If you’ve been a grunt, then you probably have a love-hate relationship with body armor. You love having it in a firefight — it can save your life by stopping or slowing bullets and fragments — but you hate how heavy it is — it’s often around 25 pounds for the armor and outer tactical vest (more if you add the plate inserts to stop up to 7.62mm rounds). It’s bulky — and you really can’t move as well in it. In fact, in one firefight, a medic removed his body armor to reach wounded allies, earning a Distinguished Service Cross.
“Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film. But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond,” lead researcher Elisa Riedo, a physics professor at CUNY said in the release.
This could have profound implications for personal protection and for creating protective coatings to reduce wear on essential components, like tires. While the new armor is still years away, troops can look forward to a lighter load, thanks to graphene, at some point in the future. That will be a huge weight off their minds — and bodies.
Much has been made of Russian and Chinese missiles – and they do warrant attention. But the submarine still remains a very deadly assassin. If anything, that danger has taken on new forms, as the crew of the South Korean corvette Cheonan found out in 2010.
So, how will these underwater assassins be prevented from carrying out their nefarious deeds? Here are four systems that were displayed by L3 Ocean Systems at SeaAirSpace 2017.
The big problem many helicopters deal with is weight. Every pound for sensors is a pound that can’t be fuel or a weapon or a sonobouy.
At less than 400 pounds, the Firefly is a dipping sonar that can be used on much smaller helicopters – allowing someone who needs some coastal ASW to install it on more platforms than if it were a heavier sonar. Or, on the flip side, the helo that trades in a heavier dipping sonar for this lighter one gains more fuel, and thus, more range – or possibly an extra weapon, giving it an extra shot at an enemy sub.
Firefly can operate as deep as 656 feet of water, and can pick up a target almost 20 miles away. That’s not bad for this small package.
The Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar is used by nine separate navies, including Italy, Thailand, Greece, and Turkey. This sonar weighs 716 pounds – but it is also interoperable with the sonars on surface ships and the sonobouys dropped by other helicopters and maritime patrol planes.
It can operate at depths of up to 1,640 feet — meaning running silent and running deep won’t help a sub escape detection from this sonar. And once the sub is located… its captain will have an exciting – and short – time to ponder his situation.
Let’s face it – diesel-electric submarines are getting better and better. They are finding ways to operate without having to snorkel while charging their batteries. The batteries are getting better, and even cell phone battery technology is being leveraged for subs.
The solution is to do what they did in World War II – use active sonar to ping and find the submarine. The Low-Frequency Active Towed Sonar can do that – and can be placed on a vessel as small as 100 tons. It can operate at depths of up to 984 feet. In essence, in shallow water, there is no place for a sub to hide from this sonar. Not when every patrol boat can have one.
You might find it interesting that a towed-array for a submarine is on here, but the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarines sometimes have to operate in shallow water where diesel boats can hide a lot more easily.
Able to operate at depths of over 1,000 feet at a speed of up to 12 knots, the TB-23F makes any submarine that tows it more capable when it comes to hunting the submarines of the enemy.
So, while the submarine threat has gotten worse, a lot of works has been done on developing ways to find these underwater assassins before they can do harm to the valuable ships.
Infantry have long been looking for a way to deal with tanks. Today, missiles like the FGM-148 Javelin and BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) can give even the lightest of infantry forces the ability to give an armored unit a bloody nose.
In World War II, those lethal tank-killers weren’t around, but the need for a tank-killer a grunt could carry was obvious. After all, the Nazis used the blitzkrieg tactic across Europe to great effect. The Americans had an decent anti-tank grenade, but it was so heavy that the effective range made using it like a grenade suicidal.
Then someone had the bright idea to make the grenade a rocket. The M1 bazooka entered service in 1942. According to modernfirearms.net, the M1 fired a 60mm M6 anti-tank rocket that had an effective range of about 300 yards. It could do a number on a Nazi tank – and many Nazi tank crews were unavailable for comment about the bazooka’s effectiveness.
Like the modern FGM-148 Javelin, the bazooka had a two-man crew. But while the Javelin has a range of just over one and half miles, the bazooka couldn’t even reach one-fifth of a mile. Still, though, it was a major improvement over nothing.
