The definitive guide to US special ops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The definitive guide to US special ops

You’ve heard about the men who come in the night, the badasses, the snake eaters. These are the rough and tumble soldiers who spill out of helicopters and kick in doors, neutralizing a high-value target and egressing before locals get a clue. These are the gritty recon Marines who stalk through the underbrush before taking down a terrorist camp. But special ops isn’t one thing; it’s a bunch of different things. Operators from different units conduct missions in very different ways.


Check out this handy WATM guide that covers the basics of special ops:

Army

Delta Force

Along with SEAL Team 6, Delta Force is one of the most famous and capable anti-terrorism teams in the world. It’s members are pulled from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, primarily from the Army’s Special Forces and Rangers (more on them in a minute). As an anti-terrorism task force, Delta is tasked with hunting down some of America’s worst threats- the most intense special ops around. They were sent after Osama bin Laden in 2001 and more recently killed Abu Sayyaf, a key figure in ISIS. They specialize in “direct action.”

Special Forces (The Green Berets)

Special Forces soldiers focus on supporting foreign allies by training with and fighting beside their military and police forces. Special Forces also engage in reconnaissance and direct action missions. The multi-tool of special ops, SF soldiers are sometimes tasked with peacekeeping, combat search and rescue, humanitarian, and counter narcotic missions.

Rangers

 

The definitive guide to US special ops
U.S. Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire off a Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle at a range on Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 26, 2014. (Photo: U.S. Army Pfc. Rashene Mincy)

The modern 75th Ranger Regiment was established with three Ranger battalions in 1986, though it has roots dating back to World War II. The Rangers form three infantry battalions that focus on moving fast and striking hard. They are deployable to anywhere in the world within 18 hours. Rangers are primarily a direct action force, entering an area forcibly and engaging whatever enemies they find.

The Night Stalkers (160th Special Operations Air Regiment)

The definitive guide to US special ops
An MH-6 Little Bird carrying troops. (Photo: Department of Defense)

 

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) flies helicopters in support of other special ops units, especially the Army units discussed above. They fly modified Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters as well as the MH/AH-6M Little Bird. The Night Stalkers can drop off combatants on a battlefield and provide air support to fighters already on the ground.

Navy

SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU)

 

The definitive guide to US special ops
Navy SEALs practice desert fighting techniques during an exercise. SEAL Team 6 specializes in anti-terrorism operations and are perhaps best known for the successful raid into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. (Photo: Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon)

Like Delta, SEAL Team 6 is a top-tier anti-terrorism force. Officially named United States Special Warfare Development Group and sometimes called DevGru, SEAL Team 6 specializes in arriving violently and killing bad guys. They recruit their members from the Navy SEAL community (discussed below). Though they train to operate anywhere in the world, they specialize in fighting on the waters and the coast.

MORE: 5 key differences between Delta Force and SEAL Team 6

SEALs

The definitive guide to US special ops
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SEALs are named for their ability to fight in the sea, air, and on land. Though designed to conduct operations that begin and end in the water, modern teams routinely operate far from water. They primarily conduct reconnaissance and perform direct attack missions but are capable of training with and fighting beside foreign militaries like U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers do. They are also the operators most known for working with the CIA’s Special Activities Division.

Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen


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SWCC, pronounced “swick,” provide covert insertions in coastal areas, most notably for the Navy SEALS. They operate small boats which they can use to drop off operators as well as provide heavy weapons support when necessary. They can drop their boats from planes or helicopters and can be picked up with a helicopter extraction. Additionally, SWCC teams have their own medics who provide care for special operators when evacuating patients, and they get at least 12 weeks of language training.

Marine Corps

Marine Special Operations Regiment (Raiders)

Similarly to the Army Special Forces, Marine Raiders specialize in training, advising, and assisting friendly foreign forces. They can also conduct direct action missions: Kicking down doors and targeting the bad guys. They receive more training in maritime operations as well as fighting on oil and gas platforms than their Army counterparts.

Recon

Some of the world’s best reconnaissance troops, Recon Marines primarily support other Marine units, though they can provide intelligence to other branches. They move forward of other troops, getting near or behind enemy lines, where they survey the area and report back to commanders. They can also engage in assaults when ordered, though that mission has been transferred in part to the Marine Special Operations Regiment discussed above.

Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company

The definitive guide to US special ops
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Joshua Brown

This Marine Corps ANGLICO’s primary mission is to link up with friendly units and direct fires assets from different branches. That means they have to be able to tell helicopters, jets, cannons, and rockets which targets to hit and when during large firefights. They support other U.S. military branches as well as foreign militaries, so they have to train for many different operations and be able to keep up with everyone from Army Special Forces to British Commandoes to the Iraqi Army.

Air Force

Combat Controllers

The definitive guide to US special ops
Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

Combat controllers, like ANGLICO Marines, support all the other branches and so have to be able to keep up with all special operators. They deploy forward, whether in support of another mission or on their own, and take over control of air traffic in an area. They direct flight paths for different classes of planes and helicopters to ensure all aircraft attacking an objective can fly safely. They also target artillery and rocket attacks. In peacetime missions, they can set up air traffic control in areas where it’s needed.

The day after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, combat controllers began directing air traffic control from a card table with hand radios. They directed the landing of over 2,500 flights and 4 million pounds of supplies with no incidents.

Pararescuemen (PJ)

Pararescumen are some of the world’s best search and rescue experts. They move forward into areas a plane has crashed or there is a risk of planes being shot down. Once a plane has hit the ground, they search for the pilots and crew and attempt to recover them. In addition, they perform medical evacuations of injured personnel and civilians. To reach downed crews, they train extensively in deploying from helicopters and planes. In order to save injured personnel after recovery, they become medical experts, especially in trauma care.

Coast Guard

Maritime Security Response Team

The definitive guide to US special ops

The Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team from Virginia participates trains on tactical boardings-at-sea, active shooter scenarios, and detection of radiological material in a 2015 exercise. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)

The MSRT focuses on counter-terrorism and law enforcement against well-armed adversaries. They are like a SWAT team that can also deal with chemical, biological, and nuclear threats on the open water.

Though this list focused on operators who engage in combat with the enemy, there are members of the special operations community who provide support in other ways.

