5th generation fighters prove that tech is king - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

When a group of hot-shot fighter pilots praise computers over speed, it’s clear times have changed. Fifth generation aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, aren’t just powerful — they’re exponentially superior tactical machines.


When he first flew the F-22, Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, who flew the Raptor as an Air Force exchange pilot and now flies the jump-jet F-35B, remarked, “I was enamored by just how powerful the airplane is … but [that’s] the least important thing about the F-22.”

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
The F-22 is a supercomputer with a fighter jet wrapped around it. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

No pilot who flies a fifth generation fighter “will tell you that what’s impressive is what’s on the outside,” Berke said during a Nov. 7 conference sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Although fourth generation fighter pilots might have felt a “need for speed”, now information is what wins battles. In a high technology war, Berke suggests that the fastest airplane could be the first to die.

Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Gunn said the F-35A that he now flies “is a lot of sensors and computers … a processing machine that has an aircraft wrapped around it.”

Air Force Maj. David Deptula, who flew the F-22 in combat in Iraq and Syria, said what was “particularly useful” to U.S. and allied air forces was the Raptor’s ability “to detect targets in the air and on the ground and distribute that information in near real time.

“With that information, you’re enabling everybody else,” he said.

As potential adversaries field more advanced defensive systems, Berke said a key question about new airframes is “how survivable they are, and how lethal.” The information processing capabilities of fifth generation fighters “improves both of those, exponentially,” he said.

And with their ability to share the information, the fifth generation planes also “make the fourth gen aircraft more survivable,” he added.

Several of the pilots noted that the F-22 and F-35 not only collect massive amounts of data on the threats and other elements of the combat environment, they process the data and present it as crucial information that the pilot can use to make decisions.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
An F-35C Lightning II on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. (Photo from Lockheed Martin)

“The big thing is not so much the sensors on the airplane, it’s the computers,” Gunn said. Instead of the pilot having to devote a lot of effort operating the sensors and analyzing data, “the airplane is doing that. I’m the one who gets to make the decisions.”

Major Andrew Stolee, an F-22 instructor at the Air Force Weapons School, said an increased speed of decision making is an important factor “in how we conduct air warfare. The biggest gain we get out of these airplanes is what they allow the human to do.”

Although the F-22 currently has problems sharing its sensor information digitally with fourth generation aircraft, Gunn said the F-35 has a Link 16 system that allows it to share battlespace information with the older airframes.

“In a recent exercise,” he said, “when the F-22s ran out of missiles the older fighters asked them to stay to help them find targets.”

“Enabling all the fifth generation aircraft to share battlespace information with the older aircraft, which will make up most of the fighter forces for decades, is one of the major requirements for the future,” said Maj. Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the Air Force Air Combat Center.

Another “bill to pay,” VanHerck said, is the need to greatly improve the current air combat training ranges, which cannot adequately duplicate the integrated air defense threats the new fighters must be able to handle. “We’re going to see a lot of our training in the virtual, simulated environment,” he said.

With their unmatched technological advancements and superior aerodynamic designs, fifth generation fighters don’t just exceed air domination capabilities–they define them.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-35 fighter is way too expensive, and the Pentagon is pissed

The Pentagon is taking a firmer grip of the F-35 budget-cutting controls in an attempt to trim down costs in the billion-dollar joint strike fighter program.


The Pentagon has determined that Lockheed Martin’s internal cost-cutting program — the Blueprint for Affordability — doesn’t go deep enough into the supply chain to smaller companies involved in building the F-35 Lightning II. The new effort to trim costs was first reported by the Wall Street Journal Oct. 9.

As a result, over the summer, the Pentagon’s F-35 program office decided not to agree to a contract extension with Lockheed and then last month simply awarded the company a $60 million contract to pursue additional efficiency measures that also gave the government more oversight, the newspaper reported.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
Photo from F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office

Using a contract instead of an agreement among the companies “provides the government with greater insights into the cost-saving efforts,” according to a statement from the Pentagon’s F-35 program office.

Often called the most expensive weapons program in US history, the F-35 is being assembled at the company’s sprawling Fort Worth plant. The Pentagon’s actions come after the defense industry giant hired hundreds of workers at big job fairs in Fort Worth this summer to prepare to increased production of the aircraft. Lockheed has said it plans to add 1,800 workers.

