Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The Blue Horizons Program at Air University is an Air Force chief of staff-chartered, future-oriented think tank that creates and tests prototypes of new strategic concepts and capabilities.

Three Blue Horizons fellows, with different technical backgrounds, including a former member of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, were among those who graduated June 3, 2019, as part of this year’s class of 16.

As part of their research, Maj. MacKenzie Birchenough, a developmental engineer, and former deputy chief of the Commander’s Action Group at AFLCMC; Maj. Laura Hunstock, a combat systems officer; and Maj. Kelly Martin, an intelligence officer, formed a team called, “Project Medusa,” to develop a prototype landing strip to ensure continuity of airlift operations at austere locations during future military conflicts.


Fellows spend a year in specialized academics and focus research on a CSAF-directed question. Their research is on developing and testing prototypes of ideas that can help the Air Force meet future threats.

“As the United States turns its focus toward a potential near-peer conflict, the Air Force may no longer have access to its current mature basing structure,” Birchenough said. “In future fights, contingency operations will depend on the ability of mobility platforms to operate out of austere locations and under compressed timelines,” she said in describing the background for Project Medusa.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright pose with graduates of the Center for Strategy and Technology’s Blue Horizons class at Air War College, May 16, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Students actually go through an entire prototyping phase so that at the end of the year they can brief the CSAF on the problem they were able to address, what they did about it and then give a recommendation, with the ultimate goal of being able to transition it at the end of their year.

“We started out thinking about the differences between the way we fight today in the Air Force and what tomorrow’s fight might look like,” Hunstock said. “Knowing that we’re going into more of a near-peer competition, one of the things we talked a lot about was how we’re going to have to move away from our centralized basing that we use today and more into a dispersed and agile type of basing.”

The team wanted to narrow the scope of the problem down, so they looked at the issue of not having the availability of runways everywhere that the Air Force might need to go.

“We wanted to try to find a way that we could get into those austere locations to rapidly create landing zones for our aircraft where we don’t already have them,” Hunstock said. “That also means with this type of basing situation, you’re not going to have a month or two to go in and build your normal concrete runways. We need something that’s going to take a lot less time and require less people and less heavy equipment.”

While trying to think completely out of the box, which is what Blue Horizons fellows are asked to do, the team came up with an innovative idea that might seem on the edge of reality.

“The idea that we came to was using biomanufacturing to build runways, which can also be translated into things like ramp space or any hardened surface that you might need. By saying biomanufacturing, what we mean is that we’re applying bacteria to the surface, feeding it and effectively growing a runway. This process could potentially replace the need to bring in cement, heavy equipment and dozens of personnel to create a concrete runway,” Birchenough said.

“While our prototype is a small step toward enabling full runways to be built with something other than concrete, it demonstrates this technology is absolutely feasible outside of the laboratory and could be used to support the warfighter much sooner than expected,” Birchenough said.

They started by testing different protocols with two foot by two-foot boxes, but their final prototype was a 2,500 square foot site to demonstrate the process on a much larger scale. Working with bioMASON, a biomanufacturing company in Durham, North Carolina, the team created the site near there.

The 2,500 square foot prototype turned out great, working exactly how they expected it to, Birchenough said.

“It showed that we could reproduce what we had done in the laboratory and on a larger scale. The really exciting thing about this process is that it utilizes the local soil and requires very little equipment. Basically, you need an agricultural sprayer and some water tanks, so there is very little in materials you need to bring to the site,” Birchenough said.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The Project Medusa Team members received strong support from bioMASON, the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, and the Air Force Civil Engineering Center.

(James O’Rourke)

“We learned that while biotechnology sounds like it is part of a future science fiction type of idea, it’s actually here and now, and it’s absolutely leverageable for the (Defense Department) and we need to be investing in it at a much higher rate,” she said.

The team was lucky to work with the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate on the project, according to Birchenough.

The SDPE office contributed more than 0,000 toward Project Medusa, and made significant contributions across the entire Blue Horizons portfolio this year, Birchenough said.

A follow-on effort will begin this summer between bioMASON, AFRL, and DARPA that will continue to mature the technology and build up different soil samples to see how well the technology functions across different areas of responsibility.

“AFRL is excited to continue the support for the follow-on project,” said Dr. Chia Hung, AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate research biological scientist. “We will continue to work with bioMASON in their optimization of the cementation process and we will also assist to identify unique requirements for different user cases. Based on what is learned from Project Medusa and will be learned from the follow-on, we will be better poised in helping to mature this technology for many users in not just the Air Force, but also other services within DoD.”

The Project Medusa team briefed their recommendation to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein May 16. Six other teams of Blue Horizons fellows also made presentations.

“Our recommendation to CSAF was to invest in biomanufacturing with a faster transition to the user, to continue this effort with both AFRL and SPDE to make sure that this technology will have great use out in the operational Air Force, as well as making sure the feedback of the user is incorporated into it from the get go,” Hunstock said.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A woman completed Special Forces training; these operators have some thoughts

On July 9, a female National Guard soldier became the first woman to graduate from U.S. Army Special Forces training since Capt. Katie Wilder did so in 1980, earning the coveted Green Beret. The woman, whose identity the Army is withholding for personnel security purposes, joins more than a dozen women who have completed elite schools that were only available to men until the Pentagon opened all combat jobs, including special operations positions, to women in 2016.


