The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin turbofan-powered aircraft designed specifically for close air support and ground attack missions against armored vehicles.
The aircraft’s sub-sonic speed and large, straight-wing design allows for extreme maneuverability at low altitudes and extended time on target or to loiter above the battlefield.
The airframe was designed from the very start as a short takeoff and landing aerial platform for the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, which can fire 3,900 depleted uranium shells per minute. When combined with the ability to carry the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile and laser-guided bombs, the A-10 can destroy enemy armor at close range or from a standoff position.
Redundant control surfaces and hydraulic systems combined with titanium armor protecting the pilot, control systems, and ammunition make the A-10 highly survivable in combat.
When performing forward air control missions, the A-10 changes its designation to OA-10, although it remains just as combat capable as the A-10.
Its lethal effect on the battlefield combined with the toughness to return its pilot to base even after suffering extensive damage has led pilots and crew to nickname the aircraft the “Warthog.”
Development and design
The A-10 was born of the Attack-Experimental (A-X) program office, which launched in 1966 to develop a ground-attack aircraft to replace the Douglas A-1 Skyraider.
In 1970, the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s overwhelming number of tanks along the borders of Western Europe led the Air Force to request contractor proposals for an airframe specifically designed to conduct the CAS mission and destroy enemy armor.
The call for designs stipulated a low-cost aerial weapons platform – less than $3 million per unit – capable of loitering above the battlefield and engaging enemy targets at low altitude and speed with a high-speed rotary cannon, while providing extreme crew and aircraft survivability.
Later, the requirements would be further specified to include a maximum speed of 450 mph and a normal operating speed of 300 mph in combat to enable easier engagement of slow-moving ground targets.
Furthermore, the new aircraft was required to take off in less than 4,000 feet, enabling operations from small airfields close to the front lines, carry an external load of 16,000 pounds, and have a mission radius of 285 miles, all for a final cost of $1.4 million per aircraft.
Of the six proposals submitted to the Air Force, Northrop and Fairchild Republic were selected to build prototypes.
In 1973, Fairchild Republic’s YF-10 was the winner of a fly-off against Northrup’s YF-9 and full production began in 1976, with the first A-10 being delivered to Air Force Tactical Air Command that March.
Features and deployment
Fairchild Republic’s WWII fighter, the P-47 Thunderbolt, had begun its service in Europe as fighter and bomber escort, but soon earned a reputation as a relentless and tough ground-attack aircraft that dispatched Nazi armor and artillery in close proximity to friendly troops, while creating havoc in enemy assembly areas and along rail and road supply routes. It was a natural choice for the company to name its new CAS-dedicated aircraft after its WWII-era forefather: “Thunderbolt II”.
The entire design of the aircraft revolved around the high-speed 30mm Avenger cannon. The weapon gives the A-10 its up-close tank-busting capabilities announced by the long “buuuuurp” sound that has saved and encouraged many an infantryman in dire straits on the battlefield.
Although developed initially to provide an aerial counterpunch to the mass of Soviet tanks poised along the borders of Western Europe, the A-10 did not see combat until the Gulf War in 1991.
There, the “Warthog” earned its nickname, getting pilots back to base despite heavy damage from ground fire while destroying 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and trucks, and over 1,200 artillery pieces. Just four A-10s were lost to Iraqi surface-to-air missiles in over 8,000 sorties.
The A-10 next saw combat and search and rescue missions in the Balkans in 1994-95 and again in 1999, before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and participating in the entirety of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It still currently conducts operations against ISIS targets.
Did you know?
Many of the A-10’s parts, such as engines, main landing gear, and vertical stabilizers are interchangeable on both sides of the aircraft, greatly increasing ease of maintenance and decreasing operational and maintenance costs.
The A-10’s ailerons constitute nearly 50 percent of the total wing surface, giving it an astonishing rate of roll and maneuverability at low altitudes and speeds.
If the redundant hydraulic systems and backup mechanical system are all disabled, the pilot can still lock landing gear into place using a combination of gravity and aerodynamic drag. The main gear does not fully retract leaving the wheels exposed decreasing damage in an emergency belly landing.
The A-10 gained its first air-to-air victory during the Gulf War in 1991 when Capt. Robert Swain shot down an Iraqi helicopter with 30mm cannon fire.
In 2010, the A-10 was the first Air Force aircraft to fly powered by biofuels.
Fact Sheet: A-10 Thunderbolt II
Primary function: close air support, airborne forward air control, combat search and rescue
Contractor: Fairchild Republic Co.
Power plant: two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans
Thrust: 9,065 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches (17.42 meters)
Length: 53 feet, 4 inches (16.16 meters)
Height: 14 feet, 8 inches (4.42 meters)
Weight: 29,000 pounds (13,154 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 51,000 pounds (22,950 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 11,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Payload: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Speed: 450 nautical miles per hour (Mach 0.75)
Range: 2580 miles (2240 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,636 meters)
Armament: one 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations, including 500 pound (225 kilograms) Mk-82 and 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) Mk-84 series low/high drag bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, combined effects munitions, mine dispensing munitions, AGM-65 Maverick missiles and laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs; infrared countermeasure flares; electronic countermeasure chaff; jammer pods; 2.75-inch (6.99 centimeters) rockets; illumination flares and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
In recent months, a slew of bad press for Lockheed Martin’s long-troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has once again made calling the 5th generation jet a failure culturally en vogue. From overt statements about the aircraft’s financial woes to newly announced tech issues causing “strategic pauses” in development and even an apparent lack of confidence in the aircraft coming out of the Air Force’s top brass, the Joint Strike Fighter program hasn’t faced such an uphill battle since the Pentagon first decided it wanted a single aircraft that could hover like a Harrier, fly supersonic like an Eagle, sneak past defenses like a Nighthawk, and land on carriers like a Super Hornet.
