As foreign air defenses become more and more sophisticated, Air Force planners are working solutions to keep America’s technical edge, an edge that has been narrowing for the past few years. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh wants cyber solutions to enemy systems like the Russian Buk, the probable weapon that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He’s looking for cyber weapons that do things like filling an operator’s screen with false contacts, stopping a missile from launching or, the ultimate solution, allowing a missile to launch before redirecting it to attack its own launcher.
For the full rundown, check out this article at Defense One
When you’re asked what’s the most important tool for any U.S. service member who’s facing down a bad guy in battle, the most obvious response is his or her weapon.
When it comes down to it and the shots are flying, it’s the rifle or handgun that can make the difference between victory and defeat. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and oftentimes it’s what the trooper is actually wearing that can determine whether the bullets start flying in the first place.
Military uniform designers and suppliers over the last half century have been developing new ways to help soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines avoid fights if they want to and to survive them when things go loud. From things as simple as pocket placement and camouflage, to fabrics that won’t burn or show up in night vision goggles, the folks who build combat uniforms for America’s military have taken the best of material science and matched it with the conditions and operations troops are facing in increasingly complex and austere combat environments.
While the “modern” battle uniform traces much of its lineage to the Vietnam War, a lot has changed in the 50 years since that utilitarian design changed the course of what U.S. service members wear when they fight.
It was really the Korean war that introduced the pant-leg cargo pockets we all know today, according to an official Army history. But combat uniforms issued to troops in Vietnam took those to another level.
With bellowed pleats and secure flaps, there were few items the side cargo pocket couldn’t handle. Vietnam-era combat blouses also used an innovative angled chest pocket design that made it easier to reach items in the heat of battle.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military ditched the angled chest pockets for vertical ones, mostly for appearance, and the combat trousers maintained their six-pocket design until the 2000s.
But when America went to war after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, pocket placement and design took a quantum leap. Way more “utilitarian” than combat threads of Vietnam and the Cold War, the new battle rigs are like night and day — with everything from pen pockets near the wrist of a combat blouse, to ankle pockets on the trousers to bellowed shoulder pockets.
Interestingly, it was special operations troops that developed the shoulder pocket later adopted by both the Marine Corps and Army for their combat uniforms. During the opening days of the Global War on Terror, spec ops troops cut cargo pockets off their extra trousers and sewed them onto the arms of their combat jackets, giving them extra storage within an arm’s reach.
Modern combat uniforms now also incorporate internal pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, so when a trooper has to take a knee or go prone in a hurry, he’s not banging his joints on the dirt.
Marines in Iraq were issued fire-resistant flight suits to guard against burns from IED strikes.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
2. Combat uniform material
By Vietnam, the heavy cotton and polyester of the Korean War-era uniform were replaced with a tropical-weight cotton ripstop that was wind-resistant yet cooler for troops operating in the sweltering heat of Southeast Asian jungles.
Both trousers and jackets were made of this cotton-poplin material for years, until the Army adopted the so-called “Battle Dress Uniform” in the early 1980s. That uniform was made with a nylon-cotton blended material with was more durable and easier to launder than the Vietnam-era combat duds.
But the military was forced to offer a variation of the BDU in cotton ripstop after operations in Grenada proved the nylon-cotton blend material too hot in warmer climates.
Though today’s combat uniforms are made with similar materials to those of the BDU-era, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that some front-line troops need kit that’s resistant to the flame and flash of roadside bombs and IEDs.
Early on, some troops — including Marines deployed to Iraq — wore flight suits manufactured with flame resistant Nomex during combat operations. But that fabric wasn’t durable enough for the rigors of battle on the ground. So companies developed new, more durable flame-resistant fabrics for combat uniforms like Defender-M and Drifire.
Now all the services offer variants of their standard combat uniforms in flame-resistant material that protects troops against burns from improvised bombs.
American Special Forces soldiers adopted the camouflage pattern of ARVN Rangers dubbed “tiger stripe” to blend into the Southeast Asian jungles.
(Image by Bettmann/CORBIS by Shunsuke Akatsuka via Flicker)
3. Combat uniform camouflage
It’s like the 1911 vs. (everything) debate, or the M-16 versus the AK-47 argument.
For decades, the question of camouflage patterns has been as much art as it was science. And over the last half century, the U.S. military has seen no fewer than 11 different patterns bedecking America’s warfighters.
The six-color Desert Combat Uniform is the iconic look of Operation Desert Storm.
Most Joes in the Vietnam War were clad in olive drab combat uniforms. But special operations troops began using camouflage garments in greater numbers during the war, and acted as the bleeding edge for pattern development within the wider military.
From ARVN Ranger “tiger stripes” to old-school duck hunter camo, the commandos in The ‘Nam proved that breaking up your outline saved lives. With the adoption of the BDU in 1981, the military locked into the service-wide “woodland” camouflage pattern.
The Marine Corps was the first service in the U.S. military to dramatically change its uniforms from the BDU design. The service also was the first to adopt a “digital” camo pattern.
In the early ’90s, the services developed desert combat uniform with a so-called “six-color desert” pattern (also known as “chocolate chips”). These uniforms were issued to troops conducting exercises and operations in arid climates and were more widely issued to service members deployed to Operation Desert Storm.
The woodland BDU dominated for more than 20 years until shortly after 9/11. And it was the Marine Corps that took the whole U.S. military in an entirely different direction.