Coffee or Die spoke with several men who served in special operations units alongside women in combat to get their thoughts on the historic event.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Special Forces soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct an AAR after Counter Improvised Explosive Device training at Panzer Local Training area near Stuttgart, Germany, June. 10, 2020. Photo by Patrik Orcutt/U.S. Army.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Luke Ryan, right, served as a team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan/Coffee or Die.

Retired Army Master Sergeant Jariko Denman served with the 75th Ranger Regiment for 16 years.

“In Afghanistan, women in Cultural Support Teams (CSTs) attached to us and other special operations forces, including Green Berets and [U.S. Navy] SEALs. CSTs were enablers, just like explosive ordnance disposal techs or others whose specialties we needed to support our missions.

“On my last four deployments as a task force senior enlisted advisor, we had CSTs with us, so I’ve been in firefights with women, chasing down bad guys alongside them. There was never a case in my experience of women weighing us down. I can’t say that for every other enabler who attached to us. Women coming into that job realized they were going into that hyperkinetic environment, and they brought their ‘A’ game. They knew they could not be a weak link, so they came in shape, and they were very successful.

“For any leader building a team, we know the team isn’t as strong if everybody looks and thinks the same. You want a diversity of skills and backgrounds because that diversity reflects your needs. High-performing individuals who have vastly different life experiences are an asset in SOF.

“As long as we maintain the same SOF qualification standards for everyone, I think women in SOF are just as capable as men, and I’m glad to see more women joining our ranks and getting the same special designations men have always had the opportunity to attain.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Joe and Shannon Kent with their sons. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.

Luke Ryan served as an Army Ranger and team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

“I was on the mission where Captain Jenny Moreno was killed in action in October 2013. She was a nurse by trade but was attached to my Ranger platoon as a Cultural Support Team (CST) member. When she saw that several of my Ranger buddies had been seriously wounded, she moved to help them without regard for her own safety. She was killed in the process. That kind of selfless bravery is something I will never forget. I hold her in the same high regard as I hold my Ranger brethren who were killed doing the same thing.

“Women have already been fighting in special operations components for years. That part isn’t new. They were attached to our unit for my four deployments, and I will never doubt the ability of a woman to be courageous and effective on the battlefield. Moreno didn’t have a Ranger scroll, but in my opinion, she earned one. If I see her in the next life, I’ll give her mine.

“As far as integrating into traditional special operations units, I’ve seen the courage of women in SOF tested on the battlefield, and I’m in full support of it. As long as standards are maintained, allowing women in SOF will be a non-issue.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Rob Garnett in Eastern Afghanistan on his last deployment in 2010. Photo courtesy of Rob Garnett/One More Wave.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joe Kent served as a Ranger and Special Forces operator. His wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed while serving on a special operations task force in the fight against ISIS in 2019.

“My wife trained as an Arabic linguist and signals intelligence collector. In Iraq, special operations forces relied heavily on intelligence professionals who had to work with local Iraqis to develop informants and gather intelligence for our missions. Iraqi women often had intelligence we needed, and women like Shannon stepped up to provide a capability that none of us had. Her contributions gave us a more complete picture of whatever situation we were heading into, which was invaluable.

“As years went on, Shannon gained more and more trust in the SOF community, and her performance in special operations opened doors for other intelligence professionals to try out for special operations forces.

“Anyone who has served alongside women in special operations should know it was just a matter of time before a woman would wear the Green Beret and Special Forces long tab.

“As Americans, our country has decided we’re going to have this all-volunteer force, so we get the military that shows up and volunteers to go fight. Plenty of women have fought and died, and to say they can’t go be combat arms or special operators is wrong. My wife was good enough to die alongside SEALs and operators on her fifth deployment but not have the same opportunity to prove herself in SOF qualification courses? That’s ridiculous.

“I’m very glad the ban on women serving in combat arms and special operations was lifted, and my hat’s off to the woman who completed Special Forces qualification.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Nolan Peterson has covered conflict around the world. Photo courtesy of Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.

Rob Garnett served as a Navy SEAL for almost 23 years.

“In Baghdad in 2003, I was waiting with an Iraqi Interpreter at one of the entrances to the Green Zone to escort an Iraqi National inside. As vehicles moved through the ‘s curves’ of the base access point, we heard the guards start shouting ‘Stop!’ at a small car approaching the gate. When the vehicle didn’t stop, the soldier standing next to me began firing at the approaching vehicle, and I began to fire as well. The vehicle slowly came to a stop after the driver was killed. As the soldiers moved to inspect the vehicle, they found the trunk was full of 155 rounds made into an IED.

“When I walked over to the soldier who had first engaged the vehicle to say ‘great job,’ I realized this person was not a soldier but an airman, as well as a female. I remember joking with her and saying, ‘No females in combat, right?’ She just smiled and said, ‘Fuck off.’ She told me she didn’t plan on letting anyone inside that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“From my perspective, we aren’t getting female commandos in SOF now; we are getting MORE commandos. We can engage with more of the population when we include females in SOF operations, and I feel like most folks wouldn’t be as concerned about someone’s gender but more about a new team member’s performance.

