NATIONAL HARBOR, Md — In comments that conjure up dystopian images of a future dominated by robot soldiers controlled by Skynet, researchers with the Pentagon’s futuristic think tank said they are working on better ways to merge the rapid decision making of computers with the analytical capabilities of humans.
In fact, scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency, or DARPA, are even looking into advanced neuroscience in hopes of one day merging computerized artificial intelligence with the human brain.
“I think the future [of] warfighting is going to look a lot more like less incredibly smart people working with more incredibly smart machines,” said DARPA Deputy Director Steve Walker during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference here. “And how those two things come together is going to define how we move forward.”
Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, conduct cyber operations in support of the command and control of Air Force network operations and the joint requirements of Air Forces Cyber, the Air Force component of U.S. Cyber Command. The 624th OC is the operational arm of the 24th Air Force, and benefits from lessons learned during exercises such as Cyber Flag 13-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)
Walker said researchers are already finding ways to help machines better collaborate with human operators. Computers do a good job of spitting out answers, he explained, but people want to know how that machine arrived at its answer.
The so-called “Explainable AI” research program is geared toward helping a human operator have confidence in the answer the machine gives him.
“Machine, don’t just give me how correct you think the answer is, tell me how you got to that answer — explain to me the reasoning, the decision making you went through to get to that answer,” Walker described the thinking behind the project. “We’re creating more of a trust between the human and the machine and we’ve given them the ability to use machines where they make sense.”
While Walker sees more machines working with fewer troops on future battlefields, he doesn’t see a world where artificial intelligence takes over.
Beyond advances in artificial intelligence, Walker said DARPA is investing a lot of research into so-called “hypersonic” technology, which describes vehicles that can fly between Mach 5 and Mach 10.
The X-51A Waverider is set to demonstrate hypersonic flight. Powered by a Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine, it is designed to ride on its own shockwave and accelerate to about Mach 6. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog close air support attack plane over the years, but their latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.
As it stands, the Air Force wants to purchase or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.
First, they’d pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X, (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counter-insurgency missions, are possible options.
The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat air spaces to support the tank-buster, however this option appears to make little sense.
A sub-sonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air support duties in much the same way a World War II era platform could, but it’s a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air defense systemsbecoming increasingly prominent in today’s battle spaces.
Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10’s CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat level environments.
So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn’t.
The Air Force expects a “bow-wave” of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can’t be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air dominance platform.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News, “everything has a price tag … If something goes in, something else has to fall out.”
Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, noted to Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.
“If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I’m responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don’t know where the money would come from,” Carlisle said. “And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there’s other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform.”
Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or “permissive” airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.
“Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there’s going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there,” he said.
“The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I’m working my way through whether that’s a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources.”
Furthermore, the Air Force’s proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.
Air Force General Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15 could fly the A-10’s missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force’s two-new-plane proposal.
The Pentagon, on Aug. 30, sharply raised its estimate of the number of US troops currently in Afghanistan, ahead of a decision on adding thousands more under President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the war-wracked country.
Pentagon Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said a comprehensive review showed that there were approximately 11,000 uniformed US servicemen and women in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has said previously that there were roughly 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan, under a cap set during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Military officials have long quietly acknowledged there were far more forces in the country than the cap allowed, but commanders shuffled troops in and out, labeled many “temporary,” and used other personnel-accounting tactics to artificially keep the public count low.
“This is not a troop increase,” but rather an effort to be more transparent about the total size of the US force, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.
The new count, which includes temporary and covert units as well as regular forces, was made to establish the basis for an increase in troops — possibly by around 4,000 — under Trump’s revised strategy to better support Afghan troops in the fight against the Taliban.
On January 17, 1991, seven months after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded and tried to annex neighboring Kuwait, the world decided it had enough. Operation Desert Storm was launched that day, and Saddam was smacked down by a coalition of 39 countries.