The Army has military information-support operations which seek to spread propaganda and demoralize the enemy and civil affairs soldiers who serve as liaisons between the Army and friendly governments. The Air Force has special operations weather technicians who deploy into enemy environments to conduct weather analysis in support of other military operations. The Marine Corps has the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force which responds to possible attacks by chemical, biological, or nuclear means.

Articles

What we know about the next version of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is rightly viewed as a legend. Best known as a recon plane that nobody could hit, it even was considered as the basis for a fighter and was the second-fastest manned plane in history.


It served with the United States military from 1964-1998, and with NASA until 1999. The SR-71 had been developed from the A-12 OXCART (no relation to the A-12 Avenger), a single-seat plane capable of making high-speed recon runs as well.

The definitive guide to US special ops
Blackbird pilots in front of an SR-71.

It was thought satellites and drones could replace the SR-71. The problem was that satellites are predictable, and too many drones just don’t have the performance or reliability. But Lockheed’s Skunk Works, which created the A-12/YF-12/SR-71 family, is now developing a SR-72, and they promise it will be faster than the Blackbird.

Lockheed noted that the SR-71 was designed on paper with slide rules. Even without the benefit of high-technology, the SR-71 proved to be superb at its role.

The new SR-72, though, is going to leverage technology from the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 to help it fly at speeds exceeding Mach 6. The HTV-2 hit Mach 20 during its flights.

The definitive guide to US special ops
The factory floor of Skunk Works, where the SR-71 was manufactured. (CIA photo)

According to a report by Popular Mechanics, the SR-72 will also have a strike mission. While the exact weapons are unknown at this time, Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that plans call for a “Flight Research Vehicle” to be constructed in the early 2020s, with a full-scale version to be in service sometime in the 2030s.

As for the lucky pilots who get to fly this plane, they will not need the very bulky suits that Blackbird pilots wear. That’s because the initial plans call for the SR-72 to be a drone.

Well, no successor to the Blackbird can be perfect.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New wearable authentication more than a ‘token’ gesture

The Army Futures Command, or AFC, is developing wearable identity authentication and authorization technologies that will enable soldiers to securely access network-based capabilities while operating on the move in contested, threat-based environments.

Since 2001, the Common Access Card, or CAC, has served as the de facto, government-wide standard for network and system security access control. However, CAC cards are not operationally suited for use in every environment.

Moreover, the Army lacks a standard way for soldiers at every echelon to prove their identity when operating systems, devices, and applications on Army networks.

With this in mind, AFC’s major subordinate command, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or CCDC, is researching and developing authentication technologies that will provide soldiers with secure and simple ways to identify, authenticate and be authorized access to Army networks, operating systems, servers, laptops, applications, web services, radios, weapon systems, and handheld devices.


CCDC’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C5ISR, Center is designing wearable identity tokens for soldiers to use to log on to mission command systems, networks and tactical platforms. The tokens are wireless, lightweight, flexible, and rugged, and they can be inserted in a soldier’s pocket, attached to a sleeve or integrated into a wrist band like a Fitbit.

Conceptually, soldiers wearing these tokens could simply approach a system to login, be recognized by that system, which would then prompt the soldier to enter a PIN or use a biometric as a second factor, and be automatically logged out when they walk out of the system’s range.

The definitive guide to US special ops

The CCDC C5ISR Center is developing wearable authentication tokens that will enable soldiers at every echelon to prove their identity when operating systems, devices and applications on the Army tactical network.

(Photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

“The Army is driving towards a simpler and intuitive tactical network, so we’re aligning our Science and Technology resources to explore the challenges associated with this mission space, inform senior decision makers of the lessons learned and deliver capabilities that support Army Modernization and address the soldier’s needs — now and in the future,” said Brian Dempsey, Tactical Network Protection chief for the C5ISR Center’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, or STCD.

The wearable identity tokens combine the security of a public key-based credential — similar to the credential on the CAC — with cutting-edge advances in the commercial wireless payment industry and flexible hybrid electronics, explained Ogedi Okwudishu, project lead for the Tactical Identity and Access Management, or TIDAM, program.

“As part of the Army Futures Command, we’re looking to move at the speed of the information age. We want to be able to research, test, proof the concepts and integrate emerging IT capabilities from industry as they become available. There’s no point re-inventing the wheel,” Okwudishu said.

Under the current paradigm, tactical platforms would need to be retrofitted with specialized equipment in order to read new identity authentication technologies. Such deployments and retrofitting can be very costly. Wearable tokens, however, leverage already existing communication and protocol capabilities, Okwudishu pointed out.

“Soldiers should not have to take out a smartcard, insert it into a card reader and then remember to remove the card from the reader when they are done,” said Okwudishu. “Contactless identity tokens are not only easy to use, they provide a significant cost savings for the Army. You can continue to add authentication capabilities without needing to redesign, or deploy new, tactical hardware to every laptop, server, handheld device or weapon system in the field.”

The definitive guide to US special ops

The tokens are lightweight, flexible and rugged, and they can be inserted in a soldier’s pocket, attached to a sleeve or integrated into a wrist band like a Fitbit.

(Photo by Douglas Scott)

Since beginning the TIDAM program in 2017, the C5ISR Center has worked closely with soldiers and Program Executive Offices, or PEOs, soldier and Command, Control Communications-Tactical, or C3T, to validate, demonstrate and mature the technology.

The center’s STCD is working with Project Manager Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, to finalize a transition agreement with PEO soldier for wearable authenticator infrastructure technologies. In the meantime, the directorate is developing a wearable authenticator software provisioner that will enable the secure placement of credentials on the wearable tokens and the ability to do this “locally” at the brigade level and below.

STCD is also working from a roadmap it jointly developed with PEO soldier to integrate the capability with various systems from PEO soldier and PEO C3T. Currently, the goal for fielding the tokens is in FY 22.

“I think this is a really great idea,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Worthington, senior enlisted advisor for the C5ISR Center. “Nobody has done anything like this yet. If done properly, it will make the authentication process a lot easier and a lot faster. More important, it provides more reciprocity at the tactical level for log-ins, so you can track what people are doing on the network.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why grenades in movies look nothing like real life

Yeah, yeah, yeah… We know grenades in movies aren’t like the real thing. But that could make you wonder, “Why?”

Real grenades are puffs of smoke with a bit of high-moving metal. Why not give troops mobile fireballs that instill fear and awe in the hearts of all that see them? Why not arm our troops with something akin to Super Mario’s fire flower?


