In 2018, Boeing filed patents for a number of potential cannon mounting solutions for the supersonic heavy payload bomber, the B-1B Lancer, with the intent of creating a B-1B gunship similar in capability to the famed Spooky AC-130 and its most recent successor, the AC-130J Ghostrider. While the patents indicate Boeing’s interest in prolonging the life of the venerable Lancer, there’s been little progress toward pursuing this unusual design.
Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced plans to begin retiring its fleet of B-1Bs in favor of the forthcoming B-21 Raider, prompting us to ask ourselves: could we actually build a B-1B gunship to keep this legendary aircraft in service?
Could we really build a B-1B Gunship?
Boeing’s patents indicate a number of cannon-mounting methods and even types and sizes of weapons, giving this concept a broad utilitarian appeal. America currently relies on C-130-based gunships that, while able to deliver a massive amount of firepower to a target, max out at less than half the speed that would be achievable in a B-1B gunship. The Lancer’s heavy payload capabilities and large fuel stores would also allow it to both cover a great deal of ground in a hurry, but also loiter over a battlespace, delivering precision munitions and cannon fire managed by a modular weapon control system.
In theory, it all sounds well and good, but there are also a number of significant limitations. The B-1B Lancer’s swing-wing design does allow it to fly more manageable at lower speeds, but it would almost certainly struggle to fly as slowly as an AC-130J can while engaging targets below. Likewise, a B-1B gunship would be just as expensive to operate as it currently is as a bomber–making it a much more expensive solution to a problem one could argue the U.S. has already solved.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll never see this concept, or even these patents, leveraged in some way. If you’d like to learn more about the concept of turning a B-1B into a gunship, you can read our full breakdown (that the video above is based on) here.
About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.
Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.
Blast from the past
As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.
Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.
This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …
As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.
While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.
Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.
Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.
Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.
Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.
Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.
For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.
Latest and greatest
As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.
The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.
When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.
All the small things
While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.
The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.
The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.
Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
The silk spiders produce is tougher than Kevlar and more flexible than nylon, and Air Force researchers think it could be key to creating new materials that take the load and heat off troops in the field.
Scientists at the Air Force Research Lab and Purdue University have been examining natural silk to get a sense of its ability to regulate temperature — silk can drop 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit through passive, radiative cooling, which means radiating more heat than it absorbs, according to an Air Force news release.
Spc. Arielle Mailloux gets some help adjusting her protoype Generation III Improved Outer Tactical Vest from Capt. Lindsey Pawlowski, Aug. 21, 2012, at Fort Campbell, Ky.
(US Army photo by Megan Locke Simpson)
Those researchers want to apply that property to synthetics, like artificial spider silk, which is stronger than Kevlar, the polymer typically used in body armor, and more flexible than nylon.
Enhancing body armor and adding comfort for troops is one of many improvements hoped for by a team led by Dr. Augustine Urbas, a researcher in the Functional Materials Division of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.
“Understanding natural silk will enable us to engineer multifunctional fibers with exponential possibilities. The ultra-strong fibers outperform the mechanical characteristics of many synthetic materials as well as steel,” Urbas said in the release. “These materials could be the future in comfort and strength in body armor and parachute material for the warfighter.”
In addition to making flexible, cooler body armor, the material could also be used to make tents that keep occupants cooler as well as parachutes that can carry heavier loads.
Artificial spider silk may initially cost double what Kevlar does, but its light weight, strength, flexibility, and potential for other uses make it more appealing, according to the release.
Air Force researchers are also looking at Fibroin, a silk protein produced by silkworms, to create materials that can reflect, absorb, focus, or split light under different circumstances.
It’s not the military’s first attempt to shake up its body armor with natural or synthetic substances.
Maj. James Pelland, team lead for Marine Corps Systems Command’s Individual Armor Team, jumps over a log to demonstrate the mobility provided by a prototype Modular Scalable Vest, the next generation body armor for the Marine Corps.
(USMC photo by Monique Randolph)
Two years ago, the Army said it was looking into using genetically modified silkworms to create a tough, elastic fiber known as Dragon Silk.
Dr. James Zheng, chief scientist for project manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, told Army Times at the time that while the Army is developing and testing material solutions all the time, “Mother Nature has created and optimized many extraordinary materials.”