Earlier this year, Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson told then-President-elect Trump that she was personally committed to drive down the cost of the F-35 program after Trump said it was “out of control.” He pledged to trim billions of dollars on military contracts once he was in office.

Lockheed doesn’t believe the Pentagon’s actions will impact its efforts to cut costs.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
CG-1, the ground test article for the Lockheed Martin F-35 carrier variant, is positioned for its final drop test at Vought Aircraft Industries in Dallas, Tx. Photo courtesy of Vought Aircraft Industries

“The government’s decision to fund this next phase of cost-reduction initiatives is a testament to their confidence in our ability to deliver the cost savings, based on the success of the original Blueprint for Affordability projects,” Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s F-35 general manager, told the Wall Street Journal.

Lockheed and its industry partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems announced their plan in 2014 to trim costs by agreeing to invest $170 million over two years on new materials and processes, with Lockheed spending the most.

The Fort Worth plant employs about 14,000 workers, with roughly 8,800 working on the F-35. Hiring of additional workers will stretch out through 2020, company officials said. Last year, Lockheed built about 50 F-35s and plans call for production to increase to about 160 a year by 2019.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the stealth bomber patrolling near China to prevent a war

With its precision, stealth, long-range capability and payload capacity, the B-2 Spirit is one of the most versatile airframes in the Air Force’s inventory. The combination of its unique capabilities enables global reach and allows the Air Force to bypass the enemy’s most sophisticated defenses.


The B-2 Spirit’s low-observable, or stealth, characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended targets. Its ability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides a strong deterrent and combat capability to the Air Force well into the 21st century.

Development

The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload capacity gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low observability provides greater freedom of action at high altitudes, increasing its range and providing a better field of view for aircraft sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles.

The B-2’s low observability is derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for the sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2’s composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design all contribute to its stealth attributes.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.

(US Air Force photo by Gary Ell)

Operational history

The first B-2 was publicly displayed Nov. 22, 1988, in Palmdale, California and flew for the first time on July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, was responsible for flight testing, engineering, manufacturing and developing the B-2.

Whiteman AFB, Missouri, is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, is responsible for managing the B-2’s maintenance.

The B-2’s combat effectiveness and mettle was proved in Operation Allied Force, where it was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks, flying nonstop from Whiteman AFB to Kosovo and back.

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman AFB to Afghanistan and back. The B-2 completed its first-ever combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 22 sorties from a forward operating location, 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A B-2 Spirit drops Joint Direct Attack Munitions separation test vehicles over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 8, 2003.

(US Air Force photo)

The aircraft received full operational capability status in December 2003. On Feb. 1, 2009, Air Force Global Strike Command assumed responsibility for the B-2 from Air Combat Command.

On Jan. 18, 2017, two B-2s attacked an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria training camp 19 miles southwest of Sirte, Libya, killing more than 80 militants. The B-2s dropped 108 500-pound precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs. These strikes were followed by an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle firing Hellfire missiles. The 34-hour-round-trip flight from Whiteman AFB was made possible with 15 aerial refuelings conducted by KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender crews from five different bases.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing refuels a U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing during a mission that targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya, Jan. 18, 2017.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)

After getting pulled from theater in 2010, the B-2s rejoined the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer in continuous rotations to Andersen AFB, Guam, in 2016. The Continuous Bomber Presence mission, established in 2004, provides significant rapid global strike capability demonstrating U.S. commitment to deterrence. The mission also offers assurance to U.S. allies and strengthens regional security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Bomber rotations also provide the Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Pacific Command global strike capabilities and extended deterrence against any potential adversary while also strengthening regional alliances and long-standing military-to-military partnerships throughout the region.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

U.S. military members stand with players of the Kansas City Royals during a military recognition ceremony at Kauffman Stadium as a B-2 Spirit performs a flyover, Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 11, 2018.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

Did you know

  • The B-2 can fly 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the globe within hours.
  • The B-2 has a crew of two pilots—a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B’s crew of four and the B-52’s crew of five.

Active squadrons

  • 13th Bomb Squadron established in 2005.
  • 393rd Bomb Squadron established in 1993.

