If America goes to war with Russia, it will not be like Iraq or Afghanistan. This one will likely be very hard-fought, and the odds may be against our guys sometimes.
Are there some old systems that were designed to fight the Soviet Union that might be worth considering to help the troops? You betcha, and here is a look at some of them.
1. F-111 Aardvark
When this plane was retired two decades ago, nobody really gave it much thought. A Daily Caller article noted that the F-111 brings speed and a very heavy bomb load to the table. The United States once had four wings of this plane.
If it were combined with either the CBU-105 or modern stand-off weapons, it could take out a lot of Russian hardware.
2. MIM-72 Chapparal
With a near-peer enemy, it might make sense to improve ground-based air defenses. The Su-25 Frogfoot, while not as good as the A-10, is still potent. It’s also tough enough that the FIM-92 Stinger might not be able to guarantee a kill.
This is where the MIM-72 Chaparral comes in. Initially, this missile was a straight-up copy of air-launched Sidewinders. Going back to its roots, using the AIM-9X, could help keep the Russian planes dodging fire instead of dropping bombs.
3. OH-58 Kiowa
This helicopter is slated for retirement after a final deployment to South Korea, according to a July Army Times report. While much of its scout functions have been taken over by unmanned aerial vehicles, the OH-58 can still carry up to four AGM-114 Hellfires, rockets, FIM-92 Stingers, and a .50-caliber machine gun.
When facing a formation like the First Guards Tank Army, extra missiles – and eyes – just might be a very good thing to have.
4. AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile
Withdrawn in 2012 according to an Air Force release, the Advanced Cruise Missile was stealthy.
While the initial version was strictly nuclear, conventional versions could trash S-400 missile batteries. 460 missiles were built, according to an Air Force fact sheet. Bringing it back, though, means re-starting production.
The Obama Administration elected to have the entire inventory scrapped.
The U.S. Air Force will soon need to make a decision on whether its plan to grow to 386 operational squadrons should focus on procuring top-of-the-line equipment and aircraft, or stretching the legs of some of its oldest warplanes even longer, experts say.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in September 2018 that the service wants at least 74 additional squadrons over the next decade. What service brass don’t yet know is what could fill those squadrons.
Some say the Air Force will have to choose between quantity — building up strength for additional missions around the globe — or quality, including investment in better and newer equipment and warfighting capabilities. It’s not likely the service will get the resources to pursue both.
“It’s quite a big bite of the elephant, so to speak,” said John “JV” Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Wilson’s Sept. 17, 2018 announcement mapped out a 25 percent increase in Air Force operational squadrons, with the bulk of the growth taking place in those that conduct command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and tanker refueling operations.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks with members of the workforce during a town hall at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., April 5, 2018.
An additional 14 airlift squadrons using C-17s could cost roughly billion; five bomber squadrons of fifth-generation B-21 Raider bombers would cost roughly billion; and seven additional fighter squadrons of either F-22 Raptors or F-35s would be .5 billion, Venable said, citing his own research.
“Tanker aircraft, that was the biggest increase in squadron size, a significant amount of aircraft [that it would take for 14 squadrons] … comes out to .81 billion,” he said.
By Venable’s estimates, it would require a mix of nearly 500 new fighter, bomber, tanker, and airlift aircraft to fill the additional units. That doesn’t include the purchase new helicopters for the combat-search-and-rescue mission, nor remotely piloted aircraft for the additional drone squadron the service wants.
And because the Air Force wants to build 386 squadrons in a 10-year stretch, new aircraft would require expedited production. For example, Boeing Co. would need to churn out 20 KC-46 tankers a year, up from the 15 per year the Air Force currently plans to buy, Venable said.
The Air Force thus would be spending closer to billion per year on these components of its 386-squadron plan, he said.
New vs. old
In light of recent Defense Department spending fiascos such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which cost billions more than estimated and faced unanticipated delays, some think the Air Force should focus on extending the life of its current aircraft, rather than buying new inventory.
The Air Force will not be able to afford such a buildup of scale along with the modernization programs it already has in the pipeline for some of its oldest fighters, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Harrison was first to estimate it would cost roughly billion a year to execute a 74-squadron buildup, tweeting the figure shortly after Wilson’s announcement.
F-16 Fighting Falcons in flight.
If the Air Force wants to increase squadrons quickly, buying new isn’t the way to go, Harrison told Military.com. The quickest way to grow the force the service wants would be to stop retiring the planes it already has, he said.
