Why 5th generation 'minus' fighters are the future - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Last month, the U.S. Air Force made headlines around the world by suggesting that a new “5th generation minus” fighter might be the answer to the branch’s operational cost woes. After years of touting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the future of military aviation, this announcement led to a flurry of headlines characterizing the F-35 as a failed program. Although that may be an unfair characterization of the aircraft itself (as we’ve discussed before), there’s no denying that the Joint Strike Fighter has proven to be both less capable and far more expensive than originally intended.

In truth, the Air Force didn’t write off the F-35 last month and more than it has in the past–like in 2018 when the branch threatened to reduce its order of F-35s in order to offset the aircraft’s high operating costs. Now, as then, the argument hasn’t been about whether or not the F-35 is a highly capable jet. In fact, among aviators who have spent time at the stick of the stealthy fighter, there’s little question as to how handy it is in a fight. The problem is, as is so often the case, really about money.

The F-35 is capable, but it’s also expensive.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
(Lockheed Martin photo/Tom Reynolds)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s procurement price has lowered consistently over the past decade to the point where its per-unit price is now actually lower than that of the 4th generation powerhouse F-15EX being purchased as replacements for the force’s aging F-15s. That price is awfully misleading, however, for a number of important reasons.

A new F-35A will set the Air Force back a cool $77.9 million. For that price, the Air Force gets the stealthiest fighter on the planet with the best data fusion capabilities a fighter has ever seen… but only for 8,000 flight hours or so. Each of those hours, it’s important to note, cost the Air Force around $44,000.

The F-15EX, on the other hand, rings in at slightly more: about $80 million per jet–and while it may not be stealthy, the new F-15s are expected to have a whopping 20,000-hour operational lifespan, with each of those hours costing the branch about $29,000. Of course, it’s important to remember that the F-15EX isn’t a suitable replacement for the F-35… they really do fill very different roles.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Two F-35A Lightning IIs from the 388th Fighter Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah, and three F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, England, fly in formation during a training sortie over the United Kingdom. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Roidan Carlson)

The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft that isn’t the fastest or most nimble, nor does it carry a ton of firepower… but it is incredibly difficult to target, and perhaps most important of all, its onboard computers can manage disparate data from near and far sensors in a way no aircraft before it ever could. Having an F-35 in the neighborhood can actually make 4th generation jets nearby more lethal, thanks to fused data stream F-35 pilots have access to from inside their $400,000 helmets.

“There has never been an aircraft that provides as much situational awareness as the F-35,” explained Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 pilot in the Air Force Reserves.

“In combat, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold.”

This is really what Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr was getting at in his recent comments that took the world by storm.

“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays,” Brown said.

“This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
An F-35 Lightning II flies alongside an F-16 Fighting Falcon (U.S. Air Force photo)

If money were no object, the Air Force would probably be happy to replace every F-16 in the force with a shiny new F-35, but ongoing issues with the aircraft have stalled full-rate production for years, and truthfully, the Air Force couldn’t afford to fly a fleet of F-35s that large. It’s probably also important to note that if money were really no object, the Air Force would probably kickstart production of the F-22 for air superiority roles again. Though, it’s important to note that restarting the F-22 would likely cost far more than developing a new and better fighter. Much of the supply chain and facilities used for the F-22 have since been cannibalized by the F-35 here in the money-is-an-object dimension we’re all trapped in.

6th Generation fighters won’t be any better

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Artist’s rendering of a 6th generation fighter (U.S. Air Force)

So, with the understanding that the F-35 isn’t a cost-effective solution to tactical operations in uncontested or lightly contested environments, some may be apt to suggest we go all-in on the development of a “6th generation” fighter like the one the Air Force claims to have already tested. That approach, however, isn’t going to solve the F-35’s budgetary woes. Chances are, a more advanced fighter would exacerbate them.

The reason the F-35 has proven so expensive is really a combination of its unprecedented nature and poor acquisition policies within the Defense Department. When the Joint Strike Fighter program began. Lockheed Martin’s X-35 and Boeing’s X-32 were asked to build something with a broader capability set and greater technological requirements than any fighter that had come before them. In a very real way, many within the aviation industry weren’t even sure an aircraft could do all the things the Pentagon wanted from this new fighter.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
The Boeing X-32, left, and the Lockheed X-35, right. (Boeing)

“If you were to go back to the year 2000 and somebody said, ‘I can build an airplane that is stealthy and has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and can go supersonic,’ most people in the industry would have said that’s impossible,” Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s general manager for the program from 2000 to 2013 told The New York Times.

“The technology to bring all of that together into a single platform was beyond the reach of industry at that time.”

