India has the second-largest military in the world with about 1,444,000 active personnel. By comparison, the United States is the third-largest with about 1,400,000. The nation with the largest military in the world, and a not-so-friendly neighbor to India, is China at 2,183,000. In recent years and months, skirmishes along the border with China have prompted modernization efforts throughout India’s military forces.
Since 1998, the standard-issue infantry rifle of the Indian Army has been the domestically produced Indian Small Arms System rifle. The INSAS is chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO like the M4/M16 family and includes carbine and light machine gun variants. However, the INSAS received poor reviews from Indian and Nepali soldiers. In battle, the weapon was prone to jams, the magazines were prone to cracking, and the 5.56x45mm NATO round lacked stopping power.
In March 2019, the Indian military announced that the INSAS family would be retired. The light machine gun variants were replaced by the Negev Ng7 produced by Israel Weapon Industries. Conversely, the rifles would be replaced by the domestically-manufactured AK-203. Chambered in the venerable 7.62x39mm and based on the AK-74M, the AK-203 was designed in Russia and produced at the Amethi ordnance factory in India under license.
The same year, India announced a deal with Sig Sauer to purchase 72,400 rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. “We are very proud, and honored that the SIG716 was chosen for use by the fighting forces of the Indian Army, and we are looking forward to developing a strong partnership with India’s Ministry of Defence,” said Ron Cohen, President and CEO of Sig Sauer. The New Hampshire-based company is hot on government contracts as it continues to supply the U.S. military with its new sidearm, the M17/M18 pistol. Sig Sauer also recently won a contract to provide the U.S. Army with a new combat rifle optic.
Although, the exact specifications of the Indian SIG716 rifles was not released, the weapon does appear to differ slightly from the off-the-shelf variant. Though the rifle is offered in direct-impingement and short-stroke piston gas systems, the Indian model appears to use the former. Additionally, the Indian model features 1913 rails on the 12 and 6 o’clock of the handguard, a feature not found on commercial variants of the SIG716. The rifle uses standard AR-15 controls like the charging handle, bolt catch/release, and magazine release. It features an ambidextrous selector switch and accepts AR10/SR25-style magazines. The rifles purchased by India also include a full-auto fire mode, although the practicality of an automatic infantry rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO is up for debate.
The first shipments of the SIG716 have already been issued to the troops of the Indian Army’s Northern Command. Moreover, in July 2020, India doubled down on their purchase. “We are going to place an order for 72,000 more of these rifles under the financial powers granted to the armed forces,” Defence sources told Asian News International. The exact reason for the return purchase is unknown. However, slow production of the Russian-licensed AK-203s may be to blame. Whatever the reason, India has seen a need to equip more soldiers with better rifles, and fast.
During his trip to India in February 2020, President Trump addressed a crowd in Ahmedabad at the world’s largest cricket stadium on the economic partnership between India and the United States. “India is now a major market for American exports,” the President said, “and the United States is India’s largest export market.” With over 140,000 rifles on order to India and an indefinite quantity contract with the U.S. military for the M17/M18 pistol, the folks in Sig Sauer’s defense contracting department are surely due for a hefty Christmas bonus this year.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks’ ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August 2019.
They’ll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They’ll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It’s the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
Sgt. Dalyss Reed, a rifleman with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, maneuvers through a breach hole while conducting an urban platoon assault.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)
With tensions heating up with Iran, China and Russia, it’s likely Marines could face a far more sophisticated enemy than the insurgent groups they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just this week, Iran shot down a massive U.S. Navy drone capable of flying at high altitudes that collects loads of surveillance data. President Donald Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes just minutes before the operations were slated to kick off.
Less than two weeks prior, a Russian destroyer nearly collided with a U.S. Navy warship in the Philippine Sea. These are just some of the examples of close calls that could have left Marines and other U.S. troops facing off against near-peer militaries equipped with high-tech equipment in highly populated areas.
At the same time, the Marine Corps’ Operating Concept, a document published in 2016, found the service isn’t manned, trained or equipped to fight in urban centers, Maj. Edward Leslie, lead planner for Dense Urban Operations at the Warfighting Lab, told Military.com.
“The enemy has changed,” Leslie said. “… They obviously have more access to drones. I think the enemy’s sensing capabilities have increased, they have the ability to see in the night just as well as we can, and they have capabilities that can exploit our technology or disrupt our technology.”
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo)
The Marine Corps isn’t alone in grappling with these new challenges. The Army is spending half a billion dollars to train soldiers to fight underground, and has begun sending small-units to its massive training center in California where leaders are challenged with more complex warfighting scenarios.
The Army also found that young sergeants in most infantry and close combat units don’t know how to maneuver their squads or do basic land navigation, Military.com reported this spring.
Those are skills Marines must continue to hone, Leslie said, since so many advantages they’re used to having on the battlefield are leveling off. It’s not just room-clearing Marines need to be good at, he said, but overall urban operations — things like figuring out ways to penetrate a building without destroying it since it’s right next to a school or hospital.
“I think that’s the value we’re going to get [with Project Metropolis],” he said.
