Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, the costly stealth jet considered to be pinnacle of US military aviation, “would have no chance” if pitted against a drone that is remotely piloted by a human.
At the US Air Force’s Air Warfare Symposium in Florida, Musk said there should be a competitor to the F-35 program, according to a tweet by Lee Hudson, the Pentagon editor at Aviation Week.
Musk responded in his own tweet, saying that the “competitor should be a drone fighter plane that’s remote controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy.”
“The F-35 would have no chance against it,” he added.
The F-35, variants of which are used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, has had its critics since its inception. Lawmakers have scrutinized it over multiple delays in production and its price tag, which at 6.5 billion, makes it the costliest weapons program in US history.
The Defense Department in October announced a billion contract that includes delivery of 478 F-35s, according to CNBC.
Problems with the F-35 surfaced soon after it joined the fleet. Over 800 flaws riddled the software, according to a recent report by the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, which also said the 25 mm cannon on the Air Force’s F-35A, the most common variant, displayed an “unacceptable” level of accuracy.
The F-35 was also unable to meet a branchwide goal set by the previous defense secretary, James Mattis, in 2019. Mattis wanted 80% of F-35s and other stealth aircraft to be “mission-capable” 80% of the time.
Nuclear blasts create fallout, which can harm you with large doses of radiation.
Cars offer little protection from fallout.
A surer way to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion is to go indoors, stay put, and listen to the radio.
The first thing you’d see if a nuclear bomb exploded nearby is a flood of light so bright, you may think the sun blew up.
Wincing from temporary blindness, you’d scan the horizon and see an orange fireball. The gurgling flames would rise and darken into purple-hued column of black smoke, which would turn in on itself. As a toadstool-like mushroom took shape, the deafening shock front of the blast would rip through the area — and possibly knock you off your feet.
Congratulations! In this hypothetical scenario, you’ve just survived a nuclear blast with an energy output of about 10 kilotons (20 million pounds) of TNT. That’s roughly 66% of energy released by either atom bomb dropped on Japan in 1945.
No one could fault you for panicking after the sight and roarof a nuclear blast. But there is one thing you should never do, according to Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“Don’t get in your car,” he tells Business Insider — don’t try to drive, and don’t assume that the glass and metal of a vehicle can protect you.
Why vehicles and nuclear survival don’t mix
Avoiding driving after a nuclear blast is wise because streets would probably be full of erratic drivers, accidents, and debris. But Buddemeier says there’s another important reason to ditch the car: a fearsome after-effect of nuclear blasts called fallout.
Fallout is a complex mixture of fission products, or radioisotopes, that are created by splitting atoms. Many of the fission products decay rapidly and emit gamma radiation, an invisible yet highly energetic form of light. Exposure to too much of this radiation in a short time can damage the body’s cells and its ability to fix itself — a condition called acute radiation sickness.
“It also affects the immune system and the your ability to fight infections,” Buddemeier says.
Only very dense and thick materials, like many feet of dirt or inches of lead, can reliably stop the fallout.
“The fireball from a 10-kiloton explosion is so hot, it actually shoots up into the atmosphere at over 100 miles per hour,” Buddemeier says. “These fission products mix in with the dirt and debris that’s drawn up into the atmosphere from the fireball.”
Trapped in sand, dirt, cement, metal, and anything else in the immediate blast area, the gamma-shooting fission products can fly more than five miles into the air. The larger pieces drop back down, while lighter particles can be carried by the wind before raining over distant areas.
“Close in to the [blast] site, they may be a bit larger than golf-ball-size, but really what we’re talking about are things like salt- or sand-size particles,” Buddemeier says. “It’s the penetrating gamma radiation coming off of those particles that’s the hazard.”
Which brings us back to why a car is a terrible place to take shelter.
“Modern vehicles are made of glass and very light metals, and they offer almost no protection,” he says. “You’re just going to sit on a road some place [and be exposed].”
Buddemeier says he’s asked people what their knee-jerk response to a nuclear blast might be. It wasn’t comforting.
“There was actually a lot of folks who had this notion — and it may be a Hollywood notion — of ‘oh, jump in the car and try to skedaddle out of town if you see a mushroom cloud.'” he says.