It was the F-35’s forward reaching goals, combined with a policy of concurrent production wherein Lockheed Martin would start delivering F-35s before they had been fully tested, that would eventually turn the program into a cautionary tale for defense budgeteers. And while some elements of the acquisition process have improved as a result… a “6th generation” fighter would struggle under some of the same challenges.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Lockheed Martin’s X-35C during testing. (WikiMedia Commons)

Fighter generational designations are not based on military standards or government policy–they’re really nothing more than industry terms used to lump fighters of similar capabilities together. Currently, there are no established requirements for what makes a “6th generation” fighter, but by its very definition, it would have to represent a significant jump in capability over fighters like the F-35 or F-22. New technology is always more expensive than the stuff you have on your shelf.

As such, a next-generation fighter would indeed offer useful new capabilities, but likely in a package that’s not much easier to pay for than our current stable of stealth jets. America needs to field such a fighter, but in the short term, putting all of our eggs in that basket likely would result in more fiscal woes, rather than fewer.

4th Generation fighters are part of the answer

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
The first U.S. Air Force F-15EX fighter aircraft took its maiden flight February 2, 2021 in St. Louis. The 173rd Fighter Wing is scheduled to become the F-15EX Fighter Training Unit in 2024. (Photo Courtesy of Boeing/Eric Shindelbower)

Any time you mention funneling money into new 4th generation fighter programs like the F-15EX or the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet, the response is the same: “Why buy old, non-stealthy fighters in this era of F-35s, F-22s, Su-57s, and J-20s?”

The answer is actually pretty simple. These stealth jets are unnecessarily expensive for combat sorties over places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or most of Africa–all of which currently see U.S. troops embedded with local militaries for varying sorts of combat and anti-terror operations. Why pay $44,000 an hour for close air support when the better suited A-10 can do it for a measly $19,000 per hour?

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
It’s pretty spectacular that firing 1,800 depleted uranium rounds at your target per minute is considered a “cost saver.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

And therein lies the importance of America’s legacy aircraft. In order to balance current combat operations with mitigating threats posed by near-peer nations like China, the U.S. needs jets that can handle today’s fight without draining the budget, so it can afford to build the right aircraft for the threats looming on the horizon.

Regardless of what sensational headlines may have told you in recent weeks, the F-35 isn’t seen as a failure among most of the Pentagon’s decision-makers. And thanks to the political insulation F-35 production has as a result of Lockheed spreading its facilities across most of America’s 50 states, few lawmakers are apt to vote against it either. The F-35 is here to stay. Now America needs to find ways to support it with other highly capable aircraft.

“The F-35 is the cornerstone of what we’re pursuing. Now we’re going to have the F-35, we’re getting it out, and we’re going to have it for the future,” Brown explained.

“The reason I’m looking at this fighter study is to have a better understanding of not only the F-35s we’re going to get but the other aspects of what complements the F-35.”

5th Generation “Minus” fighters may be just what the budget doctor ordered

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
South Korea and Indonesia’s KAI KF-X design is stealthier than an F-16, but less capable than an F-35, potentially making it the world’s first 5th generation “minus” fighter. (WikiMedia Commons)

This brings us to General Brown’s recent statements about developing a “clean sheet” fighter that couples some of the technological leaps found in 5th generation computing powerhouses like the F-35 with some of the cost savings found in 4th generation workhorses like the F-15EX. The result would be an aircraft that isn’t as advanced as the F-35, but more capable than non-stealthy 4th generation jets. This concept can already be found in the joint South Korean and Indonesian fighter program dubbed KAI KF-X.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
The KAI KF-X prototype shown here may become the world’s first operational 5th generation “minus” fighter. (Korea Aerospace Industries)

The truth is, nothing in war stays the same, least of all technology. As new air defense systems are developed, older systems become more affordable. In time, America may well find itself operating in airspace that is more contested than we currently find in the Middle East, but not quite as heavily defended as Moscow or Beijing.

In much the same way the F-117 was tasked with flying ahead of the non-stealth aircraft participating in Desert Storm so they could bomb Baghdad as the fighting kicked off, F-35s and B-21 Raiders will likely fill that role in the future. It would be the job of America’s stealthiest platforms to soften up target areas for the rest of the force, engaging anti-ship platforms with the long-range B-21 to move carriers in, and then anti-air platforms with carrier-launched F-35s–as one example.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
A U.S. B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing and a Royal Netherlands air force F-35A conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Master Sgt. Matthew Plew)

Once those two objectives have been met, less stealthy aircraft can move in. Once air dominance has been established, so can the non-stealthy missile and bomb trucks like the F/A-18 Super Hornets.

By fielding an aircraft that adopts a stealth design but perhaps doesn’t rely as much on costly-to-maintain radar-absorbent coating, you get a plane that’s more survivable than an F-16 and cheaper than an F-35. If these aircraft are cheap enough, they can even replace 4th generation fighters in lightly contested airspace, making them more able to respond to a surprise development than older jets. Likewise, data fusion capabilities, while not as powerful as the F-35s, would give pilots more situational awareness, also increasing their survivability, as well as offensive capability.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

“When I think about that capability, I’m also thinking about the threat that we see today but the threat we’re projecting for the future,” Brown said.

