How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

A pilot scans the screen on his helmet-mounted display, monitoring air speed and information about his ground target. Then in a quick turn and ascent, he pushes the plane through the flickering gloom of a stratus layer up to a brightly lit flight path above the clouds. For intermittent moments, his helmet-mounted display screen washes out in the changing light conditions. A thousand miles away outside a remote desert village, a special ops team storms a warehouse where hostages are being held, bursting from glaring daylight into a dark, windowless building. Do they waste precious seconds swapping sunglasses for clear ballistic eyewear before they enter?


The Air Force’s concern about reliable visibility of helmet-mounted displays led to a revolutionary light-attenuating liquid crystal technology that is working its way into flight helmet visors as well as combat eyewear for on-the-ground warfighters. In 1997, Bahman Taheri was on the faculty at Kent State University’s renowned Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) when he learned that the Air Force was looking for solutions to their helmet-mounted display visibility issues — solutions that had been stubbornly elusive.

“They wanted a product, not more research,” Taheri says. That meant the Air Force needed to move beyond the academic realm and work with a company that could actually develop and manufacture a technology. Taheri was intrigued, challenged, and confident he could help. With backing from the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, he and two colleagues from LCI, Tamas Kosa and Peter Palffy-Muhoray, co-founded AlphaMicron, Inc.
AlphaMicron’s tint is just one of many successful innovations enabled by the U.S. Air Force’s SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

On the TV show Shark Tank, prospective entrepreneurs receive a chance to turn dreams of a successful business into reality by presenting their ideas to investors in hopes of receiving financial support.

In a way, the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program office is a ‘Shark Tank’ of sorts for the Air Force.

The SBIR program was established by congress in 1982, with the idea to set aside a substantial amount of research and development money to be focused on small businesses.

“The idea behind it was to look for problems within organizations where creative, innovative, leading-edge solutions could solve a problem not only quickly, but could also then spark the economy by nurturing a small business to grow and become a viable U.S. national asset,” said David Shahady, director of the Air Force SBIR/STTR program.

Shahady touts a recent SBIR program success story about a small business called MMA Design LLC, of Boulder, Colorado. A recipient of the 2016 SBIR Tibbetts Award, the company has developed several new technologies through the SBIR program to help alleviate the growing problem of space junk in orbit around the Earth. MMA Design employees created a virtual chute that opens up behind a satellite in order to slow and change the orbit of the satellite after it’s no longer useful, allowing it to fall and burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. They also designed a steerable solar panel array that allows smaller-class satellites to capture more power, allowing them to be used for longer missions, and then provides operators the ability to help steer the craft down into the atmosphere to get it out of orbit.

“It’s exciting to be the front-end investor that puts money into these small companies and see these folks mature their businesses,” Shahady said. “MMA Design started with a small number of people and now they have an increasing number of employees, so you’re not only solving an Air Force problem, but you’re also helping to build the national economy.”

Each year, federal agencies which are part of SBIR publish announcements of their topics or problems to be solved and small businesses can submit proposals for consideration.

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

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No luggage? No problem. Stow a weekend’s worth of clothes in your tactical pants

You get a call on the way to the office and your boss says he needs you in Dubuque on the next flight.


If you’re not there, the deal won’t get done, and you’ll have to stand tall before The Man.

As a vet, you remember how your cammies held everything for a patrol — from bottled water to extra gloves to a couple of spare mags. So why would it be any different in civilian life?

Today’s tactical pants borrow from the utility of military versions with civilian-worthy styling that doesn’t scream “SEAL wannabe!” while still delivering the storage and durability those issued trousers were known for during service. They can hold another AR mag and a bottle of water or two, but since your “business trip” no longer entails kicking in doors and grabbing tangos, those pockets now serve a far more pedestrian purpose.

So you’re on the clock, you don’t have time to pack a bag. Can your tactical pants pick up the slack and help you make that crucial meeting two states away?

