The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

On Tuesday, the first ever F-15EX took to the skies in a test flight that brought the U.S. Air Force that much closer to fielding what may be the most capable 4th generation fighter on the planet. The F-15 has been in service for more than 45 years to date, and is widely regarded as the most successful air superiority fighter in history.

“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager.

“Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Our customer can feel confident in its decision to invest in this platform that is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.”

The last time the U.S. Air Force took delivery of an F-15 was in 2004, but the aircraft’s design has not stagnated in the 17 years since. Boeing, who absorbed the F-15 program when they merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997, has been updating and improving the F-15 for foreign sales throughout. In fact, foreign purchasers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funneled more than $5 billion into improving the F-15 Eagle as America moved on to sourcing more advanced, stealth fighters. The result of all this time and money is an incredibly capable iteration of the F-15 that couples advanced avionics with the low maintenance cost of non-stealth fighter.

Most of the world still relies on 4th generation fighters for engagements in the sky, which means the F-15EX may have some stiff competition… but this new bird isn’t resting on the F-15’s historic laurels. Instead, it just may be the baddest fighter of its generation anywhere on the planet.

Why doesn’t the Air Force just buy more F-35s?

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
(U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

In this era of flying stealth supercomputers like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor, many have questioned the wisdom of purchasing a slew of new old fighters. The F-15EX does not boast any stealth capabilities, nor does it have the same knack for sensor fusion that has earned the F-35 the unofficial nickname of “quarterback in the sky.” Despite this apparent lack of capability, the Air Force is procuring F-15EXs at a cost of around $87.7 million each, as compared to the now lower F-35 price of just $77.9 million per aircraft.

This price differential only emboldens the F-15EX’s critics, who point out that the F-35 offers a far wider variety of capabilities and is considered much more survivable in contested airspace (thanks to its stealth capabilities). When you only consider those figures, the F-15EX may seem like a pretty poor choice.

However, the reality of military acquisitions and combat capability are far more nuanced than a side-by-side tale of the tape might represent. While the F-15EX may indeed cost more per airframe than the latest batch of F-35s, it may actually be the savvier purchase. The F-35 is intended to have an operational lifespan of around 8,000 hours, whereas each F-15EX is expected to last 20,000. In other words, in order to fly the same number of hours as an F-15EX, the Air Force would need to purchase not one, but three F-35As.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
(U.S. Air Force photo)

That price reduction is further bolstered by operational costs. Keeping a high performance fighter in tip-top shape is expensive and time consuming, but in that portion of the ledger, the F-15EX once again shines. The Air Force expects to spend around $29,000 for every hour the F-15EX is in the air, far cheaper than the F-35’s figures recorded in 2018 of around $44,000 per hour. Now let’s do a bit of back-of-the-envelope math to assess how much these aircraft will actually cost in a fight.

The F-15EX costs $87.7 million per aircraft, and can fly for up to 20,000 hours at a cost of $29,000 per hour. So $29,000 per hour x 20,000 hours + $87.7 million for the aircraft comes out to a pretty serious $667.7 million dollars.

In order to match that operational lifespan, it would take three F-35As. So the math would look like $44,000 per hour x 20,000 hours + $233.7 million for three F-35s… and it comes out to more than a jaw dropping $1.1 billion. The F-15EX, then, offers a saving of around $446 million per aircraft over the lifespan of the jet (if things were this simple, anyway).

To give the F-35 a slightly more realistic shake, let’s use larger volumes of aircraft, rather than 1:1 comparisons. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 144 F-15EXs, but for the sake of simple math, let’s call it 100. The above per-aircraft cost times a hundred comes out to $66,770,000,000 spent on aircraft and 2,000,000 flight hours. You would need 250 F-35s to match the same flight hour total, which combined with operating costs come to $109,925,000,000. In this more realistic comparison, the F-15EX offers a less pronounced advantage, but still comes to the tune of some $43,155,000,000 in savings over the span of the program. $43 billion is certainly nothing to scoff at.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
Doesn’t seem quite as pricey now, does it?

Now, it’s important to note here that this math is egregiously simplified: Lockheed Martin and the Air Force are already working tirelessly to reduce the operating costs of the F-35 (because the Air Force says they can’t afford them if they don’t).

The cost per hour of the F-35 is sure to drop in the years to come — and just as importantly, the F-35 is a stealth platform built largely to engage ground targets. The F-15EX, on the other hand, is an air superiority fighter designed to duke it out in the skies. Both of these aircraft are capable of either role, but at a fundamental level, these jets simply aren’t built to do the same jobs. It might help to think of them as NASCAR and Formula 1 racers: Both are extremely capable platforms, but they’re each highly specialized for their specific use. The new F-15EXs the Air Force buys won’t fill F-35 spots, but will instead replace aging F-15s in America’s existing arsenal.

What makes this new F-15 better than our old ones?

