The AK-47, as we know it, was created by Russian weapons designer Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947. Its name is derived from the word ‘automatic’ (A), the inventor’s last initial (K), and the year of its invention (47). The AK-47 was designed to be easy to operate, able to fire in any clime, durable, and mass produced quickly and cheaply. It was adopted into USSR military service in 1949 and quickly became a symbol of Soviet reach around the world.
It has a muzzle velocity of about 700 meters per second, can fire 600-rounds-per-minute at the cyclic rate, and hold a 30-round magazine of 7.62mm ammunition. The biggest issue with the weapon is accuracy, which is the result of large internal parts and powerful caliber rounds that reduce the max effective range to roughly 400m. Despite this weakness, the AK-47 has successfully infected many countries and facilitated the proliferation of communism and terror around the world.
Let’s learn more about this prominent tool of destruction:
Cycle of operations
The AK-47 is a fighter favorite around the world because its cycle of operations (the way it fires) is simple, made up of (relatively) large pieces that allow it to fire even when covered in sand or mud.
When the operator pulls the trigger, he/she releases the firing hammer, which strikes the firing pin. This action ignites the bullet primer which, in turn, ignites the gunpowder to fire the bullet. The gas that propels the bullet forward also pushes back on the bolt carrier assembly, ejecting the empty casing. This action also resets the hammer into firing position.
The bolt pulls a new round up from the magazine and inserts it into the barrel. The sear keeps the bolt hammer in place until the bolt carrier returns into position.
There are an estimated 75 to 100 million AK-47s worldwide and, in some countries, one can be purchased for under . Generally, the price ranges from between 0 to 0, but higher-end models can run over id=”listicle-2624527860″,000. Russia has large stockpiles of the weapon, but no longer manufactures it. There are, however, 20 countries that still do, including China. According to the AK-47’s Operators Manual, the weapon system’s country of origin can be identified by markings on the weapon itself.
In addition to the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, North Korea, Hungary, and Yugoslavia have manufactured the AK-47. The selector markings on the right side of the receiver provide a ready means of identifying the country of origin
So simple a child could use it — and they do
In the U.S. Armed Forces, troops are trained to disassemble and reassemble their weapon systems to identify any catastrophic failures or jams. This is a good exercise when you find yourself with a little downtime, and it’s been known to strike up a friendly race between troops or platoons.
In Russia, children are trained to disassemble and reassemble weapons in a similar fashion. They may not have enough funding to feed or house their own people, but they will spare no expense at preparing for a Western invasion. Take your training seriously because the Russians definitely are:
It’s raining on a Tuesday morning — pretty standard for a Marine physical fitness test — and I know that rain or shine; pull-ups, sit-ups, and a three-mile run are going to happen. I stand, shivering in the pre-dawn drizzle, listening for the sergeant to call me forward. I’m at an about face waiting for my buddy to finish his set of pull-ups. 21… 22… 23… he just hit a perfect score. It’s my turn now. I stretch my arms and take a deep breath.
“Next,” the sergeant calls.
I mount the bar and wait for the signal to start. This isn’t my first PT test, which is a blessing and a curse. I know exactly the number of pull-ups that I need to crank out, but after three deployments, I have no idea how my body is going to respond. I prepare myself for a battle. I start to pull and pull harder. I breathe slow and deep, but then my shoulder pops, an injury left over from my years as a high school pitcher. I gut through the pain to the end. 21… 22… 23… I finish the test with a perfect score, but the pain in my arm will take weeks to heal. I’m qualified by Marines standards but my injury makes me feel anything but ready for war.
Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks, Board of Advisors for Sparta Science
Just like the legendary King Leonidas and his 300, today’s warriors require strict physical training and discipline to make sure they are ready for any battle. Readiness is exactly the problem that Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks and his team at Sparta Science are trying to fix. In fact, my PFT injury is much more common than I thought. The Marine Corps estimates that musculoskeletal injuries cost 365,000 lost duty days and 1 million annually.
To help Marines increase their readiness for war, the Marine Corps is turning to some 21st century technology. General Marks is no stranger to hard problems and out-of-the-box thinking. He cut his teeth as an Airborne Ranger and the senior intelligence officer in Iraq. General Marks told We Are The Mighty,
“Every Marine has his or her strengths and weaknesses but we all have to complete the mission. Sparta Science helps to identify those individual weaknesses and provide a training program to make sure you are ready to fight on any mission.”
Dr. Phil Wagner uses the Sparta System.