“I’m not advocating for this, but … as you acquire new aircraft and add to the inventory, don’t retire the planes you were supposed to be replacing,” said Harrison.
“That doesn’t necessarily give you the capabilities that you’re looking for,” he added, saying the service might have to forego investment in more fifth-generation power as a result.
By holding onto legacy aircraft, the Air Force might be able to achieve increased operational capacity while saving on upfront costs the delays associated with a new acquisition process, Harrison said.
The cost of sustaining older aircraft, or even a service-life extension program “is still going to be much less than the cost of buying brand-new, current-generation aircraft,” he said.
Just don’t throw hybrid versions or advanced versions of legacy aircraft into the mix.
“That would just complicate the situation even more,” Harrison said.
“Why would you ever invest that much money and get a fourth-generation platform when you could up the volume and money into the F-35 pot?” Venable said.
Boeing is proposing a new version of its F-15 Eagle, the F-15X.
Running the numbers
Focusing on squadron numbers as a measure of capability may not be the right move for the Air Force, Harrison said.
The Navy announced a similar strategy in 2016, calling for a fleet of 355 ships by the 2030s. But counting ships and counting squadrons are two different matters, he said.
“While it’s an imperfect metric, you can at least count ships,” Harrison said. “A squadron is not a distinct object. It’s an organization construct and [each] varies significantly, even within the same type of aircraft.”
Still less clear, he said, is what the Air Force will need in terms of logistics and support for its planned buildup.
Harrison estimates that the aircraft increase could be even more than anticipated, once support and backup is factored in.
For example, if it’s assumed the squadrons will stay about the same size they are today, with between 10 and 24 aircraft, “you’re looking at an increase [in] total inventory of about 1,100 to 1,200” planes when keeping test and backup aircraft in mind, he said.
A squadron typically has 500 to 600 personnel, including not just pilots, but also support members needed to execute the unit’s designated mission, he said. Add in all those jobs, and it’s easy to reach the 40,000 personnel the Air Force wants to add by the 2030 timeframe.
“It’s difficult to say what is achievable here, or what the Air Force’s real endstate is,” said Brian Laslie, an Air Force historian who has written two books: “The Air Force Way of War” and “Architect of Air Power.”
“[But] I also think the senior leaders look at the current administration and see a time to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak,” Laslie told Military.com. “Bottom line: there are not enough squadrons across the board to execute all the missions … [and] for the first time in decades, the time might be right to ask for more in future budgets.”
The way forward
Air Force leaders are having ongoing meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of a full report, due to Congress in 2019, about the service’s strategy for growth.
So far, they seem to be gaining slow and steady backing.
Following the service’s announcement of plans for a plus-up to 386 operational squadrons, members of the Senate’s Air Force Caucus signaled their support.
“The Air Force believes this future force will enable them to deter aggression in three regions (Indo-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East), degrade terrorist and Weapons of Mass Destruction threats, defeat aggression by a major power, and deter attacks on the homeland,” the caucus said in a letter authored by Sens. John Boozman, R-Arkansas; John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “We are encouraged by the Air Force’s clear articulation of its vision to best posture the service to execute our National Defense Strategy.”
For Air Force leadership, the impact of the pace of operations on current and future airmen must also be taken into account.
The secretary said the new plan is not intended to influence the fiscal 2020 budget, but instead to offer “more of a long-term view” on how airmen are going to meet future threats.
“I think we’ve all known this for some time. The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking it to do. The Air Force has declined significantly in size … and it’s driving the difficulty in retention of aircrew,” Wilson said.
There will be much to consider in the months ahead as the Air Force draws up its blueprint for growth, Laslie said.
“I think the Air Force looks at several things with regard to the operations side of the house: contingency operations, training requirements, and other deployments — F-22s in Poland, for example — and there is just not enough aircraft and aircrews to do all that is required,” Laslie said. “When you couple this with the demands that are placed on existing global plans, there is just not enough to go around.”
It’s clear, Laslie said, that the Air Force does need to expand in order to respond to current global threats and demands. The question that remains, though, is how best to go about that expansion.
“There is a recognition amongst senior leaders that ‘Do more with less’ has reached its limit, and the only way to do more … is with more,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Chemical illumination has been a useful tool for military operations for years in the form of chem lights or glow sticks. However, glow sticks could be a hindrance to carry around. The Air Force Research Lab has exponentially lightened the load to allow chemical illumination in the form of a crayon, making light accessible, transferable and useful over and over again.
