The air war over Vietnam saw some incredible dog fights, but it still may surprise you to learn that the mighty B-52 heavy bomber successfully shot down not one but two Vietnamese Mig 21 fighter jets near the tail end of the conflict.
The venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has been flying since 1952, and thanks to a series of upgrades, will continue to for decades to come. The massive jet bomber may have been designed in the 1940s (in fact, it was designed almost entirely in a single weekend), but its massive airframe and eight jet engine-design have proven so capable over the years that the B-52 is now expected to outlast newer bombers that were developed to replace it. As the B-21 Raider inches toward production, both America’s B-2 Spirit (stealth bomber) and B-1B Lancer (supersonic bomber) are expected to be put out to pasture, while the legendary B-52 keeps right on flying.
The B-52 BUFF (as service members tend to call it) has been flying combat missions for so long that it actually used to come equipped with a tail gunner position to defend the slow and steady bomber against encroaching fighters. Of course, as fighter technology continued to improve, the United States moved away from manning guns on their heavy payload bombers and toward flying with their own fighter escorts. While most people tend to think of World War II when they imagine gun turrets on a bomber, the most recent enemy fighter to be shot down by a B-52’s guns was actually in the 1970s.
It was Christmas eve in 1972, and the B-52D bomber known as Diamond Lil was flying a bombing run over Thai Nguyen when its tail gunner, Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, spotted a Soviet-built Vietnamese Mig-21 closing with them fast.
“I observed a target in my radar scope 8:30 o’clock, low at 8 miles,” Moore wrote six days later in a formal statement. “I immediately notified the crew, and the bogie started closing rapidly. It stabilized at 4,000 yards 6:30 o’clock. I called the pilot for evasive action and the EWO (electronic warfare officer) for chaff and flares.”
For Moore, it had to be a nerve-racking moment. Only one other B-52 tail gunner had scored a successful kill against a Vietnamese fighter, though more than 30 B-52s had been shot down throughout the conflict. In fact, the first time a B-52 had ever shot down a Mig had only happened a few days prior. In other words, the odds seemed pretty squarely stacked against Moore and his crew.
“When the target got to 2,000 yards, I notified the crew that I was firing. I fired at the bandit until it ballooned to 3 times in intensity then suddenly disappeared from my radar scope at approximately 1,200 yards, 6:30 low. I expended 800 rounds in 3 bursts.”
Those 800 rounds poured out of Moore’s four .50 caliber M3 Machine Guns. The kill was confirmed by another tail gunner named Tech. Sgt. Clarence Chute, who was aboard a nearby B-52 called Ruby 2.
“I went visual and saw the bandit on fire and falling away,” wrote Sergeant Chute. “Several pieces of the aircraft exploded, and the fire-ball disappeared in the undercast at my 6:30 position.”
Moore would go down in history as not only the second B-52 gunner to score a kill against a Mig, but also as the last bomber-gunner to ever engage enemy fighters in American service, despite tail guns surviving on the B-52 until the 1990s.
Today, the B-52 remains in service as an essential part of America’s nuclear triad, and believe it or not, as a close air support aircraft in uncontested airspace. The B-52’s long loiter time and massive payload magazine make it an excellent choice for precision strikes against ground targets, where it’s seen use in both Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Thanks to a slew of cockpit upgrades and improved weapon system storage, the Air Force intends to keep flying the mighty BUFF past the century mark, with some B-52s expected to remain in service as late as 2060.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy had some of the most advanced weapons available, like artillery shells with proximity fuses that detonated at set distances from their target. But they also had a secret weakness: Many of their torpedoes would explode too early, would swim under their targets without exploding, or might even circle back around to hit them.
Submarine officers and representatives of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance pose with a Mk. 14 torpedo in 1943.
It wasn’t the only flawed torpedo, but most of the Navy’s torpedo problems centered around the Mk. 14. It was supposed to be the most advanced and deadly anti-ship weapon in the U.S. fleet. They ran on steam and could travel over five miles and hit speeds of almost 53 mph and then detonate under an enemy ship’s hull with up to 643 pounds of high explosives.
In tests and in theory, this would break the keel of an enemy ship, ripping it in half or opening massive holes in the hull, quickly sending it to the deep.
American submarine commanders headed out with their boats filled with Mk. 14s. They were supposed to use their deck guns as much as possible, since they carried a limited number of torpedoes and each cost ,000 (about 1,000 in today’s money). But when the tactical situation called for firing a torpedo from stealth, like when facing a destroyer or launching a surprise attack against a convoy, they were supposed to fire a few torpedoes and watch the show.
The Mk. 14 torpedo began its career as a deeply flawed weapon, but a series of changes in 1943 would get it fit to fight.