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
Boeing’s first F-15EX during production. (Boeing)

The United States currently maintains a fleet of around 230 F-15s in various trims (C/D). These jets represent the crux of America’s fourth generation air intercept fighters. The F-22 Raptor was intended to serve as a replacement for the F-15, but the program was canceled after just 186 Raptors were delivered.

The new F-15EXs boast updated cockpit systems, an enhanced sensor suite and data fusion capabilities, and the ability to carry up to 29,500 pounds of ordnance split into 12 air-to-air hard points or 15 air-to-ground hard points. Its new twin engines aren’t just more efficient, they’re also more powerful, making the fastest fighter in America’s inventory even faster.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
(Boeing)

The F-15EX isn’t stealthy, but it does boast an electronic warfare suite that will help make it more survivable in contested airspace. Its streamlined pilot interface borrows from some 5th generation technology, integrating information into easier to manage displays that allow the pilot to focus more on the battle space than the gauge cluster. This not only improves pilot performance, it also reduces fatigue on long missions.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
The F-15EX’s central pylon can carry a notional 22-foot, 7,000 pound weapon. This artist’s concept shows an F-15EX after firing a hypersonic missile from that station. (Boeing)

In order to keep pace with new weapons as they emerge, the F-15EX leverages what Boeing calls an Open Mission System architecture designed specifically to be able to absorb new tech as it reaches the field. Importantly, however, the new F-15s retain around 80% of the old F-15 design, making them easy for maintainers to adapt to. Instead of having to train for an entirely new platform, they need only to train for the more modern additions to a jet they’re already intimately familiar with.

How does the F-15EX stack up against the top fighters from other countries?

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
(Boeing)

Despite its upgrades, the new F-15EX remains squarely within the 4th generation of fighters. There are currently four operational 5th generation fighters on the planet: America’s F-35 and F-22, Russia’s Su-57, and China’s J-20. If the F-15EX were to square off against these platforms, it would be at a huge disadvantage–and platforms like the F-35 or F-22 would likely be able to engage and destroy the F-15 before its pilot was even aware of their presence. Questions remain about the stealth and avionics found in the J-20 or Su-57, but even if their stealth isn’t quite as advanced, they’d still have a real leg up on the F-15EX.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

But to be honest, the chances of such an engagement are incredibly small. Russia’s troubled Su-57 program has seen setback after setback, and to date, there are only around 13 of the fighters in existence. Production is expected to pick up, but Russia lacks the funds to really field a large scale fleet of these stealthy fighters. China’s J-20 has also faced woes in its engine compartment, though China has managed to field more than 50 of these jets already. The new J-20B will incorporate thrust vector control (like America’s F-22) and is expected to be an even more capable aircraft… but again, it exists in extremely limited numbers.

Their rarity notwithstanding, if American jets were to square off against Chinese or Russian ones, America would leverage its fleet of hundreds of F-35s and F-22s. There would be no reason to send the F-15 into such a fight. However, F-15EXs could see a great deal of use in the uncontested airspace of trouble spots like Syria and Iraq, where stealth is as unnecessary as it is expensive.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
Su-35 (WikiMedia Commons)

But what about the 4th generation fighters that make up the backbone of Chinese and Russian air forces? The Su-35, operated by both Russia and China, as well as the J-10 operated by China are both considered to be highly capable platforms, and the MiG-29 operated by a number of nations is also considered rather formidable (among others). However, the F-15 has already squared up against a number of capable fighters and emerged on top. In fact, of the 104 air-to-air duels the F-15 has entered, it has lost exactly zero of them. Not too shabby.

With the addition of 21st century avionics and more capable engines, it seems likely that the F-15 will maintain its advantage of the competition.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

World War II ‘Dazzle Ships’ were painted to attract enemy subs

Conventional wisdom would tell you that any ship going unnoticed by the enemy, especially an enemy submarine in World Wars I and II, would be the best-case scenario. But the Navy’s “Dazzle” camouflage was clearly anything but conventional. The ships feature a paint job that looks more Picasso than Portsmouth, but anything that could save a ship’s crew and cargo was worth a try.


Try not to have a seizure.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

The “camouflage” used on each of the Navy’s “Dazzle Ships” was unique to the ship, and its purposes were many. First, it prevented the enemy from identifying the ship, its class, its cargo, or even what kind of ship it was. It also made determining the ship’s course and speed difficult. If an enemy u-boat can’t determine the ship’s course, then it will also have difficulty moving to the best firing position, course and speed being necessary factors in targeting a ship with a torpedo.

Dazzle camouflage also made rangefinding for artillery and other ship-borne weapons very difficult, as it disguised many features used by captains and gunners for determining the range of the enemy target. One enemy captain called it the best camouflage he’d ever seen:

“Since it was impossible to paint a ship so she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer – in other words, to paint her not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she is heading.”
The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

A U-boat commander’s periscope view of a merchant ship in dazzle camouflage and the same ship uncamouflaged.