“I would guess the soldier who completed SF training doesn’t want to be known as the first female SF soldier; she just wants to be a commando like everyone else.”

Nolan Peterson is a former Air Force special operations pilot who served with the 34th Special Operations Squadron. 

“On my first deployment to Afghanistan, I served alongside a woman pilot whose impact I’ll never forget. On a long night mission, orbiting above a Taliban compound, helping good guys kill bad guys, I was pretty stressed and anxious. My greatest fear was I’d screw up somehow and get Americans hurt, or worse.

“They measure a pilot’s worth in hours flown because experience matters most. And, lucky for me, I was copilot to a woman who had years of combat experience. She had actually been one of my instructor pilots and played a big role in training me, and I was able to do my job that night in spite of the nervousness — thanks in no small part to the steady leadership and proficient skills of my pilot. It’s easy to do your job well when you’ve got a good example to follow.

“As we left station and started flying back to Bagram, we could see meteors streaking overhead through our night-vision goggles. Then the sun began to peak over the Hindu Kush.

“‘Pretty cool, isn’t it?’ I remember her saying. Then, as if granted permission, I suddenly stopped being so afraid of screwing up and took a moment to appreciate that, yes, this was, in fact, pretty damn cool. Then she told me I’d done well that night and had turned out to be a fine pilot. She was confident I’d go on and make her proud. Since she’d played a key role in training me, my performance was a reflection on her too. That small compliment she gave me was worth more than any medal.

“More than anything, on that debut deployment I’d wanted to prove myself to the people who’d mattered most — that’s to say, the people who’d been to war before me. And that pilot had been to war a lot. Hell, she’d spent most of the best years of her life either in war zones or training for them. She was a warrior, a professional, a mentor, and a damn good pilot. And getting her stamp of approval was one of my proudest moments.

“So when it comes to the recent news of a woman graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course, I think it’s long overdue. Women have been serving in combat and in special operations forces for years. They volunteer for the same risks, assume the same responsibilities and have had to uphold the same standards as their male counterparts. Once the bullets are flying, all that matters is that you’re good at your job. And without a doubt, to make it through the Green Beret selection process, that woman has clearly proven herself to be among the best of the best.”

Disclosure: Nolan Peterson is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die; Luke Ryan is an associate editor, and Jariko Denman is a contributing writer.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

More A-10s will get new life via new wings

It’s a signal that the effort to kill the A-10 is dead, instead of the A-10 itself – which is what usually happens to anything trying to kill the A-10 Warthog. After trying to bury the plane for nearly a decade, the Air Force has not only finished refitting some of its old A-10 Thunderbolt II airframes, the branch has decided to expand the effort to more planes. The re-wing projects will cover 27 more of the Warthogs through 2030.

So the Marines can expect excellent close-air support for the foreseeable future.


Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

“Hey Taliban, what rhymes with hurt? BRRRRRT.”

The news comes after the Air Force finished re-winging 173 A-10s in August 2019 when the Air Force awarded a 0 million contract to Boeing to expand the re-winging effort to include more planes. Even as the battle over the future of the airframe raged on in the Air Force, at the Pentagon, and in Congress, the A-10s were undergoing their re-winging process, one that first began in 2011. Ever since, the Air Force has tried to save money by using the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for close-air-support missions or even giving that role to older, less powerful planes like the Embraer Super Tucano.

Despite its heavy use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that the airframe is beloved by warfighters on the ground, the Air Force effort to retire the plane stems from the perception that close-air-support missions can be done better and with less risk to the plane and pilot by higher-flying, more advanced aircraft like the F-35.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Talk BRRRRRT-y to me.

The A-10 was first developed in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, to bust tanks and provide the kind of cover artillery might otherwise give, but with a faster, more mobile, and efficient delivery. A slow flyer, the A-10 is a kind of flying tank. But it’s more than an aircraft built around a gun (the GAU-8 Avenger fires so powerfully, it actually slows the A-10 down) the Thunderbolt II features armor, redundant systems, and a unique engine placement that makes it a difficult threat against most conventional anti-air defenses.

The Air Force’s main reason for getting rid of it was that the Thunderbolt II isn’t suitable for modern battlespaces and that most of its missions could be done by the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The new re-winging effort is a signal that fight is likely to be over and that the Air Force’s close-air support mission is a much bigger deal than previously expected.

While some may question why the A-10 is getting an extended life when the F-35 can supposedly fill that role, the guys on the ground will tell you it’s all about the BRRRRRT – they live and die by it, sometimes literally.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This missile from Turkey could make the Lightning even more deadly

The F-35 Lightning II brings a lot of new capabilities to the table. In one sense, this 5th-generation fighter can take out targets that are defended by some of the most modern air defenses in the world.