“I want to have an understanding, which is why the study to me is important so we don’t just build something without thinking about the threat but also thinking about the complete fighter force. Not just the F-35 or NGAD.”

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need fighters. In a slightly less perfect world, they’d all be as stealthy as the F-35 and as dominant as the F-22. We live in neither, so in order to win America’s next war while supporting the ones we’re in, some budgetary compromise is required. A 5th generation “minus” fighter may be just that compromise.

Feature image courtesy of Korea Aerospace Industries

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

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This is how the AV-8 Harrier won dogfights by stopping in midair

Remember that scene in Top Gun when Maverick tells Goose that he’ll “hit the brakes” and the instructor pursuing him in an A-4 Skyhawk will just fly right by? Braking sharply, while in-flight, is indeed a tactic that can be utilized by fighter pilots in air-to-air combat, but no aircraft could ever do it quite as well as the venerable Harrier jumpjet. The technique was known as “VIFF”.


The Harrier, originally developed by Hawker Siddeley, and later, British Aerospace Systems (BAe), could achieve vertical flight by vectoring four large nozzles straight down towards the ground. The nozzles would vent exhaust at full thrust from the Harrier’s powerful main Pegasus engine, allowing the aircraft to hover, lift off the ground and land like a helicopter.

Related: The Marine Corps’ love-hate relationship with the AV-8 Harrier

This carved out a brand new niche for the Harrier that wasn’t really challenged at all until the recent F-35B Lightning II: it could literally fly and land anywhere and everywhere. The Harrier could be launched from highways and unimproved fields and grass strips, or could be deployed to sea aboard small aircraft carriers, or even re-purposed cargo vessels.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
An AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft performs a vertical landing on the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes

The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, which operated the navalized version of the jumpjet – the Sea Harrier – was enthusiastic about using the aircraft on deployments aboard light aircraft carriers, especially the HMS Invincible (R05). The problem with the Harrier/Sea Harrier was the fact that the aircraft was almost entirely geared towards the strike mission (i.e. flying air-to-ground attacks) while the air-to-air role was more of an afterthought that wasn’t really accounted for. The Royal Air Force’s land-based Harrier, the GR.3, would typically require a flight of more capable air superiority fighters to fly top cover, or to clear the airspace ahead of them, lest they be engaged and taken out of the fight. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, took a different approach.

The Sea Harrier, more commonly known as the “Shar”, was revamped to allow for it to assume both the ground attack, reconnaissance and fighter roles, giving the air wings assigned to the Invincible (and later, the HMS Hermes) a more diverse spread of available capabilities while in-theater (i.e. in the area of operation). The Shar could fly with AIM-9 Sidewiders short-range air-to-air missiles on under-wing pylons, and was equipped with ADEN 30mm cannons to be used for strafing land-based targets or attacking enemy fighters in the air. The Fleet Air Arm’s pilots needed to first develop the tactics required to help the Shar’s future pilots fight and win against enemy fighters that were likely more suited towards aerial combat than the high-wing strike jumpjet.

On the other side of the pond, the United States Marine Corps was busy beefing up its air-to-ground capabilities with the AV-8A Harrier. This new strike jet would give them a versatile fast attack option that could potentially be deployed really anywhere around the world, especially aboard aircraft carriers which would serve as forward-operating staging platforms. In 1976, Marines began taking the Harrier to sea, first aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Midway-class aircraft carrier. On the FDR, the Marine contingent would test out the Harrier’s ability to operate in adverse weather conditions, as well as pit it in air-to-air mock dogfights against the ship’s complement of F-4 Phantom IIs. Marine pilots quickly came to the conclusion that in a close-in fight, they could actually use the aircraft’s thrust vectoring to their advantage.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Capt. Jonathan Lewenthal and Capt. Eric Scheibe, AV-8B Harrier pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 231, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over southern Helmand province, Afghanistan. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gregory Moore

The Marine Corps put in a request with Rolls Royce, the designer and builder of the Harrier’s Pegasus engine, as to whether or not this technique would put unnecessary and unwanted stresses on the engine, or if it would outright spoil the engine’s functionality. They still carried on with testing before Rolls Royce got back to them with the “all-clear”! Thrust vectoring while in flight could prove to be the key maneuver they needed for closer air-to-air combat. Ultimately, what resulted was known as Vectoring in Forward Flight (VIFF for short).

Also read: F-35 versus China and Russia

VIFF basically involved pilots rotating the nozzles forward from the usual in-flight horizontal position. In doing so, pilots could quickly deplete their airspeed and bleed energy, causing their surprised pursuer(s) to overshoot, suddenly finding their windscreen devoid of any prey they might have previously been chasing. After dropping altitude as a result of VIFFing, the Harrier would now be free to turn the tables on the predator, making the hunter the hunted. In a turning fight, this was an immense advantage for the Harrier’s pilot. But as soon as the pilot VIFFed his opponent, he had to have had a plan for dealing with the bandit, or else he would be in for a world of hurt; that wasn’t a trick any combat pilot would fall for twice.

