Ask A Fighter Pilot: Hornet vs Super Hornet! - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Ask A Fighter Pilot: Hornet vs Super Hornet!

“Something I’d like to see in the future is an article talking about the performance of the Hornet versus the Super Hornet. I often times see people comment that the legacy Hornet is more maneuverable than the Super, but I’d like to see an article by someone who has stick time in both who knows what they are talking about. Perhaps G.M. would be interested in this topic since he has flown both?”

Awesome question! This is a question I used to ask a lot while going through flight school. I am truly fortunate to have experience flying both jets. They are both awesome machines with tremendous capability, but you’ll see why I prefer the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet by the time you finish reading.

Keep in mind that these thoughts are just my opinions and dozens of others have had the chance to fly both jets (although I’d say that most of those people would agree with most of these points).

History/Design

It is hard to believe that the Rhino has been flying for 20 years. The Super Hornet is a bit paradoxical to describe in relation to the Hornet because while it is evolutionary and looks similar (both inside and out), it is largely a new aircraft. When Boeing pitched the Super Hornet to Congress they said the jet would keep the same F/A-18 designation and use numerous common parts with the Legacy Hornet.

A Legacy F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-106 “Gladiators” in a stunning celebratory “30 Years of Hornet” paint scheme simulates a bolter while performing at the NAS Oceana Airshow. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

This economical argument helped Boeing win the contract. I am glad they did, because the Super Hornet is a much improved aircraft over its predecessor. Among the aircraft’s general improvements include: more powerful engines controlled by FADEC, much larger internal and external fuel capacity, 2 more weapons stations, numerous avionics improvements, and some radar cross-section (RCS) reduction measures.

Besides the obvious larger size, you can distinguish the Rhino from the Legacy with some key design features; mainly the enlarged Leading Edge Extension (LEX), “sawtooth” outer wing, and larger rectangular intakes. All of those design features not only make the jet look badass, but enhance the jets’ capabilities too. We’ll talk about all of that in a bit.

Ground Ops

You can take a newly qualified Legacy Hornet pilot, put him into the cockpit of the Rhino, and he will be able to start-up, takeoff, and land. It is that similar from a basic airplane standpoint. There are some very subtle changes to some of the switches and procedures, but outside of that, the ground ops are very similar. Folding the wings is easier in the Rhino (not that it was that hard before), and the only thing that may trip up a transition pilot will be the use of the Up Front Control Display (UFCD).

The UFCD replaces the old physical keypad in the cockpit for entering data. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, you’ll find it to be a huge upgrade. Think of it like going from a flip phone with a physical keyboard and screen, to an iPhone where the screen can show you anything you want. Another nice feature in the cockpit is the Engine Fuel Display (EFD), and Reference Standby Display (RSD) on the new Super Hornets.

You would also notice the full color cockpit displays instead of the monochrome displays of the Hornet. These all add a nice touch of technology to the cockpit that is not only ergonomic, but also adds to the cool factor. Once you’ve entered your data and have the motors fired up, the high performance Nose Wheel Steering works exactly the same as it did before as you head towards the runway.

F/A-18E cockpit photo courtesy of the author’s collection.

Takeoff

You’ll get your first taste of the Rhino’s improved performance when you push the throttles past the MIL detent and into afterburner. A fully functioning FADEC always provides the pilot with the requested thrust and the much larger intakes can feed a much higher amount of air into the compressors. When you combine those factors with the larger wings you get fantastic takeoff performance (I know, Mover–still not the same kick in the pants as the Viper).

The Super Hornet gets airborne in nearly 1,000 feet less distance and nearly 20 knots slower than the Hornet. On the ship, the procedures are nearly the same as they were in the legacy Hornet, except now the catapult launch is in full flaps and there is no selection of afterburner mid-catstroke. There can still be afterburner shots for certain weights and configurations, but some of those procedures have slightly changed.

The sensation of catapult stroke is the same as before (i.e awesome). The jet tends to leap off the flight deck easier than the old Legacy, too. I haven’t flown a tanker configured jet from the ship yet, but I hear that the cat shot for that is as intense as they come.

General Flight

One of my favorite improvements in the Rhino is the gas. There’s a lot more gas. SO MUCH MORE GAS! Most Cessna drivers take it for granted the endurance they have in their aircraft. They have endurance that a Legacy hornet couldn’t hope to achieve without aerial refueling. With about 4,000 more pounds of internal fuel and larger external tanks, I feel comfortable flying the Super Hornet without gluing one eye to my fuel quantity.

Gas was precious when flying the Charlie (worse in the Delta during my initial training). This was especially true around the boat when you had to wait for a specific time to land unlike at an airfield. This gas is huge for tactical training, cross-countries, and combat missions.

Although, there is still no capability to fly a civilian ILS in the Super Hornet, RNAV capability was recently added to the Rhino fleet. Also, while the Legacy Hornet could only hold a few dozen preplanned waypoints, the Rhino can hold hundreds.

The Blue Angels are reportedly converting to the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet, seen here. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

Flight characteristics when flying from Point A to Point B are the same as in the Legacy. All of the same autopilot modes exist, and all of the displays including the HUD have virtually identical symbology. There is also no physical speedbrake on the Super Hornet. When the speedbrake switch is activated, the flight control computers deflect the flight controls to maximize drag while minimizing any pitching moments.

There’s really not much to talk about here. The two jets are very similar when it comes to the administrative phases of flight.

Landing

There are some small subtle differences with landing the Rhino at the field. The autothrottles, should you choose them, are mechanized a little bit differently. In short, it judges the magnitude of the rate of stick movement, vice the magnitude of distance of stick movement. In short, both jets’ autothrottles are awesome, but I think the Legacy takes the cake on that one. The Rhino lands about ten knots slower than the Hornet, thanks to the large LEXs and wings. Unlike the Hornet, the Rhino has a nice ability to aerobrake if you hold the nose off the ground after touchdown. The jet’s beefy brakes get you to a quick stop as well, should you need them.

At the ship, the Rhino wins the landing competition easily. With the slower approach speed, large wings, and more powerful engines, glideslope corrections are faster and easier. Not only that, but thanks to a new symbol in the HUD called the power carat, the pilot is much more easily able to fine tune his ball-flying technique. To me, the boat landing feels slightly less like a car crash than it did in the Hornet, but by no means is it a glassy smooth event. I always used to go to full afterburner on touchdown in the Hornet, but that is strictly verboten in the Rhino. If you see one do that on YouTube, he’s wrong.

Finally, a huge improvement for the Rhino is the “bringback” capability. Its robust design and large gas tanks allow the pilot to land with more weapons unreleased. In a Hornet loaded up with bombs, it may only have enough gas for a couple of tries to land on the ship before having to tank airborne or divert. The Rhino is able to land with much more fuel, allowing for both more heavy loadouts at launch and for more landing attempts at recovery.