If you ever watched “The Jetsons,” an animated sitcom (1963-1964) about a family living in fictional Orbit City in the 2060s, you likely remember the iconic depiction of a futuristic utopia complete with flying cars and robotic contraptions to take care of many human needs. Robots, such as sass-talking housekeeper Rosie, could move through that world and perform tasks ranging from the mundane to the highly complex, all with human-like ease.
In the real world, however, robotic technology has not matured so swiftly.
What will it take to endow current robots with these futuristic capabilities? One place to look for inspiration is in human behavior and development. From birth, each of us has been performing a variety of tasks over and over and getting better each time. Intuitively, we know that practice, practice, and more practice is the only way to become better at something.
We often say we are developing a “muscle memory” of the task, and this is correct in many ways. Indeed, we are slowly developing a model of how the world operates and how we must move to influence the world. When we are good at a task—that is, when our mental model well captures what actually happens—we say the task has become second nature.
‘WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MAN’
Let’s consider for a moment several amazing tasks performed by humans just for recreational purposes. Baseball players catch, throw, and hit a ball that can be moving faster than 100 miles per hour, using an elegant fusion of visual perception, tactile sensing, and motor control. Responding to a small target at this speed requires that the muscles react, at least to some degree, before the conscious mind fully processes visually what has happened.
The most skilled players of the game typically have the best mental models of how to pitch, hit, and catch. A mental model in this case contains all the prior knowledge and experience a player has about how to move his or her body to play the game, particularly for the position.
The execution of an assumed mental model is called “feed forward control.” A mental model that is incorrect or incomplete, such as one used by an inexperienced player, will reduce accuracy and repeatability and require more time to complete a task.
We can assume that even professional baseball players would need significant time to adjust if they were magically transported to play on the moon, where gravity is much weaker and air resistance is nonexistent. Similarly, another instance of incorrect models can be observed in the clumsy and uncoordinated movements of quickly growing children; their mental models of how to relate to the world must constantly change and adapt because they are changing.
Nevertheless, humans are quite resilient to change and, with practice, they can adapt to perform well in new situations.
A major focus of much current research going on now at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is moving toward creating a robot like Rosie, capable of learning and executing tasks with the best precision and speed possible, given what we know about our own abilities.
NOT QUITE ‘INFINITE IN FACULTY’
In general, we can say that Rosie-like robot performance is possible given sufficient advances in the areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling interactions with the world.
Robots “perceive” the world around them using myriad integrated sensors. These sensors include laser range scanners and acoustic ranging, which provide the distance from the robot to obstacles; cameras that permit the robot to see the world, similar to our own eyes; inertial measurement sensing that includes rate gyroscopes, which sense the rate of change of the orientation of the robotic device; and accelerometers, which sense acceleration and gravity, giving the robot an “inner ear” of sorts.
All these methods of sensing the world provide different types of information about the robot’s motion or location in the environment.
Sensor information is provided to the algorithms responsible for estimating self-motion and interaction with the world. Robots can be programmed with their own versions of mental models, complete with mechanisms for learning and adaptation that help encode knowledge about themselves and the environment in which they operate. Rather than “mental models,” we call these “world models.”
‘IN FORM AND MOVING HOW EXPRESS AND ADMIRABLE,’ SORT OF
Consider a robot acting while assuming a model of its own motion in the world. If the behavior the robot actually experiences deviates significantly from the behavior the robot expects, the discrepancy will lead to poor performance: a “wobbly” robot that is slow and confused, not unlike a human after too many alcoholic beverages. If the actual motion is closer to the anticipated model, the robot can be very quick and accurate with less burden on the sensing aspect to correct for erroneous modeling.
Of course, the environment itself greatly affects how the robot moves through the world. While gravity can fortunately be assumed constant on Earth, other conditions can change how a robot might interact with the environment.
For instance, a robot traveling through mud would have a much different experience than one moving on asphalt. The best modeling would be designed to change depending on the environment. We know there are many models to be learned and applied, and the real issue is knowing which model to apply for a given situation.
Robotics today are developed in laboratory environments with little exposure to the variability of the world outside the lab, which can cause a robot’s ability to perceive and react to fail in the unstructured outdoors. Limited environmental exposure during model learning and subsequent poor adaptation or performance is said to be the result of “over-fitting,” or using a model created from a small subset of experiences to maneuver according to a much broader set of experiences.
At ARL, we are researching specific advances to address these areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling robotic interaction with the world, with the understanding that doing so will enable great enhancements in the operational speed of autonomous vehicles.