But the plane has one weakness, in the form of relatively limited space in the internal weapons bays. For the F-35A and F-35C, that bay can carry two 2,000-pound class bombs. The F-35B can carry two 1,000-pound class bombs. Usually these bombs are the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

These weapons are accurate, but you have to get pretty close to the target to use them effectively.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
In this photo from a handout at ATK’s booth at SeaAirSpace2017, the AARGM-ER mock-up fits into the F-35’s weapons bay. (Scanned from ATK handout)

Now, Roketsan and Lockheed Martin have teamed up to develop a weapon that can allow a F-35 to hit a naval or land target at long range while still retaining its most stealthy configuration. According to handout provided by Rocketan and Lockheed at the AirSpaceCyber expo in National Harbor, Maryland, the Stand Off Missile-JSF or SOM-J, can put a 310-pound semi-armor piercing blast-fragmentation warhead on a naval or land target from over 150 nautical miles away.

The missile, weighing roughly 1,000 pounds, can be carried in the F-35’s internal weapons bay. Not only does this mean the F-35 can’t be seen, it means that it can hit targets from beyond the range of advanced radars or surface-to-air missiles.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
The SOM-J missile, able to reach out nd hit targets over 150 nautical miles away. (Photo from Roketsan)

Like the F-35, SOM-J is also low observable, and it also adds new features like the ability to hit targets of opportunity, or is able to change targets while in flight. The system uses an imaging infrared seeker, as well as GPS guidance, as well as the ability to navigate using images of landmarks or the ability to match terrain. It has “high-subsonic” speed.

The SOM-J can be fired from the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the F-35 Lightning. Turkey already uses an earlier version, the Stand Off Missile, or SOM, on its F-4 Phantoms and F-16s.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The astonishing way the Air Force tests ejection seats

Dr. John Paul Stapp earned the title “the fastest man on Earth” when he rode the Sonic Wind I rocket-propelled sled at the Holloman High Speed Test Track at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on December 10, 1954, to a land speed record of 632 mph in five seconds.

He sustained the greatest recorded G-forces endured by man, decelerating in 1.4 seconds, which equaled 46.2 Gs, more than anyone had previously undergone.


When he was pulled from the sled, Stapp’s eyes flooded with blood from bursting almost all their capillaries. Stapp was rushed to the hospital, worried that one or both of his retinas had detached and would leave him blind. By the next day, he had regained enough of his normal vision to be released, though his eyesight would never be the same.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Col. John Paul Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo)

More than 50 years later, the Holloman High Speed Test Track at Holloman still exists, but its riders have changed. Stapp was the last human to ride the track and now egress missions use highly instrumented mannequins to look at what loads are and then determine whether or not aircrew survivability was achieved.

“With a human you’re going to have to conduct a post-testing examination and then look at variables from human to human, where if you can put all the instrumentation on board a mannequin you can get all that data,” said. Lt. Col. Jason Vap, commander of the 846th Test Squadron at Holloman AFB. “You can take that one step further and figure out what you need to do to your seat design, or perhaps a helmet design, or your flight gear to mitigate problems. Those are things that you are only going to get from a highly instrumented mannequin. Not from post-test examination of an individual or examining what kind of pains that they suffered from that.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Full-scale anthropomorphic test devices (ATD) that simulates the dimensions, weight proportions and articulation of the human body, and is usually instrumented to record data about the dynamic behavior of the ATD in simulated ejections.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

The data is collected with a variety of onboard data acquisition systems or telemetered for post-test analysis. Additionally, technical imagery, including high-speed digital images, is available for scientists to examine the status of their payloads. Track personnel use the same imagery to determine the status of the sled vehicle during tests. All data can be post-processed and merged using a common time reference to verify the accuracy of the data, and to produce a unified data product.

“We’re always pushing to open up new capability fronts. Thinking differently,” he said. “It’s built into our culture to think about those next steps. What do we need to do? How do we refine things? How do we look at problems differently based upon what we learn out of a mission outcome? So it’s a constant learning process here.”

At 10 miles, the track is also now the world’s longest and it is used to test high-speed vehicles such as aircraft ejection seats.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
The Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) is a United States Air Force aerospace ground test facility located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The HHSTT’s mission is to provide a cost-effective, realistic, dynamic test environment for the entire acquisition community, including the DoD.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

“The Holloman High Speed Test Track hearkens back to the 1950’s,” Vap said. “The mission has changed over time and the track has grown over time, from 3,500 feet to now 50,000 feet of rail.”

With the current track, the 846th TS has reached velocities in excess of 9,000 feet per second. That is around Mach 8.6 when calculating for altitude. However, the goal speed of Mach 10 has yet to be reached.

“We’re going for success, but there’s still a lot of territory to be explored and to learn from,” Vap said.

Test missions on the track last a few seconds; however, there are weeks, if not months, put into the design effort, fabrication and getting prepped for a test. There are a litany of cameras along the track to make sure that everything is captured in a six-, 10- or 30-second test mission.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Egress Craftsman, from the 846th Test Squadron, assemble an Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II, at the Holloman High Speed Test Track, At Holloman Air Force Base, NM.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

“We design the sleds, we fabricate them and we load them on the rail,” Vap said. “Prior to that work, we look at the velocity profiles … We look at our rocket motor inventory and we put together the payload necessary to reach the velocities that are needed to carry out the test mission.”

“But don’t kid yourself. It’s not a small measure,” he added. “It takes a great deal of engineering staff and a lot of hard work to carry out these missions, on the order of weeks to months to prep for a 10 second shot.”