Sparta Science is the brainchild of Dr. Phil Wagner, a strength coach and former Rugby player who asked himself a simple question, “Can we use technology to increase performance and prevent injuries before they happen?” Dr. Wagner believed the answer not only to be a resounding “yes” but he believed he could also identify potential injuries in a matter of seconds. He’s developed the Sparta System, which first uses a movement assessment (Balance, Plank, Jump) to capture a personalized body scan. The scan is then compared against over a million other assessments and with AI technology, the system can identify areas prone to injury and prescribe personalized training programs to correct weaknesses.
Sparta System dashboard.
The Sparta System is already being deployed among college athletes and even professionals in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA to outstanding results. Not only is the system helping athletes achieve their peak physical performance but it’s also helping prevent injuries that can cost players/teams millions of dollars in medical expenses. General Marks and the Sparta team believe their system can also help military leaders all the way from the top brass to the NCOs on the ground to better leader and prepare their troops for war.
Athletes undergo assessment through the Sparta System.
Imagine that within minutes of completing a Sparta Assessment, your NCO or Platoon leader could have a chart showing your overall readiness score — and any injury risks to your feet, knees, or back. It’s this level of detail that General Marks expects will change the game in military readiness,
“By having access to this kind of information, military leaders can make smarter choices about how to train for war and employ those soldiers once they get there. The Sparta System makes us fight better.”
As this new system continues to be used among various military units, we should expect the ancient Spartan ethos of “the more you train in peace the less you bleed in war” to still apply. However, we can also avoid some preventable risks, like popping shoulders during a PFT.
There’s no shortage of media featuring the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life at war or in the military. In fact, as we come out of the biopic zeitgeist and set our sights toward the digital era, the number of films, television shows, movies, and other forms of content featuring these elements is only growing. But not all depictions of combat are created equal.
It’s easier to make a film about war than it is to stay true to its source — so, which movies treat its combat with the most respect and realism? We asked some veterans, and here’s what they had to say.
While Christopher Nolan didn’t take home the 2018 Oscar for this particular war blockbuster, “Dunkirk” has gained universal acclaim as one of the best World War II films to date. It tells the story of trapped British and French forces attempting to evacuate a war-torn beach in May 1940, while German forces closed in. The clean-shaven soldiers may not be a testament to the details, but “Dunkirk” thrives on its atmosphere and closed cinema, which is used to communicate the overall gravity of the battle.
“‘Dunkirk’ succeeds in recreating the plight of tending to your fellow soldier while being under constant threat of bombardment,” said Tan Vega, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. With gritty visuals and stellar performances, the film uses tight angles and extreme close-ups to create and emanate panic, desperation, and fear to its audience. In moments of true cinema, we can examine the bonds forged between the troops, as well as the intense pressure they’re under to survive.
With Empire Magazine lauding the Omaha Beach landing as “the best battle sequence of all time,” this entry should come as no surprise. “Saving Private Ryan” uses its artistic license to enrich its characters and depict realistic events of war in a way that had never been done before. The movie focuses on the personal journey of a few soldiers venturing behind enemy lines to save fellow soldier Private James Ryan.
“The most realistic thing about ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is nothing is off the table,” said Gay Dimars, a veteran of the Vietnam War. “The water’s bloody, the soldiers are nauseous, and as an audience, we’re there with them.” However, Steven Spielberg did sacrifice historic authenticity in favor of dramatic effect — the film’s climax is strewn with inaccuracies, but with top-notch performances depicting the effect of war and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the film solidifies its place among the best war movies ever made.
Platoon 1986 Final battle scene with Charlie Sheen
“Platoon” is the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. The script capitalizes on Oliver Stone’s experiences in various combat units to expertly depict the severity of combat as well as the rippling effects of war. As such, the toughest critiques of the movie come from Stone’s former platoonmates, some of whom say they felt too exposed after the film’s release. “Platoon” was shot on location in the Philippines and utilizes long lenses, careful lighting, and talented actors to craft the atmosphere of the Vietnam War and inform the audience of the confusion, psychological trauma, and deep-seated violence Vietnam veterans endured.
Black Hawk Down Battle Scenes 2001 NO FINAL BATTLE
The film “Black Hawk Down” has faced criticism for wavering from the highly accurate book upon which it was based. “The combat is realistic, but many details miss the mark,” said Sharm Ali, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “What it does really well is explain how a noble cause could go south really quickly.”
“Black Hawk Down” tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu, during which U.S. service members were sent to kill or capture Somalia’s key warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, in a broader effort to stabilize a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. However, Somali forces shot down their helicopters and effectively trapped them on the streets of the foreign country, forcing them to fight their way out. The film is most impressive in its depiction of the harsh realities of urban combat that soldiers were forced to endure during the Somali conflict, and was notable in that it lifted the curtain on the types of operations the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were conducting at the time.