Specifically, we are working on knowing when and under what conditions different methods of sensing work well or may not work well. Given this knowledge, we can balance how these sensors are combined to aid the robot’s motion estimation.
A much faster estimate is available as well through development of techniques to automatically estimate accurate models of the world and of robot self-motion. With the learned and applied models, the robot can act and plan on a much quicker timescale than what might be possible with only direct sensor measurements.
Finally, we know that these models of motion should change depending on which of the many diverse environmental conditions the robot finds itself in. To further enhance robot reliability in a more general sense, we are working on how to best model the world such that a collection of knowledge can be leveraged to help select an appropriate model of robot motion for the current conditions.
If we can master these capabilities, then Rosie can be ready for operation, lacking only her signature attitude.
DR. JOSEPH CONROY is an electronics engineer in ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He holds a doctorate, an M.S. and a B.S., all in aerospace engineering and all from the University of Maryland, College Park.
MR. EARL JARED SHAMWELL is a systems engineer with General Technical Services LLC, providing contract support to ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He is working on his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Columbia University.
This article will be published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army ALT Magazine.
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There will always be a rivalry between personnel other than grunts and the true rock stars of the military. In particular, the Marine Corps infantry has a bone to pick with the motto ‘every Marine is a rifleman.’ When the time comes for branch on branch trash talking, Marines band together regardless of MOS or active duty status. However, there is one branch internal feud that may never die between grunts and POGs.
Every Marine is a rifleman: Yes but no
When the Marine Corps used powder weapons it was essential that every Marine be proficient in employment of the rifle. Centuries later, the separation of trigger pullers and support increases with the development of new technologies. The Marine Corps has always been small compared to it’s sister branches but the modern Corps is not small enough that everyone is going to fire a shot in anger. Granted, every Marine should be able to fire a rifle effectively. But to call everyone a rifleman downplays the actual rifleman profession in the infantry.
The infantry should have their own insignia
The Marine uniform is a canvas for time honored traditions and odes to the sacrifices of those who came before us. Times change and so do uniforms. The infantry should have something that sets them apart when wearing utility uniforms. The crossrifles on the chevron of enlisted uniforms has always been a pain point for the infantry because the promotion scores are higher than their non-rifleman counterparts. How can you be a rifleman with no crossrifles? Infantryman are proud and the line companies deserve something that makes them stand out. It shouldn’t take dress uniforms and ceremonies to show that one is a grunt with a combat action ribbon.
The annual rifle range doesn’t count
When personnel other than grunts and the infantry feud, the POGs always retreat back to the rifle range and use it as an example. Even the Air Force has rifles and shoot on a range but you don’t see them calling themselves riflemen. The annual rifle range doesn’t count when you aren’t wearing heavy gear assaulting an objective. If you only had to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and nothing else, then the Marine Corps would be conquering countries in flip flops.
The surge was different
During the surge of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, it was anyone’s game to be caught in a combat scenario. Convoys are the preferred target of insurgents as opposed to a heavily armed infantry patrol. Like pirates in the age of sail, insurgents are cowards, they attack targets they believe they can take on. Whenever a new campaign is initiated in a country, there will be non-combat jobs forced into a combat role – because its war. Someone who is Motor Transport firing back, protecting their personnel and vehicles, makes you a badass but not an infantryman.
Vietnam non-grunt vets are the exception
Vietnam veterans are the exception to the rule. For example, it is well known one could sign up or drafted as cook but when they got to the jungle they went on patrol. There are many reasons Vietnam was so controversial and the breakdown of the separation between grunt and POG is one of them. When the U.S. military began withdrawing from Afghanistan, some provinces eased their resistance considerably. When grandad the admin tells his story from ‘Nam its because he lived through the Tet Offensive. OEF non-combat jobs had Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, and T.G.I. Fridays. It can’t be denied, we were all there, we saw the fast food. Only the infantry should rate crossrifles – Gran’ ol’ man rates them too.
Nearly two months after its commercial launch, a private Israeli spacecraft has slipped into lunar orbit and will soon try landing on the moon’s surface.
The dishwasher-size robot, called Beresheet (a biblical reference that means “in the beginning”) could pull off the first private moon landing in history if all goes according to plan. The mission could also make Israel the fourth nation ever to have a spacecraft survive a lunar-landing attempt.
