This is the Pentagon's not-so-secret civilian 'ghost' aircraft fleet - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

The Second World War saw the US government press a number of civilian aircraft into military service for use as transports and cargo haulers, thanks to a rising demand for vehicles. Known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, this force consists of hundreds of passenger and freight aircraft flown by companies such as JetBlue, UPS and United Airlines, which can be ushered into military service whenever the Department of Defense needs more aircraft to fulfill its various missions.


The CRAF was officially formed in December 1951 through an agreement brokered between the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce that would streamline the realignment of civilian aircraft into military service if the military’s own airlift capabilities weren’t able to handle the volume of transport operations caused by national emergencies, crises, or war.

 

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
A Pan Am Boeing 747 passenger jet reconfigured to be used as an air ambulance during a training and testing scenario for the CRAF in 1986 (Photo US Air Force)

 

If called upon, airlines and freight carriers that have agreed to a CRAF contract would provide aircraft and aircrew (i.e. pilots and flight attendants) to the U.S. Transportation Command, which will then assign these airliners to airlift missions — from moving troops and gear to evacuating the injured and wounded in “air ambulance” roles.

At the moment, virtually all major American commercial aircraft operators — including international and domestic airlines and parcel delivery companies with aviation divisions — are fully-contracted members of the CRAF, making their aircraft available to USTRANSCOM as and when they are needed. This includes scores of short, medium and long-range airliners and cargo aircraft which can have their interiors reconfigured to carry gear or troops.

Long-range widebody airliners and cargo transporters, such as the Boeing 747 and 777, Airbus A330, or McDonnell Douglas MD-11, are operated in sizable numbers by carriers like FedEx, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. These aircraft, according to the CRAF’s guidelines, are slated to augment the Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III and C-5M Galaxy fleets because of their transoceanic range.

 

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
A civilian Boeing 747 offloading troops in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield while serving on CRAF duty (Photo US Air Force)

Smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737 series and the Airbus A320 series are also listed among the aircraft available to USTRANSCOM in the event of a CRAF activation. As they lack the range and capacity of larger widebody airliners, they are relegated to domestic roles instead.

The CRAF was last activated during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s to transport scores of American troops and tons of military hardware to the Middle East in preparation for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Airlines like Pan Am, United and TWA were responsible for providing large passenger aircraft to haul Marines, airmen, soldiers and sailors from the continental United States to Saudi Arabia and other major staging points in advance of the coordinated assault on Iraqi forces.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
Airmen load gear and personnel aboard a CRAF Pan Am jumbo jet at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for deployment to Saudi Arabia (Photo US Air Force)

In the years since, the US military has been mostly able to rely upon its own airlift abilities to fly troops and gear in and out of combat zones. However, should the need arise, the military also tenders contracts to civilian charter companies like Omni Air International, who provide aircraft and pilots to ferry personnel and equipment wherever the military requires.

Airlines can indeed opt out of joining the CRAF, but many choose not to as it makes them more competitive for government transportation contracts, including charter flights for military personnel across the world.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out this Royal Marine’s real-world Iron Man jetpack suit

Life imitates art once more, this time in the form of former Royal Marine-turned inventor-turned entrepreneur Richard Browning. Working from his Salisbury, UK garage, the inventor founded a startup that invented, built, and patented an individual human flight engine that comes as close to Iron Man as anything the world has ever seen – and Richard Browning is as close to Tony Stark as anyone the world has ever encountered.

Browning set out to reimagine what human-powered flight meant, and came out creating a high-speed, high-altitude flight system that has the whole world talking.


In the video above, Browning visits the United States’ East Coast aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest aircraft carrier in the fleet. Technically, he gets to the coast first, departing the carrier via Gravity’s Daedalus system, the name given to what the world has dubbed “the Iron Man suit.”

Of course, the suit is far from the arc reactor-powered repulsor engines that double as energy weapons featured in the comics, but the Daedalus flight system is still a marvel of engineering that has set the world record for fastest speed in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. That record was set two years ago, and by 2019, Browning made real improvements to the system. The first system was a lightweight exoskeleton attached to six kerosene-powered microturbines. He flew 32 miles per hour to break that record in 2017. In 2019, he flew the suit at 85 miles per hour.

Today, the suit is entirely 3D-printed, making it lighter, stronger, and faster.

“It truly feels like that dream of flying you have sometimes in your sleep,” Browning said. “You are entirely and completely free to move effortlessly in three dimensional space and you shed the ties of gravity.”

In November 2019, Browning flew the suit from the south coast of England to the Isle of Wright, some 1.2 km. This may not sound like much, but it broke another world record, this time for distance in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. He says the suit can fly at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, but it’s just not yet safe to attempt those speeds. It turns out, it’s just not so easy to control the suit. It takes a massive amount of sustained physical effort to counter the thrust created by the arm engines.