However, fallout is carried by high-altitude winds that are “often booking along at 100 miles per hour,” he says, and “often not going in the same direction as the ground-level winds. So your ability to know where the fallout’s gonna go, and outrun it, are… Well, it’s very unlikely.”
What you should do instead of driving
Your best shot at survival after a nuclear disaster is to get into some sort of “robust structure” as quickly as possible and stay there, Buddemeier says. He’s a fan of the mantra “go in, stay in, tune in”.
“Get inside … and get to the center of that building. If you happen to have access to below-ground areas, getting below-ground is great,” he says. “Stay in: 12 to 24 hours.”
The reason to wait is that levels of gamma and other radiation fall off exponentially after a nuclear blast as “hot” radioisotopes decay into more stable atoms and pose less of a danger. This slowly shrinks the dangerous fallout zone — the area where high-altitude winds have dropped fission products. (Instead of staying put, however, a recent study also suggested that moving to a stronger shelter or basement may not be a bad idea if you first ducked into a flimsy one.)
“Try to use whatever communication tools you have,” he says. He added that a hand-cranked radio is a good object to keep at work and home, since emergency providers, in addition to broadcasting instructions, will be tracking the fallout cloud and trying to broadcast where any safe corridors for escape are located.
There is only one exception to the “no cars” rule, says Buddemeier: If you’re in a parking garage with your car, the concrete might act as a shield. In that case, you could stay there and listen to a radio inside your car.
If everyone followed these guidelines after nuclear blast, he says, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved.
US military officials believe Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian aircraft, according to a CNN report published on Sept. 17, 2018.
Syrian anti-aircraft artillery reportedly responded to a number of Israeli missiles that were launched towards the coastal city of Latakia when it accidentally shot the Russian maritime patrol aircraft, according to a US military official cited in the report.
Syria, Russia’s ally in a prolonged proxy war in the region, claimed its air defenses “intercepted a number” of the missiles headed toward the city, Reuters reported on Sept. 17, 2018, citing state-media.
Russia’s defense ministry also announced it had lost contact with an IL-20 aircraft carrying 14 service members, Syria’s state-run media reported. Russia’s presence in Latakia includes a large naval base, which was reportedly under attack by an unclaimed missile strike that Syria alleges to have come from Israel.
Although Israeli Defense Forces also declined to comment on the missile strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sept. 16, 2018, that his country will be “taking action to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with advanced weaponry.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A US Central Command spokesman did not comment on where the strikes originated from but denied US forces were involved: “The US was not involved in any strikes in Western Syria or in the shoot down of any planes tonight,” US Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement to Business Insider.
Russia and the Syrian regime have previously boasted about their air defense capabilities. After an airstrike in which US and its allies fired over 100 missiles towards suspected chemical weapons facilities in April 2018, Russian forces claimed the “high-effectiveness” of Russian-supplied weapons and “excellent training of Syrian servicemen” had shot down 71 missiles.
Russia’s claim was contradicted by US reports that said Syria’s air defenses were “largely ineffective” in response to its “precise and overwhelming” strikes.
“The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains,” US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie said at the time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Imagine your cell phone battery – on an immense scale. That will be what helps power the next generation of Japanese submarines.
According to a report by TheDrive.com, Japan has chosen to use lithium-ion batteries for the follow-on to its Soryu-class submarines. The Soryu-class vessels are considered to be among the best diesel-electric boats in the world, with six 21-inch torpedo tubes and the ability to hold up to 30 torpedoes or UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, according to the “16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World.”
For all the considerable capabilities of the Soryu-class vessels, they — like all diesel-electric submarines — have long faced a problem: While they are very silent when running off batteries, eventually the batteries run out – just like anyone with a portable electronic device has found out to their chagrin at one time or another.
To avoid being stuck somewhere bad, they use diesel engines to recharge the batteries. But the submarine either must surface (and become visible and vulnerable), or use what is called a “snorkel” at periscope depth. The snorkel is not much better – diesel engines are noisy, and making noise is a good way for a submarine to be located and killed.
The Soryu-class submarines use the Stirling diesel engine – a form of air-independent propulsion. The problem is that this is a bulky system and takes up space. They also have to take the oxygen down in the form of liquid oxygen.