The crews had to be well-trained to handle this weapon. Part of the problem was that for a simple-looking weapon, the bazooka was complex. Among things crews had to be careful of were broken wires (the weapon fired electically), drained batteries (the ones shown in the film seem to be AA batteries like you’d use in a remote), or a dirty trigger mechanism.
The bazooka served in World War II and the Korean War. By the end of World War II, it had shifted from a tank-killer to being used as a light infantry support weapon, largely because tanks like the German Tiger and the Russian T-34 were shrugging off the rockets.
The M1126 Stryker is a beautifully designed vehicle. It’s packed with 16.5 tons of high-hardness steel to shield the passengers from direct attacks and a unique underbelly design to help defend against IEDs. Many are outfitted with remote weapon systems, allowing troops to engage the enemy without fear of snipers. It even has one of the most state-of-the-art fire-extinguishing systems in the world in case the worst happens.
With all that protection, it seems strange that someone decided a bunch of steel bars around it would make great armor…
It also works great for extra storage space for things you don’t mind losing. (Photo from U.S. Army)
Though it might look flimsy, the simple fence design is an excellent counter considering how explosives blow up. Having thick, reactive armor works wonders against conventional fragmentation rounds, but HEAT (High explosive, anti-tank) rounds are designed specifically to burst through it.
Take a standard RPG-7 single-stage HEAT round for instance: The explosion isn’t what makes it deadly. By forcing the explosion into a narrow cone, it’s used to blow a hole through whatever it hits. It’s the molten copper follows and uses the pathway cleared by the explosion that’s truly deadly.
In comes what we’ve been calling “fence armor.” This type of armor is actually called “slat armor” and has been used since the World War II on German panzers. The Germans needed an extra layer of defense from Russian anti-tank rifles and low velocity, high explosive rounds. They added steel plates. set a few inches away from the actual shell of the vehicle, so when it’s hit, the cheaper plates would be hit and the copper would have time to cool, causing minimal damage.
This method of stopping common HEAT rounds is still used today by armies going against enemies with RPGs. While slat armor isn’t 100% effective (no armor is, truly), it does have up to 70% effectiveness, which is remarkable for a solution that costs nearly nothing, is an addition to existing armor, and doesn’t negatively affect the mission.
Though nowhere near as effective, even ISIS tried to Mad Max their vehicles. Note, for this to work, slat armor needs to be a few inches away from the vehicle, it should cover vital spots, and shouldn’t be welded on (since the point of it is to be destroyed and swapped out).
B- for effort. F for forgetting that missiles drop down — not across — at three feet above ground. (Image via Reddit)
November 2019, the US Navy unveiled the official seal for the future aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which was officially launched on Oct. 29, 2019 — three months ahead of schedule.
The Kennedy will be christened in Newport News, Virginia, on Dec. 7, 2019, and even though it likely won’t be commissioned into service until 2020, the carrier’s seal reveals what naval aviation will look like aboard the Kennedy in the decades to come.
The seal, which is meant to honor Kennedy, his Navy service, and his vision for space exploration, depicts several of the aircraft that will operate on the carrier.
In front of the superstructure is what appears to be an E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, its wings folded back. Next to it, on the carrier’s bow, are F/A-18 Super Hornet jets, while an F-35C Lightning II stealth fighter and an H-60 helicopter variant are on the other side of the deck.
The crest for the Ford-class aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.
(US Navy graphic)
Between the F-35C and the helicopter is a new addition to the carrier air wing: an MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial vehicle, its wings folded above it.
In an email, Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, public affairs officer for Naval Air Force Atlantic, confirmed that the MQ-25 was pictured on the seal, which “displays future naval aviation capabilities that the aircraft carrier will likely support throughout its estimated 50 year service life.”
The MQ-25’s inclusion means the Navy “firmly expects UAVs will play a key role in directly supporting the primary combat function of the carrier, which will still be conducted by Super Hornets, Growlers, and the F-35,” said Timothy Choi, a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary’s Center for Military and Strategic Studies.
“Contrast the MQ-25’s presence with the absence of other carrier aircraft, such as the C-2 or its replacement, the CMV-22, that don’t play a combat role,” added Choi, who first spotted the MQ-25 on the seal when it was released.
Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling tanker, being tested at Boeing’s facility in St. Louis, Missouri.
(Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower)
A heavyweight champion
The Navy awarded Boeing an 5 million contract for the Stingray in August 2018, and one of four development models made the drone’s first flight in September. The first of four development models is expected to be delivered in fiscal year 2021, followed by planned initial operational capability for the aircraft in 2024.
In all, the Navy expects to get 72 MQ-25s and for a total cost of about billion, according to James Geurts, Navy assistant secretary for research, development, and acquisition, who called it “a hallmark acquisition program.”
The MQ-25 is a refueling drone, meant to ease the workload of the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, which currently conduct both combat missions as well as refueling operations, using detachable tanks.
The drone would also allow carrier aircraft to fly longer and farther, conducting more missions and putting more space between the carrier and the growing variety of weapons that threaten it.
A dedicated carrier-based aerial refueling tanker could allow carrier aircraft “to reach [combat air patrol] stations 1,000 [nautical miles] from the carrier and conduct long-range attacks to respond promptly to aggression while keeping the carrier far enough away from threat areas to reduce the density of air and missile threats” to a level the carrier strike group’s defense could handle, according to a 2018 report on the carrier air wing by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Boeing and the US Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueler during its first test flight, Sept. 19, 2019.
The Stingray “gives us additional reach, just like that of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali,” Adm. James Foggo, head of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said on a recent edition of his On the Horizon podcast.
The Navy may eventually ask for more than range, however.
The CSBA report also recommended redesignating the MQ-25 as a “multi-mission UAV,” modifying later versions to conduct attack, electronic warfare, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions where appropriate.
Those modified MQ-25s “would be able to complement [unmanned combat aerial vehicles] when the risk is acceptable, providing the future [carrier air wing] a potentially less expensive option for surveillance, EW, or attack missions in less stressing environments,” the report said.
But the Stingray is still a long way from joining the fleet, and what it can do when it gets there, if it gets there, remains to be seen.
“The positioning of the MQ-25 into the background and off to the side might also be interpreted as a certain hesitancy” by the Navy, Choi said. “In the event UAVs turn out not to be as successful as expected, it can be easily ignored and the seal is not burdened with a white elephant sitting front and center on the deck.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
This time, we will go to the plane that everyone in the Air Force loves…and yet, it keeps ending up on the chopping block. That’s right, it’s time for us to discuss the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Why it is easy to make fun of the A-10
Let’s see, it’s slow. It doesn’t fly high, if anything, the plane is best flying very low.
As any of its pilots will tell you, it’s ugly — but well hung. (U.S. Air Force photo)
It’s not going to win any airplane beauty pageants any time soon due to being quite aesthetically-challenged. Also, when it was first designed, it was a daylight-only plane with none of the sensors to drop precision-guided weapons.
Why you should hate the A-10
Because it has this cult following that seems to think it can do just about anything and take out any one. Because its pilots think the GAU-8 cannon in the nose is all that — never mind that a number of other planes took bigger guns into the fight — including 75mm guns.
A group of Microsoft employees are demanding that the company’s leadership abandon a contract with the US Army that they say makes them into “war profiteers” — a contract that relates to Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality technology.
On Feb. 22, 2019, a group of workers at the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant released an open letter in which they slammed a $749 million contract the company holds to develop an “Integrated Visual Augmentation System” (IVAS) to build “a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.”
“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the letter reads. “As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.”
Fifty employees have signed the letter so far, and organizers say that number is expected to grow.
The organized action comes just days before Microsoft is widely expected to unveil a new HoloLens headset at the Mobile World Congress technology conference in Europe and is a sign of the rising tide of labor activism in the American technology industry.
(Flickr photo by Franklin Heijnen)
“We are going public with the demand to cancel the Hololens DoD contract because we want our voices to be heard on this life or death matter,” a Microsoft worker who asked to remain anonymous told Business Insider. “We haven’t heard back from Microsoft officially, or from any execs at this point — we’re hoping this open letter will help get us a response.”