Air-to-Air

Now to FINALLY answer the questions that the reader probably intended to ask! How well does the jet do what it was built to do: fight in combat. In nearly every metric, I would argue that the Super Hornet beats its predecessor in air-to-air combat. I write the word “nearly” intentionally, but we’ll get to that later.

In a beyond-visual-range (BVR) fight, it’s not even close, especially when the Rhino is equipped with the APG-79 radar. This AESA radar is truly phenomenal. With the ability to see at farther ranges and track more targets at once, it truly presents a clear picture of exactly what is in front of the pilot. Not only that, but the radar can be run simultaneously in air-to-air and air-to-ground modes.

With additional weapons stations under the wings, even more AIM-120 AMRAAMs can be brought into the fight, and with the extra gas, can fight for longer. Survivability is also drastically better thanks in part to an advanced countermeasures suite and reduced RCS. The jet can carry more chaff and flares, has a powerful ALQ-214 jammer, an upgraded radar warning receiver, as well as options for towed decoys.

All of the Link 16 capabilities of the Hornet have been carried over and all of these features combined make the Rhino very formidable. However, there is something negative that can be said. The Super Hornet’s pylons are canted outboard very slightly, significantly increasing drag at high speeds. Also, for you nerds out there, the Rhino’s design doesn’t incorporate the Area Rule as well as the Hornet, meaning that the Super Hornet will have lower transonic acceleration performance and lower top speed.

TABB and JoBu near the speed of sound during a high speed pass in their Super Hornet demonstration. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

In the within-visual-range (WVR) arena, we finally arrive at the original question: which is more maneuverable? In my opinion, I’d say the edge goes to the Hornet….slightly. Both jets have excellent handling characteristics, and to be honest, they feel very similar. If both aircraft have no external wing stores attached, the Hornet will have a noticeably crisper roll rate, but not by much. It is recommended for both aircraft that to get the best roll performance, they roll unloaded.

That is to say, roll while minimizing positive G. It is just a little bit tougher to get there in the Rhino than the Legacy; the Rhino requires a much more deliberate push forward of the stick to unload than the Hornet. However, both aircraft have excellent high angle-of-attack/slow-speed maneuvering, and both jets have excellent flight control logics, such as the “Pirouette.”

An additional logic was built in for the Rhino called Turbo Nose Down. As funny as that sounds, it is an important logic that allows the jet to recover from a slow-speed, nose-high attitude much easier by flaring the rudders and raising the spoilers. At lower altitudes, the Rhino’s engines produce much more thrust than the Hornet’s. This allows for improved energy addition and sustained turn rate. Maintaining airspeed while pulling high G is much easier than it was before. At higher altitudes, however, both aircraft have a little bit of a hard time with energy addition.

In summary, if I had to choose which aircraft to dogfight in, I’d pick a “big motor” legacy Hornet, with it’s crisper maneuverability and enhanced thrust. However, both aircraft utilize the AIM-9X Sidewinder and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), so as I usually say, it comes down to the “man in the box.”

Air-to-Surface

In the air-to-surface environment, there are not too many differences between the jets. Both aircraft use the JHMCS and ATFLIR. However, the Rhino’s APG-79 allows for synthetic aperture radar mapping, or SARMAP. When I first saw this I couldn’t believe it; the radar was painting the ground and displayed an image as good as the ATFLIR.

The same inventory of smart weapons are available to both aircraft. Just like in air-to-air, the Rhino can carry more thanks to more weapons stations.

As far as the “dumb” weapons are concerned, the Rhino actually carries a few less rounds in the M61 20mm cannon than the Legacy. The Rhino also can’t carry unguided rockets, as I have previously mentioned. When it comes to delivering general purpose bombs, such as the MK 82 series, the roll-ins are a little more sluggish in the Super Hornet. This is all in the same vein of what we discussed in air-to-air: the Legacy is a little crisper.

An F/A-18C Hornet rages through the airspace at NAS Oceana during an airpower demonstration. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

In an interdiction or strike mission, all of the Rhino’s survivability that I mentioned earlier makes it by far the aircraft of choice in a non-permissive environment. Going against a robust IADS, the reduced RCS and advanced countermeasures, coupled with my Growler buddies from the Ready Room next door help take a little bit of the edge off. Link 16 technology is the same in both aircraft and is still awesome technology.

I’d take the Rhino in all air-to-surface missions, in both permissive and non-permissive environments.

Miscellaneous

Something the Rhino can do that the Hornet can’t is be an aerial tanker. I personally have not flown one in that configuration, but I hear that the jet performs as a pig. That is no surprise with all of that drag and 30,000 pounds of gas. As an LSO, I can tell you a “5-wet” tanker is much more prone to settle below glideslope behind the ship and requires a bit more reaction time to get back above glideslope. The mission is important, however, and has provided me both mission gas and recovery gas during an emergency at the ship.

Aerial refueling is pretty much the same as in the Hornet, except it takes longer to top off.

Overall, the Hornet was my first love. I’ll always look back fondly on flying the F/A-18C and often times I miss it. However, there is no doubt the Rhino is the jet I want to fly off the boat into combat. Great question, keep them coming!

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

When was the last time you chose Deliberate Discomfort?

There’s a reason why elite Special Operations courses always begin with intense physical training. The shock value of initial stress overload is the best discriminator while assessing an individual or group’s willingness and capacity to accomplish difficult tasks. It’s because after twenty minutes, when you are tired of holding a log over your head, you can’t fake it any longer. When the pressure is on and the stress increases, your true personality comes out.


The vocal, motivated cheerleader types who try hard to encourage others? They suddenly shut up. The pessimists who are there because they were told to be there but don’t really want to be there? They suddenly quit. The eternal optimists who are always positive and see the good in everything? They suddenly wonder if they have what it takes to make it in the first place. The playing field is now even because everyone is in survival mode and doing whatever it takes to get by. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

Eventually, there is a moment when everybody is miserable and focused on themselves. Our heads are down, and we are contemplating when the suffering will end. As the level of stress increases, our brains narrow our focus, and our sensory attention goes inward. Our body language reflects, as the pupils dilate, heart rate increases, breathing intensifies, heads go down, shoulders slump, and our thoughts begin to race: What in the hell did I get myself into? When will it all end? How much longer can I keep this up? Is it all worth it?

During log PT on day one of selection, for whatever reason, almost counterintuitively, even though it spent energy on something that was risky, I looked up. I looked up and looked around. I deliberately chose discomfort. The guys around me were all suffering just as badly as I was, if not worse. In that moment, my friend Pat lifted his head up as well. He looked around, and we looked at each other. He shouted, “Let’s go, J. You got this!” I shouted words of encouragement back at him, even though it required energy that could have been used on myself.