Both squadrons are located at Whiteman AFB and fall under Air Force Global Strike Command.

Aircraft stats

  • Primary function: multi-role heavy bomber
  • Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
  • Contractor Team: Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.
  • Power plant: four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
  • Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine
  • Wingspan: 172 feet
  • Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
  • Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
  • Weight: 160,000 pounds (72,575 kilograms)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 336,500 pounds (152,634 kilograms)
  • Fuel capacity: 167,000 pounds (75750 kilograms)
  • Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
  • Speed: high subsonic
  • Range: intercontinental
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
  • Armament: conventional or nuclear weapons
  • Crew: two pilots
  • Unit cost: Approximately id=”listicle-2626058834″.157 billion (fiscal 1998 constant dollars)
  • Initial operating capability: April 1997
  • Inventory: active force: 20 (1 test)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (550 knots, 630 mph, 1,010 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
  • Cruise speed: Mach 0.85[63] (487 knots, 560 mph, 900 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
  • Range: 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 kilometers (6,900 miles))
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,200 meters)

(Source: AF.mil)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Inside the Air Force’s new adjustable-size bomb loads

The Air Force is moving quickly to engineer new bombs across a wide range of “adjustable” blast effects to include smaller, more targeted explosions as well as larger-impact 2,000-pound bomb attacks for a “high-end” fight.

The principle concept informing the argument, according to Air Force weapons experts, is that variable yield munitions, and certain high-yield bombs in particular, are greatly needed to address an emerging sphere of threats, to include rival major powers such as Russia and China.


Developers make the point that fast-changeable effects are needed to present Air Force attackers with a “sniper-like” precision air strikes as well as massive attacks with expanded “energetics” and more destructive power.

Dialable Effects Munitions

The technical foundation for this need for more “variable yield” effects is lodged within the widely-discussed fact that bomb-body advances have not kept pace with targeting technology or large platform modernization.

“The bomb body, a steel shell filled with explosive material, is relatively unchanged across the past 100 years. But some elements of modern munitions have significantly evolved — particularly guidance elements. Munition effects — the destructive envelope of heat, blast, and fragmentation — remain essentially unchanged” a recent Mitchell Institute. study, called “The Munitions Effects Revolution,” writes.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

The study, co-authored by By Maj Gen Lawrence A. Stutzriem, (Ret.) and Col Matthew M. Hurley, (Ret.) explains that attack platforms such as a Reaper drone or fighter jet are all too often greatly limited by “fixed explosion” settings and weapons effects planned too far in advance to allow for rapid, in-flight adjustments.

To reinforce this point, Dr. John S. Wilcox, Director of Munitions for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), said that counterterrorism, counterinsurgency or pinpointed attack requirements — and “high-yield” warzone weapons — will all be essential moving forward.

An excerpt from the report:

Investment in munition bomb bodies, key components that govern the nature of an actual explosion, has yielded limited incremental improvements in concept, design, and manufacturing. However, the essential kinetic force — the “boom” — is relatively unchanged. Given a rise in real-world demand for more varied explosive effects, it is time for the Air Force to consider new technologies that can afford enhanced options.

Time-sensitive targeting driven by a need for fast-moving ISR is also emphasized in the Mitchell Institute study, according to Wilcox.

Wilcox explained that emerging weapons need to quicken the kill chain by enabling attack pilots to make decisions faster and during attack missions to a greater extent.

“The bomb body, minus the guidance unit is relatively unchanged. A 500-pound bomb body flown in 1918 is now being dropped by the F-35 — with a fixed explosive envelope,” Stutzriem writes. “Once weapons are uploaded and aircraft are airborne, fuse flexibility is usually limited and sometimes fixed.”

For instance, the report cites a statistic potentially surprising to some, namely that Air Force F-15s during periods of time in Operation Inherent Resolve, were unable to attack as much as 70-percent of their desired targets due to a lack of bomb-effect flexibility.

“Multi-mode energetics”

Air Force weapons developers are accelerating technology designed to build substantial attack flexibility within an individual warhead by adjusting timing, blast effect and detonation.

This, naturally, brings a wide range of options to include enabling air assets to conduct missions with a large variation of attack possibilities, while traveling with fewer bombs.