But submarine commanders quickly began reporting problems with their weapons after Adm. Harold Rainsford Stark ordered unrestricted submarine warfare. The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance thought the weapons should work 98 percent of the time. Submarine commanders were seeing much different results.
The older Mk. 10 was two for two while the Mk. 14 had failed completely. This wasn’t the Seawolf’s first issue with the Mk. 14, either. It had six previous tours under its belt, all plagued by torpedo issues, including that time it fired eight Mk. 14s, which accounted for seven misses and a dud hit.
The USS Tullibee was destroyed when it fired a torpedo at a Japanese ship in World War II only for it to swim in a circle and hit the submarines instead of the enemy in March, 1944.
Worse, the Mk. 14s had a pesky habit of detonating properly when they circle ran, the worst possible situation. A circle run occurs when a torpedo follows a curved instead of straight path. And uneven drag, propulsion, or warping of a torpedo can cause a circle run and, like the name implies, it sends the torpedo in a circle, back to its starting point.
The Bureau of Ordnance dragged their feet about assessing the problem, and then it took a while to get definitive solutions. So, for two years, submarines went on patrols with faulty weapons that could swim right under the target, pierce it without detonating, or even sink their own submarine.
But the Navy did eventually find the causes of the faults. The circle runs were caused by faulty gyros that failed to straighten the path. The torpedo sometimes swam right under the target because the torpedoes had been tested with faulty depth-measuring equipment and with warheads that didn’t reflect their real buoyancy. The failures to detonate were caused by faulty magnetic and mechanical initiators.
In fact, the mechanical initiator was an especially galling failure as far as submarine commanders were concerned, because they had been told for years that the real problem was them firing from bad angles while a 90-degree hit was most effective. In reality, the mechanical failures were most common at exactly 90 degrees, failing 70 percent of the time in later lab tests.
The Mk. 14 had been in the fleet for nearly 20 years by this point, so it might seem impossible that these faults hadn’t been discovered earlier. But it had been developed during the Great Depression when budget constraints severely constricted the tests and experiments scientists and engineers could do.
Changes were eventually made. The torpedoes were re-calibrated for the proper depth and the magnetic initiators were thrown out entirely. The mechanical ones were faulty thanks to heavy firing pins that couldn’t achieve the right momentum when the torpedo was at full speed, so they were replaced with a lighter metal alloy.
QUANTICO, Va. — A Marine infantry squad with its own “Star Wars” drone. A combat unit in the field making its own spare parts with a 3-D printer. A truck that tells its operators when it needs maintenance.
These are a few of the innovative concepts a panel of senior Marine Corps leaders on Sept. 27 said were being developed or considered to help the Corps operate and, if necessary, fight in a future that could include a “great power war.”
The officers also discussed broader ideas such as the Marines finding ways to help the Navy achieve sea control in a heavily contested littoral environment and developing the capabilities to fight information warfare to match the newly threatening Russians.
Spot, a quadruped prototype robot, aids Marines in clearing a room during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Sept. 16, 2015.
The officials’ report to industry came on the opening day of the Modern Day Marine exposition at the historic “home of the Marine Corps.”
The focus of the report and the expo is innovation and a drive to move the Corps quickly into the future to respond to the rapid increase and global proliferation of advanced technology and an increasingly complex security environment.
Those themes will be highlighted by the unveiling of a new operating concept by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
The panel listed a number of efforts already underway, including a rapid capabilities office designed to reduce the prolonged acquisition process. That is tied into an innovation center that has a website eliciting revolutionary ideas from Marines at all levels. They also mentioned a 10-year experimental effort called Sea Dragon and a drive to change basic organization in the Marine Corps Force 2025 initiative.
“What we see is how technology is changing so rapidly. That excites us, but also scares us a bit,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration.
To avoid falling behind potential adversaries, Walsh said, the Corps is changing, but “we have to go faster. The commandant is pushing us to go faster.”
Deputy Commandant for Programs, Plans and Operations Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey noted the Russian capabilities in information warfare and warned “we have to be able to operate in that environment to be successful.”
Highlighting the need for greater use of robotic system, Bailey envisioned “every infantry squad having an R2D2,” a reference to the Star Wars drone.
Director of Combat Development and Integration Brig. Gen. Roger Turner said he is moving into phase two of the Force 2025 study that is developing the kind of Marine Corps needed for future conflicts with peer competitors or against “non-state actors” that could use asymmetric guerrilla tactics or high technology weapons.
“It is sobering to think we could be engaged in great powers war. … That is a major driver in Force 2025, that we’re not prepared to fight great power war,” Turner said.