At the end of 2016, then-Air Force Academy cadet Hayley Weir and her adviser, professor Ryan Burke, successfully tested a kind of viscous substance that could be used to enhance existing body armor. Weir did not reveal the formula for the substance, but she used plastic utensils and a KitchenAid mixer to whip up the gravy-like goo, placing it in vacuum-sealed bags and flattened into quarter-inch layers.
The material was designed to be lighter than standard Kevlar and offer more flexibility for the wearer. During tests, when struck by bullets, the gooey material absorbed the impact and stopped the bullets.
Russia’s new T-14 Armata has been hyped as a super-tank capable of grinding any opposition underneath its treads. Any opposition it hasn’t already blown to bits, that is.
That said, there is always a question when it comes to Russian weapons: Is it just hype?
Back before Operation Desert Storm, the Russian T-72 tank received similar hype. But by the time Kuwait was liberated, there were enough burned out T-72 hulks to belie its invincibility.
Much of today’s Armata hype centers around its active protection system and explosive reactive armor. This could conceivably render many anti-tank missiles useless, since the system would either kill the missiles with mini-rockets of its own, spoof the missiles, or use the reactive armor to neutralize the warhead.
But a report from The National Interest claims that a version of the BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile, or “TOW,” could be a lethal counter to the Armata. The classic system has been used by American forces since 1970.
While most versions using normal high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads) could potentially be countered by the Armata’s active protection system, the BGM-71F TOW 2B could be able to beat the Armata.
According to Designation-Systems.net, the BGM-71F TOW 2B doesn’t hit the tank directly. Instead, it flies over top of the tank, and fires two explosively-formed projectiles through the top armor of a tank — usually the weakest point. The EFPs would then disable or destroy the tank in question.
A wireless version, the TOW 2B Aero, is among variants currently in production.
Working in the favor of American (and NATO) troops is the fact that the TOW can be deployed from just about any ground vehicle — from the HMMWV to the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In addition, Russia reportedly is only able to produce a limited number of T-14 Armatas.
In short, Russia could find out that the Armata, like the T-72, won’t live up to the hype.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the vet who needs his stocking stuffed:
~ .50 cal bottle openers to start the round (and the reminiscing) off right ~
Sometimes getting things rolling is the easy part. Like many entrepreneurs with a good idea, former SEAL Eli Crane found out that success, especially when it comes in a rush, can be a much more difficult hurdle to clear.
In Nov. 2014, Crane, along with his wife and co-founder, Jen, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch for investment in their boot-strapped company, Bottle Breacher. They went into it boasting a homemade (but sturdy) garage manufacturing set-up and $500k in sales of their flagship product, a bottle opener fashioned from recycled, authentic decommissioned .50 caliber bullet shells.
Impressed by their story (and all a’flutter with the patriotic warm’n’fuzzies), Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary went halvsies on a $150k capital investment for 10% equity each. The Cranes had aced the most public version of an entrepreneurial rite of passage. Happy days all the way to the bank, right?
Well, yeah, but also some rough weeks ahead as the instant publicity they received from their appearance flooded their fulfillment queue with some 20,000 orders, drastically overmatching their output capacity. Bottle Breacher was in for a brutal bout of growing pains.
Happily, the same grit that got Crane through BUD/S on his second try – along with the smarts that led him to switch to business after 5 overseas deployments – came together in a massive Bottle Breacher systems overhaul. In just over a month, the Cranes identified and busted through their production bottleneck (yeah, sorry) and caught up on all their outstanding orders.
And that was good news because Crane is a genius at product iteration and the production backlog had also made it impossible for him to release a bunch of his newest designs. These days, Bottle Breacher sells Freedom Frags, Breacher BBQ Tools, Wine Bottle Breachers, Whiskey Bullets and much, much more in their quest to be the #1 supplier of patriotic party ammunition to a grateful and thirsty nation.
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
Milkor’s Multi-Shot Grenade Launcher (MSLG) is a revolver on steroids.
Originally introduced in 1983, this six-shooter is designed to be simple, rugged, and devastating. It uses the time-tested revolver principle to fire six rounds in less than three seconds from up to five football fields away. Each chamber can be loaded with a variety of rounds, including shrapnel, flares, smoke, non-lethal rounds, and more.
