Germany has developed a lot of powerful guns and tanks over the years, but one of its most lethal anti-aircraft systems has never seen combat. Despite that, Germany keeps them around — and hands them down to NATO allies.
The system in question is known as the Flakpanzer Gepard (Flakpanzer is translated as “anti-aircraft tank,” but the technical term is “self-propelled anti-aircraft gun,” or SPAAG). In a sense, it’s a product of the Cold War. Today, the United States and its allies have become used to fighting under friendly skies, but in the Cold War, air superiority wasn’t a given. In fact, NATO forces were outnumbered.
Sure, the planes belonging to NATO allies could win in a one-on-one fight, no problem. The problem was, however, the fight wouldn’t be one-on-one. Instead, it would look more like six F-15s facing roughly eight MiG-23 Flogger fighters escorting a dozen Su-22 Fitter attack planes. If these forces were to collide, the Floggers and six to eight Fitters might be shot down, but that would still leave a half dozen attack places en route to NATO ground forces. Considering that each Fitter carries about five and a half tons of bombs, that NATO ground unit could be in for a world of hurt.
The Flakpanzer Gepard was Germany’s answer to making sure those surviving Fitters enjoyed a hot reception and were either shot down or forced to abort their attack. To do that, it has a pair of 35mm autocannons that are radar-guided. In terms of mobility, the Gepard has a top speed of 40 miles per hour and can go 342 miles on a tank of gas.
Germany, Belgium, and Chile acquired and retired the Gepard. The Netherlands acquired several as well, and they’re still ready for use. Romania, Poland, Brazil, and Jordan have all acquired second-hand versions of this vehicle.
The US Army’s upgunned Strykers were developed to counter Russian aggression in Europe, but while these upgraded armored vehicles bring greater firepower to the battlefield, they suffer from a critical weakness that could be deadly in a fight.
The improved Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle – Dragoons deployed with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Europe have the ability to take on a variety of threats, but there’s one in particular that the powerful new 30mm automatic cannons can’t eliminate.
The new Strykers’ vulnerability to cyberattacks could be a serious issue against top adversaries.
(Photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)
“Adversaries demonstrated the ability to degrade select capabilities of the ICV-D when operating in a contested cyber environment,” the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Test and Evaluation (DOTE) said in a January 2019 report, according to The War Zone.
Simply put, the vehicles can be hacked.
It’s unclear who has been doing the hacking because “adversaries” is an ambiguous term. The adversaries could be simulated enemy forces in training exercises or an actual adversarial power such as Russia. The new Stryker units are in service in Germany, where they were deployed in late 2017, according to Army Times.
The military typically uses “opposing force” or “aggressors” to refer to mock opponents in training exercises. The use of the word “adversaries” in the recent report could indicate that the Army’s Strykers were the target of an actual cyberattack.
The development of the new Strykers began in 2015.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Onuoha)
It’s also unclear which systems were affected, but The War Zone said that it appears the most appealing targets would be the vehicle’s data-sharing, navigation, or digital-communications systems because a cyberattack on these systems could hamper and slow US actions on the battlefield, threatening US forces.
These “exploited vulnerabilities,” the recent report said, “pre-date the integration of the lethality upgrades,” such as the replacement of the M2 .50 caliber machine guns with the 30mm cannon, among other upgrades. This means that other Stryker variants may have the same fatal flaw as the upgunned versions, the development of which began in 2015 in direct response to Russian aggression.
US forces have come face to face with Russian electronic-warfare threats before.
“Right now, in Syria, we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, said April 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Timothy Hamlin)
He said these activities were disabling US aircraft. “They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etc.”
NATO allies and partner countries have also encountered GPS jamming and other relevant attacks that have been attributed to Russia.
The recent DOTE report recommended the Army “correct or mitigate cyber vulnerabilities,” as well as “mitigate system design vulnerabilities to threats as identified in the classified report.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Aug. 29, 2019, two US Air Force B-2 stealth bombers trained with the Royal Air Force’s F-35B jets, the first time a B-2 has flown with non-US F-35 aircraft, according to The Aviationist.