TheDrive.com notes that the use of lithium batteries and diesel engines in a conventional layout (replacing the traditional lead-acid batteries) would provide many of the same endurance advantages as the air-independent propulsion, but in a much more compact package.
This means the submarine can go longer between charges – which won’t take as long, either. There will be tactical advantages, too, like allowing the sub to go faster underwater.
One disadvantage of using the lithium-ion batteries has to be kept in mind. Just ask the owners of certain Samsung products. A compilation of the more… spectacular failures is in this video below.
Still, when one considers the space savings that will come from using giant cell phone batteries in a conventional plant, adding fire-suppression technology might not be too hard. That challenge will be a small price to pay when compared to what the new batteries will give.
If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.
It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.
You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.
Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.
John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.
In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.
Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.
The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.
Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.
Necessity is the mother of invention — and war is often the catalyst. Sure, we can look at all of the obvious military advancements that trickled down to the civilian sector, like fixed-winged aircraft, GPS, the microwave, and the can opener, but it’s a little-known fact that a lot of contemporary American foods also got their start on the battlefield.
The doughnut, one of the most American deserts known to man, got its start when troops needed a tactical desert to get their minds off the horrors of WWI.
Looks just like the line at your local Krispy Kreme — some things never change.
During WWI, the Salvation Army actually deployed overseas with the troops, offering a wide variety of support for the troops. This support ranged from preparing home-cooked meals to sending money back home to sewing their uniforms when needed. The organization was entirely independent from the Armed Forces, but they followed units around the battlefield — oftentimes going to the front lines with them.
Two women assigned to assist the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division, Ensign Helen Purviance and Ensign Margaret Sheldon, endured the hellish environment of Monte-sur-Soux, France, just as the soldiers did. It rained for thirty days and supplies were running thin. They needed to come up with something — anything — to boost the abysmal morale.
They searched the countryside for ingredients and came back with eggs, milk, yeast, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. Perfect ingredients to make a cake, but that wouldn’t be enough for all the troops. They made some dough, used a wine bottle to work it, and cooked the cake batter on a frying pan in some grease. They served it up — and the soldiers loved it.
Soldiers would gather from all around when they smelled the doughnuts being cooked. It was said that the lines were so long that troops would miss duty or formation because they just wanted a single doughnut. One soldier eventually asked Ensign Purvaince, “can’t you make a doughnut with a hole in it?” She obliged this request by cutting the middle of the doughnut out with an empty condensed milk can and used the rest of the batter for other doughnuts.
Doughnuts quickly spread across the U.S. front and other Salvation Army officers started making them for the troops in their care. It didn’t take long for the women making the sweets to be given the nickname of “doughnut girls” or “doughnut lassies” — despite the numerous other ways in which they aided troops.
So, when National Doughnut Day rolls around on the first Friday of June, know that it’s about more than the glazed treat you used to cheat on your diet this morning. It’s a day in honor of the women who served on the front-lines with the troops, preparing tasty treats in hopes of cheering them up.
To learn more about Doughnut Girls or real meaning behind National Doughnut Day, check out the video below.
The Royal Marines piled into helicopters and boats and inserted into Estonian territory, hitting positions on the mainland and on an isolated island, doing their best to inflict maximum casualties on the Estonian Volunteer Defence Force during an exercise designed to see whether that countries tiny military can adequately defend itself against a top-tier foe.
And make no mistake about it, the Royal Marines are true commandos and are top-tier. But the local forces defending the island of Saaremaa included many members who had grown up on the island, and they fought the British to what referees called an Estonian victory. The Royal Marines called it a draw, according to an article in the British publication Plymouth Herald.
Also, in the Royal Marines’ defense, the Estonians were backed up by British Apaches and likely would have lost their key position, and maybe the whole ball game, without that crucial air support.
The Marines successfully landed reconnaissance teams unseen, and those teams were able to operate for 24 hours undetected. Then, dummy raids on one side of the island drew off defenders before the Royal Marines launched their main assault on the opposite side, allowing them to reach their main objective with little contact.
So each side did well. The Royal Marines were able to hit their objective almost undetected, and the Estonians were able to defend it anyway, and that’s good for both sides because, realistically, Estonia and Britain would more than likely fight on the same side in a war.