By the end of World War I, the United States and the United Kingdom had thousands of ships in service wearing dazzle paint. While there is little statistical data available that the dazzle patterns actually worked, the U.S. and Royal Navy both tested it extensively on small boat operation before implementing it, and anecdotal evidence suggests it was effective, as does a 1918 song by Gordon Frederic Norton, called “A Convoy Safely By.”

Captain Schmidt at the periscope
You need not fall and faint
For it’s not the vision of drug or dope,
But only the dazzle-paint.
And you’re done, you’re done, my pretty Hun.
You’re done in the big blue eye,
By painter-men with a sense of fun,
And their work has just gone by.
Cheero!

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These are the Black Hawk’s new futuristic cockpit upgrades

In keeping with technological advancements and modernization, a Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) Induction ceremony was held Jan. 9, 2019, to mark the beginning of the newest upgrades to the UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter.

According to Jackie Allen, industrial engineer, CCAD, the modernization process of the Lima-model helicopters is twofold: To introduce an affordable and relevant technological upgrades, and to improve the aviation community’s requirements for such a helicopter.


The Corpus Christi Army Depot will begin the nine-step recapitalization process on the Black Hawk, with six more to follow this fiscal year, said Allen. The final end state scheduled for the Corpus Christi Army Depot is 760 converted Victor-model Black Hawks.

Specifics to the modification are focused on the cockpit and the electronic components within, said Don Dawson, director of aircraft production, CCAD.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

Col. Gail Atkins, commander, CCAD, speaks to Lt. Col. Andrew Duus (right), product manager, Program Executive Office, Aviation, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and depot employees about the significance of CCAD having the opportunity to be selected to lead the UH-60V (Victor model) Black Hawk helicopter project during the CCAD UH-60V Induction Ceremony

(Photo by Quentin Johnson)

“[Lima models] have an old analog dial instrumentation,” said Dawson. “What this [upgrade] does is gives [the Victor model] a full glass cockpit,” which is similar to the Mike model.

A glass cockpit is a digital suite that streamlines an enhanced management system allowing for better Pilot-Vehicle Interface — or PVI — added Allen.

Many advantages to a better PVI, include using a moving map, enhanced messaging between the pilots and commands, and the best navigation system available, which is part of an open system architecture, said Lt. Col. Andrew Duus, product manager, Program Executive Office, Aviation, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

“The open system architecture will significantly minimize the time getting new technology uploaded into the aircraft,” said Duus.

The upgrade goes further than implementing an infrastructure to improving pilot interaction and training efforts. Dawson said, the upgrade will “help the pilots with all the information flow coming to them … it synergizes the information and gives it to them in bite-size pieces.”

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

CCAD leaders, employees and visitors pose for a photo in front of a UH-60L (Lima model) Black Hawk helicopter immediately following the CCAD UH-60V Induction Ceremony.

(Photo by Quentin Johnson)

Additionally, the upgrade will help to train pilots, as most are learning on Mike models that are already equipped with the digital cockpit. “[The upgrade] will speed up the cost of training for new pilots, because they now can learn, essentially, one cockpit instead of two,” added Dawson.

The CCAD is prepared for this project, which is considered a “significant responsibility” given the depot’s position to produce such a “phenomenal helicopter for our [Army],” said Col. Gail Atkins, commander, Corpus Christi Army Depot.

Duus said he and PEO leadership are thankful for the Depot’s commitment to this project and are confident in the work they perform.

“The legacy and trust that has been established by [CCAD] is what has got us here … I look forward to working with all of you and harness the value you provide,” said Duus.

The U.S. Army has utilized the Black Hawk since the 1970s. They are offered in multiple airframe configurations, including the Alpha, Lima, Mike and Victor models, all used to provide air assault, general support, aeromedical evacuation, command and control, and special operations support to combat, stability and support operations.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Swarms of killer and support drones are on the horizon

Over the last 10 days, DARPA has announced two developments in their ongoing quest to build swarms of drones to protect warfighters on the ground, and the British Ministry of Defence has announced a $3.26 million investment in similar technology, so it looks like the swarms may be here sooner rather than later.


Currently, most drones on the battlefield are remotely operated aircraft, meaning that there is a pilot, just not in a cockpit in the aircraft. So, remote pilots control aircraft around the world, and the time for the signal to travel from aircraft to pilot and back means there’s a serious gap between a pilot seeing something in the drone’s path, the pilot giving a command to the aircraft, and then the aircraft following that command.

When drones are flying on their own over a battlefield, that’s fine. But the U.S. and allied militaries have expressed interest in swarms of drones supporting each other and soldiers on the ground. Some of this support would be lethal, dropping bombs on targets like current models. Some would be non-lethal, providing surveillance, acting as signal relays, providing medical assistance, logistics, or even scaring enemies.