First, we should take a look at what, exactly is going on with a real grenade versus a movie grenade.

The grenades you’re probably thinking of when you hear the term “grenade” are likely fragmentation grenades, consisting of strong explosives wrapped up in a metal casing. When the explosives go off, either the case or a special wrapping is torn into lots of small bits of metal or ceramic. Those bits fly outwards at high speed, and the people they hit die.

The U.S. military uses the M67 Fragmentation Hand Grenade. 6.5 ounces of high explosive destroys a 2.5-inch diameter steel casing and sends the bits of steel out up to 230 meters. Deaths are commonly caused up to 5 meters away from the grenade.

The definitive guide to US special ops

U.S. Army soldiers throw live grenades during training in Alaska.

(U.S. Army)

That’s because grenades are made to maximize the efficiency of their components. See, explosive power is determined by a number of factors. Time, pressure, and temperature all play a role. Maximum boom comes from maximizing the temperature and pressure increase in as little time as possible.

That’s actually a big part of why M67s have a steel casing. The user pulls the pin and throws the grenade, starting the chemical timer. When the explosion initiates, it’s contained for a fraction of a second inside that steel casing. The strength of the steel allows more of the explosive to burn — and for the temperature and pressure to rise further — before it bursts through the steel.

As the pressure breaks out, it picks up all the little bits of steel from the casing that was containing it, and it carries those pieces into the flesh and bones of its enemies.

Movie grenades, meanwhile, are either created digitally from scratch, cobbled together digitally from a few different fires and explosions, or created in the physical world with pyrotechnics. If engineers wanted to create movie-like grenades, they would need to do it the third way, obviously, with real materials.

The explosion is easy enough. The 6.5 ounces in a typical M67 would work just fine. Enough for a little boom, not so much that it would kill the thrower.

But to get that movie-like fire, you need a new material. To get fire, you need unburnt explosives or fuel to be carried on the pressure wave, mixing with the air, picking up the heat from the initial explosion, and then burning in flight.

And that’s where the problems lie for weapon designers. If they wanted to give infantrymen the chance to spit fire like a dragon, they would need to wrap something like the M67 in a new fuel that would burn after the initial explosion.

Makers of movie magic use liquid fuels, like gasoline, diesel, or oil, to get their effects (depending on what colors and amount of smoke they want). Alcohols, flammable gels, etc. all work great as well, but it takes quite a bit of fuel to get a relatively small fireball. The M1 flamethrower used half a gallon of fuel per second.

But liquid fuels are unwieldy, and even a quart of gasoline per grenade would add some serious weight to a soldier’s load.

So, yeah, there’s little chance of getting that sweet movie fireball onto a MOLLE vest. But there is another way. Instead of using liquids, you could use solid fuels, especially reactive metals and similar elements, such as aluminum, magnesium, or sodium.

The military went with phosphorous for incendiary weapons. It burns extremely hot and can melt its way through most metals. Still, the AN-M14 TH3 Incendiary Hand Grenade doesn’t exactly create a fireball and doesn’t even have a blast. Along with thermite, thermate, and similar munitions, it burns relatively slowly.

But if you combine the two grenades, the blast power of something like the M67 and the burning metals of something like the AN-M14 TH3, and you can create actual fireballs. That’s how thermobaric weapons work.

The definitive guide to US special ops

U.S. Marines train with the SMAW, a weapon that can fire thermobaric warheads.

(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brian J. Slaght)

In thermobaric weapons, an initial blast distributes a cloud of small pieces of highly reactive metal or fuel. Then, a moment later, a secondary charge ignites the cloud. The fire races out from the center, consuming the oxygen from the air and the fuel mixed in with it, creating a huge fireball.

If the weapon was sent into a cave, a building, or some other enclosed space, this turns the secondary fire into a large explosion of its own. In other words, shoot these things into a room on the first floor of a building, and that room itself becomes a bomb, leveling the larger building.

But throwing one of these things would be risky. Remember, creating the big fireball can turn an entire enclosed space into a massive bomb. And if you throw one in the open, you run the risk of the still-burning fuel landing on your skin. If that’s something like phosphorous, magnesium, or aluminum, that metal has to be carved out of your flesh with a knife. It doesn’t stop burning.

So, troops should leave the flashy grenades to the movies. It’s better to get the quick, lethal pop of a fragmentation grenade than to carry the additional weight for a liquid-fueled fireball or a world-ending thermobaric weapon. Movie grenades aren’t impossible, but they aren’t worth the trouble.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-35 Joint Program Office won’t stop now as 2020 milestones prove persistence

In 2020, unpredictable times bore a new normal without advanced warning. Countries and businesses were forced to ‘pause’ with frontline healthcare providers and essential workers supporting citizens’ everyday lives. For the F-35 Lightning II, the most lethal aircraft in the Department of Defense (DOD) air combat arsenal, production and worldwide operations continued during the global pandemic. The F-35 Enterprise rose to the challenge, ensuring Warfighters remained combat-ready, deployable, and lethal when called into action.

The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), its industry partners, and international allies have addressed many COVID-19-related obstacles, with a sharp focus on the safe and effective delivery of the complex weapons system to its customers. The F-35 Enterprise saw key programmatic and operational milestones in the months following the pandemic’s onset, despite increasing barriers.

The year 2020 saw 123 F-35s delivered to customers around the world to meet their missions and maintain their military edge. The 123rd aircraft built at the Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy, was delivered to the Italian Air Force. Also during this year, the 500th aircraft was delivered to the Burlington Air National Guard, and the 600th to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Additionally, records were set when the F-35 Production Delivery Operations Team managed the delivery of 13 aircraft over 45,000 miles in less than five days; with all of the aircraft landing “Code 1” at the customers’ destination.

The overall 2020 Mission Capable (MC) Rate for the F-35 increased to 68.4 percent (through November), an improvement of 5.3 percent from 2019, while flying 85,967 hours (10,352 more hours than 2019). In January, the F-35 European Regional Warehouse declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC), providing a critical Global Support Solution capability.