Here’s a basic loadout that’ll get you through a couple of days in front of a client.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Who needs an overnight bag when you have a sturdy pair of tactical pants? Go ahead, be a TSA nightmare! (Photo: We Are The Mighty)

Think you can’t fit that into your TacPants? Think again…

1. Skivvies are essential

Think about it folks, who wants to face down a big business deal with skanky set of drawers? Success demands feeling fresh, and that requires a extra set of skivvies to deal with sweaty “subjects.”

2. Batten down the button-down

Rolling on an unannounced trip usually means planes, trains, and automobiles. And when you finally arrive at the destination, you’re probably going to look like a soup sandwich.

So go-ahead, pack that fancy button-down to turn heads — there’s room for that.

3. Don those Dockers

Sure, we all love our tactical pants — heck, that’s what got you to your destination ready to roll, right?

But sometimes those civilian types might think you’re from Delta Team 6 come to snatch bin Laden if you’re sporting pants that feature pockets for extra pistol mags. So bring those Dockers to the party, you’ve got room for them!

4. Prepare for after hours

The client dug your pitch and signed on the dotted line. What better way to celebrate your victory than with a couple of beers out on the town with your new business partners?

But those nights can get cold on the road, and any former trooper worth his salt is going to pack some snivel gear for when the sun goes down and the temps drop. Fortunately, you still have plenty of room to pack your pants with fleece.

5. Don’t forget fresh breath

All the other gear is worthless if you’re sporting bad breath and low-reg grooming. Would gunny flame spray you if you sauntered up to formation with a 5 o’clock shadow? Then you can probably figure that the deal won’t get sealed if you’re rolling in looking like a college puke who spent last night at a Chi O mixer.

Cellphone, schmellphone — stash that toothpaste and razor right up front and make sure you’re as fresh as a boot in the squad bay for that all-important pitch.

Sure, it’s pretty unlikely you won’t have time to zip home and pack a duffel for that FRAGO from your boss. But isn’t it nice to know that the folks who’re designing the street-legal version of today’s combat gear have your back — with a fashion-forward place to stow all your gear and still dress for success?

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-35 can now help the US Army destroy enemy missiles

A US Air Force fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter successfully transmitted live targeting data to US Army ground-based air-and-missile defense systems for the first time in an important test conducted during the recent Orange Flag exercise, the fighter’s developer announced Aug. 6, 2019.

The Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS), a complex system developed by Northrop Grumman to connect sensors, launchers, and command and control stations, was able to “receive and develop fire control quality composite tracks” by “leveraging the F-35 as an elevated sensor” during the recent exercise, Lockheed Martin revealed.

The tracking data was sent to the IBCS through the F-35 ground station and F-35-IBCS adaptation kit, systems developed by Lockheed to let the F-35 talk to the US Army air-and-missile defense network.


The F-35 is capable of detecting threats that ground-based systems might struggle to pick up on until it’s too late. The curvature of the Earth can affect the ability of certain ground-based radars to adequately detect threats. The F-35 — which, as Breaking Defense noted, has been described by senior Air Force officers as “a computer that happens to fly” — is able to rapidly maneuver towards new targets and to change altitude, which radar arrays on the ground are unable to do.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

A pilot takes the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft up for its first night flight near Edwards Air Force Base.

(photo by Tom Reynolds)

“The F-35, with its advanced sensors and connectivity, is able to gather and seamlessly share critical information enabling greater joint force protection and a higher level of lethality of Army IAMD forces,” Scott Arnold, the vice president and deputy of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, explained in a statement.

With the technology and capabilities tested recently, an Army Patriot battery, for example, could theoretically get a better read on an incoming threat using information provided an airborne F-35.

“Any sensor, any effector, any domain,” Dan Verwiel, Northrop Grumman’s vice president and general manager of missile defense and protective systems, told Defense News. “This is the future of the US Army’s fight.”

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

F-35A Lightning II.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Three years ago, an F-35 transmitted targeting information to a Navy Aegis Combat System armed with an SM-6 anti-air missile, which was then launched at a mock target simulating an adversarial aircraft. Now, this fighter, one of the most expensive weapons in the US arsenal, is being paired with Army air-and-missile defense networks.