To do all of this, drones have to be able to make a lot of decisions on their own, allowing an operator to act as a commander of multiple aircraft rather than the pilot of a single one. This requires that the drones avoid crashing on their own, but also that they can continue their mission, even if the human operators lose connection or are jammed.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

RQ-23 Tigersharks line up on a runway at Yuma Proving Ground for the CODE demonstration.

(DARPA)

On the U.S. side, this effort falls under the CODE, Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment. The program is funded and ran by the Navy, but the workers in the program wanted to make it clear that they want to support the whole DoD, and so they’ve made the technology as adaptable as possible and will make the computer code available to other services.

“What we’re doing with the laboratory we set up is not just for the Navy or NAVAIR. We’re trying to make our capabilities available throughout the entire DoD community,” said Stephen Kracinovich, director of autonomy strategy for the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. “If the Army wanted to leverage the DARPA prototype, we’d provide them not just with the software, but an open development environment with all the security protocols already taken care of.”

It’s probably not surprising that the Navy would be at the forefront of this since Iran developed its own swarm tactics to attack Navy assets. The Navy responded by ensuring its ships had plenty of close-in weapons systems like the Mk. 15 Phalanx, but it also eyed the idea of creating its own offensive swarms.

Watch the Navy’s LOCUST launcher fire a swarm of drones

www.youtube.com

A few programs were greenlit to support the effort, but the most emblematic of CODE comes from the Locust launcher. With Locust, the Navy can launch drone after drone from a launcher that looks like rocket, missile, or torpedo tubes, but actually quickly fires small aircraft. Locust can launch drones at a rate of about a drone every 1.33 seconds.

If CODE ends up being everything the Navy wants it to be, then those drones will increasingly be able to work together to achieve missions, even if an enemy manages to jam the control signals from the ship or ground operators.

DARPA is helping with CODE but is also pursuing other programs, and the OFFensive Swarm Enable Tactics program, OFFSET, looks to link together up to 250 drones on missions. Its focus is on solutions that would work in urban areas even when the drone will lose line-of-sight and some communications. And, the program wants to plug in both flying and driving drones.

This would be especially valuable if the Pentagon is right about fighting in megacities in the near to mid-future.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

British drones that are part of the country’s military transformation.​

(U.K. Ministry of Defence)

The Brits are pursuing their own project dubbed “Many Drones Make Light Work,” which is pretty great. It’s being pushed forward by the Defence and Security Accelerator.

“The MOD continues to invest in pioneering technology that enhances capability, reduces risk to personnel and enables us to better perform our tasks,” Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said. “Drone swarm technology can revolutionise how we conduct intelligence gathering, humanitarian aid, disposal of explosives and supply our troops on the battlefield.”

Britain’s new .26 million investment follows million put into mini-drones and is part of an over 8 million program to prepare the British military and its equipment for future conflicts.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Awesome photo captures F-35 transitioning from sub-sonic to supersonic

The photograph in this post shows a U.S. Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) “Salty Dogs” during a test flight. Released by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, the image was taken as the stealth aircraft, carrying external AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles), flies transonic: indeed, what makes the shot particularly interesting are the schlieren shock waves that flight test photographers captured as the JSF transitioned from sub-sonic to supersonic.

Schlieren imagery is a modern version of a 150-year-old German photography technique, used to visualize supersonic flow phenomena: a clear understanding of the location and strength of shock waves is essential for determining aerodynamic performance of aircraft flying at supersonic speed in different configurations, for improving performance as well as designing future jets.


“Schlieren imaging reveals shock waves due to air density gradient and the accompanying change in refractive index,” says the NASA website that published an extensive article about this particular kind of photography few years ago. “This typically requires the use of fairly complex optics and a bright light source, and until recently most of the available schlieren imagery of airplanes was obtained from scale model testing in wind tunnels. Acquiring schlieren images of an aircraft in flight is much more challenging. Ground-based systems, using the sun as a light source, have produced good results but because of the distances involved did not have the desired spatial resolution to resolve small-scale shock structures near the aircraft.”

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

This schlieren image of a VX-23 F-35C flying transonic shows the shock waves generated by the stealth aircraft.

(US Navy photo by Liz Wolter)

Noteworthy, while schlieren imaging dramatically displays the shock wave of a supersonic jet (image processing software removes the background then combines multiple frames to produce a clear picture of the shock waves) change in refractive index caused by shock waves can also become visible when aircraft move at speed much lowen than transonic, as shown in photographs taken in 2018.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

A T-38C passing in front of the sun at supersonic speed, generating shockwaves.

(NASA)

Here what I wrote last year about a crazy cool image of an F-35 flying through the famous Star Wars canyon taken by photographer Jim Mumaw:

At speed lower than the transonic region, air flows smoothly around the airframe; in the transonic region, airflow begins to reach the speed of sound in localized areas on the aircraft, including the upper surface of the wing and the fuselage: shock waves, generated by pressure gradient resulting from the formation of supersonic flow regions, represent the location where the air moving at supersonic speed transitions to subsonic. When the density of the air changes (in this case as a consequence of shock waves) there is a change in its refractive index, resulting in light distortion.

