with armor improvements and had its turret replaced with either a mine plow or a combat dozer blade able to clear a path for other assets.

These mobile, heavily-armored minefield and obstacle clearing vehicles have traditionally been manned by a crew of two.

The plan is to get those troops out.

“That is a very dangerous point to put soldiers and Marines, especially when dealing with explosive obstacles,” 1st Lt. David Aghakhan, ABV Platoon Commander, said in a statement, adding that new robotic variants give “us the option to take the operator out of the vehicle, and still push that vehicle through the lane, creating that mobility for follow-on forces.”

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

Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., operate an Assault Breaching Vehicle with robotic operation capabilities at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Wash., May 1, as part of Joint Warfighting Assessment 2019.

(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Monte Swift)

The Army and the Marines tested a robotic version of the ABV for the first time out at Yakima Training Center a few weeks ago in a first step toward pulling troops out of the breach.

“This is something we cried from the mountain tops for. Somebody listened,” Lonni Johnston, program manager for Army Future Command’s Robotic Complex Breach Concept (RCBC) and former assistant program manager for the ABV program, told Business Insider.

During the recent demonstration at Yakima, a prototype was put to the test. “This is the first time this has been used. We’ve never had a robotic version of this until now,” Johnston explained.

The robotic ABVs in the recent test were supported by a robotic Polaris MRZR vehicle capable of creating smoke screens, as well as suppression fire units, which in a real situation could be either manned or unmanned.

“A breach is one of the most complex maneuvers during any type of military operation because there are so many components to it,” Johnston explained.

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

Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., operate an Assault Breaching Vehicle with robotic operation capabilities at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Wash.

(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Monte Swift)

The breach is one of the most dangerous places a soldier or Marine can find themselves.

“The breach is literally the worst place on Earth,” Johnston, a retired Army officer, told BI. “It’s the most dangerous place on the planet.”

“Every gun, every cannon, everything that shoots a missile or a bullet is going to be aimed at that breach,” he added. “When you are attacking an enemy force that is hellbent on keeping you out, they are going to do whatever they can to do that.”

So, the Army and Marines are looking at robotic systems smash through the breach, which soldiers and manned vehicles can then flow through.

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

U.S. Marine with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion services Next Generation Combat Vehicle Surrogate during a demonstration of next generation technologies in support of Joint Warfighter Assessment 19 at Yakima Training Center.

(U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Spc. Patrick Hilson)

The services have a number of challenges to surmount for robotic ABVs to be effective against a tough adversary.

It’s unclear when the robotic ABVs will be ready for deployment, but the Army is envisions fielding six per brigade, four with mine plows and two with combat dozer blades. That is how many the service believes it needs to clear two breach lanes.

Each vehicle would be operated by one person in either a stationary or mobile command and control center.

Challenges include electronic countermeasures, such as jamming technology that could be used by an enemy to incapacitate these vehicles. There are also concerns about what to do if it dies mid-breach, inadvertently becoming just the kind of obstacle it was meant to obliterate.

These are some of the things the services will have to explore as they push forward on this technology.

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

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Russia’s new all-terrain vehicle is a lifesized Tonka truck

The Sherp all-terrain Russian adventure-mobile looks like a Tonka truck. The two-passenger ATV with 63-inch wheels is deceiving in that it appears much larger than it actually is from far away.


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

The Sherp’s all-terrain capabilities are impressive. With nearly two feet of ground clearance, it can roll over brush fields, swamps, forest floors, and even fallen trees — it can clear anything up to 27.5 inches tall. Its ridged wheels are grapplers in rocky terrain and act as water paddles in the river.

The truck is way underpowered, however, sporting a 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel with 44 hp. The engine gives it a head-spinning speed of 28 mph on land and 3.7 mph in the water. Despite the power let down, it looks incredibly fun to drive.

Watch the ATV tackle the snow and water:

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It’s official — the Army is looking for a new, bigger combat rifle

The stars are aligning and it’s looking more and more like the Army is working to outfit many of its soldiers with a battle rifle in a heavier caliber than the current M4.


Late last month, the service released a request to industry asking which companies could supply the service with a commercially-available rifle chambered in the 7.62x51mm NATO round, a move that many saw coming after rumblings emerged that the Army was concerned about enemy rifles targeting U.S. troops at greater ranges than they could shoot back.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
Spc. Artemio Veneracion (back), an infantryman with Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, informs his team leader, Sgt. Ryan Steiner, that he has acquired his target with his M110 Semi-automatic Sniper System (SASS) during a Squad Training Exercise (STX) at Tapa Training Area in Estonia, May 26, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)

It now seems that fear has shifted in favor of fielding a rifle that can fire a newly developed round that is capable of penetrating advanced Russian body armor — armor defense planners feel is more available to enemies like ISIS and terrorist organizations.