Browning himself is an ultramarathon runner, triathlete, and endurance canoeist. He cycles almost 100 miles a week, including a 25-mile run every Saturday morning, as well as three “intense” calisthenics sessions every week just for the strength and endurance to fly his invention.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This ridiculous WWI body armor somehow never managed to get fielded

One of the most magical feelings in the military is that moment you finally get back to the tent or barracks and can finally shed your Kevlar helmet and IOTV. That moment, when you can finally breathe and realize just how sweaty you were, is just plain glorious.

As much of a slight pain in the ass (figuratively speaking, of course. Literally, it’s a pain in the lower back and knees) as today’s armor is, it’s come a long way. Take, for instance, the first effective ballistic armor developed by the United States Army for WWI.

I present you to the unsightly behemoth known as the “Brewster Body Shield.”


This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
For an eccentric inventor and scientist, that dude had some massive friggin’ biceps.
(San Francisco Call)

When America made its entry into the first World War, it was an eye opener. War had changed drastically in only a few short years. Now, cavalry on horseback were useless against a machine gun nest, poison gas was filling the trenches, and fixed-wing, motor-driven airplanes were being used for war just twelve years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk.

The Italians had started fielding their own updated version of knights’ armor for use by the Arditi, but it had more of a symbolic meaning than any practical use. The Germans began giving their sappers protective armor that could take a few bullets along with protecting its wearer’s vital organs from the shock of explosives. America thought they could outdo them all with their own, suped-up version.

America wanted some sort of protection for its infantrymen if they ever dared to cross the barrage of bullets that flew across No-Man’s Land and they needed it as fast as they could. The U.S. Government turned to a man who created armor intended for boxing training, Dr. Guy Otis Brewster.

Dr. Brewster began creating a suit of armor that was made out of 0.21 inch chrome nickle steel — enough to withstand .303 British bullets at 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s). It was also given a V-shaped design to minimize the direct impact of any oncoming bullets. The whole thing came in two pieces and weighed a total of 110 lbs.

Then came time for the field test. Dr. Brewster invited Army officers and representatives from the steel mills and rubber companies to come witness. Being the insane scientist that he was, he donned the armor himself and stood in the firing line for the test.

His assistant swung at him with a hammer and a sledgehammer before eventually moving on to being shot by a Springfield rifle. He said that being shot it the suit was “only about one-tenth the shock as being struck by a sledgehammer.”

You can watch the recording below.

Despite its protective capabilities, it was deemed too heavy, too clumsy, and way too large to ever be fielded. Dr. Brewster didn’t take that news lightly and wanted to prove its worth. He tested it again and was reportedly able to withstand a hail of bullets from a Lewis Machine Gun — with him inside the suit, obviously.

In the end, he never managed to get the Body Shield approved by the U.S. government — seeing as it was impossibly immobile and occluded visibility almost entirely. He would, however, later make a steel-scaled waistcoat that resembles more modern flak vests.

Articles

Nuclear trains may be coming back

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia are dangerously high. Both sides are complaining that the other has ignored military norms in international airspace and at sea, both have accused the other of violating treaties designed to prevent large-scale war, and both are developing systems to counter the other’s strength.


But, while Russia works on new tanks and bombers and the U.S. tries to get its second fifth-generation fighter fully operational, each side is also looking to a nearly forgotten technology from the Cold War, nuclear-armed trains.

The idea is to construct a train that looks normal to satellite feeds, aerial surveillance and, if possible, observers on the ground, but carries one or more intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
Concept art of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-armed train, the RS-23 Molodets. (Image: Defenseimagery.mil)

These trains would remain in a fortified depot during normal operations. During periods of nuclear brinksmanship, though, they would be dispersed across the country to provide a credible counterstrike if the enemy fires their nukes first.

The trains, if properly camouflaged, would be nearly impossible to target and could launch their payloads within minutes.

Russia got the missile cars to work first and fielded an operational version in 1991. In the early 1990s, America built prototype rail cars for the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison missile system and tested them, but then the Soviet Union collapsed and the project was cancelled.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
One of Russia’s first nuclear-armed trains on display in the Saint Petersburg railway museum. Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5 Panther

Now, Russia has leaked that it is designing and fielding a new version of the trains. The Barguzin missile trains, named for a fierce wind that comes off of Russia’s Lake Baikal, will carry six RS-24 Yars missiles each. Yars missiles can carry up to six independently-targetable warheads with 100-300 kilotons of explosive power each.

The missile cars and fuel tanks are to be disguised as refrigeration cars and will be indistinguishable from regular trains if the weapons live up to the hype. Each will be able to deploy with its own security force and missile personnel for up to 28 days without resupply.

