Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

In the race to master and harness advanced technology, the Air Force is making strides in quantum research, bringing “Q-Day” to fruition sooner. Q-Day, or the day all Airmen will have access to quantum technology, is the ultimate goal for the Air Force Research Laboratory. 

Scientists at AFRL are the backbone of these new developments in quantum mechanics and throughout the last year, they’ve partnered with academia and industry leaders worldwide to speed up these advancements in military technology.

The U.S. military is leading the acceleration of quantum research and development as first adopters for this fundamental technology to move the ball forward. Quantum will lead to technologies that will transform the warfighting domain in revolutionary and unprecedented ways. Air Force Video // James Kever

For Dr. Kathy-Anne Soderberg, a research physicist, exploring this field of science consumes her time at AFRL. 

“Quantum information is a relatively young field in the terms of physics,” she said. “But it has the potential to be a highly disruptive technology and that is because it’s not like anything we know about. We have never encountered this phenomenon before.” 

While most of the Air Force’s technology works on classical mechanics, quantum mechanics dictates how single particles work at an atomic or molecular level, according to Soderberg. Air Force researchers are diving into quantum timing, sensing, networking and computing. 

A classic computer tries to navigate its way through a maze by trying each path, one after another. A quantum computer tries each potential path at the same time, dramatically reducing the time necessary to find the solution. Computers utilizing the laws of quantum mechanics could exponentially increase the speed of computation for the Air Force, enabling the warfighter to act more quickly, a key component of success in any conflict.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Dr. Kathy-Anne Soderberg is a group leader for the trapped-ion quantum networking group, where her teams were the first within Air Force Research Laboratory to successfully trap an ion.PHOTO AND ILLUSTRATION // AFRL

Although she’s only been with AFRL for seven years, Soderberg has more than 20 years of technical experience in atomic physics and quantum information processing, which she uses daily in an effort to accomplish the AFRL goal. Her passion for physics began immediately after learning about atoms in a middle school science class and her interest continued in high school and college. 

“I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I learned later I loved atomic physics,” she said. “I thought it was fascinating there was a whole other world out there that we couldn’t see.”  

“When people ask me what I do, I tell them I shoot lasers at atoms, to make them do fun things,” she laughs. “That is where we can manipulate these atoms and expand their potential to do new things, like create superposition and entanglement.” 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
The ultrahigh vacuum chamber that houses the trapped ion experiment (left). The ion trap (upper right) used in the experiment. It is a surface electrode trap from Sandia National Laboratory. Four trapped Yb+ ions confined in the ion trap (bottom right). The ions are illuminated with resonant 369nm light and the scattered photons are collected on an Electron Multiplying Charge-Coupled Device camera, a device used for extremely low-light video capture, capable of detecting single photons – the fundamental particle of light. The ability to capture multiple ions, used as qubits, could be critical to creating fully functional quantum computers and quantum networks.PHOTO // U.S. AIR FORCE

In 2017, Soderberg’s group was the first within AFRL to trap an ion. Research into harnessing trapped ions will assist in the networking aspect of quantum mechanics. Soderberg also explains this research will develop new platforms to distribute entanglement in greater distances and open the door to emerging technology, such as teleportation, distributive computing and more advancements in clocks and sensors.  

“Working alongside the group and enterprise of AFRL has been incredible; every day is exciting here,” she said. “I continue to look forward to conducting great research and to advance the technology to somewhere it’s not today.”

In addition to Soderberg’s personal and team research and successes, she worked alongside her peers at AFRL to stand up the Innovare Advancement Center, located in Rome, New York. This facility is a central location for domestic and international collaborators to conduct further research on quantum networking and computing. 

Q-Day is the finish line, however, passionate scientists at AFRL are persistently doing what they enjoy, pushing the Air Force closer to its objective.


This article originally appear in Airman Magazine. Follow Airman Magazine on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened when the VC attacked a Special Forces base

It was a small airbase on the border with Cambodia. It bordered a town of 6,000 that survived on the proceeds of local rubber plantations. The airbase was guarded by a few hundred South Vietnamese regulars supported by 11 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers. But it would host a 10-day battle that would see hundreds of North Vietnamese forces killed while that tiny force held the ground.


Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

The Civil Irregular Defense Group compound at Loc Ninh. The airstrip is to the right of the photo.

(U.S. Army)

The small town and airbase were important for two reasons. First, the airbase was a logistical hub for military and espionage operations conducted by the U.S.; something communist forces were keen to excise. But the town was also the district capital. With a new president awaiting inauguration in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese wanted to embarrass him before he took office.

And North Vietnam was looking for a tasty target. A new commander and staff needed to try out the 9th Division in the field and build up its combat proficiency ahead of larger, corps-level offensives. So, in late 1967, North Vietnamese Senior Col. Hoang Cam, gave orders to get his regiments in position and supplied for an attack on the base at Loc Ninh.