The goal of these tests is to wring out some of the potential problems that could exist in an airborne environment.

“We don’t just slap something on a jet and hope it works,” Vap said. “Those are things that just aren’t done from an operational standpoint. You have to verify that it’s going work.”

This means failure is inevitable. Not everything is going to be a success and what Vap tells everyone is that you learn more out of your failures than your successes.

“We’re in the business of saving lives,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Holmes, Egress Craftsman, 846th TS. “Our system isn’t used as frequently as most, which is a very positive thing. Being able to come out in this environment and actually test [an ejection seat] and see it operate is pretty exciting.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Various body parts for a Full-scale anthropomorphic test device (ATD) allows researchers to recreate different shapes and sizes of the human body.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Vap said there is no bigger “cool factor” in the Air Force than what the HHSTT does on a day-to-day basis. There is no other place in the Air Force that is essentially strapping rocket motors to a sled, pushing payloads down the track at flight relevant velocities and excess.

While the track’s passengers are no longer flesh and blood, they are still pioneers – of speed, science and safety. And their contributions to the high speed test track are making the goal of Mach 10 more and more a reality.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-35s wrecked their competition in mock battles

The US Air Force put the F-35 up against “the most advanced weapons systems out there” during the recent Red Flag air combat exercise, and the fight-generation stealth fighters apparently dominated — so much so that even the rookie pilots were crushing it.

Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron took to the skies in upgraded F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, integrating into a “Blue Force” consisting of fifth and fourth-generation fighters for a “counter air” mission against a “Red Force” made up of “equally capable” fighters.


During the intense fight, aggressor aircraft blinded many of the “blue” fourth-generation aircraft using electronic attack capabilities, such as those advanced adversaries might employ in battle.

“Even in this extremely challenging environment, the F-35 didn’t have many difficulties doing its job,” Col. Joshua Wood, 388th Operations Group commander, explained in a US Air Force statement summarizing the exercise results.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Feb. 1, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Novice F-35 pilots were able to step in and save more experienced friendly fourth-generation fighter pilots while racking up kills against simulated near-peer threats.

“My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training,” Wood said, recounting his experiences. “He gets on the radio and tells an experienced 3,000-hour pilot in a very capable fourth-generation aircraft. ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die. There’s a threat off your nose.'”

That young pilot took out the enemy aircraft and then went on to pick up three more “kills” during the mission, which lasted for an hour. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Wood added.

The latest iteration of Red Flag — a multinational exercise aimed at training pilots to defeat enemy aircraft, integrated air-defense systems, and electronic and information warfare tactics — was said to be “exponentially more challenging” than past drills, as they were specifically intended to simulate real combat against a more serious threat like Russia or China. The pilots waged simulated war in contested environments characterized by electronic attack, communications jamming, and GPS denial.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Capt. Brad Matherne conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission at Nellis Air Force Base.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

“Those situations highlight the fifth-generation capabilities of the F-35. We’re still able to operate and be successful,” Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, the 4th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a US Air Force statement.

The F-35A participated in Red Flag, the service’s top air combat exercise, for the first time two years ago. At that time, the powerful stealth aircraft was only at its initial operating capability, yet it still destroyed the opposition with a 20:1 kill ratio.

This year, pilots were flying F-35s with upgrades offering improved combat capabilities and maneuverability, making the aircraft more lethal in air combat. The Block 3F software upgrades brought the aircraft up to full warfighting capability.

The F-35A is “exceeding our expectations when it comes to not only being able to survive, but to prosecute targets,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said Feb. 26, 2019, according to Air Force Times.

The F-35A, an embattled aircraft still overcoming development challenges, is expected to eventually replace the aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Governments paid millions for this fake bomb detector

It was a miracle device. The makers of the Alpha 6 device claimed it could detect ivory, explosives, drugs, and more. The UK, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan all fell for it. Egypt ordered a million dollars’ worth. Thailand paid $33,000 dollars for a single unit.


Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
13 Thai state agencies bought the Alpha 6 devices.

 

But it was really a bunch of plastic parts filled with shredded paper, assembled in the UK and made in China (who actually also bought a number of the devices).

It was promised to governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for its reported ability to detected bombs up to three miles away, but it was about as effective as any divining rod. When the British government suspected the fraud, it banned the export of the Alpha 6.

 

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Seems legit.

 

The creators claimed that it used the body’s static electricity to power an antenna, which would make the device point to the contraband material. A card or paper would be attached to the device, with an image of what it was to be looking for.

A single Alpha 6 cost around seven dollars to make. The British couple producing them sold their “devices” for upwards of $105 million over more than 10 years. They sold thousands of the Alpha 6s – no more than a plastic handle with an antenna.

 

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
An Alpha 6, as shipped.

The whole situation would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. The devices were sold to the Iraqi government during much of the Iraq War, and Iraqi troops – often defending allied troops – depended on the Alpha 6 to do its job. No one knows if the bogus detectors led to the death of any allied troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

When the British justice system caught up to the fraudsters, their assets were seized and they were given prison sentences of up to three years.