In the emerging combat environment, Turner said, naval force will “really have to fight for sea control,” and his office is looking for ways that the Marine Air Ground Task Force deployed with an amphibious force can contribute to sea control to enable power projection in a contested environment.
Assistant Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics Brig. Gen. Terry Williams described efforts under way to achieve “hybrid logistics” that would reduce the burden of pushing supplies and support into isolated combat units by improving their ability to provide their own water, recharge batteries and use less fuel.
He said use of 3-D printing could allow deployed units to produce their own spare parts and “sense and response” maintenance would allow vehicle maintenance to be conducted only when needed and would avoid unnecessary work.
Marine Corps Systems Command chief Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader described a number of ways to reduce the weight of combat forces, including shifting to “active protection” systems for tactical vehicles, instead of the “passive protection” of armor plating, and changing the combat gear carried by ground units. Active protection would use small munitions to intercept anti-armor missiles.
He said other efforts were ongoing that might provide different combat equipment for the different jobs performed by Marine infantry units, such as riflemen, machinegunners or mortar crews.
The Air Force Research Laboratory Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration Program successfully completed a major program milestone with the successful surrogate laser weapon system shoot down of multiple air launched missiles in flight, April 23, 2019.
The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defense of aircraft against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.
“This critical demonstration shows that our directed energy systems are on track to be a game changer for our warfighters,” said Dr. Kelly Hammett, AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate director.
During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight.
During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., April 23, 2019, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator system, was able to engage and shoot down several air-launched missiles in flight.
(Air Force Research Laboratory)
The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles. The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment.
“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed-of-light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our Air Force’s directed energy capability.”
High Energy Laser technology has made significant gains in performance and maturity due to continued research and development by AFRL and others in the science and technology ecosystem. It is considered to be a game changing technology that will bring new capabilities to the warfighter.
Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.
But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.
Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.
Commandos carry the wounded to landing ships.
(Imperial War Museum)
Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.
The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.
The “Cockleshell Heroes,” another group of canoe raiders who sunk ships with explosives.
(Royal Marine Museum)
They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.
But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.
Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.
The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.
With wearable technology, such as Google Glass or Recon Jet, shooters can stand behind a corner and still aim at a target. Not only does the sight stream from the rifle to wearable device, it also streams to mobile phones, tablets, and computers to anyone in the world over the Internet. This makes it easier to share your kills to Facebook rather than tasking your spotter to record video. Just sayin’.
Of course, while TrackingPoint makes real-life shooting seem easier than video game sniping, one should never take skills for granted. After all, it is technology, and technology breaks.
Here’s TrackingPoint’s streaming technology in action:
China became the first foreign buyer of Russia’s S-400 in 2014, but the delivery of the air-defense system, considered one of the most advanced the world, was marred when a ship carrying it encountered a storm in early 2018.
According to the CEO of Russian defense firm Rostec, the components damaged were more important than first known.
At the IDEX defense conference in the United Arab Emirates February 2019, Sergey Chemezov said that the gear damaged in the storm included the 40N6E, which is the export version of S-400’s 40N6 missile, according to Stephen Trimble, defense editor at Aviation Week.
The 40N6 is the longest-range interceptor of the S-400’s three missiles. The export version of the missile can reach just under 400 kilometers, or roughly 250 miles. The system also comes with a command-and-control system, a radar system, and a launcher.
Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
(Flickr photo by Dmitriy Fomin)
While the delivery of the S-400 to China had previously been confirmed, whether the 40N6E was included was not known for sure, which led Trimble to ask Chemezov about it, expecting to get a standard “no comment,” he said on the most recent episode of Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast.
“He not only confirmed it. He also told us this sort of bizarre story about the fate that befell [the missile] on its way … to China,” Trimble said.
Chemezov made clear that the missiles “were on a ship, and the ship got hit by a bad storm, and … ultimately all the missiles were lost. He didn’t explain exactly how they were lost, but he said that they all have to be replaced and that they are now building the replacements for the missile, because of either damage sustained in the storm, or they were just destroyed in the storm somehow.”
Reports of the damage emerged not long after the delivery started in early January 2018.
An S-400 radar unit.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
Maritime trackers monitoring ships’ automatic identification systems did notice a vessel that left St. Petersburg with an AIS code indicating it had explosives aboard, Trimble said. That ship hit a storm in the English Channel and returned to port.
Russian state media outlet Tass said in January 2019 that “part of the equipment included in the first shipment” to China had been “damaged by a storm and returned to Russia.”
Around the same time, Russian news agency RIA quoted the spokeswoman for Russia’s military and technical cooperation service as saying parts of the S-400 systems on their way to China were damaged in a storm at sea. The spokeswoman described the components as “secondary” without giving any details.