“We want to have options and flexibility so we can take out this one person with a hit to kill munition crank it up and take out a truck or a wide area,” Col. Gary Haase, Air Force Research Laboratory weapons developer, told Warrior Maven and a reporter from Breaking Defense in an interview at AFA.

Hasse explained “multi-mode energetics” as a need to engineer a single warhead to leverage advanced “smart fuse” technology to adjust the blast effect.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A dozen 2,000-pound joint direct attack munitions.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

He described this in several respects, with one of them being having an ability to use a targeted kinetic energy “hit-to-kill” weapon to attack one person at a table without hurting others in the room.

Additionally, both Stutzriem and Hasse said building weapons with specific shapes, vectors and sizes can help vary the scope of an explosive envelope. This can mean setting the fuse to detonate the weapon beneath the ground in the event that an earth penetrating weapon is needed — or building new fuses into the warhead itself designed to tailor the blast effect. These kinds of quick changes may be needed “in-flight” to address pop-up targets, Hasse explained.

“We are looking at novel or unique designs from an additive manufacturing perspective, as to how we might build the energetics with the warhead from a combination of inert and explosive material depending upon how we detonate it,” Hasse told Warrior Maven.

The emerging technology, now being fast-tracked by the AFRL, is referred to as both Dialable Effects Munitions and Selectable Effects Munitions.

A high-impulse design allows a single round to have the same effect against a structure as four to five Mk-82s, the Mitchell Institute report says.

“We are talking about the explosive envelope itself — which is a combination of heat, blast and fragmentation,” Stutzhiem said.

Russian and Chinese threats

Air Force experts and researchers now argue that, when it comes to the prospect of major power warfare, the service will need higher-tech, more flexible and more powerful bombs to destroy well fortified Russian and Chinese facilities.

“There is now a shift in emphasis away from minimizing to maximizing effects in a high-end fight — requirements from our missions directorate say we continue to have to deal with the whole spectrum of threats as we shift to more of a near-peer threat focus. We are looking at larger munitions — with bigger effects,”

While Wilcox did not specify a particular country presenting advanced threats, as is often the case with Air Force weapons developers, several senior former service officers cited particular Russian and Chinese concerns in a recent study from The Mitchell Institute.

“The Russians and Chinese, in particular, have observed American warfighting strategies over the last several decades and have sought to make their valued military facilities especially difficult to destroy. US commanders involved in future scenarios with these two potential adversaries may find themselves requiring exceedingly powerful munitions to eliminate these types of targets,” the study writes.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The run-down on which precision guidance method works best

The Joint Direct Attack Munition gets a lot of the press these days because of how precise and lethal it is. Its GPS guidance, however, is actually just one of three general approaches to precision-guided weapons. Outside of GPS guidance systems, ordnance is directed by lasers and television. All of these approaches have their pros and cons — here’s the run-down:


Laser guidance

This was the first guidance system to be widely used as a weapon. The Paveway bombs first made their impact in the Vietnam War, where they took down the Paul Doumer bridge. These bombs were the stars during Desert Storm.

Pros: Accuracy. Bombs guided by lasers hit within three feet of the aiming point. They can also engage moving targets, like ships or trucks, or change targets when necessary.

Cons: Laster guidance doesn’t work in bad weather or when there’s a lot of smoke and dust. The target must be consistently “painted” with the laser, limiting a plane’s maneuverability.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Television guidance

This system also made its debut during the Vietnam War with the GBU-8 HOBOS. As the name implies, this guidance system uses a television camera to send images back to the launch station. There, an operator can offer corrections to the missile or bomb’s course, ensuring it hits the intended target. Later versions, like the GBU-15, allow the pilot to control the bomb all the way in.

Pros: This type of guidance can be used to hit a moving target and, when necessary, change targets altogether. The system also features very good battle damage assessment, telling operators exactly what was hit based on the last image transmitted before impact.

Cons: These systems are pretty expensive. Additionally, the need for a pilot to control some versions can be a fatal distraction in combat. This guidance system is best used from two-seat planes, meaning the F-22 and F-35, which currently may not be able to use these weapons effectively.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
The GBU-15 uses a TV camera to allow the pilot (or weapon systems officer) to get a bomb’s-eye view of the target. (USAF photo)

GPS guidance

In the War on Terror, the Joint Direct Attack Munition has become the precision-guided weapon of choice. In some ways, it is arguably the simplest of the systems — with a tail kit and guidance package. It places the bomb within about 30 feet of the target and is responsible for ruining the days of plenty of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS thugs.