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.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

(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.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

(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

3 reasons Marine Corps infantry will always love the M249 SAW

The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is a Marine Corps favorite because it can suppress the enemies of freedom at the max rate of 800 rounds of democracy per minute. The max range of 3,600 meters is enough to reach out and touch the enemy – and for the Corps to forgive the heresy that the Army had her first. The M249 SAW served as the light machine gun of choice for the Marine fire teams since the 1980s. The commanders of today want to put this ol’ gal out to pasture but the Marine Corps infantry will always love the M249 SAW.

1. She’s a millennial

For the sake of brevity let’s disregard the weapon was designed in the 1970s but implanted in the 1980s. Anyone who has fired the weapon can attest to the euphoria of holding down the trigger of this belt-fed beauty at the cyclic rate. She saw action in the Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. She was the queen bee in Iraq and Afghanistan. The millennial generation of war fighters patrolled the mountains of the Korengal valley with her. Troops cleared the streets of Fallujah and dominated the sands of Helmand province with this piece of American engineering. When the M249 SAW sings, she retakes the initiative from the insurgency with overwhelming fire power. The SAW is to OIF/OEF era Marines what the M60 is to Vietnam era devil dogs.

2. A reliable weapon

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The weapon system comes with an additional barrel to provide a sustainable rate of fire without melting the barrel. Barrels of other SAWs should not be interchanged due to head spacing of each individual weapon system. A machine gunner can carry a combat load of 600 rounds of ammunition and, the Assistant Gunner, who can carry an additional combat load as well. It is considered light weight at 18 lbs, yet the weight adds up on patrol. If the Gunner and A Gunner run out of linked ammunition the M249 SAW can use M16 magazines. The versatility of this weapon provides an adequate base of fire for fire teams to maneuver, close with, and destroy the enemy. With proper maintenance and a well-trained trigger puller, officers can rest assured that they can employ a fireteam with this weapon to lethal effect.

3. It’s just plain fun to use

Why put a suppressor on it? Because, that’s why. Many moons ago, when I was young boot PFC, my unit held a machine gunner competition. The final event was to saw a 2×4 in half with…the SAW. That’s the best thing about this weapon, there is so much ammo for it. In 2012, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines received the M27 or the Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) as part of the Marine Corps’ wide survey. It was up in the air at the time whether the IAR would replace the M249 SAW or replace M16 series all together. While the IAR was less prone to jams and easier to maintain, it did not provide the same level of suppression as it’s predecessor. The Squad Automatic Weapon will be phased out eventually by newer technology but the Marine Corps infantry will always love it anyway. Flaws and all.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the Russian submarine fleet is such a basket case

The Russian Navy has been having a lot of problems since the end of the Cold War. The Kuznetsov Follies are just the tip of the iceberg. But the Russian Navy may be taking a real hit under the ocean. Yeah, folks, Russia’s headed for a big hit on the submarine front. In a sense, they already took one.


During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had an immense fleet of submarines, ranging from the ancient Whiskey-class diesel-electric subs to modern Typhoon-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
A port bow view of a Soviet Oscar Class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine underway. Each Oscar sub is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 550-kilometer-range missiles. (DOD photo)

According to GlobalSecurity.org, there were a total of 61 subs active in the Russian Navy in 2015. In 1985, the Soviet Navy had 366. That is a drop of 83 percent. Much of this was due to the end of the Cold War. Russia, practically bankrupt, couldn’t afford to keep many of those subs in service.

Worse, new construction also fell off, truncating the production runs of the Oscar-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines and the Akula-class attack versions. It also had the effect of stretching out the time it took to get the first Yasen-class sub built (20 years from start to finish on the first sub). The slow rate of construction means that Russia will see its nuclear submarine force dwindle even further.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Improved Kilo class submarine. Photo from Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

Russian submarines have also had a disturbing trend of being lost in accidents, including at least three nuclear submarines since 1985, a Yankee-class ballistic missile sub off Bermuda in 1986, a Mike-class attack submarine off Norway in 1989, and the Oscar-class submarine Kursk in a 2000 explosion.

One bright spot for Russia is that the production of diesel-electric submarines like the Kilo-class are continuing, fuelled by export orders. That said, the recent loss of an Indian Navy Kilo, the Sindhurakshak, to a fire and explosion in 2013 will leave open questions about the quality of Russian designs.

Articles

Here’s why it’s a good thing the US military is getting rid of the M14

The M14 is one of the worst DMRs in history, and should have never been adopted by the military.


That’s a powerful statement, but a mostly objective one.

While the M14’s design originated from what General Patton dubbed “The greatest battle implement ever devised” — the M1 Garand — by the 1950s it was already outdated. Military small arms development had seen unparalleled growth throughout World War II and this growth continued into the Cold War.

Listen to the WATM podcast to hear our veteran hosts and a weapons expert discuss the M14 and its replacement:

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While Russia was hurriedly developing its first true assault rifle, the AK-47, NATO was still hung up on the concept of a battle rifle. Though this makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Private 1st Class Carlos Rivera, a squad designated marksman with Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, scans his sector while providing security in the district of Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, July 30, 2012. (Photo: US Army)

Experience in WWII and the frozen hell of Korea hammered home the importance of increased firepower without sacrificing range, reliability or power. Hundreds of soldiers reported the smaller M1 Carbine and its light .30-caliber cartridge were ineffective against winter-coat-wearing Chinese and Korean human wave attacks, but the .30-06 M1 never suffered this problem. Interestingly, post-war investigations suggested the M1 Carbine’s light weight and high cyclic rate of fire were more responsible for this lack of stopping power than the cartridge itself — meaning, most soldiers simply missed their targets because of the gun’s recoil.