And the people Britain would liberate Saaremaa from would not be Estonian locals, they would be Russian commandos.
Under the surface of all European war games of the last few years sits the certainty that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine only faded because it became too costly. If former Soviet Bloc countries who want to remain democratic and free are to do so, they have to be ready to fend off a Russian “grey-zone” attack at any time.
Grey Zone describes hostilities across cyberspace and physical terrain that fall just short of war. The successful Russian seizure of Crimea and the attacks into the Donbas region were both grey-zone operations.
While the United States has let its short-range air defense systems decline since the end of the Cold War, Russia’s been very active in bolstering theirs. Of course, this can be explained in part by the different situations the two countries face.
Generally, the United States controls the skies over the battlefield, often to the detriment of gear that the Russians have sold to countries like Iraq, Libya, and Yugoslavia. This makes other countries that either bought or licensed Russian designs nervous. So, Russia’s been working hard to come up with more effective defenses, especially for battlefield forces, like tank and infantry divisions.
The latest in this series is a system called Pantsir. It is an advanced, self-propelled combined gun/missile system that is used on 8×8 trucks. On these trucks are 12 SA-22 “Greyhound” surface-to-air missiles and a pair of 30mm cannon. This is a higher capacity than the previous state-of-the-art Russian tactical defense system, the 2S6 Tunguska, which had eight SA-19 “Grison” missiles and two 30mm cannon on a tracked vehicle. To put it bluntly, one of these truck-mounted systems has enough missiles to kill an entire Navy or Marine squadron of F/A-18 Hornets.
The SA-22 Greyhound missiles have a maximum range of just over 11 miles, according to GlobalSecurity.org, but Deagel.com reports that an advanced version of this missile could have a range of nearly 25 miles – well in excess of many precision-guided bombs in the American inventory.
The scary thing is that Russia is already exporting this advanced air-defense system. So far, buyers have included the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and, ominously, Syria. In short, American combat planes could very well be facing a Russian truck that could blow them out of the sky
Marine scout snipers are often described more like a force of nature than a group of warfighters. The Corps has recently had just a few hundred of them at a time, but a massive mission rests on their shoulders. They’re true scouts, acting as the commander’s eyes and ears, but they’re also trained to take careful shots at foes. And they even train to hit targets from moving platforms like helicopters.
The scout sniper is a Marine highly skilled in fieldcraft and marksmanship who delivers long range, precision fire at selected targets from concealed positions.
But the Marine Corps is very specific that scout snipers are shooters, even going so far as to define the snipers’ primary mission as that “precision fire” and the secondary mission as “gathering information for intelligence purposes.”
So, they’re really highly observant snipers rather than scouts who have become more lethal. And being a top-tier sniper requires a certain amount of flexibility, especially in the Marine Corps where they pride themselves on their “Semper Gumby” mentality.
And so these Marines train on not just riding into battle on helicopters, but on shooting enemies from them with their precise fires. To practice, the Marines hop into Super Hueys and spit fire at targets floating in the ocean or staged on land. The shifting helicopters provide an increased level of challenge, but also allows the snipers to take out threats while inserting into the battlefield or while providing cover for infantrymen hitting the deck.
The two-man teams work together to watch over friendlies, engage enemy forces, and send targeting data and other intelligence back to the headquarters, whether they’re working from a helicopter, a ship, or a secluded ridge or rooftop on the battlefield.
A video from the aerial sniper training is available above.
The top enlisted leader of the U.S. Air Force is making resiliency a top priority for the last year of his tenure, and part of his plan to promote strong and mindful airmen is to revamp how airmen approach the physical fitness assessment, commonly known as the PT test.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright is looking at new ways of approaching the PT test. One possibility under consideration is a no-fail trial PT test, that if passed, would count as the airman’s official score, Wright’s spokesman, Senior Master Sgt. Harry Kibbe, said.
“The intent is to relieve some of the anxiety, and hopefully this is one of the steps that can get [the Air Force] closer to a culture of fitness rather than a culture of fitness testing,” Kibbe told Miliary.com on Aug. 7, 2019. The news was first reported by Air Force Magazine.