But the S-400’s missiles are an essential component — the 40N6 even more so.
The revelation “was a very surprising development in this story of this export and completely unexpected,” Trimble said. “I can’t really think of something like this ever happening before, because it’s not just any missile. This is probably one of the most important, strategically, weapon systems in the world right now, and this is the most powerful effector, or missile, within that system.”
“Those missiles now may be at the bottom of the English Channel, which is just an incredible twist in the whole story,” Trimble added.
In May 2018, China received its first regimental set of the S-400 when the third and final ship arrived with “the equipment not damaged during a December storm in the English Channel and the damaged equipment after repairs,” a diplomatic source told Tass at the time.
An S-400 regiment consists of two battalions. Each battalion has two batteries. A standard battery has four transporter erector launchers, each with four launch tubes, as well as fire-control radar systems and a command module. Reports about how many regimental sets China was to get vary from two to six.
Russian S-400 air-defense missile systems.
The South China Morning Post said in the final days of December 2018 that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force tested the S-400 in November, shooting down a “simulated ballistic target” moving at the supersonic speed of nearly 2 miles a second at a range of nearly 150 miles.
The S-400 and Russia’s efforts to sell it abroad have become a point of contention with the US.
In September 2018, the US hit China with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which is meant to punish Russia over its interventions abroad and interference in the 2016 US election.
But other US allies have expressed interest in the S-400, complicating matters for Washington. Despite warnings that the US would rescind F-35 deliveries and that the system wouldn’t work with NATO weapons, Turkey has forged ahead with an S-400 buy, saying in February 2018 that the purchase was a done deal.
India has also agreed to buy the S-400, though Chemezov said New Delhi has yet to make an advance payment, which “was a bit of a surprise,” Trimble said. Buying the S-400 could open India to US sanctions, though there is a wavier process in the CAATSA legislation that could be applied to Delhi.
And despite the Trump administration’s wooing of Saudi Arabia — which includes White House senior adviser Jared Kushner personally negotiating a discount with the Lockheed Martin CEO for the firm’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system — the Kingdom is reportedly still interested in the S-400.
“Chemezov refused to talk about the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, and he was very blunt about why,” Trimble said. “He said that if we talk about these kinds of deals, that gets our potential customers in a lot of trouble with the US government, so what we’re doing is negotiating silently, which isn’t a very silent way of negotiating, but that was how he put it.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Look out, Pakistan – archrival India is getting a slew of brand-new pilots ready to take to the skies to defend the Hindu homeland – at least, in the digital world. The Indian Air Force recently launched a new mobile game for Android and iOS that lets players fight in aerial combat and take off on air strike sorties, all from the palm of their hands.
India’s chief Air Force officer, Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, said the game gives India’s youth a realistic feel for the air force while teaching them more about it. They might even be motivated enough to think of the IAF as a viable career option, one that will be exhilarating at the same time.
“This new facilitation-cum-publicity pavilion and the IAF-themed mobile game have been designed to raise awareness among the youth like you, about the IAF, and inspire them to take up career in the Air Force,” he told a group of students at the game’s launch. The game is intended for kids 14 and older.
Yes, there’s a helicopter mission.
This newest game is called “Indian Air Force: A Cut Above,” and allows the player to take to the wild blue yonder on ten missions, each comprised of three sorties to highlight the various roles the IAF can play in a wartime or contingency situation. It especially highlights air combat scenarios, but it isn’t limited to air combat. The game is supposed to be a realistic representation of the multilateral nature of India’s air forces.
“The various missions, include, airstrikes, air-to-air refueling, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. Also, career navigator and augmented reality sections are available, which will give a realistic feel of the IAF’s assets to the user,” the Chief Marshal said.
Defend India when the Red Skull attacks.
But this isn’t the only Indian Air Force game available to play on mobile. The IAF launched another game in 2014 called “Guardians of the Skies,” which received more than a million downloads. This new version has an upgraded platform, augmented reality integration and an entirely new phase of the game due out in October. The new version will include multiplayer capabilities, just in time for Indian aviation enthusiasts to celebrate Air Force Day behind the stick of an F-16.
People like to talk about the best tanks, rifles, and tactical gear. It’s a great discussion — there are many sophisticated pieces of tech in the military world, each with various strengths and weaknesses. That said, we rarely talk about the flip side of this coin: What are some of the worst pieces of gear out there?
There are some weapon systems out there whose sole purpose in existence is to act as an example of what not to do. So, let’s dive in, without restraint, and take a look at the very worst the world has to offer across several gear categories.
U.S. Army soldiers train with the G36, which had a lot of problems in hot weather — or after firing a lot of rounds.