Soldiers complained that the UCP didn’t really work in any environment
The Corps was the first to adopt a camouflage pattern with so-called “fractal geometry” — otherwise known as “digital camouflage” — that diverges from the curvy lines and solid colors of woodland to a more three-dimensional scheme designed to literally trick the brain. While the Marines adopted a digital woodland pattern and a desert version in 2003, the Army decided to try a single pattern that would work in a variety of environments a year later.
Dubbed the Universal Combat Pattern, or “UCP,” the green-grey pallet flopped, with most soldiers complaining that instead of working in a bunch of environments, it made Joes stand out in all of them. As in Vietnam, special operations troops engaged overseas adopted a commercial pattern dubbed “Multicam,” which harkened back to the analog patterns akin to woodland.
The Navy recently adopted a new camouflage uniform in a pattern developed by the SEALs.
Pressure mounted on the Army to ditch UCP and adopt Multicam, and by 2015, the service abandoned the one-size-fits all digital pattern and adopted Multicam for all its combat garments.
Likewise, the Air Force and Navy experimented with different patterns and pallets since the Army adopted UCP, with the Sea Service issuing a blue digital uniform for its sailors and the Air Force settling on a digital tiger stripe pattern in a UCP pallet. In 2016, the Navy ditched its so-called “blueberry” pattern for one developed by the SEALs — AOR 1 and AOR 2 — which looks similar to the Marine Corps “MARPAT” digital scheme.
The Air Force still issues its Airman Battle Uniform in the digital tiger stripe pattern to all airmen except those deploying to Afghanistan and on joint missions in the combat zone.
New uniforms incorporate innovative technology from the outdoor sports industry.
4. Combat uniform design
Aside from the rapid development and deployment of new camouflage patterns, some of the most impressive changes to U.S. military combat uniforms have been with their overall design.
Gone is the boxy, ill-fitting combat ensemble of troops slogging through the rice paddies and jungle paths of Southeast Asia. Today’s battle uniform traces its design to the high-tech construction of the extreme outdoor sports world, from high-altitude climbing to remote big game hunting.
Troops in the services now have uniforms that have pre-curved legs and arms, angled and bellowed pockets that stay flat when they’re empty, Velcro closures and adjustable waists. The services even use specially-designed combat shirts that ditch the jacket altogether and use built-in moisture-wicking fabric to keep a trooper’s torso cool under body armor yet provide durable sleeves and arm pockets for gear needed in the fight. With integrated pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, the new combat uniforms’ design takes “utilitarian” to a whole new level.
US Marines inside the Citadel in Hue City rescue the body of a dead Marine during the Tet Offensive.
(Photo via Flickr)
5. Combat armor
Aside from the actual clothing an American combat trooper wears, there are a host of new protective items that make up his or her battlefield loadout. These items have evolved exponentially over the last half century, and many uniform manufacturers have supplied protective accessories to integrate with their clothing.
Students from the Saint George’s University of Medicine pose with a member of the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Urgent Fury.
(U.S. Military photo via Flickr)
Late in the war, the Vietnam-era soldier or Marine was issued a body armor vest that would protect him against grenade fragments and some pistol rounds. Made of ballistic nylon and fiberglass plates, the armor was best known as the “flak jacket.” It was heavy and didn’t protect against rifle rounds.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military developed a new body armor system using steel plates and Kevlar fabric that could stop a rifle round. First used in combat during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the so-called Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops, or PASGT, was a revolution in personal protection.
Today’s armor and helmets are lighter, more protective and offer a host of methods to modify the loadout for specific missions.
Still heavy and bulky, armor evolved over the years since 9/11 to be lighter, with a slimmer profile and much more protective than the flaks of yore. Today’s vests can protect against multiple armor-piercing rifle rounds, shrapnel and pistol shots — all in a vest that weighs a fraction of its PASGT brethren.
Like the armor vest, the “steel pot” of Vietnam has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The new Army Combat Helmet and Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet can take multiple bullet strikes and shrapnel hits, allow for greater mobility than the Vietnam-era one or the PASGT and now incorporate various attachment points for accessories like night vision goggles, IR strobes and cameras.
A US Air Force general said this week that the US needs a lot more bombers if it is going to stand up to great power rivals like China and Russia.
Speaking at the Air Force Association’s Air-Space and Cyber Conference, Gen. Timothy Ray, an Air Force four-star who heads Global Strike Command, said that the number of US bombers needs to increase from 156 to at least 225, although he says the number probably actually needs to be much higher.
“The number is north of 225,” Ray revealed at the conference, according to the Warrior Maven, a defense publication.
“There are currently only 156 US strategic bombers,” the general explained, according to a Department of Defense news report. “But, studies have shown that between 225 and 386 are needed to get the US to the low-risk posture.”
An Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber performs a touch-and-go maneuver at Royal Air Base Fairford, England, Sept. 11, 2019.
(Photo by Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Barley)
Last fall, the Air Force announced plans to increase the number of squadrons from 312 to 386, with each squadron consisting of eight to 24 planes depending on the airframe.
“The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do,” former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. “We have 312 operational squadrons today. The Air Force we need has 386 operational squadrons by 2030.”
At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 squadrons, but that number shrank as the US focused its attention on the counterinsurgency fight. As the US shifts its focus back to great power competition, the service is pushing for a larger fighting force.