The B-2s are part of a team of three Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri that have been deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.
The three B-2 Spirit bombers bring with them airmen from the 509th Bomb Wing and the 131st Bomb Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard. The Spirits used the call signs Death 11, Death 12, and Death 13 when they left Whiteman, The Drive reports.
B-2s are generally kept at specific bases, including Fairfoird and Whiteman, partly because only a few bases have the necessary capacity to protect the bomber’s radar-absorbing stealth covering. But the US military has increased its presence in Iceland as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
Read on to learn more about Aug. 29, 2019’s historic flight.
UK F-35 Lightning fighter jets conduct integration flying training with US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers for the first time, Aug. 29, 2019.
(US Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense)
Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning jets trained with US Air Force B-2 stealth bombers for the first time on Aug. 29, 2019.
A US Air Force B-2 Spirit, currently deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, flies along the English coast near Dover with two RAF F-35 jets.
(US Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense)
“We’re delighted that the USAF and 501st Wing Bomber Task Force are here in the UK and that our F-35 Lightning pilots have the chance to fly alongside and train with the B-2 bomber crews,” Group Captain Richard Yates, chief of staff at the UK Air Battle Staff, said in a release. “This is the first time that any other country has done this.”
A US Air Force B-2 Spirit, currently deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, flies above the English countryside near Dover with two RAF F-35 jets, Aug. 29, 2019.
(US Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense)
“This flying integration builds on the work of Exercise Lightning Dawn in Cyprus and the visit of RAF F-35 Lightning to Italy in June, where in both cases it had the opportunity to prove itself among other NATO allies who also operate the aircraft,” Mark Lancaster, British armed forces minister, said.
When we talk about American arms deals, usually the United States is the seller, and almost everyone else is the buyer (if they know what’s good for them). But this time, Israel has the technology that everyone in the air defense arena should aspire to, especially in terms of protecting people from missile attacks.
The Israelis have had to perfect their surface-to-air missile tech, especially when it comes to intercepting missiles and rockets while in mid-flight. The Jewish state has been taking random rocket, mortar, and missile attacks from anti-Israel terrorist organizations like Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip to Israel’s south and Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, to Israel’s north. Currently, the system is a short-range interceptor system, but its effectiveness is its primary selling point.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the Iron Dome’s high rate of success can be repeated almost anywhere, given that the system is a mobile, all-weather system. In 2011, before its widespread deployment, the Iron Dome successfully intercepted four of the five rockets fired by Palestinian militants at the city of Beersheba. The next year, when IDF troops invaded the Gaza Strip, Hamas Qassam rockets were successfully intercepted 75-90 percent of the time, with some 300 rockets being fired at Israel.
This kind of success rate far outpaces the U.S. Patriot missile batteries, which is around 50 percent most of the time but can be as high as 75 to 85 percent. Given this success and the dire need for short-range anti-missile batteries in NATO-allied Europe, the 7 million deal is an easy win for both parties. Israel’s Iron Dome beat out similar weapons from Boeing and General Dynamics Land Systems’ Stryker during short-range air defense operation demonstrations at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System intercepts an incoming projectile during 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
(Photo by Emanuel Yellin)
The United States currently used its THAAD missile defense system to protect Europe from short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats but does not have short-range surface-to-air defense systems in place as of now. The best part about the Iron Dome deal for the United States is the all-weather mobility the system offers as well as the ability of the Iron Dome’s Tamir missiles to fire at multiple targets simultaneously, at different ranges.
When you think of the Gulfstream, you probably think of a jet that’s used by A-list celebrities and corporate CEOs – all of whom are living the high life.
Well, that is true. In fact, the Pentagon has a fleet of Gulfstream 550s dubbed the “C-37B” for the VIP transport role, including for President Trump (who owns a 757 of his own).
But if all you see is a cushy transport for execs, you’re missing the potential of the Gulfstream, company officials say.
In fact, the plane could do a whole lot more than fly high-rollers in comfort. The company is using the G550 as a platform for multiple missions, including for missile range instrumentation, a multi-mission version, and even for command and control. Some of these variants were being shown off by Gulfstream at a display at the 2017 SeaAirSpace Expo in National Harbor, Maryland.