In late May, the Army released a so-called “Request for Information” to see if industry could provide the service with up to 10,000 of what it’s calling the “Interim Combat Service Rifle.”

Chambered in 7.62×51, the rifle must have a barrel length of 16 or 20 inches, have an accessory rail and have a minimum magazine capacity of 20 rounds, among other specifications.

The rifle must be a Commercial Off The Shelf system readily available for purchase today,” the Army says, signaling that it’s not interested in a multi-year development effort. “Modified or customized systems are not being considered.”

But what’s particularly interesting is that the ICSR must have full auto capability, harkening back to the days of the 30-06 Browning Automatic Rifle or the full-auto M14. Analysts recognize that few manufacturers have full-auto-capable 7.62 rifles in their portfolio, with HK (which makes the HK-417) and perhaps FN (with its Mk-17 SCAR) being some of the only options out there.

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit
A Special Forces soldier takes a rest during a patrol in Afghanistan. The Army is considering outfitting its front-line troops with a 7.62 battle rifle like this Mk17 SCAR-H. (Photo from US Army Special Operations Command)

While the Army is already buying the Compact Semi-Auto Sniper System from HK, that’s not manufactured with a full-auto option.

Under Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the Army is focusing on near-peer threats like China and Russia and starting to develop equipment and strategies to meet a technologically-advanced enemy with better weapons and survival systems. Milley also has openly complained about the service’s hidebound acquisition system that took years and millions of dollars to adopt a new pistol that’s already on the commercial market — and he’s now got a Pentagon leadership that backs him up, analysts say.

“The U.S. military currently finds itself at the nexus of a US small arms renaissance,” Soldier Systems Daily wrote. “Requirements exist. Solutions, although not perfect, exist. And most of all, political will exists to resource the acquisitions.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why your future bunkers might be made of wood

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but they’re also great building materials. And the Department of Defense is eyeing a return to stick-based construction in some places where it currently uses concrete and similar materials. Fire and blast tests have already gone well, and the Army is working with universities to test its performance against ballistic weapons.


It’s all thanks to a new material that all the cool architects are talking about: cross-laminated timber. The footnotes version on this stuff is that it’s timber assembled in layers, and each layer is placed at 90 degrees from the previous one.

So, think of a Jenga tower, but with lots of glue so the blocks don’t slide apart. Believe it or not, this actually creates a super-strong structure, so strong that architects are certain they can make skyscrapers with the stuff, though buildings of about five stories are the norm right now and the tallest completed so far is 14 stories.

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

Believe it or not, this is a passing fire test. Cross-laminated timber passed the test for fire resistance, but organizers were a little disappointed that it never self-extinguished. It was hoped that as the wood charred, which greatly reduces its flammability, the flame would run out of fuel.

(YouTube/Sisekaitseakadeemia)

But the Pentagon isn’t eyeing the material for tall office structures, or at least not exclusively for that. They allowed the Forest Products Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to test CLT structures against blasts. Yeah, they want to know how the buildings will do against bombs.

The FPL has already tested the material when set on fire, when exposed to extreme moisture, and when shaken as it would in an earthquake. The wood did great in the earlier tests, but the military didn’t want to adopt new materials that would get destroyed the first time a big, bad wolf tried to blow it up.

The blast tests were done in 2016 and 2017 at Tyndall Air Force Base. This was before the hurricane wiped out many of the base’s structures (which were not CLT).

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

That blast looks stronger than the Big Bad Wolf, but somehow, the stick-buildings are still standing.

(Air Force Civil Engineering Center AFCEC, Tyndall Air Force Base)

The wood performed well during the tests, flexing and twisting in some cases but—in most of the tests—surviving the blasts. The panels did rupture during the final test, a test designed to overwhelm the timbers and push them well beyond their design limits. But even then, the buildings were safe to enter and walk through.

Now, Georgia Tech in Atlanta is working on a ballistics test with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. The tests are slated to include additional blast testing as well. So, yeah, the Army wants to figure out whether it makes tactical and strategic sense to have wood buildings and structures, even in some places where it might currently use concrete.