One of his key units ran into an immediate problem, though. U.S. forces were working to secure a hey highway and clear out communist forces that could threaten it, and they swept through an area where Cam’s top regiment was hiding. That regiment was able to set an ambush just in time and killed 56 Americans, but they also suffered heavy losses and fled to Cambodia.

So Cam was down a regiment before the battle started. Still, his men were facing 11 Special Forces soldiers, 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, and about 200 South Vietnamese regulars. The largest weapons on the base were a few mortars and machine guns.

But the North Vietnamese forces failed to hide their buildup. South Vietnamese and U.S. forces intercepted radio traffic, discovered a field hospital under construction, and discovered elements of a specific unit typically employed in major offensives, the 84A Artillery Regiment.

U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland was too savvy to overlook all this evidence of a coming attack. He suspended some operations and ordered his subordinate to plan for a major defensive operation in that part of Vietnam, especially the district capitals at Loc Ninh and Song Be.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

U.S. Special Forces soldiers and South Vietnamese troops in September 1968.

(U.S. Army)

On Oct. 27, 1967, just five days after Westmoreland issued his warning to subordinates, Cam launched the North Vietnamese attack on Song Be. His division attacked a South Korean division but was rebuffed, partially thanks to American artillery and air power. Before South Vietnamese Rangers and American infantry joined the fight the next day, Cam pulled his men back.

As the Rangers looked for the enemy near Song Be, Cam launched a new attack. This time, he struck at Loc Ninh and fully committed to the fight.

Rockets and mortars flew into the base with no warning. The town itself caught on fire, and the South Vietnamese soldiers, with their Special Forces allies, rushed to send their own mortar rounds out.

Before reinforcements could arrive, North Vietnamese sappers blew through a wire obstacle and forced the defenders into the southern part of the compound. With the American and South Vietnamese defense collapsing, the Army rushed in UH-1Bs with machine guns mounted, and the Air Force sent in an AC-47 Spooky gunship that rained metal into the jungle.

The helicopters were able to put some fire on the attackers within the compound, but the AC-47 couldn’t strike there without threatening the defenders. Eventually, that became beside the point, though, as the South Vietnamese called artillery strikes onto the compound. He specifically called for proximity fuses, detonating the rounds a little above the surface to maximize shrapnel damage.

That’s the call you make to shred humans behind light cover. Many of the defenders were in bunkers that would hold back the shrapnel, but the Viet Cong in the open were shredded. The Viet Cong in the jungle finally withdrew under aerial bombing, but attackers remained in the conquered bunkers of the northern part of the compound.

The South Vietnamese were forced to clear these bunkers one-by-one with LAWs, light anti-tank weapons.

The allies found 135 North Vietnamese bodies. They had suffered eight dead and 33 wounded.

But the U.S. knew it had nearly lost the district that night, and it wasn’t willing to go round two with the same setup. So it not only watched the South Vietnamese clear those bunkers, it flew in two artillery batteries and another infantry battalion. Those infantrymen dug into the jungle and established light bunkers.

The U.S. and South Vietnamese alliance struck hard, rooting out platoons in the rubber plantations. In one case, an impatient South Vietnamese soldier grabbed a U.S. officer’s pistol from him and used it to attack a North Vietnamese machine gunner. When he couldn’t chamber a round in the pistol, he used it to pistol-whip the machine gunner instead.

This back and forth continued for days. On Oct. 30, the North Vietnamese sent additional forces to threaten other cities and positions, potentially trying to draw away some of the American defenders. But the allies knew the fight for Loc Ninh wasn’t over and sent other forces to protect Song Be and other locations.

Just after midnight on Oct. 31, another rain of mortars and rockets flew into Loc Ninh. But this time, the fire was more accurate, and North Vietnamese forces used anti-aircraft fire the moment the helicopters and AC-47 showed up. But proximity fuses were again used to slaughter North Vietnamese attackers.

At least 110 North Vietnamese were killed while the allies lost nine killed and 59 wounded.

The next night, artillery and machine gun fire rained onto the air base, but then the main thrust came at the new infantry base in the jungle. Observers posted in the jungle detonated claymores to blunt the attack but then had to melt away as the attackers continued their assault. The U.S. infantry pushed the attack back in just 30 minutes of concentrated machine gun fire and claymore use.

One U.S. soldier had been killed and eight wounded. Over 260 bodies were found, and there were signs that even more had been lost.

Additional forces were flown in, and the U.S. commanders were finally able to go on the attack. The attacks did not go perfectly, however. On Nov. 7, a U.S. battalion moving down a dirt road moved into the jungle and came under a furious assault. An RPG took out most of the U.S. battalion command team, including the commander.

One soldier in that fight was Spc. Robert Stryker who stopped one attack with a well-aimed M79 grenade launcher shot, but then died after diving on a grenade to save others. He’s one of the two Medal of Honor recipients for whom the Stryker vehicle is named.