Conducting this epic assault required bringing in Western airpower to destroy Hussein’s formidable armored corps of over 4,000 tanks. To open the way for other planes and choppers, eight Apaches and two Pave Low helicopters flew to Iraqi air defense sites and unleashed dozens of Hellfire missiles.
The sites and their operators were destroyed by the onslaught. See actual footage from the raid in this video from the Smithsonian Channel.
For more than forty years, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has served as the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet, but one year before the first F-16 entered service, the team behind its development had already developed a better F-16, in the F-16XL. The fighter was so capable, in fact, that it went from being nothing more than a technology demonstrator to serving as legitimate competition for the venerable F-15E in the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Ultimately, it would lose out to the F-15E based on production cost and redundancy of systems, but many still contend that the F-16XL was actually the better platform.
While that assertion may be subject to debate, there’s little debate as to whether the F-16XL could have been one of the most capable 4th generation fighters on the planet.
SCAMP: The Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype
In 1977, some three years after the first F-16 took to the skies and one year before it would enter service, its designer began work on what would come to be called the F-16 SCAMP, or the Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype. The effort wasn’t about fielding another production fighter–General Dynamics had no intention of trying to sell SCAMP once it was complete. Instead, the entire premise behind the program was to quickly (and cheaply) field a platform they could use to test the concept behind supersonic cruising, or as we’ve come to call it today, “supercruising.”
While that may sound like a capability found only on Transformers or Harleys so expensive only lawyers can buy them, the idea behind supercruising was simple, even if its execution was complex. Modern fighters like the F-16 all come equipped with afterburners they can use to dramatically increase the amount of thrust their engine produces, but it comes at a serious cost. Using the afterburner to break the sound barrier and then sustain that speed depletes an aircraft’s fuel very quickly, but if a jet could kill the afterburner at supersonic speeds and still maintain them, it would mean covering more ground at high speed, while still having enough fuel left over for a fight and the return trip home.
“I remember flying in an F-16 in afterburner while supersonic over the Yellow Sea and looking down to see a fuel-flow rate of over 50,000 lbs per hour,” F-16 and F-35 pilot Justin “Hasard” Lee explained in a piece for Sandboxx News.
“To put that into perspective, that’s similar to a fire-hose operating fully open—and that’s just a single engine. A twin-engine jet such as the F-15 or F-22 can double that. The problem is, topped off, I could only carry 7,000 pounds of fuel which was enough for me to fly at that fuel-setting for less than 10 minutes.”
In order to accomplish their goal, the F-16 design would require a pretty thorough revamp. First, the wings were modified to incorporate a cranked-arrow wing shape, creating 25% more lift while allowing for effective control at both high and low speeds. Working in conjunction with NASA (and using the company’s own funds), engineer Harry Hillaker, the same man responsible for the original F-16 design, experimented repeatedly with slightly different iterations of the wings until they came to a version they referred to as Model 400.
This new wing design, which saw a 50-degree angle near the root of the wing for supersonic performance and a 70-degree angle where the wings extended for subsonic handling, offered more than double the surface area of the F-16’s wings. Incredibly, Hillaker and his team were able to manage that without any increase in drag on the airframe–thanks to more than 3,600 hours of wind tunnel testing.
This new design wasn’t necessarily practical, with all-moving wingtips and an all-moving vertical tail meant for control that performed poorly at low speeds. The wing design also didn’t allow for any hardpoints to mount bombs or missiles.
However, impractical as it may have been for a tactical fighter, the new wing design led to a significant increase in fuel range–and that increase could be further bolstered by leveraging the massive amount of internal space these new wings offered.
The F-16 SCAMP becomes the F-16XL
Citing the promising results of the F-16 SCAMP effort, the U.S. Air Force chose to buy into the idea of an even-more capable version of the F-16. They provided Hillaker with two early F-16 airframes for conversion into a SCAMP-like design they dubbed the F-16XL. Although this new jet would be largely based on the existing F-16, the changes were dramatic, including two fuselage sections added near the front and back of the aircraft, increasing its length by some 56 inches. The cranked-arrow wings that had proven so effective in SCAMP were also added, along with a new form of wing skin made using carbon fiber that saved some 600 pounds in the design.