Generally speaking, shock waves are generated by the interaction of two bodies of gas at different pressure, with a shock wave propagating into the lower pressure gas and an expansion wave propagating into the higher pressure gas: while the pressure gradient is significant in the transonic region, an aircraft maneuvering at high-speed through the air also creates a pressure gradient that generates shock waves at speed much lower than the speed of sound.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This pint-sized armed recon light tank has a Royal connection

Prince Harry is best known recently for his involvement in the Invictus Games for wounded and sick vets. However, he’s also a combat vet, with two tours in Afghanistan, one of which involved flying the AH-64 Apache. But before that, he commanded a platoon of light tanks with a powerful punch (the British Army calls that unit a troop).


The tank in question was the FV 107 Scimitar, part of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (or CVR(T)) family. According to the British Army web site, the Scimitar weighs just under 18,000 pounds, and is armed with a 30mm Rarden cannon (the same as the one on the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle) and a 7.62mm machine gun. It has top speed of just under 50 miles per hour.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
A British Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle is parked on a roadside during Operation COLD WINTER ’87, a NATO-sponsored military exercise. (DOD photo)

The real impressive part of this is the size of this vehicle. It is only 16 feet long, seven feet four inches wide, and just under seven feet tall. Compare that to the dimensions of a M1127 Stryker (23 feet long, just under nine feet wide, and eight feet eight inches tall), which only has a .50-caliber machine gun.

The CVR(T) family was designed in the 1960s to fit inside transports of the era. The Scimitar saw action in the Falklands War, Desert Storm, in the Iraq War, and during Operation Enduring Freedom.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
A FV107 Scimitar operates in the desert in 2004. (Wikimedia Commons)

Prince Harry was slated to serve in Iraq with his troop, but after threats from insurgents, he was instead assigned to be part of a Tactical Air Control Party for his first tour in Afghanisan. He later trained to fly the British Army’s version of the Apache and served as an Apache pilot for his second tour.

You can see a video about this light tank that proved to be a Royal ride below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15jd2Df9O70
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the U.S. military uses 5.56mm ammo instead of 7.62mm

A common debate among veterans and gun enthusiasts revolves around why the United States chose to implement the 5.56mm N.A.T.O. round into service instead of the 7.62mm.


Size, versatility, lethality, and a plethora of other semantics are usually quoted in bars across the nation. The answer to this question does not lie in the science between these two instruments of warfare but in the politics of the world stage.

Behind closed doors, world leaders are not as concerned with the penetration of a round or the distance between troops and their targets, but whether they have enough weaponry in their depots, enough money in their treasuries, and the commitment of their allies to come to their aid.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

Immediately after World War II, tensions began to rise between the east and west over liberated territories and how they would be governed. An arms race of atomic proportions had begun. War-torn Europe faced the problem of depleted weapon stores and the financial inability to repulse the expansion of Soviet Communism.

Also read: Why your next battle buddy might be a robot armed with a railgun

In the wake of World War II, the United States of America commanded over 30,000 overseas bases, marshaled over half of the world’s manufacturing capacity, and owned two thirds of the world’s gold stock. In 1949, the Greatest Generation proposed a strategic solution: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

N.A.T.O. was created in response to failing relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, especially in the case of the reconstruction of Germany. The countries of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal banded together with the United States as its chief architect.

Article 5 of the 14 Articles of the ‘N.A.T.O. Treaty of April 4th, 1949’ most clearly defines the intent of the Organization:

“…an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each o them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” – Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Under the persuasive guidance of the United States, N.A.T.O. slowly standardized armaments best suited for American designs than those resembling the Soviet 7.62mm. Who else could argue the case to finance, produce, and export on a scale to rival the Russians? By the 1980s, the 5.56x45mm was adopted as the standard.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

From the sands of the Middle East to the deep jungles of South America, the 5.56mm played an integral role in shaping modern warfare. Decades of proxy wars and economic down turn brought the Soviet Union to its knees. Mikhail Gorbachev, President and leader of the Soviet Union, resigned and declared his office extinct on Dec. 25, 1991.

America had triumphed.

Weapons & Gear: US paratroopers are testing this new tactical chest rig

The 5.56mm never got the chance to sing in the halls of the Kremlin, but it was the round that destroyed an empire.

Currently, the United States stands as one of the top weapons suppliers around the world. Its sales include, but are not limited to, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, India, Singapore, Iraq, and Egypt.

Our allies could always borrow our rounds in an emergency because they already own the same model guns. That is why the U.S. uses the 5.56mm: it’s a tool to be used to enforce our political intentions — one way or another.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Zippo lighter became an iconic symbol of the American warfighter

When the U.S. military entered World War II, American businesses geared their entrepreneurial efforts toward supporting the war effort as a means of survival. This meant the majority of raw materials were used to produce weapons, ammunition, armor, aircraft, and other necessary equipment. Zippo Manufacturing Company had a decade of experience selling their flip-open lighters to the consumer market, but during the war they exclusively produced Zippo lighters for American service members.