Using it easy. Simply crank and load and you’re ready to fire.
American tankers were slightly late to the armored game, historically. Britain first rolled out the tank in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, before America even joined the war. In fact, America wasn’t even able to get its first tank, the M1917, to production in time to fight in World War I.
But America came roaring back in World War II with pioneers of armored doctrine, including the first American tank officer, George S. Patton. Since then, tanks have had a respected place in the pantheon of American combat arms. Today, tankers drive the M1 Abrams tanks into battle. Here’s what makes them so lethal.
Abrams tanks are highly mobile, capable of propelling themselves at speeds of over 40 mph despite their approximately 68 short tons of weight. That weight goes even higher if the tank is equipped with protection kits like the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK).
Once it gets within range of its target, the Abrams crew can fire their 120mm smoothbore cannon, the M256A1. The cannon can use a variety of ammunition including high-explosive, anti-tank (HEAT) ammo; canister rounds that are basically tank-sized shotgun shells; and sabot rounds, depleted uranium darts that shoot through armor and turn into a fast-moving cloud of razor-sharp, white-hot bits of metal inside the enemy tank.
Marines with 1st Tank Battalion fire the M1A1 Abrams tank during the 11th Annual Tank Gunnery Competition at Range 500, Feb. 20, 2016. The competition was divided into six segments to test the skills of the tank crewmen. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi)
These tank rounds make short work of most enemy tanks, but they’re also heavy. Loaders have to move them from storage racks to the gun by hand, and each round weighs between 40 and 51 pounds.
A pallet full of 120mm rounds sit waiting to be loaded and fired from the M1A2 tanks during gunnery. Considering that just one 120mm round weighs roughly 50 pounds, an entire 14-tank company is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
While Abrams can survive open warfare, crews prefer to hide and maneuver their tanks into better position as often as possible to protect the tank from enemy infantry, armor, and air assets. Covering the tank in local camouflage is a good first step, and using the terrain to mask movement is important as well.
Concealment is tricky in a tank, but it increases survivability and allows the tanks to conduct ambushes.
Army and Marine Corps logistics officers have to work hard to ensure the heavy tanks can always be deployed where they are needed. While Abrams can be airlifted, its much cheaper to ship them by boat.
When it would be dangerous or too expensive to drive the tanks to their objective, they can be loaded onto trains or special trucks for delivery.
But the most impressive way to deliver an Abrams is still definitely driving it off a plane.
The tanks can operate in most environments, everything from snow-covered plains…
An M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 in Trzebien, Poland. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
…to scrub-covered plains…
Marines with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fire a M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank during their annual training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 19, 2016. Marines fired the tanks to adjust their battle sight zero before the main event of their annual training. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gabrielle Quire)
…to sandy deserts.
An M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank fires suppressive rounds at targets during Hammer Strike, a brigade level live-fire exercise conducted by the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Johnston)
To make sure they can always get to the target, tank units sometimes bring specially equipped engineers with them. The Assault Breacher Vehicle is built on the M1 chassis but features a number of tools for breaking through enemy obstacles rather than a large number of offensive weapons.
The front of the breacher is a plow that can cut through enemy berms, creating a path for tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle drives through a lane in a berm during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd Tank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The main purpose of the plow is to scoop up and either detonate or remove enemy mines. Mines that don’t go off are channeles to the sides of the path, creating a clear lane for following tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle uses its mine plow in order to scan the surrounding area for potential threats during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd ank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The breacher vehicles can quickly create a lane through IEDs by firing one of their Mine-Clearing Line Charges, a rocket-towed rope of explosive cord that explodes approximately 7,000 pounds of C4, triggering IEDs and mines.
The M1 Abrams is still a titan of the battlefield, allowing tankers to be some of the most lethal soldiers and Marines in any conflict.
Marines from Company C, 1st Tank Battalion, prepare their tank for the day’s attack on Range 210 Dec. 11, 2012, during Steel Knight 13. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. D. J. Wu)
The Royal Netherlands Navy has a long tradition of naval prowess. Throughout its history, this Navy held its own against opponents ranging from England to Indonesia. Today, it is much smaller than it has been in the past, but it is still very potent. If tensions with Russia ever escalate to war, these ships could help defend the Baltic states or be used to escort convoys across the Atlantic.