Pros: This is a fire-and-forget system — there’s no need to guide the bomb manually. It’s also the cheapest system.

Cons: Currently, GPS guided systems aren’t very good at handling moving targets. Additionally, its use is restricted to land-based targets.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, drop 2,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions on a cave in eastern Afghanistan, Nov. 26, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

4 US weapons that have been declared illegal by enemies

The U.S. has a legitimate claim as one of the more honorable warfighting nations on Earth. Sure, we get involved in a lot more wars than some others, but we also follow lots of rules about how to fight them and have even pushed for greater regulation of war and prevention of conflict from the League of Nations to the U.N. and dozens of treaties besides. But, oddly enough, we still use a few weapons that other nations have banned, like these four:


5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions during a test.

(U.S. Air Force)

Cluster munitions

Cluster munitions are weapons with a lot more weapons inside of them, usually bombs, rockets, or artillery shells filled with bomblets. They’re super effective, allowing a single bomb drop to disperse hundreds of what are essentially grenades. Each one releases shrapnel and shreds light vehicles, aircraft, and personnel.

But many of those grenades fail to detonate when dropped, meaning that dozens or even hundreds of pieces of unexploded ordnance can be left behind. These have an unfortunate tendency to explode when civilians stumble across them, so most countries banned them by ratifying the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. America has not ratified that treaty and, in 2017, relaxed rules that limited the ability of the Department of Defense to buy cluster munitions.

But the military is trying to find new weapons that wouldn’t violate the treaty but would be effective.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A Marine Corps gunnery sergeant shows how to load the M1014 shotgun.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Daniel A. Wulz)

Shotguns

Yeah, it may sound crazy, but Germany tried to argue in World War I that shotguns were an illegal weapon. Don’t worry; you’re not a war criminal. Everyone else in the world agreed that Germany, who had rolled out chemical weapons during the same war, was full of crap.

But yes, America’s enemy Germany tried to get the shotgun banned on the basis that they were unnecessarily painful, but the U.S. used them to quickly clear German trenches. America had a suspicion that Germany was declaring them illegal because they were effective, not because they were cruel. So we just kept using them and won the war.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

U.S. Airman 1st Class Samuel Garr practices attacking an enemy with pepper spray in his eyes.

(U.S. Air Force Airman Nicole Sikorski)

Pepper spray and similar non-lethal gasses

Yeah, this one is actually illegal. Like, right now, it’s illegal to take pepper spray into combat and use it. America, of course, has plenty of pepper spray and other non-lethal weapons, but the military and police can only use it on their own citizens.

These weapons are illegal under Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Rifle fire is fine. Pepper spray is not. Yeah, it’s a weird rule.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

U.S. Army Reserve engineers conduct mine clearance during training in 2014.

(U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Sauret)

Landmines

Like cluster munitions, landmines are one of the weapons that were declared illegal for good reason (unlike shotguns and pepper spray because, I mean, come on). The Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 has 164 countries as members, over 80 percent of the world. But the U.S. is not a signatory.

But the U.S. does enforce its own limitations on mine use. While Claymore mines are used around the world, most of America’s mine stockpiles are restricted. America has actually banned the use of most mines everywhere except the Korean Peninsula, the place where the U.S. and its ally hold a 150-mile barrier against an angry communist regime with artillery and infantry positioned just 20 miles from Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

Weird that the U.S. wants to keep all of its options on the table for that fight. Weird.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force F-117 Nighthawks can still be seen around the US

On July 26, 2018, two stealth aircraft were spotted taking off at the remote Tonopah Test Range in southwest Nevada, with one lingering over the base while the other appeared to head south.

Two stealth aircraft operating out of the secretive Tonopah base isn’t out of the ordinary. In this instance however, the two aircraft in question appeared to be F-117 Nighthawks — planes that were retired more than a decade ago.


The technology for the F-117 was developed in the 1970s, and the first F-117 unit reached initial operating capability in October 1983, becoming the first operational, purpose-built stealth aircraft.