This is a lesson the Army forgot when it pressed a select-fire .308 rifle into service only a few years later.

Enter, the M14.

The one thing the M14 has going for it, is its method of operation. It’s a long-stroke, piston-driven action that’s very similar to the most prolific, assault rifle in history: the AK-47. Like the AK, the M14’s action can tolerate debris and fouling better than the direct-impingement M16. While the rifle’s hard-hitting 7.62x51mm NATO round is vastly superior to the M16’s 5.56mm at defeating light cover and the dense foliage found in South East Asian jungles, it also makes the rifle very tough to control.

On a side note, carrying a combat load of 7.62 isn’t much fun, and doesn’t offer the average infantryman nearly as much firepower as the same weight in 5.56 rounds.

But that’s not what makes the M14 so awful. It’s the design itself – especially for the role it has been shoehorned into: the Designated Marskman Rifle. The vaunted DMR bridges the gap between the M4 and dedicated sniping weapon systems like the M24. Infantrymen from every branch fielding a DMR in combat have nothing but praise for the guns’ performance in the vast expanses of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, if soldiers love the gun, it must be pretty decent, right? Sure, so long as the rifle is clamped into a very heavy, expensive chassis and the soldier carrying it never drops it, or touches the handguards. Seriously, disturbing the gun’s bedding – the way it’s glued into a stock — doesn’t just shift point of impact, it reduces overall accuracy. Therein lies the biggest problem with the M14: accurizing the rifle and holding on to that accuracy.

Accuracy is a measure of consistency when it comes to rifles. Given that a DMR must, by definition, extend the effective range of a squad, its DMR needs to reliably hit targets beyond the reach of the infantryman’s standard rifle or carbine. Yet, according to military standards, acceptable accuracy from the M14 is 5.5 inches at 100 yards – a full inch larger than the M16’s standards. While the M14’s 7.62mm round is great for this, the gun is not.

Camp Perry shooters have long since abandoned the M14 because of the difficulty in accurizing the rifle compared to the M16 – and they aren’t alone. The Army noticed the problems and prohibitive costs associated with maintaining M14s in country, which lead to the solicitation of a replacement rifle to meet new specifications for the Semi-Automatic Sniper System program.

Funny thing, the Army decided the M16 was more accurate, and more easily tuned into a sniper rifle – except for the caliber. Which is why the M14 EBR’s replacement, the Mk-11, is built off an AR-10: the 7.62 big brother of the M16.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria
Cpl. Scott P. Ruggio, scout sniper, Scout Sniper platoon, Headquarters and Support Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires his MK-11 sniper rifle in the first stage of a three-day platoon competition in Djibouti March 25. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

In all fairness, the Global War on Terror presented a combat theater the U.S. military wasn’t prepared to fight in. Plus, the M14 wasn’t meant to be a sniper or DMR platform when it was developed in the 1950s. Even still, Armalite had been producing civilian and military AR-10 rifles since the late 1950s, and could have just as easily been pressed into service.

Better yet, since the AR-10 shares it’s method of operation with the M16, advancements on one could likely be applied to the other. And, the guns shares the same manual of arms, so no additional training is required for soldiers transitioning from one to the other.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The president is getting a new Marine One after almost 60 years

Marine One is an icon of the presidency and for the most part, one helicopter has carried that load for almost 60 years: The VH-3, which first carried President Eisenhower in 1961. The current D model of the VH-3 entered service in 1978 and was later backed up with the introduction of the VH-60N in 1987. But, the fact remains that both of these helicopters are getting older by the day.


The first effort to replace them was the VXX program. This program got started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when some possible shortcomings in the current Marine One airframes were identified. The program was marred by frequent delays, cost overruns, constantly changing requirements, and unresponsiveness on the side of the U.S. government. In 2009, the program was called off.

The need for a new Marine One remained.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The VH-3D Sea King has been used as Marine One since 1978.

(White House photo by Paul Morse)

So, the Corps started work on a new Marine One program in 2010, culminating with a requests for proposals in 2012. Sikorsky, now a division of Lockheed, won the second round of the competition in 2013. This time around, the Marines are going about getting their new Marine One very differently. The Marine One replacement’s acquisition strategy is centered on two main principles: First, well-defined and achievable requirements, and second, a low-risk, technical approach.

The latter is epitomized by the use of the S-92 helicopter (in essence, a souped-up UH-60) that has seen service with a number of civilian, government, and military operators ranging from China Southern Airlines to the Canadian Navy (as the CH-148 Cyclone). Plans call for 23 VH-92s, as it is designated, to replace both the VH-3 and VH-60 by 2023. These choppers can be hauled anywhere in the world on a C-17 Globemaster III or C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The other Marine One, the VH-60N, has been used since 1987.