Worst Rifle: Heckler and Koch G36
Heckler and Koch usually makes good guns. The MP5 is a classic submachine gun that’s still in service around the world. The G3 rifle was second only to the FN FAL. But then there’s the G36.
Intended to replace the G3, the G36 was to be Germany’s new service rifle in the 5.56mm NATO caliber. Well, the gun had many problems. First and most importantly, the gun was horribly inaccurate when hot. In temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit or after firing many rounds, the gun was liable to miss a target 500 meters away by as many as 6 meters. Spray and pray is not a tactic known to successfully defeat an enemy.
It would help if the MG5 could hit the broad side of the barn…
(Heckler and Koch)
Worst Machine Gun: Heckler and Koch MG5
Heckler and Koch has the dubious distinction of owning two items on this list. HK made the under-appreciated G8, which could serve as anything from a designated marksman rifle to a light machine gun in 7.62 NATO. The company’s MG4 is a solid 5.56mm belt-fed machine gun — again, the company knows how to make good weapons. Unfortunately, they also made the MG5.
This is a gun that can’t shoot straight. Granted, when you’re using a machine gun, the task usually involves laying down suppressive fire, but it’d probably help to hit the bad guys occasionally.
The crew of this T-72 was smart and abandoned it rather than try to face the United States.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Mace M. Gratz)
Worst Tank: T-72
Two words: Desert Storm. This tank’s poor performance speaks volumes. When it fired its main gun at a M1A1 Abrams tank from 400 yards, the round bounced off. Read that again: The. Round. Bounced. Off.
You can’t get worse than that. In general, the best anti-tank weapon is another tank, but the T-72 is simply useless. Any crew you send out in this vehicle should be immediately considered lost.
The Koksan self-propelled howitzer has long range, but that may be its only virtue.
(USMC photo by Albert F. Hunt)
Worst Artillery: Koksan self-propelled howitzer
This thing has a long range (it hits targets up to 37 miles away) but, for everything other than that, this gun is impractical. The rate of fire is not measured in rounds per minute, but rather by minutes per round — to be precise, two and half minutes per round.
Yes, it is self-propelled, but it has a very slow top speed (25 miles per hour) and it doesn’t carry much in the way of ammo.
It’s had a good career, but the AAV-7 is not able to handle modern threats.
(DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel E. Smith)
Worst APC/IFV: AAV-7
First, let’s talk about the good of this vehicle: it can carry a lot of troops (21 grunts and a crew of three) and it has some amphibious capability. Unfortunately, those benefits are outweighed by the huge size, relatively puny armament (a .50-caliber machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher), and light armor.
The design is 45 years old and ready for retirement yesterday.
An F-35 fighter pilot says he would be confident flying the Joint Strike Fighter against any enemy in the world, including Russian and Chinese 5th Generation stealth fighters.
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be able to use its sensors, weapons, and computer technology to destroy Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth fighters in a high-end combat fight, service officials said.
“There is nothing that I have seen from maneuvering an F-35 in a tactical environment that leads me to assume that there is any other airplane I would rather be in. I feel completely comfortable and confident in taking that airplane into any combat environment,” Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, 56th Fighter Wing, Chief of Safety, Luke AFB, Arizona, told Scout Warrior in a special pilot interview.
Furthermore, several F-35 pilots have been clear in their resolve that the multi-role fighter is able to outperform any other platform in existence.
Hayden was clear to point out he has not, as of yet, flown simulated combat missions against the emerging Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA 5th-Generation stealth fighter now in development or the Chinese Shenyang J-31 5th Generation Stealth aircraft.
While he said he did not personally know all of the technologies and capabilities of these Russian and Chinese aircraft, he was unambiguous in his assertion regarding confidence in the F-35.
Available information says the Russians have built at least 6 prototype T-50 PAK FAs for their Air Force and Navy; the Chinese conducted a maiden test flight of its J-31 in 2012. In addition, China is in pre-production with its J-20 5th-Generation stealth fighter.
This fighter, called the Chengdu J-20, made its first flight in 2011, and is expected to be operational by 2018, according to publicly available information and various news reports.
While Hayden did not elaborate on aspects of the J-20, he did say he would be confident flying the F-35 against any aircraft in the world.
“All those other countries (Russia and China) are trying to develop airplanes that are technologically capable as well — from an F-35 perspective. We are no less capable than any airplane and any fighters out there,” Hayden described.
In addition to leveraging the best available technologies on a fighter jet, winning a dog-fight or combat engagement would depend just as much on the air-tactics and decisions made by a pilot, Hayden explained.
“I have not flown against some of those aircraft. When you fight against an airplane, it depends upon the airspeed. If I maximize the effectiveness of an F-35, I can exploit the weaknesses of any other aircraft,” he said.