Among VIFF’s disadvantages was the fact that it could only really be used effectively in turning fights. If the pursuing aircraft was flying with a wingman, or as part of a larger attack flight, the odds would be stacked fairly high against the Harrier. Additionally, after VIFFing, any other enemy fighters that weren’t engaged in the melee between the Harrier and the first jet were placed in a prime position to take a shot at the jumpjet, which took time to rebuild energy from the very-taxing VIFF maneuver (i.e. regain airspeed).

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
An AV-8B Harrier with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, flies in position while conducting aerial refueling training operations. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl

During the Falklands War, in the early 1980s, British Harrier pilots might have attempted putting VIFFing to use against Argentinian Mirage fighters, which were decidedly more suited towards the air-to-air role than the Harrier. In fact, no conclusive evidence exists to prove that VIFFing was indeed the deciding factor in any engagement involving the Harrier. However, even with the Mirage being built for air combat, it still proved to be ineffective against the superior training of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots and technology (i.e. the AIM-9L Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile), who did not lose a single Harrier or Sea Harrier in air-to-air combat during the entire conflict, while inflicting losses on the Argentinian air force. RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots were able to employ the tactics they developed like never before, proving that a Harrier, in the right hands, is truly a deadly and highly capable machine.

A huge thanks to Art Nalls of Nalls Aviation, home of the world’s ONLY civilian-owned and operated Sea Harrier for his help and advice in writing this article! Keep an eye out for Art and his legendary Shar on the airshow circuit in North America this year! Special thanks also to Alan Kenny for his fantastic Harrier and Sea Harrier pictures

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The M16 was originally intended to fire the 7.62mm NATO round

Today, the M16 rifle and M4 carbine are ubiquitous among American troops. These lightweight rifles, which both fire the 5.56mm NATO round, have been around for decades and are mainstays. The civilian version, the AR-15, is owned by at least five million Americans. But the troops hauling it around almost got a similar rifle in the 1950s that fired the 7.62mm NATO round.

It’s not the first classic rifle to be designed to fire one cartridge and enter service firing another. The M1 Garand, when it was first designed, was chambered for the .276 Pedersen round. The reason that round never caught on? The Army had tons of .30-06 ammo in storage, and so the legendary semi-auto rifle was adapted to work with what was available.


The story is much different for the M16. Eugene Stoner’s original design was called the AR-10 (the “AR” stood for “Armalite Rifle” — Armalite was to manufacture the weapon). This early design was a 7.62mm NATO rifle with a 20-round box magazine.

According to the National Rifle Association Museum, this rifle went head to-head with the FN FAL and the T44 to replace the M1 Garand. The T44 won out and was introduced to service as the M14. This doesn’t mean the AR-10 was a complete loss, however. Sudan and Portugal both bought the AR-10 for their troops to use and, from there, the rifle trickled into a few other places as well.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Portugal bought the AR-10 and used it in the Angolan War.

(Photo by Joaquim Coelho)

Armalite, though, wasn’t ready to give up on getting that juicy U.S. military contract, so they began work on scaling down the AR-10 for the 5.56mm cartridge. The Army tried the resulting rifle, the AR-15, out in 1958 and liked what the saw, pointing to a need for a lightweight infantry rifle. It was the Air Force, though, that was the first service to buy the rifle, calling it the M16, which serves American troops today.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

The AR-10 made a comeback of sorts during the War on Terror. Here, a Marine general fires the Mk 11 sniper rifle.

(USMC photo by Cpl. Sharon E. Fox)

Despite the immense popularity of the M16, the AR-10 never faded completely into obscurity. During the War on Terror, operation experience called for a heavier-hitting rifle with longer range. In a way, the AR-10 made a comeback — this time as a designated marksman rifle in the form of modified systems, like the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and Mk 11 rifle.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Variants of the AR-10 are on the civilian market, including this AR-10 National Match.

(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Over the years, the AR-10 has thrived as a semi-auto-only weapon, available on the civilian market, produced by companies like Rock River Arms and DPMS. In a sense, the AR-10 has come full circle.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch this U-2 spy plane get torn down in 2 minutes

The iconic U-2 spy plane debuted in 1955, and it’s still deployable thanks to a meticulous inspection called the Programmed Depot Maintenance every 4,700 flight hours.


This incredibly complex process requires technicians to disassemble and strip the paint off the entire plane to analyze every part and make repairs. Over 1,800 individual parts are removed and revised and 40,000 rivets inspected. After completion, the aircraft is reassembled and repainted before returning to the flight line.

For a plane that’s flown over the Soviet Union, Cuba, Korea and other places around the world since its secret introduction to the inventory, it has proven its worth. The Air Force keeps 33 of them on standby and plans to keep it flying until at least 2019.

This time lapse video from Sploid shows the entire process in under two minutes:

Sploid, YouTube

(h/t Kelsey D. Atherton at Popular Science)

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This ingenious 1911 pistol modification turns it into a dart gun

The 1911 pistol has been around for over 100 years. It is beloved by many for its ergonomics, accuracy and heavy-hitting .45 caliber round. In fact, some versions are still in service with the Marine Corps as the M45.