Today, the centerpiece of the Dutch navy consists of four powerful air-defense vessels. While the Dutch Navy calls them “frigates,” these ships actually are really more akin to smaller guided-missile destroyers. Their armament is close to that of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers. These vessels replaced two Tromp-class guided-missile destroyers and two Jacob van Heemskerck-class guided-missile frigates.
While it’s primarily designed for anti-air warfare, the De Zeven Provincien-class guided missile frigates can also pack a serious anti-ship punch with RGM-84 Harpoons.
(Dutch Ministry of Defense Photo)
According to the Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, a De Zeven Provincien-class vessel comes in at roughly 6,000 tons. It is armed with a 40-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch system that usually carries 32 RIM-66 Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles and 32 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. It is also equipped with a five-inch gun, 324mm torpedo tubes, and can operate either a Lynx or NH90 helicopter. The ships are also equipped with eight RGM-84F Harpoon Block ID anti-ship missiles.
The De Zeven Provincien-class frigates could escort a carrier or merchant ships in a war with Russia.
(US navy photo)
According to the Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, a De Zeven Provincien-class vessel comes in at roughly 6,000 tons. It is armed with a 40-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch system that usually carries 32 RIM-66 Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, and 32 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. It is also equipped with a five-inch gun and 324mm torpedo tubes, and can operate either a Lynx or NH90 helicopter. The ships are also equipped with eight RGM-84F Harpoon Block ID anti-ship missiles.
An MQ-9 Reaper drone has bagged its first air-to-air kill of another small, aerial vehicle in a controlled simulation, an official revealed to Military.com.
The successful test in 2017 showed the U.S. Air Force that an unmanned vehicle like the MQ-9 has the ability to conduct air-to-air combat, much like its manned fighter brethren such as an F-15 Eagle or F-22 Raptor, according to Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
“Something that’s unclassified but not well known, we recently in November … launched an air-to-air missile against a maneuvering target that scored a direct hit,” Cheater said. Military.com sat down with Cheater here at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference outside Washington, D.C.
“It was an MQ-9 versus a drone with a heat-seeking air-to-air missile, and it was direct hit … during a test,” he said of the first-of-its-kind kill.
“We develop those tactics, techniques and procedures to make us survivable in those types of environments and, if we do this correctly, we can survive against some serious threats against normal air players out there,” Cheater said on Sept. 17, 2018. “We will go participate in ‘Red Flag’ exercises, and we will drop weapons in testing environments to make sure that we can fight against those type of adversaries.”
An MQ-9 Reaper drone.
The effort is key to preparing for the next big aerial war against near-peer threats such as Russia or China, who are advancing their skill sets not only in unmanned aerial vehicles but also in hypersonics, electronic warfare, lasers, and missile testing, Cheater said.
“In many parts of the world, it’s almost a hybrid fight by proxy,” he said. “… the MQ-9 Reaper will certainly be a big part of that. So if you package this aircraft in properly with other aircraft, it will be survivable.”
The MQ-9 has a payload of 3,750 pounds and carries a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, according to the service. The MQ-9’s weapons load remains flexible, Cheater said.
For example, when the military mission in Afghanistan transitioned from Operation Enduring Freedom to the NATO-led Resolute Support, the MQ-9’s missions increased tenfold in comparison to the MQ-1.
The Reaper conducted 950 strikes, firing approximately 1,500 weapons, between January 2015 and August 2017, according to Air Force Central Command statistics provided to Military.com at the time. The MQ-1 executed only 35 strikes, employing roughly 30 weapons, in that same timeframe.
“We specialize in urban settings,” Cheater said. “That is an important capability that very few aircraft and aircrews have.”
But 2017’s test shows how the service is refocusing and thinking about the agility of the Reaper.
“It’s a balance of the forces and resources that we have available, especially on the maintenance side of the house, and everyone wanting to be as close to the fight in numerous locations,” Cheater said.
An MQ-1 Predator.
For example, “We can fly from one continent to the next — we [recently] flew nine [Reapers] from one operating area to another, and that is agile, that is flexible, and it provides options to the combatant commander,” he said, without disclosing locations.