2018 was a pretty good year for military innovation, but 2019 is shaping up to be even better. The Pentagon and DARPA are experimenting with virtual and augmented reality, developing new aircraft and vehicles, and expanding their robotics and hypersonic offerings.
Get the skinny on what will likely break next year in the six entries below:
Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, uses a HoloLens to manipulate virtual objects April 4 at the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Innovation Lab aboard Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
The Army and other branches have researched augmented reality before, so there’s plenty of groundwork already done. Once the HoloLens is incorporated, infantry could just glance around and see where their fire support is, how far it is to their objective, and where their squad support robot is. Speaking of which…
DARPA’s Squad X competition aims to better incorporate robots into infantry squads.
Robots joining human squads
Yeah, one of the other additions to infantry squads and other maneuver units could be robots to carry gear, sensors, and electronic warfare modules. It’s all part of DARPA Squad X Experimentation Program. The idea is to nest robots into Army and Marine units, especially infantry squads.
DARPA wants new materials to make hypersonic missiles more stable and reliable.
U.S. hypersonic missiles get faster, more operable
Hypersonic missiles are the ultimate first-strike weapon. They fly at five times the speed of sound or faster, making it nearly impossible for ballistic missile interceptors to catch them. And reporting in the open seems to indicate that Russia and China are further along than the U.S.
The S-97 Raider is the basis of Sikorsky’s SB-1 Defiant, the company’s proposed aircraft for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift helicopter.
The SB-1 Defiant and V-280 Valor will show their stripes
The Army wants a whole new family of vertical-lift aircraft, starting with a bird to replace Black Hawks. The two top prototypes are going through trials now, and each has some exciting milestones scheduled for 2019. The biggest and earliest is the imminent first flight of the SB-1 Defiant, a compound helicopter that is thought capable of almost 290 mph in flight.
One of the leading contenders for the Army’s new light tank is the AJAX armoured fighting vehicle from Britain, but with a beefed up gun to destroy enemy gun emplacements. The resulting vehicle would be known as the Griffin.
It’ll be sweet to see the first prototypes in 2019, but it’ll be even greater at the end of 2019 or start of 2020 when the Army starts actually putting them through their paces. No matter which design is chosen, it’ll be a big capability upgrade for the infantry.
US Army Pilot Tests ALIAS’ Autonomy Capabilities in Demonstration Flight
The ALIAS program is currently limited to a Sikorsky demonstrator, but if it reaches full production, any and all Army helicopters could be controlled via some commands typed into a tablet. They can even pick their own landing zones and fly at near ground lever, usually better than human pilots.
In its quest to meet and exceed the challenges of the future, the U.S. Air Force has been increasingly looking to unmanned systems — and a recent test proved that an unmanned F-16 can now think and fight on its own.
The U.S. has used F-16 drones before as realistic targets for the F-35 to blow up in training, but on April 10 it announced fully autonomous air-to-air and ground strike capabilities as a new capability thanks to joint research between the service and Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunkworks.
Not only did the F-16 drone figure out the best way to get there and execute a ground strike mission by itself, it was interrupted by an air threat, responded, and kept going.
“We’ve not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way,” said Capt. Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Laboratory in a Lockheed Martin statement.
F-16 Fighting Falcons from Kunsan Air Base and South Korean KF-16s taxi to the runway together during Exercise Buddy Wing 14-8 at Seosan Air Base, Republic of Korea Aug. 21, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force has what’s called an “open mission system” where it designs all platforms to network together and share information. Essentially, even an unmanned drone will have decision-grade data fed to it from everything from satellites in the sky to radars on the ground.
Lockheed Martin calls it the “loyal wingman” program, where drone systems like old F-16s can seamlessly network with F-35s and think on its feet.
Compounding the M16’s troubles was its lack of a proper cleaning kit. It was supposed to be so advanced that it would never jam, so the manufacturer didn’t feel it needed to make them. But the M16 did jam.
“We hated it,” said Marine veteran John Culbertson. “Because if it got any grime or corruption or dirt in it, which you always get in any rifle out in the field, it’s going to malfunction.”
The troops started using cleaning kits from other weapons to unjam their rifles.
“The shells ruptured in the chambers and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it,” said Wodecki. “So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.
Towards the end of 1965, journalists picked up on mounting reports of gross malfunctions. The American public became outraged over stories of troops dying face down in the mud because their rifles failed to fire, according to a story published by the Small Arms Review.