The G550 has a lot going for it. It has long range, over 6,750 nautical miles, or about 12 hours of endurance. It is also reliable – the Gulfstream website notes its 99.9 percent mission-ready rate means that this plane misses one flight every five years.
This bird could very well become a larger part of the DOD inventory – proving that airframes can do much more than you might think they can at first glance.
When the time comes to get out of the house and hit the road for a few days to reach a safe place, what do you take with you? What if you lived in Washington D.C. and need to get to your cousin’s house in Charleston, West Virginia, among the throngs of frightened masses choking the roadways and buying up all the supplies during a natural disaster? A simple answer is a bug out bag.
Bug out bags are just what the name implies — bags you and your family can grab at a moment’s notice and bug out of the area. A bug out bag can get you through a few days by itself, but it’s a temporary means to an end. The water and food will eventually run out so you have to pack one in a methodical manner that meets your expectations and criteria. When prepping bags, it’s important to keep in mind a few things:
What is the threat? What are you running from? Where are you running to?
What is the environment? A bug out bag for a family living in the Everglades is not going to look much like a bug out bag for a family living in Anchorage. Determine what it is you need the most of — water, heat, food, etc?
How much can you and your family carry? If you’re a big guy and can carry a lot, then by all means find a large rucksack and maximize it. But if you have kids (who should all be carrying their own bags), take their capabilities into account and pack accordingly.
Be redundant. That old cliché “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is very true of bug out bags. Let’s say you and your family are crossing a stream and one bag gets lost down river. If that bag had the only Epi Pen for your allergic son, you’ve just made your situation worse.
I have three kids and packed each of them a bag according to how much they can carry and what they would need to survive in the Northern Virginia area for 5 days with no assistance. Our area has a lot of natural water sources, so I’m not overly concerned with finding water. All three bags have the following basics:
2. Five days of meals
For food preparation, I have included a small folding stove, a canteen cup, and 2 cans of camp fuel or heat tabs is great for boiling water for freeze dried meals.
One set of steel utensils or a multi-use eating tool is a must.
3. Fire making materials
4. Items to keep you warm and dry
6. First aid kit
Make sure you include basic meds and specific meds for each particular person. Each bag has a travel container of Neosporin, Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl, Orajel, Blistex, Dayquil, Nyquil, Gold Bond, insect wipes, sun block, and a protective mask. One of my sons requires an inhaler and an Epi Pen, as well.
Hygiene is more important than you think. Besides fighting off bacteria and infections, a basic cleaning can raise your morale. Each bag should have a small travel pack of toothpaste, toothbrush, body wash, baby wipes, tissues, a cloth, and hand sanitizer. Add other items as needed.
7. Tools and Weapons
A few more miscellaneous things:
Toss in a whistle with a compass, a deck of cards, a notepad, a signal mirror, a signal flag, a NIOSH approved face mask, and a watch that doesn’t need a battery. A small survival manual is a good idea if you can find one.
Include three pairs of underwear and socks per person. If you can fit a change of clothes, do so.
As for basic communications, everyone has a cell phone nowadays, which is good and bad. They provide immediate communications, but the networks they rely on can be knocked out easily. Backup comms are a must. A simple battery operated radio with a limited range in each bag provides short range comms and most importantly, can help avoid family members getting separated.
I keep an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) on the outside of my ruck so it can be accessed easily. If I’m injured, I want my kids to be able to get to it and treat me without having to dig through the ruck. I also keep my ammo on the outside for easy access.
I carry a small tent and, just to be safe, I put an extra set of my son’s prescription meds in my ruck. I keep my ruck in the car because I’d rather have it with me at work and on vacations than sitting in my basement where it doesn’t do anyone any good. Also, if I find myself in a survival situation (snowstorm, car failure, zombie apocalypse, etc) I’m ready.
There are a lot of companies that sell pre-packed bug out bags that are a great start, but I encourage you to customize them to your situation and environment. I highly recommend my friend Tim Kennedy’s Sheepdog Response website.