Many analysts have made the assessment that the J-20 does appear to be closely modelled after the F-35.
In fact, a Defense Science Board report, cited in a 2014 Congressional assessment of the Chinese military, (US-China Economic Security and Review Commission) makes reference to specific developmental information and specs of numerous U.S. weapons systems believed to be stolen by Chinese computer hackers; design specs and technologies for the F-35 were among those compromised by Chinese cyber-theft, according to the report.
An AIN Online report from the Singapore Air Show in February of last year catalogues a number of J-20 features and technologies – including those believed to be quite similar to the F-35.
“The J-20 is a large multi-role fighter with stealthy features similar to those found in the American F-22 and F-35. Although very little is known about its intended purpose, the aircraft appears to offer capability in a number of roles, including long-range interception and precision attack.
In terms of weapon carriage the J-20 has a similar arrangement to that of the Lockheed Martin F-22, comprising two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles such as the agile, imaging-infrared PL-10, and a large under-fuselage bay for accommodating larger missiles and precision-guided surface attack weapons. The 607 Institute’s new PL-15 active-radar missile is thought to be the primary long-range air-to-air weapon, reportedly having been test-fired from a Shenyang J-16 platform last year. The PL-21, a ramjet-powered weapon in the same class as the MBDA Meteor, is another possibility for the J-20.
The sensor suite includes an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and a large-array AESA radar, which was developed by the 14th Institute at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET, 14th Institute), and is possibly designated Type 1475/KLJ-5. Diamond-shaped windows around the fuselage suggest that a distributed aperture infrared vision system is installed.
In the cockpit, the J-20 sports three large color displays, plus other small screens, and a holographic wide-angle head-up display. An advanced datalink has been developed, and a retractable refueling probe is located on the starboard side of the forward fuselage. Much of the avionics suite has been tested by the CFTE (China flight test establishment) aboard a modified Tupolev Tu-204C, in much the same way as the systems of the F-22 were tested in a Boeing 757.”
Regarding the Russian T-50 PAK FA Stealth fighter, numerous reports suggest the aircraft has numerous technological problems and is a 5th generation plane “in name only.”
“Reporting from the Singapore Airshow 2016, IHS Jane’s reports that “Russian industry has consistently referred to the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA as a fifth-generation aircraft, but a careful look at the program reveals that this is an ‘in name only’ designation.”
This is largely because of a lack of evolutionary technology aboard the plane compared with previous jets that Russia and the US have designed. Indeed, the PAK FA’s engines are the same as those aboard Russia’s 4++ generation (a bridging generation between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft) Su-35. Additionally, the PAK FA and the Su-35 share many of the same onboard systems.
And even when the PAK FA’s systems are different from the Su-35’s, the plane’s specifications are still not up to true fifth-generation standards.
RealClearDefense, citing Indian media reports that are familiar with a PAK FA variant being constructed in India, notes that the plane has multiple technological problems. Among these problems are the plane’s “engine performance, the reliability of its AESA radar, and poor stealth engineering.”
F-35 Sensor Fusion
Despite various reports about technologies being engineered into the Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth Fighters, it is in no way clear that either aircraft is in any way comparable to the F-35. Most publicly available information seems to indicate that the F-35 is superior – however, to some extent, the issue remains an open question. More information is likely to emerge once the Russian and Chinese aircraft are operational and deployed.
For example, the Chinese J-20 is cited as having an Electro-Optical targeting system, stealth configuration, datalink, AESA radar and precision weaponry quite similar to the F-35, according to the AIN report.
The computer algorithms woven into the F-35 architecture are designed to leverage early iterations of what could be described as early phases of “artificial intelligence.” Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence refers to fast-evolving computer technology and processors able to gather, assess and integrate information more autonomously in order to help humans make decisions more quickly and efficiently from a position of command-and-control.
“If there is some kind of threat that I need to respond to with the airplane, I don’t have to go look at multiple sensors and multiple displays from multiple locations which could take my time and attention away from something else,” Hayden added.
The F-35 software, which shows images on display screens in the cockpit as well as on a pilot’s helmet-mounted-display, is able to merge results from various radar capabilities onto a single screen for the pilot.
For instance, the F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System, or EOTS, is an infrared sensor able to assist pilots with air and ground targeting at increased standoff ranges while also performing laser designation, laser range-finding and other tasks.
In addition, the plane’s Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, is a series of six electro-optical sensors also able to give information to the pilot. The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on the move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
Hayden added that the F-35 has been training against other F-35s in simulated combat situations, testing basic fighter maneuvers. Having himself flown other fighter aircraft, he explained that many other F-35 pilots also fly the airplane after having experience flying an F-16, A-10 or other combat aircraft.