America has been flirting with restarting its nuclear trains, but it doesn’t seem likely. The Air Force awarded study contracts in 2013 to look at the feasibility of a “nuclear subway” system where missile launching trains would have dedicated tracks underground.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
Concept art for the U.S. Peacekeeper Rail Garrison missile system. Image: San Diego Air Space Museum

But, budget problems that were biting at the Pentagon then have continued to hound it, and mobile launchers are expensive. Plus, most Americans don’t like the idea of nuclear trains running under their feet any more than they like the idea of nuclear trucks driving through their local streets.

The feasibility of Russia’s plans is also suspect. After all, the Russian Defense Ministry is running into worse budget problems than the Pentagon. It’s ability to fund a nuclear-armed train while oil prices are low and its economy is in shambles is questionable at best.

Right now, America’s main counter to Russian nuclear trains, and any other intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, appears to be its missile shields in Europe which could intercept many outbound nuclear missiles.

China has also flirted with nuclear trains. In 2013, Chinese media – whether accidentally or on purpose – leaked footage of a train modified to hold DF-31 and DF-31A missiles which can carry a single 1-megaton nuclear warhead. There were some questions at the times about whether or not the system was truly operational.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Soviet Union’s space cannon that actually fired from orbit

In the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans have taken to assuming that victory for the United States was assured. From our vantage point in the 21st century, we now know that the Soviet Union was, in many ways, a quagmire of oppression and economic infeasibility — but in the early days of mankind’s effort to reach the stars, it was the Soviets, not the Americans, who seemed destined for the top spot.

On October 4, 1957, it was the Soviet Union that first successfully placed a manmade object in orbit around the earth, with Sputnik. Less than a month later, the Soviets would capture another victory: Launching a stray dog named Laika into orbit. While the dog would die as it circled our planet, Laika’s mission seemed to prove (at least to some extent) that space travel was possible for living creatures. On September 14, 1959, the Soviet space probe Luna II would be the first manmade object to land on the moon, but the Soviet’s greatest victory was yet to come.


This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (WikiMedia Commons)

When the Soviets were winning the Space Race

On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union once again affirmed to the world that they were the global leader in space technology, launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit where he remained for 108 minutes before reentering the earth’s atmosphere.

To the Americans, these early victories in the Space Race were about far more than international prestige. Each victory for the Soviets not only represented a greater lead in securing “the ultimate high ground” for the Soviet military, they also served as proof of the validity of the Soviet Communist economic and political model — making the Soviet space program as much an ideological threat as it was a military one.

Despite assuming an underdog status in the early days of the Space Race, however, the U.S. leveraged its post-World War II industrial and economic might to begin closing the gap created by these early Soviet victories, launching their own satellite less than four months after Sputnik. America’s first astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, would follow behind the Soviet Gagarin by less than a month.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Buzz Aldrin on the moon (NASA)

America’s come-from-behind victory

By 1969, America’s technological prowess, coupled with a massive influx of spending, would secure victory for both the U.S. and, in the minds of many, its capitalist economic model. On July 20, 1969, two former fighter pilots, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, triumphantly landed on the moon.

Just like that, the Soviets went from leading the way in orbital space to lagging behind, and in the midst of an ongoing nuclear arms race, the Soviets saw this shift as a significant threat. Furthering their concern were reports of the American Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, which was intended as an early space station from which crews could conduct orbital surveillance, or even mount operations against Soviet orbital bodies.

In response to the MOL program, the Soviets poured funding into Almaz, which was an early space station design of their own. Hidden behind a public-facing civilian space station effort, the program called for a number of military-specific space stations in orbit around the earth, each capable of conducting its own high-altitude reconnaissance. Although the Americans canceled their MOL program in 1969, the Soviet effort continued, reaching even further beyond America’s canceled program with plans to equip these space stations with the world’s first ever cannon in space.

The Soviet Space Cannon: R-23M Kartech

The Soviets were not mistaken when they considered America’s MOL program a threat. In fact, within the corridors of the Pentagon, a number of plans and strategies were being explored that would enable the Americans to spy on, capture, or otherwise destroy Soviet satellites.

It was with this in mind that the Soviet Union decided they’d need to equip their space stations for more than just taking pictures of the earth below. Instead, they wanted to be sure their orbital habitats could fight whatever the Americans threw their way.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Line drawing of the Russian Almaz space station (NASA)

The decision was made to base this new secret space cannon on the 23-millimeter gun utilized by their supersonic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder. For its new purpose as the world’s first true space cannon, the Soviet government looked to the Moscow-based KB Tochmash design bureau responsible for a number of successful aviation weapons platforms.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Soviet Tu-22PD tail turret equipped with a R-23M (WikiMedia Commons)

Engineer Aleksandr Nudelman and his team at KB Tochmash changed the design of the cannon to utilize smaller 14.5-millimeter rounds that could engage targets at distances of up to two miles with a blistering rate of fire of somewhere between 950 and 5,000 rounds per minute (depending on the source you read). According to reports made public after the fall of the Soviet Union, the cannon successfully punctured a metal gas can from over a mile away during ground testing.