In June 2018, Google canceled a US military contract after internal uproar. Amazon has also faced protests over military contracts, though CEO Jeff Bezos has said the company has no plans to end them — even implicitly rebuking Google for its actions as unpatriotic. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said in October 2018.
The same anonymous Microsoft worker challenged this argument, saying: “Jeff Bezos and other tech execs reap massive profits from military contracts. Patriotism is just a front. If we look at who benefits, it is certainly not the individual engineers working at these companies.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
In a statement, Microsoft spokesperson Liz Reisen said: “We gave this issue careful consideration and outlined our perspective in an October 2018 blog. We always appreciate feedback from employees and provide many avenues for their voices to be heard. In fact, we heard from many employees throughout the fall. As we said then, we’re committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract. As we’ve also said, we’ll remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in addressing the important ethical and public policy issues relating to AI and the military.”
Here’s the full letter:
“Dear Satya Nadella and Brad Smith,
“We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression. We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.
“In November, Microsoft was awarded the 9 million Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the United States Department of the Army. The contract’s stated objective is to ‘rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.’ Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this purpose. While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract, it does. The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.
“Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.
“We demand that Microsoft:
“1) Cancel the IVAS contract;
“2) Cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment;
“3) Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.
“Although a review process exists for ethics in AI, AETHER, it is opaque to Microsoft workers, and clearly not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates. Without such a policy, Microsoft fails to inform its engineers on the intent of the software they are building. Such a policy would also enable workers and the public to hold Microsoft accountable.
“Brad Smith’s suggestion that employees concerned about working on unethical projects ‘would be allowed to move to other work within the company’ ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work. There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP). These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.
“Microsoft’s guidelines on accessibility and security go above and beyond because we care about our customers. We ask for the same approach to a policy on ethics and acceptable use of our technology. Making our products accessible to all audiences has required us to be proactive and unwavering about inclusion. If we don’t make the same commitment to be ethical, we won’t be. We must design against abuse and the potential to cause violence and harm.
“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. But implicit in that statement, we believe it is also Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to do good. We also need to be mindful of who we’re empowering and what we’re empowering them to do. Extending this core mission to encompass warfare and disempower Microsoft employees, is disingenuous, as ‘every person’ also means empowering us. As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The moment the people of Iraq and Syria have waited so long to see has finally arrived: the Kurdish SDF are assaulting the last ISIS stronghold in the Middle East. For years, ISIS and its so-called caliphate conquered and subjugated people across the two countries – including the Kurds, against whom they committed numerous atrocities.
It’s all in the past now, as the U.S.-backed Kurdish SDF just brought the war on ISIS to their last doorstep.
In the small Syrian town of Baghuz, near its eastern border with Iraq, ISIS fighters are using smoke and suicide bombers to try to slow the progress of the Kurds as they roll through ISIS’ last stronghold. The SDF waited weeks before assaulting the area in an attempt to allow innocent civilians to flee the combat zone. Now, the battle has begun, and it’s not looking good for the Islamic State, despite its potentially thousands-strong numbers.
No one in the region will be particularly sad to see the threat of the Islamic Caliphate dissipate. In 2014, the Islamic State saw a surprisingly easy territory grab across Iraq and Syria, capturing weapons, vehicles, cash, and oil in a blitz of unprecedented success.
Kurdish SDF forces have arrested scores of ISIS fighters trying to flee the area.
Inside the captured territory, life under ISIS rule was harsh and repressive, with dire consequences for noncompliance. Under the strictest forms of Islamic law, civilians would be put to death for offenses ranging from smoking cigarettes to dancing. The terror group destroyed numerous historical and religious sites considered blasphemous by their brand of Islam and threatened persecution and genocide against religious and ethnic minorities they considered apostates.
Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq began to strike back just as fast. U.S.-backed Kurdish and Iraqi forces had retaken all ISIS-held territory in Iraq by the end of 2017. Though Syria remains a country fractured by civil war, at least one faction is finally on its last leg as the SDF empties the last pocket of ISIS.
At the end of the operation, American forces are likely to go home, as President Donald Trump has restated time and again, most recently in the 2019 State of the Union Address. They are slated to leave Syria by the end of April. For the U.S.-backed Kurdish militias, the future is far from certain.
Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, considered armed Kurdish groups in Syria to be terrorist groups, no better than ISIS itself. Turkey maintains a large presence in Syria after intervening in the country in 2015. To date, Turkey has struck SDF positions numerous times, despite U.S. warnings – and the SDF has promised retaliation for any Turkish attacks in Syria.
Air forces around the world have to wrestle with one simple but scary fact: Their fighters may have to go against the F-22 and, to maybe a lesser degree, the F-35, both fifth-generation stealth fighters equipped with modern, lethal air-to-air weapons and great sensors.
Here are five fighters that nations are hoping can hold their own against the kings of the skies, even if, so far, it doesn’t appear that any are up to the task:
Chengdu J-20s maneuver during a public airshow.
(Alert 5, CC BY-SA 5.0)
China’s J-20 fighter is arguably the greatest actual threat to America’s fifth-generation fighters. China has a number of fighters in development, production, and early deployment, but the J-20 appears to be the crown jewel. It’s large, but appears to be stealthy at least from the front. It can carry lethal, extremely long-range missiles, and the Center for Strategic International Studies reported as late as 2017 that it could be a full fifth-generation stealth fighter.
The Russian Air Force flies its Sukhoi Su-57 fighters.
(Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sukhoi Su-57 (formerly known as PAK FA)
The Russian Sukhoi Su-57 is one of the few rival fifth-generation fighters that currently exist, and its creators insist that it not only rivals the F-22, but some even claim it’s better in air-to-air and air-to-surface operations. Russia really hopes this fighter can dominate the F-22 and F-35 if it ever goes to war with the west.
The aircraft is under development with a first flight scheduled for 2023. It’s envisioned as having a stealthy fuselage, high speed, and a focus on air-to-air operations with air-to-surface capabilities. It is supposed to be capable of Mach 2 speeds and an almost 700-mile combat radius. If relations with the west hold, the TFX will fly with Turkish F-35s. Otherwise, it will work with Russian S-400s and older F-16s.
HAL Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) model
(Johnxxx9, CC BY-SA 3.0)
India was part of the PAK FA program that created the Sukhoi Su-57, but when it got its hands on the early planes, they were underpowered and failed to meet up to specs, according to Indian military leaders. So India proceeded from the Sukhoi program and ramped up their program for a homegrown fifth-generation fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.
The goal aircraft looks a lot like the F-22 with stealth, super cruise, dual engines, and all-weather capabilities. It’s getting high-end engines, radar, and long-range missiles. Oddly enough, those high-end engines might come from America. While India and the U.S. often have a tense relationship, the AMCA is even more likely to fly against China’s J-20 than it is against the F-22, so America wants the profit of selling engines while also increasing China’s risk.
And if F-22s do end up fighting the AMCA? Well, the F-22 is likely to win no matter what engines the AMCA gets.
Iran unveiled the plane in 2013 and made its claims, but the plane appears to be just a mockup, it’s shape isn’t actually all that great for limiting radar cross section or for taking on enemy jets, and the plane hasn’t been seen since that first, high-profile debut. So, you know, our money is on the F-22.
You may think that the last Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon will be flying its last in 2048. That is, of course, what the Air Force is saying, but you’d be very, very wrong to believe it. The last Air Force F-16 will be flying for decades after its supposed retirement.
Don’t just take my word for it: Look at what happened with the F-4 Phantom. The real last flight of the F-4 for the United States Air Force was in 2016, not the mid-1990s when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were sent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base to be laid to rest in the boneyard. Instead, those F-4s were converted into QF-4 Phantom target drones.
Over 5,200 QF-4 Phantoms were built and gave the United States over two decades of service as target drones. With so many F-16s built, it was a natural fit to transition these ‘retiring’ airframes from front-line combat to serving as target drones. These unmanned aircraft help keep pilots current and provide a way to test the performance of air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
So, how can we be so sure the same fate awaits the Fighting Falcons? Well, it’s already happening. The QF-16 first flew in 2013, an unmanned craft created by converting an A-model Falcon. The plan calls for at least 200 of these drones to be created through modifications by Boeing. Like the F-4s, the QF-16s will still be able to be flown by pilots. They will have weapons and radars removed, though. They will also be rigged with a self-destruct system, in case they go wild.