The US military is looking at using the F-35 for multi-domain operations, meaning it wants the jet to do far more than the fighter-bomber missions for which it was initially designed. The fifth-generation jet can also use its high-end sensors to send difficult-to-detect transmissions containing critical data to other air assets, warships, and troops on the ground to increase battlespace awareness.

The capabilities being tested are a top priority as the US military looks to modernize the joint force in the face of great power competition with China and Russia.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

India is replacing its MiG-21s with its homegrown fighters

When it comes to making good military aircraft, some countries are obvious go-tos. The United States, France, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom all immediately spring to mind as creators of classic combat planes. Then, you’ve got some smaller countries, like Israel and Sweden, that have produced some great aircraft. It may be time now to include another country on that list: India.


How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
HAL Tejas during Iron Fist 2016. (Indian government photo)

In some ways, it’s not a surprise. India has built some modern fighters, like the Jaguar and MiG-27, under license from their original manufacturers. They’ve also managed to seriously upgrade their force of MiG-21 Fishbeds. The “Bison” program gave these 1960s-vintage fighters the ability to use modern missiles, like the AA-11 Archer and AA-12 Adder. India’s force of Fishbeds, however, was getting worn out.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
A HAL Tejas takes off during AeroIndia 2009. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Subharnab)

India was looking to replace its Fishbeds as far back as 1983. It took quite a while to develop the replacement program, though, and the resulting plane, the Tejas, did not fly until 2001 – after eighteen years of research and development. The plane spent another 15 years getting tested and fixed up for operational service. India had hoped to see this plane emerge as not only something for their air force, but also as an option for their Navy to operate from carriers. The naval version didn’t work out, however, so India bought the MiG-29K.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
After tests like this one, a planned carrier-based version of the Tejas got the ax. (Indian Navy photo)

The HAL Tejas is a delta-wing fighter, bearing a resemblance to planes like the Mirage 2000, the Mirage 5, and the IAI Kfir. It is equipped with the Israeli Elta M-2032 radar, a General Electric F404 engine, and has a two-barrel 23mm cannon with 220 rounds. It can carry both air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including anti-ship missiles. It has a top speed of 1,370 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,056 miles. An improved version, the Tejas II, will have a more powerful GE F414 engine.

Learn more about India’s latest fighter in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giHNeBqejDU
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Aston Martin teamed up with Airbus to create luxurious helicopter

Aston Martin and Airbus have teamed up to create a specially designed ACH130 helicopter.

The new ACH130 represents the first helicopter Aston Martin has ever created, according to the automaker.

“[The ACH130 marries] ACH’s key values of excellence, quality and service with Aston Martin’s commitment to beauty, handcrafting and automotive art to bring a new level of aesthetics and rigorous attention to detail to the helicopter market,” Airbus wrote in a statement.


This isn’t the first time Aston Martin has dabbled in designing mobility options besides cars: it unveiled its first motorcycle, the AMB 001 in 2019, and a bicycle — made in partnership with bicycle manufacturer Storck — in 2017.

“This first application of our design practices to a helicopter posed a number of interesting challenges but we have enjoyed working through them,” Aston Martin’s VP and CCO Marek Reichman said in a statement.

Keep scrolling to see the automaker’s first helicopter:

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

The special edition helicopter has four different interior and exterior bespoke designs created by the automaker.

The four options listed below can all be customised, according to the automaker:

  • Stirling Green exterior with a Oxford Tan Leather and Pure Black Ultra-suede interior
  • Xenon Grey exterior with a Pure Black Leather and Pure Black Ultra-suede interior
  • Arizona Bronze exterior with a Comorant Leather and Pure Black Ultra-suede interior
  • Ultramarine Black exterior with a Ivory Leather and Pure Black Ultra-suede interior
How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

(Aston Martin and Airbus)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the V-22 Osprey helped take down a Taliban warlord

In 2009, during some of the heaviest fighting of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Marine Corps was involved in a number of operations in western Iraq. However, things got tougher as Taliban lookouts were typically posted to provide a warning of the Leathernecks’ approach.


The Taliban also figured out to time the helicopters when they left, allowing them to get a rough idea of when the Marines would arrive.

