No military aircraft – past or present – can beat the altitude and airspeed performance of the SR-71 Blackbird.
It’s design and performance evolved out of necessity: “We had a need to know what was going on in other countries,” Jeff Duford, a historian at the National Museum of the US Air Force, said. “And the way that we were going to do that was having a photographic aircraft that could fly very high and very fast. And much faster than the U2, which proceeded it. The SR-71 was that answer for the US Air Force and for the United States.”
Here’s the remarkable story of the SR-71 in a 3 minute mini-doc:
Top defense contractors are competing to give America’s longest-serving bomber a big-time upgrade to its onboard sensors to improve the aircraft’s lethality in combat.
The radars on US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers are old and haven’t been updated since the 1980s.
To keep these decades-old aircraft fighting into the foreseeable future, the Air Force is pursuing new advanced radar systems that can unlock the full fighting capabilities of the older bombers, allowing them to eliminate ground targets, as well as take on non-traditional combat roles, such as taking out ships at sea and engaging in aerial combat.
Northrop Grumman, a major US defense contractor, is currently pushing to replace the B-52 bomber’s outdated AN/APQ-166 radars with its AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) as part of the B-52 Radar Modernization Program, Inside Defense reported Feb. 26, 2019.
A B-52 Stratofortress.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)
The SABR system pitched for the B-52 is the same as that being installed on Air Force F-16s. Northrop Grumman has an enhanced SABR variant for the B-1B Lancer as well.
Also in the running to provide improved radar systems for the B-52, Raytheon is pulling radar capabilities from the F-15’s APG-63(v)3 and APG-82 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars and the APG-79 on the Super Hornets and Growlers, according to an earlier statement from the company.
The US Air Force is determined to see the 60-year-old bombers wage war for at least a century, so the heavy, long-range bombers are receiving a variety of upgrades to extend their length of service. Improvements include an upgraded weapons rack for smart munitions, new engines, and a new radar system, among other things.
Northrop Grumman submitted a proposal this week to Boeing, which is handling source selection for the radar upgrades for the Air Force.
The company states its SABR system “leverages [the] proven, fifth-generation Active Electronically Scanned Array radar capabilities of the AN/APG-77 on the F-22 Raptor and the AN/APG-81 on the F-35 Lightning II.”
Incorporating AESA radar capabilities into the B-52’s sensor suite would be a big deal, The War Zone’s Tyler Rogoway explains, noting that an advanced radar system like Northrop Grumman’s SABR could improve targeting, surveillance, and situational awareness.
A B-52 taking off from Tinker AFB.
The upgrade would allow the bomber’s six-man crew to simultaneously engage ground and naval targets in all weather conditions and at greater distances, target enemies using advanced electronic attack capabilities, and even engage in air-to-air combat if necessary.
With these enhanced capabilities and the B-52’s ability to carry a large arsenal of weaponry into battle, the aircraft will be better prepared to fight in contested anti-access zones and defend friendly forces.
China and Russia, both of which are locked in military competition with the US, have been pursuing standoff capabilities to create anti-access/area-denial environments, and the US military is working hard to counter emerging challenges to American operations by developing its own standoff capabilities.
For instance, during 2018’s Valiant Shield exercises, B-52 bombers practiced dropping new 2,000-pound derivatives of the Quickstrike-ER (extended range) naval mine. The bombers can lay devastating mine fields from 50 miles away.
Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are also competing to replace the AN/APG-73 radar systems on older-model F/A-18 Hornets, with Northrop offering the SABR system and Raytheon offering its APG-79, according to Inside Defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Much has been made of Russian and Chinese missiles – and they do warrant attention. But the submarine still remains a very deadly assassin. If anything, that danger has taken on new forms, as the crew of the South Korean corvette Cheonan found out in 2010.
So, how will these underwater assassins be prevented from carrying out their nefarious deeds? Here are four systems that were displayed by L3 Ocean Systems at SeaAirSpace 2017.
The big problem many helicopters deal with is weight. Every pound for sensors is a pound that can’t be fuel or a weapon or a sonobouy.
At less than 400 pounds, the Firefly is a dipping sonar that can be used on much smaller helicopters – allowing someone who needs some coastal ASW to install it on more platforms than if it were a heavier sonar. Or, on the flip side, the helo that trades in a heavier dipping sonar for this lighter one gains more fuel, and thus, more range – or possibly an extra weapon, giving it an extra shot at an enemy sub.
Firefly can operate as deep as 656 feet of water, and can pick up a target almost 20 miles away. That’s not bad for this small package.
The Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar is used by nine separate navies, including Italy, Thailand, Greece, and Turkey. This sonar weighs 716 pounds – but it is also interoperable with the sonars on surface ships and the sonobouys dropped by other helicopters and maritime patrol planes.