When something’s been around for so long, it’s also a safe bet that people are tinkering with its design. You can find 1911s in various calibers aside from its original .45 ACO, including 9mm NATO, 10mm Auto, and .22 long rifle.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

In an article at PopularMechanics.com, Ian McCollum of ForgottenWeapons.com noted that during World War II, the Office of Strategic Services wanted something that could allow commandos and other secret agents to kill sentries quietly and at a distance.

This is actually very important because if the sentry sees you and sounds the alarm, he’s won. It doesn’t matter if he’s hit the alarm with his dying effort. That alarm could even be him dying very noisily.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

The key to this was a two-part system that could be added to just about any M1911 pistol that was called “Bigot.” The rear portion was inserted through the ejection port. It had to be set up right to allow the M1911’s slide to close. Then, the piston would be screwed in. After that, a variety of darts – or even mini grenades – could be inserted for use in silently dispatching a sentry of the two-legged or four-legged variety. The darts and grenades would be fired by a .25 ACP blank.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Ian McCollum holds a M1911 with a Bigot system. The dart looks pretty nasty. (YouTube screenshot)

Tests with a quickly-made reproduction were kind of iffy (only one-third of the darts broke a glass target eight feet away). It’s probably why the Bigot never saw any real action.

Still, if Buffy needed a little extra edge to dust some vamps or if 007 wants a gadget that makes for great cinematic eye candy, it’s probably a good choice. Watch the video below to hear Ian relate what we know about this nifty-looking piece!

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The world’s longest flight is moving one step closer to reality

Australian airline Qantas is taking the next steps towards its goal of having nonstop 19-hour flights between Sydney and London and New York.

The airline has openly discussed the endevour — internally known as “Project Sunrise” — for several years, following the successful launch of a slightly shorter, but still lengthy, nonstop flight between Perth and London in March 2018.

That route is measured as about 9,000 miles and takes around 17 hours, while the Sydney-New York route would be around 10,000 miles, and the Sydney-London flight is about 500 miles longer.


Qantas is scheduled to receive three new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft this fall — one each in October, November, and December 2019. The planes are being built at Boeing’s Seattle plant, and would normally be flown by Qantas pilots straight to Australia from there.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

(Photo by Suhyeon Choi)

Instead, the airline plans to fly the planes to New York and London first, and then fly nonstop to Sydney from there.

The planes won’t have paying customers — instead, they’ll each have about 40 people on board — including crew — most of whom will be Qantas employees. the airline says it plans to study how those on board react to the lengthy 19-hour flights.

According to the airline, “[s]cientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement, and inflight entertainment to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock.”

Commercial flights with full or mostly-full passenger loads are not currently possible due to the range of the airplanes available today. Keeping the planes mostly empty will increase their range, making the test flights possible. A normal Qantas 787-9 can seat up to 236 passengers, plus crew, and carry both luggage and cargo, while still achieving a range of about 9,000 miles — the length of the Perth-London flight.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

(Photo by John Kappa)

The airline is considering new ultra-long-range aircraft from Boeing and Airbus for the eventual New York and London to Sydney flights — Airbus’ rumored A350-1000ULR airplane, and Boeing 777X project, both of which are still being tested. Qantas has previously said it would make a decision around the end of 2019.

The world’s current longest flight— from Singapore to New York’s Newark Airport — is operated by a Singapore Airlines A350-900ULR configured with only business class and premium economy seats— no regular economy cabin.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the Air Force helps fight American wildfires

Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.

That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.


The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017, in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Chino Valley firefighters watch the oncoming flames of the Thomas Fire from the yard of a home in Montecito, California, Dec. 12, 2017. C-130Js of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, carried the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System and dropped fire suppression chemicals onto the fire’s path to slow its advance in support of firefighters on the ground.

(Photo by J.M. Eddins JR.)

“I looked out my window, and could see the sky above the ridge by my home was glowing really orange and red already. My wife and I decided at that point to just grab what we could get and go somewhere safe,” Dawson said.

Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.

Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.

The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.

Most of the airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five airmen lost their homes.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Residents of a 52-unit apartment complex search for belongings, Dec. 13, 2017, after the Thomas Fire roared through their neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson, a C-130J Hercules aircraft maintenance technician with the 146th Airlift Wing, was also a resident of the apartment complex.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to day care up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.

Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.”

Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”

The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.

“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”

The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, has been with the 146th for 30 years and has lived in the Ventura/Santa Barbara, California community for about 48. He has been flying the modular airborne fire fighting system for approximately 20 years. The 146th was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”

Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.

On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.

“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”

As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, 146th Airlift Wing loadmaster, checks the level of retardant in the module airborne firefighting system as redardant is loaded, Dec. 9, 2017. The 146th AW is one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight wildfires.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“As a result of that incident we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.