Thankfully, the reports did not fall on deaf ears. The manufacturer fixed the jamming problems and issued cleaning kits. The new and improved rifle became the M16A1.
This video features Vietnam Marines recounting their first-hand troubles with the M16:
Let’s face it. There are fictional planes from some of our favorite stories that are simply awesome, but life is cruel, so we just don’t have the tech yet.
Still, here are five we wish would happen:
In the 1980s, this TV series was one of the few that was unapologetically pro-American. The creator behind this series was Don Bellisario, best known for JAG and NCIS. Yeah, it has Oscar-winner and former Chief Petty Officer Ernest Borgnine on the cast, but “The Lady” was the real star of this series that lasted for four seasons.
This helicopter could reach altitudes that fighters like the F-15 couldn’t dream of reaching. It had hot avionics and a powerful gun and missile armament. The closest we have come to this awesome chopper was the RAH-66 Comanche, which was cancelled in 2002 in favor of the abortive ARH-70. The OH-58 is being retired without a replacement. Ya blew it, DOD.
2. The EB-52C Megafortress
Okay, like many recent planes, this star of early Dale Brown novels like Flight of the Old Dog and Night of the Hawk managed to become the subject of a computer flight simulator.
It’s a BUFF, but this BUFF got a multi-role fighter’s radar, the latest air-to-air missiles, and could still carry a lot of firepower to hit ground targets. In the original book, this BUFF slipped through Soviet air defenses, blasted a secret laser, then fought its way out. Much of that technology exists today…and perhaps the B-52 isn’t the only airframe it could be applied to…
3. Blue Thunder
According to IMDB, the movie featured an advanced helicopter that certain folks (mostly military) had sinister plans for. A spin-off TV series lasted 11 episodes opposite the iconic series Dallas.
This helicopter is not as heavily armed as Airwolf, but did feature astounding ISR gear, and a 20mm M61 Gatling gun. The ISR gear would have made this an excellent Kiowa replacement. Add a little firepower, and we have decent scout that could kill anything that stumbled on it. After all…dead men don’t talk.
4. Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet
The superhero who came to help America fight the Nazis in World War II had perhaps the ultimate in stealth technology: an invisible plane. According to screenrant.com this plane’s been with her since the 1940s.
The plane didn’t have much firepower in earlier iterations; lately, it’s picked up some firepower, but its primary defense is to not be seen at all by radar or the Mark One eyeball. While we have accomplished that with fifth-generation fighters as opposed to radar, we haven’t quite worked out the visual part. Yet.
(On a separate note, we also wish Wonder Woman were real…)
5. MiG-31 Firefox
No, this is not named for the browser. And yes, we know there is an actual MiG-31 called the Foxhound, which is a pretty sweet ride with some long-range firepower (4 AA-9 Amos air-to-air missiles, and four AA-11 Archers).
According to IMDB.com, the MiG-31 Firefox was capable of Mach 6, could be flown by thinking in Russian, and it was invisible to radar. That’s a very sweet ride.
Often, these grenades were used on single-shot systems like the M79 or the M203. But soon, automatic grenade launchers were developed. One that became iconic was the Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher. With a range of 1,500 yards, it could fire a grenade a second, and it weighs nearly 73 pounds. The Mk-19 is in service with 23 countries.
That said, it is getting long in the tooth. It entered service in 1967, so it’s been around for 50 years. That means that it’s about time to think about a replacement. According to General Dynamics that replacement may be available.
The Mk-47 Mod 0 40mm Advanced Grenade Launcher fires the same grenades as the Mk-19, but it also comes with a lot of advances to make it deadlier. One that the grunts will like is the weight: it comes in at just under 40 pounds – 32 pounds less than the Mk 19. The system also adds a new video sight that adds laser ranger-finding and night vision, allowing for better target acquisition.
Perhaps the deadliest accessory for the Mk-47 is the Mk-285 grenade. This is airburst ammunition, much like the 25mm rounds fired by the XM25 Punisher. How does it know when to airburst? It’s programmed with data from the advanced sight.
This new automatic grenade launcher may prove to be more popular than the new Carl that Saab released among American troops and their allies. The bad guys probably won’t like it very much, but who really cares what they think?
We’ve talked about how many Americans fighters have gone on to serve as kick-ass bombers. But did you know that the Russians managed to do the same thing with one of their fighters? All they had to do was sacrifice any hopes of a multirole capability to do it.