More guys lifted their heads and looked around. We began to focus on one another rather than on ourselves. Looking up became infectious. Strangely enough, we began to forget about our pain, the time seemed to move faster, and the log felt lighter. The reality is that nothing changed about the situation except our attitudes. The conditions still sucked, it was hot as hell, our bodies still strained, and the logs didn’t get any lighter. It was our minds that had changed. We began choosing how we thought, deciding where to direct our attention and energy.

In these difficult moments, situations that make or break individuals and teams, we find our collective purpose. When the pressure is on and you’re on a team, it’s never about you. It’s about the people to your left and right who are going through the experience and process with you. In this moment, I found purpose. My purpose was to make the team succeed.

pbs.twimg.com

Misery is suffering without a purpose. The guys who make it through these types of courses are the guys who experience an aha moment. When they realize that they’re not alone. That they are on a team and the success of the team is more important than their own personal success.

The people who don’t make it are the guys who are self-centered, who don’t risk any energy that doesn’t immediately serve their own interests. The people who don’t look up.

The secret to the elite mind-set of Special Operations Forces, no matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, is to look up.

The same “look up” mind-set applies to the everyday mundanity of real life. As a lot of well-intending families do, my wife and I are committed to attending church services every Sunday. As a couple with young children, parenting lessons come early and often. Our daughter is a toddler with boundless energy, which means that we spend a good majority of the service outside in the foyer. Whenever she acts up, screams, or causes a distraction during the sermon or in Sunday school, we do the polite and sensible thing and remove her from the situation.

After several months of faith in the foyer went by, my wife and I looked up at each other and asked ourselves, “What are we doing here?” We don’t hear the sermon; we don’t hear the Sunday school lesson. We just sit out in the foyer and distract our daughter. What’s the point of getting up early and getting dressed to come to church and play with our daughter in the foyer?

I thought back to my experiences during log PT. I was embarrassed that I had forgotten that critical lesson from years ago. I realized that I wasn’t going to church for myself. I was going for the other members of the congregation. I asked myself, “What can I do this Sunday to serve the church and church members’ needs?” Sitting out in the foyer with a screaming daughter, maybe all I could give was a hello or a smile. If that was all I could give, then I would give that. For me, Sundays are sacred because they represent our commitment to spending that quality time together in fellowship to reflect and celebrate our common values and beliefs. This is the foundation of our collective purpose. Is the quality of time we invest now showing an immediate return? Certainly, not immediately, but that’s a limited and short-sighted way of looking at the situation. That’s the same reason why people decide to quit: the log is too heavy right now, and they want to make the pain stop. It’s not about the log, and it’s not about the foyer. It’s about the people to our left and right.

We chose a different perspective and approach to the situation. Through this choice, we realized that if we continued our routine, our daughter’s behavior would eventually improve. By the time she is old enough to know better, this routine as a deliberate and weekly choice will not just be something she does but an integral part of who she is. Suddenly on Sundays, chasing my daughter in the foyer doesn’t seem as bad as it once did.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A nuclear cruise missile that can be carried by jets

US Air Force weapons developers are working with industry to pursue early prototypes of a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile able to pinpoint targets with possible attacks from much farther ranges than bombers can typically attack.

Service engineers and weapons architects are now working with industry partners on early concepts, configurations, and prototypes for the weapon, which is slated to be operational by the late 2020s.

Many senior Pentagon and Air Force officials believe the emerging nuclear-armed Long Range Stand-Off weapon will enable strike forces to attack deep within enemy territory and help overcome high-tech challenges posed by emerging adversary air defenses.


The Air Force awarded two 0 million LRSO deals in 2017 to both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as a key step toward selecting one vendor for the next phase of the weapon’s development. Due to fast growing emerging threats, the Air Force now envisions an operational LRSO by the end of the 2020s, as opposed to prior thoughts they it may not be ready until the 2030s.

While many details of the weapons progress are not available naturally for security reasons, Air Force officials tell Warrior Maven that plans to move into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase are on track for 2022.

A cruise missile armed with nuclear weapons could, among many things, potentially hold targets at risk which might be inaccessible to even stealth bombers in some instances.

As a result, senior Air Force leaders continue to argue that engineering a new, modern Long-Range Standoff weapons with nuclear capability may be one of a very few assets, weapons or platforms able to penetrate emerging high-tech air defenses. Such an ability is, as a result, deemed crucial to nuclear deterrence and the commensurate need to prevent major-power warfare.

United States Tomahawk cruise missile.

“The United States has never had long-range nuclear cruise missiles on stealthy bombers,” Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, told Warrior Maven.

Therefore, in the event of major nuclear attack on the US, a stand-off air-launched nuclear cruise missile may be among the few weapons able to retaliate and, as a result, function as an essential deterrent against a first-strike nuclear attack.

“There may be defenses that are just too hard. They can be so redundant that penetrating bombers becomes a challenge. But with standoff (enabled by long-range LRSO), I can make holes and gaps to allow a penetrating bomber to get in,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, former Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, (and Current Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force) told the Mitchell Institute in 2014.

At the same time, some experts are raising concerns as to whether a nuclear-armed cruise missile could blur crucial distinctions between conventional and nuclear attacks; therefore, potentially increasing risk and lowering the threshold to nuclear warfare.

“We have never been in a nuclear war where escalation is about to happen and early-warning systems are poised to look for signs of surprise nuclear strikes. In such a scenario, a decision by a military power to launch a conventional attack — but the adversary expects and mistakenly interprets it as a nuclear attack — could contribute to an overreaction that escalates the crisis,” Kristensen said.

Potential for misinterpretation and unintended escalation is, Kristensen said, potentially compounded by the existence of several long-range conventional cruise missiles, such as the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER. Also, in future years, more conventional cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons are likely to emerge as well, creating the prospect for further confusion among potential adversaries, he explained.

“Stealthy bombers equipped with numerous stealthy LRSOs would — in the eye of an adversary — be the perfect surprise attack weapon,” Kristensen said.

However, senior Air Force and Pentagon weapons developers, many of whom are strong advocates for the LRSO, believe the weapon will have the opposite impact of increasing prospects for peace — by adding new layers of deterrence.

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber.

“LRSO will limit escalations through all stages of potential conflict,” Robert Scher, former Sec. of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, told Congress in 2015, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists.

In fact, this kind of thinking is analogous to what is written in the current administration’s Nuclear Posture Review which, among other things, calls for several new low-yield nuclear weapons options to increase deterrence amid fast-emerging threats. While discussing these new weapons options, which include a lower-yield submarine-launched nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress the additional attack possibilities might help bring Russia back to the negotiating table regarding its violations of the INF Treaty.

The LRSO will be developed to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile or ALCM, currently able to fire from a B-52. The AGM-86B has far exceeded its intended life-span, having emerged in the early 1980s with a 10-year design life, Air Force statements said.

Unlike the ALCM which fires from the B-52, the LRSO will be configured to fire from B-2 and B-21 bombers as well, service officials said; both the ALCM and LRSO are designed to fire both conventional and nuclear weapons.