Beresheet launched aboard a SpaceX rocket on Feb. 21, 2019. Over the past six weeks, the roughly 1,300-lb robot has gradually accelerated its way toward the moon. SpaceIL, a nonprofit group based out of Tel Aviv University, researched, designed, and built the spacecraft since 2011 on a mostly private budget of about $100 million.
On April 8, 2019, mission controllers fired Beresheet’s engines to achieve an elliptical orbit around the moon. At its farthest, Beresheet moves about 290 miles (467 kilometers) above the lunar surface; at its closest, the spacecraft’s altitude is 131 miles (211 kilometers) — about twice as close as the International Space Station is to Earth.
The “Beresheet” lunar robot prior to its launch aboard a SpaceX rocket.
During the operation, Beresheet photographed the moon’s far side, above, from about 342 miles (550 kilometers) away. (The spacecraft also took several selfies with Earth during its flight to the moon.)
Now that Beresheet is within striking distance of a lunar landing, SpaceIL is waiting for the precise moment to blast Beresheet’s thrusters one last time. The engine burn will slow down the spacecraft, cause the four-legged robot to fall out of lunar orbit, and gently touch down on the moon’s surface.
SpaceIL expects Beresheet to land on the moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 11, 2019, according to an emailed press release. The group will also broadcast live footage of its historic lunar-landing attempt.
“This joint mission of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will be broadcast live via satellite for a pool feed and live streamed with access to all media,” SpaceIL said in its email, noting that the broadcast would show views from inside the spacecraft’s mission control center in Yehud, Israel.
The video feed, embedded below, should activate on Thursday afternoon.
SpaceIL got its start in 2011 on the heels of the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered more than million to the first privately funded entity to land on the moon and pull off a series of difficult tasks.
Three engineers took a stage during a space conference and announced their intentions to build and launch a lunar lander — gumption that caught the attention of South African-born billionaire Morris Kahn.
“They seemed very proud of themselves, and I thought that this was rather neat,” Kahn previously told Business Insider.
“They said, ‘Money? Money, what’s that for?’ I said, ‘Without money, you’re not going to get anywhere,'” Kahn said. “I said to them, ‘Look, come to my office, I’ll give you 0,000 — no questions asked — and you can start.’ And that was how I innocently got involved in this tremendous project.”
The mission ultimately cost about 0 million — a fraction of the 9 million that NASA spent in the 1960s on seven similarly sized Surveyor moon landers. NASA’s sum would be roughly .5 billion today (about 0 million per mission) when adjusting for inflation.
Kahn said he’s personally invested about million in the venture. Although the lunar XPrize ended in 2018 without a winner, despite several years’ worth of extensions, SpaceIL found additional funding from private sources with Kahn’s help.
“I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery.” Kahn said. “I’d like to feel that I’ve used my money productively.”
He added: “I wanted to show that Israel — this little country with a population of about 6 or 8 million people — could actually do a job that was only done by three major powers in the world: Russia, China, and the United States. Could Israel innovate and actually achieve this objective with a smaller budget, and being a smaller country, and without a big space industry backing it?”
April 11, 2019, planet Earth will find out.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Modern drones, like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or even the quadcopters you can buy at your local electronics store have changed how we think about unmanned vehicles. But drones have been around a lot longer than you might think. One of the most versatile unmanned vehicles entered service in 1952 (the same year the B-52 first flew) and is still around today.
That is the BGM-34 Firebee. First built by Teledyne, Northrop Grumman now operates this versatile and venerable drone. The BGM-34C has a top speed of 472 miles per hour, a maximum range of 875 miles, and can operate as high as 50,000 feet.
The Firebee could be launched from ground, sea, or air. The C-130 is carrying two Firebees to give the crew of USS Chosin (CG 65) some practice.
(USAF photo by TSGT Michael Haggerty)
The Firebee was initially intended to serve as an aerial target. Yes, there are old fighters that serve in this role, but when you have to have enough pilots for the 1,983 tactical jets on inventory with the Air Force alone (per FlightGlobal.com’s World Air Forces 2018), something has to fill the gap. Many Firebees made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that missiles worked and pilots knew how to use them.
Fortunately, many of drones can be recovered via parachute and are re-used. This saved money for the times in which pilots missed or when tests didn’t involve blowing something out of the sky. But the Firebee hasn’t always been a turbojet-powered clay pigeon.
While some Firebees were blown up as target drones, others were recovered and used again.