That plane was the MiG-23 “Flogger”, a fighter that was later modified to become the MiG-27, a ground-attack aircraft. In a very real sense, the Soviets, in designing the Flogger, created an airframe that was able to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In a sense, it’s a lot like the F-86H Sabre, a lethal bomber created from an air-superiority fighter base.
The MiG-23 was primarily designed to carry air-to-air missiles like the AA-7 Apex and the AA-8 Aphid.
The MiG-23 first entered service as a fighter in 1971. It was a notable improvement over the MiG-21 in that it carried medium-range, radar-guided AA-7 Apex missiles that could be guided toward targets using the on-board High Lark radar. The Flogger could also use the AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles, which primarily used infrared guidance. The plane also packed a twin-barrel 23mm gun for dogfighting.
But the Soviets also wanted a ground-attack plane. Although the MiG-23 could haul just over 6,500 pounds of armaments, the Soviets wanted more.
The MiG-27, seen here, replaced the High Lark radar with sensors optimized for the air-to-ground mission, including a laser-range finder.
(Photo by Rob Schleiffert)
The MiG-27 entered service in 1975. Early versions maintained the twin 23mm guns of the MiG-23, but this Flogger was intended to hit targets on the ground and eventually was given a proper gun for it — a six-barrel 30mm Gatling gun. It could carry almost 9,000 pounds of bombs. The plane also featured a laser rangefinder.
In order to make room for all of those ground-attack tools, the Soviets removed the High Lark radar. This didn’t leave it completely defenseless in the air — the MiG-27 could still carry heat-seeking missiles.
Something all too familiar to Flogger pilots: An American or Israeli jet on their six.
The MiG-23 was produced in huge numbers and saw action in the hands of countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq. American and Israeli pilots had no problem blowing the Flogger out of the sky, though. Despite a lot of negative combat experiences, over 5,000 Floggers of all types were produced. The Soviet Union and India also produced almost 1,100 MiG-27s. Some Indian MiG-27s, though, went on to become true multirole fighters.
When bombers beat fighters, it is very notable. But some bombers have more tools than others in an air-to-air fight. For instance, the F-105 shot down 27 MiGs during the Vietnam War, many thanks to its M61 cannon.
Here are some bombers that an enemy fighter would not want to get caught in front of.
1. De Havilland Mosquito
While some versions of this plane were designed as out-and-out bombers, with the bombardier in the nose, others swapped out the bombardier for a powerful armament of four .303-caliber machine guns and four 20mm cannons.
It goes without saying just what this could do to a fighter. One incident saw a number of Mosquitos being jumped by the deadly Focke-Wulf FW190. The Mosquitos shot down five of the enemy in return for three of their own in the dogfight.
2. Douglas A-20G Havoc
During the Pacific War, Paul I. Gunn, also known as “Pappy” came up with the idea to make use of the extra .50-caliber machine guns that came from wrecked fighters. He put those on A-20 bombers.
Eventually his modifications were something that Douglas Aircraft began to put on the planes at the factory. The A-20G had six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose — the same firepower of a P-51 Mustang or F6F Hellcat. Against a Zero, that would be a deadly punch. The A-20 later was used as the basis for the P-70, a night fighter armed with four 20mm cannon.
3. Douglas A-26B Invader
Designed to replace the A-20 Havoc, the Invader was equipped to carry up to 14 .50-caliber machine guns in its nose. Nope, not a misprint; this was the combined firepower of a P-47 and a P-51. That is more than enough to ruin the life of an enemy pilot who gets caught in front of this plane.
4. North American B-25J Mitchell
The medium bomber version of the B-25J was pretty much conventional, but another version based on the strafer modifications made by “Pappy” Gunn in the Southwest Pacific held 18 M2 .50-caliber machine guns. One B-25, therefore, had the firepower of three F4U Corsairs.
Other versions of the B-25, the G and H models, had fewer .50-caliber machine guns, but added a 75mm howitzer in the nose.
5. Junkers Ju-88
Like the Allied planes listed above, the Ju-88 proved to be a very receptive candidate for heavy firepower in the nose. Some versions got four 20mm cannon and were equipped as night fighters. Others got two 37mm cannon and six 7.92mm machine guns, and were intended to kill tanks and/or bombers. Either way, it will leave a mark, even on the P-47.
6. Vought A-7D/E Corsair
The A-7 Corsair is widely seen as an attack aircraft. It carries a huge bomb load, but the D (Air Force) and E (Navy) models also have a M61 Vulcan with a thousand rounds of ammo. While no Navy or Air Force Corsairs scored an air-to-air kill in the type’s service, if a plane or helicopter was caught in front of this bird, it wouldn’t last long.