It can operate at depths of up to 1,640 feet — meaning running silent and running deep won’t help a sub escape detection from this sonar. And once the sub is located… its captain will have an exciting – and short – time to ponder his situation.
Let’s face it – diesel-electric submarines are getting better and better. They are finding ways to operate without having to snorkel while charging their batteries. The batteries are getting better, and even cell phone battery technology is being leveraged for subs.
The solution is to do what they did in World War II – use active sonar to ping and find the submarine. The Low-Frequency Active Towed Sonar can do that – and can be placed on a vessel as small as 100 tons. It can operate at depths of up to 984 feet. In essence, in shallow water, there is no place for a sub to hide from this sonar. Not when every patrol boat can have one.
You might find it interesting that a towed-array for a submarine is on here, but the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarines sometimes have to operate in shallow water where diesel boats can hide a lot more easily.
Able to operate at depths of over 1,000 feet at a speed of up to 12 knots, the TB-23F makes any submarine that tows it more capable when it comes to hunting the submarines of the enemy.
So, while the submarine threat has gotten worse, a lot of works has been done on developing ways to find these underwater assassins before they can do harm to the valuable ships.
The Marine Corps wants to know whether the defense industry can transform its heavy weapons-mounted Joint Light Tactical Vehicles into mobile air defense systems for tracking and killing enemy drones, helicopters and fighters.
Marine Corps Systems Command recently invited defense firms to submit ideas for creating the Direct Fire Defeat System being developed by Program Manager Ground Based Air Defense, according to a March 27 request for information.
The program is designed to arm Marine air-ground task force commanders with JLTVs equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, 30mm cannons and electronic warfare technology to “detect, track, identify, and defeat aerial threats,” the solicitation states.
“This system will provide new and improved capability to mitigate the risk of attacks from Unmanned Aerial Systems and Fixed Wing/Rotary Wing aircraft while maintaining pace with maneuver forces,” according to the document.
The U.S. military has begun to beef up its air defense capabilities as it prepares for a possible future war against near-peer militaries with sophisticated aviation capabilities.
The Army is in the process of modernizing its air-defense units with the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) system, which will feature Stryker combat vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles, a 30mm chain gun, a 7.62 machine gun and four Stinger missiles.
The Army is also working on equipping a platoon of four Stryker vehicles with 50-kilowatt lasers that are capable of engaging drones and combat aircraft, as well as rockets, artillery and mortars in fiscal 2022.
The Marine Corps’ direct fire system will be part of the initial phase of the Marine Air Defense Integrated System, or MADIS, which will feature the command-and-control software integrated into Mk1 and Mk2 variants of the Corps’ JLTV Heavy Guns Carrier, according to the document.
The MADIS Mk1 features turret-launched Stinger missiles, multi-functional electronic warfare capability and a direct-fire weapon such as a 30mm cannon on a remote weapons station. The MADIS Mk2 will be the counter-UAS variant, with a 360-degree radar and command-and-control communications equipment, in addition to a direct-fire remote weapons station and electronic warfare tech.
The Mk1 and Mk2 form a complementary pair and are the “basic building block” for modernizing the service’s Low Altitude Air Defense Battalions, according to Marine Corps Systems Command’s website.
Companies have until April 13 to submit proposals, including proof that they are capable of delivering 26 systems in support of low-rate initial production in the third quarter of fiscal 2021, as well as 192 systems in the third quarter of fiscal 2022, according to the document.
Flying boats played an unheralded, but crucial part in some of World War II’s biggest naval battles. For example, pilots in Consolidated PBY Catalinas made the discovery of the Japanese carriers at Midway and helped locate the German battleship Bismarck.
So, why aren’t flying boats still serving in the United States military today? That’s a good question. After all, both China and Russia are still using them and, starting in 2000, have introduced new versions, like the AVIC AG-600 and the Beriev Be-200. Yet the last flying boat in U.S. service was the HU-16 Albratros, which the Coast Guard retired in 1983.
Flying boats have the advantage of using the ocean as a runway, which, unlike other launching points, can’t be cratered by bombs. Any atoll, bay, or cove could be a forward base for these patrol aircraft. But they are also huge, which imposes range and performance penalties that other, land-based planes don’t face.
The end of the flying boat was largely due to the island-hopping campaign of World War II. The United States military built a lot of airbases throughout the course of that war, many of which had long runways. This allowed long-range, land-based planes, like the Consolidated PB4Y Liberator/Privateer to operate.
The PB4Y, a version of the B-24 adapted for maritime patrol, was able to haul 12,800 pounds of bombs at a range of 2,796 miles. The Martin P5M Marlin, by comparison, could only haul 8,640 pounds of weapons 2,051 miles. Although land-based planes outclassed flying boats in terms of cargo transport, they remained useful in search-and-rescue missions, but the helicopter soon pushed them out of that role, too.