This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.

The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.

“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”

Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.

“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”

Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.

“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”

For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Tanner Renz, Kern County Fire Department, looks on as a C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.

Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.

“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.

“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Navy needs more gear to hunt Russian submarines

Intensifying submarine activity in the waters around Europe has led the US Navy to request millions of additional dollars to buy submarine-detecting sonobuoys, according to an Omnibus funding measure the Pentagon requested from Congress early July 2018.

The Navy has asked Congress to allot $20 million to buy more air-dropped sonobuoys that can detect submarines and transmit data back to surface ships and aircraft.


Supplies of such buoys have fallen critically short after an “unexpected high anti-submarine warfare operational tempo in 2017 [which] resulted in unexpected high expenditure rate of all type/model/series,” the Omnibus says, according to Breaking Defense .

US and NATO officials have repeatedly warned about increased Russian submarine activity in the seas around Europe over the past several years.

US warships have tracked Russian subs in the eastern Mediterranean, where British subs have also reportedly tangled with their Russian counterparts. Russian submarines have transited the area to reach the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet base and to support the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, where a years-long civil war has been a ” test bed ” for new Russian submarine capabilities.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

A crew member unloads a sonobuoy on a P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft, April 10, 2014.

(US Navy photo by Chief Mass Comm. Specialist Keith DeVinney)

Interest in submarine and anti-submarine warfare is growing around the world — one 2015 study predicted global demand for sonobuoys would grow by 40% through 2020, with most of the interest in passive sonobuoys that can listen for submarines without being detected.

Other sonobuoys on the market include active sonobuoys, which send pings through the water to produce echoes from targets, and special-purpose sonobuoys that collect other data for radar and intelligence analysts.

Late 2017, US Naval Air Systems Command announced a 9.8 million order for up to 166,500 sonobuoys of various types for anti-submarine warfare from defense firm Erapsco. In January 2018, the firm received another contract for .6 million for engineering support for the service’s active sonobuoys.

Sonobuoys are air-launched , mostly from MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft by aircrews trained to array them into patterns designed to detect and track passing submarines.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Participating countries sail in the Black Sea during Sea Breeze 2018, July 13, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Ford Williams)

Russia’s sub fleet is currently far smaller than its Soviet predecessor, but the boats it has added are increasingly sophisticated. The US Navy and its European partners can still field more advanced subs, but they have seen their fleets shrink and their anti-submarine capabilities wane in the years since the Cold War.

Both sides have devoted more attention to anti-submarine warfare.

During the last half of 2017, Russia partnered with China to carry out naval drills, including complex submarine and anti-submarine exercises, in the Baltic Sea and in the Pacific Ocean .

NATO navies and their partner forces have carried out similar exercises, including Sea Breeze 2018 in the Black Sea, during which a Turkish submarine played the role of the adversary force, and Dynamic Mongoose 2018 , which brought subs, ships, and aircraft from eight countries to the North Atlantic off the coast of Norway between June and July 2018 to work on their “warfighting skills in all three dimensions of Anti-Submarine-Warfare in a multinational and multi-threat environment,” NATO said in a release.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Upgrades complete for the Air Force’s massive C-5 Galaxies

Lockheed Martin said in early August 2018 that the last of 52 upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy cargo planes had been delivered to the Air Force, finishing the nearly two-decade-long modernization of the service’s largest plane.

Lockheed began work on the Air Force’s Reliability and Re-engineering Program (RERP) in 2001 and turned over the first operational C-5M Super Galaxy, as the latest version is called, on Feb. 9, 2009.


In the 17 years since the RERP effort started, 49 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A were upgraded, according to a Lockheed release, first cited by Air Force Times. The upgrades extend the aircraft’s service life into the 2040s, the contractor said.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

A C-5M Super Galaxy lands at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 4, 2016.

(US Air Force photo)

The program involved 70 modifications to improve the plane’s reliability, efficiency, maintainability, and availability, including changes to the airframe; environmental, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems; landing gear, and flight controls.

The main new feature is more powerful engines, upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric F-138 engines. The new engines, which are also quieter, allow the C-5M to haul more cargo with less room needed for takeoff.

“With the capability inherent in the C-5M, the Super Galaxy is more efficient and more reliable, and better able to do its job of truly global strategic airlift,” Patricia Pagan, a senior program manager at Lockheed, said in the release.

All together, the RERP upgrades yield “a 22 percent increase in thrust, a shorter takeoff roll; [and] a 58 percent improvement in climb rate,” according to release, which said the modifications give the C-5M greater fuel efficiency and reduce its need for tanker support.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

Airmen and Marines load vehicles into a C-5M Super Galaxy at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2014.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)

The C-5 stands 65 feet high with a length of 247 feet and a 223-foot wingspan. The upgraded C-5M can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles.

The plane can carry up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies.

The first C-5A was delivered to the Air Force in 1970. By 1989, 50 C-5Bs had joined the 76 C-5As that were already in service. Two C-5Cs, modified to carry the space shuttle’s large cargo container, were also delivered in 1989.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

An Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy taking off.