But the 9th Division finally withdrew, ending the Battle of Loc Ninh. The U.S. had lost 50 dead and hundreds wounded, but the North Vietnamese lost somewhere over 850 dead and failed in its objectives to take either Loc Ninh or Song Be. But the Tet Offensive was on the horizon.

(Most of the information for this article came from an official Army history from the Center of Military History, Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968 by Erik B. Villard. It is available here.)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

3 lesser-known Marine Corps tanks

In July 2020, the Marine Corps’ three tank battalions began the process of deactivation as their M1 Abrams main battle tanks were hauled away. The 1st Tank Battalion at 29 Palms, 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune and 4th Tank Battalion at Camp Pendleton are slated to be deactivated as part of an aggressive restructuring of the Corps called Force Design 2030. The plan calls for a more flexible force that can more effectively serve as the nation’s naval expeditionary force-in-readiness. The departure of the M1s marks the end of an era of Marine tankers.

Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, tanks have played a key role in supporting the Marine Corps infantryman in the fight. Let’s take a look at some of the less famous tanks that were crewed by Devil Dogs. Please note that this list is about tanks. Marine vehicles like the M50 Ontos self-propelled gun and the LVT-5 amphibious armored fighting vehicle, which are not tanks, will not be included.


Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

M1917s lined up for inspection in China (USMC)

1. M1917 Light Tank

Originally referred to as the “Six-ton Special Tractor”, the M1917 was America’s first mass-produced tank. Built under license as a near-copy of the French Renault FT-17, the tank was meant to accompany the American Expeditionary Force to France in WWI. However, production was not fast enough and the first tanks arrived in Europe just days before the armistice.

Armed with either a Browning .30-caliber machine gun or a French 37mm Puteaux one-pounder infantry cannon, the tanks were crewed by the Light Tank Platoon USMC out of Quantico. After extensive training with the tanks in the states, the platoon was sent to China for a tour of duty in 1927.

Officially assigned to protect the Peking-Tientsin railway, the Marine tankers saw no action in China. Instead, they performed limited maneuvers, went on good-will shows and publicity parades, and stood inspections. However, despite limited employment, the M1917 did set the foundation for the Marine Corps’ future amphibious armor doctrine that would be so crucial in the Pacific islands during WWII.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

A Satan on Saipan (USMC)

2. M3A1 “Satan” Flame Tank

Japanese concrete bunkers proved to be imposing obstacles to Marines in the Pacific during WWII. Though flamethrowers were effective at neutralizing the bunkers, the short range of the weapon system meant that the operator had to get as close as possible to his target. As a result, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower operator on the battlefield was just five minutes.

Rather than expose Marines wearing what was essentially a bomb on their backs, the Corps began to experiment with the concept of flamethrowers mounted in armored vehicles in 1943. The first iteration saw the flamethrower mounted in the pistol port of an M3 Light Tank. However, this gave the flamethrower a limited field of fire and the weapon was placed in the bow turret instead.

Still based on the M3 Stuart Light Tank, the Satan was one of the first flamethrower tanks in the Marine Corps arsenal. With the flamethrower in the bow turret, the gunner held the fuel tanks between his knees. While it wasn’t exactly a comfort to have such a volatile piece of equipment in such a sensitive area, the operator was at least behind the armor of a tank, albeit light. Satan Flame Tanks saw action with the Marine Corps on Saipan and Tinian.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

A ramped up M48 Patton tank in Vietnam (Jack Butcher)

3. Artillery Tanks

Improvise, adapt and overcome; Marines make do. The hard-chargers of the United States Marine Corps are famed for their ability to create clever solutions to otherwise impossible problems on the battlefield, and the tankers are no exception. In Korea and Vietnam, when dedicated indirect fire assets like mortars or artillery guns weren’t available, Marines moved earth and ramped their tanks up to rain fire down on their enemies.

The tanks were driven into the ramped pits on a sharp incline and their guns were raised so that they could fire longer distances between enemy lines. Of course, this method of fire delivery wasn’t terribly accurate. Rather, the tank artillery was used more fore area effect harassing fire. Still, the unconventional use of equipment by the Marines highlights their ingenuity.

That is a point that those who lament the loss of Marine Corps tanks can hold on to. Impressive as they are, the tanks are just equipment. The warfighter, the Marine, is the true lethal tool that makes America’s enemies reconsider a violent course of action. Tanks or no tanks, no one in their right mind wants to be in a fight with a United States Marine.

Articles

Air Force tests bolt-on aircraft laser weapon

Air Force scientists are working to arm the B-52 with defensive laser weapons able to incinerate attacking air-to-air or air-to-ground missile attack.


Offensive and defensive laser weapons for Air Force fighter jets and large cargo aircraft have been in development for several years now. However, the Air Force Research Lab has recently embarked upon a special five-year effort, called the SHIELD program, aimed at creating sufficient on-board power, optics and high-energy lasers able to defend large platforms such as a B-52 bomber, C-130 aircraft or fighter jet.