Flying boats could remain useful, but the fact is global construction and advances in aviation technology have made them largely redundant in many military roles. These majestic vessels will hang around, but there are fewer and fewer taking flight each day.
Modern drones, like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or even the quadcopters you can buy at your local electronics store have changed how we think about unmanned vehicles. But drones have been around a lot longer than you might think. One of the most versatile unmanned vehicles entered service in 1952 (the same year the B-52 first flew) and is still around today.
That is the BGM-34 Firebee. First built by Teledyne, Northrop Grumman now operates this versatile and venerable drone. The BGM-34C has a top speed of 472 miles per hour, a maximum range of 875 miles, and can operate as high as 50,000 feet.
The Firebee could be launched from ground, sea, or air. The C-130 is carrying two Firebees to give the crew of USS Chosin (CG 65) some practice.
(USAF photo by TSGT Michael Haggerty)
The Firebee was initially intended to serve as an aerial target. Yes, there are old fighters that serve in this role, but when you have to have enough pilots for the 1,983 tactical jets on inventory with the Air Force alone (per FlightGlobal.com’s World Air Forces 2018), something has to fill the gap. Many Firebees made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that missiles worked and pilots knew how to use them.
Fortunately, many of drones can be recovered via parachute and are re-used. This saved money for the times in which pilots missed or when tests didn’t involve blowing something out of the sky. But the Firebee hasn’t always been a turbojet-powered clay pigeon.
While some Firebees were blown up as target drones, others were recovered and used again.
(USAF photo by TSGT Frank Garzelnick)
During the Vietnam War, some were modified for use as reconnaissance drones. Outfitted with cameras and datalinks, these drones were able to provide real-time intelligence. If they were shot down, there was no need to send in a CSAR chopper to get a pilot out. Versions were also developed for electronic warfare, and they even considered making it an anti-ship missile. The Firebee even saw use during Operation Iraqi Freedom in laying down chaff to cover modern strike aircraft.
Learn more about this versatile and venerable drone in the video below!
A $110 million Nigerien air base constructed by the US will finally begin counterterrorism operations using intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drones after delays due to inclement weather conditions, the military announced on Nov. 1, 2019.
“We are working with our African and international partners to counter security threats in West Africa,” US Africa Command (AFRICOM), the combatant command overseeing US operations in the continent, said in a statement. “The construction of this base demonstrates our investment in our African partners and mutual security interests in the region.”
The base is called Nigerien Air Base 201, and is located in the desert region of Agadez, a strategic transit area for migrants. Both US and Nigerien aircraft will use the runways to launch armed and unarmed air assets against extremists operating in West and North Africa, the military said.
While the US-constructed base will be under Nigerien control, American forces will have exclusive use of around 20% of the roughly 9-mile base, military officials previously said to Stars and Stripes.
The base was expected to be operational in 2018, but the rainy season and other “environmental complexities” caused a delay, a US official said to The Air Force Times.
Here’s are some key details about Nigerien Air Base 201:
An Airman from the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron marshals a C-130J Super Hercules at Nigerien Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger, August 3, 2019. This was the first C-130 to take-off at Air Base 201, marking the beginning of limited Visual Flight Rules operations at the base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer)
Around 600 US Air Force Airmen are estimated to deploy for six-month tours.
The construction process of the base proved to be a challenge for around 350 service members involved in the project. Dry conditions caused concrete to dry and crack freshly-poured concrete.
“We’re building a base from nothing, from scratch,” US Air Force Lt. Col. Brad Harbaugh said in 2018. “This was all historically nomadic land.”
A US Air Force air advisor gives instructions to a Niger Armed Forces member while an interpreter translates the instructions during a training exercise at Nigerien Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, July 10, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer)
Numerous terrorist group operate within the region.
In a new report released by the State Department on Friday, US officials say terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISIS continue to operate in the region. US analysts say that terrorist elements have proliferated due to Niger’s limited military and budget.
Niger Armed Forces members clear a corridor during a training exercise with the US military at the Nigerien Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, July 10, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer)
Four US troops and four Nigerien soldiers were killed in a 2017 terrorist ambush.
On October 4, 2017, 11 US troops and 30 Nigerien forces were ambushed by ISIS-related militants near the Niger-Mali border.
Four US troops were killed, in addition to four Nigerien partner forces, in a battle against overwhelming terrorist forces. The US military awarded six medals to the Nigerien soldiers who fought in the battle, including two Bronze Stars.
A US-led investigation found that US’s ISR assets did not have enough fuel to provide cover for American forces, in addition to inadequate rest for the troops. Roughly an hour and a half after the battle began, two French fighter jets responded by driving the enemy forces away.
US Airmen load a C-130J Super Hercules at Nigerien Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger, Aug. 3, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lexie West)
Since 2013, the number of US troops in Niger has risen.