The cannon was to be mounted in a fixed position on the underbelly of the Soviet Almaz space stations, forcing operators to move the entire 20-ton station to orient the barrel toward a target. The weapon system was first affixed to a modified Soyuz space capsule, which was then dubbed the “Salyut” space station, and launched in 1971. By the time the Salyut was in orbit, however, interest in these manned reconnaissance platforms was already beginning to wane inside the Kremlin, as unmanned reconnaissance satellites seemed more practical.

The only cannon ever fired in space

While American intelligence agencies were well aware of the Soviet plan to field military space stations, it was still extremely difficult to know exactly what was going on in the expanse of space above our heads. Under cover of extreme secrecy, the Soviet Union successfully completed a test firing of the R-23M on Jan. 24, 1975 in orbit above the earth. There was no crew onboard at the time, and the exact results of the test remain classified to this day. Uncomfirmed reports indicate that the weapon fired between one and three bursts, with a total of 20 shells expended. In order to offset the recoil of the fired rounds, the space station engaged its thrusters, but it stands to reason that the test may have been a failure.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Screen capture of the R-23M space cannon taken from Zvezda TV, per the Russian Ministry of Defence

In fact, any footage of the test firing of the weapon was lost when the Salyut 3 platform was de-orbited just hours later, burning up upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. When the Soviet Union designed an upgraded Almaz space station for future launches, they did away with cannons in favor of interceptor missiles — though the program was canceled before any such weapons would reach orbit.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

Elon Musk’s response to embarrassing Cybertruck demo fail

Elon Musk has attempted to save face on Twitter after a demonstration meant to show off the toughness of Tesla’s new Cybertruck pickup went awry.

On Nov. 23, 2019, he posted a short video to Twitter meant to show the Cybertruck’s armored glass windows to be stronger than the average car window.

Here’s the new video, showing Tesla’s lead designer, Franz von Holzhausen, throwing what appeared to be a metal ball at the Cybertruck’s windows:


Musk captioned the video: “Franz throws steel ball at Cybertruck window right before launch. Guess we have some improvements to make before production haha.”

The result in the video was different from Nov. 21, 2019’s live Cybertruck unveiling, where the truck’s armored glass dramatically cracked twice in a row after being hit by a metal ball. During that demo, multiple hard objects were used to hit the truck, including a large sledgehammer.

Though Musk laughed off the mishap onstage, exclaiming, “Oh my f—ing god” and “room for improvement,” the video went viral and Tesla’s stock price sank.

On Nov. 25, 2019, Musk tried to explain why the windows had broken during the live demo but not in earlier tests.

“Sledgehammer impact on door cracked base of glass, which is why steel ball didn’t bounce off,” he said. “Should have done steel ball on window, *then* sledgehammer the door. Next time …”

The Cybertruck is Tesla’s bold, brash first foray into the pickup-truck market — a market it has gradually primed itself to enter as its battery technology has become more powerful. It is made from various tough-sounding materials, including stainless steel and ultra-strong “Armor” glass.

According to Tesla’s website, Tesla plans to begin production of the Cybertruck, which starts at ,900, in late 2021. The vehicle’s most expensive version starts at ,900, and the company says it will have a maximum range of over 500 miles, a maximum towing capacity of over 14,000 pounds, and the ability to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under 2.9 seconds.

Musk wrote over the weekend that Tesla had received 200,000 preorders so far.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How a border wall may derail the Coast Guard in the arctic

The Coast Guard‘s top officer said on Aug. 1, 2018, that the U.S. can’t afford to delay its presence in the Arctic. But lawmakers are eyeing the cash planned for a new icebreaker to fund the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

With the November 2018 primaries looming, some members of Congress are eager to show their constituents that they support President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall along sections of the southwestern border. That left $750 million for a new heavy polar icebreaker out of a draft of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.


“I’m going to take a guardedly optimistic approach that … there’s still a lot of interest in getting an icebreaker to replace our 40-plus-year-old Polar Star, which is the only heavy icebreaker in the U.S. arsenal,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “… We need that ship now.”

A report released July 27, 2018, by the Congressional Research Service warns that Russia is increasing its military presence in the Arctic region. The Russians have more than 45 icebreakers, and they’re currently working on building a nuclear version, Schultz said.