The Cold War must have been an amazing time to be a weapons manufacturer for the U.S. government. Like some kind of early Tony Stark (I guess that would be Howard Stark), if you could dream it, you could build it, and chances were very good the CIA would fund it. From funding LSD tests using prostitutes and their johns to a secret underground ice base in Greenland to trying to build an actual flying saucer, there was literally no end to what the CIA would try.
What they ended up actually building and then using was much less fun and much more terrifying. We only found out about it because Senator Frank Church decided to do a little investigating.
Among other things, he found a gun that caused heart attacks, a weapon that had been used against the U.S. political enemies and beyond.
Spurred by the publication of Seymour Hersh’s article in The New York Times in December 1974, the United States Congress decided to look into just what its internal and external intelligence agencies were doing in the name of the American people using their tax dollars. What they found was a trove of legal and illegal methods used by the CIA, NSA, FBI, and even the IRS. Among the abuses of power discovered by the Church Commission was the opening of domestic mail without a warrant and without the Postal Service’s knowledge, the widespread access intelligence had to domestic telecommunications providers and adding Americans to watch lists.
Even the Army was spying on American civilians.
The most shocking of the Church Commission’s findings was the targeted assassination operations the CIA used against foreign leaders. Allegedly, Fidel Castro wasn’t the only name on the CIA hit list. Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Gen. René Schneider of Chile were all targets for CIA-sanctioned killings.
The clandestine service had its people researching all sorts of various ways to kill its targets. The CIA soon latched on to poisons, ones that were undetectable and appeared to mimic a heart attack. They found it in a specially-designed poison, engineered for the CIA. Only a skilled pathologist who knew what to look for would ever discover the victim’s heart attack wasn’t from natural causes. To deliver the poison, the injection was frozen and packed into a dart.
Darts from the new secret assassination gun would penetrate clothing but leave only a small red dot on the skin’s surface. Once inside the body, the dart disintegrated and the frozen poison inside would begin to melt, entering the bloodstream and causing the cardiac episode. Shortly after, the deadly agent denatured quickly and became virtually undetectable. They even brought the gun to show Congress.
The Church Commission and its findings caused a massive frenzy in the United States. People became hungry for more and began to get hysterical in the wake of any news about the CIA. In the aftermath of the Church Commission, President Ford (and later, Reagan) had to issue executive orders banning the tactics of targeted assassinations by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
What became of the poison dart gun is anyone’s guess.
Chinese technology giant Huawei will decide whether it will have to move forward with bringing its Harmony OS operating system to its smartphones in the next six to nine months as it remains prohibited from working with American companies like Google, Vincent Pang, Huawei’s senior vice president, told Business Insider during a press dinner on Nov. 12, 2019.
“We cannot wait more, we missed one flagship,” Pang said, referring to Huawei’s recently launched Mate 30 smartphone. That phone runs on the open-source version of Android that doesn’t include any of Google’s services or apps, including the Google Play Store.
The United States Commerce Department placed Huawei, the second largest smartphone vendor in the world by market share, on a trade blacklist that prevents it from doing business with American companies unless those firms obtain government permission.
That means Huawei is unable to work with Google, which operates the Android software platform that powers the majority of smartphones around the world. Losing the ability to use Google’s Android puts Huawei’s phones at a major disadvantage in markets outside of China.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently said that licenses would soon be granted for American companies to begin selling to Huawei again, adding that the government has received 260 license requests so far, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 3, 2019. But no official announcements have been made yet.
Huawei has been readying its own software platform called Harmony OS, which the Shenzhen-based firm unveiled in August 2019. But the firm has been positioning Harmony OS as much more than just a smartphone operating system to replace Android. Instead, the company framed it as being a platform that will run across many devices, including smartwatches, internet-of-things gadgets, televisions, and more.
“Harmony is not a replacement of Android,” Pang also said during the press dinner. “It’s a next generation of Android.”