While Air Force officials say that the current ALCM remains safe, secure, and effective, it is facing sustainment and operational challenges against evolving threats, service officials also acknowledge.

The rapid evolution of better networked, longer-range, digital air-defenses using much faster computer processing power will continue to make even stealth attack platforms more vulnerable; current and emerging air defenses, such as Russian-built S-300s and S-400s are able to be cued by lower-frequency “surveillance radar” — which can simply detect that an enemy aircraft is in the vicinity — and higher-frequency “engagement radar” capability. This technology enables air defenses to detect targets at much farther ranges on a much larger number of frequencies including UHF, L-band and X-band.

Russian officials and press reports have repeatedly claimed its air-defenses can detect and target many stealth aircraft, however some US observers believe Russia often exaggerates its military capabilities. Nonetheless, many US developers of weapons and stealth platforms take Russian-built air defenses very seriously. Many maintain the existence of these systems has greatly impact US weapons development strategy.

Accordingly, some analysts have made the point that there may be some potential targets which, due to the aforementioned superbly high-tech air defenses, platforms such as a B-2 stealth bomber, might be challenged to attack without detection.

However, Air Force leaders say the emerging new B-21 Raider stealth bomber advances stealth technology to yet another level, such that it will be able to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the world, at any time.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam – part one

Richard Rice did two tours in the Vietnam War and went on to have the kind of 30 year career in Special Forces that spanned every major conflict and mission of his generation. And in 2017, he went back to Vietnam for the first time since “Vietnam.”

In this episode, Rich visits the Maison Centrale in Hanoi aka “The Hanoi Hilton.”

I could feel Rich going back in time – planning how his MACV-SOG team could rescue the POW’s trapped behind these walls some 45 years ago.

The approach was beautiful. Wide sidewalks around a lake with a floating ancient temple, past a white tulip garden down a tree-lined street full of Sunday revelers and coffee shops and the excitement of abandon. It felt like Paris.


We turned a corner and then became now deep in our guts and the prison doors were wide open, the scrolled Maison Centrale almost luring us in. We’d been all over Vietnam to date, retracing so many of Rich’s steps of yesteryears and yet here, in this moment, his tension was my tension and we felt trapped. We were just standing there on a sidewalk in front of the Hanoi Hilton beneath the high-rises and the rooftop bars, surrounded by the din of motorbikes and indifference.

There’s nowhere to go, really, if you just want to stand there and feel what it feels like to remember something you wish you could have done, but never did. Five minutes, ten minutes, I can’t remember. But there we stayed. I had a few beers in my ruck and we cracked them open and began another journey back to 2018.

Rich looked around and said, “You know, I’m gonna chalk this up to an impossible mission. I would have happily volunteered to try to get our guys out, but this is impossible.” And he shook his head once and took a deep breath and his consolation prize was seeing it with his own two eyes.

It’s the only time I’ve ever heard him say the word impossible.

We raised a toast to those who had sacrificed so much inside those walls, and beyond.

The doors were still open but we didn’t want to go in, but we didn’t want to leave. We took a few pictures, Rich said he couldn’t believe he was standing in front of the Hanoi Hilton, drinking a beer. “Of all the things I ever thought I’d do in life, I never thought I’d be doing this. This is crazy.”

And then there was a family next to us and their young boy, whose shirt said “If I was a bird, I know who I’d shit on,” and he kept making peace signs and goofy faces, just like my son does back home. How do you not laugh?

The mom said with a big smile, “Are you from America?”
Rich said, “Yes ma’am we are. Are you from here?”

“Yes, Hanoi,” she said, pointing to the ground we were standing on.

So many worlds collided in that moment, and all of them were better for it. It was never and will never be the time to forget, but it was time to move on, to close a circle. A couple pictures with our new friends, one final toast to the fallen, and we were on our way.

A few years back, Rich and I had an immediate connection because we both served in Special Forces. But we became friends as we experienced Vietnam together – the kind of friends you can count on one hand how many you’ll have in your whole life, if you’re lucky.

He did two tours in the war and went on to have the kind of 30 year career in Special Forces that spanned every major conflict and mission of his generation. A lot of people would call him a hero, a warrior, an American badass, the list goes on.

But all he ever wanted to do was serve America honorably, and earn the respect of the men to his left and right. And he describes himself as lucky to be alive, and then he smiles and says nobody owes him a damn thing. So if you meet him, just call him Rich.

Also read: After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam

This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Teddy Roosevelt’s gun was as awesome as he was

In April 1990, the FBI was called to Teddy Roosevelt’s house. No one would dare steal from TR while he was alive, but since he had been dead for 70-plus years and his house was long ago turned into a museum, the thief was able to rob the place and make off with an important piece of Americana: Teddy Roosevelt’s piece. They stole the pistol he used at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

To this day, no one knows who took it, and only the FBI knows who turned it in, but now it’s back where it belongs. Its history is America’s history, and the history of Teddy Roosevelt’s sidearm matches the legacy of the man who wielded it. It started with a sinking ship.


In 1976, the Navy discovered the USS Maine was actually sunk by a fire that hit its ammunition stores, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

In 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor, a port owned by Spain at the time. Since anti-Spanish sentiment and pro-Cuban Independence was at a fever pitch among Americans at the time, the incident was blamed on a Spanish mine. Even an official Navy inquiry supported the mine theory. With more than 250 American sailors dead, the United States had to respond, and they did so by declaring war on Spain.

Teddy Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Incensed by the Spanish provocation, it wasn’t enough for TR to just dispatch American warships to distant Spanish colonies. The man felt he had to go kill some Spaniards personally – and he did. He helped raise the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry and deployed to Spain with an insane, ragtag group of cowboys, journalists, and athletes, the likes of which the world will never see again.

Also: 7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Someone should have told Spain that white was a bad choice of uniform color.

Roosevelt earned a Medal of Honor for leading what was supposed to be an overmatched support column on a daring charge up the hill that totally routed the defending Spanish, and he did it wielding a Colt Model 1892 Army and Navy double-action, six-shot revolver, one special to Roosevelt for many reasons.

First and foremost (maybe?), it was a gift to him from his brother-in-law, U.S. Navy Capt. William Sheffield Cowles. Where Cowles acquired it makes it really special: the weapon was salvaged from the wreckage of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor just a few months prior to the battle.

You can’t spell “counterattack” without the letters ‘T’ and ‘R.’

The weapon is valued at over id=”listicle-2628915902″ million and has an inscription above the grips: “From the sunken battle ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898. San Juan. Carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.”