“Certainly,” Ray said, according to Breaking Defense, “that means good growth for the bombers. “The plan would see the addition of at least five more bomber squadrons.
Under this plan, Defense News reported this week, the force size requirement for bomber aircraft is 225 planes. But, the retirement of aging bomber aircraft, even with new bombers like the B-21 coming online in a few years, is expected to keep numbers below 200.
U.S. Air Force artist rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber.
(U.S. Air Force Graphic)
The US has also had trouble maintaining its bomber fleet.
In July 2019, it was revealed that while the US has a total of 61 B-1B Lancers, only six of the supersonic heavy bombers are fully mission capable, meaning that this aircraft has an abysmal readiness rate of only 11 percent.
“Unfortunately, the Air Force has been consistently under-resourced for over 20 years. As a result, the U.S. Air Force is the oldest, smallest, and least ready in the entire history of its existence,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Warrior Maven. “We are no longer facing near-peers, but peers given the advancements in the Chinese and Russian military.”
In addition to calling attention to the need for a more robust bomber force, Ray also expressed concern about other elements of the nuclear triad outside of the bomber force, noting the ages of the US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines that carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A Colonial Space Marine without a pulse rifle is like cake without candles; good, but not great. While a Space Corps has been proposed, it’ll be a long time before we see our science fiction dreams of sweet, sweet xenomorph murdering fully realized. In the meantime while we wait for the apocalyptic space future promised by 1980’s movies, there’s an opportunity to get your hands on an original prop of arguably the most iconic movie weapon in a generation: The M41A Pulse Rifle from Aliens.
You’re going to have to pay a hefty price for the pleasure, however.
Where else but eBay can we find details on the original prop?
The item description features a decent breakdown of the parts used. Like many other movie props of the era, the M41A Pulse Rifle consists of actual firearm components intermixed with custom fabricated elements.
Aliens original hero Colonial Marine M41-A Pulse Rifle. (TCF, 1986) One of the most famous Sci-Fi firearms, the M41-A Pulse Rifle was featured heavily in James Cameron’s 1986 action sequel Aliens.
Designed by Cameron himself and constructed under the supervision of renowned armorer Simon Atherton at Bapty Armory, the Pulse Rifle is viewed by many as the pinnacle of Sci-Fi prop weaponry. This is an original prop Pulse Rifle that was originally constructed for and used in Aliens, and later re-built and re-used in Alien 3.
The prop is constructed around a WWII era M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, which was originally modified to fire blanks for the production and has since been fully decommissioned. The Thompson is fitted with a custom-made pistol grip, and a custom-made extended barrel.
A SPAS-12 shotgun cage mounts below the Thompson barrel via a custom-stamped barrel shroud, simulating the grenade launcher. The grenade launcher features the original SPAS-12 pump handle, which was cut down for a different look in the film. It slides freely back and forth, allowing the pump-action loading of the launcher to be simulated. As only one version of the Pulse Rifle had a practical grenade launcher (actually a Remington 870 shotgun) fitted, this piece has a dummy grenade launcher filling the SPAS cage…
…The ends of the piece are capped with a custom-made steel shoulder stock, and a custom-made aluminum barrel cap at the front of the grenade launcher. The entire assembly is housed in a vacuum-formed ABS outer casing, which completes the unique profile of the prop. While all other components on the piece were used in Aliens, the casing was installed specifically for the production of Alien 3.
After Aliens, all of the Pulse Rifle props were struck back to their original firearm components, and most of the casings used were discarded as they were no longer deemed necessary. When the decision was made for Weyland scientists to carry Pulse Rifles during the climax of Alien 3, Bapty had to re-assemble the Pulse Rifles and were now lacking the outer casings. New outer casings were therefore manufactured by vacuum-forming over one of the original casings from Aliens, and the new ABS casing was fitted to the prop with bolts, brackets and custom-riveted plates.
The outer casing was originally painted black for use in Alien 3, as are all Pulse Rifle props in the film, but was later re-sprayed green by Bapty to return the piece to its classic Aliens form. The clip base is made from wood and is installed with a screw at the front of the casing. The Pulse Rifle is complete and in good film-used and weathered condition.
All of the moveable components-the shoulder stock, grenade launcher pump handle, and original Thompson selector switches and trigger-can be moved and positioned. This is a rare opportunity to own a masterpiece of film prop weaponry. Special shipping must be arranged through a federal firearms licensed dealer. $12,000 – $15,000
This famous prop is part of Hollywood Auction 89 – a live auction being held on June 28th at 14:00 PST. Details of each item up for grabs can be found on the auction page.
If you don’t have a spare $15k set aside for a rainy day, the game isn’t over quite yet. You can build a functional M41A for yourself, or for the less mechanically inclined, obtain an airsoft version.
As for us, we’ll stick to spending that kind of coin on actual machine guns, with a healthy side of late night Aliens screenings
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For tactical dads and tacticool dudes (and dudettes):
~ Military grade apparel and gear by the company that pretty much invented the game ~
As 2017 comes to a close, we at WATM HQ are sitting around sipping ‘nog and musing on bromance. (Make sure you’re reading that right: we’re pronouncing it “bro-mance.“) We’re musing on bromance, brotherhood, and big birthdays.