With all of this bad press, the inclination for some is to simply dismiss the F-35 program as an egregious acquisition debacle and nothing else. After all, the aircraft still can’t go into full-rate production because of a laundry list of issues, hundreds of delivered airframes may never actually be combat-ready, and the Air Force isn’t even sure they can afford to operate an F-35-focused fleet… With all of that piled up in the “con” column, it’s easy to see why some people never make it past those cons to begin with.
Assessing the F-35’s worth: Concept vs. Reality
The truth is, the F-35 isn’t a concept–it’s an aircraft–and that’s an important distinction. Concepts can usually be neatly filed under right or wrong; good or bad. Real things, by and large, aren’t so easily organized, and often (when it comes to new technologies) are as much a product of their challenges as their original design. Every groundbreaking military aircraft program has faced setbacks, and while no aircraft program has ever cost as much as the F-35 promises to in its lifetime, that cost doesn’t negate the real capability the fighter brings to the table. Let me be clear–this isn’t an argument in favor of the F-35 program, or even necessarily for the jet to keep its lauded position atop the Air Force’s priority list. It’s just an objective observation about what this fighter can do.
Again, as a concept, we can neatly file the intent behind the F-35 in the “good idea” category and the execution behind paying for it in the “bad idea” one–but in terms of this specific aircraft made of nuts and bolts, those distinctions aren’t quite as important as they are to the broader discussion. We can either take the significant leap in capability the F-35 offers and find a way to shoehorn it into a pragmatic model for spending as we move forward… or not. Lessons learned from the F-35’s acquisition debacle should certainly inform how America sources its next fighters (or anything for that matter), but in terms of the F-35 itself, only time travel could solve most of these past headaches… and time travel is one of the things Lockheed Martin has yet to deliver.
So let’s divorce ourselves from the emotion tied to dollar exchanges ranked in the trillions, forget about the frustration we’ve felt as the F-35 program has languished behind delays, and look at this fighter for what it was meant to be, what it is, and what it can be in the years ahead. Past failures in one column don’t necessarily mean future failures in another, after all.
The F-35 might be a horror story in accounting, but it’s also a massive success from the vantage point of its trigger pullers.
Asking for the impossible
The first studies that would lead to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program as we know it began in 1993, with America shopping for a short take-off, vertical-landing fighter that could operate in the modern era.
Soon, the Pentagon took notice of other fighter programs in development and posited a theory: If America could find one airplane that could replace a whole host of aging platforms, it would shrink acquisition cost, streamline maintenance and operation training, remove many of the logistical headaches tied to operating a large number of aircraft in far-flung theaters, and make everyone’s day that much easier and less expensive. In hindsight, of course, those goals weren’t just naive, they may have been the program’s first major problem.
Lockheed Martin, the same firm responsible for the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, and the world’s first operational stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, would ultimately beat out Boeing for the Joint Strike Fighter contract, thanks to their track record in the field of stealth and impressive technology demonstrators.
Today, meeting the broad requirements of three American military branches and at least two foreign partners is one of the F-35’s biggest selling points… but in the late 1990s, it was akin to Kennedy’s announcement that America would put a man on the moon within the following decade. It was a good idea on paper… but nobody really knew how to make it actually happen.
“If you were to go back to the year 2000 and somebody said, ‘I can build an airplane that is stealthy and has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and can go supersonic,’ most people in the industry would have said that’s impossible,” Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s general manager for the program from 2000 to 2013 told The New York Times.
“The technology to bring all of that together into a single platform was beyond the reach of industry at that time.”
But money has a way of making the impossible start to look improbable… and then eventually, mundane. The Saturn V that kept Kennedy’s promise about the moon was the most complex and powerful machine ever devised by man, and by Apollo 13–just NASA’s third mission to the moon–the American people already thought the rocket’s trip through space was too boring to watch (at least until everything went wrong). Likewise, building a supersonic, stealth fighter that can hover over amphibious assault ships sounded downright crazy, that is, right up until it was boring.
Making the impossible mundane costs lots of money
In order to meet the disparate needs of a single aircraft that could replace at least five planes across multiple military forces, Lockheed Martin chose to devise three iterations of their new fighter.
The F-35A would be the closest to what might be considered a traditional multi-role fighter–intended to take off and land on well-manicured airstrips found on military installations the world over. The second, dubbed the F-35B, would incorporate a directional jet nozzle and hidden fan to provide the aircraft with enough lift to hover and land vertically for use aboard Marine Corps amphibious assault ships or on austere, hastily cleared airstrips. Finally, a carrier-capable variant dubbed the F-35C would boast the greater wingspan necessarily for lower speed carrier landings, along with a reinforced fuselage that could withstand the incredible forces tied to serving aboard an aircraft carrier.
The plan was to leave as much about all three iterations as identical as possible, so parts, production, training, and maintenance could be similar enough regardless of the operating theater. That plan would prove infeasible almost immediately.