The April 1990 theft was actually the second time the pistol had been taken from Sagamore Hill. The first time was in 1936 when it was removed from the case, but the thief panicked and threw the weapon into the woods nearby. Roosevelt’s sidearm and 1st Volunteers uniform are considered the most priceless artifacts on display at the museum.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

North Korea’s generals don’t seem to know how pistols work

Earlier this week, images surfaced out of the reclusive nation of North Korea showing Kim Jong Un posing with a bevy of senior military leaders as they show off their fancy new pistols. The pistols were handed out by the nation’s Supreme Leader in celebration of the 67th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, and according to North Korean media, the pistols were awarded to Kim’s top generals as a symbol of his trust in them.

Of course, after looking at the pictures for a minute… you might start to wonder if that trust is all that founded.


Literally chillin’ like a villain. (North Korea’s KCNA)

Long before a recruit earns the right to call him or herself a Marine, they’re ingrained with the four weapons safety rules. This essential training step comes before being bestowed the title of Marine for good reason: If you can’t handle your own weapon safely, you represent a potential threat to your fellow Marines. Let’s run through those rules again, just in case you’re not familiar with them:

  1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
  2. Never point the weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.
  3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
  4. Keep the weapon on safe until you intend to fire.

The first thing I couldn’t help but notice in these pictures is the egregious lack of trigger discipline on display in this photo of what should theoretically be North Korea’s most competent military minds. The third weapons safety rule says clearly that you should keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Why is that rule so important? Well, in this case, it would be so you don’t accidentally blow the leader of your country’s head off…

But this guy is clearly thinking about it.

And this guy might just want to replace the 3-Star sitting in front of him.

Dude on the left is literally pointing a pistol at Kim with his finger on the trigger.

Of course, even if you violate the keeping your finger straight and off the trigger rule, the people around you should still be fairly safe if you’re careful not to ever point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot.

I’m pretty sure these two guys think they’re in a water gun fight.

“I’ll just point this weapon safely at Bob’s face.”

Maybe they’re all trying to rob each other?

Of course, it’s safe to assume that none of these weapons were loaded, as Kim Jong Un almost certainly didn’t intend to equip his generals to overthrow him — but that’s not really the point. The whole idea behind firearm safety is not to grow complacent about the rules; a Navy SEAL and a food service specialist learn and exercise the same basic tenants of firearm safety because it serves as the foundation from which you can develop more advanced skills. Snipers still keep their fingers straight and off the trigger until they’re ready to fire for the same reason professional race car drivers wear helmets: Because no matter how good you are, everybody has a bad day.

But like… has this guy ever even seen a pistol before?

Of course, North Korean troops are regularly starving, are poorly equipped, and almost certainly receive sub-par training even by a third-world standard, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see how uncomfortable and awkward its military leaders seem to be with pistols. In that case, it’s the photo op that might be the most confounding.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marines kill target with HIMARS and F-35 in devastating pairing

According to Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, the U.S. Marine Corps have achieved a milestone when a target was destroyed by connecting an F-35B Lightning II aircraft with a HiMARS rocket shot for the first time.

“We were able to connect the F-35 to a HIMARS, to a rocket shot … and we were able to target a particular conex box,” Rudder told audience members on Oct. 8, 2018, at an aviation readiness discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, or CSIS, Marine Corps Times reported.

The integration occurred during Marines’ latest weapons and tactics course at Yuma, Arizona: the F-35 gathered the target location using its high-end onboard sensors and shared the coordinates of the target to the HIMARS system via datalink in a “sensor to shooter” scenario. The HIMARS unit then destroyed the target.


The HIMARS is a movable system that can be rapidly deployed by air, using a C-130 Hercules. It carries six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile on the U.S. Army’s new Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) five-ton truck, and can launch the entire Multiple Launch Rocket System Family of Munitions (MFOM). In a typical scenario, a command and control post, a ship or an aircraft (in the latest test, an F-35B – the type that has just had its baptism of fire in Afghanistan) transmits the target data via a secure datalink to the HIMARS on-board launch computer. The computer then aims the launcher and provides prompt signals to the crew to arm and fire a pre-selected number of rounds. The launcher can aim at a target in just 16 seconds.

The Corps has been testing new ways to use its HIMARS lately. For instance, in 2017, the Corps successfully fired and destroyed a target 70 km out on land from the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage. Considered the threat posed to maritime traffic by cruise missiles fired by coastal batteries in the hands of terrorist groups and militias, the amphibious group’s ability suppress coastal defenses from long-range using artillery is important to allow Marines to come ashore.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II’s assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly a combat mission over Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

The aim is clearly to shorten what is known as the sensor-to-shooter cycle – the amount of time it takes from when an enemy target is detected by a sensor – either human or electronic – and when it is attacked. Shortening the time is paramount in highly dynamic battlefield.

In September 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture. The test was aimed at assessing the ability to shoot down incoming cruise missiles.

The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target. Indeed, increasingly, 5th generation aircraft are seen as tools to provide forward target identification for both defensive and offensive systems (such as strike missiles launched from surface warships or submerged submarines). Back in 2013, PACAF commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle described the ability of advanced aircraft, at the time the F-22, to provide forward targeting through its sensors for submarine based TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles).

In the following years, the stealthy F-22s, considered “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft”, saw their main role in the war on Daesh evolving into something called “kinetic situational awareness”: in Syria and Iraq, the Raptors escorted the strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. To make it simple, during Operation Inherent Resolve, the 5th generation aircraft’s pilot leverages advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then shares the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. Something the F-35 will also have to do in the near future.

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

Articles

These 6 tweaks could make America’s military better without breaking the bank

Pentagon budgets are shrinking (or growing at a smaller rate than they had during the previous few decades). And while there’s not a lot of money to procure new weapons systems, the threats to the nation aren’t going away. The U.S. military still has a job to do. There are no bucks, but the American public still expects Buck Rogers.


Here are six improvements — “tweaks,” if you will — to existing platforms that would improve military readiness without breaking the increasingly small bank:

1. An internal gun for the F-35B/C variants of the Lightning II

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

The Air Force’s F-35A has a gun — the GAU-22, a 25mm Gatling Gun, with 182 rounds. The GAU-22 is based off the AV-8B’s GAU-12, and it gives the F-35A an offensive edge. But the F-35B and F-35C don’t have an internal gun (only a gun pod with 220 rounds).

The same situation existed with the F-4 Phantom – probably America’s first real joint strike fighter, which saw action during the Vietnam War with the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. As Navy ace (and convicted congressional felon) Randy Cunningham noted in his memoir, Fox Two, the lack of a gun cost him kills.

2. The Penguin anti-ship missile for the MH-60R Seahawk

MH-60R fires a Hellfire missile. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

This chopper is an advanced version of the SH-60B. Equipped with a choice of lightweight torpedo (either Mk 46, Mk 50, or Mk 54), and Hellfire missiles, it serves as additional eyes and ears for surface combatants. But the Hellfire has only a 20-pound warhead and a range of about five nautical miles.

The SH-60B, though, had the Penguin anti-ship missile. This weapon had a 265-pound warhead and a range of 15 nautical miles. In other words, it can handle bigger targets – and would be very useful additions to the MH-60R’s arsenal.