Those massive wings, now fully realized, gave the F-16XL a nearlydoubled fuel capacity, and the additional lift coupled with 633 square feet of underwing space to leverage allowed for the addition of an astonishing 27 hardpoints for ordnance. Remarkably, the F-16XL seemed to outperform its smaller predecessor in nearly every way, prompting the Air Force to take an interest in the idea of actually building this new iteration fighter.
“To say that Hillaker’s design team achieved its objectives is an understatement,” wrote F. Clifton Berry Jr. in 1983. Berry was an Air Force veteran and the editor-in-chief of Air Force Magazine at the time.
As Berry pointed out, an F-16XL conducting an air-to-surface mission could carry twice the payload of the standard F-16 and still fly as much as 44% further–all without external fuel tanks and while carrying a full suite of air-to-air weapons (four AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders) for the fighter to defend itself. If you were to equip the F-16XL with the exact same payload as an F-16A on such a mission, the F-16XL could fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor.
But it wasn’t just about extended range and added payload. The F-16XL was capable of supersonic speeds at high or low altitudes, all while carrying its mighty payload, and had no trouble climbing quickly with bombs underwing. And even despite the added wing, fuel, and ordnance loads, the aircraft still somehow managed to fly 83 knots faster than the F-16 using military power at sea level, and more than 300 knots faster on afterburner at high altitudes, even while carrying a full bomb load.
“With the heavy bomb load aboard, the F-16XL is cleared for maneuvers up to +7.2 Gs, compared with 5.58 Gs in the F-16A,” Berry wrote. “This demonstrates how the designers were able to increase the aircraft weight while maintaining structural integrity and mission performance.”
All that time in the wind tunnel clearly paid off for the F-16XL design.
The F-16XL takes on the F-15E
General Dynamics ultimately built two prototype F-16XLs for testing, but as testing progressed, it was clear that this new iteration of the F-16 design was worth more than simply demonstrating technology. In search of a useful place to put the new jet’s capabilities, the Air Force decided to enter it into the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) competition, which aimed to field a capable replacement for the F-111 Aardvark.
“The F-16XL flight-test program has conclusively demonstrated that the XL performs as predicted. This performance level represents a significant increase in mission capability for USAF,” D. Randall Kent, Vice President and Program Director for the General Dynamics F-16XL program, said at the time.
“Coupling this with the affordability and low risk of the F-16XL presents USAF with a viable way to increase mission capability while simultaneously growing to a forty-wing TAC force structure.”
Soon, the ETF program changed names to the Dual-Role Fighter program–but despite the shift in titles, the goal was the same: To field an aircraft capable of penetrating deep into enemy airspace for interdiction missions without the need for fighter escorts. The F-16XL, with its significant fuel range, good performance, and hardpoints for 27 weapons, seemed like a perfect fit for the job… But it wasn’t the only aircraft competing for the contract. Standing between the F-16XL and operational service was another highly capable platform: The F-15E Strike Eagle.
Like the F-16XL, the Strike Eagle was a modified version of an existing fighter: The F-15 Eagle. The Eagle represented America’s top-of-the-line air superiority fighter, boasting an undefeated record in dogfights that holds to this very day. Unlike the F-16XL, however, the F-15E shared the vast majority of its design with the two-seater F-15D that was already in production.
There was no doubt that the F-16XL would likely be the more expensive option, thanks to its significant design departure from the F-16 it was based on. But it also offered a great deal of capability. Its massive wings made it more stable than the F-16 it was based on, while its wind-tunnel-tested design made all that wing area serve no detriment to the fighter’s handling.
“We climbed at more than 20,000 feet per minute, leaping from 4,000 to 27,000 feet in sixty-seven seconds. Jim eased the power back while turning into the supersonic corridor and getting cleared by Edwards Control to begin a supersonic run,” F. Clifton Berry wrote after riding in the F-16XL.