“You can take out the target if you put the laser on the attacking weapon for a long enough period of time,” Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an exclusive interview.

Possibly using an externally-mounted POD with sufficient transportable electrical power, the AFRL is already working on experimental demonstrator weapons able to bolt-on to an aircraft, Zacharias added.

Given that an external POD would add shapes to the fuselage which would make an aircraft likely to be vulnerable to enemy air defense radar systems, the bolt-on defensive laser would not be expected to work on a stealthy platform, he explained.

However, a heavily armed B-52, as a large 1960s-era target, would perhaps best benefit from an ability to defend itself from the air; such a technology would indeed be relevant and potentially useful to the Air Force, as the service is now immersed in a series of high-tech upgrades for the B-52 so that it can continue to serve for decades to come.

Related: Here are 5 times bombers beat fighters in aerial combat

Defending a B-52 could becoming increasing important in years to come if some kind of reconfigured B-52 is used as the Pentagon’s emerging Arsenal Plane or “flying bomb truck.”

Lasers use intense heat and light energy to incinerate targets without causing a large explosion, and they operate at very high speeds, giving them a near instantaneous ability to destroy fast-moving targets and defend against incoming enemy attacks, senior Air Force leaders explained.

Defensive laser weapons could also be used to jam an attacking missile as well, developers explained.

“You may not want to destroy the incoming missile but rather throw the laser off course – spoof it,” Zacharias said.

Also, synchronizing laser weapons with optics technology from a telescope could increase the precision needed to track and destroy fast moving enemy attacks, he said.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong

Another method of increasing laser fire power is to bind fiber optic cables together to, for example, turn a 1 Kilowatt laser into a 10-Kilowatt weapon.

“Much of the issue with fiber optic lasers is stability and an effort to make lasers larger,” he explained.

Targeting for the laser could also seek to connect phased array radars and lasers on the same wavelength to further synchronize the weapon.

Laser Weapons for Fighter Jets

Aircraft-launched laser weapons from fighter jets could eventually be engineered for a wide range of potential uses, including air-to-air combat, close air support, counter-UAS(drone), counter-boat, ground attack and even missile defense, officials said.

Low cost is another key advantage of laser weapons, as they can prevent the need for high-cost missiles in many combat scenarios.

Air Force Research Laboratory officials have said they plan to have a program of record for air-fired laser weapons in place by 2023.

Ground testing of a laser weapon called the High Energy Laser, or HEL, has taken place in the last few years at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The High Energy Laser test is being conducted by the Air Force Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.

The first airborne tests are slated to take place by 2021, service officials said.

Air Force leaders have said that the service plans to begin firing laser weapons from larger platforms such as C-17s and C-130s until the technological miniaturization efforts can configure the weapon to fire from fighter jets such as an F-15, F-16 or F-35.

Air Combat Command has commissioned the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration which will be focused on developing and integrating a more compact, medium-power laser weapon system onto a fighter-compatible pod for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons, a service statement said.

Air Force Special Operations Command is working with both the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren to examine placing a laser on an AC-130U gunship to provide an offensive capability.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

Another advantage of lasers is an ability to use a much more extended magazine for weapons. Instead of flying with six or seven missiles on or in an aircraft, a directed energy weapon system could fire thousands of shots using a single gallon of jet fuel, Air Force experts said.

Overall, officials throughout the Department of Defense are optimistic about beam weapons and, more generally, directed-energy technologies.

Laser weapons could be used for ballistic missile defense as well. Vice Adm. James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, said during the 2017 fiscal year budget discussion that “Laser technology maturation is critical for us.”

And the U.S. Navy also has several developmental programs underway to arm their destroyers and cruisers will possess these systems to help ships fend off drones and missiles.

Man-in-the-Loop

As technology progresses, particularly in the realm of autonomous systems, many wonder if a laser-drone weapon will soon have the ability to find, acquire, track and destroy and enemy target using sensors, targeting and weapons delivery systems – without needing any human intervention.

While that technology is fast-developing, if not already here, the Pentagon operates under and established autonomous weapons systems doctrine requiring a “man-in-the-loop” when it comes to decisions about the use of lethal force, Zacharias explained.

“There will always be some connection with human operators at one echelon or another. It may be intermittent, but they will always be part of a team. A lot of that builds on years and years of working automation systems, flight management computers, aircraft and so forth,” he said.

Although some missile systems, such as the Tomahawk and SM-6 missiles, have sensor and seeker technologies enabling them to autonomously, or semi-autonomously guide themselves toward targets – they require some kind of human supervision. In addition, these scenarios are very different that the use of a large airborne platform or mobile ground robot to independently destroy targets.

Click here to view original article from Warrior Scout.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to protect a ship’s crew from a weapon of mass destruction

Ships at sea have long had to contend with efforts to sink them. Traditionally, this was done by busting holes in the hull to let water in. Another way of putting a ship on the bottom of the ocean floor is to set the ship on fire (which would often cause explosions, blowing holes in the hull).