 

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Afghan and coalition force members provide security during an operation in search of a Taliban leader in Kandahar city, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Hulett)

So, when a Taliban warlord was using poppy proceeds to buy more weapons, the Marines wanted to take him down, but they were worried that it could turn into a major firefight, since this warlord had taken over a village about 100 miles from Camp Bastion, a major Marine base.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
(DOD photo)

Even at top speed, it would take a helicopter like the CH-53E Super Stallion about a half hour to get to that warlord’s base – and to do that, it would have to fly in a straight line. That sort of approach doesn’t help you catch the Taliban warlord by surprise.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Clare J. Shaffer

But by 2009, MV-22 Ospreys were also available in theater. The tiltrotors weren’t just faster (a top speed of 316 miles per hour), they also had much longer range (just over 1,000 miles). In essence, it was hoped that the Ospreys could not only evade the Taliban lookouts, but they’d also get to the location before the enemy could react.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Photo by Lance Cpl. Clarence Leake/USMC

On the day of the raid, Marines boarded four MV-22s. The tiltrotors took off, evaded the Taliban, and the Marines were delivered into the center of the village – catching the Taliban by surprise.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

In roughly five minutes, the warlord was in cuffs and on one of the Ospreys. The Marines then made their getaway, having pulled off a major operational success.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Soldiers from the 101st Infantry Battalion and Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted a sustainment training utilizing MV-22 Ospreys and F-16 Fighting Falcons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Norman)

Check out the Smithsonian Channel video below to see a recreation of that raid.

Smithsonian Channel, YouTube
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the rifle Confederates used to snipe Union officers

Many a Union officer fell victim to a .451-caliber bullet designed for this English-built rifle. A muzzle-loaded, single-shot rifle, the Whitworth was the first of its kind and changed warfare for the next century and more. It was the world’s first sniper rifle, and Confederate sharpshooters loved it.


Two of the highest-ranking Federal officers killed during the war were taken down by the polygon-barreled, scoped musket. It was built to make shots at impossibly long distances, sometimes up to 2,000 yards or more – four times as far as the standard musket of the day.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Look out, artillery crews, here come the sharpshooters.

The rifle was first engineered by Sir Joseph Whitworth, a Crimean War veteran who noticed that the British standard-issue rifle wasn’t really performing all that well, but the cannons used by the British in Crimea were much more accurate than previous field pieces. He believed those cannons and their hexagonal rifling could be scaled down to be used by a one-man long gun. Whitworth’s gun would get the chance to perform against the Enfield rifle he sought to replace – and it wasn’t even close. Whitworth’s rifle was superior by far.

Except the British didn’t buy into the rifle. It was far more expensive than the Enfield Rifle. But Whitworth was able to sell his weapons to both the French and the Confederate armies.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Union Gen. John Sedgwick was killed by a Whitworth rifle while telling his men they couldn’t be killed at 1,000 yards.

The Whitworth was more lightweight than other long-range rifles of the time and used a more compact bullet, which contributed to the weapon’s accuracy. The Confederates put the rifle to good use, arming their best sharpshooters with it and deploying them with infantry units to target officers and Union artillery crews. The sharpshooters and their trademark weapon became so ubiquitous that southern sharpshooters soon took on the name of their rifle, becoming known as Whitworth Sharpshooters.

They quickly became feared among Union troops for their signature high-pitched whistle while in flight. Confederate snipers took out General-grade officers at Chickamauga, Spotsylvania, and Gettysburg.

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Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US

The Republic of Singapore Air Force is one of the world’s most modern air forces. It is also very large (100 combat planes) compared to the size of the country (276 square miles – less than a quarter of the area of Rhode Island). One could wonder how they fit all their planes in there?


The answer is, they don’t. In fact, about a quarter of Singapore’s primary combat jets, a total of 40 F-15SG Strike Eagles and 60 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, aren’t based in Singapore at all. They’re in the United States.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
A F-15SG with the 428th Fighter Training Squadron. (USAF photo)

You’ll find ten of Singapore’s F-15SGs at Mountain Home Air Force Base, the home of the 366th Fighter Wing (which operates F-15E Strike Eagles). They are assigned to the 428th Fighter Training Squadron.