(USAF photo by TSGT Frank Garzelnick)
During the Vietnam War, some were modified for use as reconnaissance drones. Outfitted with cameras and datalinks, these drones were able to provide real-time intelligence. If they were shot down, there was no need to send in a CSAR chopper to get a pilot out. Versions were also developed for electronic warfare, and they even considered making it an anti-ship missile. The Firebee even saw use during Operation Iraqi Freedom in laying down chaff to cover modern strike aircraft.
Learn more about this versatile and venerable drone in the video below!
The C-130 is one of the workhorses among American military planes, performing a wide range of missions from humanitarian relief to law enforcement to bombing missions. Here’s a rundown of 15 of them:
1. Close air support
Let’s get this one out of the way, because the AC-130 is most people’s favorite version. These flying gunships have carried a variety of guns over the years, everything from 7.62mm miniguns to 105mm cannons. One of the most famous was the AC-130U “Spooky” with 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm guns.
2. Anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare
Guns aren’t the only weapon that has been strapped to what was originally a resupply plane. Lockheed Martin has designed, but not sold, the SC-130J Sea Herc. The aircraft is pitched as a cheap, high-endurance, and high-payload maritime patrol and anti-surface/anti-submarine plane.
When the U.S. Forest Service finds itself overwhelmed fighting wildfires, it turns to the Air Force for assistance. C-130s are outfitted with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems that can drop 3,000 gallons of repellant in 5 seconds without any major modifications to the aircraft.
The C-130 can drop 64 fully-armed paratroopers into combat on a single pass. With additional passes or a long drop zone, they can also drop “door bundles” with ammunition and other supplies ahead of the soldiers.
Some equipment, like Humvees and 105mm cannons, can also be dropped from the back of the plane.
6. Aerial refueling
The KC-130J can carry up to 47,903 pounds of fuel to give to other aircraft. The Marine Corps racked up over 20,000 hours of KC-130J flight over Iraq where the birds dispensed jet fuel to bombers supporting troops on the ground.
7. Search and rescue
Photo: Wikipedia/João Eduardo Sequeira CC BY 2.5
Both the Air Force and the Coast Guard fly HC-130s modified for search and rescue missions. The planes feature command and control computer suites as well as special sensors that help it find survivors in the water or on land.
The Air Force’s version also packs a refueling capability so that it can bring helicopters with it on long-range missions.
8. Law enforcement
The Coast Guard’s HC-130s can use their sensors to find and track people suspected of crime. The planes can patrol a large area and, if they spot suspicious activity in the water, can track criminals from afar or chase them down.
The Coast Guard uses their C-130s to track and monitor icebergs and other threats to shipping.
10. Aeromedical evacuation
There are 31 aeromedical squadrons in the U.S. Air Force. The units fly wounded troops and civilians out of war and disaster zones on C-130s and C-17s filled with special mission pallets and medical equipment. Teams of doctors and nurses accompany the wounded.
The EC-130J Commando Solo is used by Military Information Support Operation, more commonly known as PSYOPS, and civil affairs service members to broadcast radio messages to people in disaster and war zones.
When the Air Force needs to shut down some enemy air defenses, it it can put the EC-130H Compass Call into the game. The plane disrupts enemy communication nodes and jams early warning and acquisition radars, allowing fighters and bombers to slip through enemy lines and wreak havoc.
15. Humanitarian relief
The C-130, with the ability to land on dirt strips where jets fear to tread, is one of the heroes of humanitarian relief. After a major disaster, the C-130s form a flying train that rushes medical supplies and food in while ferrying wounded out.
The Air Force is one step closer to getting the new Pave Hawk. The first HH-60W has started the process of final assembly two months ahead of schedule and will be set to make its first flight by the end of this year.
“Final assembly of this first HH-60W helicopter marks a significant milestone for Sikorsky, our workforce, and the U.S. Air Force,” Sikorsky Air Force Programs director Tim Healy said in a Lockheed release. “We are on track to deliver this significant capability enhancement ahead of schedule.”
The HH-60W is slated to replace the 99 HH-60G Pave Hawks currently in service. The HH-60W features a number of improvements, including an internal fuel capacity of 660 gallons, just shy of twice as much as the amount of fuel carried in the UH-60M Blackhawk. The HH-60M medevac variant of the UH-60M is credited with a range of 275 nautical miles, which can be extended by attaching a 400-gallon, external tank of gas.
The HH-60W will also feature an integration of radar, defense systems, and other sensors to give the four-man crew more information to complete the mission of supporting the Air Force’s pararescue personnel. Healy said that this will make the HH-60W “the most thoroughly networked and connected vertical lift platform ever produced” and that it’ll bring the Air Force “unrivaled capability in high-threat environments.”