Kibbe explained that, in the Air Force, an “excellent” composite score is equal to or greater than 90 points with all minimum components met. A satisfactory score is between 75 and 89.99 points. Anything below 75 is a failing score. If an airman scores 90 or above, he or she has a year before the next test. Those within the 75 to 89 category only have six months before they must take the next assessment.
(United States Air Force)
The current Air Force fitness test is gender and age-normed and combines a 1.5-mile run time with maximum pushup and sit-up repetitions within one minute.
“In order to try to relieve some of the anxiety that airmen are having when they’re getting close to their due date, we’re going to allow them to take a ‘diagnostic test,'” he said.
It can be taken anytime in the year-long or six-month window, though not after.
“They’re going to take that diagnostic test and if they pass it, as long as they’re doing it through the official testing system … their clock would reset,” Kibbe said. “If they don’t pass it, but they’re still current, there will not be any punitive actions.”
If an airman fails the pre-test, he or she still has time to work on “what they need to work on” to improve for the next PT assessment, he said.
Kibbe said the Air Force is in the process of developing the policy, but stressed it’s still “months away” from any potential implementation.
A Day in the Life
(U.S. Air Force photo by Jamie Pitcher)
There may also be a change to the tape test, Kibbe said. The tape test, which measures body fat based on waist circumference, has drawn criticism over the years as an ineffective way to assess body composition due to differences in body type and musculature.
Officials are “looking at incorporating an equation,” Kibbe said. “To find out your fitness index for the abdominal circumference, they’re looking at adding into an equation your waist measurement, your height and your run time to get an overall cardiovascular fitness index, or a number that more accurately represents how you’re doing.”
The waist maximums remain 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women.
There are outliers when it comes to waist measurement, though, including very tall men and women and those with big builds. Kibbe said the Air Force is still weighing what the cutoffs for the proposed equation method would be.
“The science is telling us that we do need to keep a measurement of the waist because [it] is an accurate predictor of health,” he said.
For any changes to PT, Kibbe said Wright is making sure the service “gets it right rather than fast.”
“He’s more than comfortable to handing this off to the next [CMSAF] knowing it has been set up for success,” Kibbe said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.
Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.
While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.
As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.
This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.
(U.S. National Archives)
This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.
The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.
This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.
It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.
In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.
Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.
The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.
Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.
To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.
And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.
According to reports released through Chinese media, a modified version of their Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, dubbed the J-20B, has just entered mass production. This new variant of their first fifth-generation fighter will continue to run dated Russian-built engines, but will utilize thrust vectoring control nozzles to grant the aircraft a significant boost in maneuverability.
“Mass production of the J-20B started on Wednesday. It has finally become a complete stealth fighter jet, with its agility meeting the original criteria,” the South China Morning Post credited to an unnamed source within the Government.
Chengdu J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
“The most significant change to the fighter jet is that it is now equipped with thrust vector control.”
Thrust vectoring nozzle for a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan (WikiMedia Commons)
Thrust Vector Control
Thrust vector control, sometimes abbreviated to TVC, is a means of controlling a jet or rocket engine’s outward thrust. Thrust vectoring nozzles are used to literally move the outflow of exhaust in different directions to give an aircraft the ability to conduct acrobatics that a straight-forward nozzled jet simply couldn’t do.
When paired with an aircraft like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, thrust vectoring control allows an aircraft to make sharper changes in direction, or even to continue traveling in one direction while pointing the nose, and weapons systems of the aircraft, down toward an enemy. Put simply, thrust vectoring nozzles let you point the engine one way, while the aircraft itself is pointed in another (to a certain extent).
In a jet like the F-22 (and soon in China’s J-20 stealth fighter), this technology gives fighter pilots a distinct advantage over non-thrust vectoring jets in a dogfight. You can see the thrust vector control surfaces on the F-22’s engine, which can direct the outflow of exhaust up to 20 degrees up or down, in this video clip:
Russia also employs thrust vector control technology in some of their more capable fighters, like the Sukhoi Su-35, which is widely considered to be among the most capable fourth generation fighters in service anywhere on the planet. While stealth and sensor fusion capabilities would give an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the long range advantage against the non-stealth Su-35, the Russian jet would technically be capable of flying circles around America’s premier stealth fighter if stealth weren’t in the picture (luckily, however, it is).