“It turns out when you combine the requirements of the three services, what you end up with is the F-35, which is an aircraft that is in many ways suboptimal for what each of the services really want,” Todd Harrison, an aerospace expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
Lockheed Martin’s team of designers began with the simplest version: the landing-strip-friendly F-35A. Once they were happy with the design, they moved on to the F-35B, which needed to house its internal fan right in the middle of the aircraft’s fuselage. As soon as they began work on the F-35B, it became clear that simply copying and pasting the F-35A design wouldn’t cut it. In fact, they were so far off the mark that it would take an additional 18 months and $6.2 billion just to figure out how to make the F-35B work–something you’d think might have come up prior to securing the contract.
This was the first, but certainly not the last, time a problem like this would derail progress on the F-35. To some extent, these failures can largely be attributed to poor planning, but it’s also important to remember that the F-35 program was aiming to do things no other fighter program had ever done before. Discovery and efficiency don’t always walk hand in hand–and to be clear, Lockheed Martin had no real incentive to make the Joint Strike Fighter work on a budget.
Concurrent Development: The dirtiest two words in aviation
The United States knew that what they were asking Lockheed Martin to deliver wouldn’t be easy. Stealth aircraft programs from the F-117 to today’s B-21 Raider have all faced a struggled balance between price tag and capability, but with so many eggs in the F-35 basket, the stakes quickly ballooned. With highly advanced 4th generation fighters like Russia’s Su-35 and China’s J-10 already flying, and their own stealth fighter programs in development by the 2000s, America was in trouble. The dogfighting dynamo F-22 was canceled in 2011 after just 186 jets were built, making the F-35 the nation’s only fighter program on the books. This new jet would have to be better than everything in the sky today and for decades to come… and it had to start doing it immediately.
To make this possible, the Pentagon believed the best approach would be “concurrent development,” or just “concurrency.” The premise behind concurrency is simple: You begin production of the new aircraft once the design is settled, and then you go back and make changes as testing highlights any issues that may need to be addressed. On paper, this looked like a way to begin fielding these new, highly capable fighters, training pilots and maintainers, developing tactics, and settling the fighter of the future into service as it matured. In reality, however, it meant building F-35s before they’d been fully tested and then spending billions to go back and fix the old jets after testing was complete.
Issue after issue bubbled to the surface. By 2017, they’d become so serious that the Air Force began to consider just abandoning the first 108 F-35A’s they’d received (and the $21.4 billion they’d spent on them) simply because fixing them would be too expensive. By the end of 2020, Lockheed Martin once again postponed full-rate production, with a long list of issues yet to be resolved.
And amid all of this spending rose yet another financial hurdle: the immense cost of operating the F-35. While a top-of-the-line but decidedly non-stealth F-15EX may cost as much as $28,000 an hour to fly, the F-35 costs at least $44,000 per hour… and each F-35 airframe is only rated to fly for less than a third of the total hours an F-15EX can. In other words, the F-35 has been egregiously expensive to develop and promises to stay egregiously expensive to operate. As a result, the Air Force is now considering adding another, cheaper fighter to the mix despite planning to order more than 2,000 total F-35s over its lifetime. The fact of the matter is, the jet is just too expensive to use for some jobs.
“I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said of the F-35.
“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight… We don’t want to burn up capability now and wish we had it later.”
So… the F-35 is a failure?
Not so fast. It’s easy to spiral down the acquisition rabbit hole until you start shaking your fist at the sky, and if you only read up until this point in this article or similar ones, it makes sense that you’d feel secure in lumping the F-35 in with flying aircraft carriers and pigeon-guided missiles as yet another mistake on Uncle Sam’s bar tab… but these vantage points are missing one incredibly important bit of context: The opinion of the warfighters who fly them.
In terms of responsible spending, you’ll probably only hear the F-35 program defended by Air Force officials and Lockheed Martin employees, but in terms of sheer capability, you can find lots of folks singing the F-35’s praises.
“My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training,” Col. Joshua Wood, 388th Operations Group commander, said about flying with F-35s in the Air Force’s large scale Red Flag exercise. “He gets on the radio and tells an experienced, 3,000-hour pilot in a very capable fourth-generation aircraft: ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die. There’s a threat off your nose.’”
According to Wood, that same “brand new” pilot would rack up three kills against those enemy pilots in just the next hour.
These stories tend not to get as much reach as the bad news for a few important reasons. The first is that bad news sells, and folks are more likely to click on an article highlighting an expensive American failure than they are a tactical success story. The second is a bit more nuanced: While we tend to think of fighter operations in terms of scenes we’ve seen in the movie, “Top Gun,” the F-35 doesn’t simply operate in those terms.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is slower than the F-15, can’t fly as high as the long-retired F-14, carries less ordnance than an F/A-18, and wouldn’t be a match for the F-16 in an acrobatic competition. In terms of just about all of the things that we think fighters have to do, the F-35 is worse than the old jets we watched our parents fly in the 1970s… But there’s a good reason behind that–and it isn’t just about stealth.
Data fusion, not stealth, is the F-35’s most potent weapon
Yes, the F-35 can fly faster than the speed of sound, deliver its payload to unsuspecting targets in highly defended airspace, and then land vertically on the deck of a helicopter carrier… but all of that is just part of what makes it special. The most important part, many would argue, isn’t its ability to avoid detection or even deliver ordnance: It’s the F-35’s ability to soak up information and process it into something our oversized monkey brains can actually use in a fight.