Fourteen of Singapore’s F-16C/D fighters are at Luke Air Force Base, the home of the 56th Fighter Wing, which handles training for not only the F-16, but for the F-35. They are assigned to the 425th Fighter Training Squadron.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
A Singaporean F-16D Fighting Falcon with the 425th Fighter Training Squadron. (USAF photo)

So, why is roughly one-fourth of Singapore’s combat aircraft inventory stationed across the Pacific Ocean, well over 8,500 miles away? Well, the answer is Singapore’s small size, and its poor geography. Singapore is really an island nation pushed smack dab between Malaysia and Indonesia, and its airspace is less than six miles across.

One thing you need for flight training, though, is space, and a lot of it. This is especially true with high-performance fighters like the F-15SG and F-16C/D.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Map of Singapore, showing just how little airspace there is for training. (CIA map)

Transport helicopter pilots and basic flight training are done in Australia, where the trainees, it is safe to assume, can guzzle all the Foster’s they want. Jet training for the Singaporean Air Force is done in France. Oh, and eight of Singapore’s 17 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters are based near Tucson, Arizona.

In essence, Singaporean flight trainees get to see a lot of the world before they join a front-line unit. Not a bad way to enter service.

MIGHTY CULTURE

As the US entered World War I, American soldiers depended on foreign weapons technology

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany and entered World War I. Since August 1914, the war between the Central and Entente Powers had devolved into a bloody stalemate, particularly on the Western Front. That was where the U.S. would enter the engagement.

How prepared was the country’s military to enter a modern conflict? The war was dominated by industrially made lethal technology, like no war had been before. That meant more death on European battlefields, making U.S. soldiers badly needed in the trenches. But America’s longstanding tradition of isolationism meant that in 1917 U.S. forces needed a lot of support from overseas allies to fight effectively.


In Europe, American combat troops would encounter new weapons systems, including sophisticated machine guns and the newly invented tank, both used widely during World War I. American forces had to learn to fight with these new technologies, even as they brought millions of men to bolster the decimated British and French armies.

Engaging with small arms

In certain areas of military technology, the United States was well-prepared. The basic infantrymen of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were equipped with the Model 1903 Springfield rifle. Developed after American experience against German-made Mausers in the Spanish American War, it was an excellent firearm, equal or superior to any rifle in the world at the time.

The Springfield offered greater range and killing power than the U.S. Army’s older 30-40 Krag. It was also produced in such numbers that it was one of the few weapons the U.S. military could deploy with to Europe.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

The American soldier on the left, here greeting French civilians, is carrying a French Chauchat machine gun.

(US Army photo)

Machine guns were another matter. In 1912, American inventor Isaac Lewis had offered to give the U.S. Army his air-cooled machine gun design for free. When he was rejected, Lewis sold the design to Britain and Belgium, where it was mass-produced throughout the war.

With far more soldiers than supplies of modern machine guns, the U.S. Army had to adopt several systems of foreign design, including the less-than-desirable French Chauchat, which tended to jam in combat and proved difficult to maintain in the trenches.

Meeting tank warfare

American soldiers fared better with the Great War’s truly new innovation, the tank. Developed from the need to successfully cross “No Man’s Land” and clear enemy-held trenches, the tank had been used with limited success in 1917 by the British and the French. Both nations had combat-ready machines available for American troops.

After the U.S. entered the war, American industry began tooling up to produce the French-designed Renault FT light tank. But the American-built tanks, sometimes called the “six-ton tank,” never made it to the battlefields of Europe before the Armistice in November 1918.

Instead, U.S. ground forces used 239 of the French-built versions of the tank, as well as 47 British Mark V tanks. Though American soldiers had never used tanks before entering the war, they learned quickly. One of the first American tankers in World War I was then-Captain George S. Patton, who later gained international fame as a commander of Allied tanks during World War II.

Chemical weapons

Also new to Americans was poison gas, an early form of chemical warfare. By 1917 artillery batteries on both sides of the Western Front commonly fired gas shells, either on their own or in combination with other explosives. Before soldiers were routinely equipped with gas masks, thousands died in horrific ways, adding to the already significant British and French casualty totals.