“The F-35’s low-observable technology can prevent detection. That is a strength that other airplanes do not have,” he said.
F-35 and F-22
At the same time, senior Air Force leaders have made the point that F-35 technological superiority is intended to be paired with the pure air-to-air dogfighting ability of the service’s F-22 – a stealth aircraft, with its speed, maneuverability and thrust-to-weight ratio, is believed by many to be the most capable air-to-air platform in the world.
“Every airplane has flaws. When you design an airplane, you design an airplane with tradeoffs – give something else up. If I was flying against an adversary in actual combat, my job would be to exploit the enemy weakness and play to my strength. I can compensate for certain things,” Hayden explained. “There is a certain way to fly and fight in an airplane, using airspeed to maximize the turning performance of the airplane.”
During a public speech in 2015, the Air Forces Air Combat Commander, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said the F-22 is engineered such that it can complement the F-35.
“You will use the F-35 for air superiority, but you will need the raptors to do some things in a high-end fight to penetrate denied airspace,” he said. “The airplane is designed for multi-role capability, electronic warfare and sensors. The F-35 will win against any fourth-generation airplane — in a close-in fight, it will do exceedingly well. There will be a combination of F-22s and F-35s in the future.”
“As an F-35 pilot, I can carry bombs to a target area where I can now take out air-to-ground threats. You have to look at the overall picture of the airplane. The airplane was designed to overwhelm the battlespace in a non-permissive threatening environment where 4th-gen fighters are not going to persist,” he added.
The F-35 is engineered with a 25-mm gun and has the ability to carry and fire a wide range of weapons. The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
The F-35. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Finally, regarding dogfighting, it is pertinent to point out a “War is Boring” report from 2015 which cited an F-35 fighter pilot explaining how an F-16 was able to win a “mock dogfight” against an F-35; the F-35 Joint Program Office disputed this claim, saying the F-35 used in the scenario was in no way representative of today’s operational F-35s. The software, weapons and sensor technologies used in the mock dogfight were not comparable to the most evolved F-35.
Furthermore, F-35 proponents maintained that the aircraft’s advanced computer technology and sensors would enable it to see and destroy enemy fighters from much longer ranges – essentially destroying enemy fighters before they are seen.
The idea is to enable F-35 pilots to see and destroy enemies in the air, well in advance of a potential dogfight scenario. This can be explained in terms of a well-known Air Force strategic concept pioneered years ago by air theorist and pilot Col. John Boyd, referred to as the “OODA Loop,” — for observe, orient, decide and act. The concept is to complete this process quickly and make fast decisions while in an air-to-air dogfight — in order to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, properly anticipate, and destroy an enemy before they can destroy you.
The F-35 is designed with long-range sensors and data fusion technologies such that, as a fifth-generation aircraft, it can complete the OODA Loop much more quickly than potential adversaries, F-35 advocates claim.
Mission Data Files
Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts of the world. The files are being worked on at a reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials told Military.com last year. The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft’s Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and hostile fire.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
The mission data files are being engineered to adjust to new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system is engineered to one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.
As a high-visibility, expensive acquisition program, the F-35 has many vocal detractors and advocates; the aircraft has, to be sure, had its share of developmental problems over the years. some of these problems include complications with its main computer system, called ALIS, and a now-corrected engine fire aboard the aircraft. Overall, most critics have pointed to the program’s growing costs, something program officials claim has vastly improved through various money-saving initiatives and bulk-buys.
Before World War II, the Marine Corps had what were known as Marine Defense Battalions. These units were used to defend outposts like those on Wake Island and Midway Atoll, and the one at Wake deserves credit for one of the great stands in Marine Corps history after being left high and dry by the U.S. Navy’s answer to George McClellan.
Now the Marines may be ready to resurrect that concept. According to a solicitation posted at FedBizOpps on Oct. 27 of this year, the service is looking for some land-based anti-ship missiles that can reach out and touch the enemy at least 80 miles away. The system needs to be “employable by highly deployable and mobile forces.”
Such missiles are actually old hat for many countries, both friendly and not-so-friendly. Norway, for instance, relied on land-based batteries of the Penguin anti-ship missile to supplement armed missile boats should the Cold War have turned hot. The Soviet Union (and later Russia) developed land-based versions of the SS-N-3 Shaddock, SS-N-2 Styx, and the SS-N-26 Sapless. China’s Silkworm missiles were famously purchased by Iran, and Iran developed the Noor, which was fired at American ships multipletimes last year.
According to Marine Corps history, during World War II, 20 Marine Defense Battalions were formed. Back then, these units generally had coastal artillery to defend against enemy ships (the 1st Marine Defense Battalion at Wake actually sank a Japanese destroyer), as well as machine guns for defending against troops, and anti-aircraft guns for use against enemy planes. And of course, every Marine in those units was a rifleman.