The classic Zippo design garnered respect among the millions of Americans serving overseas. These steel-cased lighters had a black crackle finish and no customization, engravings, or art work on them but were durable and could function no matter what elements troops found themselves in. An ad in 1942 wrote, “Zippo Windproof LIGHTERS have acted as rescue beacons for men in open boats, as a guide through dense dark jungles and as a means for lighting fires for food and warmth.”


Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent and newspaperman, developed a special relationship with George Blaisdell and personally received a shipment of 50 Zippos prior to the D-Day invasion. “And another 100 will be sent to Ernie every month for the duration,” Blaisdell added.

Pyle famously penned a letter to Blaisdell on Oct. 29, 1944: “If I tried to tell you how much these Zippos are coveted at the front and the gratitude and delight with which the boys receive them, you would probably accuse me of exaggeration,” he wrote. “There is truly nothing the average soldier would rather have.”

Following Pyle’s tragic death in the Pacific in 1945, Blaisdell immediately sent 600 Zippo lighters engraved with “In memory of Ernie Pyle” to the captain of the USS Cabot to hand out to the crew who counted Pyle as one of their own.

Post-World War II, the increasingly popular Zippo lighters became available to the general public once again. The connection between Zippo and the U.S. military didn’t stop there, and during the Vietnam War Zippo emerged as the most popular item carried in the pockets of American service members. Unlike the cigarette lighters from previous wars, these Zippos were personal mementos specifically customized with unit logos, maps of Vietnam, and both humorous and crude slogans.

“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” said Bradford Edwards, a Vietnam-era Zippo collector and artist. “And here was a small canvas that may be the last thing some of these guys had to say.”

One soldier’s Zippo had the logo for the United States Army Air Defense Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, on the front, while the lid reads, “When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass.” On the back, the case reads, “5th Special Forces Group – 1st Special Forces Viet Nam 69-70” with an engraving of a U.S. Army Special Forces green beret. The lid reads, “Nha-Trang Viet Nam.”

During the Vietnam War, Zippos were sold at the PX or by locals operating the street side black markets. Their popularity in wartime culture surged with “Zippo Tracks” being adopted as a nickname for flame throwing tanks, and “Zippo Raids” used to describe the actions of soldiers burning down hooches or villages.

Although Zippo remained a treasured collector’s item, during the 1980s a surge of fake lighters saturated the market. Zippo continues to produce military-themed lighters to commemorate their storied legacy, although the artwork is more general. The Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is home to Zippo and Case Knives flagship stores, where collectors and tourists alike can take a deeper dive into the history of Zippo and their involvement with American service members.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the largest battleship ever planned but never built

In the days before naval aviation and submarines, the battleship was the unchallenged king of the seas. Building a bigger and better ship with more and bigger guns was basically the order of the day, and it continued all the way up until the days before World War II, when the world reached peak battleship, and airplanes proved to be deadlier than the Navy ever imagined.

But America almost reached peak battleship before World War I was even a possibility, and it was possibly the biggest battleship ever conceived – it also might have been an ironic joke from someone who hated the Navy.


The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

Benjamin Tillman, famous racist and Navy hater.

Benjamin Tillman was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and a member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. He was annoyed at the Navy for coming to Congress every year to request money to build more and bigger battleships. Despite this pretty much being what the Navy is supposed to do, Tillman decided it would be best to just get the whole arms race out of the way and build the biggest possible battleship they could at the moment. This led to the creation of the Maximum Battleship design.

No, that’s really what they called it.

Tillman hated the Navy’s battleships, and everyone knew it, but when he requested the Department of the Navy just submit the plans for the biggest battleship they could, the Navy obliged him anyway. There were, however, restrictions on U.S. ship designs at the time. Namely, they had to fit through the Panama Canal.

The first design submitted was a massive 70,000 tons – almost 50 percent heavier than the modern Navy’s USS Missouri – and this was in 1916. It carried 12 16-inch guns and had an armor thickness of 18 inches. In comparison, the Iowa-class battleships of World War II would carry just nine 16-inch guns and have a maximum armor thickness of 14.5 inches. The next iteration of Maximum Battleship designs would have 24 16-inch guns and an armor thickness of 13 inches. It was the third design that really took the cake, however.

Maximum Battleship III – also known as the Tillman III design – weighed 63,000 tons. It had the armor of the second design and the guns of the second design. It could even move at an absurd 30 knots, which is almost as fast as an Iowa-class ship and an insane speed for a ship of that size in 1916. This is a weight equal to the largest battleships ever actually built that moves even faster and was supposed to be built 20 years earlier. That wasn’t the end of the attempt, though. There would be another.

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The largest of the Tillman Designs.