First Aircraft Arrivals were achieved at eight bases/units, most notably Korea and Japan, and USS Makin Island was certified for deployment. In April, the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska received its first two F-35As and became the Pacific Air Forces’ first base to house the F-35. The base is scheduled to receive 54 F-35As, making Alaska the most concentrated state for combat-coded, fifth-generation fighter aircraft. In December, the 355th Fighter Squadron ‘Fighting Falcons’ was reactivated to become the second F-35A squadron within the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson. The Vermont Air National Guard welcomed their final F-35A to complete the 134th Fighter Squadron’s initial stand-up, and completed their 500th flight.

Operationally, there were eight global operational deployments, comprising of 70 total aircraft. The United States Air Force deployed F-35 teams for 18 consecutive months from April 2019 until October 2020 in the Central Command Area of Responsibility with hundreds of weapons employments in support of the U.S. and our allies. Several hundred personnel from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines aboard USS America (LHA 6) are currently deployed to the Pacific with a team of F-35Bs to heed the call if needed. The F-35Bs with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted operations aboard USS America with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Akebono (DD 108). America and Akebono conducted a series of bilateral exercises – improving readiness while underway in early April. Additionally, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) departed San Diego in September to execute flight operations with U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 147 ‘Argonauts’ (VFA-147), the Navy’s first F-35C operational squadron. It completed several certifications, including flight deck and carrier air traffic control center certifications, to keep on schedule for the historic 2021 F-35C mission.

Despite COVID-19 challenges, the F-35 Integrated Test Force flew 547 sorties and logged 1,162 flight hours. The test teams implemented innovative solutions across the enterprise to operate at near-full capacity during the pandemic. Split teams, remote testing, cross-training personnel, and military air transport were several methods the test team utilized to ensure mission-essential work was completed.

The JPO team also completed Dual-Capable Aircraft (DCA) environmental, loads, and separations testing, in a restricted environment to ensure the JPO and U.S. Air Force’s top priority remained on track to certification.

Success would not be as great if it were not for the F-35 Program’s International Cooperative Partners and Foreign Military Sales Customers. In April, May, and June 2020, at the height of the pandemic, these key entities achieved several feats. The U.S. Air Force and Israeli Air Force completed the ‘Enduring Lightning’ exercise in southern Israel with numerous protocols to maintain health standards. The Royal Norwegian Air Force also completed their first NATO patrol and deployed to Iceland in 2020. In July, Italian F-35s took over the NATO mission in the North. During one historic mission, they were scrambled in response to Russian military aircraft operating in the North Atlantic again. The alert scramble marked the first time an F-35A of any partner nation was scrambled under NATO command for a real-world mission from Iceland.

The strong ties between the United States and the United Kingdom were demonstrated in September and October as HMS Queen Elizabeth embarked on a historic deployment with its F-35Bs. The U.S. Marines’ F-35Bs accompanied the 617 Squadron in exercises over the North Sea. The carrier sea training aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth enhanced F-35B integration within the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group. These same aircraft will sail this year in 2021 with the ship on her maiden Global Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment. To end the successful year for the United Kingdom, they declared Initial Operational Capability (Maritime), (IOC-M); while Australia also declared IOC for their F-35A fleet to close out the year.

F-35 system developments brought further accomplishments in 2020. The Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL), team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., achieved IOC in February, a significant milestone for the F-35 Enterprise. The ACURL team specialists compile and test Mission Data File Sets that allow the F-35 to assess threats and command the battlespace. This past summer, the F-35 program also demonstrated a new level of interoperability, aimed at improving future combat data sharing among the U.S. Services, Cooperative Partner nations, and FMS customers. This was achieved when operational test pilots from Edwards and Luke Air Force Bases validated the new concept’s feasibility and effectiveness by executing a series of flights using two U.S. and two Netherlands F-35As operating with the same mission data file. Coalition Mission Data provides a common operating picture across a large multi-national force, affording commanders the ability to operate a mixture of F-35s regardless of variant or nationality.

In this daily-changing environment, the global F-35 fleet continued to enhance and mature sustainment and readiness performance. On Sept. 29, 2020, personnel at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz., completed the loading of a single squadron of F-35Bs on newly modernized Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN) hardware. ODIN, a U.S.-led government program, is fielded with the current Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) release 3.5.2.2 software and supported two weeks of live flight test operations with superb supportability evaluation results. Later that same day, the Marines flew the first flight supported by the new hardware. These successful operations at MCAS Yuma validate the next-generation servers as a viable successor to the ALIS system and provide a significant performance upgrade to F-35 units.

The F-35 Enterprise closed out 2020 exactly how it began: Delivering game-changing air power to our Warfighters through the persistence of the talented workforce that continues to keep the aircraft soaring – and will continue to do so for decades to come.

The F-35 JPO is comprised of more than 2,000 uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel, distributed across more than 40 locations around the world. The program provides Fifth Generation weapons system technology in support of air combat missions for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, seven F-35 cooperative partner nations, and a growing number of foreign military sales (FMS) customers. The F-35 JPO has delivered the F-35 aircraft in partnership with industry partners Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and a diverse team of subordinate suppliers. As of 31 December 2020, more than 600 F-35s have been delivered, over 355,000 safe flying hours have been accumulated, and over 1,255 pilots and 10,030 maintainers have been trained.

For more of the latest military news stories, visit DVIDS here.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army accidentally just revealed a mind-blowing new weapon

It’s no secret that the United States military is working tirelessly to develop new hypersonic weapon systems to close the gap presented by Chinese and Russian platforms that have recently entered into service. Hypersonic weapons, for those unfamiliar, are missile platforms that are capable of maintaining extremely high speeds (in excess of Mach 5). That kind of speed means these weapons impact their targets with a huge amount of kinetic force, and perhaps most important of all, there are currently no existing missile defense systems that can stop a hypersonic projectile.


Sources inside China and Russia have both indicated that these nations already have hypersonic weapons in service, which means the United States is lagging behind the competition in this rapidly expanding field, despite testing hypersonic platforms as far back as the early 2000s. In order to close that gap, the Pentagon has acknowledged at least six different hypersonic programs currently in development, including the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike weapon, the U.S. Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), and the U.S. Air Force’s AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW, pronounced “arrow”).

However, it’s now clear that Uncle Sam isn’t acknowledging all of the hypersonic programs currently under development, thanks to an unintentional gaff made by U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the recent Association of the U.S. Army convention. In a photo that was uploaded to McCarthy’s own Flickr account (it’s still there), a document can be seen on a table in front of him titled, “Vintage Racer – Loitering Weapon System (LWS) Overview.”