The Air Force also recently moved a contingent of MQ-9s to Larisa Air Base in Greece for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions across Africa, according to Defense News. Without commenting on additional locations, Cheater said forward movement will always be part of the MQ-9’s future, especially with intelligence gathering on the rise.
“We’re ‘can-do’ operators by heart, and we want to look at it and see what’s the best option,” he said. “Generally, the resources don’t support everything we want to do, so we have to figure out what’s the best mix and match of those resources to achieve the desire and best end result.”
In addition, the future of drone feed dissemination and intelligence gathering is becoming more streamlined as part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Dominance Flight Plan, he said.
The plan, released in August 2018 with few specifics for operational security reasons, has become the service’s new road map to incorporating more autonomy and data from multiple sensors across platforms stationed around the globe. “We can determine if there [are] threats or indications of enemy forces,” Cheater said.
The Air Force wants to leverage artificial intelligence, automation and algorithmic data models to streamline opportunities for airmen watching drone feeds.
“We’re actually pretty exceptional as far as adopting new technologies and putting it in combat operations right now,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Innovation isn’t just a matter of creating something new. Rather, it’s the process of translating an idea into goods or services that will create value for an end user. As such, innovation requires three key ingredients: the need (or, in defense acquisition terms, the requirement of the customer); people competent in the required technology; and supporting resources. The Catch-22 is that all three of these ingredients need to be present for innovation success, but each one often depends on the existence of the others.
This can be challenging for the government, where it tends to be difficult to find funding for innovative ideas when there are no perceived requirements to be fulfilled. With transformational ideas, the need is often not fully realized until after the innovation; people did not realize they “needed” a smartphone until after the iPhone was produced. For this reason, revolutionary innovations within the DoD struggle to fully mature without concerted and focused efforts from all of the defense communities: research, requirements, transition, and acquisition.
Despite these challenges, the Army has demonstrated its ability to generate successful innovative programs throughout the years. A prime example is the recently-completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program.
The first implementation of FLIR gave the Army a limited ability to detect objects on the battlefield at night. Users were able to see “glowing, moving blobs” that stood out in contrast to the background. Although detectable, these blobs were often challenging to identify. In cluttered, complex environments, distinguishing non-moving objects from the background could be difficult.
These first-generation systems were large and slow and provided low-resolution images not suitable for long-range target identification. In many ways, they were like the boom box music players that existed before the iPhone: They played music, but they could support only one function, had a limited capacity, took up a lot of space, required significant power and were not very portable. Third Gen FLIR was developed based on the idea that greater speed, precision, and range in the targeting process could unlock the full potential of infrared imaging and would provide a transformative capability, like the iPhone, that would have cascading positive effects across the entire military well into the future.
Because speed, precision, and accuracy are critical components for platform lethality, 3rd Gen FLIR provides a significant operational performance advantage over the previous FLIR sensor systems. With 3rd Gen FLIR, the Army moved away from a single band (which uses only a portion of the light spectrum) to a multiband infrared imaging system, which is able to select the optimal portion of the light spectrum for identifying a variety of different targets.
U.S. Soldiers as seen through night vision.
The Army integrated this new sensor with computer software (signal processing) to automatically enhance these FLIR images and video in real time with no complicated setup or training required (similar to how the iPhone automatically adjusts for various lighting conditions to create the best image possible). 3rd Gen FLIR combines all of these features along with multiple fields of view (similar to having multiple camera lenses that change on demand) to provide significantly improved detection ranges and a reduction in false alarms when compared with previous FLIR sensor systems.
Using its wider fields of view and increased resolution, 3rd Gen FLIR allows the military to conduct rapid area search. This capability has proven to be invaluable in distinguishing combatants from noncombatants and reducing collateral damage. Having all of these elements within a single sensor allows warfighters to optimize their equipment for the prevailing battlefield conditions, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and survivability. Current and future air and ground-based systems alike benefit from the new FLIR sensors, by enabling the military to purchase a single sensor that can be used across multiple platforms and for a variety of missions. This provides significant cost savings for the military by reducing the number of different systems it has to buy, maintain and sustain.
The US Army is developing precision-guided 155mm rounds that are longer range than existing shells and able to conduct combat missions in a GPS-denied war environment.