Despite their bravado, fighter pilots are made out of the same guts and water as the rest of us–and that really makes their jobs a lot harder than most people realize. Not only does it take an incredible amount of physical resilience just to manage the rigors of flying in a combat environment, but it also takes a huge amount of mental bandwidth and focus.
Pilots managing even the best 4th generation fighters have to split their attention between as many as 20 dials and readouts in their cockpits, all while keeping their eyes on the horizon and skies around them, looking out for enemy aircraft or surface to air missiles, among other things.
Because each of those dials, sensors, and screens are fed by independent data streams, it’s up to the pilot to scan all of them, and the skies, and then combine all of that info in his or her head… even when two sensors offer contradictory information. And that’s assuming all those gauges can help in a dogfight.
“In my cockpit, what I had displayed for me was what I had on my own radar and what I could hear in my headset, and that was it,” Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in 2019. Goldfein flew the F-16 and F-117 as a pilot. “My job was to figure out mentally, in this 3-D, god’s-eye view, what was going on over hundreds of miles of battlespace.”
The F-35, with its incredibly expensive custom helmets and powerful onboard computers, takes all of that information and then adds more, gleaning data from other aircraft, ground assets, satellites, and even Navy vessels. The computers file and sort all of this information and then translate the deluge into a single, convenient trickle right in front of the pilot’s eyes. Instead of trying to manage a dozen gauges and your view of the enemy, F-35 pilots see all the pertinent info they need right in their line of sight, offering info on enemy targets, friendly assets, and mission objectives at a glance–but that’s not all this flying supercomputer can do.
“The mission commander now is taxiing out, hasn’t even taken off yet, and is already getting input from what’s happening in space and cyber,” Goldfien said. “As soon as you pilot that airplane up, it’s already starting to fuse and collect.”
The F-35’s data fusion does give its pilots better situational awareness than any tactical aircraft to come before it, but that value multiplies as the data is shared across other aircraft and assets. A single F-35 in a formation has proven to make its 4th generation wingmen more deadly thanks to relaying such a thorough understanding of the battlespace. As a result, many pilots have taken to calling the F-35 a “quarterback in the sky.” Sure, it’s on the field too, but its game-changing capabilities make it a leadership platform. F-35 pilots have even successfully engaged targets using weapons from ground vehicles by relaying target information in real-time.
The F-35’s data fusion capabilities may get less attention than its stealth, but the truth is, stealth is a 50-year-old concept (with plenty of ongoing application), and data fusion is the future.
What is the F-35’s future… and what should it be?
It seems entirely possible that the U.S. Air Force does pursue a “5th gen minus” fighter that’s cheaper and less stealthy than the F-35, but more capable in contested airspace than an F-16, but that doesn’t mean the F-35 will just be sent out to pasture.
While once seen as the future workhorse of American and allied air power, the F-35 program has been a victim of its own lofty aspirations, reaching into Lockheed Martin’s grab bag of capabilities and coming out with a few more than America’s already bulging defense budget could handle. We may not actually see 2,000 F-35s flying under America’s banner in the long run, but then, maybe we don’t have to for it to be a success yet.
Lockheed Martin drew some criticisms in 2019 when they told Japan that they could build a new stealth fighter that bridges the capabilities of the F-35 and F-22 while all coming in at a lower cost, seemingly acknowledging the fiscal irresponsibility of the F-35 program to date. There’s another way to look at that statement though: The first time you do something will always cost more than the second. As time goes on, that advanced technology becomes more commonplace and less expensive, and then a new expensive technology comes along to take its place. We should expect the next stealth fighter to either cost a whole bunch less or do a whole bunch more. That’s just the nature of warfare and technology.
That next fighter, as well as others like the NGAD, will benefit from expensive mistakes made in the F-35’s development, as well as the incredible lessons learned about avionics, secure networking, and operating in contested airspace. Do those valuable leaps offset the financial boondoggle that has been F-35 acquisition over the past 14 years? No. The F-35 may be jam-packed with game-changing technology, but capability is not, in itself, a measure of cost-effectiveness.
If your opinion of the F-35 is derived on paper, as a measure of carried ones and zeros split with commas, its probably safe to say you think it’s a failure… but the F-35 wasn’t built to operate on paper. This fighter was meant to give America’s warfighters an edge over the competition, and if you ask the guys and gals flying it, that’s exactly what it’s done.
So, is the F-35 an acquisition failure or is it a tactical success? The complicated truth is… it’s both.
Major powers are rushing to strengthen their militaries through artificial intelligence, but the US is hamstrung by certain challenges that rivals like China may not face, giving them an advantage in this strategic competition.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling cutting-edge technological capabilities that have any number of possibilities, both in the civilian and military space. AI can mean complex data analysis and accelerated decision-making — a big advantage that could potentially be the decisive difference in a high-end fight.
For China, one of its most significant advantages — outside of its disregard for privacy concerns and civil liberties that allow it to gather data and develop capabilities faster — is the fusion of military aims with civilian commercial industry. In contrast, leading US tech companies like Google are not working with the US military on AI.
“If we do not find a way to strengthen the bonds between the United States government and industry and academia, then I would say we do have the real risk of not moving as fast as China when it comes to” artificial intelligence, Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said, responding to Insider’s queries at a Pentagon press briefing Aug. 30, 2019.
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan.
(U. S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)
Shanahan, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said that China’s civil-military integration “does give them a leg up,” adding that the the Department of Defense will “have to work hard on strengthening the relationships we have with commercial industry.”