7. F-105D/F/G Thunderchief
The F-105 is probably the tactical bomber with the highest air-to-air score since the end of World War II. Much of this was due to its M61 Vulcan with 1,029 rounds of ammo. You know what Leo Thorsness did with his F-105 against a bunch of MiGs.
8. F-111 Aardvark
While it was an awesome strike aircraft that could still be contributing today, it is not that well known that the F-111 did have the option to carry a M61 cannon with 2,000 rounds of ammo. That is a lot of heat for whatever unfortunate plane is in front of it.
9. A-10 Thunderbolt
Widely beloved for its use as a close-air support plane in Desert Storm and the War on Terror, the A-10’s GAU-8 was designed to kill tanks. That didn’t mean it couldn’t be used against aerial targets. During Desert Storm, a pair of Iraqi helicopters found that out the hard way.
Last week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ruffled some feathers during a discussion with Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. The controversial tech mogul, who is no stranger to drawing headlines and occasionally criticism, voiced concerns over America’s apparent love affair with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, first calling for competition for the advanced fighter, and then going further to say that the era of manned fighter jets was over.
“Locally autonomous drone warfare is where it’s at, where the future will be,” Musk said. “It’s not that I want the future to be this, that’s just what the future will be. … The fighter jet era has passed. Yeah, the fighter jet era has passed. It’s drones.”
Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX, speaks with U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space.
Musk went on to say that even the F-35 wouldn’t stand a chance against a sufficiently advanced drone that coupled computer augmented flying with human control.
When the story broke, we here at Sandboxx pointed out that Musk is right that a technologically advanced drone could potentialy do a lot of things a manned aircraft couldn’t — including manage hypersonic maneuvers that would leave most human pilots unconscious as a result of the G-forces. Scramjet technology has proven effective at propelling unmanned aircraft to hypersonic speeds in the past, and it seems entirely feasible that this tech will find its way into UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) in the future.
An X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle is uploaded to an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base.
But, we noted, the problem with Musk’s bright idea is that information traveling at the speed of light is actually too slow for the sort of control drone operators would need for such a platform. Even with a somewhat local operator, as Musk pointed toward, the time it would take to relay sensor data from the drone to the operator, followed my the operator processing the information and making a decision, followed by those commands being transmitted back to the drone is simply too slow a process for the split-second decisions that can be essential in a dog fight.
In other words, Musk’s plan is hypothetically right, but likely won’t work in practice for some time to come.
“For a long time, we’re still going to need the manned aircraft on the fighter and bomber side,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes, an F-15 Eagle pilot, said Wednesday during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference. “We will increasingly be experimenting with other options, [and] we’re going to work together.”
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, watches a mission video during a visit to the 363rd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
The future of air combat likely will include some combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, which is exactly the future the Air Force’s Skyborg program is aiming for. Using “loyal wingman” armed drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, the Air Force hopes to couple fighters like the F-35 with support drones that can extend sensor range, engage targets, and even sacrifice themselves to protect the manned aircraft. In theory, one F-35 could control a number of drones that bear the majority of the risk, flying ahead of the manned jet.
“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” the Air Force’s service acquisition executive, Dr. Will Roper said. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned. There’s a whole playbook.”
The combination of the sort of technology in play in Skyborg and rapidly developing hypersonic propulsion could put the power of hypersonic platforms in the hands of fighter pilots, just likely not in the jets they’re flying.
Of course, doing so would greatly increase the mental load on pilots in the fight, particularly if their means of controlling their wingmen drones is too complex. One of the selling points of the F-35 that doesn’t get much play in the press is its ability to fuse data from disparate sensors into an overlapping augmented reality display. Prior to this advancement, pilots had to read and manage multiple displays and gauges, combining the data in their minds to make decisions. In the F-35, friendly and enemy assets are clearly identified with colored indicators, as are air speed, altitude, and other essential information. At night, pilots can even use external cameras with their augmented reality helmets to look through the aircraft at the ground below.
This is what an F-15 pilot has to keep track of while flying combat missions.
A complex drone-control interface could be a step backward in a pilot’s ability to manage the flow of data, but a DARPA experiment first revealed in 2018 might just be able to solve that problem.
At the time, Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, explained that two years prior, DARPA had successfully utilized what he called a “Brain Computer Interface” to put one volunteer in control of not one, but three simulated aircraft at the same time. The “N3 System,” as they call it, could give pilots the ability to manage their drone wingmen using only their mind.