The Precision Guidance Kit Modernization (PGK-M) is now being developed to replace the standard PGK rounds, which consist of an unguided 155 round with a GPS-fuse built into it; the concept with the original PGK, which first emerged roughly 10 years ago, was to bring a greater amount of precision to historically unguided artillery fire.
Now, Army developers with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal are taking the technology to a new level by improving upon the range, accuracy, and functionality of the weapon. Perhaps of greatest importance, the emerging PGK-M shell is engineered such that it can still fire with range and accuracy in a war environment where GPS guidance and navigation technology is compromised or destroyed.
The emerging ammunition will be able to fire from standard 155mm capable weapons such as an Army M777 lightweight towed howitzer and M109 howitzer.
“PGK-M will provide enhanced performance against a broad spectrum of threats. In addition, PGK-M will be interoperable with the Army’s new long-range artillery projectiles, which are currently in parallel development,” Audra Calloway, spokeswoman for the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, told Warrior Maven.
BAE Systems is among several vendors currently developing PGK-M with the Army’s Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium. BAE developers say the kits enable munitions to make in-flight course corrections even in GPS-jammed environments.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica A. DuVernay)
“Our experience with munitions handling, gun launch shock, interior ballistics, and guidance and fire control uniquely positions us to integrate precision technology into the Army’s artillery platforms,” David Richards, Program Manager, Strategic Growth Initiatives for our Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions group, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
This technological step forward is quite significant for the Army, as it refines its attack technologies in a newly-emerging threat environment. The advent of vastly improved land-fired precision weaponry began about 10 years ago during the height of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS-guided 155m Excalibur rounds and the Army’s GPS and inertial measurement unit weapon, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, burst onto the war scene as a way to give commanders more attack options.
Traditional suppressive fire, or “area weapons” as they have been historically thought of, were not particularly useful in combat against insurgents. Instead, since enemies were, by design, blended among civilians, Army attack options had little alternative but to place the highest possible premium upon precision guidance.
GMLRS, for example, was used to destroy Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Excalibur had its combat debut in the 2007, 2008 timeframe. With a CEP of roughly 1-meter Excalibur proved to be an invaluable attack mechanism against insurgents. Small groups of enemy fighters, when spotted by human intel or overhead ISR, could effectively be attack without hurting innocents or causing what military officials like to call “collateral damage.” PGK was initially envision as a less expensive, and also less precise, alternative to Excalibur.
The rise of near peer threats, and newer technologies commensurate with larger budgets and fortified military modernization ambitions, have created an entirely new war environment confronting the Army of today and tomorrow. Principle among these circumstances is, for example, China’s rapid development of Anti-Satellite, or ASAT weapons.This ongoing development, which has both the watchful eye and concern of US military strategists and war planners, underscores a larger and much discussed phenomenon – that of the United States military being entirely too reliant upon GPS for combat ops. GPS, used in a ubiquitous way across the Army and other military services, spans small force-tracking devices to JDAMs dropped from the air, and much more, of course including the aforementioned land weapons.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Veronica Mammina)
Advanced jamming techniques, electronic warfare and sophisticated cyberattacks have radically altered the combat equation – making GPS signals vulnerable to enemy disruption. Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers, and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation, and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.
Accordingly, the Army and other services are now accelerating a number of technical measures and emerging technologies designed to create what’s called Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), or GPS-like guidance, navigation and targeting, without actually needing satellites. This includes ad hoc software programmable radio networks, various kinds of wave-relay connectivity technologies and navigational technology able to help soldiers operate without GPS-enabled force tracking systems.
At the same time, the Army is working with the Air Force on an integrated strategy to protect satellite comms, harden networks, and also better facilitate joint-interoperability in a GPS-denied environment.
The Air Force Space strategy, for instance, is currently pursuing a multi-fold satellite strategy to include “dispersion,” “disaggregation” and “redundancy.” At the same time, the service has also identified the need to successfully network the force in an environment without GPS. Naturally, this is massively interwoven with air-ground coordination. Fighters, bombers and even drones want to use a wide range of secure sensors to both go after targets and operate with ground forces.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radiofrequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS.
Given all this, it is by no means insignificant that the Army seeks guided rounds able to function without GPS. Should they engage in near-peer, force-on-force mechanized ground combat against a major, technologically advanced adversary, they may indeed need to launch precision attacks across wide swaths of terrain – without GPS.