Scientists on both sides of the war effort worked to make gas weapons as effective as possible, including by devising new chemical combinations to make mustard gas, chlorine gas, phosgene gas and tear gas. The American effort was substantial: According to historians Joel Vilensky and Pandy Sinish, “Eventually, more than 10 percent of all the chemists in the United States became directly involved with chemical warfare research during World War I.”

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Blinded by German tear gas, British soldiers wait for treatment in Flanders, 1918.

(British Army photo)

Naval power for combat and transport

All the manpower coming from the U.S. would not have meant much without safe transportation to Europe. That meant having a strong navy. The U.S. Navy was the best-prepared and best-equipped of all the country’s armed forces. For many years, it had been focusing much of its energy on preparing for a surface naval confrontation with Germany.

But a new threat had arisen: Germany had made significant progress in developing long-range submarines and devising attack tactics that could have posed severe threats to American shipping. German Navy U-boats had, in fact, devastated British merchant fleets so badly by 1917 that British defeat was imminent.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

A German submarine surrenders at the end of World War I.

In May 1917, the British Royal Navy pioneered the convoy system, in which merchant ships carrying men and materiel across the Atlantic didn’t travel alone but in large groups. Collectively protected by America’s plentiful armed escort ships, convoys were the key to saving Britain from defeat and allowing American ground forces to arrive in Europe nearly unscathed. In fact, as military historian V.E. Tarrant wrote, “From March 1918 until the end of the war, two million U.S. troops were transported to France, for the loss of only 56 lives.”

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

A U.S. Navy escorted convoy approaches the French coast, 1918.

(US Navy photo)

Taking to the skies

Some of those Americans who made it to Europe climbed above the rest – right up into the air. The U.S. had pioneered military aviation. And in 1917, air power was coming into its own, showing its potential well beyond just intelligence gathering. Planes were becoming offensive weapons that could actively engage ground targets with sufficient force to make a difference on the battlefield below.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

An American-painted British-made Sopwith Camel in France, 1918.

(US Army photo)

But with fewer than 250 planes, the U.S. was poorly prepared for an air war in Europe. As a result, American pilots had to learn to fly British and French planes those countries could not man.

Despite often lacking the weapons and technology required for success, it was ultimately the vast number of Americans – afloat, on the ground and in the air – and their ability to adapt and use foreign weapons on foreign soil that helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

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This is what your next MOPP suit could look like

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Soldiers train in classic MOPP gear just before Desert Storm in 1991. (Photo: U.S. Army)


For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:

  1. Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
  2. Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
  3. Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
  4. Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
  5. Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
  6. Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
  7. Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
  8. Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
  9. Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
  10. A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.

MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Chinese attack helicopter is its tank-killer

The attack helicopter has become a staple in many modern military forces. One country, though, has lagged a little bit with this crucial weapon: The People’s Republic of China. In fact, they were way behind the curve.


They really can only blame themselves: The June 1989 massacre of peaceful protestors at Tiananmen Square put the kibosh on acquiring a Western design, like the Augusta A129 or the Bell AH-1 Cobra. The fall of the Berlin Wall meant China lost out on buying the Mi-24 Hind. Communist China had to make do with arming the Harbin Z-9, a copy of the AS.365 Dauphin.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
Two Harbin Z-9Ws. The Chinese Communists used this as the basis for the Z-19. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Tksteven)

Now, however, China is catching up. The People’s Liberation Army took two approaches: One was to have the Russian helicopter company Kamov design a purpose-built anti-tank helicopter. The other was an effort to create a dedicated attack version of the Z-9, much like how the AH-1 Cobra was based off the famous UH-1 Iroquois utility helicopter.

Both of the projects are now reaching fruition, and it looks like the Chinese are going to use the products of each. The Z-10 is seen as the main attack helicopter, like the AH-64 Apache is for the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies
The Harbin Z-19, an armed reconnaissance helicopter. (Wikimedia Commons photo by WU Ying)

The Z-19 is seen as more of an observation bird — albeit one with far more firepower than the retired OH-58 Kiowa. MilitaryFactory.com reports that it has a top speed of 152 miles per hour, a maximum range of 435 miles, is armed with up to eight anti-tank missiles, and has a crew of two. So far, only the Chinese Communists are using this helicopter — Pakistan, which is often a consumer of Chinese weapons, chose the Turkish copy of the A129 to fill its attack-helicopter needs.