So far, Huawei has unveiled televisions that run on Harmony OS, including the Vision, Honor Vision, and Honor Vision Pro. However, the company has not made specific announcements about how and precisely when the software will appear on smartphones. It has said that it’s hoping it will be able to work with Google in the future.
Huawei said in the past that it could be years before it’s able to develop a true alternative to Android, as the Financial Times reported. Pang also told CNET in August 2019 that it didn’t have plans to develop a Harmony OS-powered smartphone at the time, although he did say that could change if the ban persisted. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business, also previously told CNBC in May 2019 that an operating system for smartphones and laptops could be ready for markets outside of China in the first or second quarter of 2020.
But despite ongoing trade tensions between the US and China — a dispute that Huawei has been at the center of — and the company’s inability to work with companies like Google, Huawei’s business has been thriving. The company’s fiscal third-quarter revenue increased by 24.4% year-over-year, and smartphone sales jumped 26% year-over-year in the first three quarters of 2019.
However, the US ban has made it difficult for Huawei to expand and flourish overseas, particularly in Europe, which serves as a key market for the company.
“By only staying in [our] existing footprint, we can definitely survive,” Pang previously said to Business Insider. “But no company just wants to survive.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 1975, South Vietnam fell, and while many escaped, a lot of gear fell into the hands of the North Vietnamese. In fact, as late as 1987, FlightGlobal.com credited the Vietnamese People’s Air Force with as many as 50 F-5A/B/E variants in service, along with at least 25 A-37 Dragonfly counter-insurgency planes. Tigers might be next.
Presently, Vietnam has 40 Su-27/Su-30 “Flanker” fighters in its inventory, with six more on order, according to FlightGlobal.com. These planes are supplemented by 36 Su-22 “Fitter” ground-attack planes, similar to those targeted earlier this year in a Tomahawk strike on a Syrian air base. Vietnam retired its MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters in 2015. Like the F-5, upgrade kits are available for the Fishbed.
The F-5E was a widely exported daytime fighter, capable of carrying up to 7,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and AIM-9 Sidewinders. It has a top speed of 1,060 miles per hour, a range of 870 miles, and was first flown in 1972. It is equipped with a pair of M39A2 revolver cannon, each with 280 rounds.
American special operators are known to have exacting standards for their weapons, vehicles, and other gear. When it comes to tactical motorcycles, elite troops across the Pentagon have settled on one very specific type.
In July, officials with the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Special Operations Wing approved a plan to buy more than 50 Christini Technologies all-wheel drive 450cc motorcycles for special tactics personnel. These air commandos work with other special operators to coordinate air drops and parachute jumps, help secure drop zones and call in air strikes.
“The Christini Technologies, Inc. AWD Motorcycle is the only AWD tactical motorcycle on the market,” the flying branch’s contracting officers explained in a so-called “justification for other than full and open competition” document. “There are no other tactical motorcycles on the market that provide the AWD function needed by Air Force Special Tactics.”
Government agencies need to submit one of these reviews any time they want to give a contract to a specific company and avoid a lengthy bidding process. To back up their argument, the Air Force pointed out that Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces troops, and the super-secretive Joint Special Operations Command were all using the Christini bikes.
To the casual observer, the AWD 450 probably looks like any other high-end dirt bike. At a glance, the vehicle appears is something you might expect to see at the X Games or a Motocross rally.
Despite being derived from a Honda CRF 250, the motorcycle is far more rugged than its commercial competitors. The Christini model has a top speed of over 60 miles per hour on roads and a range of approximately 90 miles without needing to stop for gas.
The bikes feature rugged suspension and a modified seat for long missions rather than laps around a track. An enlarged, bullet resistant radiator helps keep the cycles working in extreme weather conditions. On top of that, they have run-flat tires and a headlight that can be switched to shine infrared light.
Most importantly, the engine powers both wheels. Since 1995, Christini has been cooking up and building patented all-wheel drive setups for both mountain bikes and motorcycles. The feature provides extra power in rough terrain and makes it easier for the rider to handle a tactical motorcycle.