Finally, by all expectations, modern warfare is expected to increasingly become more and more dispersed across wider swaths of terrain, while also more readily crossing domains, given rapid emergence of longer range weapons and sensors.
This circumstance inevitably creates the need for both precision and long-range strike. As one senior Army weapons developer with PEO Missiles and Space told Warrior Maven in an interview — Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch — …”it is about out-ranging the enemy.”
The AK-47, as we know it, was created by Russian weapons designer Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947. Its name is derived from the word ‘automatic’ (A), the inventor’s last initial (K), and the year of its invention (47). The AK-47 was designed to be easy to operate, able to fire in any clime, durable, and mass produced quickly and cheaply. It was adopted into USSR military service in 1949 and quickly became a symbol of Soviet reach around the world.
It has a muzzle velocity of about 700 meters per second, can fire 600-rounds-per-minute at the cyclic rate, and hold a 30-round magazine of 7.62mm ammunition. The biggest issue with the weapon is accuracy, which is the result of large internal parts and powerful caliber rounds that reduce the max effective range to roughly 400m. Despite this weakness, the AK-47 has successfully infected many countries and facilitated the proliferation of communism and terror around the world.
Let’s learn more about this prominent tool of destruction:
Cycle of operations
The AK-47 is a fighter favorite around the world because its cycle of operations (the way it fires) is simple, made up of (relatively) large pieces that allow it to fire even when covered in sand or mud.
When the operator pulls the trigger, he/she releases the firing hammer, which strikes the firing pin. This action ignites the bullet primer which, in turn, ignites the gunpowder to fire the bullet. The gas that propels the bullet forward also pushes back on the bolt carrier assembly, ejecting the empty casing. This action also resets the hammer into firing position.
The bolt pulls a new round up from the magazine and inserts it into the barrel. The sear keeps the bolt hammer in place until the bolt carrier returns into position.
There are an estimated 75 to 100 million AK-47s worldwide and, in some countries, one can be purchased for under . Generally, the price ranges from between 0 to 0, but higher-end models can run over id=”listicle-2624527860″,000. Russia has large stockpiles of the weapon, but no longer manufactures it. There are, however, 20 countries that still do, including China. According to the AK-47’s Operators Manual, the weapon system’s country of origin can be identified by markings on the weapon itself.
In addition to the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, North Korea, Hungary, and Yugoslavia have manufactured the AK-47. The selector markings on the right side of the receiver provide a ready means of identifying the country of origin
So simple a child could use it — and they do
In the U.S. Armed Forces, troops are trained to disassemble and reassemble their weapon systems to identify any catastrophic failures or jams. This is a good exercise when you find yourself with a little downtime, and it’s been known to strike up a friendly race between troops or platoons.
In Russia, children are trained to disassemble and reassemble weapons in a similar fashion. They may not have enough funding to feed or house their own people, but they will spare no expense at preparing for a Western invasion. Take your training seriously because the Russians definitely are:
So, we wrote about that “four-barrel” rifle last week and posed a few questions to the inventor, Martin Grier, in an email. He got back to us that day with our initial query and has now responded to some more of the questions we posited in the original article. His answers make us even more excited about the weapon’s promise, assuming that everything holds true through testing in Army labs and the field.
The FD Munitions L5 rifle prototype has five bores and few moving parts. The Army has requested a four-bore version for testing.
First, a bit of terminology. The weapon is a rifle. Most people have described it as having four barrels, but it’s really a barrel with four bores (the original prototype had five). The inventor prefers to call it a “ribbon gun,” which we’ll go ahead and use from here on out.
Just be aware that “ribbon gun” means a firearm with multiple bores that can fire multiple multiple rounds per trigger squeeze or one round at a time. The bullets are spinning as they exit the weapon, stabilizing them in flight like shots from a conventional rifle.
If you haven’t read our original article on the weapon, that might help you get caught up. It’s available at this link.
So, some of our major questions about the rifle were how the design, if adopted, would affect an infantryman’s combat load, their effective rate of fire, and how the rounds affect each other in flight when fired in bursts. We’re going to take on those topics one at a time, below.