In 2017, Propper celebrated a big one, it’s 50th year of operation and 50 years of being best bros with the U.S. Armed Forces.
That is no small thing.
You know who else turned 50 in 2017? Vin Diesel. He’s no small thing either, but considering that he rang in his Golden Man-niversary mired in beef with the Rock (who is enormous), we’d say Propper is probably the more deserving of your respect.
You know the Rock would never call Propper a candy-ass. Afterall, he spends a good deal of his time wearing the kind of apparel they perfected.
Over the last 50 years, Propper has become one of the military’s main uniform and tactical gear suppliers. Their bromance with the Department of Defence began in 1967 when Propper’s founder, William S. Propper, received an order from the DLA for Dixie Cups.
Since then,they’ve manufactured more than 120 million garments for all branches of the armed force (and more than 30 million personnel have worn their gear). Check out the stats:
Propper also outfits numerous law enforcement agencies and emergency rescue crews all over the country. In 2012, they added tactical footwear to their repertoire. In 2014, as the Rock was appearing as the title character in Hercules and Vin was voicing Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, Propper got big into body armor. In typical fashion, they left their mark on the standard technology.
Propper values its brotherhood with the military. They are passionate about the servicemembers they outfit. It’s a passion that hasn’t wavered in 50 years. They put incredible thought into all of their gear. We at WATM HQ are huge fans of who they are and what they do. We like them so much, we make high production value internet odes to their products:
Our firm resolution for 2018 is to dupe the Rock into starring in the next video we make about Propper. Or failing that, Vin Diesel. Or better yet, both.
That’s assuming they can remember that beefin’ ain’t the Propper way for brothers to behave.
(Seriously, please don’t beef, guys. It’s weird when Daddy and Daddy fight.)
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
The crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Sherman unloaded roughly 11 tons of cocaine in San Diego on August 18. The haul was the result of seizures performed by USCG Cutters Alert, Reliance, Sherman, Tampa, and Vigorous in the eastern Pacific from mid-June through July.
The drug shipments were intercepted in international waters off the coast of South America, which is a major cocaine production area, and of Central America, which has become a major drug transshipment point in recent years.
The eastern Pacific Ocean has become an important thoroughfare for illegal narcotics produced in South America and headed for the US and points elsewhere.
Latin American criminal organizations often coordinate to move shipments north from the Pacific Coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia (which produces the most coca in the world), to destinations in Central America, particularly Guatemala, and parts of Mexico’s west coast.
Mexico’s Pacific ports and other coastal areas have also become areas of competition for that country’s drug cartels, driving violence up.
In March this year, Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of US forces operating in Central and South America, told lawmakers that US forces were ill-prepared to meet the goal of interdicting 40% of the illegal traffic moving from the region toward the US.
“I do not have the ships; I do not have the aircraft, to be able to execute the detection-monitoring mission to the level that has been established for us to achieve,” Tidd said at the time.
When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.
Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.
PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.
The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.
One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.
By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.
So, what might make it into a Trump defense budget? Will some weapons make it that might have been on the chopping block? Will we see larger production runs of other systems? Here’s a look to see what will happen.
1. Long-Range Land Attack Projectile
While recently cancelled, this GPS-guided round could easily make a comeback with sequestration off the table. The round’s price tag jumped to $800,000, largely because the Zumwalt buy was cut from 32 to three. That said, LRLAP may very well face competition from OTO Melara’s Vulcano round, which is far more versatile (offering GPS, IR, and laser guidance options) and which is available in 76mm and 127mm as well as 155mm.
Figure, though, that a guided round will be on the table.
2. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Zumwalt-class destroyers, Freedom-class littoral combat ships, Independence-class littoral combat ships, and Small Surface Combatants
While the Obama Administration re-started production of these ships, the fleet total is at 272 ships as of this writing. On his campaign website, Trump is pushing for a Navy of 350 ships.
One way to get these additional ships is to increase the current and planned building programs. The Navy has five such programs underway or in RD – and all could readily see more production as Trump looks to make up a 78-ship gap between his goal and the present Navy.
Expect the Coast Guard to get in on the largesse as well. Of course, if they just bought the Freedom-class LCS as their new Offshore Patrol Cutter, they could probably get a lot more hulls in the water. Licensing some foreign designs might help, too.
3. F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Trump has promised to build 1,200 fighters for the Air Force alone, and the Navy and Marines need planes too.
The F-22’s production was halted at 187 airframes in 2009, but Congress recently ordered the Pentagon to look into re-starting production of the Raptor. A restarted F-22 program (maybe with some of the avionics from the F-35) wouldn’t be a surprise, given the China’s J-20 has taken to the air.
You can also expect that the F-35 and F/A-18E/F will be produced in larger numbers. This will help address the airframe shortfall that lead the Marines to raid the boneyard to get enough airframes after they had to call timeout to address a rash of crashes.
4. XM1296 Dragoon
The Army bought 81 of the recently-unveiled Dragoons to help face off against the Russians. That said, Europe may not be the only place we need these vehicles – and we may need a lot more than 81. It may be that the XM1296 could push the M1126 versions to second-line roles currently held by the M113 armored personnel carrier.
5. V-280 Valor and SB-1 Defiant
The Army is looking to move its rotary-wing fleet into the next generation. The Trump White House will probably make a decision of one or the other option – but Trump may decide to boost manufacturing by going with both airframe options (like the Navy did with the Littoral Combat Ship).