It was designed to attack high-value targets without being detected. It could carry 5,000 pounds of internal payload, and two engines could push it to 684 mph. The plane, which took part in the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War, was renowned for its precision.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

An F-117 Nighthawk flies over the Nevada desert.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II)

“It was the marriage of the GBU-27 to the F-117 that had a laser designator in its nose that made it such a precise, deadly platform,” former F-117 maintainer Yancy Mailes said in an Air Force release marking the 10th anniversary of the plane’s retirement, referring to a guided bomb . “It was best demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm when pilots snuck into Iraq and dropped weapons down the elevator shaft of a central communications building.”

Nighthawk pilots were nicknamed ” Bandits .” The maintainers, designated material application and repair specialists, were known as MARS, which eventually became ” Martians .”

While the plane was designed to elude detection, one was shot down by Yugoslavian air defenses in March 1999. The pilot bailed out and was rescued within hours, as enemy forces closed in.

After 25 years in service, the Air Force retired the F-117 on April 22, 2008. But the story didn’t end there. An Air Force official told Military.com in September 2017 that the service got permission to retire 52 Nighthawks but wanted to maintain them in case they were called back into service.

Rumors that the plane was still in flight continued for years. In late 2014, The Aviationist published photos showing F-117s in operation at Tonopah. It was suspected that the planes were being used for some kind of testing.

When asked by Defense News, the Air Force said a few weeks later that the Nighthawk was retired. Sort of.

The aircraft were being kept in Type 1000 storage, meaning they were being maintained in case they needed to be recalled to active service. That meant keeping them in their “original, climate-friendly hangars” at Tonopah, rather than building new storage facilities for them elsewhere, the Air Force said at the time.

In accordance with the Type 1000 program, or “flyable storage,” the service added, “some F-117 aircraft are occasionally flown.”

In October 2010, footage emerged that appeared to show the aircraft flying near Groom Lake Air Force Base, which is part of Area 51, and near Tonopah Test Range.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

An F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter refuels from a 100th Aerial Refueling Wing KC-135R Stratotanker based at RAF Mildenhall in the UK, March 27, 1999.

(US Air Force photo)

Four years on, the shadowy Nighthawk is still seen skulking through the sky over the American West.

About six F-117s are kept in flyable condition at any one time, according to The War Zone , which reported that the planes are likely flown by contractors. That may be why there haven’t been official references to the Nighthawk’s activities, which may involve testing of low-observable technology.

Two Nighthawks were spotted flying together over Nevada in July 2016. In November 2017, what appeared to be an F-117 was spotted being hauled under cover on a trailer near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The next day, an F-117 was observed in flight north of Rachel, Nevada, being chased by a two-seat F-16 in what may have been a test of some kind of anti-stealth technology, The Aviationist said at the time.

But the Nighthawk’s time may finally be nigh.

According to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the Air Force is to remove four F-117s from service every year, a process known as demilitarizing aircraft, a service official told Military.com in September 2018.

“We had to keep all the F-117s in flyable storage until the fiscal ’17 NDAA gave us permission to dispose of them,” the official said.

It will be some time before the last F-117 leaves the flight line for good, and the expense of keeping them maintained in a museum may be prohibitive, meaning the Air Force could scrap them outright, according to The War Zone. But some vestiges of the Nighthawk may live on.

“It was a unique experience,” retired Col. Jack Forsythe, who first flew a Nighthawk in 1995 and led the final formation flight in 2008, said in early 2018 “It’s probably the same feeling that a lot of our (single seat) F-22 (Raptor) and F-35 (Lightning II) pilots feel today.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-14 killed three MiGs with a single missile

A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.

But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.


Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

You can’t slap sanctions on style, apparently.

Now Read: This Iranian was the highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever

The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.

Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.

In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.

By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.

Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.

They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.

Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Comparing the Soviet SKS rifle to the American M1 carbine

Whenever you compare the merits of two firearms against one another, there will be a huge row. Just ask fans of the M1911 carbine, designed by John Moses Browning — which served in the American military as the primary sidearm for seven decades — what they think of the M9 Beretta.

But let’s take a look at two semi-automatic carbines that were in service about 70 years ago: The Russian SKS and the American M1 carbine.