The two act in combination at times — just look at the saga of USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) for one such case.


These days, however, threats to ships have become much more diverse and, in a sense, non-conventional. Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons have emerged as threats to seafaring vessels.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

Marines train for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. While chemical weapons have often been used on land, they can also be used against ships.

(DoD photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen, U.S. Air Force)

Nuclear weapons are obvious threats. If a ship is in very close proximity to the detonation of such a weapon, it’d quickly be reduced to radioactive dust. Further out, the blast wave and extreme heat would cause fires and do serious damage. Don’t take my word for it, check out Operation Crossroads. In a test, two nuclear blasts sank a number of retired ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3) that had survived many battles in World War II.

Chemical, biological, and radiological threats, though, are a bit more insidious. They don’t do direct damage to the warship, but can kill or incapacitate the crew. A warship without a crew faces some serious trouble. Thankfully, there’s a way to detect and mitigate such threats.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

The Baker shot from Operation Crossroads — with the Japanese battleship Nagato on the left.

(US Navy)

Currently, a Finnish company known as Environics is developing gear that monitors for CBRN threats. Once the alarms sound, the ship’s crew can then seal off the ship into a citadel. Afterwards, the decontamination process can begin.

While the use of chemical and biological weapons has been banned by international treaties, recent events in Syria show that, sometimes, political agreements don’t hold weight. Thankfully, systems like those from Environics will crews potentially in danger a way to protect themselves.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Green Beret tests electric dirt bike

The CAB Motorworks’ Eagle electric bike was designed to maintain efficiency while reducing noise and pollution. Designed to move over any terrain, these bikes come standard with an inverted 8-inch front fork and tuned 9.5-inch rear downhill inspired suspension. The Eagle has the highest power to weight motor on the market but is still able to reach speeds of 50 mph with the use of proprietary cooling techniques. The bike also has over 160 ft-lbs of torque which boosts acceleration. With its state-of-the-art battery technology, the Eagle can go about 100 miles with no pedaling when ridden conservatively at about 20 mph on flat ground. An integrated active braking system, DOT motorcycle wheels and tires, and a comprehensive heat control system are just a few of the other features you will find on the Eagle electric bike.


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Mike Glover of FieldCraft Survival put the CAB Motorworks’ Eagle electric bike through the paces in some of Southern California’s hilly terrain. Utilizing trails meant for jeeps and trucks, Glover set out with nothing but a bug out bag and some water. Without even using the pedals, Glover immediately noticed the bike’s ample speed and acceleration. After 45 minutes of hard riding, he put the bike in front of the thermals to see if it displayed an increased thermal signature. Most of the bike showed up as cold compared to the environment, with the hottest spots on the bike being the front brake rotors and the rear hub motor. After about 20 minutes of hard riding, Glover took the bike onto a more aggressive trail with no issues.

In the end, Glover walked away impressed with its capabilities. From the torque to the low noise signature, and handling steep and aggressive terrain with ease, this bike crosses off a lot of boxes from recreation to survival purposes.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Pentagon has plans for its own mini-space station. Here’s what it would do

Among defense experts the world over, there’s little doubt that warfare in the 21st century will be an orbital affair. From communications and reconnaissance to navigation and logistics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an element of any modern nation’s military that operates without the use of space-born satellites, and as such, many nations are developing weapons aimed specifically at causing trouble high above our heads.

While the U.S. government may be no exception, as the reigning space-race champ, America has the lead, and as such, much more to lose in orbit than its national competitors. At least one element of the Pentagon has a plan to help keep it that way: an orbiting space station purpose-built to support a fleet of defensive space drones.


Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

Which beats out my proposal to just start dropping bombs from the ISS, I suppose.

(NASA Image)

You might be imagining a space station equipped with the latest defense gadgets, science experiments meant to usher in the next era of orbital weapons, and of course, enough utility to support a wide variety of Pentagon directives in the dark skies around our pale blue dot… and you’d be right on all counts… but where this new initiative breaks from fantasy is in its size. The Pentagon’s proposed space station wouldn’t be built to sustain any kind of manned presence whatsoever, at least for now.

The proposed orbital outpost received a great deal of media attention recently thanks to an industry solicitation posted by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Put simply, the solicitation is seeking companies that want to compete for a chance to help launch a self-contained orbital facility that’s “capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions.”

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets a new space station.”

(Courtesy of NASA)

The DIU envisions an orbital outpost that’s equipped with robotic arms to manage assembly and even potentially repair duties for other orbital assets. That means this unmanned installation could feasibly be used to build autonomous satellite drones in space meant to help protect America’s large and rather undefended constellation of satellites.