What sort of modern missiles might be used? The United States does have the Harpoon anti-ship missile in service – some versions of which can reach over 80 miles. Other relatively off-the-shelf options could include the Norwegian-designed NSM, or a ground-launched version of the LRASM. There is also the chance that the 155mm Vulcano heat-seeking round could be used from Marine Corps M777 howitzers.
In short, the Marines’ desire for a few good anti-ship missiles could lead to the return of some little-known but storied units to the Marine Corps.
It was for many years considered the gold standard in after-market tactical gear. Packs, pouches and carriers developed by a SEAL for SEALs — or anyone else who needed gear that stood up to the abuse of America’s commandos.
For Mike Noell, what started as a small business sewing together specialized tactical equipment for his fellow frogmen out of his Virginia Beach garage, blossomed into the multi-million dollar, internationally-known Blackhawk! (yes, with the exclamation point). From plate carriers to Halligan tools, Blackhawk! became the one-stop-shop for special operators, police SWAT teams and even weekend warriors who wanted to look the part.
When he sold Blackhawk! to ATK — which later established the outdoor and shooting sports product conglomerate Vista Outdoors — for an untold sum in 2010, it seemed Noell was on the top of the world, using his newfound financial influence to work with upstart companies and take a little break from a lifetime of kicking in doors and running big businesses.
But that all changed when he dropped another flash bang on the industry at this year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, announcing his new company, Sentry.
“It’s a new Blackhawk!,” Noell told WATM during a visit to his company’s booth at this year’s SHOT Show. “This time we’re going with a higher-end set of products.”
Like the earlier Blackhawk!, Sentry is a combination of several smaller companies, including optic and firearm covers from ScopeCoat, gun cleaning products from Sentry Solutions and a new line of high-end bags and packs under the new Sentry brand.
While ScopeCoat and SlideCoat products have been around for a while, the wow factor comes from the new Sentry packs. Each features a waterproof ripstop nylon construction with rugged, rubberized zippers to keep the contents dry. And Noell’s team has added new, lightweight MOLLE-style webbing dubbed “1080” that allows the user to attach pouches at various angles.
“We basically made these packs for the type of activities we like to do,” said Sentry’s Nick Ferros. “I’m a fisherman, so I just design what I need.”
Noell said he’s resurrected the old Uncle Mike’s (which was part of the Blackhawk! family of brands) manufacturing facility in Boise, Idaho, and is reaching out to old employees there to get band back together. He’s also teamed with longtime Blackhawk! exec Terry Naughton, who’s serving as Sentry’s president.
With a building roster of products and a focus on the technology of today, it’ll be interesting to see whether Sentry becomes the tactical colossus that Blackhawk! once was.
The High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, best known as the Humvee, has been a mainstay of the United States Military for three decades, replacing the classic Jeeps. These vehicles are now giving way to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, which has some big shoes to fill.
However, the Humvee is likely going to help its successor along — by being a parts donor.
According to a release from Marine Corps Systems Command, Humvees will be capable of donating their gun turrets to JLTVs. This turret, known as the Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield, or MCTAGS, helps protect the folks manning the machine guns from enemy small-arms fire.
The MCTAGS entered service in 2005, replacing the older Gunner’s Protection Kit. One of the major advantages offered by MCTAGS is increased situational awareness for the gunners, enabling them to better see and more quickly target the enemy.
The Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield has been used since 2005, but will continue on much longer thanks to a procedure that allows it to be transplanted on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
Marines recently proved that the MCTAGS can be transplanted from a Humvee to a JLTV by carrying out a proof-of-principle operation, but it’s not the only piece being donated. The Improved TOW Gunner’s Protection Kit, or IT-GPK, is also fit for transfer, alongside radios and other communications gear.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle will enter service in 2019.
Not only will this second-hand gear enhance the survivability of the JLTV by giving gunners better situational awareness, it’ll also help the Marines save a fair chunk of change. By using existing technology, the Marines will save on development and manufacturing costs. Additionally, many who will operate the JLTV have previous experience with the Humvee’s similar configuration, meaning there’ll be no additional training — another savings.
A Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield being transplanted on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. This will save time and money for the Marine Corps, while increasing the combat capabilities of the JLTV.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kristen Murphy)
Marines are currently carrying out the Operational Test and Evaluation process on the JLTV. The first units to get the JLTV will be the Marine Corps School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California; School of Infantry-East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; and Motor Transport Maintenance Instructional Company at Camp Johnson, North Carolina, which are scheduled to get the vehicles early next year.