Both were in service in World War II (prototypes of the SKS saw action against the Nazis) and both saw action in Korea and Vietnam. However, they’re very different.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

A Marine covers personnel during the first flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.

(USMC photo by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery)

The M1 carbine, first introduced in 1942, fires a special .30-caliber round that’s about an inch-and-a-third long (as opposed to the roughly two-and-a-half-inch length of the .30-06 round). It’s semi-automatic and can use a 15 or 30-round detachable magazine. It weighs about five pounds unloaded. Today’s troops carrying a lot of stuff — that light weight can be a back-saver. The 110-grain .30 carbine round could go 1,990 feet per second.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Malian troops stand at attention with SKS rifles.

(US Army photo by Staff Sergeant Samuel Bendet)

The SKS rifle introduced the 7.62x39mm cartridge to the world. It uses an internal 10-round magazine that is reloaded using stripper clips. In a way, this is much like how just about every modern (post-1898) military rifle prior to the M1 Garand was reloaded. The 7.62x39mm round propels a 123-grain bullet at 1,653 feet per second. The SKS weighs in at roughly eight pounds.

So, which of these rifles is better? Let’s be honest: Both have passed the longevity test. The M1 Carbine is still in service with Israel and Nicaragua, among other countries, and the SKS still sees action in places like Mali. But assuming all other things, like training and competency, are equal, a soldier with the M1 carbine would have a slight edge — at least at close range —due to the increased magazine capacity and the rifle’s lighter weight.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army’s new goggles allow soldiers to see through walls

The brand new Integrated Augmented Vision System goggles are a game changer for infantry. The Army looks to purchase upwards of 40,000 for its soldiers at the end of 2021. 

Made by Microsoft, the new goggles have been going through rigorous testing by soldiers over the past year. This is the Army’s way of providing a true heads-up display or HUD, something which wasn’t accomplished in previous technological goggle attempts. Currently, soldiers must stop what they are doing to consult with a handheld device or paper to get information. No longer, these new goggles will project the vital information in real time as they wear them. 

It’s a technology Army leadership committed to as a part of their 2018 defense strategy.

Not only will IAVS provide vital HUD, but infantrymen will be able to see through the walls of their combat vehicles. It will also come with night vision, heat sensories, threat detection and aids for target acquisition. 

In April of 2020, its developers also adjusted the design to take the wearer’s temperature and vital signs, something especially important as the world continues to battle COVID-19. By October of 2020, Army Special Forces, Rangers, and soldiers with 25th Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division and 82nd Airborne Division and members of the Marine Corps had tested the device.

“This changes how we operate honestly,” said Sergeant Philip Bartel in an interview with the Army. “Now guys aren’t hanging out of vehicles in dangerous situations trying to get views on what’s going on. Leadership will be able to maneuver their elements and get view-on-target without having to leave the safety of their armored vehicles. Maneuvering elements with that kind of information will minimize casualties and will overall drastically change how we operate and increase our effectiveness on the battlefield.”

new goggles
A soldier wearing AN/PVS-5 night vision goggles. These are cool, but the new goggles are game changers.

Forbes likened the new technology to video game Call of Duty, which has constant access to vital information as players navigate imagined combat situations. For soldiers on the ground living through the real call of duty, this advanced technology isn’t just a technological advancement. It’s life or death. 

Major Kevin Smith has been heading up the research, development and integration of the technology. In an interview with the Army he stated “It’s futuristic technology that we’ve all talked about and seen in movies and video games, but it’s something that we never imagined we would have the chance to fight with. It’s definitely technology that we are really excited to use as soon as they can get it to us.”

Although IAVS is still in the prototype phase, the results are impressive. It’s reported that as many as 40,000 goggles will be ordered for soldiers once the technology is fully approved. Operational tests are scheduled to begin in July 2021 and if all goes as planned, the Army will be making a big purchase. Writing the check for these life-saving goggles will be well worth the cost.

Articles

How the tough-as-nails OV-10 Bronco landed on a carrier

Sure, we all love the “Brrrrrt” of America’s A-10 Warthog — the legendary close air support plane that’s become the terror of Taliban insurgents and Iraqi bad guys alike.


5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
This photo shows a row of OV-10 Broncos parked on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan. (WATM photo)

But before the A-10 was the OV-10 Bronco. And while not a 100 percent close air support plane and tank killer like the A-10, the Bronco could deliver it’s own version of hurt when soldiers and Marines were in a pinch.