In 2013, President Barack Obama announced that 100 US service members would deploy to Niger for “intelligence collection.”
Roughly 800 US troops were operating in Niger by 2018. The terrain and its borders with Chad and Mali make the country an optimal transit route for terrorist militants seeking to travel to Europe, according to the State Department.
In 2018, AFRICOM publicly announced it had started deploying armed drones in a separate Nigerien base, dubbed Air Base 101, near the capital of Niamey.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There’s a lot going on behind closed doors in the ground services as planners see an opportunity to fundamentally change the mix of infantry weapons given bigger defense budgets and a command more receptive to change.
WATM earlier reported on moves in the Army to quickly outfit soldiers with an interim battle rifle capability with available 7.62 NATO chambered rifles to replace some standard-issue 5.56 M4s in the infantry squad and platoon. It now seems the service is set to issue an Urgent Needs requirement for over 6,000 battle rifles for soldiers in the fight now.
But in a move that analysts say could fundamentally transform the lethality of small units on the front lines, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps have teamed up to find ways to replace some of their M2 .50 caliber machine guns and M240 machine guns with a new one chambered in an innovative round developed primarily for long-range precision shooters in the civilian market.
WATM reported in March that the services were taking a hard look at the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun developed by General Dynamics that fires the .338 Norma Magnum round — a relatively new cartridge that’s seen few military applications until now. According to sources in close touch with military planners, the .338 NM machine gun is 3 pounds lighter than the M240B and has double the range and lethality of the 7.62 round.
On May 11, SOCOM and the Marine Corps issued a so-called “Sources Sought” message to industry asking for a LWMMG that weighs less than 24 pounds, with a rate of fire between 500-600 rounds and which includes a suppressed and un-suppressed quick-change barrel.
The LWMMG should have the capability to accurately engage point targets out to 2,000 meters, SOCOM and the Marine Corps says.
The request is in answer to worries by military planners that the enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other potential battlefields have widely-available small arms capabilities that can target U.S. troops at ranges Americans can’t reach with most weapons. Additionally, the M2 is extremely heavy and cannot be wielded by a single operator like the LWMMG can.
Documents show the 75th Ranger Regiment and Marine special operations units have successfully evaluated four LWMMGs and 16,000 rounds of .338 NM ammunition and want more.
The Sources Sought notice also includes a request for .338 NM ammunition with a polymer case rather than a brass or steel one — an effort to cut down on the overall weight of the system and allow more rounds per shooter. General Dynamics is well on its way to fielding a polymer-cased .338 round (less than 13 pounds for a 500-round box), and the Marine Corps is moving forward with outfitting its forces with polymer-cased .50 caliber rounds.
“In my opinion, adoption of this capability is the single greatest small arms capability enhancement to the US military in the last century,” said one military small arms expert on the industry website SoldierSystems.net. “It offers the ability to deliver accurate sustained fire at ranges out to 2000m in a package which can be employed by one operator.”
Could there be a lightweight armored attack vehicle able to speed across bridges, deploy quickly from the air, detect enemies at very long ranges, control nearby robots, and fire the most advanced weapons in the world — all while maintaining the unprecedented protection and survivability of an Abrams tank?
Such questions form the principle basis of rigorous Army analysis and exploration of just what, exactly, a future tank should look like? The question is fast taking-on increased urgency as potential adversaries continue to present very serious, technologically advanced weapons and attack platforms.
“I believe that a complete replacement of the Abrams would not make sense, unless we had a breakthrough…with much lighter armor which allows us to re-architect the vehicle,” Col. Jim Schirmer, Program Manager for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
There are currently a range of possibilities being analyzed by the Army, most of which hang in the balance of just how quickly certain technologies can mature.
Newer lightweight armor composites or Active Protection Systems may not evolve fast enough to address the most advanced emerging threats, Schirmer explained.
Soldiers conduct a live-fire exercise with M1A2 Abrams tanks.
(Army photo by Gertrud Zach)
While many Army weapons developers often acknowledge that there are limitations to just how much a 1980s-era Abrams tank can be upgraded, the platform has made quantum leaps in technological sophistication and combat technology.
“Until technology matures we are going to mature the Abrams platform,” Schirmer said. We would need an APS that could defeat long-rod penetrators.(kinetic energy armor penetrating weapons) — that might enable us to go lighter,” Schirmer said.
A 2014 essay from the Institute for Defense Analysis called “M1 Abrams, Today and Tomorrow,” reinforces Schirmer’s point by detailing the rapid evolution of advanced armor-piercing anti-tank weapons. The research points out that, for instance, hybrid forces such as Hezbollah had some success against Israeli Merkava tanks in 2006.