The fourth design for Tillman featured the 24 guns and even thicker armor, coming in at 19 inches. It was clear by now the Navy wasn’t expecting to get funding for these. The fourth design would displace 80,000 tons and was practically impossible to build with the technology of the day. In all, six designs were made, each bigger and more ridiculous than the last. It would be as big as the modern American supercarriers and carry the most and biggest weapons of anything on earth, on land, or on the oceans. And it would have been sunk just as easily with the advent of naval aviation.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These are the contenders flying off to replace the A-10

This past summer, four planes took to the air in a fly-off run by the United States Air Force. This flyoff was part of the OA-X program, intended to provide a replacement for the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support aircraft.


This program has a tall order. According to an Air Force fact sheet, the A-10 Thunderbolt packs a 30mm GAU-8 “Avenger” Gatling gun with at least 1,174 rounds of ammo. The Warthog can also carry up to 16,000 pounds of ordnance, including AGM-65 Maverick missiles, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, dumb bombs, rocket pods, and even AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.

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Two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly in a wingtip formation after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

So, what are these contenders? According to an August report by Popular Mechanics, they are the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, the Embraer AT-29 Super Tucano, the Textron Scorpion, and the Air Tractor AT-802U.

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the AT-6 Wolverine is a variant of the T-6 Texan II used by the United States Air Force and United States Navy. The Wolverine can carry gun pods with .50-caliber machine guns or 20mm cannon, rockets, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and 500-pound bombs, including JDAMs and Paveway laser-guided bombs.

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AT-6B Wolverine. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Embraer AT-29 Super Tucano is also based on a primary trainer. Globalsecurity.org notes that the Super Tucano has wing-mounted machine guns, and can also drop 500-pound and 750-pound bombs, fire rockets, and even tow targets.

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An Afghan air force A-29 Super Tucano aircraft flies over Afghanistan during a training mission April 6, 2016. NATO Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air worked daily with the Afghan air force to help build a professional, sustainable and capable air force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Eydie Sakura)

One late entry to the flyoff is the AT-802U Longsword. This is based not on a trainer, but a cropduster. According to MilitaryEdge.com, this cropduster carries just over 8,100 pounds of ordnance, and comes with two GAU-19 .50-caliber Gatling guns, so it can bring some BRRRRRT to the table.

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Air Tractor AT-802U Longsword. (Wikimedia Commons)

Last, but not least, there is the Textron Scorpion. According to MilitaryFactory.com, this plane can carry 9,100 pounds of ordnance, and it is also capable of reaching a top speed of 518 miles per hour, and has a range of 2,761 miles. This plane is a bit more complex than its propeller-driven competitors, but it does offer performance.

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
A Textron Scorpion experimental aircraft sits at Holloman AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

In any case, though, it seems that these planes still don’t do what the A-10 can. Perhaps the only replacement for the Warthog will be… another Warthog. In the meantime, check out a video on the OA-X program below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSho8SgE1r8
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what happens when the Air Force releases a new plane

Total Force crews delivered the first two KC-46A Pegasus aircraft to McConnell Air Force Base.

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st ARW marshalled in the newest addition to the Air Force’s strategic arsenal.

“This day will go down in history as a win for Team McConnell and the Air Force as a whole,” said Col. Josh Olson, 22nd ARW commander. “With this aircraft, McConnell will touch the entire planet.”

Since being selected as the first main operating base in 2014, McConnell airmen have been preparing to ensure their readiness to receive the Air Force’s newest aircraft.


Contractors constructed three new KC-46 maintenance hangars, technical training dormitories, an air traffic control tower, fuselage trainer and many other facilities specifically for the Pegasus’ arrival. These projects brought 7 million to the local economy by employing Kansas workers and using local resources.

Aircrew members simulated KC-46 flights, boom operators practiced cargo loading and the 22nd Maintenance Group created a training timeline for the enterprise.

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A KC-46A Pegasus flies over the Keeper of the Plains Jan. 25, 2019, in Wichita, Kansas.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Thompson)

Working with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, McConnell maintenance airmen have been developing new technical orders for three years. They streamlined processes and got hands-on exposure to the jet in Seattle.

“Some of us have been involved in this program for years and it has given us time to become experts as far as the technical data goes,” said Staff Sgt. Brannon Burch, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-46 flying crew chief. “Knowing it is one thing, but having hands-on experience on our flightline is what we all crave. We’re just happy the wait’s over and we finally get to get our hands dirty on the Pegasus — it’s almost surreal.”

The KC-46 team at McConnell AFB is comprised of Airmen with a variety of backgrounds from other aircraft who bring different aspects of expertise to the multifaceted new tanker.

“Every airman who was transferred to the KC-46 team was hand-selected specifically to bring this airplane to the fight,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Spurlock, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “They are versatile maintainers, pilots and boom operators who are prepared for any learning curve that comes with a new aircraft.”