The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle met the budget axe at the hands of Robert Gates in January 2011. With Trump’s promise to increase the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, it may not be a bad idea to bring this baby back.
Since most of the RD on this vehicle has already been done, it might make sense to give the Corps a new amphibious fighting vehicle — and it will save time and money.
The commandant of the Marine Corps wants the service to come up with a strategy to give Marines more time at home between deployments before the end of the year and get new aircraft cranking off production lines ahead of schedule.
Those are two of the 25 time-sensitive tasks for service commanders published Tuesday alongside Gen. Robert Neller’s second major message to the force. In the task list, he calls on Marine Corps leadership to invest in people, build up readiness, and take training into the future.
Neller’s checklist tasks Marine Corps Forces Command and Manpower and Reserve Affairs with developing a plan to give Marines on average more than twice as much time at home than they spend deployed.
Increasing “dwell time,” as it’s called, from the current 1:2 ratio has long been cited by Marine Corps commanders as a goal at odds with the service’s high deployment tempo and ongoing force reductions. As leaders await approval of a defense budget measure that would modestly increase the size of the force for the first time in years, Neller’s order is a signal that times may be changing.
“The optimal deployment-to-dwell ratio will not be the same for all elements of the [Marine air-ground task force] and we must strike the right balance between risk-to-force, risk-to- mission, and risk-to-institution,” Neller cautioned in the document. “Potential factors to consider among others: increasing the end strength of the force, growing key Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), and decreasing in Global Force Management (GFM) demands.”
Another goal dependent on budget decisions is the plan to accelerate aviation recovery for the service, which has seen aircraft readiness rates and pilots’ flight hours plummet and then begin to recover in the last two years.
In an interview this month in his office at the Pentagon, Neller said the Corps would try to buy new aircraft faster, including F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, to replace aging legacy platforms, and petition Congress to fully fund the service’s flight hour program and spare parts requirements so aviation readiness as a whole will improve.
“We’re going to be in a position where we’re fielding new aircraft and sustaining legacy aircraft for a number of years and it would be nice if the [operational] tempo would go down, but I don’t see that happening either. So we’ve got to do this all on the fly,” Neller said. “We’ve got to improve our readiness and continue to meet our requirements.”
Whether or not the extra money rolls in within future defense budgets, Neller is asking aviation leaders to come up with more efficient ways to accelerate the recovery plan.
He’s also calling for better training for aviation maintenance Marines, citing recent readiness reviews that highlighted a lack of training and standardization in these fields. By improving and standardizing the training pipeline for specialized aviation maintainers, he wrote, “We can improve overall readiness and performance of Marine Aviation.”
In parallel, Neller wants commanders to develop a comprehensive plan by the end of the year to modernize the Marine Corps ground combat element, allowing infantry Marines to fight with similar technological and training advantages to their aviation counterparts.
He reiterated his desire to get quadcopter drones fielded to each Marine rifle squad “immediately,” and said he wanted to see ground Marines take advantage of the 5th-generation platforms, sensors and networks that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will bring to the force.
Neller endorsed a growing trend in the Marine Corps to tailor equipment and gear to the specific needs of the ground combat Marine.
“While every Marine is a rifleman, not all Marines serve in or alongside ground combat units like the infantry as they actively locate, close with, and destroy enemies by fire and maneuver,” Neller wrote. “Their mission and risks are unique. From clothing and equipment to training, nutrition, and fitness, we must look at and develop the [ground combat element’s] capabilities differently than the rest of the MAGTF.”
The U.S. has long led the world in stealth technologies, and for a time, it looked as though America’s love for all things low-observable would extend all the way into rotorcraft like the RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter.
Despite being only a decade away from ruin, the Soviet Union remained a palpable threat to the security and interests of the United States at the beginning of the 1980s. However, elements of America’s defense apparatus were beginning to look a bit long in the tooth after decades of posturing, deterrence, and the occasional proxy war.
With the Soviet Union was believed to still be funneling a great deal of money into their own advanced military projects, the U.S. Army set to work on finding a viable replacement for their fleets of Vietnam-era light attack and reconnaissance helicopters in its forward-looking Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) program. The program’s intended aim was fairly simple despite the complexity of the effort: To field a single rotorcraft that could replace the UH-1, AH-1, OH-6, and OH-58 helicopters currently parked in Army hangars.
By the end of the decade, the Army announced that two teams, Boeing–Sikorsky and Bell–McDonnell Douglas, had met the requirements for their proposal, and they were given contracts to develop their designs further. In 1991, Boeing–Sikorsky won out over its competition and was awarded $2.8 billion to begin production on six prototype helicopters.
The need for a stealth helicopter
The Boeing–Sikorsky helicopter, dubbed the RAH-66 Comanche, was intended to serve as a reconnaissance and light attack platform. Its mission sets would include flying behind enemy lines in contested airspace to identify targets for more powerful attack helicopters or ground units, but the RAH-66 wouldn’t have to back away from a fight.
In order to meet the Army’s demands, the Comanche would need to be able to engage lightly armored targets as well as identify tougher ones for engagement from more powerful AH-64 Apaches.
Most importantly, the RAH-66 needed to be more survivable than the Army’s existing scout helicopters in highly contested airspace, which meant the new Comanche helicopter would need to borrow design elements from existing fixed-wing stealth platforms like the F-117 Nighthawk to defeat air defense systems and missiles fired from other helicopters.