“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” he said at the “Trajectory of Neurotechnology” session at DARPA’s 60thanniversary event
In later experiments, volunteers even experienced feedback from the aircraft, transmitted into their brains to feel like a tingling sensation in the hands when the aircraft was pushing back against steering in a certain direction. The only problem is, currently, this system only works for volunteers who have had surgically implanted electrodes in their brain. The volunteers were all people with varying levels of paralysis, as this same technology could feasibly be used to control exoskeletons that could help a patient regain the ability to walk.
“The envisioned N3 system would be a tool that the user could wield for the duration of a task or mission, then put aside,” said Al Emondi, head of N3, according to a company spokesperson. “I don’t like comparisons to a joystick or keyboard because they don’t reflect the full potential of N3 technology, but they’re useful for conveying the basic notion of an interface with computers.”
So, while it’s true that a drone isn’t subject to same physical limitations a manned aircraft is, the tradeoff is that a drone would need to have an extremely advanced, fully autonomous flight system in order to execute maneuvers at the fuzzy edge of its capabilities, because communications lag would make such performance impossible in a human-controlled drone at a distance. If the drone weren’t under the control of a nearby pilot, the only choice would be to give the drone itself decision making capabilities, either through an on-board processor, or through an encrypted cloud computing process.
To date, that level of tech simply doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it would pose significant moral and ethical questions about what level of war fighting we’re comfortable relinquishing to a computer. Friendly fire incidents or unintentional civilian casualties are complicated enough without having to defend the actions of a Terminator drone, even if they were justified.
In the future, it seems entirely likely that drones will indeed be more capable than manned fighters, but they still won’t be able to fly without their cockpit-carrying-counterparts. A single F-35 pilot, for instance, may head into battle with a bevy of hyper-capable drone wingmen, but the decision to deploy ordnance, to actually take lives, will remain with the pilot, rather than the drone, just as those decisions are currently made by human drone operators.
Elon Musk is right that drones can do incredible things, but he’s wrong about the need for human hands on the stick. The future doesn’t look like Skynet, but it may look like the terrible 2005 movie, “Stealth.”
Elon Musk may be good at building rockets, electric cars, and even tunnel boring machines, but when it comes to predicting the future of warfare, he’s just as fallible as the rest of us.
Modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles, known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-D), and modified M113 tracked armored personnel carriers, known as Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs), are being utilized in an operation experimentation at Ft. Carson, Col., June 15 – Aug. 14, 2020. (U.S. Army/Kimberly Derryberry)
U.S. Army modernization officials are about to finish the service’s first experiment to see whether the Robotic Combat Vehicle effort can make units more deadly on the future battlefield.
For the past five weeks, a platoon of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division has been conducting cavalry-style combat missions using two-person crews in specially modified Bradley fighting vehicles to control robotic surrogate vehicles fashioned from M113 armored personnel vehicles in the Robotic Combat Vehicle Soldier Operational Experiment.
The platoon has operated in the rugged terrain of Fort Carson, Colorado, testing different technologies to control the robotic vehicles, sending them out hundreds of meters ahead to scout for enemy positions.
“This experiment was 100% successful … because we learned; the whole purpose was to learn where the technology is now and how we think we want to fight with it in the future,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle-Cross Functional Team, told defense reporters Thursday during a virtual roundtable discussion.
“All of the technology was not successful; it’s a sliding scale. Some knocked our socks off, and some — we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”
The experiment, scheduled to end Aug. 14, is one of three designed to evaluate the performance and potential of robotic combat vehicles on the battlefield, Coffman said.
Some of the technology tested in the experiment worked better than anticipated, he added.
“The interface with the crew … so the soldiers see where they are, they see where the robots are, they can communicate graphics … it just absolutely blew us away,” he said. “The software between the robotic vehicle and the control vehicle — while not perfect — performed better than we thought it would.”
There were challenges with the target recognition technology that links the robotic vehicle with the control vehicle.
“It works while stationary, but part of the challenge is how do you do that on the move and how that is passed to the gunner,” Coffman said. “We’ve got some work to do with that.
“We have some work to do with the stability systems with the weapon systems as you are going across terrain,” he continued.
Another challenge will be to get the control vehicle and the robot vehicle to communicate adequately beyond 1,000 meters.
“The distance between the robot and the controller is a physics problem and, when you talk flat earth, you can go over a kilometer from the controller to the robot,” Coffman said, adding that potential adversaries are wrestling with the same challenge.
Several defense firms participating in the experiment have “created radio waveforms to get us the megabytes per second to extend that range” in dense forest terrain, he said.
“That’s the hardest part, is you get into a dense forest, it’s really hard to extend the range,” he said. “We tested them; we went after them with [electronic warfare] … so we have a really good idea of what is the realm of the possible.”