Moments before a QF-16 fulfills its purpose — in the sights of another plane. (Boeing photo)
Other planes that have served as target drones include the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 Delta Dagger, QF-104 Starfighter, and QF-106 Delta Dart. The QF-4 Phantom was the most recent full-scale aerial target.
Learn more about how the F-16 will fly for decades after its so-called ‘retirement’ in the video below.
It’s no secret the military is committed to drones, and manufacturers from around the world are coming up with crazy designs to capture defense dollars. To wit, at this year’s Atlanta Unmanned Systems conference, drones that resembled everything from miniature death stars to flying saucers were showcased. Check out this video to see some of them in action:
Spinoffs are a curse of entertainment. Any successful TV series soon spawns one or two others that are of suspect quality and have a vague connection to the original. For instance, the overwhelmingly popular Friends led to the creation of the underwhelming Joey. AfterMASH tried (and failed) to piggyback off of the successes of M*A*S*H.
But did you know warships also generate spinoffs? In fact, Russia pulled off a one-of-a-kind spinoff from one of its most successful ships.
The Russian navy destroyer ADM Chabanenko (DD650), right, moves past the French navy frigate FS Ventose (F733) while getting underway during the 2011 FRUKUS (French, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) event.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marie Brindovas)
The Udaloy-class destroyers were built for protecting high-value assets, like Kiev-class carriers and Kirov-class battlecruisers, from NATO submarines. Udaloy-class vessels carried two 100mm guns, two quad SS-N-14 Silex launchers, 64 SA-N-9 Gauntlet point-defense surface-to-air missiles in eight eight-round launchers, four quad 53mm torpedo tube mounts, and four AK-630 close-in weapon systems. The destroyer could also operate two Ka-27 Helix anti-ship helicopters.
The Russian navy destroyer RFS ADM Chabanenko (DD 650) fires the AK-130-MR-184 130 mm gun at a distant target during a gunnery exercise as part of the at-sea phase of FRUKUS 2011.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Darren Moore)
That’s some serious firepower — a submarine captain would have some trepidation having to take those on. But the Udaloy was a little weak in one crucial area: fighting surface ships. The SS-N-14 and the 533mm torpedoes could be used against ships, but they were primarily intended to hunt subs. In short, the Udaloy was out-ranged by the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, which was in service with U.S. Navy three years before the first Udaloy was commissioned. So, in 1989, the Soviet Union laid down what they hoped would be the answer to this shortcoming.
Despite plans to build several, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union would leave this vessel as the only one of its kind. The Admiral Chabanenko underwent a lengthy construction process — it took ten years to be commissioned. For this ship, the Soviets turned to the Udaloy’s contemporary, the Sovremennyy, as a baseline. The Admiral Chabanenko replaced the two 100mm guns with a twin 130mm gun mount, the quad SS-N-14 mounts were replaced with quad SS-N-22 Sunburn launchers, and the four AK-630s were replaced with CADS-N-1 close-in weapon systems.
Soviet propaganda poster which reads, “Our triumph in space is the hymn to Soviet country!”
In the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans have taken to assuming that victory for the United States was assured. From our vantage point in the 21st century, we now know that the Soviet Union was, in many ways, a quagmire of oppression and economic infeasibility — but in the early days of mankind’s effort to reach the stars, it was the Soviets, not the Americans, who seemed destined for the top spot.
On October 4, 1957, it was the Soviet Union that first successfully placed a manmade object in orbit around the earth, with Sputnik. Less than a month later, the Soviets would capture another victory: Launching a stray dog named Laika into orbit. While the dog would die as it circled our planet, Laika’s mission seemed to prove (at least to some extent) that space travel was possible for living creatures. On September 14, 1959, the Soviet space probe Luna II would be the first manmade object to land on the moon, but the Soviet’s greatest victory was yet to come.
Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (WikiMedia Commons)
When the Soviets were winning the Space Race
On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union once again affirmed to the world that they were the global leader in space technology, launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit where he remained for 108 minutes before reentering the earth’s atmosphere.
To the Americans, these early victories in the Space Race were about far more than international prestige. Each victory for the Soviets not only represented a greater lead in securing “the ultimate high ground” for the Soviet military, they also served as proof of the validity of the Soviet Communist economic and political model — making the Soviet space program as much an ideological threat as it was a military one.