China has also declared itself a near-Arctic nation and is working on building a new icebreaker. Diminishing ice levels could lead to an influx of traffic in the Arctic in coming years, and there’s “increasing mission demand for the Coast Guard up there,” Schultz said.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

That’s as two of the Coast Guard’s three polar icebreakers — Polar Star and Polar Sea — have exceeded their 30-year services lives, the report states. The Polar Sea is no longer operational, and the need for search-and-rescue and other missions in the region will increase as traffic in the Arctic picks up.

“The reality of the Arctic is on us today,” Schultz said. “My thinking is a six-three-one strategy. We need six icebreakers — three of them need to be heavy icebreakers and we need one today. We need to get going there.”

He said Trump’s 2019 budget request, which includes plans for a new icebreaker, shows that the Coast Guard’s mission in the region is a priority for this administration. The Senate’s appropriations draft for DHS still includes the 0 million for a Coast Guard icebreaker, so it’s still possible that the service could get the funding in 2019.

Eight House Democrats sent a letter to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Kevin Yoder, Homeland Security subcommittee chairman, criticizing the plan to ditch the 0 million icebreaker funding request, Business Insider reported.

The bill wastes “a staggering .9 billion on a border wall and increasing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget by 8 million,” the letter states, while leaving U.S. national security at a disadvantage for years to come.

The Coast Guard is working with the Navy on plans to acquire three heavy icebreakers for about 0 million per ship.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How America’s most troubled aircraft will define the future

The V-22 Osprey has a spotty safety record, costs twice as much as originally advertised, and has a cost-per-flight-hour higher than a B-1B Lancer or F-22 Raptor when including acquisition, modification, and maintenance costs. So, why are all four Department of Defense branches of the military looking to fly the V-22 or something similar?


This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

U.S. Marine Corps parachutists free fall from an MV-22 Osprey at 10,000 feet above the drop zone at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. on Jan. 17, 2000.

(U.S. Navy photo by Vernon Pugh)

First, let’s take a look at the Osprey’s weaknesses, because they are plentiful. The tilt-rotor aircraft is heavy, and keeping it aloft with two rotors requires a lot of lift, producing a lot of rotorwash. The rotorwash is so strong, in fact, that it’s injured personnel before, and it forces troops attempting to fast rope from the bird must do so at higher altitudes amid greater turbulence.

Which, yes, is scary and legitimately dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Osprey causes more wear and tear on the ships and air fields from which it operates. The large amount and high temperatures of its exhaust tears apart launch surfaces. And its own acquisition and maintenance costs are high.

They’re 0 million a pop, twice what they were initially expected to cost. And, after accounting for all costs, the Air Force estimates it pays almost ,000 for every hour one of the planes is aloft. The maligned F-35A only costs an additional ,000.

So, if the aircraft is dangerous and expensive, how could it possibly be the future of military aviation?

First, it’s actually a fairly safe aircraft. While 2017 was a bad year for the Osprey, accounting for three Class A accidents, mishaps that cost the government million or more, that only raised the Osprey’s accident rate to 3.27 per 100,000 hours flown, only a little above the 2.72 average for aircraft across the Corps. Go to the start of 2017, before its worst period, and the rate is 1.93 (2017 was actually a bad year for Navy, Air Force, and Marine aviation as a whole).

So, not great, but worth bearing if the aircraft fills a particular role that you really need to fill.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

U.S. Marines with India Company 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command conduct a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel exercise August 19, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Teagan Fredericks)

And the V-22 does indeed fill a unique role. Its ability to fly like a plane most of the time but then hover like a helicopter when needed is changing everything from combat search and rescue to special operations insertions to replenishment at sea.

See, fixed-wing aircraft, planes, can typically fly farther and faster while carrying heavier loads than their rotary-wing brethren. But, rotary-wing aircraft, helicopters, can land on nearly any patch of flat, firm ground or ship deck. Tilt-rotor aircraft like the V-22 can do both, even though it can’t do either quite as well.

It’s a jack-of-all-trades sort of deal. Except, in this case, “Jack of All Trades” is master of a few, too. Take combat search and rescue. It’s typically done with a helicopter because you need to be able to quickly land, grab the isolated personnel, and take off again, usually while far from a friendly airstrip. But the Osprey can do it at greater ranges and speeds than any helicopter.

Or take forward arming and refueling points, where the military sends personnel, fuel, and ammunition forward to allow helicopters to refuel and rearm closer to the fight. Setting these up requires that the military quickly moves thousands of pounds of fuel and ammo quickly, either by truck or aircraft.

Doing it with aircraft is faster, but requires a heavy lift aircraft that can land vertically or nearly so. Again, the V-22 can carry similar weight at much greater ranges than most other vertical lift aircraft. The Army’s CH-47F has a “useful load” of 24,000 pounds and a range of 200 nautical miles. The Osprey boasts a 428 nautical mile range while still carrying 20,000 pounds. And, it can ferry back and forth faster, cruising at 306 mph ground speed compared to the Chinook’s 180.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Air Force CV-22 in flight.