The Boeing–Sikorsky team quickly set about building the program’s first two prototypes, leveraging the sort of angular radar-reflecting surfaces that gave the Nighthawk its enigmatic visual profile. Those surfaces themselves were made out of radar-absorbing composite materials to further reduce the RAH-66’s radar signature. The stealth helicopter also managed engine exhaust by funneling it through its shrouded tail section, reducing its infrared (or heat) signature to further limit detection.
Its specially designed rotor blades were canted downward to reduce the amount of noise the helicopter made in flight. Finally, a full suite of radar warning systems, electronic warfare systems, and chaff and flare dispensers would help keep the RAH-66’s crew safe while they rode behind Kevlar and graphite armor plating that could withstand direct hits from heavy machine gunfire.
The result of all this technology was a stealth helicopter said to have a radar cross-section that was 250 times smaller than the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter it would replace, along with an infrared signature reduced by a whopping 75%. It wasn’t just tough to spot on radar or hit with heat-seeking missiles either. The Comanche helicopter was also said to produce just half the noise of a traditional helicopter. While the rotorcraft could still be heard as it approached, that reduced signature would mean enemy combatants would have less time to prepare before the Comanche closed in on them.
The RAH-66 was about more than stealth
With the Comanche’s stealth technology spoken for, next came the armament. The stealth helicopter was expected to engage both ground and air targets in a combat zone, and its munitions reflected that goal. Like the stealth fighters to come, the Comanche limited its radar cross-section by carrying its weapons internally, including a retractable 20-millimeter XM301 Gatling cannon and space inside the weapons bays for six Hellfire missiles. If air superiority had been established and stealth was no longer a pressing concern, additional external pylons could carry eight more Hellfires.
However, if the Comanche was sent out to hunt for other attack and reconnaissance helicopters behind enemy lines, it could wreak havoc with 12 AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles. Again, with air superiority established, an additional 16 Stinger missiles could be mounted on external pylons.
The pilot and weapons officer onboard would have utilized a combination of cockpit displays and helmet-mounted systems similar to the more advanced heads up and augmented reality displays found in today’s advanced stealth aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
It was equipped with a long-range Forward-Looking Infrared Sensor to help spot targets, as well as an optional Longbow radar that could be mounted above the rotors to allow the pilot to peak just the radar over hills or buildings–giving the crew important situational awareness of the battlefield ahead while limiting exposure of the rotorcraft itself. Once the Comanche spotted a target, a laser could be used to lock on for its onboard weapons systems.
The RAH-66 Comanche’s air-to-air credibility was further bolstered by the platform’s speed and agility. With a top speed just shy of 200 miles per hour and enough acrobatic prowess to nearly pull off loop-de-loops, the Comanche was fast, agile, and powerful… but by the time the first two Comanche prototypes were flying, it was also widely seen as unnecessary.
A warrior without a war
The first Comanche prototype took to the skies in January of 1996, five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The stealth helicopter had been envisioned as a necessary weapon amid the constant defense posturing of the Cold War, but without the looming threat of a technologically capable geopolitical boogeyman, the Comanche began to look more like a pile of problems, rather than solutions.
The Comanche was truly forward-reaching in its capabilities, but as is so often the case with first-of-its-kind platforms, that reach came with a long list of cost overruns and technological setbacks. The helicopter had proven to be far heavier than anticipated; So heavy, in fact, that some wondered if the stealth helicopter would even get off the ground with its intended weapons payload. And its weight was just the beginning of the Comanche’s headaches.
Just about every system intended for use aboard the RAH-66 met with setback after setback. Bugs in the software meant to manage the helicopter’s operation proved difficult–and expensive–to root out, the 3-barrel cannon wasn’t as accurate as intended, the target detection system failed to meet expectations, and efforts to both reduce weight and pull more power of the Comanche’s intended T800 turboshaft engines were both slow going.
Each of these issues could have been resolved with enough time and money, but the U.S. Army was already getting tired of waiting for the Comanche to live up to its hype. Then, September 11, 2001 shifted America’s defense priorities for decades to come. A year after the terror attack that would prompt a shift toward anti-terror campaigns, the Army reduced their order for Comanches by almost half, and just two years later, the program itself was canceled.
After decades of development and nearly $7 billion spent on the Comanche program, it came to a close with just two operational prototypes ever reaching the sky.
The Comanche’s life after death
While originally slated for a production run of 1,213 RAH-66 Comanche helicopters, the U.S. Army only ever took possession of the original two prototypes… but that doesn’t mean the program was a complete loss. In fact, among Defense Department insiders, the RAH-66 Comanche program is still seen in a fairly positive light. The difference in perception of the Comanche’s success or lack thereof could potentially be attributed to elements of other classified programs the American public isn’t privy to.
In 2011, Deputy Undersecretary of the Army Thomas Hawley was asked a question by a journalist about the “failed Comanche program.”
“I wouldn’t say Comanche was necessarily a failure of procurement… Comanche was a good program.”
-Deputy Undersecretary of the Army Thomas Hawley
A similar sentiment was also registered by (now former) Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker:
“Much of what we’ve gained out of Comanche we can push forward into the tech base for future joint rotor-craft kinds of capabilities.”