The tiny outpost would have a payload capacity of just 176 pounds (or 80 kilograms if you live in a nation that’s never sent people to the moon), and would offer only a small 3 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot enclosure. That may not be enough room to house any members of the space infantry, but it would be enough to work on things like cube-sats, which are small, inexpensive satellites built to serve specific purposes in orbit and beyond.

Because the reality of war in space could be as mundane as simply nudging a satellite out of its orbit, cube-sats and other small platforms could actually play a massive role in orbital combat operations. A fleet of inexpensive satellites could provide system redundancy by temporarily filling service gaps as other assets are destroyed or interfered with by enemy platforms. They could also engage with or deter enemy systems (be they satellites or weapons themselves).

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

The X-37B sits on the Vandenberg Air Force base runway after spending months in space without any grubby human mitts changing the radio station.

(U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

Thanks to advances in 3-D printing and a rash of commercial interest in orbital manufacturing in recent years, it seems entirely possible that an orbital outpost like the one proposed by the DIU could eventually support a broader space defense initiative, but it also seems unlikely that this specific enterprise would ever expand far enough to add human support to the equation, but then, humans may need to be present anyway.

Russia and China are both already believed to operate orbital weapons platforms that behave like autonomous satellites and the Air Force’s secretive space plane known as the X-37B operates in orbit for months at a time without any use for human hands. Star Wars may indeed eventually come to fruition, but at least for now, it looks like the fighting will be up to R2-D2, with all of us Skywalkers just watching anxiously from the ground.

Articles

Israel stole Iran’s entire nuclear intelligence archive in one night

In 2016, Israeli intelligence officers pulled off one of the most daring but greatest achievements in its history. Mossad discovered the location of where Iran kept its most secret documents related to its nuclear program. It was all kept in a warehouse in Tehran’s Shorabad District.  

Then, in a single night, Israeli officers managed to enter the warehouse, steal a half-ton of top secret documents, and smuggle them all back to Israel. For two years the entire operation was kept secret from the world. 

Until Israel wanted to show the world that Iran had been planning to build a nuclear weapon the entire time. The revelation may have been the catalyst for President Donald Trump’s subsequent pullout of the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal. 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
iran’s Ghadr-110 medium range ballistic missile being tested in March 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

In February 2016, operatives from Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) were working in Tehran when they discovered the warehouse holding Iran’s most stunning nuclear secrets. The Mossad officers said the building looked like a “dilapidated warehouse” in a run-down neighborhood in Iran’s capital city.

They were able to break into the building, steal the documents, and escape back to Israel in one night. It took the Israelis more than a year to analyze the information, as most of it was written in Farsi. The trove of stolen documents consisted of 55,000 pages and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.

Once analyzed, Israel shared the intelligence bonanza with the United States. Yossi Cohen, then head of Israeli intelligence, briefed President Trump. Cohen retired from his position in June 2021 and provided some insight into Israel’s effort to fight the Iranian nuclear program with Israeli television.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Mossad director for the raid, Yossi Cohen (Photo by Kobi Gideon-GPO Israel/ Wikimedia Commons)

Cohen first joined Mossad after graduating from college in 1982. In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Cohen to the top spot at the agency. He told an Israeli television network that the intelligence raid in Tehran took two years to plan, during which the facility was under constant surveillance. 

Around 20 Mossad agents, of which none were Israeli citizens, were involved in the planning and execution of the raid and subsequent theft. When the raid finally went off in January 2016, Cohen and Mossad’s leadership watched the raid on TV from Tel Aviv.

The agents had to break into the warehouse, then crack 30 or more safes. Everyone survived the raid, although some had to be exfiltrated from Iran in the days and weeks following the break-in. 

According to the BBC, the level of detail the ex-Mossad chief divulges to local media is remarkable. No other intelligence head has ever explained so much about a secret operation in so much detail. 

Cohen said the agency was filled with excitement as they all watched the agents remove a half-ton of classified Iranian documents from the warehouse. Since Israel has discussed the information operation publicly, it’s unlikely to do much harm to ongoing Israeli intelligence operations. 

Later in the interview, Cohen touches on other Mossad operations in the ongoing shadow war between Israel and the Iranian Islamic Republic, including sabotaging the Natanz Nuclear Facility, where Iran is working to enrich much of its uranium. 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Natanz Nuclear Facility, September 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Mossad head told a journalist that he would be able to show her around the Natanz facility and acknowledged that many top Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated – without admitting to any involvement. 

“If the man constitutes a capability that endangers the citizens of Israel, he must stop existing,” Cohen said. He added that someone could be spared “if he is prepared to change profession and not harm us any longer.”


Feature image: by d-keller from Pixabay

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marine regains mobility with robotic exoskeleton gear

It took Marine Corps veteran Tim Conner more than a year of training and waiting, but it paid off. He was finally able to take home his new (exoskeleton) legs.