“We’ve … done testing that that shows our AWD bike is 30 percent less fatiguing than a standard bike,” Steve Christini, the company’s founder, told We Are The Mighty in an email. “You just don’t get stuck … in anything.”
Coupled with an anti-stall clutch, the AWD 450s can come to a sudden, complete stop and then get going again without the rider having to restart the motor. Even if the transmission system breaks, the motorcycle’s rear wheel won’t stop running. It’s these elements that have made Christini’s product the go-to choice for American special operations forces.
Troops around the world have used tactical motorcycles as long as the vehicles have been in existence. In World War I, American soldiers started running messages between command posts on early Harley-Davidsons instead of horses.
Over the next century, soldiers, Marines, and airmen continually experimented with new roles for bikes. Relatively stock commercial types were the standard.
During the first Gulf War, American and British special operators hunted for Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles in the Iraqi desert in light trucks and on motorcycles. Some versions of the Desert Mobility Vehicle – a special Humvee Army Special Forces came up with – were set up to carry Desert Operations Motorcycles on the back. The “DOM” was a single-wheel drive Kawasaki KL type.
With the lighter, more discreet vehicles, commandos could scout ahead to survey targets or possible areas to establish a temporary camp, according to one 1999 Army manual. The bikes could carry troops or small amounts of gear to and from forward bases and listening posts and ambush positions.
Weighing more than 350 pounds and able to make 60 miles per hour on roads, the Kawasakis served their purpose well enough. Unfortunately, as time went on, it became clear that these cycles were simply not tough enough the missions at hand.
When American special operations forces went to Afghanistan after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, they brought their Kawasaki KLXs with them. Less than two years later, commandos took the vehicles to Iraq as an international coalition toppled Hussein regime. We don’t know for sure, but elite troops have likely used the motorcycles during other counter-terrorism missions, too.
“The Kawasaki KLX 250cc tactical motorcycle proved to be marginally fit for the high-altitude, rugged terrain of Afghanistan,” the Air Force pointed out in their justification. After nearly a decade of continuous combat operations, Army Special Forces were ready for a change.
In January 2010, the Army’s Special Operations Research Support Element looked into the Christini design. The evaluators were thrilled with the bike.
“The AWD motorcycle is far superior to a conventional single wheel drive motorcycle,” the office wrote in an unclassified review of the tests. “Increase in traction stabilizes the bike, reducing the fatigue on the operator while negotiating rough terrain and enables the bike to go places a standard motorcycle would not be able to go (eg: deep sand and steep inclines).”
“This vehicle enables the … operator, both motorcycle savvy and non-motorcyclist alike, to navigate off-road over difficult terrain,” the Special Forces soldiers added.
As of July, Christini had been working with America’s elite forces for more than four years, including sending 25 bikes to the SEALs, according to Christini. His company has also supplied tactical motorcycles to special operators and regular troops in the U.K., Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol are getting their own batches.
The North Carolina bike maker has partnered with Tactical Mobility Training, another private training company also located in the state. Together with the Army’s unique Asymmetric Warfare Group, Tactical Mobility Training helped developed a new concept of operations for motorcycle-mounted commandos specifically based around the AWD 450.
The special operations missions still focus largely on scouting ahead of larger formations and providing extra situational awareness of the battlefield and possible chokepoints. But commandos are now prepared to chase down or cut off fleeing terrorists and militants – nicknamed “squirt control” – during attacks on compounds or other sites, according to the Army’s review.
But regardless of the actual operation, if you happen to spot a special operator on a motorcycle these days, chances are good it’s a Christini.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are poised to receive new, retrofitted F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft in the next few years.
The Navy on Aug. 13, 2018 awarded Boeing Co., the F/A-18’s manufacturer, a $17 million firm-fixed price contract to configure nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft to the standard Blue Angels’ aircraft structure. The squadron, which typically maintains 11 aircraft, currently flies the F/A-18C/D models.
While an upgrade, the new aircraft would not house the common nose cannon system used for strike operations. Like the Air Force Thunderbirds, the demonstration team uses “clean jets,” aircraft without missiles or bombs.
However, the Blue Angels’ F/A-18s are “capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours,” if necessary, according to the team’s fact sheet.