(Lockheed Martin photo)

The modernization push

The Air Force began a C-5 modernization push in 1998, starting the RERP in 2001 with plans to deliver 52 upgraded planes by fiscal year 2018. The remainder of the C-5 fleet was to be retired by September 2017.

But the C-5 fleet has face administrative and operational issues in recent years.

Due to budget sequestration, a number of C-5s were moved to backup status in over the past few years, meaning the Air Force still had the aircraft but no personnel or funding to operate them. In early 2017, Air Force officials said they wanted to move at least eight C-5s from backup status to active status.

“I need them back because there’s real-world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” then-Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said at the time.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

A C-5M Super Galaxy taxis down the flight line before takeoff at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 17, 2015.

(US. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

In the months since, the Air Force’s C-5s have encountered maintenance issues that required stand-downs.

In mid-July 2017, Air Mobility Command grounded the 18 C-5s — 12 primary and six backups — stationed at Dover Air Force Base after the nose landing-gear unit in one malfunctioned for the second time in 60 days. Days later, that order was extended to all of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s, which had to undergo maintenance assessments.

The issue was with the ball-screw assembly, which hindered the extension and retraction of the landing gear. The parts needed to fix the problem were no longer in production, however, but the Air Force was able to get what it needed from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where unused or out-of-service aircraft are stored.

In early 2018, the nose landing gear again caused problems when it failed to extend all the way for an Air Force Reserve C-5M landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The plane landed on its nose and skidded about three-quarters of the way down the runway. The cause of the accident and extent of the damage were not immediately clear, but none of the 11 crew members on board were hurt.

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

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out these 4 rewarding military IT careers

The military is flush with rewarding careers that require expertise with information technology and computer systems. As the military ramps up its use of technology to augment operations and defend against cyberattacks, these IT roles will become increasingly vital to the protection of the nation’s data and people. While some of these are traditional IT jobs, such as network and database administrators, cybersecurity specialists, and computer programmers, other roles are unique to the military environment.

If you’re interested in IT and serving our country, here are four intriguing military IT careers.


1. Cyberwarfare engineer.

The internet is the newest global battlefield. Seemingly everything is on the internet, and powerful entities want to damage their enemies’ vital infrastructure—including power grids and financial systems—through coordinated cyberattacks.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future
Osan aircraft maintainers keep F-16’s ready during RED FLAG

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

According to the U.S. Navy website, cyberwarfare engineers serve on the front lines by defending networks, searching for vulnerabilities in our enemies’ computer infrastructure, and developing systems that can exploit these vulnerabilities. They facilitate tactical operations through software development and programming, and they protect financial, personal, and governmental data from falling into the wrong hands.

Defense News reports that the base salary for this role is around ,000 a year, but it comes with various government benefits. It also notes that the U.S. Navy is hiring cyberwarfare engineers in an effort to “build a more informed and skilled software engineering cadre.” If you have a bachelor’s degree in or computer engineering and want to use your skills to defend the country, a career as a cyberwarfare engineer could be right for you.

2. Geospatial imaging officer.

Successful operations rely on understanding as much as possible about the location of enemy defenses, the surrounding terrain, nearby resources, and other information. According to Careers in the Military, geospatial imaging officers collect and analyze geospatial data from multiple sources, such as satellite imagery, topographical information, and other geographic intelligence, and they use this data to plan, organize, and execute tactical on-the-ground operations.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Sabrina Fine)

According to MyFuture, the average yearly salary for geospatial imaging officers is about ,000, and about 40 percent of professionals in this role have at least a bachelor’s degree. If you’re interested in geospatial technology and strategic defense, you might find a career as a geospatial imaging officer rewarding.

3. Intelligence specialist.

Today’s Military reports that intelligence specialists play a critical role in ensuring that military operations are planned using the most accurate and up-to-date information available about enemy forces and capabilities. IT specialists oversee the collection, production, analysis, and distribution of intelligence data to key military leaders and consumers.

Intelligence specialists have civilian-world counterparts in data scientists and research analysts. Candidates who are interested in this career should have strong analytical skills and an interest in computers, among other attributes. The average salary is about ,000 a year, according to Today’s Military, but intelligence officers with four-year degrees can earn much more—about ,000, on average.

4. Unmanned vehicle operations specialist.

The military uses unmanned vehicles to conduct remote surveillance, gather intelligence, attack targets, and explore dangerous terrain like the deep sea, among other applications. It needs skilled personnel to operate and maintain these vehicles, and that’s where unmanned vehicle operations specialists come in.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac)

These specialists use their background in computer science, programming, and systems administration to maneuver unmanned vehicles. On average, they make about ,000 a year, according to Today’s Military. If you like programming and operating robotic devices, this career might be for you.

As these positions illustrate, there are many ways to combine an interest in technology with the call of duty.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marines’ drone-killing lasers get even more powerful after upgrades

The Marine Corps‘ ground-based laser systems, which can be mounted to the tops of vehicles to take down drones, now have stronger beams to combat airborne threats.