Conner has used a wheelchair since 2010. An accident left him with a spinal cord injury, and he is the first veteran at Tampa Bay VA Medical Center to be issued an exoskeleton for home use. The robotic exoskeleton, made by ReWalk, provides powered hip and knee motion that lets Conner stand upright and walk.

Before being issued his own exoskeleton, Conner underwent four months of training, then took a test model home for four months as a trial run. He then had to wait several more months for delivery. He was so excited about getting it that he mistakenly arrived a week early to pick it up.


“They said, “You’re here early, it’s the thirtieth,'” Conner said with a laugh. “I was like, that’s not today. I looked at my phone and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m excited, what can I say.'”

For Conner, the most significant advantage of the exoskeleton is being able to stand and walk again. Which, in turn, motivates him to stay healthy.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

Tim Conner and the team that helped him walk again. From left, Chief of Staff Dr. Colleen Jakey, Cassandra Hogan, Kathryn Fitzgerald, Brittany Durant, and Spinal Cord Injury Service Chief Dr. Kevin White.

“I’m not 3-and-a-half, 4 feet tall anymore. I’m back to 5-8,” Conner said. “Not only can I stand up and look eye-to-eye to everybody. I’m not always kinking my neck looking up at life. It’s been able to allow me to stay motivated, to stay healthy, because you have to be healthy to even do the study for this program. That is going to keep me motivated to stay healthy and live longer than what could be expected for the average person in my situation.”

Exoskeleton

The exoskeleton is an expensive piece of equipment, with some versions costing as much as 0,000. According to Dr. Kevin White, chief of the Tampa Bay VA spinal cord injury service, that is why the hospital has been conducting research on the units.

“We wanted to know that the patient when they get it, they’re actually going to utilize it in the community,” said White. “If they’re showing that benefit, the VA has made a commitment to make sure that any veteran who needs it and qualifies, whether it’s a spinal cord injury and even stroke. That they have that opportunity, and we provide it free of charge.”

Walking in the exoskeleton is like “a mixture between Robocop, Ironman, and Forrest Gump,” said Conner. “It is pretty cool, especially when you’re walking and people are like, ‘Oh my God, look at this guy. He’s a robot.’ But I can’t imagine walking without it, so it’s just a normal way of walking. It feels the same way it did if I didn’t have a spinal cord injury.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s how the Navy tests its new carrier launch system

If you’ve seen Top Gun or any footage of an American aircraft carrier doing its thing, you’ve probably seen catapults launch aircraft. These impressive devices can launch a fully-loaded plane, getting it up to speeds as high as 200 knots in a matter of seconds — if everything’s working right.

The same is true for the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, in use on the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).


But how does the Navy make sure everything’s working as intended? How can they verify that any repairs they’ve made have actually fixed the thing? There are 122 millions reasons why you wouldn’t want to test it out on a brand new F-35C Lightning II. So, because USAA doesn’t offer that magnitude of coverage, the US Navy needs a cheap, solid stand-in.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

When you fix the catapult, you want to make sure you got it right.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cole C. Pielop)

According to one Navy release, they use what are called “dead loads” to simulate the weight of planes. These are essentially wheeled sleds made of solid metal that can be launched in relatively shallow water (“relative” to the USS Gerald R. Ford’s maximum draft of 41 feet). That makes recovering the dead loads easy.

Since the dead loads aren’t outfitted with electronics — or even an engine — they are relatively easy to replace. Furthermore, if they are recovered, they can be reused. It’s a very cheap way to make sure that your aircraft launch system is working, be it a traditional catapult or the new EMALS.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier

When you are trying to launch a 2 million F-35 Lightning from a carrier, you want to make sure the launching system works.

(U. S. Navy photo by Arnel Parker)

To watch the Navy test the EMALS on USS Gerald R. Ford, check out the video below. You even get a view from the perspective of the “dead load,” giving you a taste of the catapult’s power.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TACTICAL

11 awesome facts about Air Force One’s airborne defenses

Embellished with the American flag, the presidential seal, and the words “United States of America,” the world’s most famous plane is as tall as a six-story building and gives an undeniable authoritative presence wherever it flies.


The three-leveled “flying Oval Office” is a custom Boeing 747-200B that has 4,000 square feet of interior floor space, including a conference room, dining room, private quarters for the president, offices for senior staff members, a medical operating room (a doctor flies on every flight), press area, two food-preparation galleys that can provide 100 meals, and multifrequency radios for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication.

Former President Barack Obama’s Air Force One cost taxpayers $206,337 every hour it was in flight, according to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter obtained by Judicial Watch.

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

Further reading: 5 things you didn’t know about Air Force One

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

Related: Why the next Air Force One won’t have an in-air refueling capability

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

Also read: The difference between Trump’s old airplane and Air Force One

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
Image courtesy of The White House and Business Insider.

popular

This was the Air Force’s super fighter that never flew

The 1950s was a game-changing decade for the world of military aviation, especially with the rise of jet propulsion in place of propeller engines. It was in this decade that the U.S. Air Force came close to fielding one of the most advanced (for its time) “super fighters” ever conceived.