-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker
These assertions make some sense, but are also easily dismissed thanks to the noticeable lack of stealth rotorcraft in America’s arsenal. How could lessons from the Comanche really be used if the premise itself doesn’t carry over into further programs?
One high-profile possibility came in the form of images that emerged following the raid on Osama Bid Laden’s compound that resulted in the death of the terrorist leader… As well as the loss of one highly specialized Blackhawk helicopter. Immediately following the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, images began to surface online of a very unusual tail section that remained intact after American special operators destroyed the downed helicopter to ensure its technology couldn’t fall into enemy hands.
The tail is clearly not the same as the tail sections of most Blackhawk helicopters, and its angular design certainly suggests that it must have come from a helicopter that was intended to limit its radar return. Eventually, stories about America’s Special Operations Stealth Blackhawks, or Stealth Hawks, started making the rounds on the internet, and recently, the team over at The Warzone even managed to dig up a shot of just such a stealthy Blackhawk–likely a predecessor to the helicopters used in the historic raid.
While these modified stealth helicopters are not Comanches, the modifications these Blackhawks saw were almost certainly informed by lessons learned in the RAH-66 program. Reports from the scene of the raid also indicate how quiet the helicopters were as the American special operations team closed with their target. Clearly, efforts made to reduce the helicopters’ radar cross section, infrared signature, and noise level were all in play during the Bin Laden raid, just as they were within the Comanche prototypes.
And then there’s Sikorsky’s latest light tactical helicopter, the S-97 Raider. Its visual cues are certainly reminiscent of the company’s efforts in developing the RAH-66, and its performance is too. The S-97 Raider has been clocked at speeds in excess of 250 miles per hour–faster even than the proposed Comanche’s top speed–and like the Comanche, the Raider is nimble to boot.
The RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter may have been a bit too forward reaching for its time, but the lessons learned throughout its development and testing have clearly found new life in other advanced programs. With defense officials increasingly touting the value of stealth to increase combat aircraft survivability, it seems certain that we’ll see another stealth helicopter enter service at some point; And when we do, it will almost certainly have benefitted from the failures and successes of the Comanche.
Whether it’s in the desert, arctic, jungle, an urban environment or at sea, the men and women of the Air Force train to handle any situation.
The primary focus of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists is to train military personnel to survive any situation. These elite instructors are experts on how to survive in the most remote and hostile environments on the planet, and it’s their responsibility to ensure when a mission doesn’t go as planned, the airmen involved are ready for anything.
This focus on readiness was on display Aug. 5, 2019, during a SERE exercise in Vallejo, California, which provided airmen an opportunity to train using realistic scenarios while testing new technology.
“Aircrew must maintain combat mission ready status, allowing them to be deployable worldwide,” said Tech. Sgt. Emanuel Espino-Mata, 60th Operations Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of SERE operations. “Pilots and other airmen considered to be at high risk of isolation during a mission attend refresher training at remote locations near Travis AFB every three years to stay proficient in SERE skills. It’s also vital we as SERE instructors do all we can to ensure our airmen can survive and operate in contested environments.”
Maj. Justin Krull, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender instructor pilot listens to last-minute instructions on communication devices before a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training exercise for aircrew members Aug. 5, 2019, in a remote area near Travis Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
During the exercise, which took place among steep, rocky hills covered with insect-infested trees, 11 airmen from flying squadrons across Travis AFB joined two SERE instructors to test the Somewear Labs Hotspot paired with a combat-configured smartphone, a device that can increase radio battery life.
“Today’s exercise was the first-ever field test of the device developed by Somewear Labs,” Espino-Mata said. “Our C-cell radios only maintain limited battery power. They are also bulky and heavy. This new device can be paired with any smartphone once the user downloads the application and provides encrypted messaging between the user in the field, the receiver, another team member, a recovery force or a personnel recovery cell.”
The device, which is smaller and lighter than some secure communications devices currently being used, has the potential to improve life saving capabilities by using a smartphone platform to run the software, which is something everyone is familiar with and comfortable using, Espino-Mata added.
Aircrew members study communication devices utilized during a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training exercise Aug. 5, 2019, in a remote area near Travis Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
It also offers a wide range of features.
“Our system supports digital maps for navigation, a modern digital experience for satellite messaging and data transmission, as well as comprehensive blue-force tracking for the tactical operations center or any command center,” said Nate Simon, Somewear Labs product manager. “This is a huge step in evasion capability. This device is one of the lightest and smallest of its kind and a major enhancement to the current survival kit.”
airmen assigned to aircrew positions are trained to evade enemy forces if their aircraft is brought down in enemy territory. They are taught to find water, food and shelter while evading capture.
“This is important because help may not come for around a week and they may have to travel several miles without being detected,” Espino-Mata said.
Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Heard, 60th Operations Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape training noncommissioned officer in charge gives last minute instruction on communication devices before a SERE training exercise for aircrew members Aug. 5, 2019 in a remote area near Travis Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
In 2018, Simon, who holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, was part of an Air Force Research Laboratory study conducted by Stanford’s class, Hacking 4 Defense: Solving National Security Issues with the Lean Launchpad. The goal of the study was to address issues with survival radios and increase the survivability of downed airmen.