3. More bomb capacity for the B-1B Lancer

(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

While the B-1B already has the largest bombload of any American combat plane, it could have even more. Presently, it has a bomb bay that can hold 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. The venerable B-52 can only carry 51 such bombs. In other words, the B-1 can deliver about 60 percent more hurt to the bad guys.

But it could be even more. The B-1B, when designed, had the capability to carry up to 14 cruise missiles or 44 more Mk 82s on external pylons. Restoring those external pylons would give the B-1 50 percent more firepower.

4. Harpoon launchers for the Flight IIA and III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers

Flt I Burke class destroyer shoots a Harpoon missile. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

While the Flight IIA and Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are very capable vessels in anti-air warfare and anti-sub warfare. But the earlier Flight I and Flight II versions of this destroyer have something the later ships don’t: A pair of Mk 141 launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Boeing’s latest version of the Harpoon has a range of 130 nautical miles and a 300-pound warhead. The Mk 141 launchers don’t take up a lot of space, and it never hurts to have more anti-ship firepower as China and Russia are adding modern ships to their naval arsenals.

5. Laser-guided bombs for the B-2 Spirit

B-2 dropping a JDAM GPS-guided bomb. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

What more could you want on America’s most advanced bomber in service? The B-2 Spirit has stealth technology and the ability to deliver precision-guided weapons including the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, as well as nuclear weapons – excuse me, “special stores.” It’s also expensive – a flyaway cost of just over $700 million per plane caused the production run to stop at 21 airframes.

That said, they have a couple of gaps in their capabilities. All of the B-2’s weapons are either dumb bombs or GPS-guided. So, perhaps the best upgrade they could get would be to give the B-2 the ability to drop laser-guided bombs like the GBU-24 and to use Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the Standoff Land-Attack Missile, giving them more options to target ships like the Chinese Type 52C destroyer.

6. Bushmaster cannon for the M1126/M1127 Stryker

(Photo: U.S. Army)

The Stryker’s proven itself in combat operations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The M1126 and M1127 have a remote weapons station that can use an M2 heavy machine gun or a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.

But now, it could be asked to help fight Russian aggression against NATO allies. Here it has a problem. The Stryker is outgunned by the BMP-3 or BTR-90, Russia’s most modern infantry fighting vehicles. The former has a 100mm gun and a 30mm coaxial cannon. The latter has a 30mm cannon and an AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.

So, to give the Stryker a better chance in a fight against the Russians, the best option would be to give it the same chain gun that the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles carry: the 25mm Bushmaster cannon.

These six weapons systems serve with our troops – and have done so with excellence. But some small improvements to each of them would give our troops even better odds on battlefields around the world.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Meet the Navy’s ‘Swiss army knife’

The rate of machinist’s mate has a long and proud history in the United States Navy. Established in 1880 as finisher, the rate changed names a couple of times before being settled as machinist’s mate in 1904.

According to the Navy CyberSpace website on enlisted jobs, “Machinist’s mates (non-nuclear) operate, maintain, and repair (organizational and intermediate level) ship propulsion machinery, auxiliary equipment, and outside machinery, such as: steering engine, hoisting machinery, food preparation equipment, refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, windlasses, elevators, and laundry equipment; operate and maintain (organizational and intermediate level) marine boilers, pumps, forced draft blowers, and heat exchangers; perform tests, transfers, and inventory of lubricating oils, fuels, and water; maintain records and reports; and generate and stow industrial gases.”

With such a wide array of skills and responsibilities, the machinist’s mates in George Washington’s engineering department prove the value and versatility of the rate to the ship and to the Navy as a whole.


Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Huizar samples liquid nitrogen in the cryogenics shop aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, October 14, 2016.

(US Navy photo by Seaman Krystofer Belknap)

Machinist’s Mate Fireman Gopika Mayell checks a steam usage reading in one of the flight deck catapult rooms aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, June 14, 2012.

(US Navy photo by MCS 3rd Class William Pittman)

“The main ways that machinist’s mates and engineering department support naval aviation is through the catapult shop and [oxygen and nitrogen] shop,” said Huizar.

“The catapult shop makes sure that all of the machinery is up to date and fully functioning in order to operate the catapult that launch the jets. As for [oxygen and nitrogen], we create aviator’s breathing oxygen and we also have a cryogenic plant that creates liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen. The liquid oxygen is used as aviator’s breathing oxygen and the liquid nitrogen is used as gaseous nitrogen for the airplane tires because it expands and contracts less at various altitudes.”

Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Duane Hilumeyer, left; Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Kexian Li, center; and Machinist’s Mate Fireman Jacob Tylisz close a valve to maintain accumulator steam pressure on a catapult aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, Sept. 24, 2014.

(US Navy photo by MCS 2nd Class John Philip Wagner, Jr.)

In order to convert each gas into liquid form, the air expansion engine lowers the temperature of the air to reach negative boiling points, separating oxygen and nitrogen from air.

The air in the expansion engine is frozen to negative 320 degrees Fahrenheit to separate nitrogen, and negative 297 degrees Fahrenheit to separate oxygen.

Air separation is vital to the mission of George Washington, regardless of where the ship finds herself in her life cycle.

According to navy.mil, “O2N2 Plants Bring Life to Airwing Pilot,” O2N2 plants provide oxygen to the aviators, nitrogen to the air wing, and gas forms of both for use throughout the ship.

Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Robert Howard, front, Machinist’s Mate Fireman Austin Martin, center, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Glen Spitnale, test a package conveyor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, Aug. 5, 2019.

(US Navy photo by MCS 3rd Class Kaleb J. Sarten)

Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Brandon Amodeo performs maintenance on a pressure regulator in emergency diesel generator room aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sept. 16, 2019.

(US Navy photo by MCS Seaman Apprentice Trent P. Hawkins)

The current refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) environment enables them to put their skills to the test in. Sailors from engineering department, such as Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Larissa Pruitt, auxiliary division leading petty officer, have provided significant support to accomplishing major ship milestones while in RCOH.

“The machinist’s mate is like the Swiss army knife of the Navy,” said Pruitt. “Since being in the shipyards, we have repaired all four aircraft elevators, started the five-year catapult inspection, restored fire pumps to support Ready to Flood operations, and refurbished the air conditioner and refrigeration units.”

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Teran Vo, left, and Fireman Billy Price perform maintenance on a deck edge door track in the hangar bay aboard aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Nov. 4, 2019.

(US Navy photo by MCS 2nd Class Pyoung K. Yi)

As a rate that has been around for roughly 140 years, machinist’s mates will continue to make an impact throughout the surface fleet and the naval aviation community. The hard work of the machinist’s mates ensures that George Washington will have a successful redelivery to the fleet.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how the angled deck made carriers deadlier

For almost 80 years, the aircraft carrier has been the most powerful warship on the high seas. Just over six decades ago, the carrier reached a new level of potency when the angled deck was introduced. Some carriers were re-fitted with it while others were designed with the advanced tech from the get-go — but how did a shift in the deck make carriers even deadlier?