Of course, that’s not what the F-35 was built for, and in a real conflict, an F-35 would likely shoot down a Su-35 before the Russian pilot was even aware of an American presence in his airspace. China’s J-20 stealth fighter, however, would very likely be extremely difficult to detect on radar or by infrared signature as it closed with an opponent from head on, and the J-20B’s thrust vector control abilities combined with that inherent sneakiness could make this new J-20 a serious adversary for the F-35, and even a worthy opponent for the F-22.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter versus China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
While the F-35 tends to garner the lion’s share of attention, it truly was not built to serve in an air superiority role against near-peer or peer level adversaries. The F-35’s strengths don’t come from its speed or maneuverability, but rather from the extremely effective one-two punch it can deliver via stealth technologies, sensor fusion, and communications.
Many F-35 pilots, including Sandboxx News’ own Justin “Hasard” Lee, will tell you that the F-35’s role in many dogfights isn’t that of an up-close dog fighter, but rather more like a quarterback in the sky, accumulating and processing data into an easy-to-manage interface, and relaying that information to aircraft and other weapons systems in the battle space.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)
When it is up to the F-35 to take down an airborne opponent, the F-35’s speed and maneuverability limitations are usually not a significant concern, as the jet is designed to engage enemy aircraft more like a sniper than a boxer. The F-35’s data fusion capabilities make it easy for the pilot to identify enemy aircraft in their heads up display, and the fighter can even engage multiple targets from distances too far to see with the naked eye.
J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
However, the J-20 may be difficult to see for even the mighty F-35, which, when combined with the J-20B’s higher top end and superior mobility thanks to thrust vectoring nozzles, it could be a real threat to America’s top tier stealth fighter. The front canards on the J-20, however, are believed by some to compromise the aircraft’s stealth when approaching from angles other than head-on. Debate continues on this front, but it could give the F-35 the advantage it needs.
Of course, that is if the J-20B performs as China claims it will.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Samuel Eckholm)
The F-22 Raptor vs China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
This match up is a bit more appropriate, as the F-35 was built to be a jack of all stealthy trades and the F-22 was built specifically to dominate a sky full of enemy fighters. Unlike the F-35, which is largely limited to subsonic speeds in both the Navy and Marine Corps’ iterations, the F-22 is fast, mean, and acrobatic in addition to its stealth capabilities.
China’s stealth fighter, the J-20, was designed using stolen plans for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, giving it a similar profile and potentially similar combat capabilities. However, it seems unlikely that China has managed to replicate the complex process of mass producing stealth aircraft to the same extent the United States has, as America’s stealth work dates back to the 1970s and the development of the “Hopeless Diamond” that would eventually become the F-117 Nighthawk.
As previously mentioned, the J-20’s front canards could potentially limit the aircraft’s stealth capabilities as well, making the plane difficult to detect from head on, but potentially easier from other angles.
Some content that these canards compromise some degree of the J-20’s stealth capabilities. (Chinese internet)
Although China has announced that their J-20B will come equipped with thrust vector controls, just how effective their system will be remains to be seen, meaning that, like China’s stealth capabilities, their execution may potentially fall behind their bluster.
Assuming, however, that the J-20B performs exactly as China says it will, the aircraft could likely be a worthy opponent for the F-22 in some circumstances, especially when flying in greater numbers than America’s top intercept fighter, which just may be a serious issue in the near future, as America simply can’t build any more F-22s.
Chinese J-20s flying in formation (Chinese internet)
While it remains to be seen if China’s J-20 stealth fighter and upgraded J-20B will be a real match for America’s F-35 or F-22 in a one-on-one fight, the truth is, very few fights actually shake out that way. Pilots spend tons of time planning their combat operations to limit their exposure to high risk situations and to maximize the effectiveness of their stealth profile.
Thus far, it’s believed that China has built fewer than 50 J-20s, though production may pick up as China now seems comfortable using dated Russian power plants in their new fighters, rather than waiting on their long troubled WS-15 engine that was designed specifically for this application. Using these engine platforms may limit the overall performance of the jet, but it will also allow for more rapid production–which may create China’s only actual advantage in an air-to-air conflict.