China’s pursuit of artificial intelligence, while imperfect, is a national strategy that enjoys military, government, academic, and industry support. “The idea of that civil-military integration does give strength in terms of their ability to take commercial and make it military as fast as they can,” Shanahan explained.
The Pentagon has been dealt several serious blows by commercial industry partners. For instance, Google recently decided it is no longer interested in working with the US military on artificial intelligence projects. “I asked somebody who spends time in China working on AI could there be a Google/Project Maven scenario,” Shanahan said Aug. 30, 2019. “He laughed and said, ‘Not for very long.'”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford sharply criticized Google earlier this year, accusing the company of aiding the Chinese military.
Shanahan acknowledged that the relationships between the military and industry and academia that helped fuel the rise of Silicon Valley have “splintered” due to various reasons, including a number of incidents that have shaken public trust in the government. “That is a limitation for us,” he admitted.
“China’s strategy of military-civil fusion does present a competitive challenge that should be taken seriously,” Elsa Kania, a Center for New American Security expert on Chinese military innovation, wrote recently.
“Looking forward, US policy should concentrate on recognizing and redoubling our own initiatives to promote public-private partnership in critical technologies, while sustaining and increasing investments in American research and innovation.”
US soldier provides security during a short halt in Iraq.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall)
The US is not without its own advantages.
One important advantage for the US as it looks at not only what AI is but the art of the possible for use in the military is US warfighting experience, something China doesn’t really have.
Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that China has “advantage over the US in speed of adoption and data,” but explained that not all data is created equal. “Just the fact that they have data does not tell me they have an inherent strength in fielding this in their military organizations,” he said.
China can pull tons of data from society, but that, Shanahan explained, is a very “different kind of data than full-motion video from Afghanistan and Iraq,” which can be carefully analyzed and used to develop AI capabilities for the battlefield.
The Department of Defense is looking closely at using AI for things like predictive maintenance, event detection, network mapping, and so on, but the next big project is maneuvering and fire.
Shanahan said “2020 will be a breakout year for the department when it comes to fielding AI-enabled technologies,” but what exactly that big breakout will look like remains to be seen.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In January 2015, Logos announced that the company was issued a second grant to develop a prototype in partnership with Alta. The Logos-Alta team named their concept dirt bike SilentHawk and plan to have an operational prototype in 18 months. Here’s a concept rendering of what it looks like:
According to War Is Boring, the SilentHawk runs on a hybrid-electric drone engine and can use three different fuels – gasoline, diesel, and JP-8, a type of jet fuel. Since the combustion side isn’t silent, operators will have to switch to the electric battery when they want to be stealthy.
DARPA has been interested in silenced motorcycles as stealthy, quick, insertion and extraction vehicles for quite some time. According to Defense Industry Daily, Air Force teams have been shoving dirt bikes out of planes since 2010, and the Marine Corps has been training troops on third party vendors since 2012.
Zero Motorcycles toyed with the idea and developed the Zero MMX, but it didn’t work out. DARPA pulled their funding because the battery only lasted two hours.
Stats? Projections? F$%k that noise. Numbers can’t guarantee wins, but being a badass sure helps. As the 2018 NFL Season enters its second week and fantasy football fans continue to debate the stats, the veterans at We Are The Mighty are taking a different approach to finding the best players across the league.
This past week, our team of self-declared fair-weather fans scouted the NFL to find the players worthy of serving on one the military’s most elite units: the Army Special Forces — Operational Detachment Alpha, known exclusively as the “A-Team.”
A Special Forces team is full of quiet professionals, each of whom has a set of unique, special skills, ranging from demolitions to weapons to communications. Earning your place on a Special Forces team takes training, time, and a little luck, but it ultimately comes down to one simple question: Can you perform under pressure?
This results-based mentality is exactly the same approach used by NFL players across the league and, in the season’s opening week, five players have distinguished themselves worthy of making the inaugural “A Team Report.” Some earned this distinguished honor by breaking records while others made the list via sheer, viking-level badassery. Either way, all the players on this week’s A-Team Report stepped up when it mattered.
Safety Shawn Williams ejected for unnecessary roughness.
Shawn Williams — Cincinnati Bengals
There’s always one member of the team that’s willing to run into the fatal funnel without fear of the consequences. Normally, this is a job reserved for the A-Team member with too many deployments under their belt or just loves war way too much.
This craving for violence is exactly the motivation that safety Shawn Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals channeled against Andrew Luck and his Indianapolis Colts. Williams tried to take Andrew Luck’s head off in a tackle that would make even the most battle-hardened Green Berets squirm. Williams succeeded in stopping Luck, but not before he was ejected for unnecessary roughness. Williams is the first player to be ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit this year and may be subject to a fine.
We can’t wait to see what other destruction Williams will bring once he’s allowed back on the field next week.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard is a weapon.
Ryan Fitzpatrick — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As the 2018 season opened, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a backup quarterback who has been in the league for over decade (13 seasons, to be exact), was fully expected to spend this season on the sidelines. When the Buccaneers first-string quarterback was suspended, Fitzpatrick stepped up.
When Fitzpatrick comes to play, he brings with him a beard that would make even the most seasoned Delta Force operator jealous. The power of the beard is undeniable. It was solely responsible for Fitzpatrick throwing three touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 48-40 win over the New Orleans Saints. Next week, Fitzpatrick, his beard, and the Buccs will take on the Super-Bowl Champs, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Let’s hope Fitzpatrick doesn’t do anything stupid, like shave.