First, let’s take a look at how carriers operated in World War II and, to a large extent, in the Korean War. The naval aviation workhorse of those conflicts, the Essex-class carrier, had a straight-deck design. To deliver some hurt to the enemy, carriers would launch “deckload” strikes, sending off most of their air group (in World War II, this consisted of 36 F6F fighters, 36 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, and 18 TBF Avenger torpedo bombers).

USS Intrepid (CV 11) in 1944. Her propeller-driven Hellcats were easy to stop when they landed.

(US Navy)

Carriers, at the time, could either launch planes or land them — they couldn’t do both at the same time. When launching deckload strikes of propeller-driven planes, it wasn’t an issue. All planes would leave at once and, later, all return. When it came time to bring aircraft home, the propeller planes were easy to stop — they were light and slow relatively to the jets that had just started to come online.

The use of jets off aircraft carriers changed things – the F9F Panthers were faster and heavier than the World War II-era piston-engine fighters. It is easy to see how a jet that misses the wires could make things very ugly.

(US Navy)

Jets were a game-changer for several reasons: They were faster and heavier and, thus, needed more space to stop. They also didn’t have the endurance to wait for other planes to launch. So, how could they find the runway space needed to operate these new tools of war? Building larger carriers wasn’t a complete solution — this wouldn’t eliminate the issue of stopping jets should they fail to catch the wires.

The British decided to create an angled deck, thereby allowing a jet that missed the arresting wires a chance to go around.

(Animation by Anynobody)

Then, the British came up with the idea of angling the landing deck of carriers. Angling the deck gave the jets enough room to land and, if they missed the wires, they could go back around and try again — stopping the jet with a barrier became an absolute last resort.

Before and after photos of USS Intrepid showing the angled flight deck.

(Compilation of US Navy photos by Solicitr)

Not only did the angled deck allow for the use of jets, it also made carriers deadlier in general. Now, they could launch and land aircraft at the same time. This meant that a carrier could send a major strike out and, at the same time, land its combat air patrol. All in all, the angled deck had a very unintended (but welcome) consequence on carrier performance.

Check out the video below to see how the Navy explained the angled flight deck to sailors.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEOZi4IZja8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Air Force successfully flies HH-60W for first time

The 413th Flight Test Squadron successfully conducted the first Air Force-piloted flight of the HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter July 11, 2019. The test took place at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach.

The unit embedded Air Force personnel with the contractor, Sikorsky, to provide early warfighter involvement and operationally relevant developmental testing.

The aircraft, based on the Army’s UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, is modified to perform missions locating and rescuing downed pilots in hostile territory. The Air Force is contracted to purchase 113 HH-60W aircraft to replace its aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.


“Our entire team has been focused on bringing together a lot of moving parts to get here today,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, 413th FLTS operations officer. “We are really excited to be a part of recapitalizing a vital component of our warfighting strategy,”

HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter.

(Lockheed Martin)

The purpose of the test flight was to collect level flight performance data the Air Force requires to move the program into the production and deployment phase of the defense acquisition process.

According to Dirkes, the crew performed an instrumentation and telemetry checkout with the control room, gathered basic engine start data and flew referred gross weight level flight speed sweeps between 40 knots and maximum horizontal speed.

“Performance testing requires extremely precise aircraft control, and our test pilot maintained tolerances of plus or minus one knot of airspeed, 20 feet of altitude and less than 100 feet per minute vertical speed, flying by hand,” Dirkes explained.

HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter.

(Lockheed Martin)

The flight also served as a method for the test pilot to complete the required qualifications to fly the aircraft. Maj. Andrew Fama, a 413th FLTS test pilot, was the first Air Force pilot to fly the aircraft.

“I’m honored to be the first Air Force pilot to fly the ‘Whiskey’ and very excited to deliver a new aircraft to my rescue brothers and sisters,” Fama said.

Sikorsky pilots have been flying the aircraft for about a month; however, this milestone marks the beginning of integrated government and contractor flight test operations.

There are six aircraft dedicated to the developmental test program. The 413th’s HH-60W operations are scheduled to begin at Eglin AFB Auxiliary Field #3, also known as Duke Field, Florida, this fall.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s how this historic spy plane keeps an eye on the battlefield

The 64th anniversary of the U-2 spy plane’s historic, and accidental, first flight came in early August 2019.

While much about the Dragon Lady has changed in the past six decades — most of the 30 or so in use now were built in the 1980s, and they no longer do overflights of hostile territory, as in the 1960 flight in which Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union — the U-2 is still at the front of the military’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, lurking off coastlines and above battlefields.

The U-2 is probably best known for what pilots call “the optical bar camera,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.


“It’s effectively a giant wet film camera,” about the size of a projector screen, that fits in the belly of the aircraft and carries 10,500 feet of film, Patterson said during a panel discussion about the U-2 and its mission.

The camera has improved greatly since the 1950s. “What we can do with that, for instance, in about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California,” Patterson said. “The fidelity is such that if somebody is holding a newspaper out … you can probably read the headlines.”

US Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loading test film into an onboard camera for a test in preparation for a U-2 mission at a base in Southwest Asia in 2008.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)

The aircraft’s size and power allow it to carry a lot of hardware, earning it the nickname “Mr. Potato Head.”

“We can take the nose off, and we can put a giant radar on the nose, and you could actually image … out to the horizon, which, if you think about it, from 70,000 feet, is about 300 miles,” Patterson said. “So if you’re looking 360 degrees, you can see 600 miles in any direction.”

Another option is “like a big digital camera,” Patterson said. “It’s got a lens about the size of a pizza platter, and it has multiple spectral capabilities, which means it’s imaging across different pieces of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually pull specific data that these intel analysts need to actually identify what is this material made out of.”

“We also carry what’s called signals payloads, so we can listen to different radars, different communications,” Patterson said. “We have a number of antennas all across the aircraft [with which] we’re able to just pick up what other people are doing.”

“Some of these sensors can see hundreds and hundreds of miles, so even if we’re not overflying, you can get a real deep look at what you actually want to see,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman, also a U-2 pilot, said at the event.

99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen preparing a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 13, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

‘Just a sensor’

The U-2 is “just a sensor in a broader grid that the United States has all over the world … feeding data to these professionals,” Patterson said.

Whether it’s radar imagery or signals intercepts, “We bring all that on board the aircraft, and we pipe it over a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world where we have a team of almost 300 intel analysts,” Patterson said.

“So while we’re sitting by ourselves over a weird part of the world doing that ISR mission, all the information we’re collecting is going back down to multiple teams around the globe,” he added. “They’re … distilling it, turning it into usable reports for the decision makers, and [getting] that information disseminated.”