(U.S. Air Force)

Or look at Navy replenishment at sea, a job currently done by 27 C-2A Greyhounds, but the Navy is hoping to use 38 CMV-22Bs instead. When the CMV-22B uses rolling takeoffs and landings, it can carry over 57,000 pounds compared to the C-2A’s 49,000. And it can carry heavy loads further, lifting 6,000 pounds on a 1,100-nautical mile trip while the C-2A carries 800 pounds for 1,000-nautical miles.

Even the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Forces set up for crisis response in Central Command and Africa use the V-22 because, again, the range and lifting capability. In this case, it allowed them to base the Marines at fewer places while still responding quickly across their area of operations to everything from embassy reinforcements and evacuations to supporting combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations.

Meanwhile, the Marines are looking to turn some V-22s into gunships, either by bolting the weapons onto aircraft that could still operate as troop transports or creating a combat-focused variant of the V-22, like a tilt-rotor AC-130. And the Marines also tapped the tilt-rotors to carry the President’s staff and security when he travels in Marine 1.

So, why all the haters at places like War Is Boring? Well, the V-22 is very expensive. That ,000-per-flight-hour price tag makes the Air Force version that branch’s eighth most expensive plane. And getting the V-22 operationally superior to the C-2A required lots of expensive modifications and still doesn’t allow it to deliver supplies in a hover on most warships because of the hot exhaust mentioned above.

So, the Navy had to make expensive modifications to an expensive tilt-rotor aircraft so that it could do the job of a cheaper fixed-wing aircraft. But if the original, fixed-wing aircraft had gotten the upgrades instead, there’s a potential argument that it would’ve been made just as capable for much less.

Meanwhile, the V-22’s safety problems are often over-hyped, but there are issues. The C-2A has had only one major operational incident since 1973. The V-22 had three last year. This problem of cost vs. added capability comes up every time the V-22 is suggested for a new mission. It’s an expensive solution in every slot.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

The Bell V-280 Valor is a proposed successor to the V-22.

(Manufacturer graphic, Bell Helicopters)

But when people on the opposite side make grand claims like, “Versatile V-22 Osprey Is The Most Successful New Combat System Since 9-11,” they aren’t exactly wrong. Despite all of the V-22’s problems, the Army is considering tilt-rotors for its next generation of vertical lift aircraft and the rest of the Department of Defense is already flying the V-22s. That’s because tilt-rotors offer capabilities that just can’t currently be achieved with other designs.

An important note, though, is that the Army may not opt for the V-22, or a tilt-rotor at all. The two aircraft seemingly at the top of the Army’s list for the Future Vertical Lift Program are the V-280—a Bell aircraft descended from the V-22, and the SB-1 Defiant—a compound helicopter design with two stacked rotor blades and a rear propeller. Boeing is part of the V-22 project, but actually backed Sikorsky and the SB-1 Defiant when it came time to look at the Army’s future.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

A manufacturer graphic showing the SB-1 Defiant, a proposed compound helicopter to replace the UH-60, picking up troops. The SB-1 Defiant is in competition with the V-280, a tilt-rotor successor to the V-22.

(Dylan Malysov, CC BY-SA 4.0)

So, while the troubled tilt-rotor has won over at least a few proponents in three of the DoD branches, it may fall short of garnering all four, especially if the Army decides that tilt-rotor acquisition and maintenance is too expensive.

Whichever way the Army goes, it will decide the face of military aviation for a decade. A few dozen V-22s have been sold to American allies, and the U.S. has bought a few hundred, but the Army wants its next generation of vertical lift assets to all be part of the same family, and it needs to replace 2,000 UH-60 Blackhawks and 3,000 other helicopters in coming decades.

Whatever America’s largest military branch chooses will likely set the tone for follow-on American purchases as well as the fleets of dozens of allies. So, Bell has to prove that one of the military’s most troubled and expensive aircraft is still the face of the future.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch this heart-stopping video of an F-16’s low takeoff, high-G turn

On Jun. 17, 2018, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire, WI hosted an airshow that included the display of the Air Combat Command’s F-16 Viper Demo Team.

Piloted by Maj. John “Rain” Waters, an operational F-16 pilot assigned to the 20th Operations Group, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina and the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team commander, the F-16 performs an aerobatic display whose aim is to demonstrate demonstrate the unique capabilities by one of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighters, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, better known as “Viper” in the pilot community.