Adam Vinatieri uses his old-man strength to nail a 57-yard pre-season kick.
Adam Vinatieri — Indianapolis Colts
There is something to be said about old-man strength and, at 45 years and 23 seasons deep, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri performed like a true warrant officer in his season opener against the Bengals.
Within the Special Forces community, warrant officers are the brunt of numerous old-age jokes, but their experience is often invaluable. Simply, warrants know how to get sh*t done — and so does Vinatieri. Despite the Colt’s 23-34 loss, Vinatieri hit 3 of 4 field goal attempts.
Like all warrants, Vinatieri proved that, sometimes, you just have to shut up and kick sh*t.
Tyreek Hill’s 91 yard punt return, complete with peace offering.
Tyreek Hill — Kansas City Chiefs
While age brings experience, youth delivers speed and violence of action, which are the hallmarks of any A-Team member. This week, Kansas City Chiefs Wide Receiver/Return Specialist Tyreek Hill certainly brought the speed during a 91-yard kickoff return against the Chargers.
Hill lived up to his nickname, “Cheetah,” during the run, but just had to make sure the Chargers defense knew they’d been beat by throwing up a peace sign as he coasted into the endzone. Hill brings a speed and ego to the Chiefs that literally can’t be stopped.
What can we say? When you’re good, you’re good.
Rookie Roquan Smith sacks QB DeShone Kizer during his first play in the NFL
Roquan Smith — Chicago Bears
Rookie Linebacker Roquan Smith came to play in the Bears season opener against the Green Bay Packers, achieving something that should make any fan proud: In literally the first play of his NFL career, Smith sacked Green Bay Quarterback DeShone Kizer, proving that super bowl rings and cheese hats can’t stop a motivated linebacker.
We’re keeping our eye on Smith this season to see if his actions are a one-time fluke or if he can continue to bring the pain.
Okay, when you first saw the headline, you were probably wondering how the heck a howitzer can be a sniper rifle. Sniper rifles are precision instruments, designed to dish out extremely concentrated hurt while howitzers are meant to do big damage — it seems like a contradiction, right? Wrong.
With the right ammo, there’s a howitzer out capable of being a giant sniper rifle with an extremely long reach. How long? Try 22 miles.
The M777 Ultralight Field Howitzer is a towed 155-millimeter gun that’s been in service since 2005 and is capable of hitting targets from remarkable distances. Over the last decade, it’s been slowly replacing the M198 towed 155-millimeter howitzer.
But here’s where the M77 has the M198 beat: It weighs in at just 8,256 pounds, according to MilitaryFactory.com. That might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing next to the 15,792 pounds of the M198. That’s a nearly 50 percent reduction in weight, making the M777 a superb option for units like the 82nd Airborne Division and the Marines.
Marines fire a M777 howitzer at 29 Palms to prepare for the real thing.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen)
Now, to achieve that 22-mile reach and sniper-rifle accuracy, the shell of choice is the M982 Excalibur round. This GPS-guided round can hit within about 30 feet of the aim point — a level of precision that’s proved extremely useful.
Australian troops fire their M777 to support Marines during a training mission.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Sarah Anderson)
In 2012, the Marines manning a M777 howitzer received word that some Taliban were up to no good. So, the artillery crew fired a round from their base, which was in Helmand Province, and hit the Taliban who were in Musa Qala. The Taliban were accurately dispatched from miles away before any of their plans could take root.
Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., fire 155mm rounds using an M777 Howitzer.
(US Army photo by Specialist Evan D. Marcy)
The M777 is currently in service with the United States Army and United States Marine Corps. Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, and India have all bought this cannon as well.
Learn more about this over-sized sniper rifle in the video below!
Veterans of the war in Afghanistan can tell you the country is absolutely riddled with land mines of all kinds. The country has experienced nonstop war and civil strife since the 1979 Soviet Invasion and ever since, land mines have been a constant hazard. But despite being one of the most heavily mined countries on earth, the biggest minefield is far from Afghanistan – it’s in the Sahara Desert.
Sure, there are plenty of war zones where one might expect a minefield, especially in North Africa. The unexploded ordnance from World War II is still a concern for North Africans, as well as the remnants of the French expulsion from Algeria, and the recent Civil War in Libya. But the world’s longest minefield is actually just south of Morocco – and it was placed there by the Moroccans.
Little known outside of Africa is the tiny territory of Western Sahara. It’s not a country, not a recognized one anyway. When Spain left the area in 1975, both Mauritania and Morocco were quick to claim it for themselves. The people who lived in the area, called Saharawis, had other ideas. They wanted their independence along with the rest of Africa, which experienced wave after wave of anti-colonial independence movements in that time frame. Forming a military and political body called the Polisario, they forced Mauritanian troops out but were unable to dislodge neighboring Morocco. Morocco has occupied the area ever since.
But the Moroccan forces weren’t able to subdue the entire country. Instead of allowing a protracted rebellion by allowing the freedom of movement between the occupied territories and the so-called “free zone” run by the Polisario, Morocco constructed a sand berm with a strip of land mines 2,700 kilometers long (that’s 1677-plus miles for non-metric people). That’s some seven million mines along the disputed boundary.