Capt. Joseph Siler, the chief of intelligence training with the 492nd Special Operations Support Squadron, was tasked leading those efforts.

“I loved talking to the [U-2] pilots, and … having that pilot [who] is actually understanding the context of where they’re at and is able to dynamically change direction and help us, it just brings something to the fight,” especially when sudden changes require a new plan, Siler said at the same event, during a panel discussion about the mental and physical strain of Air Force operations.

A U-2 pilot signaling flight-line personnel while taxiing at Beale Air Force Base in California on Sep. 20, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valentina Viglianco)

“I got more of the quick-time, actionable intelligence” from U-2s, Siler said. “It’s all going into this common picture, but that’s where they fit into it.”

That doesn’t mean the U-2 can’t play a role in the action on the ground as it unfolds.

“We have multiple radios on board,” Patterson said. “So let’s say you’re flying a mission over a desert somewhere and we have troops on the ground that are in contact. We’ll be talking directly to them sometimes, providing imagery.”

That imagery isn’t going straight from the U-2 to the troops, but “they can tell me what they need to listen to, where they need to look, and we’ll move the sensors to that spot, snap an image, kick it back over whatever data links we need to get it to the intel professionals,” he said. “They will do their rapid analysis and send that, again, to the forward edge, where those folks can take a look at it.”

“You can see troop movements. You can see things like that,” Patterson said. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking for [improvised explosive devices] and providing [that information] real-time to convoys and things like that. I’ve done that personally.”

US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greeting his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia in 2010.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

‘Constant, constant stress’

Patterson analogized the relay of information to a game of telephone.

It’s on “the airmen that are receiving that to be able to make that decipherable and useful,” Siler said of intelligence gathered by U-2s. “When I was in there, in that environment, receiving all that information and how that work, it’s just such a weird place. It’s different from traditional conflict.”

The waves of incoming information are a source of “constant, constant stress,” added Siler, who has spoken about his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m getting information from the U-2. I’m getting information from satellites. I’m getting information from an MQ-9, and I have an Army task force that’s about to go in, and there’s people’s lives that are going to be tested,” Siler said.

“What the intelligence community does is we look at all the information we can get, from whatever sensor it is, we pipe that together, and then we say, ‘All right, based upon what the U-2 is saying and what the Global Hawk is saying and what the satellites are saying, we believe this is the best route, this is the best time.'”

Final decisions about when and where to go are made by operators. But, Siler said, “you can imagine the sense of responsibility that these young airmen, 19, 20 years old, feel as they make those calls, and we say, ‘is that the bad guy or is that his 16-year-old son?'”

A U-2 pilot driving a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 during a low-flight touch-and-go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 15, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

‘Algorithmic warfare’

The reason the U-2 funnels that intelligence back to crew members on the ground is that “it’s so much data that we just simply can’t process all of it on board,” Patterson said.

A U-2 pilot can key on an interesting signal picked up by a sensor, sending imagery to intelligence analysts on the ground. Those analysts can decide to look into it, routing a satellite to take a look or sending a drone to get photos and video.

The process can run the other way as well. A tip from social media can lead an analyst on the ground to send in a U-2 to gather photos and other imagery. If necessary, assets like a drone or an F-16 with video capability can be sent in for a closer look.

“As you start networking [these assets], using these algorithms and using these processing capabilities, if I hear a signal here, and somebody hears the same signal but they’re over here, you can instantly refine that” if the assets are in sync, Patterson said. “We’re able to map down some pretty interesting stuff pretty quick.”

A U-2 high above the earth.

(US Air Force)

But the goal is do it quicker, and the Air Force has been looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning to sort through all the data gathered by U-2s and other aircraft and sensors and make sense of it.

Integrating that into the broader intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission is still in its “infancy,” Nauman said.

“We know the capability’s there. We know the commercial sector is really doing a lot of development on that. They’re ahead on that frankly,” Nauman said. “We’re trying to figure out, A) how to catch up and be as good, and then Part B is what do we do with that, how do we make ourselves more effective with that.”

“Processing is getting really good, really fast, so there are a number of efforts to actually take a lot … of the stuff that we collect, running it through an algorithm at … what we call the forward edge — like right on board the aircraft — [and] disseminate that information to the fight real-time, without having to reach back, and those some of the projects that we’re working right now,” Patterson said, describing what senior leaders have called “algorithmic warfare.”

“It’s easier to put racks and racks of servers and [graphics processing units] on the ground, obviously, to do the processing, but how do we take a piece of that and move that to the air?” Nauman said. “I think that’s going to be kind of the follow-on step.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The Navy is testing a drone to hunt the world’s quietest subs

The US Navy is currently testing a robotic ship that would be able to autonomously hunt enemy diesel submarines.


Photo: Darpa.mil

Originally conceived as a DARPA project, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is designed to hunt the next generation of nearly silent enemy diesel submarines.

Diesel submarines are quickly proliferating around the world due to their low cost. Russia recently announced that it has launched the world’s “quietest submarine.”

To accomplish its submarine-hunting mission, the ACTUV project is structured around three primary goals: the ability to outmatch diesel submarines in speed at significantly less cost than existing systems, the system’s ability to safely navigate the oceans in accordance with maritime law, and the ability to accurately track diesel submarines regardless of their location.

Tests of the ACTUV have been promising. Defense One reported in March that during six weeks of testing off the coast of Mississippi the ACTUV was capable of autonomously avoiding randomly moving vessels while navigating around natural obstacles.

The next major test for the ACTUV will be having the drone attempt to trail a submarine while other vessels attempt to block it.

Although diesel submarines are not capable of carrying out open ocean operations for as long or as quickly as nuclear submarines, diesel submarines still present the US with an asymmetric challenge. Significantly cheaper and more quiet-running than their nuclear counterparts, diesel subs can enable navies around the world to harass military and civilian transport along coastal routes.

The threat of diesel submarines could increase, as Franz-Stefan Gady notes at The Diplomat, as the next generation of these vessels will feature propulsion systems and lithium-ion batteries, making them even quieter and harder to detect.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti)

The technical challenges are steep: “Picking up the quiet hum of a battery-powered, diesel-electric submarine in busy coastal waters is like trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city,” Rear Admiral Frank Drennan said in March 2015.

By creating the ACTUV, the US Navy will be able to more accurately track the proliferation of enemy diesel submarines. The transition to using drones for such missions will also ultimately save the Navy considerable resources and manpower.

“Instead of chasing down these submarines and trying to keep track of them with expensive nuclear powered-submarines, which is the way we do it now, we want to try and build this at significantly reduced cost,” DARPA program manager Ellison Urban said at a National Defense Associate Event in Virginia.

“It will be able to transit by itself across thousands of kilometers of ocean and it can deploy for months at a time. It can go out, find a diesel-electric submarine and just ping on it.”

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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