Known as the XF-108 Rapier, and designed by North American – also known for producing the widely successful P-51 Mustang – it was equipped to fly at more than three times the speed of sound for long distances, hunting down and destroying marauding Soviet bombers out to drop nuclear weapons on the US and its allies during the Cold War.

The XF-108 would also be able to complement its larger sibling, the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, which itself was capable of achieving speeds in the Mach 3 range. Though the Valkyrie’s insane speed would be too much for Soviet air defense systems to handle, it wouldn’t hurt having a smaller fighter escort nearby that could keep up with the bomber, just in case enemy fighters made it too close for comfort.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
An XB-70 Valkyrie prototype before its first flight (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

North American sought to make its newest fighter extremely deadly, adding a Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar that was coupled to an infrared search and tracking system. Together, this sensor suite would be able to lock onto and track targets at long ranges with solid accuracy.

The XF-108’s primary weapon was the GAR-9 missile, which had a range of over 100 miles, and could fly at more than six times the speed of sound on its way to its target. The Rapier would carry three of these on an internal rotary launcher in its belly.

To give it speed, the XF-108 would use two General Electric afterburning turbojets that could pump out over 29,300 pounds of force apiece with the afterburners lit. In comparison, an F/A-18 Super Hornet’s two GE F414 turbofan engines can put out only 22,000 pounds of force apiece in burner!

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
An AIM-47 Falcon waiting to be loaded into a YF-12 interceptor prototype. The Falcon was the direct successor to the GAR-9 (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

However, the Rapier lost its mission rapidly with the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles and guided cruise missiles — the latter of which could be launched from surface warships and submarines floating off the coast of the United States. Instead of sending swarms of bombers, all of which could hypothetically be shot down if responded to quickly enough, the USSR could mail nuclear weapons to the US with ICBMs, which were much more difficult to destroy.

Sadly, the Rapier never had a chance to even fly.

In late 1959, by the end of the decade, the program was shelved altogether, having only made it to the mockup stage. In a matter of months, the XF-108 was no more. Its sister plane, the XB-70 would meet a somewhat similar fate in the next decade, and would be retired from flight testing after a fatal and highly publicized accident.

 

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
An A-5A Vigilante prototype (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Some of the technology and lessons learned in designing the XF-108 were put to use with a later North American product – the A-5/RA-5 Vigilante, which bears a considerable resemblance to its predecessor. The GAR-9 was also developed further into the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which would later be matured into the AIM-54 Phoenix, deployed with the F-14 Tomcat.

Mach 3-capable fighter jets have long since been relegated to the history books as an unnecessary hope of the past, but with improvements in propulsion technology, it’s very possible that future fighters fielded by the US military might be blessed with such incredible speed.


Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force is getting ready to deploy this fearsome new gunship

The US Air Force plans to declare its newest gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider, ready for combat — or initial operating capability in acquisition parlance — this month, but the aircraft won’t actually deploy to a war zone for a couple more years, a general said.


“We are declaring IOC, Initial Operating Capability, this month on the AC-J,” Lt. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said Sept. 19 during a briefing with reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference outside Washington, DC.

However, the general added, “That doesn’t mean anything with respect to putting it in combat — we’re still just shy of two years away from wanting to put those in combat.”

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
USAF Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. USAF photo by Capt. Jessica Tait.

The reason for the delay is because the high pace of operations in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria makes it difficult to train special operators on the new weapon system, Webb said.

“We’re not waiting around,” he said. “This is a fully configured gunship … The challenge that we have, it’s my problem, is how do we fight the current fight — we have gunships deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — and use those same people to convert into a new weapon system?

“We’re not going to have the luxury of doing what most normal units do,” he added, referring to the typical transition period for returning troops.

“So, how do I navigate having some capability in the fight, transition those same guys in those same squadrons to a new weapon system, and then build them up at the same time?” Webb said. “So, that draws out the timeline from IOC of airframes to train the guys who come back from combat into a new weapon system, have them have a deployed-dwell time to make sure that they’re going to have families at the end of their 20-year career, then bring them back on the battlefield in the Js.”

Disruptive technology: The quantum frontier
AC-130J Ghostrider. Photo courtesy of USAF.

A heavily modified C-130, the AC-130J features fully integrated digital avionics, as well as a “Precision Strike Package.”

The latter includes a mission management console, robust communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, precision guided munitions delivery capability, as well as trainable 30mm and 105mm weapons, according to the Air Force.

The cannons can be mounted on both sides of the aircraft.

The Air Force currently has 10 of the Ghostriders and plans to buy a total of 37 from manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp., the general said.

The service recently retired the AC-130H and, as of last fiscal year, had a total of 31 AC-130s in the fleet, including three Ghostriders, 16 Spookys, and 12 Stinger IIs, according to information compiled by the Air Force Association.

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