“Jim applied afterburner and the aircraft accelerated smoothly from Mach 0.95 through 1.0 and to 1.2 in seconds. Even with the heavy bomb load aboard, the aircraft went supersonic without a tremble. Handling characteristics at mach 1.2 with the heavy ordnance load were remarkably similar to those of the standard F-16 without bombs.”
The F-15E, on the other hand, offered only 15 hardpoints–which it’s important to note, is still a lot. The F-15E also delivered a higher top speed (Mach 2.5 versus 2.05) and a higher service ceiling at 60,000 feet (compared to the F-16XL’s 50,000). Most importantly, however, the F-15E leveraged not one, but two engines. Because these aircraft were intended to fly deep into enemy airspace without much support, the Air Force believed it was likely that these planes would see a great deal of anti-aircraft fire. Having two engines meant one could be damaged by enemy fire, but the aircraft could still limp home on the other.
The F-16XL may have been one of the most capable fighters to never make it into production
It was likely the perceived survivability of two engines, in conjunction with the lower cost of development, that saw the F-15E win the contract. But many within the Air Force saw the F-15E’s win as bittersweet. The Strike Eagle was indeed an incredibly capable platform, but the F-16XL’s fans felt as though the fighter wasn’t meant to compete with the Strike Eagle, so much as support it–much like the F-16 and F-15 support one another today. Like the YF-23 that lost to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the F-16XL has since been remembered as an aircraft that might have been better than the jet we ultimately got… with concerns about dollars and cents making the decision, rather than maximum capability.
Of course, that may not be an entirely fair assessment. The F-16XL was indeed a capable aircraft, but the F-15E has since proven itself in combat time and time again. The Strike Eagle was clearly not a bad choice, but with the F-16XL’s incredible chops in mind, there could be little doubt that the Air Force would have been better off with both of these capable fighters in their stable… if only money truly were no object.
Instead of fighting alongside the Strike Eagle as many hoped, the F-16XL program found its way to NASA, where both prototypes participated in a number of aeronautical research projects. In fact, some of the tests conducted using the F-16XL would go on to play a role in developing the supercruise capability for America’s top-tier air superiority fighter of today, the F-22 Raptor.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was looking for transports. They needed these transports to support their numerous airborne divisions. By the Cold War’s end, the Soviets had six airborne divisions but historically, they had as many as 15 active airborne divisions, which makes for a lot to move.
They also had the same need for tactical airlift to supply personnel. While the United States met that need with the C-130 Hercules, the Soviets turned to the Antonov design bureau to address their needs. The plane that emerged was the An-12, nicknamed the “Cub” by NATO.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the An-12 can reach a speed of 480 miles per hour and has a maximum range of 3,540 miles. It can carry up to 60 paratroopers or two BMD airborne armored fighting vehicles. It was in production for sixteen years and 1,248 airframes were produced.
What distinguishes the Soviet-designed plane from the C-130 is that some variations of the An-12 sport a twin 23mm turret. The other big difference is the accident rate. Aviation-Safety.net reports that of the 1,248 Cubs produced, 232 have been lost in accidents. By comparison, that same site notes that 353 C-130-type transports (including the civilian-model L-100) have been lost in accidents out of the more than 2,500 airframes.
China also has a version of the Cub known as the Y-8, a pirated design that was reverse-engineered after the Sino-Soviet split in the last 1960s. According to FlightGlobal.com, China has over 100 Y-8s in service, including airborne early-warning, maritime reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare variants. China also has the Y-9, a stretched version, with seven airframes in service.
You can see a video about this Russian ripoff of the Hercules below. That said, if you need a tactical transport, an An-12 “Cub” is not the way to go. Just buy a real C-130.
China’s most advanced stealth fighter is ready for aerial refueling operations, giving it the ability to pursue targets at greater distances, according to Chinese state media.
The “fifth-generation” Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter entered military service in 2017 and was incorporated into Chinese combat units in February 2018. This aircraft, the pride of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, put on quite a show at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, where it showed off its payload of missiles for the first time publicly while rocking a new paint job.