The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets fly in a tight diamond formation, maintaining 18-inch wing tip to canopy separation.
Boeing will configure the aircraft at its St. Louis facility, according to the contract announcement. The fiscal 2018 budget, once appropriated, will fund the work, the announcement said. The new jets are expected to be completed in December 2021.
The Blue Angels recently announced a new roster of officers for the 2019 show season.
The squadron selected three F/A-18 demonstration pilots, an events coordinator, flight surgeon, and supply officer to replace outgoing team members, the Navy said in August 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
During the Cold War, America developed a single air-to-air nuke that could devastate entire bomber fleets in mid-air. Thankfully, it was only ever fired in testing.
In today’s world, nuclear weapons are seen primarily as strategic weapons, rather than tactical, as the second and third order effects of a nuclear detonation are quite possibly further reaching than the first. Even the use of a low-yield nuclear weapon is now seen as perhaps the most egregious violation of international norms a nation can undertake, as leveraging a single weapon could bring about a cascade of nuclear attacks that could end life as we know it. But then, it wasn’t always this way.
There was a time when nuclear weapons were held in a similar regard to other conventional ordnance — when the tactical applications of nuclear weapon systems were the primary consideration for development. Long before the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, the United States and its Soviet competitors established a variety of nuclear weapons that, in hindsight, seem more like the musings of a Bond villain than a defense program.
Some of these weapons, like the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition, were little more than miniaturized nuclear bombs that could be smuggled into a target zone via Special Operations troops in a backpack. Others, like the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie Rocket, were designed for even more dramatic uses: Namely, destroying an entire fleet of Soviet bombers in mid-air with a single weapon.
DAYTON, Ohio – McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie Rocket on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The threat of Soviet nuclear bombers
In 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first successful nuclear weapons test, codenamed RDS-1. The 22-kiloton test was more powerful than the 15-kiloton weapon the United States had dropped just a few years prior on Hiroshima, and in an instant, America’s concerns about the Soviet Union were significantly amplified. Almost immediately, President Truman announced the development of a new, even more powerful atom bomb — a “super bomb” as it was called at the time, which is now commonly known as a hydrogen bomb. Of course, Soviet efforts to develop their own super bomb mirrored America’s, raising the stakes on the burgeoning Cold War ever higher.
With the first operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) still years away, the understanding at the time was that any hydrogen bomb attack would have to come by way of heavy bomber — with development already underway for what would become the Soviet Tu-95. This new heavy payload bomber was designed by upscaling the previous Soviet Tu-4, which had been based largely on America’s B-29 Superfortress; widely considered the most advanced bomber of World War II.
The Tupolev Tu-95 Bear first flew in 1952 and remains in service to this day. (WikiMedia Commons)
Aware that the Soviet Union’s atomic arsenal could eventually be brought to bear with heavy payload bombers prompted the United States to invest heavily in aircraft and weapons systems that could intercept inbound bombers before they could reach American shores. The driving need to monitor, deter, and potentially intercept Soviet nuclear bombers led to the development of a number of weapons and aircraft in the United States, but few were quite so far-reaching as the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie program.
AIR-2A Genie 2 (USAF Photo)
The world’s first nuclear air-to-air weapon
The U.S. Air Force had its sights set squarely on neutering the Soviet Union’s nuclear bomber threat, but the vast majority of air-to-air weapon systems at the time were based on machine guns and cannons. America knew that stopping a fleet of Soviet bombers before they reached the United States would require far more effective weapons systems than were readily available at the time, and the first air-to-air missiles were still in their relative infancy. As a result, rockets became an area of increasing focus.
In 1954, one such rocket program, under the banner of Douglas Aircraft, began playing with the idea of a rocket that was armed with a nuclear weapon. In theory, the premise was rather straightforward: Rockets had proven to be an effective weapon for intercept aircraft to leverage, and in fact, a nuclear tipped air-to-air weapon could be developed as a fairly simple package, as the massive blast radius would eliminate the need for any sort of guidance system.