Lockheed Martin produced only 186 total F-22 Raptors before the program was shut down, and today, far fewer are actually operational. In other words, America may have the world’s most capable air intercept fighter in the F-22, but it also has an extremely limited supply of them. The supply chain established for F-22 production has been largely cannibalized for the F-35, so there’s no hope in building any more either.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Westin Warburton)
China’s J-20 stealth fighter, on the other hand, is still under production, and while Russian-sourced engines may make their fighter’s less capable than America’s stealth fighters, China may more than offset that disadvantage through sheer volume. Even if a J-20 doesn’t stand a chance in a scrap with an F-22, adding four or five more J-20s into the mix places the odds squarely in China’s favor.
Today, the United States maintains the largest fleet of stealth aircraft in service to any nation, but over time, that advantage could be eroded thanks to China’s massive industrial capabilities.
Two F-22 Raptors and a T-38 Talon from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, fly together during a 43rd Fighter Squadron Basic Course training mission Oct. 7, 2013 over Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. J. Wilcox)
America’s massive experience advantage in the skies
China’s J-20 stealth fighter may potentially end up a near competitor for America’s top stealth jets, and they may eventually overcome any advantage America’s fighters do have through volume, but there’s one integral place Chinese aviators still lag far behind American pilots: experience. America’s experience advantage manifests in two specific ways.
The first experiential advantage American pilots have on their side is practical flying time aboard their specific platforms. While the total number of required flight hours for pilots varies a bit from branch to branch, on average, a U.S. fighter pilot spends around 20 hours per month at the stick of their respective jets. That shakes out to around 240 flight hours per year devoted strictly to training for combat operations.
(U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane)
Chinese fighter pilots, on the other hand, average less than half of that per year, with most pilots logging between 100 and 120 hours flying their particular airframes. With more than double the annual flying experience to pull from, American fighter pilots across the board will be better prepared for the rigors of combat.
The second facet of America’s experience-advantage is in real combat operations. The United States has been embroiled in the Global War on Terror for nearly two straight decades, and while most of the flying American fighter pilots have done throughout has been for the purposes of ground attack or close air support missions, there’s no denying that American aviators have more experience flying in a combat zone than their Chinese competition.
A formation of F-35A Lightning IIs (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
Although there have been very few dog fights in recent years, it’s worth noting that one of the world’s more recent fighter-to-fighter shoot-downs took place over Syria and involved a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet engaging a Syrian military Su-22 Fitter. American pilots, and just as importantly, America’s military leadership, are no strangers to war, and that offers a unique insight into future conflicts.
China’s massive military has undergone a significant overhaul in recent years that still continues to this day, but their relative inexperience and likely inferior stealth technology keeps China at a disadvantage in a notional conflict with the United States, especially in the air.
Chengdu J-20 (Chinese internet)
So do the J-20B’s upgrades even matter?
While China may still have a ways to go before they can claim the sort of stealth dominance the United States enjoys, the upgraded systems placed in China’s J-20B certainly do matter. As former Defense Secretary and famed Marine General James Mattis once said, America has no pre-ordained right to victory on the battlefield.
It’s absolutely essential that we take an objective look at China’s growing military threat and remember that they don’t need to match America’s broad capabilities to gain an advantage–they need only to counter them. Working to devise creative solutions that offset tactical advantages has been an integral part of warfare ever since humans first started sharpening sticks, and it remains essential today.
The J-20B doesn’t need to be a match for the F-22 Raptor if its leveraged properly and in sufficient numbers, and that alone warrants consideration.
The final stop in Rich’s journey through Vietnam. Sapa is a frontier township along the Chinese border, home to the northern highlanders and hundreds of miles of trails. It’s the perfect place to field test MACV-1 prototypes.
Sapa is considered the trekking capitol of Vietnam and we all know trekking is just rucking in the mountains.
The secret to the best bowl of pho in Vietnam? Serve it with plenty of Tiger beer halfway through a 15-hour ruck.
And of course you need to pack a few Tigers for when you get to the top.
“First impressions?” asked Paul.
“They’re comfortable, they’re lightweight, they’re versatile… and you can drink in them” said Rich.