The F-16 Viper Demo always starts with a take-off followed by a low, high-g turn. The maneuver was filmed from a privileged position (the slow motion effect contributes to the stunning results):


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Below you can find another clip that shows the same maneuver:


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This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Troops may soon get the lightest helmets ever made

The helmet is an essential piece of gear that protects our troops, but such protection doesn’t come without heft. Even with sophisticated technologies and materials, today’s Modular Integrated Communications Helmet weighs a little over three and a half pounds. That might not sound like much to a reader at home, but when you add on night-vision goggles and a radio, it quickly becomes quite the load for the average soldier to carry on their noggin.

That said, relief may be on the horizon. DuPont, a science company responsible for the development of many advanced materials, announced in a press release that it will be introducing a new, lightweight, synthetic fiber that could lighten helmets by up to 40 percent. The new fiber is known as Tensylon® HA120.


This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

Here is a look at how Tensylon will be used to lighten helmets.

(DuPont)

“Innovation is a continuous process at DuPont,” said John Richard, vice president and general manager of DuPont Kevlar® and Nomex®.

“We’re constantly looking for new solutions that are stronger, lighter, and more comfortable for the men and women protecting us. They deserve the best protection, so they can stay focused on the high-risk job of safeguarding their communities and their countries.”

The helmet is designed to provide what DuPont calls, “optimum ballistic properties and impact resistance” through the use of a “Tensylon® solid state extruded ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) film technology.” This will not only provide greater protection from bullets, but it will also reduce the threat from “back face deflection” — which is when an impact dislodges another portion of the armor, striking the wearer at a point opposite to the initial impact.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet

These Marines from the First Marine Special Operations Battalion could be among troops who benefit from lighter helmets.

(DOD photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Storm)

There’s still a long way to go before this new technology lands in the hands (or on the heads) of troops. Still, it’s a good sign. In an era where troops are constantly expected to tack on a few pounds here, a few ounces there, a lightened load is a welcome relief.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

4 helmets that America copied from other countries

The history of the modern military helmet is relatively short in the grand scheme of military history. Prior to WWI, soldiers generally wore soft uniform headwear in combat. In some instances, leather caps or helmets were worn to offer some protection against sword strikes. However, it was the French who first fielded a steel skull-cap to be wore under their traditional headwear. This idea evolved into the all-steel Adrian helmet. Britain followed suit with the Brodie helmet, as did the Germans with the Stahlhelm. Interestingly, American soldiers have worn some form of all three helmets and one more German helmet that may come as a surprise. Here are a few helmets that America copied over the years.

1. PASGT/Stahlhelm

Officially known as the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops, PASGT refers to the helmet and vest combination first worn by U.S. troops in 1983. Designed to offer more protection, the PASGT helmet comes down over the wearer’s ears more so than the WWII-era M1 helmet that it replaced. Its design is so reminiscent of the German Stahlhelm that troops came to nickname it the Fritz helmet. The PASGT helmet has largely been replaced by smaller and lighter helmets like the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet and the Future Assault Shell Technology Helmet. However, it still sees limited use with the Army Reserves (especially ROTC) and the Navy.

2. M1917/Mk I Brodie Helmet

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WWI Marines in France. Without seeing them up close, it’s difficult to discern between an M1917 and a Brodie Helmet (U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

This soup dish-style helmet is synonymous with WWI doughboys and WWI in general. When America entered the war, the other nations were already equipping their troops with steel helmets to protect them from bullets and shrapnel. The wool or felt campaign hats that U.S. troops wore were more suited for the American frontier than the trenches of western Europe. As a result, America began production of the M1917 helmet modeled after the British Brodie helmet. However, troops who had already arrived in Europe acquired genuine Brodie helmets from British supply points until American production and logistics caught up. While the M1917 and Brodie helmets appear very similar, a few characteristics like the chinstrap ball, construction material and paint were slightly different. America ended up purchasing roughly 400,000 Brodie helmets from the British and produced over 2,700,000 M1917 helmets by the war’s end. At the outbreak of WWII, the U.S. military switched over from the M1917 to the now iconic M1 helmet. When U.S. soldiers captured in the Philippines at the start of the war were finally liberated, they thought they were being rescued by Germans because they hadn’t seen the new M1 helmets which looked more like the Stahlhelm than the M1917 they were used to.

3. Adrian Helmet

This is more of a stop-gap than a copy. As previously mentioned, America did not have a steel helmet for its troops upon entering the war. American volunteer ambulance drivers that arrived in France before America’s official entry were equipped with the French Adrian helmet. The next Americans to wear the Adrian helmet were American units like the 369th Harlem Hellfighters that were assigned to the French Army. These troops would either maintain the interchangeable French insignia that the helmet came with or remove it entirely. Over the course of American involvement in the war, American insignias were cast in bronze for U.S. troops to more easily identify themselves in the trenches. Moreover, many American officers preferred the Adrian helmet to the Brodie helmet and were photographed wearing them on the frontlines.