The Army announced in January that it had selected QinetiQ North America to build four prototypes of the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light, and Textron to build four prototypes of the RCV-Medium. Both companies were present at the experiment, but their prototypes are still being finalized and did not participate.
After the experiment, an independent evaluation will be conducted on the technical and tactical performance of the robots to decide whether manned-unmanned teaming in combat vehicles can make combat units more effective, Coffman said.
In the first part of fiscal 2022, the Army is scheduled to conduct a second experiment at Fort Hood, Texas, using the same M113 robot vehicles and Bradley control vehicles to focus on company-size operations. The service also plans to conduct a third experiment in the future that will focus on more complex company-size operations.
After each of these experiments, the Army will decide “is the technology where we thought it would be, should we continue to spend money on this effort or should we cease effort?” Coffman said.
The service is also scheduled to make a decision in fiscal 2023 on when manned-unmanned teaming with RCVs will become a program of record, he said, adding that no decision has been made on when the Army will equip its first unit with the technology.
Coffman admits that the technology is “not 100% there yet,” but he remains confident that combat leaders will one day have the option to send unmanned combat vehicles into danger before committing soldiers to the fight.
“This is about soldiers and this is about commanders on the battlefield and giving them the decision space and reducing the risk of our men and women when we go into the nastiest places on Earth,” he explained.
The new Infantry Squad Vehicle (Photo by GM Defense)
On June 29, 2020, the U.S. Army selected GM’s submission for the new Infantry Squad Vehicle. Beating out submissions from a joint Oshkosh Defense-Flyer Defense team and an SAIC-Polaris partnership, GM has been awarded a $214M contract to build 649 of the new ISVs over the next five years. Additionally, the Army has already been approved to acquire 2,065 of the new trucks over the next decade.
In 2003, GM sold its defense division to General Dynamics for $1.1B. In 2017, GM saw renewed opportunity in adapting its civilian vehicles for the defense market and created the subsidiary GM Defense. In 2019, GM Defense became a finalist in the Army’s Infantry Squad Vehicle procurement competition along with the two aforementioned teams. The three teams were given $1M to build two prototypes of their proposed vehicle which were tested and evaluated at Aberdeen Test Center, Maryland and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
(Left to right) SAIC-Polaris DAGOR, Oshkosh-Flyer Defense GMV, and GM Defense ISV concepts (Photo from NationalDefenseMagazine.org)
Contract specifications called for the ISV to weigh no more than 5,000, carry nine soldiers and their gear at highway speeds in extreme conditions both on and off-road, capable of being slung under a UH-60 Blackhawk, and fit inside of a CH-47 Chinook. To meet these requirements, GM Defense based its design on the popular Chevrolet Colorado and its ZR2 and ZR2 Bison variants.
Chevy’s popular midsize truck, the Colorado ZR2 (Photo by Chevrolet)
The ISV is powered by a 2.8L 4-cylinder Duramax diesel engine that produces “significantly more power than the Colorado ZR2 known for delivering 186 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque,” mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission according to the GM Defense ISV product sheet.
Overall, the ISV retains much of the DNA of the Colorado variants it is based on, featuring 70% off-the-shelf components. “The chassis — which is the frame, the suspension, driveline, engine, transmission, transfer case, axles, brakes — all of that hardware comes from the Colorado ZR2,” said GM Defense Chief Engineer Mark Dickens. “Somebody could walk into a Chevy dealership and purchase those parts.”
Per the Army’s specifications, the ISV seats nine soldiers: two in the front, three in the second row, two rear-facing seats in a third row, and two outward-facing seats in a fourth row. Gear is stowed between the third and fourth rows, strapped to webbing that acts as the roof over the roll cage cabin, or slung from the roll cage itself.
The ISV on display at the 2019 SEMA Show (Photo from GMAuthority.com)
In addition to the Army contract, GM Defense President David Albritton told Detroit Free Press that, “[The ISV] platform can be used for international sales to other militaries, other government agencies like Border Patrol, the Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Forces,” since future variants, “would be a totally different design.”
The ISV follows a trend that the military is setting of purchasing readily-available commercial technology for tactical use. On June 5, 2020, Polaris was awarded a 9M contract to supply USSOCOM with its MRZR Alpha Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle. The LT-ATV is a redesigned Polaris RZR that has been in use with the Army’s light infantry units like the 82nd Airborne Division and 10th Mountain Division.
10th Mountain LT-ATVs (left) alongside a Humvee and an LMTV flanked by 2 M-ATVs