The active duty 344th ARS and Air Force Reserve 924th ARS, will be the first units in the military to operationally fly the KC-46.

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A KC-46A Pegasus

(Photo by Airman Michaela Slanchik)

“This airplane has a wide variety of capabilities that we haven’t seen here before,” said Spurlock. “We’re going to get our hands on it, then expand on those abilities and see how we can employ them operationally.”

Once airmen in the Total Force squadrons have perfected their craft on the new aircraft, they will pave the way for the entire KC-46 enterprise and other bases receiving the aircraft in the future by developing tactics, techniques and procedures to share with those units.

“I have never been a part of a unit that is more excited about the mission before them and the legacy they’re going to leave,” said Spurlock.

Today, the waiting ends and integration begins for the next generation of air mobility that will be a linchpin of national defense, global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations for decades to come.

“For those of us who have spent years watching this process happen, it’s enormously humbling to finally see it come to a close,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 931st ARW commander. “We are grateful to everyone who is joining us as we fulfill the potential of this amazing new aircraft.

“We are honoring the rich culture that we have been gifted by those who came before us,” said Heseltine. “That culture continues today. For example, the forward fuselage section of the KC-46 is built by Spirit AeroSystems right here in Wichita. This aircraft literally came home today.”

With the KC-46 on the ground at McConnell AFB, the Air Force will begin the next phases of familiarization and initial operations testing and evaluation.

“McConnell Air Force Base is ready!” said Olson.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Still the champ: 3 things you should know about the SR-71 Blackbird

Before the advent of stealth aircraft, the U.S. military had a very different approach on how to operate its planes in contested airspace. That approach could be summarized in two words:

Brute force.

In those early years of air defense system development, the U.S. was less interested in developing sneaky aircraft and more concerned with developing untouchable ones– utilizing platforms that leveraged high altitude, high speed, or both to beat out air defenses of all sorts — whether we’re talking surface to air missiles or even air superiority fighters.


Lockheed’s legendary Kelly Johnson, designer of just about every badass aircraft you can imagine from the C-130 to the U-2 Spy Plane, was the Pentagon’s go-to guy when it came to designing platforms that could evade interception through speed and altitude. His U-2 Spy Plane, designed and built on a shoestring budget and in a span of just a few months, first proved the concept of flying above enemy defenses, but then America needed something that could also outrun anything Russia could throw its way. The result was the Blackbird family of jets, including the operational SR-71 — an aircraft that remains the fastest operational military plane ever to take to the sky.

You could make a list of 1000 amazing facts about the SR-71 without breaking a sweat — but here are three even a few aviation nerds may not have of heard before:

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

USAF

The Blackbird had over 4,000 missiles fired at it. None ever hit their target.

The SR-71 Blackbird remained in operational service as a high speed, high altitude surveillance platform for 34 years — flying at speeds in excess of Mach 3 at altitudes of around 80,000 feet. This combination of speed and altitude made it all but untouchable to enemy anti-air missiles, so even when a nation knew that there was an SR-71 flying in their airspace, there was next to nothing it could do about it. According to Air Force data collected through pilot reports and other intelligence sources more than 4,000 missiles were fired at the SR-71 during its operational flights, but none ever managed to actually catch the fast-moving platform.

Its windshield gets so hot it had to be made of quartz.

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i1.wp.com

Flying at such high speeds and altitudes puts incredible strain on the aircraft and its occupants, which forced Lockheed to find creative solutions to problems as they arose. One such problem was the immense amount of heat — often higher than 600 degrees Fahrenheit — that the windshield of the SR-71 would experience at top speeds. Designers ultimately decided that using quartz for the windshield was the best way to prevent any blur or window distortion under these conditions, so they ultrasonically fused the quartz to the aircraft’s titanium hull.

The SR-71 was the last major military aircraft to be designed using a ‘slide rule.’

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USAF

There are countless incredible facts about the SR-71 that would warrant a place on this list, but this is one of the few facts that pertains specifically to the incredible people tasked with developing it. Not long after the SR-71 took to the sky, the most difficult mathematical aspects of aircraft design were handed off to computers that could crunch the numbers more quickly and reliably — but that wasn’t the case for the Blackbird. Kelly Johnson and his team used their “slide rules,” which were basically just specialized rulers with a slide that designers could use to aid them in their calculations in designing the mighty Blackbird. Years later, the aircraft was reviewed using modern aviation design computers only to reveal that the machines would not have suggested any changes to the design.

Just for fun, here’s Major Brian Shul’s incredible “Speed Check” story about flying the Blackbird.

Major Brian Shul, USAF (Ret.) SR-71 Blackbird ‘Speed Check’

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

Articles

This is what your next MOPP suit could look like

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet
Soldiers train in classic MOPP gear just before Desert Storm in 1991. (Photo: U.S. Army)


For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:

  1. Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
  2. Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
  3. Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
  4. Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
  5. Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
  6. Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
  7. Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
  8. Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
  9. Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
  10. A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.

MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.

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