The definitive guide to US special ops

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dana Clarke)

McCarthy likely didn’t anticipate that anyone would be able to make out what was written on the sheet of paper in front of him, and to his credit, most probably couldn’t. Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble, however, isn’t most people–and he not only managed to make out a fair portion of what the sheet says, but also has the technical knowledge behind him to make a few assertions about just what “Vintage Racer” may really be.

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“The Vintage Racer concept, as revealed so far, suggests it may be possible to launch a hypersonic projectile into a general area without knowing the specific location of the target,” Trimble wrote in his analysis you can find in full here. “As it reaches the target area, the projectile may be able to dispense a loitering air system, which is then uses its own sensors to find and identify the target.”
The definitive guide to US special ops

If Trimble’s assertions are right (and they do appear to be based on the document), then “Vintage Racer” could potentially be the most advanced and capable hypersonic weapon anywhere in the world. Most hypersonic weapons currently employ one of two methodologies: they either follow a long arc flight path similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles, gaining extreme speed with a reentry glide vehicle that has to literally re-enter the atmosphere, or they utilize a combination of traditional and scramjet propulsion systems to achieve similar speeds along a linear flight path.

The definitive guide to US special ops

A DARPA diagram of a hypersonic glide vehicle reentering the atmosphere to engage a target. (DARPA)

In either case, the hypersonic body is, in itself, the weapon: using a combination of warhead and the sheer force of transferred kinetic energy at such high speeds to destroy a target.

“Vintage Racer” on the other hand seems to leverage high speed propulsion to reach hypersonic velocities, but then rather than using all of the energy amassed from moving at that speed, the weapon would instead deploy a “loitering” system that could identify targets in the area and engage them independently with ordnance.

In effect, instead of thinking of “Vintage Racer” as a missile, it might be more apt to think of it as a hypersonic drone not all that unlike the SR-72 program we’ve written about on Sandboxx News before. The platform would enter contested airspace at speeds too high for intercept, deploy its loitering weapon system, and engage one or multiple targets that are identified once the weapon is already in the area. This capability is especially important when it comes to defending against long range ballistic missile launches like nuclear ICBMs employed by a number of America’s opponents, including Russia, China, and North Korea. These missiles are often launched via mobile platforms that move regularly in order to make it difficult to know where or when a nuclear missile launch may come from.

By the time a mobile launcher is identified by satellite or other forms of reconnaissance, there may not be enough time to deploy fighters, bombers, or other weapons to that site in order to stop a missile launch. However, a platform like “Vintage Racer” could feasible cruise into the general area of a launcher at speeds that most air defenses couldn’t stop. From there, it could deploy its loitering asset to locate and identify mobile missile launchers in the area–and then destroy those launchers with its included ordnance.

To further substantiate that possibility, Trimble points to a Russian defense technology expert who recently warned of just such an American platform.

“The fear is that [this] hypersonic ‘something’ might reach the patrol area of road-mobile ICBM launchers [after] penetrating any possible air and missile defense, and then dispense loitering submunitions that will find launchers in the forests,” said Dmitry Stefanovitch, an expert at the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council.

This weapon system was also briefly mentioned in Defense Department budget documents released this past February, but aside from calling the effort a success, few other details were included.

Theoretically, a platform like “Vintage Racer” could be used in a number of military operations other than preventing nuclear missile launches. By combining the extreme speed of a hypersonic missile with the loitering and air strike capabilities currently found in armed drones or UAVs, this new weapon could shift the tides of many a battle in America’s favor; from Iranian armed boat swarms, to Russian mobile missile launchers, and even as a form of rapid-delivery close-air-support for Special Operations troops. The potential implications of what may effectively be a Mach 5-capable unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) are far reaching.

In warfare, speed often dictates the outcome of an engagement–and “Vintage Racer” sounds like it has that in spades.

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

Articles

This is the rifle Vasily Zaytsev used to wage a one-man war in ‘Enemy at the Gates’

First used by the Russians in 1891, the Mosin-Nagant was modified from a standard service weapon to a sniper rifle in the 1930s. This five-shot, bolt-action rifle was a highly effective killing tool on the battlefield because of its sturdy construction and accuracy.


The Mosin-Nagant rifle typically weighs in at 8.8 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second — but the rifle is only as good as the man or woman who pulls its trigger.

During the Battle of Stalingrad, talented Russians snipers used the Mosin-Nagant PU version to wreak plenty of havoc against their Nazi adversaries. One of those talented sharpshooters was none other than the Soviet hero himself, Vasily Zaytsev.

Related: The 6 best Hollywood sniper shots ever

Zaytsev’s remarkable story was brought to life in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the  Gates” starring Jude Law.  As a young boy, he learned his expert marksmanship skills while hunting game and tracking wolves near his home in desolate Siberia.

In 1937, Zaytsev was recruited into the Red Army, volunteered to be transferred to the front lines and waged a one-man war against the Nazis and reportedly killed 250 enemy troops with his Mosin-Nagant.

The definitive guide to US special ops
The Hero of the Soviet Union Vasily Zaitsev (left)

Reportedly, Zaitsev was involved in a historical sniper duel with Maj. Konig, the former head of the German Army’s sniper school. During an afternoon of stalking one another, Zaitsev scored a righteous kill shot eliminating the German sniper from the war — using his famous Mosin-Nagant.

Roughly, 17 million Mosin–Nagant were produced during War World II, and its devastating 7.62 x 54R round is still used today in several Russian-made weapons.

Also Read: These 4 guns were used to make the longest sniper kills in history

Check out Lightning War 1941’s video to see this effective sniper rifle in action for yourself.

YouTube, LightningWar1941

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warriors In Their Own Words: SOG’s covert operations in Vietnam

The Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observations Group, now better known as SOG, was one of those true dark-arts units that hid dangerous men with dangerous jobs behind a boring name. The missions that these special operators, including a large number of U.S. Army green berets, undertook helped save the lives of infantrymen fighting across Vietnam.

Now, these warriors are telling their story.


The definitive guide to US special ops

Then-Sgt. Gary M. Rose, a member of Studies and Observations Group, is led away from a helicopter after heroic actions that would later net him a Medal of Honor.