By 1955, development was officially underway on what would come to be called the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie. This new nuclear rocket carried a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead and was propelled through the air by a solid-fuel Thiokol SR49-TC-1 rocket engine. The engine would fire for just two seconds, propelling the rocket up to Mach 3.3. The fuse mechanism did not begin until the engine itself had burned out, giving the weapon a total of about 12 second of flight time prior to detonation — giving the launching aircraft just enough time to turn tail and get out of dodge before the massive 1,000 foot blast radius erupted from the warhead.
Because of the Genie’s short flight time and massive blast radius, it would be nearly impossible for a bomber to get out of the way fast enough to avoid utter destruction, and in fact, a single Genie could be used to engage and destroy an entire fleet of Soviet bombers approaching the United States in a formation.
A Convair F-106 of the California Air National Guard fires an inert version of the Genie (USAF Photo)
Production on the Genie, which was dubbed the MB-1 Genie in service, continued until 1963, with a total of around 3,150 built. A fleet of 268 U.S. Air Force F-89 Scorpion interceptors were modified to be able to carry the nuclear rocket on hard points, and over time, the weapons were even modified to include longer burning rocket engines to give the F-89 more time to escape the fury of the rocket’s detonation.
Testing the Genie over American troops
Although the Genie would remain in service until the decidedly recently past of 1985, only one Genie was ever actually fired and detonated.
Operation Plumbbob (yes, that’s really how it’s spelled) was a series of nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site between May 28 and October 7 of 1957, and would go on to be considered by many to be the most controversial series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States. A total of 27 nuclear detonations and 29 total explosions were carried out under the supervision of twenty-one different laboratories and government agencies — one them being the test fire and detonation of a Genie nuclear rocket.
An F-89 Scorpion firing the live Genie used in the Plumbbob John test. (USAF photo)
Firing a live Genie from beneath an F-89J was a dangerous undertaking to begin with. In order to escape the blast radius of the weapon, the F-89’s pilot, Captain Eric William Hutchison, would have to immediately execute a high-G turn, placing the rocket behind the aircraft. While Hutchison and his radar operator, Captain Alfred C. Barbee, would need nerves of steel to complete the test, they wouldn’t be the only people putting their lives on the line for the Genie’s only test detonation. Five U.S. Air Force officers also volunteered to stand at ground level, directly beneath where the nuclear weapon would detonate in the skies, to prove that the Genie could be utilized without causing any harm to those on the ground below.
Estimates of the altitude in which the Genie detonated vary from source to source, with some claiming an attitude as low as 10,000 feet and others claiming an altitude as high as 20,000. The five volunteer officers stood below utterly unprotected, wearing only their summer uniforms.
The only live test ever of a Genie rocket, on 19 July 1957. Fired from a US Air Force F-89J over Yucca Flats, Nevada Test Site (USAF Photo)
“I was busy behind the camera. Then I could see the flash go off out of the corner of my eye. There was this huge, doughnut-shaped cloud in the sky where the blast went off.” -George Yoshitake, U. S. army cameraman
The five men were exposed to negligible amounts of radiation, and seemed to prove that the Genie could be used above ground troops with little risk.
You can actually watch footage of that very test below:
The Genie remained in service until the mid-1980s, though by then, American concerns about Soviet bombers dropping hydrogen bombs on American soil had given way to the ICBM age. By 1974, the Soviet Union had their R-36 series of nuclear missiles in service, each of which could cover nearly ten thousand miles and carry a positively massive25 megaton –or 25,000 kiloton– nuclear warhead.
In truth, it was the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction that would come to replace the Genie as a nuclear deterrent. America now knew they had no hope of intercepting the full breadth of Soviet nuclear missiles as they careened toward the United States, so the nation opted to leverage a good offense as the best form of defense; developing America’s nuclear triad to ensure its ability to respond. In other words, Mutually Assured Destruction promised exactly what the name suggested: If the Soviets launched a nuclear attack, America would as well. There would be no winners in such an apocalyptic exhchange, and that alone has served as a powerful deterrent for nuclear aggression ever since.