Even after the shooting stopped in 1991, Morocco made no attempt to take out the mines. In fact, it doubled down on its occupation, constructing guard towers, radar posts, and deploying thousands of troops along the berm to keep the Saharawi out of Western Sahara and detect any possible infiltrators. Civilians are constantly being blown up and maimed by the minefield, while almost no other country recognizes the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara.
A US Air Force fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter successfully transmitted live targeting data to US Army ground-based air-and-missile defense systems for the first time in an important test conducted during the recent Orange Flag exercise, the fighter’s developer announced Aug. 6, 2019.
The Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS), a complex system developed by Northrop Grumman to connect sensors, launchers, and command and control stations, was able to “receive and develop fire control quality composite tracks” by “leveraging the F-35 as an elevated sensor” during the recent exercise, Lockheed Martin revealed.
The tracking data was sent to the IBCS through the F-35 ground station and F-35-IBCS adaptation kit, systems developed by Lockheed to let the F-35 talk to the US Army air-and-missile defense network.
The F-35 is capable of detecting threats that ground-based systems might struggle to pick up on until it’s too late. The curvature of the Earth can affect the ability of certain ground-based radars to adequately detect threats. The F-35 — which, as Breaking Defense noted, has been described by senior Air Force officers as “a computer that happens to fly” — is able to rapidly maneuver towards new targets and to change altitude, which radar arrays on the ground are unable to do.
A pilot takes the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft up for its first night flight near Edwards Air Force Base.
(photo by Tom Reynolds)
“The F-35, with its advanced sensors and connectivity, is able to gather and seamlessly share critical information enabling greater joint force protection and a higher level of lethality of Army IAMD forces,” Scott Arnold, the vice president and deputy of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, explained in a statement.
With the technology and capabilities tested recently, an Army Patriot battery, for example, could theoretically get a better read on an incoming threat using information provided an airborne F-35.
“Any sensor, any effector, any domain,” Dan Verwiel, Northrop Grumman’s vice president and general manager of missile defense and protective systems, told Defense News. “This is the future of the US Army’s fight.”
F-35A Lightning II.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
Three years ago, an F-35 transmitted targeting information to a Navy Aegis Combat System armed with an SM-6 anti-air missile, which was then launched at a mock target simulating an adversarial aircraft. Now, this fighter, one of the most expensive weapons in the US arsenal, is being paired with Army air-and-missile defense networks.
The US military is looking at using the F-35 for multi-domain operations, meaning it wants the jet to do far more than the fighter-bomber missions for which it was initially designed. The fifth-generation jet can also use its high-end sensors to send difficult-to-detect transmissions containing critical data to other air assets, warships, and troops on the ground to increase battlespace awareness.
The capabilities being tested are a top priority as the US military looks to modernize the joint force in the face of great power competition with China and Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The VH-3 Sea King has faithfully served Marine Helicopter Squadron One since 1962, operating as the official rotary transport for every president for over 55 years. But even though the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings through for many pieces of military hardware, these aging Sea Kings, known as “Marine One” whenever a president is aboard, need to be replaced.
A lack of parts, considerable flight hours, and performance inefficiency (by today’s standards) make a worthy case for why the Sea King needs to be supplanted by something newer, faster and more capable. Just last week, Sikorsky’s answer to HMX-1’s request for a new helicopter took to the skies above Owego, New York, for the first time.
Known as the VH-92A, Sikorsky and its parent corporation, Lockheed Martin, hopes that this helicopter will be what finally sends the Sea King to a museum in the coming years.
The VH-92 is based upon Sikorsky’s S-92, a proven multipurpose utility helicopter that has been functioning in the civilian world as medium-lift platform since 2004. When it enters service with HMX-1, the VH-92 will have been refitted with a new interior and a slew of other features needed for presidential transport.
It has taken years for a suitable replacement for the VH-3 to materialize as part of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program (VXX). The program was initialized in 2003, though it suffered a setback in 2009 when Lockheed Martin’s proposal – the VH-71 Kestrel – was nixed even though the Department of the Navy had already spent billions of dollars building 9 Kestrals for HMX-1.
The following year, VXX was restarted, and a joint Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky team offered a revamped S-92, replete with a comfortable and plush interior worthy of the president and other VIPs who would be using the aircraft from time to time. In 2014, the S-92 proposal was selected and the VH-92 began taking shape.
These new presidential transports will only bear an external resemblance to their civilian counterparts. Their insides will be completely redone as per the requirements of HMX-1 and the Secret Service.
This includes defensive systems that afford each VH-92 a degree of protection against threats on the ground, from shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, to heavy-caliber machine gun rounds.
In addition to armoring the VH-92, all fleet helicopters will receive advanced communications systems, allowing the president to interact with members of the government and military while flying. Redundancy and safety systems round off the rest of the tricked-out VH-92’s modifications list.
HMX-1 also operates the VH-60N White Hawk, essentially UH-60 Black Hawks reconfigured for VIP transport. These aircraft have been serving in the presidential fleet since the late 1980s, and will also be replaced in part, or as a whole, by the new VH-92s.
The VH-92, like its soon-to-be predecessor, won’t just operate in North America… it will also serve as the president’s short-range transport overseas on official visits. Like the VH-60N, it will be able to be folded up and stowed inside US Air Force strategic airlifters like the C-5M Super Galaxy for foreign travel.
Replacing the Sea King isn’t the only big move HMX-1 has made in an effort to modernize its fleet. The squadron’s complement of CH-53 Sea Stallions were recently replaced with newer, more versatile MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors, which can function like both a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft. Older CH-46 Sea Knights, formerly used as support aircraft, are also on their way out.