(U.S. Army)

Warriors In Their Own Words, a podcast that captures the authentic stories of America’s veterans as they tell them, spoke with two members of the unit. You can enjoy their riveting tales in the episode embedded above — but make sure you carve out time for it. The episode is just over an hour, but once you start listening, you won’t want to stop.

J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy describe their harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam with the SOG, and they both tell amazing stories.

J.D. Bath was an early member of SOG, recruited after his entire team was killed in a helicopter crash. He tells of how his SOG team bought pipes, tobacco, and bourbon for local tribes to enlist their help. Later, he and his team came under fire from a U.S. helicopter that had no idea that Americans were so far behind enemy lines. Luckily, another U.S. aircraft threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it didn’t stop immediately.

Bill Deacy, on the other hand, survived multiple firefights and endured a bad case of malaria before ending up on the wrong part of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Special Forces soldiers planned an ambush against a small North Vietnamese force, and Deacy had no way of warning his men when he spotted a massive column of enemy soldiers approaching just as the ambush was being sprung.

These are incredible stories coming straight from the heroes who were there. We’ll be featuring a story each week, so keep your eyes peeled. If you can’t wait, Warriors In Their Own Words has a massive archive on their website.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Did F-35 testing for extreme weather conditions fall short?

More than 400 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are operating from 17 bases worldwide. From the near-Arctic region of Ørland, Norway, to a recent deployment in the Middle East, the fifth-generation jet is expanding its reach.

But a recent news report shows that weather conditions have some effect on the Pentagon’s stealthy fifth-gen fighter, raising concerns about its performance in extreme climate locations.

In a recent Defense News report series, the outlet obtained documents showing that cold weather triggered a battery sensor in an F-35 Lightning II in Alaska. While the battery was not affected, the weather “overwhelm[ed] the battery heater blanket” that protects it, prompting the sensor to issue a warning and causing the pilot to abort his mission and land immediately, Defense News said.


“We have already developed an update to the software and the battery’s heater control system to resolve this issue, and this updated software is available for users today to load on their aircraft in the event they will be conducting extreme cold weather operations,” Greg Ulmer, vice president of Lockheed’s F-35 aircraft production business, said in an interview with Military.com at the Paris Air Show, adding the update will be in new planes by 2021.

The definitive guide to US special ops

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II takes off during pre-Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)

The U.S. military anticipated taking the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 around the world, with partners and allies flying the plane in both hot and cold regions, including some that are changing.

“The [F-22 Raptor] and plenty of other aircraft have flown out [to Alaska] just fine for decades,” Rebecca Grant of IRIS Independent Research told Defense News. Grant is a former director of the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies at the Air Force Association. “The F-35 should have had all that sorted out in the climatic lab.”

Ulmer, however, said all necessary steps were taken in lab testing, and the issue identified was a normal part of the design and development process.

“You do the best you can relative to the engineering, understanding of the environment, to design the part. And then you actually perform, and [you realize] your model was off a little bit, so you have to tweak the design … to account for it,” Ulmer said. An F-35A from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was on static display here during the show.

“We’re confident in the F-35s performance in all weather conditions,” he said.

The battery issue was first discovered during extreme cold weather testing at -30 degrees and below at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in February 2018, he added.

Ulmer explained there are various tests points done before the plane heads to the McKinley Lab at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for robust experiments. The lab is responsible for high-range weather testing of military and commercial aircraft, munitions and weapons.

The definitive guide to US special ops

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Eglin Air Force Base.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III)

The lab’s refrigeration chamber can go as low as -70 degrees, lab chief Dwayne Bell told Military.com during a visit to the facility in 2017. He said at the time that the F-35 program had been one of the most expensive programs tested in the lab to date. There’s a wide range of testing costs, but they average roughly ,000 a day, he said.

It cost about million to test the Marine Corps’ B-model from the Patuxent River Integrated Test Force, Maryland, over a six-month period, Bell said.

The Lightning II was put through major weather testing — the lab can do everything but lightning strikes and tornadoes — such as wind, solar radiation, fog, humidity, rain intrusion/ingestion, freezing rain, icing cloud, icing build-up, vortex icing and snow. It handled temperatures ranging from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to -40 degrees, officials said in 2017.

But even testing at McKinley is limiting, Ulmer said.

“What doesn’t happen is that they don’t stay there a long time, so once we released [Block] 3F [software] capability, now the operational fleet can actually” test new extremes, he said, referring to both speed and temperature changes.

Defense News also found that supersonic speeds caused “bubbling and blistering” on the JSF’s low-observable stealth coating, and that hot environments impeded sufficient engine thrust to vertically land the Marine variant.

“So they take it” to new environments “and they expose it more than flight test exposed the airplane. I’m an old flight test guy. You expect to learn in the operational environment more than you do in the [developmental test] environment because you don’t necessarily fly the airplane [in that environment] all the time,” Ulmer said.

“So we learned a little bit, and you refine the design, and you solve it,” he said, adding that the design and maintenance tweaks are ongoing. “The probability of the issue reoccurring on aircraft in the operational fleet is very low and with minimal impact to safety of flight or operational performance.”

The definitive guide to US special ops

Two U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II 5th-generation fighters sit on the flight line during pre-initial Operational Testing and Evaluation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)

Thirteen Category 1 deficiencies were found and reported by operators, according to the for-official-use-only documents Defense News obtained. Cat 1 is a label for problems that would directly impact safety or the mission. Those ranged from coating fixes; pressure anomalies in the cockpit that gave pilots ear and sinus pain; and washed-out imagery in the helmet-mounted display, among others.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps each fly a variant of the aircraft designed for different scenarios, from landing on conventional runways on land, to catching arresting cables on aircraft carriers, to landing like a helicopter on amphibious assault ships.

Responding to the Defense News article series, Lockheed Martin said each deficiency “is well understood, already resolved or on a near-term path to resolution.”

“We’ve worked collaboratively with our customers, and we are fully confident in the F-35’s performance and the solutions in place to address each of the items identified,” the company said in a statement June 12, 2019.

Growing pains with new planes and weapons programs are common. But the F-35 program has been under scrutiny since its inception, mainly for cost-effectiveness and functionality. A new estimate suggests that operating and supporting fighters for the next 60-plus years will cost the government id=”listicle-2638937142″.196 trillion.