Despite assuming an underdog status in the early days of the Space Race, however, the U.S. leveraged its post-World War II industrial and economic might to begin closing the gap created by these early Soviet victories, launching their own satellite less than four months after Sputnik. America’s first astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, would follow behind the Soviet Gagarin by less than a month.
Buzz Aldrin on the moon (NASA)
America’s come-from-behind victory
By 1969, America’s technological prowess, coupled with a massive influx of spending, would secure victory for both the U.S. and, in the minds of many, its capitalist economic model. On July 20, 1969, two former fighter pilots, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, triumphantly landed on the moon.
Just like that, the Soviets went from leading the way in orbital space to lagging behind, and in the midst of an ongoing nuclear arms race, the Soviets saw this shift as a significant threat. Furthering their concern were reports of the American Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, which was intended as an early space station from which crews could conduct orbital surveillance, or even mount operations against Soviet orbital bodies.
In response to the MOL program, the Soviets poured funding into Almaz, which was an early space station design of their own. Hidden behind a public-facing civilian space station effort, the program called for a number of military-specific space stations in orbit around the earth, each capable of conducting its own high-altitude reconnaissance. Although the Americans canceled their MOL program in 1969, the Soviet effort continued, reaching even further beyond America’s canceled program with plans to equip these space stations with the world’s first ever cannon in space.
The Soviet Space Cannon: R-23M Kartech
The Soviets were not mistaken when they considered America’s MOL program a threat. In fact, within the corridors of the Pentagon, a number of plans and strategies were being explored that would enable the Americans to spy on, capture, or otherwise destroy Soviet satellites.
It was with this in mind that the Soviet Union decided they’d need to equip their space stations for more than just taking pictures of the earth below. Instead, they wanted to be sure their orbital habitats could fight whatever the Americans threw their way.
Line drawing of the Russian Almaz space station (NASA)
The decision was made to base this new secret space cannon on the 23-millimeter gun utilized by their supersonic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder. For its new purpose as the world’s first true space cannon, the Soviet government looked to the Moscow-based KB Tochmash design bureau responsible for a number of successful aviation weapons platforms.
Soviet Tu-22PD tail turret equipped with a R-23M (WikiMedia Commons)
Engineer Aleksandr Nudelman and his team at KB Tochmash changed the design of the cannon to utilize smaller 14.5-millimeter rounds that could engage targets at distances of up to two miles with a blistering rate of fire of somewhere between 950 and 5,000 rounds per minute (depending on the source you read). According to reports made public after the fall of the Soviet Union, the cannon successfully punctured a metal gas can from over a mile away during ground testing.
The cannon was to be mounted in a fixed position on the underbelly of the Soviet Almaz space stations, forcing operators to move the entire 20-ton station to orient the barrel toward a target. The weapon system was first affixed to a modified Soyuz space capsule, which was then dubbed the “Salyut” space station, and launched in 1971. By the time the Salyut was in orbit, however, interest in these manned reconnaissance platforms was already beginning to wane inside the Kremlin, as unmanned reconnaissance satellites seemed more practical.
The only cannon ever fired in space
While American intelligence agencies were well aware of the Soviet plan to field military space stations, it was still extremely difficult to know exactly what was going on in the expanse of space above our heads. Under cover of extreme secrecy, the Soviet Union successfully completed a test firing of the R-23M on Jan. 24, 1975 in orbit above the earth. There was no crew onboard at the time, and the exact results of the test remain classified to this day. Uncomfirmed reports indicate that the weapon fired between one and three bursts, with a total of 20 shells expended. In order to offset the recoil of the fired rounds, the space station engaged its thrusters, but it stands to reason that the test may have been a failure.
Screen capture of the R-23M space cannon taken from Zvezda TV, per the Russian Ministry of Defence
In fact, any footage of the test firing of the weapon was lost when the Salyut 3 platform was de-orbited just hours later, burning up upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. When the Soviet Union designed an upgraded Almaz space station for future launches, they did away with cannons in favor of interceptor missiles — though the program was canceled before any such weapons would reach orbit.