All-in-all, CLT is a promising material for the military, and it’s achieved a lot of acceptance in the civilian world. It’s much better for the environment than concrete, which releases CO2 both in production and construction, and steel, which is energy intensive to mine, smelt, forge, and ship.

Timber, in contrast, actually removes carbon from the atmosphere as it’s created and grown, and it’s very lightweight, so it doesn’t cost as much fuel to move the material.

Currently, though, the material is quite expensive to purchase as there are only a few manufacturers making it. Prices are expected to come down over the next couple of decades. An ambitious plan for a 7-story building is slated for completion in 2041, partially because building right now would require that the builders buy up all available CLT, making the project cost as much as double what normal construction would.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why US troops don’t use ballistic shields

Note: For the sake of brevity, I will use the term “ballistic shields” to be an all-inclusive term for III-A rated shields used by law enforcement.

Even the Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials NIJ Standard 0108.01, a publication that is used by the U.S. Department of Justice, warns of highly technical jargon that may be confusing for the uninitiated when defining a ballistic shield:

“Because this NIJ standard is designed as a procurement aid, it is necessarily highly technical. For those who seek general guidance concerning the selection and application of law enforcement equipment, user guides have also been published. The guides explain, in non-technical language, how to select equipment capable of performance required by an agency.” – Lester D. Shubin, Program Manager for Standards, National Institute of Justice.

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An edge for the Thin Blue Line

Imagine, for a moment, a metropolis of crowded buildings, hours after nightfall. Strobes of red and blue paint the virtually empty streets. Police vehicles and personnel are poised with a single structure at their center. Negotiations are faltering, their demands are too ambitious, and the hostages are too far out of reach.

Your uniform declares “Special Weapons and Tactics” to the world. Your radio comes to life and the order is issued. Everyone is on high alert for what may happen next.

Leading a four-man formation with a shield and side arm, you glide, skirting the wall, right up to the front door. The second team arrives behind your stack. Protected by eyes and weapons pointed in all directions, you check the handle:

Locked.

After a moment of communication with a team member known as the breacher, he crosses to the opposite end of the door. You feel someone squeeze your arm; that’s the signal. You make eye contact with the breacher and he gives you a nod. The adrenaline pumping through your veins fuels a moment of clarity: You trained for this. You are ready for this. It’s time to lay down the f *cking law.

Every hallway, room, and staircase are methodically cleared using slow, but deliberate movements. Your shield never lowers, but the weight begins to take its toll on your strength.

Hostiles attempt to repel your advance by firing everything they’ve got. The roar of .44 magnums and 9mm pistols fill the air. Whatever your ballistic shield doesn’t block impacts around you.

You return the greeting — with interest — and push forward.

The outside world holds their breath, transfixed on the live-stream broadcast. The eyes of millions scan for every flash, boom, and bust from the safety of their phones. After what feels like an eternity, your team and the hostages emerge.

This is one of countless scenarios that law enforcement faces as “the thin blue line” separating the civilized world from the savagery of gangs and terror. Ballistic shields give officers an edge against an enemy that would otherwise prey on the innocent with impunity.

Could this edge be transferable to the battlefield?

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

A ballistic shield loses its edge on a battlefield – and more so against an unconventional foe.

First, its cumbersome size and weight reduces a rifleman’s speed and mobility — two very important traits that are not easily sacrificed by warriors. It’s always better to dodge a bullet than to block it (for obvious reasons). A modern troop will be equipped with heavy gear, ammo, and a chest full of patriotism.

The ballistic shield is lightweight only in the sense that it weighs under 20 pounds.

It just becomes another thing to lug around with no comfortable method of carry. It would be another asinine piece of gear that could potentially get you killed because some congressman and a defense firm shook hands. Firefights can sometimes last hours, days, or (in some of the most brutal circumstances) months, and you can literally and metaphorically find yourself fighting single-handed.

Second, unconventional enemies use high-caliber, armor-piercing rounds. Most of what you would find when fighting communists or terror organizations would turn a ballistic shield into Swiss cheese.

You won’t find the Islamic State imposing their twisted ideologies with a 9mm. An Improvised Explosive Device buried underneath the ground will effectively neutralize any benefit of that additional armor.

Third, most battles don’t devolve into a “Mexican Stand-Off,” sealed away from the rest of the city. If the enemy is fortified, but there are no hostages or prisoners of war, there are other options…

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

Ballistic shields have earned their place as a staple for law enforcement because they have a specific purpose. Those same shields offer little to no benefit in combat.

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