The older F-22 Raptor has had similar issues, especially with its stealth coating, which officials have said is more cumbersome to fix than the F-35, which was built with a more functional and durable coating in mind.

“The [low-observable] system has significantly improved on the F-35 when compared to the F-22,” Ulmer said June 18, 2019. “That’s all lessons learned from F-22, applied to F-35.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s how Marine Corps mortar crews get explosive rounds to fall right on top of an enemy over 1,000 meters away

CAMP PENDLETON, California — US Marine Corps 60 mm mortar teams can drop explosive rounds on their enemies from over 1,000 meters away, and Insider recently had the opportunity to watch them do it.

During a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Insider observed a mortar crew firing off multiple rounds using an M224 60 mm light mortar, which is a high-angle-of-fire weapon that can be drop- or trigger-fired.


The training was carried out as part of the latest iteration of Iron Fist, an exercise that involves various training evolutions leading up to a large amphibious assault.

Cpl. Kevin Rodriguez, an experienced mortarman who said he chose the mortar because he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, walked Insider through the ins and outs of firing a mortar and what it takes.

The definitive guide to US special ops

60 mm mortars are typically handled by a crew of Marines.

Mortar crews have a gunner, an assisting gunner (squad leader), and an ammunition man. The crew is often supported by a forward observer and a fire direction center.

When they’re on the move, the three main crew members divide the weapon components, like the gun, the bipod, the sight, and the baseplate, among themselves with no one person carrying the entire weapon.

A crew can set up or tear down a mortar in two minutes.

In combat, the team works together to put fire down range. Standard operating procedure is that the fire direction center first passes range data to the gunner, who puts that into the sight and manipulates the weapon accordingly.

The ammo bearer then hands a prepared round to the assisting gunner, who drops the live round on command. Teams practice every day for months to develop a flawless rhythm.

The 60 mm mortar can be fired on the ground or in a handheld configuration.

The definitive guide to US special ops

A lot of different considerations go into firing this weapon.

There is the gun. “You can breathe on it the wrong way, and it will be completely off,” Rodriguez told Insider.

There is the round. Mortar crews can set it to burst in the air, explode on impact, or detonate a few seconds after impact, giving it the ability to penetrate a bunker.

Then there is figuring out exactly how to get the round to the target, and that involves different range calculations, as well as considerations like temperature, wind speed, and drift, among other things.

Weather is also an important factor. Rain, even light rain, for example, can result in wet charges, making a misfire or the firing of a short round more likely and risking a friendly-fire situation. There are covers to help protect the weapon and the rounds from the elements.

There are two different methods Marine mortar teams use to effectively target an enemy.

Range calculations are estimations at best. An experienced mortarman can eyeball the distance to his target, but it tends to take a few shots to get rounds falling in the right spot.

The quickest and most effective targeting approach is called bracketing. Mortar crews fire behind or in front of a target and then split the distance in half until rounds are coming down on the target.

Or, as Insider watched a crew do at Camp Pendleton, Marine mortar crews can use creeping fire to target an enemy, inching closer to the target with each round. This is not as fast as bracketing and requires more rounds, about five or six.

But creeping fire can be a pretty good option when you’re dealing with a lot of dead space, terrain features that make range estimates harder.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e4c31f24b661b0dbf6b6682%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=45&h=81c3826819c3ba02f2b7bda0f3130d08761438bde2cc1dfa10a6d88e6f1dc6c8&size=980x&c=1715486451 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e4c31f24b661b0dbf6b6682%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D45%26h%3D81c3826819c3ba02f2b7bda0f3130d08761438bde2cc1dfa10a6d88e6f1dc6c8%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1715486451%22%7D” expand=1]

A close-up shot of the three main crew members as the round exits the tube.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Robert Kuehn

A mortar section usually has three guns delivering damage to a large area.

Mortars set the conditions for other units by keeping bigger threats at bay.

The mortar crews are tasked with “taking out the bigger targets, or at least keeping their heads down long enough for the machine guns to start suppressing enemies,” Rodriguez said. “The [other infantry units] are more the cleanup. They can move from one place to another.”

During the training at Camp Pendleton, the mortars practiced pinning down light armor while crews with M240 machine guns put fire on targets from a nearby ridge.

The mortars and the machine guns cleared the way for several infantry squads to maneuver into position. Each mortar round has a casualty radius of about 25 meters.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pentagon urges US to lead in 5G technology

The next advancement in cellular technology, 5G, is expected to be so fast that it’s able to surpass the speed of wired internet now provided by cable companies.

Current 4G technology provides download speeds of about 1 gigabit per second. With 5G technology, download speeds are expected to increase to 20 gigabits per second, said Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord spoke yesterday at the Atlantic Council here to discuss the Defense Department’s efforts to advance 5G technology in the United States and to ensure that when 5G does make its debut, it’s secure enough to transmit information between U.S. military personnel and its allies without being intercepted by potential adversaries.


U.S. and allies must take lead

That means the U.S. and its allies will need to take the lead in developing this next generation of telecommunications technology, she said.

“When we talk about 5G, everything is going to be moving over it, eventually,” Lord said. “What we need to do is make sure how that information is moving, and how you can get at it, and how you can keep it secure.”

The definitive guide to US special ops

Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord likened development of the 5G infrastructure and technology to that of a new home. She said new home owners certainly would want to know that whoever built their home, wired it for electricity, installed the communications systems, or installed the doors and windows hadn’t also built in a way for them to sneak back into that house undetected after the new owners had moved in.

“That’s where we are with 5G,” Lord said. “If we are going to run our entire warfighting ecosystem though communications — which is where we are today — we need to make sure that when we send a critical message that others aren’t hearing it. We need to be able to test that.”

On the modern battlefield, and on the battlefield of the foreseeable future, communications is going to play a critical role, Lord said. Information must flow between mounted and dismounted soldiers, from ships at sea and from those under the sea, as well as to space and aircraft.

“In order to get relevant situational understanding, we are trading information back and forth all the time,” she said. “What will happen is, if we do not embrace 5G, and we are just getting going in 4G in a lot of areas, we are going to have a latency or a delay in those conversations that could render everything we have as ineffective.”

U.S. industry and partners must provide advancements

Advancements in 5G must come from U.S. industry and U.S. partners to be trustworthy and reliable, Lord said.