China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster, revealed recently that the aircraft has been equipped with a retractable refueling probe, which is embedded on the right side of the cockpit. The refueling probe was embedded to help the fighter maintain stealth, something with which the J-20 has struggled. A consistently-exposed probe extending from the fuselage would make the J-20 much more visible to enemy radar systems.
Four of the six onboard missiles are stored internally in a missile bay, a design feature intended to make the J-20 more stealthy, Chinese military experts told China’s Global Times.
The two Chengdu J-20s making their first public appearance.
Although the exact range of the Chinese stealth fighter, nicknamed the “Powerful Dragon,” is unknown, the aircraft has a suspected combat radius of roughly 1,100 kilometers, making it suitable for long-range strikes and intercepts. With aerial refueling capabilities, the J-20 can extend its reach, giving China the ability to better patrol the disputed waterways where it desires to exercise authority.
The J-20 could be refueled by a Chinese HU-6 aerial tanker.
The J-20’s chief designer says the world has yet to see the best that the aircraft has to offer, stressing that certain capabilities were unable to be presented at the recent airshow.
Chinese experts argue that the J-20 as a combat platform superior to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, two elite fighters which have both been tested in combat. The J-20 has only taken part in combat training exercises. Furthermore, while the J-20 was expected to receive a new engine, the technology remains unreliable, the South China Morning Post recently reported.
The J-20 continues to rely on either Russian imports or inferior Chinese engines, which have, according to some observers, prevented China from achieving the kind of all-aspect stealth of which a true fifth-generation fighter should be capable. The J-20 has decent front-end stealth, but it is noticeably less stealthy at different angles.
The J-20 was rushed into production, but as China works some of the kinks out, it could potentially lead to the development of a much more lethal and effective aircraft.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At the time of its launch, the German battleship Bismarck, the namesake of the 19th century German chancellor responsible for German unification, was easily the most powerful warship in World War II Europe, displacing over 50,000 tons when fully loaded and crewed by over 2,200 men. She had a fearsome armament of 8 15-inch guns alongside 56 smaller cannons, and her main armor belt was over a foot of rolled steel. Her top speed of over 30 knots made her one of the fastest battleships afloat.
The German Kriegsmarine was never going to have the numbers to confront Great Britain’s vast surface fleet, but the German strategy of attacking merchant shipping using U-boats, fast attack cruisers and light battleships had been bearing fruit. A ship as fast and powerful as the Bismarck raiding convoys could do horrendous damage and make a bad supply situation for Great Britain even worse.
The Bismarck was launched with great fanfare on on March 14, 1939, with Otto von Bismarck’s granddaughter in attendance and Adolf Hitler himself giving the christening speech. Extensive trials confirmed that the Bismarck was fast and an excellent gunnery platform, but that it’s ability to turn using only it’s propellers was minimal at best. This design flaw was to have disastrous consequences later.
The German plan was to team the Bismarck with its sister ship Tirpitz alongside the two light battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. This fast attack force would be able to outgun anything it could not outrun, and outrun anything it could not outgun. Pursuing convoys across the North Atlantic, the task force might finally push the beleaguered merchant marine traffic to Great Britain over the edge.
But as usually happens in war, events put a crimp in plans. Construction of the Tirpitz faced serious delays, while the Scharnhorst was torpedoed and bombed in port and the Gneisenau needed serious boiler overhauls. The heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper that might have served in their place also needed extensive repairs that were continually delayed by British bombing. In the end, the Bismarck sortied with only the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and a few destroyers and minesweepers on May 19, 1941, with the mission termed Operation Rheinübung.
Great Britain had ample intelligence on the Bismark through its contacts in the supposedly neutral Swedish Navy, and Swedish aerial reconnaissance quickly spotted the sortie and passed on the news. The British swiftly put together a task force to confront the threat. After docking in Norway, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen headed towards towards the North Atlantic and the convoy traffic between North America and Great Britain.