Therefore, GD and Army developers continue to upgrade the Abrams and pursue innovations which will enable the Abrams to address these kinds of evolving threats — such as the long-range kinetic energy penetrator rods Schirmer mentioned; one of the key areas of emphasis for this would be to develop a more expansive Active Protection System able to knock out a much wider range of attack possibilities — beyond RPGs and certain Anti-Tank Guided Missiles.
The essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank bring unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate.
Using computer algorithms, fire control technology, sensors, and an interceptor of some kind, Active Protection Systems are engineered to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds. Many Abrams tanks are already equipped with a system known as “Trophy” which tracks and knocks out incoming enemy fire.
A next-gen APS technology that can take out the most sophisticated enemy threats could enable the Army to engineer a much lighter weight tank, while still maintaining the requisite protection.
For these and other reasons, the combat-tested Abrams weapons, armor and attack technology will be extremely difficult to replicate or match in a new platform. Furthermore, the current Abrams is almost an entirely new platform these days — in light of how much it has been upgraded to address modern combat challenges.
U.S. Soldiers load the .50-caliber machine gun of an M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank during a combined arms live-fire exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
In short, regardless which future path is arrived upon by the Army — the Abrams is not going anywhere for many years to come. In fact, the Army and General Dynamics Land Systems have already engineered and delivered a new, massively improved, M1A2 SEP v3 Abrams. Concurrently, service and industry developers are progressing with an even more advanced v4 model — featuring a massive “lethality upgrade.”
All this being the case, when it comes to a future tank platform — all options are still on the table.
“Abrams will be out there for some time. We are funded from the v3 through the v4, but there is a thought in mind that we may need to shift gears,” David Marck, Program manager for the Main Battle Tank, told a small group of reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium. “I have no requirements for a replacement tank.”
Accordingly, some of the details, technologies, and applications intended for the v4, are still in flux.
“The Army has some decisions to make. Will the v4 be an improved v3 with 3rd-Gen FLIR, or will the Army remove the turret and build in an autoloader — reduce the crew size?” Michael Peck, Director, Enterprise Business Development, GD, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Also, ongoing work on NGCV could, to a large extent, be integrated with Abrams v4 exploration, Peck explained. GD is preparing options to present to the Army for input — such as options using a common lighter-weight chassis with interchangeable elements such as different turrets or an auto-loader, depending upon the threat.
“There are some things that we think we would do to make the current chassis lighter more nimble when it comes to crew size and electronics — eventually it may go on a 55-ton platform. We have a couple different interchangeable turrets, which we could swap as needed,” Peck asked.
Despite the speed, mobility and transportable power challenges known to encumber the current Abrams, the vehicle continues to be impactful in combat circumstances — and developers have sought to retain the technical sophistication designed to outmatch or counter adversaries.
“Today’s tank is so different than the tanks that took Baghdad. They were not digitized, did not have 1st-Gen FLIR and did not have commander’s independent viewers,” Marck said.
Next-Generation Combat Vehicle
The massive acceleration of the Army future armored platform — the Next Generation Combat Vehicle — is also informing the fast-moving calculus regarding future tank possibilities.
Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat, told Warrior Maven in an interview the Army developers are working on both near-term and longer term plans; he said it was entirely possible that a future tank or tank-like combat vehicle could emerge out of the NGCV program.
“We want to get as much capability as quickly as we can, to stay above parity with our adversaries,” Cummings said.
The program, which has now been moved forward by nearly a decade, could likely evolve into a family of vehicles and will definitely have unmanned technology.
“Right now we are trying to get the replacement for the Bradley to be the first optionally manned fighting vehicle. As we get that capability we may look at technology that we are getting in the future and insert them into current platforms,” Cummings said.
Any new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people, and ammunition. Also, as computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control
Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions.
General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin III.
However, while clearly emphasizing the importance of unmanned technology, Schirmer did say there was still room for growth and technological advanced necessary to replicate or come close to many human functions.
“It is not impossible — but it is a long way away,” Schirmer said.
The most advanced algorithms enabling autonomy are, certain in the nearer term, are likely to succeed in performing procedural functions able to ease the “cognitive burden” of manned crews who would then be freed up to focus on more pressing combat-oriented tasks. Essentially, the ability of human cognition to make dynamic decisions amid fast-changing variable, and make more subjective determinations less calculable by computer technology. Nonetheless, autonomy, particularly when enabled by AI, can condense and organize combat-essential data such as sensor information, targeting technology or certain crucial maintenance functions.
“Typically a vehicle commander is still looking through multiple soda straws. If no one has their screen turned to that view, that information is not of use to the crew, AI can process all those streams of ones and zeroes and bring the crews’ attention to threats they may not otherwise see,” Schirmer said.
Abrams v3 and v4 upgrades
Meanwhile, the Army is now building the next versions of the Abrams tank — an effort which advances on-board power, electronics, computing, sensors, weapons, and protection to address the prospect of massive, mechanized, force-on-force great power land war in coming decades, officials with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems told Warrior Maven.