The Corps has a new $2.5 million agreement with Boeing to service its Compact Laser Weapon System for the next five years. The system, which can be attached to combat vehicles, can be used on land or at sea.

Boeing just completed a round of updates to the service’s Compact Laser Weapon Systems, giving Marines the ability to take out bigger drones. The updates also made the laser weapon more reliable and faster, and they allow Marines to target more aircraft from greater distances, according to Boeing.

The changes come as the top U.S. general in the Middle East warned last month that cheap, off-the-shelf drones pose the most concerning tactical development in that region since terrorists began using improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.Advertisement

“These systems are inexpensive, easy to modify and weaponize, and easy to proliferate,” Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, said last month.

The Islamic State group has used drones to fly IEDs. One such attack killed two Kurdish fighters in 2016.

Militaries are also using drones to target and surveil troops. Marines using another vehicle-mounted system in 2019 jammed at least one Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 yards of their Navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz, sending it plummeting into the sea.

The Compact Laser Weapon System doesn’t just jam drones but destroys them. Josh Roth, a spokesman for Boeing’s missile and weapon systems, said the lasers can take out what the Defense Department refers to as Group 1 and 2 unmanned aircraft, which weigh as much as 55 pounds and can operate below 3,500 feet.

Boeing’s system also has a counter-sensor capability at longer ranges for larger targets, Roth said. The system uses software to spot and track a threat. Once a drone is spotted, the weapon system focuses a high-energy laser beam on the threat until it’s disabled and defeated, he added.

Marines began testing the system, the first ground-based laser approved for military use, in 2019. The laser gives Marines a lightweight option to target drones, Roth said, since it can be carried and operated by just one person.

“It … affords the warfighter the opportunity to save more expensive air defense missiles for other threats and reduces the logistics footprint by eliminating resupply needs for conventional ammunition,” he said.

Roth declined to say how many of the laser systems have gone to the Marine Corps and what units received them, citing operational security. Marine Corps photos and videos show low-altitude air defense battalions on the East and West coasts testing the systems.

Last year, Marines tested the upgraded laser weapon in Yuma, Arizona, where they were able to take down 12 out of 12 drone threats, according to Boeing. Now, those upgraded systems have been delivered to Marine units, Roth said.

The system has also been used in real-world missions, though Roth declined to say where.

The Air Force tested it at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base in September.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out the new 80-ton robotic assault breacher

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

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

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


Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

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

(US Army photo by Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

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

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

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

The plan is to get those troops out.

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

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Coast Guard wants cutters to get these high-tech drones

All Coast Guard National Security Cutters should have ScanEagle drones aboard and available for launch to boost high seas surveillance and aid in drug interdictions and arrests, according to Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.

Commanders who have used the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System, or UAS, have told him, ” ‘I don’t ever want to sail without ScanEagle again,’ ” Schultz said Dec. 7, 2018, at the National Press Club. “I’d like to see every national security cutter have one on the back.”


For the past 17 years, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center has experimented with various types of UAS, including a helicopter drone and MQ-1 Predator, for cutters but found them unsuited for the Coast Guard‘s dual mission of national security and law enforcement.

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

A ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle from ScanEagle Guardian Eight Site sits ready for launch.

(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Kristine Volk, Resolute Support Public Affairs)

In 2017, the Coast Guard tested a ScanEagle aboard the cutter Stratton on a six-week deployment to the Eastern Pacific. By the end of the deployment, the drone had flown 39 sorties for a total of 279 hours and assisted the crew in seizing 1,676 kilograms of contraband, valued at million. It also aided in the arrests of 10 alleged drug traffickers, according to the service.

The ScanEagle, made by Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, was developed from a commercial version designed to collect weather data and scan the ocean for schools of fish. The Coast Guard version is about 8 feet long, with a wingspan of 16 feet. The drone is sent aloft by a pneumatic launcher and recovered using a hook and arresting wire.

In June 2018, Insitu announced the signing of a 7 million contract with the Coast Guard for the installation of ScanEagles aboard cutters. In a statement, Don Williamson, vice president and general manager of Insitu Defense, said when ScanEagle initially deployed with the Stratton, “We recognized what an incredible opportunity we had to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to bring dynamic improvements to mission effectiveness and change aviation history.”

Why 5th generation ‘minus’ fighters are the future

ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle conducts flight operation over the USNS Spearhead.

The contract was “an incredibly important first step in realizing the Coast Guard’s vision of fleet-wide UAS implementation,” said Cmdr. Daniel Broadhurst, who has served as unmanned aircraft systems division chief in the Coast Guard’s Office of Aviation Forces.

The fate of the UAS plan and other Coast Guard projects largely will depend on the outcome of the upcoming budget battles in the new Congress, Schultz said Dec. 7, 2018.

Currently, “we’re faced with more demands for Coast Guard services than fiscal resources,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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