It’s rugged, powerful and can land just about anywhere with its beefed-up landing gear and high wing. In fact, it was even tested aboard the carrier USS John F. Kennedy in 1968 — without arresting gear.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
Check out that smokin’ gear!

Since it was retired in the 1995, the OV-10 has experienced a bit of a resurgence these days, with many in the special operations community, Army and Marine Corps calling for a “low and slow” light attack aircraft that can carry more, fly faster and orbit for longer than a helicopter, at a lot less cost than a sophisticated fighter like the F-35 Lightning II or even the aging A-10.

Heck, it even has a small cargo bay for gear and troops.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
No cat? No problem…

While there are other options out there, the OV-10 had been in the post-Vietnam inventory for years and still has a solid following in the services. In fact, U.S. special operations troops tested a NASA-owned Bronco recently for several of its missions and, according to an active duty aviator with knowledge of the tests, they loved it.

And if the Marine Corps or Navy says the OV-10 isn’t for them because it can’t land on a carrier? Well, here’s the evidence that it can.

Articles

This is how to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto

We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.


It was the moment of triumph for the plane, which had its own troubled development, and which was further hampered due to a friendly fire incident.

But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.

The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.

The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.

The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king
Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr. with Richard I. Bong (Majs. Bong and McGuire were the top two scoring U.S. aces in World War II with 40 and 38 victories, respectively; taken Nov. 15, 1944 in the Philippines). (U.S. Air Force photo)

The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the US Army has some of the best divers in the world

Believe it or not, America’s primary land combatant force has some of the best combat divers in the world. It may seem odd that the Army, tasked with “providing prompt, sustained, land dominance, across the full range of military operations and the spectrum of conflict” would have world-class divers. But the Army’s swimmers are kept plenty busy.


Mission of Army Divers

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The Army has two major classifications of divers: engineering and special operations. The engineering dive detachments make up the bulk of Army dive formations. Their primary mission is to conduct underwater engineering and disaster response.

Basically, these soldiers are responsible for making bridges safe, ensuring ports and harbors are stable and clear of dangerous debris, and clearing waterways like rivers. But they can also be sent to disaster response areas where they could conduct all of the above missions as well as search and rescue to save people in distress. They also provide emergency treatment for civilian divers suffering from decompression treatment.

That may not sound all that grueling. After all, welders don’t have to be super buff, why would an underwater welder have to be some elite soldier?

Well, divers are doing construction tasks like welding, cutting, bolting, and more, but they’re doing it while water presses against their bodies, they’re carrying 30 pounds or more of tanks and compressed air, and they may have to constantly paddle to stay in position for their work.

And that’s ignoring the mental fortitude needed to conduct dangerous operations underwater as cloudy water obscures vision, rushing water pushes against you, and the shadows of animals like gators or sharks pass over your body.

It’s because of all that strain that Army divers have a reputation for being jacked (not that the other services’ divers are any less fit, we’re just talking about the soldiers right now).

Army dives are typically made with teams of at least four or five divers, depending on the equipment being used. But dive detachments have 25 personnel, allowing them to support operations at three locations at once if so ordered. Each of the three dive squads in a detachment has six people at full manning, and there are seven more people assigned to the headquarters.

5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Pfc. Stephen Olinger checks his oxygen levels prior to an exercise during Army Engineer Diver Phase II training at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla., Nov. 28, 2018.

(U.S. Army Joe Lacdan)

A single squad can be deployed within 48 hours of a mission notice, or the entire detachment can move out within seven days if they receive logistics and security support from a larger unit. These short-notice missions can often be assessing damage to key infrastructure after a hurricane or earthquake or search and recovery after a disaster. But the detachment can be tasked with anti-terrorism swims, underwater demolition and construction, or salvage as well.

As we hinted above, though, the Army has Special Forces divers as well. But these divers have a more limited set of missions. They primarily are tasked with conducting reconnaissance on target areas or entering or exiting an area of operations via the water. They can conduct some demolition raids and security missions as well.

Their list of missions includes mobility and counter-mobility, physical security, and more. Each Special Forces battalion has three combat diving teams.

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