HMX-1 is expected to begin taking delivery of its new VH-92As in 2020, phasing out the VH-3D and VH-60N soon afterward.
A helicopter doesn’t fly; it beats the air into submission.
With the capacity to lift 88,000 lbs, the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion is a true workhorse. It’s primed to be the premier lift helicopter by leveraging the lessons learned from its predecessors, the CH-53A, D and E.
The new metal beast of the air had its first flight on October 27, 2015. The 55-minute flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach flight test center was a real milestone considering the technical delays since 2014, mainly from the main gearbox.
The King Stallion will replace the current largest and heaviest helicopter in the military, the Marine Corps’ CH-53E Super Stallion, which has been in service since 1980. Like the CH-53E, the King Stallion will also serve in the Corps. Although it’s not a game changer, it’s an overall improvement in power, speed, lift, structure, and more.
A South Korea missile system that could be used to target North Korea Scuds will cost Seoul more than $800 million to develop, a Seoul defense committee said Nov. 17.
South Korea’s planned development for the system, which has the capability to destroy incoming ballistic missiles at an altitude of about 12.4 miles, comes at a time when North Korea may be on an “aggressive schedule” to deploy its first operational ballistic missile submarine.
South Korea’s defense committee said the purpose of M-SAM development is to “secure a medium-range and medium-sized interceptor system, in response to North Korea ballistic missile and aircraft attacks,” News 1 reported.
South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration and LIG Nex1 is developing the system.
Deployment was scheduled for after 2018, but plans came under scrutiny after Oct. 30, when a minor opposition party member claimed South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo had ordered the suspension of M-SAM development.
But Seoul confirmed Nov. 17 M-SAM plans are being pursued.
According to News 1, the M-SAM could play a crucial role in intercepting midrange ballistic missiles, similar to the way SM-3 missiles are being deployed with the Japanese navy.
South Korea could also deploy the SM-3, but would not be able to do so until its military upgrades the Gwanggaeto-3 batch-2 Aegis ships after 2023.
The missile plans are being followed through at a time when North Korea could be constructing a new submarine, according to 38 North.
“A probable launch canister support, or launch canister, appears to be present within the service tower at the missile test stand [in Sinpo South Shipyard] suggesting the ongoing ejection testing of submarine launch ballistic missiles,” writes U.S. analyst Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr.
North Korea has refrained from provocations for about two months, and analysts have offered reasons as to why Pyongyang has stayed quiet after weeks of tests.
If you love hunting, then you know all about Steven Rinella. Host of the popular series “MeatEater,” his hunting skills are only rivaled by his impeccable storytelling abilities. For 2020, Federal decided to team up with Rinella to create an exclusive new line of ammunition, featuring its Trophy Copper rifle ammunition, 3rd Degree turkey loads, and the all-new Federal Premium Bismuth shotshells.
The new Trophy Copper ammunition will be available in at least two calibers, 6.5 Creedmoor and 280 Ackley Improved, with more calibers potentially being added later.
Here are a few features of the new Trophy Copper ammunition:
Gold Medal primer
Nickel-plated for easy extraction and corrosion protection
Specially formulated propellant with copper-reducing additives
Grooved bullet shank decreases fouling and improves accuracy
Copper-alloy construction for up to 99 percent weight retention
Even within the military, there are people who use the terms “machine gun” and “automatic rifle” interchangeably. While these classifications of weapon share similar functions and mechanics, it’s important to understand that they are, in fact, not the same.
In terms of mechanics, machine guns and automatic rifles are both capable of fully automatic fire. But, beyond that, there are some key differences. Due to differences in range and firing rate, you should never send an automatic rifle to do a machine gun’s job, or vice versa. Here are some of the key features you will find on a machine gun but not on an automatic rifle.
Hearing a machine gun firing is glorious, though.
One firing option
Machine guns are absolutely designed for automatic fire, but here’s the thing: most machine guns only have that option. You can either have the weapon on safe or fully automatic. Conversely, with an automatic rifle, there’s an option for semi-automatic fire when full-auto is not tactically wise.
There’s a reason they’re always carried on the shoulder.
Probably the biggest and most notable difference, machine guns are inherently heavier. Even the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a “light” machine gun, weighs 17 lbs when empty. While 17 lbs may not sound like a lot, when you take into consideration the amount of ammunition you’ll need to carry and the weight of your other gear, it adds up.
Automatic rifles, specifically the M27, don’t compare — even when loaded.
The ammunition is also loaded onto a feeding tray.
Plenty of machine guns offer a magazine-fed option, but that’s really only for extremely dire situations in which belt-fed ammunition isn’t easily available. An automatic rifle may be modified to be belt-fed, but the original design calls for magazines.
Melting the barrel would probably be an expensive — but amazing — “accident.”
Firing hundreds of rounds in rapid succession gets the barrel so hot it runs the risk of melting. So, to prevent machine guns from destroying themselves, barrels can be exchanged after a certain amount of time or number of bullets fired. An automatic rifle doesn’t need this option.
You can’t complete a disassembly without removing the buttstock.
Removable buttstock and pistol grip
In order to remove certain parts inside a machine gun’s receiver, the buttstock and pistol grip must first be removed. With an automatic rifle, the buffer and buffer spring can be removed by separating the upper and lower receiver.