They swiftly found themselves shadowed by British cruisers, and in the Denmark Strait were confronted by the famed battle cruiser Hood and the heavy battleship Prince of Wales. After a short, furious exchange of fire a round from the Bismarck hit one of Hood’s main powder magazines, blowing the ship in half and sinking it in a matter of moments. Only three of 1,419 crew members survived. This was followed by a direct hit to the bridge of the Prince of Wales that left only the captain and one other of the command crew alive, and after further damage it was forced to withdrawal.
The handy defeat of two of its most prized warships stunned the British navy, but the Bismarck did not emerge unscathed. A hit from the Prince of Wales had blown a large hole in one of it’s fuel bunkers, contaminating much of its fuel with seawater and rendering it useless. The British scrambled every ship it had in the area in pursuit, and the Bismarck continued to be shadowed by cruisers and aircraft. The Prinz Eugen was detached for commerce raiding while the Bismarck headed to port in occupied France for repairs, trading distant fire with British cruisers.
Even damaged, the Bismarck was faster than any heavy British ship, and it took bombers from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal to bring it to heel. A torpedo hit on the Bismarck’s stern left her port rudder jammed, leaving the Bismarck to loop helplessly, and a large British surface task force closed in. Adm. Günther Lütjens, the Bismarck’s senior officer, sent a radio message to headquarters stating that they would fight to the last shell.
Unable to maneuver for accurate targeting, the Bismarck’s guns were largely useless, and British ships pounded it mercilessly, inflicting hundreds of hits and killing Lütjens alongside most of the command staff. After the Bismarck was left a shattered wreck, it’s senior surviving officer ordered it’s scuttling charges detonated to avoid its capture, but damaged communications meant much of the crew did not get the word. When it finally capsized and slipped beneath the waves, only 114 of a crew of more than 2,200 made it off alive.
The Bismarck was one of the most powerful machines of war produced in World War II, and it generated real panic in a Great Britain that possessed a far more powerful surface fleet than Germany. But in the end, the Bismarck fell prey to the same weapon that doomed the concept of battleships: Aircraft.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Senior Airman Justin Mattoni and Staff Sgt. Devon Childress, weapons load technicians assigned to the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, conduct a cross-load Feb. 22, 2016, during exercise Cope North 16 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Cope North 16 included 22 flying units and nearly 3,000 personnel from six countries and continued the growth of strong, interoperable and beneficial relationships within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region through integration of airborne and land-based command and control assets.
Senior Airman Noah Lindquist, a 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, tests his night vision goggles in the back of a C-130J Super Hercules before a sortie at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2016. Loadmasters are responsible for calculating aircraft weight, balancing records and cargo manifests, conducting cargo and personnel airdrops, scanning for threats, and troubleshooting in-flight problems.
An F-35A Lightning II parks for the night under the sunshades at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 18, 2016. The F-35s’ combat capabilities are being tested through an operational deployment test at Mountain Home AFB range complexes.
Soldiers assigned to the Alaska National Guard, board a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter after completing a day of avalanche training in Snowhawk Valley, Alaska, Feb. 20, 2016.
A soldier attached to The 7th Special Forces Group, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, conducts reconnaissance during a live-fire exercise at Twentynine Palms, Calif., Feb. 17, 2016.
An Army Chinook helicopter crew, assigned to 25th Infantry Division, transports Soldiers assigned to 2nd Infantry Division (Official Page), during a combined arms live-fire exercise, part of Exercise Cobra Gold, at Ban Chan Khrem, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2016.
WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2016) An undated file photo of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr. Byers will be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama during a White House ceremony Feb. 29. Byers is receiving the medal for his actions during a 2012 rescue operation in Afghanistan. Uniform insignia has been digitally removed from this photo for security reasons.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 25, 2016) Sailors operate a connected replenishment station in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during an ammunition offload with Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE 6). Theodore Roosevelt is currently off the coast of southern California conducting carrier qualifications.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 24, 2016) Sailors assigned to Weapons department transport RIM-7P NATO sea sparrow missiles in the hangar bay aboard amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). More than 4,500 Sailors and Marines from Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) team are currently transiting the Pacific Ocean toward the U.S 7th Fleet area of operations during a scheduled deployment.