4. Pickelhaube

This helmet actually predates WWI. First adopted by Prussia in 1842, the Pickelhaube is also known as the spike helmet for obvious reasons. Originally made of leather, the helmet’s design was meant to help deflect sword strikes to the wearer’s head. Before the adoption of the Stahlhelm, German forces wore leather and later steel Pickelhaubes. However, before WWI, the Pickelhaube was synonymous with Imperial Germany. An undisputed world superpower at the time, many armies modeled their uniforms after them, including America. While the Pickelhaube was not part of the combat uniform, both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps adopted the spiked helmet in their dress uniforms from 1881 to 1902. It’s probably best that we did away with these. Imagine the barracks fights that would erupt if troops were still issued spiked helmets.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s powerful new frigate is rebuilding its Black Sea Fleet

While the Russian Navy has been a basket case both on the surface and down below since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago, in recent years, we’ve seen an attempted comeback. There are plans to build few ships to fill out the fleet.


However, the budget has been a problem. Russia just simply hasn’t been able to build ships in the same quantity or as quickly as the Soviet Union used to. The Soviet Union built 17 Sovremennyy-class guided-missile destroyers. When production was in full swing, it took about four years from laying down the ship to commissioning. Today, a smaller Steregushchiy-class frigate takes as many as eleven years to build.

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Russia built the Talwar-class frigates for India, then decided to get a few for the Russian Navy as well, (Indian Navy photo)

So, Russia sought to cut down on its RD time and expenses. After the Cold War, Russia started building some ships for other countries. China, for example, acquired four Sovremenny-class destroyers (two incomplete at the time the Soviet Union fell, two newly-built from Russia). But Russia’s biggest naval customer is India, who got a modified version of the Krivak called the Talwar-class guided-missile frigate. Six of those vessels were built for India, but it didn’t take long for Russia to want a few of their own.

In Russian service, the vessel is called the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate. It is equipped with a single launcher for the SA-N-7 surface-to-air missile, an eight-cell launcher for the SS-N-27 Sizzler surface-to-surface missile, a single 100mm gun, two CADS-N-1 point-defense systems, and two twin-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes. These frigates can also operate a Ka-27 Helix helicopter, giving them additional anti-submarine weaponry.

This is the Pentagon’s not-so-secret civilian ‘ghost’ aircraft fleet
The Admiral Essen, one of the three Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates currently in service with the Russian Navy. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Rubin16)

The production of these vessels, however, has come to a screeching halt. This is because Russia sourced the propulsion plants from Ukraine, which halted deliveries after the Russian takeover of Crimea.

Learn more about these ships in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqXPIkTkOdc
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Boeing T-X first official EMD flight test was ‘superb’

On July 1, 2019, Boeing announced that T-X aircraft N381TX flew the first official Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) flight test from Boeing’s St Louis plant in Missouri. Boeing did not disclose further details about this flight although the Chief T-X Test Pilot, Steve ‘Bull’ Schmidt, said: “She flew just superb. First EMD test points went off without a hitch”.


The aircraft is one of the two company-funded prototypes built for the Air Force T-X Advanced Pilot Training program and modified into the EMD design after the first flight test campaign. The two aircraft performed 72 test flights between December 2016 and December 2018, gathering data ahead of the EMD testing. During the last months, Boeing and Saab (rear fuselage supplier for T-X) modified the prototypes with ACES 5 ejection seat, an updated On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) and other minor changes. Boeing is counting on completing the critical design review of the final EMD configuration by the end of 2019.

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The two T-X prototypes in formation during a flight test.

(Boeing)


The U.S. Air Force awarded the $ 9.2 billion T-X contract to Boeing and Saab in September 2018 for 350 trainer aircraft, 46 ground-based training systems and related ground equipment, with other 125 aircraft on option.

The first five aircraft and seven simulators will be delivered to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph (Texas) in 2023, with Initial Operational Capability (IOC) planned by the end of 2024 and Full Operational Capability (FOC) planned by 2034. The T-X trainer is due to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon, the world’s first supersonic and most produced jet trainer, that has been in service for over 50 years.

Boeing T-X Begins EMD Flight Tests

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The new aircraft is powered by a single General Electric Aviation F404 engine (the same engine used by the Saab Gripen C/D and legacy F/A-18) and has a design similar to the F/A-18, with leading-edge root extensions (LERX) and twin tails that can provide high performance training for pilots that will fly US front-line fighters. The cockpit features a touchscreen large-area display (LAD), digital Up-Front Controller (UFC) and standby instruments, Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) controls and a low profile Head-Up Display (HUD), much like the F-35 cockpit or the proposed cockpits for Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Block III and F-15X and Saab’s Gripen E.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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