The first MIA2 SEP v3 tank, which includes a massive electronics, mobility and sensor upgrades, was delivered by General Dynamics Land Systems in 2017.
“The Army’s ultimate intent is to upgrade the entire fleet of M1A2 vehicles — at this time, over 1,500 tanks,” an Army official told Warrior.
The first v3 pilot vehicles will feature technological advancements in communications, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency and upgraded armor.
This current mobility and power upgrade, among other things, adds an auxiliary power unit for fuel efficiency and on-board electrical systems, improved armor materials, upgraded engines and transmission and a 28-volt upgraded drive system, GDLS developers said.
In addition to receiving a common high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations, some of the current electronics, called Line Replaceable Units, were replaced with new Line Replaceable Modules. This includes a commander’s display unit, driver’s control panel, gunner’s control panel, turret control unit and a common high-resolution display, developers from General Dynamics Land Systems say.
Facilitating continued upgrades, innovations and modernization efforts for the Abrams in years to come is the principle rationale upon which the Line Replacement Modules is based. It encompasses the much-discussed “open architecture” approach wherein computing standards, electronics, hardware, and software systems can efficiently be integrated with new technologies as they emerge.
This M1A2 SEP v3 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare devices such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device – Electronic Warfare – CREW. An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together.
The Abrams is also expected to get an advanced force-tracking system which uses GPS technology to rapidly update digital moving map displays with icons showing friendly and enemy force positions.
The system, called Joint Battle Command Platform, uses an extremely fast Blue Force Tracker 2 Satcom network able to reduce latency and massively shorten refresh time. Having rapid force-position updates in a fast-moving combat circumstance, quite naturally, could bring decisive advantages in both mechanized and counterinsurgency warfare.
Using a moving digital map display, JBCP shows blue and red icons, indicating where friendly and enemy forces are operating in relation to the surrounding battle space and terrain. JBCP also include an intelligence database, called TIGR, which contains essential information about threats and prior incidents in specific combat ares.
Current GD development deals also advances a commensurate effort to design and construct and even more advanced M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond.
The v4 is designed to be more lethal, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said.
SEPv4 upgrades include the Commander’s Primary Sight, an improved Gunner’s Primary Sight and enhancements to sensors, lethality and survivability.
Advanced networking technology with next-generation sights, sensors, targeting systems and digital networking technology — are all key elements of an ongoing upgrade to position the platform to successfully engage in combat against rapidly emerging threats, such as the prospect of confronting a Russian T-14 Armata or Chinese 3rd generation Type 99 tank.
A Russian T-14 Armata.
Interestingly, when asked about specific US Army concerns regarding the much-hyped high-tech Russian T-14 Armata, Schirmer said the Army would pursue its current modernization plan regardless of the existence of the Armata. That being said, it is certainly a safe assumption to recognize that the US Army is acutely aware, to the best of its ability, of the most advanced tanks in existence.
The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round, Army developers told Warrior.
While Army officials explain that many of the details of the next-gen systems for the future tanks are not available for security reasons, Army developers did explain that the lethality upgrade, referred to as an Engineering Change Proposal, or ECP, is centered around the integration of a higher-tech 3rd generation FLIR – Forward Looking Infrared imaging sensor.
The advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Army official said.
Improved FLIR technologies help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander’s independent thermal viewer.
Rear view sensors and laser detection systems are part of these v4 upgrades as well. Also, newly configured meteorological sensors will better enable Abrams tanks to anticipate and adapt to changing weather or combat conditions more quickly, Army officials said.
The emerging M1A2 SEP v4 will also be configured with a new slip-ring leading to the turret and on-board ethernet switch to reduce the number of needed “boxes” by networking sensors to one another in a single vehicle.
Advanced Multi-Purpose Round
The M1A2 SEP v4 will carry Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round able to combine a variety of different rounds into a single tank round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter, Army developers explained. The MPAT round has a two-position fuse, ground and air, that must be manually set, an Army statement said.
The M1028 Canister round is the third tank round being replaced. The Canister round was first introduced in 2005 by the Army to engage and defeat dismounted Infantry, specifically to defeat close-in human-wave assaults. Canister rounds disperse a wide-range of scattering small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality and, for example, destroy groups of individual enemy fighters.
The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.
AMP also provides two additional capabilities: defeat of enemy dismounts, especially enemy anti-tank guided missile, or ATMG, teams at a distance, and breaching walls in support of dismounted Infantry operations
A new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack.
The Institute for Defense Analysis report also makes the case for the continued relevance and combat necessity for a main battle tank. The Abrams tank proven effective both as a deterrent in the Fulda Gap during the Cold War, waged war with great success in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 — but it has also expanded it sphere of operational utility by proving valuable in counterinsurgency operations as well.