“My team was given a problem by the AFRL to improve personnel recovery,” Simon said. “Given Travis AFB’s proximity to the Bay Area, one of our initial contacts was Sergeant Espino-Mata, who arranged several visits to the base. After over 100 interviews with pilots, aircrew, SERE specialists, rescue squadrons and other Department of Defense experts, we realized a combat smartphone and satellite transceiver could drastically improve the personnel accountability and recovery space.”
Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape personnel field test Somewear Lab’s Hotspot Aug. 5, 2019, in a remote area near Travis Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
“Somewear’s first product enables any remote operative to reliably access secure communications and improve their situational awareness with a combination of compact satellite hotspots and software designed for low-bandwidth applications,” Simon added.
One exercise participant was thrilled with how well the Somewear Hotspot performed.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Tech. Sgt. Bernie Rowe, 60th OSS KC-10 Extender instructor flight engineer. “It was really simple to use and with the encryption, I was able to make contact and receive new coordinates and instructions by text without it being coded, like the C-cell survival radios. It is light years ahead of the C-cells.”
“Choose Your Own Adventure” books were an easy way to feel accomplished as a child. In a few short, simple pages, you could make the decisions which would ultimately kill your character and you could count it as an entire book read — all the way through. Book that, Pizza Hut.
If you had more time to kill or wanted to go on another adventure, you could just crack the book open again and find a new way to die. Either way, you know how these books end.
It should be simple to go back and revisit these books now that we have a lifetime of experience from which to help guide us and make decisions. Suddenly it’s a lot easier to break your friends out of Nazi Germany or get that secret message to George Washington. And now it all makes sense why your character died so often — some of these books give you absolutely terrible choices.
No matter what, it prepares you for a life of making bad life decisions.
No, they did not make a book from a Beastie Boys song (though that would have been awesome and could have explained so much). Sabotage places you in 1942 Casablanca, where you are an agent for Secret Forces. No country, just Secret Forces. You’re working with the French Resistance to break some friends out of a castle prison in Nazi Germany, but the notorious SS Agent Kruptsch is out to foil you.
Your handler gives you an envelope you’re supposed to open when you’re about to enter the castle and sends you off with Resistance operatives Simone and Raoul. Getting to the castle is really difficult because the Germans keep surprising you. When you get to the castle, the envelope lets you know why: Raoul is a double agent. There’s no explanation for why Secret Forces let him continue being a double agent or why they didn’t tell you that in the first place. But that doesn’t matter because if you take too long getting to the castle, your friends escape on their own anyway. Thanks for your help, chummmmmmmmmp!
2. Spy for George Washington
The American Colonies are in open rebellion against Great Britain. You are too young to enlist as a Continental Soldier, so a man you know enlists you (a child) to deliver a message to General George Washington about the British attack on Philadelphia. That’s not nearly as dangerous, right?
You are given every opportunity to tell everyone from Royal Navy Captains to strangers on the street about your super secret mission. The book lets you make that choice. And every time you avoid direct confrontation, you are waylaid and/or eventually killed off. The lesson here is Americans don’t avoid fights, even as spies.
3. Gunfire at Gettysburg
You are a bossy jerk of a kid in 1863 Pennsylvania who is more than a little confused about the ongoing Civil War. On one hand, slavery is wrong, but on the other, the Rebels are fighting in their homeland. I’m not kidding, this is your rationale, your great conundrum.
You just happen to be on the battlefield when the Battle of Gettysburg starts and your sociopath best friend implores you to stick around and watch for a while. You’re held at gunpoint by a Confederate officer who gives you the option of helping the Rebels with your knowledge of the local terrain or making a break for it. You consider helping the Confederates because — and I sh*t you not — you want to meet General Lee.
The author clearly has some kind of man crush on Robert E. Lee. With blazing speed you are given so many options to betray your country. If you try to help slaves escape, you lose. Eventually, you are staring, dumbfounded, as the battle rages around you. The endings where you actually survive always finish with a Southern loss, but your character always looks back wistfully at what might have been.
4. UN Adventure: Mission to Molowa
Only a book for kids would be naive enough to think the UN is anything more than a bureaucratic nightmare. But “to start on tomorrow’s paperwork, turn to page 91” doesn’t make for good reading.
Anyway, you are representing the U.S. in a model UN in New York. You meet a friend there named Achmed from the United Arab Emirates and a girl named Benati from Myanmar at a Middle Eastern restaurant down the street. For some reason the UN Secretary General calls on you three CHILDREN to solve a civil war in Africa and settle a nuclear arms deal with a dictator from a fictional breakaway Russian Republic.
Achmed disappears entirely and you drive into Molowa in an armed convoy to negotiate with five warlords. In true UN fashion, unless you stop to talk, negotiate, or barter with people, you are either left to starve in the wilderness or are eaten by hippos.
You are on a field trip to Washington, DC when the Alarin Cartel, a crime syndicate, threatens the White House. Your bus is then taken captive by the worst terrorists ever. They immediately leave all hostages alone on the bus.
If you act unilaterally and immediately, you can escape in no time, leaving your classmates to whatever fate. The terrorists are after a deadly virus the government is making anyway — they don’t really care if anyone lives. In some endings, the virus is cured by antibiotics (which is medically impossible) and in others it spreads around the world.
You will either work with the President of the United States to force a surrender (while completely glossing over this blatant American violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention) or join the terrorists in South America. All in all, the only decisions you make are really awful, just like the ones you make in real life. At least the cartels have free booze.