This first HH-60W and three others will serve as Engineering Manufacturing Development aircraft, and another five will serve as System Demonstration Test Articles. The contract also includes six training devices for aircrew and maintenance personnel. In total, the total Air Force has ordered 112 HH-60Ws. Whether the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps will get in on this chopper and further increase the production run remains unanswered, although a representative for Sikorsky told WATM, “Sikorsky is prepared to support the military’s needs should additional services be interested in purchasing the HH-60W, or in exploring whether this aircraft’s features could be used on other aircraft.”
One thing is for sure: The HH-60W is proof that the H-60 is going to be around for a long time.
The 1950s was a game-changing decade for the world of military aviation, especially with the rise of jet propulsion in place of propeller engines. It was in this decade that the U.S. Air Force came close to fielding one of the most advanced (for its time) “super fighters” ever conceived.
Known as the XF-108 Rapier, and designed by North American – also known for producing the widely successful P-51 Mustang – it was equipped to fly at more than three times the speed of sound for long distances, hunting down and destroying marauding Soviet bombers out to drop nuclear weapons on the US and its allies during the Cold War.
The XF-108 would also be able to complement its larger sibling, the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, which itself was capable of achieving speeds in the Mach 3 range. Though the Valkyrie’s insane speed would be too much for Soviet air defense systems to handle, it wouldn’t hurt having a smaller fighter escort nearby which could keep up with the bomber, just in case enemy fighters made it too close for comfort.
North American sought to make its newest fighter extremely deadly, adding a Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar that was coupled to an infrared search and tracking system. Together, this sensor suite would be able to lock onto and track targets at long ranges with solid accuracy.
The XF-108’s primary weapon was the GAR-9 missile, which had a range of over 100 miles, and could fly at more than six times the speed of sound on its way to its target. The Rapier would carry three of these on an internal rotary launcher in its belly.
To give it speed, the XF-108 would use two General Electric afterburning turbojets that could pump out over 29,300 pounds of force apiece with the afterburners lit. In comparison, an F/A-18 Super Hornet’s two GE F414 turbofan engines can put out only 22,000 pounds of force apiece in burner!
However, the Rapier lost its mission rapidly with the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles and guided cruise missiles — the latter of which could be launched from surface warships and submarines floating off the coast of the United States. Instead of sending swarms of bombers, all of which could hypothetically be shot down if responded to quickly enough, the USSR could mail nuclear weapons to the US with ICBMs, which were much more difficult to destroy.
Sadly, the Rapier never had a chance to even fly.
In late 1959, by the end of the decade, the program was shelved altogether, having only made it to the mockup stage. In a matter of months, the XF-108 was no more. Its sister plane, the XB-70 would meet a somewhat similar fate in the next decade, and would be retired from flight testing after a fatal and highly publicized accident.
Some of the technology and lessons learned in designing the XF-108 were put to use with a later North American product – the A-5/RA-5 Vigilante, which bears a considerable resemblance to its predecessor. The GAR-9 was also developed further into the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which would later be matured into the AIM-54 Phoenix, deployed with the F-14 Tomcat.
Mach 3-capable fighter jets have long since been relegated to the history books as an unnecessary hope of the past, but with improvements in propulsion technology, it’s very possible that future fighters fielded by the US military might be blessed with such incredible speed.
We all love the A-10 Thunderbolt II, commonly known as the “Warthog.” For years now, this airframe has brought the BRRRRRRT and provided close air support to grunts on the ground. But the A-10 is actually older than many think.
For a combat plane, 46 is pretty old. Now, it’s not the grumpy, “get-off-my-lawn” level of old — the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress claims that honor. It entered service in 1952, making it old enough now to collect Medicare.
A number of A-10 Thunderbolts were painted green, but these days, they’re a plain gray.
At the time of the A-10’s introduction, NATO nations had half the tanks of signatories of the Warsaw Pact. The Warthog was intended to fight off those huge, armored hordes. The A-10’s GAU-8 30mm Gatling gun (that provides its signature BRRRRRT), was only part of the solution. The plane is also able to haul over eight tons of bombs, rockets, and missiles.
One missile is of particular note: The AGM-65 Maverick. The A-10 has been loaded up with several variants of this powerful weapon, mostly the AGM-65D and AGM-65G. These variants use imaging infra-red seekers and are able to hit targets in any condition, day or night, clear skies or bad weather.