The IDA essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank brings unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate and conduct attacks.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Ground combat is the US Army’s main domain, but a lot of that ground is surrounded by water.
That’s why the Army’s plan to get rid of most of its boats and the units overseeing them, caused immediate dismay.
As of November 2018, the Army’s fleet included eight Gen. Frank S. Besson-class Logistic Support Vessels, its largest class of ships, as well as 34 Landing Craft Utility, and 36 Landing Craft Mechanized Mk-8, in addition to a number of tugs, small ferries, and barges.
Landing craft move personnel and cargo from bases and ships to harbors, beaches, and contested or damaged ports. Ship-to-shore enablers allow the transfer of cargo at sea, and towing and terminal operators support operations in different environments.
“The Army has these unique capabilities to redeploy their forces or insert their forces into an austere environment if needed,” Sgt. 1st Class Chase Conner, assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade, said during an exercise in summer 2018.
In 2017, the Army awarded a nearly billion-dollar contract for 36 new, modern landing craft. But in January 2018, then-Army Secretary Mark Esper, who is now secretary of defense, decided the Army Reserve would divest “all watercraft systems” in preparation for the service’s 2020 budget.
Esper said the Army had found billion that could be cut and spent on other projects.
Lt. Col. Curtis Perkins, center, commander of 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, talks to crew aboard Army Landing Craft Molino Del Ray, Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, Aug. 6, 2019.
(Kevin Fleming, 401st Army Field Support Brigade)
The Army memo starting the process said the goal was to “eliminate all United States Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau AWS (Army Watercraft Systems) capabilities and/or supporting structure” — nearly 80% of its force.
The memo was first obtained by the website gCaptain.
The 170-foot-long, 25-foot-high fuselage of a C-17 cargo aircraft is lifted onto Army transport ship SSGT Robert T. Kuroda at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, July 22, 2009.
(US Navy/Gregg Smith)
The 170-foot-long, 25-foot-high fuselage of a C-17 cargo aircraft is lifted onto Army transport ship SSGT Robert T. Kuroda at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, July 22, 2009.
(US Navy/Gregg Smith)
Later in July, the listing for the Kuroda was taken down, according to The Drive. By the end of July, plans to auction nearly half of the Army’s roughly 130 watercraft were halted.
Before the auction was taken down, a id=”listicle-2640238370″ million bid was entered for the Kuroda, but that did not meet an unspecified reserve price for the ship, which cost million to construct.
Army mariners on a multiday transport mission aboard Army logistic support vessel Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross from Kuwait Naval Base, Jan. 19, 2017.
(US Army/Sgt. Aaron Ellerman)
The order to halt reportedly came from acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and included a hold on the deactivation of watercraft positions and the transfer of Army mariners to other non-watercraft units.
US Army Reserve watercraft operators replicate a fire-fighting drill during a photo shoot aboard a logistics support vessel in Baltimore, April 7 and April 8, 2017.
(US Army Reserve/Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
The Army confirmed in early August that it halted sales to conduct a study ordered by Congress, after lawmakers who disagreed with the plan moved to withhold funds for deactivations until the Army reviewed and validated its ability to meet watercraft needs.
The Army has been looking for a new scout helicopter to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior for over two decades. Between budget cuts and iffy cancellation decisions, a number of contenders, notably the RAH-66 Comanche and the ARH-70 Arapaho, have failed to make the cut. Now, the Army is hoping to get another chance to replace the Kiowa, which retired from U.S. Army service in 2017.
However, it’s looking like Congress may put the kibosh on putting any new birds in the sky.
According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the Army’s desire to buy a new recon helicopter is being questioned by some on Capitol Hill. There are concerns surfacing about whether manned helicopters can survive on a modern battlefield full of advanced missiles and self-propelled guns. Currently, the Army is using AH-64 Apaches to fill the gap in reconnaissance capabilities left by the Kiowa’s retirement.
The Army has long planned to find a new scout/utility bird under the Future Vertical Lift program, but now it seems they’re looking to get results faster — and they’ve requested $75 million (couch-cushion money in the DOD budget) to do so. One of the reasons for the rush is that the Apache, as impressive as it is, is not exactly the best choice for recon.
The OH-58 Kiowa Warrior was retired without a replacement — and the scouting mission got handed over to the AH-64 Apache.
Under the Future Vertical Lift program, one of the proposed Joint Multi-Role helicopters, the JMR-Light, is intended to be a scout/light-utility helicopter. One likely contender for that role, Lockheed’s S-97 Raider, has recently been cleared for full flight testing. The helicopter first flew in 2015 and can reach a blistering 220 knots, according to Lockheed Martin.
Although the S-97 is extremely capable, the Army has expressed a desire for a “pure” scout helicopter — Congress, however, citing the concerns mentioned earlier, don’t share that desire.