The definitive guide to US special ops

The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

“Right now there is quite an intensive dialogue going on to understand where in Europe we might partner,” Lord said. “And there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the threat that we see by the Chinese — theft of intellectual property — coming into our networks. We have to collectively decide how we are technically going to secure our networks — how we legislatively have to have protection.”

Lord said a whole-of-government approach is needed to get a handle on 5G. The State, Treasury and Commerce departments and the National Security Council should be involved along with DOD, she said.

“I think you are going to see a huge call to action this year to come together with really what is almost a national industrial policy for 5G, because the stakes are high,” Lord added. “5G from a technology point of view is a huge opportunity, but it’s a huge threat.

“If we don’t embrace it and apply it towards our goals, we could be overcome quickly with technical overmatch,” she continued. “And we can’t allow that to happen. … We have a warfighting imperative. If we cannot communicate as quickly, or quicker than our adversaries, if we cannot have situational understanding as to what is happening on the battlefield, then we are going to be in a position where our national security is threatened.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why this Russian helicopter is often the top ranked in the world

Best attack helicopter in the world? America built the first dedicated attack helicopter, the AH-1, and variants of it are still flying. So maybe that one? Or perhaps the MH-47s from Vietnam, highly modified cargo helicopters loaded with guns? Or America’s premiere, the AH-64 Apache, which can be equipped with air-to-air missiles? They’re all great, but there’s a surprisingly strong case for Russia’s Ka-52.


The definitive guide to US special ops

The navalized Ka-52K has folding rotor blades and can carry an anti-ship missile capable of taking out tanker ships.

(Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Ka-52, in a nutshell, is an attack helicopter with a top speed of 196 mph, an 18,000-foot ceiling, and a 683-mile range. It can carry a few kinds of anti-tank missiles, an anti-aircraft missile, 80mm unguided rockets, and a 30mm main gun. It can also carry a dedicated anti-ship missile, the Kh-35 in its Uran configuration.

And a few of those stats make the Ka-52 seem way better than the Apache or other attack helicopters on paper. For one, the Ka-52’s anti-tank missiles can penetrate slightly deeper than the Apache’s Hellfire missile. Missiles are generally measured these days by how much armor they can pierce after getting past the explosive armor on an enemy tank.

The Hellfire can pierce a reported 800mm of armor by that measurement. But the Ka-52’s ATAKA can tear through 950mm, and the Vikhr can pierce 1,000mm of armor. But the Ka-52’s engines and wing mounts are limited, and so it can carry only 12 missiles against the Apache’s 16.

But the Hellfire’s penetration is still enough to pierce most any tank the Army is going to fly against, and its almost 5-mile range is much better than the ATAKA can do, but admittedly a little shorter than Vikhr which can fly almost 7.5 miles, reportedly.

The definitive guide to US special ops

An armament diagram shows the weapons the Ka-52 can carry. Those last two diagrams under the center hardpoints of each wing are the missile racks. The helicopter can carry up to six anti-tank missiles from each of the two center hardpoints for a total of 12.

(KPoJluK2008, CC BY-SA 3.0)

So the anti-tank situation is basically a wash. Ka-52 has the edge if you need to penetrate some seriously hardened structures like good bunkers or kill stuff from further away, but the Apache can kill 33 percent more stuff with its missile armament than the Ka-52 can.

The Ka-52 does have one clear missile advantage in that it can carry a dedicated anti-ship missile, the KH-35. The Hellfire and its 16-pound warhead can be pressed into anti-ship service, but the Kh-35 has a much larger warhead at 320 pounds and an obscenely longer range at 80 miles. Basically, the Hellfire can take out small craft at short ranges, but a Kh-35 launched from Richmond, Virginia, can take out a tanker floating in Norfolk’s harbor.

Another small point in the Ka-52’s favor is that its rockets are a bit larger at 80mm instead of 70mm.

So you can give an armament edge to the Ka-52, and it is slightly faster at 186 mph instead of 173. But the Apache can fly 1,180 miles in straight and level flight against a mere 683 for the Ka-52. And it can fly higher, reaching 21,000 feet while the Ka-52 runs out of air at just over 18,000 feet.

And that 3,000-foot change can make a big difference in places like Afghanistan, but it also means that Apaches could protect American soldiers on Russia’s Mount Elbrus while the Ka-52 flitted uselessly well below.

So, yeah, the Ka-52 is a great helicopter. It can carry a wide range of weapons, it’s fast, and it has a decent range and flight ceiling. And if you ever have to fly against it or fight under it, watch out. Especially if you’re on a boat within 80 miles. It’s easy to see why the Ka-52 takes the top spot in a lot of lists.

But in most missions most of the time, the Apache is better. Oh, and the newest Apaches can bring drone sidekicks to the fight, something Russia’s bird can’t do. So expect it to climb to most people’s top spots over the next few years.

And that’s without addressing the potential for an armed version of the SB-1 Defiant or V-280 Valor emerging from the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Program. If either of those gets armed in the coming decades, expect them to carry more weight, fly at higher altitudes, and faster speeds than any other attack helicopter in the world, with a flight range that’s equal to or better than what’s out there now.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army bars soldiers from using TikTok on government phones

The US Army has barred its soldiers from using TikTok following mounting fears from US lawmakers that the Chinese tech company could pose a national security threat.

Military.com was the first to report the new policy decision, which is a reversal of the Army’s earlier stance on the popular short-form video app.


A spokeswoman told Military.com that the US Army had come to consider TikTok a “cyberthreat” and that “we do not allow it on government phones.” The US Navy took a similar decision to bar the app from government phones last month.

The definitive guide to US special ops

(U.S. Navy Photo by Gary Nichols)

TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, and its links to Beijing have prompted intense scrutiny from US politicians as the app’s popularity has skyrocketed. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York successfully requested an Army investigation into the app’s handling of user data in November, and numerous reports have emerged of the platform censoring content it thinks could anger the Chinese government.

TikTok has strenuously denied any allegations of Chinese state influence, and in its first transparency report claimed that China had made zero censorship requests in the first half of 2019.

Numerous reports have surfaced that the company is exploring strategies for distancing itself from its Chinese roots, including a US rebrand, building a headquarters outside China, and selling off a majority stake in its business.

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

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