The A-10 has been in service for over 40 years and, still, no plane has been able to truly replace it.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Melanie Norman)
The Maverick has a maximum range of 17 miles and packs either a 125-pound, shaped-charge warhead or a 300-pound, blast-fragmentation warhead. With this missile, the A-10 can pick off enemy anti-aircraft guns, like the ZSU-23, before closing in to drop bombs and give enemy tanks the BRRRRT.
Despite its age, the A-10 is slated to remain in service for a while. The Air Force is currently running the OA-X program in hopes of finding a true replacement, but the real solution may be to simply build more of this classic plane.
See how the Air Force introduced the A-10 back in ’72 in the video below.
The SR-71 Blackbird is the arguably the most popular and easily recognizable airframe ever used by the U.S. Air Force. It maintains the speed record it set back in 1976 (even with a broken engine). The Blackbird’s missile evasion technique is legendary; it simply flew faster than the whatever was chasing it.
Not one SR-71 was ever shot down.
It could take a full photo of the entire country of North Korea in seven minutes and fly across the entire United States, lengthwise, in just over an hour.
Not bad, but that capability didn’t happen overnight. The Air Force actually developed more than one supersonic plane for its reconnaissance and strike missions.
1. XB-70 Valkyrie
Only 2 of North American Aviation’s B-70 bombers were ever built, and the program only lasted for the five years between 1964 and 1969. The Valkyrie was a six-engine bomber, capable of flying Mach 3, designed to outrun enemy interceptor aircraft with speed and altitude. At the time, interception was the only defense against bombers.
Surface-to-air missiles changed the game.
The XB-70 was still fast enough to fool radar, but its limited range and expense made the B-52 a more economically efficient choice for production. Though short-lived, the Valkyrie did blaze a trail for the structural dynamics that would be so crucial to the SR-71.
Not to be confused with the later naval stealth fighter proposal dubbed the A-12 Avenger II, the A-12 Archangel was a recon aircraft developed by Lockheed for the CIA between 1962 and 1967. The defense giant’s “Skunk Works,” the nickname given to its Advanced Development Programs department, developed the A-12 for the CIA’s Oxcart Operation.
Oxcart was the agency’s effort to replace the U-2 spy plane after it became increasingly susceptible to Soviet SAMs. They were wildly successful – the planes boasted a host of new technologies designed just for the program. They were built with titanium to handle hypersonic speeds (strangely obtained from the Soviet Union).
Though designed to fly over Cuba and the USSR, the Lockheed A-12 never executed that mission. It flew over North Vietnam and North Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.
The North Vietnamese were able to track the A-12 via radar, and routinely launched missiles at it. It never took a direct hit from a SAM but did get debris from an exploding missile lodged in its fuselage.
Since the A-12 was never going to fly over the Soviet Union and the use of satellite photography was on the rise, the program was scrapped almost as soon as it had begun. The A-12s were either stored in Palmdale, California, or sent to museums.
The M-21 variant of the A-12 was designed to carry the Lockheed D-12 Drone. This variation had a cockpit for the drone’s launch control officer who released the autonomous drone which was mounted on the back of the M-21 airframe.
The D-21 was launched from the back of the A-12. Once its mission was complete, the drone would eject the data it collected at a preprogrammed point and then self-destruct. The ejected data was caught in mid-air by a C-130.
This program was canceled in 1966 when a drone collided in midair with its launcher. The M-21 crew all bailed out, except for the LCO. From then on, the D-21 would be launched from under the wing of a B-52.
4. Lockheed YF-12
The YF-12 was a twin-seat version of the A-12. Designed to be an interceptor, the YF-12 set the speed records that would only be surpassed by the legendary SR-71. It also has the distinction of being a publicly announced aircraft, which had benefits of keeping the A-12 a secret because the public couldn’t tell the difference.
The cost of the Vietnam War kept the YF-12 from the Air Force inventory. And by the time the funds were available, the YF-12 wasn’t necessary to defend the mainland U.S., so the program was scrapped.
The aircraft did successfully test the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which was the predecessor to the Phoenix missiles. The YF-12 also tested how AWACS could command bombers in a tactical environment, which later helped the development of the B-1 Bomber.
The YF-12 also tested how engine inlet performance affected airframe for NASA, as well as issues related to propulsion interaction, boundary layer noise, heat transfer under high-mach conditions, and altitude hold at supersonic speeds – all necessary to develop the SR-71, not to mention the Space Shuttle program.