The AH-64 Apache carries the same rocket pods and Hellfire missiles as the S-97 Raider, but it carries a lot of them.
The Raider is capable of using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, as well as 2.75-inch rocket pods and either a 7.62mm or .50-caliber machine gun. The Raider can transport up to six troops and has a range of 323 nautical miles. It can carry the fuel needed for almost three hours of sustained flight time.
The ARH-70 Arapaho didn’t make the cut — one of several efforts to replace the OH-58 that failed,
The Raider is not the only experimental system being considered to fill a gap in recon capabilities. Bell is offering a family of tilt-rotor aircraft, including the V-280 Valor and the V-247 unmanned aerial vehicle. Other companies are also offering prototypes, seeking to get in on a contract that’ll likely be a massive financial windfall.
The Armata family of vehicles, with the flagship T-14 main battle tank, were supposed to be the future of armored warfare, tipping the balance of conventional forces in Europe back towards Russia and ensuring the country’s security and foreign might. But now, Russia has announced that it will be buying only 100 of them, far from the 2,300 once threatened and a sure sign that crippling economic problems are continuing to strangle Putin’s military.
Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank was supposed to put Russian armor back on top, but the design and tech are still questionable and Russia is only buying 100 of them, meaning very few of them will be available for operations at any one time.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
All of this will likely be welcome news for U.S. armored forces who would have faced the T-14s in combat if Russia used them against American allies and NATO forces.
The signs of trouble for the Armata tank were hidden in the project’s debut. It’s always suspicious when a tank or other weapon project seems too good to be true. Snake oil salesmen can profit in the defense industry, too. And there were few projects promising more revolutionary breakthroughs for less money than the T-14.
It is supposed to weigh just 70 percent of the Abrams (48 tons compared to the Abrams’ 68) but still be able to shake off rounds from enemy tanks thanks to advanced armor designs. Its developers bragged of an extremely capable autoloader, a remote turret, and an active protection system that could defeat any incoming missile.
When something sounds too good to be true, maybe check the fine print.
Still, it wouldn’t have been impossible to come up with a breakthrough design to shake up the armored world. After all, while the Abrams was expensive to develop, it featured some revolutionary technology. Its armor was lighter and more capable thanks to ceramic technology developed in Britain, and its engines, while fuel-hungry, delivered massive amounts of power. These factors combined to create a fast, agile beast capable of surviving nearly any round that enemy tanks could shoot at it.
Russia’s Su-57 has design flaws and under-strength engines, causing many to wonder if it would really rival American fifth-generation fighters if it even went into serial production.
(Photo by Anna Zvereva)
None of this money problem is a surprise. Russia is subject to a slew of international sanctions resulting from actions like the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and meddling in European and U.S. elections. While sanctions generally act as a minor drag on healthy economies, they have a compounding effect on weak economies.
And make no mistake: Russia’s economy is weak. It is heavily tied to oil prices which, just a few years ago, would’ve been great news. From 2010 to 2014, oil often peaked above 0 per barrel for days or weeks at a time and was usually safely above a barrel. Now, it typically trades between and a barrel and has slumped as low as .
Keep in mind that, typically, military strength trends with economic strength; more money, more might. But Russia has struggled to maintain its world-power status after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its annual GDP is actually smaller than that of Texas, California, or New York. That’s right. If Russia was a state, it would have the fourth largest economy in the country.
Still, Russia can’t be written off. It’s either the second or third most powerful military in the world, depending on who you ask. And the other slot is held by China, another rival of American power. With thousands of tanks and fighters in each country’s arsenal, as well as millions of service members, both countries will remain major threats for decades or longer.
An underwater drone which moves like a squid and can explode on command was one of the stranger weapons on display at a massive arms fair in London.
The device, named the Sea Hunting Autonomous Reconnaissance Drone (SHARD), is being marketed by the Australian arms manufacturer DefendTex.
It was one of many exhibits at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) show, which is running this week in east London’s Docklands.
One was on display bobbing up and down in a tank, moving with its tentacle-like legs. Here is a video:
DefendTex staff told Business Insider that the drones are meant to float unassumingly in the sea, and are purposefully designed to look like squid as a type of camouflage.
The drones are meant to attach themselves to passing enemy vessels. They can then be detonated remotely by their operators. Each one can act by itself or as a swarm with others.
DefendTex said the drones swim using a motor, and can recharge by sinking to the ocean floor, attaching themselves to rocks, and allowing ocean currents to rotate and internal motor which charges the battery.
The drones are meant to be used in Anti-Submarine Warfare missions or Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions, according to DefendTex.
The project is still in development, and is not yet on sale.
DSEI is the UK’s largest arms fair, attracting representatives from the world’s 50 largest militaries, who come to view the latest defense and intelligence technology.
Over 1,600 manufacturers attend the event, which in 2019 is at London’s ExCel center.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.