(White House photo by Eric Draper)

Now, you may wonder why so the US government wants so many of these helicopters? Well, the current composition of HMX-1’s Marine Ones is a total of 11 VH-3Ds and 8 VH-60Ns. That’s because, these days, Marine One never flies alone. Often, as many as five “Marine Ones” will be in the air, creating, in essence, a five-card monte game for a terrorist. While Marine One hasn’t been attacked in real life, it was shot down by a narco-terrorist in the 1990 novel Under Siege written by Navy veteran Stephen Coonts. Of course, the new Marine One is equipped with multiple countermeasure systems to protect against such an attack should the worst happen.

The VH-92 will be expected to handle the important duty of Presidential transport for a long time. It certainly will have big shoes to fill coming after the distinguished service provided by the VH-3 and VH-60.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New technology keeps survival specialists out of ‘the danger zone’

An Air Force Research Laboratory team recently delivered version 2.0 of the Survival Health Awareness Responders Kit to instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis, Texas, a 28,000-acre site used to train survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialists.

With SHARK, sensors are embedded into shirts to transmit key metrics including heart rate and estimated core temperature from smartphones to a server. As students undergo physical endurance tests during extended periods of isolation, the system allows instructors to monitor the data in real-time and issues alerts for heart rate spikes and significant increases in temperature. Since the device identifies the user’s location, medical personnel can quickly respond to those in need of care.

Second Lt. Matthew Dickinson, AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing biomechanical engineer, said SHARK 2.0 is user-friendly and more secure. He explained instructors and students are pleased with the streamlined setup process and the new web interface.


Maj. Toby Andrews, 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 3 commander, said he appreciates that SHARK “gives (instructors) real-time alerts on the health and well-being of students.” The system “truly eases my mind as a commander,” he said since it “allows us to provide preventative care (in cases) that could otherwise lead to serious medical situations.”

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

Staff Sgt. Randall Moss and Master Sgt. William Davis,16th Airlift Squadron loadmasters, sort through survival equipment during a survival, evasion, resistance and escape exercise in North, South Carolina Aug. 21, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

Prior to SHARK, instructors checked on trainees at regular intervals to ensure their well-being. In certain cases, they administer ice baths to students with elevated body temperatures, said Tech. Sgt. John Garcia, a SERE instructor. However, since the introduction of this monitoring technology, zero ice baths have been required because the system alerts instructors before students reach what they call “the danger zone.”

To develop version 2.0, the SHARK team enlisted the help of Cedarville University students majoring in computer science. Loren Baum, who now works full time at 711th HPW, improved the code for his senior design project. He optimized the software, added functionality, enhanced security measures and streamlined the startup process.

Baum explained the team moved SHARK from the mobile app arena to the web to make the system usable in a wider variety of scenarios. With the new approach, instructors simply log into a website from any computer to monitor students’ health status instead of launching an application, which requires installation and manual upgrades.

The team simplified the startup process with Quick Response codes that automatically input students’ information when scanned, Baum said. This measure reduced the total setup time from one hour to five minutes and makes it easier for students and instructors to begin a new session.

In June 2019, the team traveled to JB San Antonio-Camp Bullis and conducted initial tests with version 2.0. Once the team integrated additional software improvements, SERE instructors officially launched the upgrade in September 2019.

The SHARK team continues to work with other squadron key leaders to address related needs. One such application involves using the included heart rate variability measurement to provide real-time feedback regarding students’ reactions to various training stressors.

This data would enable instructors to evaluate the effectiveness of interrogation techniques and determine the extent to which they affect individuals, said 1st Lt. David Feibus, a former software team lead who is now a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

A 437th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist walks across a dirt road during a SERE exercise in North, South Carolina Aug. 21, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

While SHARK is useful in various situations, Air Force instructors currently rely on this tool to offer “strenuous exercises in the safest manner possible,” said Ted Harmer, a 711th HPW engineer who also leads a medical readiness personnel recovery training research team. When administering physical tests, instructors must achieve the purpose of the training and minimize negative impacts, whether they be physical or emotional, he explained.

SHARK technology was born when the U.S. Air Force Survival School at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, opted to include more proactive safety measures in its training programs. Since AFRL had experience with wearable monitoring technology, leadership from 711th HPW offered to develop a solution for the SERE instructors during an immersion visit.

“Going in, we knew we needed a broad range of skill sets,” said Dr. James Christensen, a product line lead within the 711th HPW. He explains that to produce an effective system, the team relied on expertise in wearable devices, electronics, software development, communications, human factors and physiology.

“We pulled together capabilities from several different parts of the organization to assemble the sensors, develop the software to pull sensor data together and then build the communications capability to then send that data and be able to monitor it continuously and remotely.”

Following the initial design and development, the team arranged field tests with end-users. Several team members lived with JBSA-Camp Bullis instructors for one week to test SHARK 1.0 in 2018. Now, a year later, an upgraded system is in the field.

In the meantime, the SHARK team is also working with other groups who are interested in acquiring this technology including firefighters, NASA scientists, and Army special forces. Members are currently exploring a version of the system that the Department of Defense Fire Academy can use under fire protection gear to prevent heat injuries.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

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