How much weight would an infantryman be carrying if equipped with the new weapon? Grier says it should be very similar, as the charge blocks which hold the ammunition are actually very light
“In practice, Charge Block ammo, shot-for-shot, is roughly equivalent to conventional cartridge ammo,” he said, “depending on which caliber it’s compared to. It’s lighter than 7.62 and slightly heavier than 5.56. It outperforms both.”
Since the weapon fires 6mm rounds, that means the per-shot weight is right where you would expect with conventional rounds. The prototype weapon weighs 6.5 pounds. That’s less than an M16 and right on for the base M4.
The L4m ammo blocks feature four firing chambers and their rounds, stacked vertically. The blocks can clip together in stacks and be loaded quickly. Excess blocks able to be snapped off and returned to the shooter’s pouch easily.
(Copyright FD Munitions, reprinted with permission)
Even better, the blocks snap together and can be loaded as a partial stack. So, if you fire six blocks and want to reload, there’s no need to empty the rifle. Just pull the load knob and shove in your spare stack. The weapon will accept six blocks, and you can snap off the spares and put them back into your pouch.
Rate of fire
But what about effective rates of fire?
Well, the biggest hindrance on a rifle’s effective rate of fire is the heat buildup. Grier says that’s been taken care of, thanks to the materials used in the barrel as well as the fact that each chamber is only used once per block.
“In the L4, … the chamber is integral with the Charge Block,” he said. “Every four shots, the Block is ejected, along with its heat, and a new, cold one takes its place. The barrel is constructed with a thin, hard-alloy core, and a light-alloy outer casing that acts as a finned heat sink. In continuous operation, the barrel will reach an elevated temperature, then stabilize (like a piston engine). Each bore in the L4 carries only a 25 percent duty cycle, spreading the heat load and quadrupling barrel life.”
FD Munitions expects that the military version of the L4 would have a stabilized temperature during sustained fire somewhere around 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit, but they took pains to clarify that it’s a projected data point. They have not yet tested any version of the weapon at those fire rates.
But, if it holds up, that beats the M16 during 1975 Army tests by hundreds of degrees. The M16 barrels reached temperatures of over 600 degrees while firing 10 rounds per minute. At 60-120 rounds per minute, the barrels reached temperatures of over 1,000 degrees. That’s a big part of why the military tells troops to hold their fire to 15 rounds per minute or less, except in emergencies.
The guts of the weapon feature very few moving parts, a trait that should reduce the likelihood of failures in the field.
Do rounds affect one another mid-flight?
Sweet, so the combat load won’t be too heavy, and the weapon can spit rounds fast AF. But, if rounds are fired in volleys or bursts, will they affect each other in flight, widening the shot group?
Grier says the rounds fly close together, but have very little effect on each other in flight, remaining accurate even if you’re firing all four rounds at once.
And, four rounds at once has a special bonus when shot against ceramic armor, designed for a maximum of three hits.
“The projectiles do not affect each other in flight,” he said. “Even when fired simultaneously, tiny variations in timing because of chemical reaction rates, striker spring resonances, field decay rates, electric conductor lengths etc., ensure that the projectiles will be spaced out slightly in time along the line of sight. The side effect is that the impacts will be likewise consecutive, defeating even the best ceramic body armor.”
Meanwhile, for single shot mode, each bore can be independently zeroed when combined with an active-reticle scope. With standard mechanical sights, Grier recommends zeroing to one of the inside bores, ensuring rounds from any bore will land close to your zeroed point of impact.
Some other concerns that have arisen are things like battery life, which Grier thinks will be a non-issue in the military version. It’s expected to pack a gas-operated Faraday generator that not only can power the rifle indefinitely, but can provide juice for attachments like night vision scopes or range finders.
There’s also the question of malfunctions, which can happen in any weapon. Failure to fire will be of little consequence since you’re going to eject that chamber quickly anyway. If a barrel becomes inoperable due to some sort of fault, the fire control can simply skip that barrel, allowing the shooter to still fire 75, 50, or 25 percent of their rounds, depending on how many barrels are affected.
So, if everything goes well, this weapon could shift the balance of power when the U.S. goes squad vs. squad against other militaries. Here’s hoping the final product lives up to the hype and makes it into the hands of service members.