Learn more about this helicopter in the video below:

 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfNARRFA6b0
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Columbia-class submarines might be the stealthiest ever

The Navy has now issued at least one-fourth of the design work and begun further advancing work on systems such as a stealthy “electric drive” propulsion system for the emerging nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines by 2021.

“Of the required design disclosures (drawings), 26-percent have been issued, and the program is on a path to have 83-percent issued by construction start,” Bill Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.


The Columbia class is to be equipped with an electric-drive propulsion train, as opposed to the mechanical-drive propulsion train used on other Navy submarines.

In today’s Ohio-class submarines, a reactor plant generates heat which creates steam, Navy officials explained. The steam then turns turbines which produce electricity and also propel the ship forward through “reduction gears” which are able to translate the high-speed energy from a turbine into the shaft RPMs needed to move a boat propeller.

“The electric-drive system is expected to be quieter (i.e., stealthier) than a mechanical-drive system,” a Congressional Research Service report on Columbia-Class submarines from early 2018 states.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Designed to be 560-feet–long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will use a quieting X-shaped stern configuration.

The “X”-shaped stern will restore maneuverability to submarines; as submarine designs progressed from using a propeller to using a propulsor to improve quieting, submarines lost some surface maneuverability, Navy officials explained.

Navy developers explain that electric-drive propulsion technology still relies on a nuclear reactor to generate heat and create steam to power turbines. However, the electricity produced is transferred to an electric motor rather than so-called reduction gears to spin the boat’s propellers.

The use of an electric motor brings other advantages as well, according to an MIT essay written years ago when electric drive was being evaluated for submarine propulsion.

Using an electric motor optimizes use of installed reactor power in a more efficient way compared with mechanical drive submarines, making more on-board power available for other uses, according to an essay called “Evaluation and Comparison of Electric Propulsion Motors for Submarines.” Author Joel Harbour says that on mechanical drive submarine, 80-percent of the total reactor power is used exclusively for propulsion.

“With an electric drive submarine, the installed reactor power of the submarine is first converted into electrical power and then delivered to an electric propulsion motor. The now available electrical potential not being used for propulsion could easily be tapped into for other uses,” he writes.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Research, science, and technology work and initial missile tube construction on Columbia-Class submarines has been underway for several years. One key exercise, called tube-and-hull forging, involves building four-packs of missile tubes to assess welding and construction methods. These structures are intended to load into the boat’s modules as construction advances.

“Early procurement of missile tubes and prototyping of the first assembly of four missile tubes are supporting the proving out of production planning,” Couch said.

While the Columbia-Class is intended to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines, the new boats include a number of not-yet-seen technologies as well as different configurations when compared with the Ohio-Class. The Columbia-Class will have 16 launch tubes rather than the 24 tubes current on Ohio boats, yet the Columbias will also be about 2-tons larger, according to Navy information.


The Columbia-Class, to be operational by the 2028, is a new generation of technically advanced submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world to ensure second-strike ability should the US be hit with a catastrophic nuclear attack.

Formal production is scheduled for 2021 as a key step toward fielding of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines to serve all the way into and beyond the 2080s.

General Dynamics Electric Boat has begun acquiring long-lead items in anticipation of beginning construction; the process involves acquiring metals, electronics, sonar arrays and other key components necessary to build the submarines.

Both the Pentagon and the Navy are approaching this program with a sense of urgency, given the escalation of the current global threat environment. Many senior DoD officials have called the Columbia-Class program as a number one priority across all the services.

“The Columbia-Class submarine program is leveraging enhanced acquisition authorities provided by Congress such as advanced procurement, advanced construction and multi-year continuous production of missile tubes,” Couch added.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.


Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

Ballistic spider silk panels.

Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.

Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.

How the Air Force gets some of its best tech from tiny companies

A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.

In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.

“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”

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