U.S., Royal Thai and Republic of Korea Reconnaissance Marines conduct helocasting during an amphibious capabilities demonstration at Hat Yao beach, Rayong, Thailand, during exercise Cobra Gold 16, Feb. 11, 2016. CG16 increases cooperation, interoperability and collaboration among partner nations in order to achieve effective solutions to common challenges.
A Multi-Purpose Canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), prepares for Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, California, Feb. 9, 2016. MARSOC specializes in direct action, special reconnaissance and foreign internal defense and has also been directed to conduct counter-terrorism, and information operations.
A U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter kicks up snow at Vaernes, Norway, Feb. 22, 2016, as 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade prepares for Exercise Cold Response. All aircraft with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (-) Reinforced, the Air Combat Element of 2d MEB, were dismantled at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and flown to Norway in U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxies to provide air support during the exercise. Cold Response 16 is a combined, joint exercise comprised of 12 NATO allies and partnered nations and approximately 16,000 troops.
Search and rescue canine.
The cutter cleared a path, allowing research to continue at the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Scientists have claimed that computers would replace humans in the cockpit for some time, but artificial intelligence simply hadn’t reached the point where it could compete successfully against a human opponent.
But now, at least in simulators, it has. ALPHA, the AI, bested a retired Air Force fighter pilot repeatedly while running on a tiny, cheap Rasberry Pi computer that is often used to teach children coding basics.
Retired Air Force Col. Gene “Geno” Lee helped guide ALPHA’s programming and flew against ALPHA in a series of air battles in a computer simulator, battles that he lost every time when flying against the mature version of ALPHA.
At first, ALPHA was being used as a tool to create better simulators for training pilots and testing tactics. ALPHA took control of “Red” fighters flying against a “Blue” force. Red typically held a numerical advantage while Blue typically had a technological advantage with longer range missiles, a larger payload, and an AWACS flying in support.
The AWACS is a radar system that gave Blue forces better situational awareness and targeting data.
In the initial matchups, ALPHA’s Red team won more than it lost but took heavy losses. Then Lee and the programmers at Psibernetix, the company that created ALPHA, began making adjustments to its programming and ALPHA begin to win. Soon, it won every engagement.
So, Lee decided to take control of a Blue fighter personally to try and give the other team an advantage. He flew engagement after engagement against ALPHA.
ALPHA won every fight and, whenever Lee stayed in the air for a protracted period, Lee was shot down.
Lee told the researchers that ALPHA was “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI (he’s) seen-to-date.”
Lee later told UC Magazine reporter M.B. Reilly that, after flying missions against ALPHA, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”
Now, ALPHA does have some advantages of its own. First, it utilizes a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system. GFT systems work closer to the way a human brain works than most computers. Rather than try to calculate every variable when computing a solution, it keeps track of key bits of data and forms generalities.
But it can form decisions based on those generalities 250 times faster than a human can blink. When controlling four aircraft, it can take in all available sensor data, create a new plan of action, and adjust each jet’s controls to implement that plan every 6.5 milliseconds.
This allows ALPHA to constantly choreograph the jets’ movements to cover one another. If one pair of Red planes are forced to evade and are in danger, ALPHA can direct a second pair to move into position on the attackers instantly.
Researchers believe that if ALPHA was split among two computers, one handling sensor data and the other computing actions, ALPHA could adjust its plans and adjust flight paths 1,100 times per second.
The success of ALPHA is impressive, but the system isn’t exactly ready for combat. While ALPHA receives sensor data with “noise” incorporated, errors and missing data that would occur in a real fight, it hasn’t flown in a situation where the signals between planes were jammed. This would make its coordination between planes more challenging.
Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.
Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”
On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.
“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”
“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.
The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.
The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.
The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”
Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.
Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.
The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.
CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.
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