A next-gen fight
The training center Marines and British Royal Marines will use this summer is a sprawling 1,000-acre site that houses dozens of buildings, some with up to seven stories and basements. The complex also has more than a mile’s worth of underground tunnels and active farmland.
The urban center has been used not just to train troops, but to help government leaders prepare for pandemic responses or natural disasters as well.
Kilo Company will complete four phases during the month they spend there, Brig. Gen. Christian Wortman, who recently served as the Warfighting Lab’s commanding general, told reporters May 2019. It will culminate with a five-day force-on-force simulated battle in which the Kilo Company Marines, equipped with new high-tech gear, face off against a like-minded enemy force with its own sophisticated equipment.
The concept was introduced by Commandant Gen. Robert Neller last summer to help Marines better prepare to fight a near-peer enemy. The British Royal Marines participating in the exercise will either join Kilo Company’s efforts against the aggressor, or act as another force operating in the same region, Leslie said.
Project Metropolis will build on years of experimentation the Marine Corps has conducted as part of its Sea Dragon 2025 concept. Leslie said the grunts picking up the next leg of experimentation in Indiana will be further challenged to use some of the new technology Marines have been testing in a more complex urban setting, similar to what they’re likely to face in a future warzone.
Marines have been experimenting with different infantry squad sizes to incorporate drone operators. Now, Leslie said, they’ll look at how to organize teams operating a new tactical self-driving vehicle called the Expeditionary Monitor Autonomous Vehicle, which will carry a .50-caliber machine gun.
“That’s going to be a major thing,” he said. “We’re looking to see, what’s the table of organization look like to work with that, and is it any different if it’s an urban vehicle?”
Marines practice Military Operations on Urban Terrain at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Nov. 23, 2012. The Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy R. Childers)
Rifle squads will continue experimenting with unmanned aerial systems, Leslie added, to spot enemy positions without sending someone into a danger zone. They’ll use ground robots that have the ability to map the insides of buildings, and will test Marines’ decision-making when they’re overwhelmed with information.
“Really want we want to see is how the tech integrates and also how it operates in a dense urban environment,” he said.
Kilo Company will also work with nonlethal systems, Wortman said, which they can turn to if they’re in an area where there could be civilian casualties. They’ll have access to kamikaze drones and “more sophisticated tools for delivering lethal fires,” he added.
It’s vital that they see that Marines are able to put these new tools to use quickly and easily, Wortman said, as they don’t want them to be fumbling with new systems in the middle of combat situations.
Building on the past
Marines aren’t new to urban fights.
Leathernecks saw some of the bloodiest urban battles since Vietnam’s Battle of Hue City in Fallujah, Iraq. About 12,000 U.S. troops fought in the second leg of the 2004 battle to turn that city back over to the Iraqi government. In the fierce battle, which involved going house-to-house in search of insurgents, 82 U.S. troops were killed and about another 600 hurt.
The Marines learned during those battles, Leslie said. But a lot has changed in the last 15 years, he added. With adversaries having access to cheap surveillance drones, night vision and other technology, military leaders making life-and-death decisions on the battlefield must adjust.
The goal, Wortman said, is to keep Marines armed with and proficient in to keep their edge on the battlefield.
Every city has a different character, too, Leslie added, so what Marines saw in Fallujah is not going to be the same as what they can expect in a new fight.
There has also been a great deal of turnover in the Marine Corps since combat operations slowed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Leslie said. Today’s generation of Marines is also incredibly tech-savvy, Wortman said, and they’re likely to find ways to use some of the new gear they’re handing to them during this experiment and come up with innovative new ways to employ it.
“We have the expectation that these sailors and Marines are going to teach us about the possibilities with this technology because they’ll apply it in creative … ways the tech developers didn’t fully anticipate.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are quickly receiving the the military’s newest pistols in massive numbers.
Three years after the M17 was adopted as the military’s new sidearm, Sig Sauer has delivered well over 100,000 of the handguns, which are based on its P320 model.
The M17 and the compact M18 variant are the latest in a long line of sidearms that US troops have carried into battle over the past 244 years.
The American military’s early sidearms were often privately owned. Officers, able to afford more expensive weapons, usually had dueling pistols, while rank-and-file soldiers made due with whatever they could get from local gunsmiths. This led to an array of armaments with varying calibers and qualities.
The Continental Congress tried to get a standard sidearm to the Continental Army. The pistol it chose was a direct copy of the British Model 1760 flintlock pistol. The Congress bought 2,000 of the pistols, dubbed the Model 1775, which were made by the Rappahannock Forge in Virginia.
The .62-caliber smoothbore single-shot flintlock, which included an iron or ash ramrod under the barrel, is considered the first US Army-issued handgun.
The pistol was well received during the Revolution. After the war, a new version, known as the Model 1805, was made at Harper’s Ferry. This flintlock saw service in the War of 1812 and remained the US Army’s standard-issue pistol for over 50 years.
Two Model 1805s are featured on the US Army Military Police Corps insignia, and a similar pistol can be seen on the US Navy SEAL emblem.
In 1836, inventor Samuel Colt revolutionized warfare when his first revolver design was patented.
The new weapon allowed a soldier to fire six bullets in as many seconds without pausing to reload. It also used percussion caps, which allowed soldiers to shoot reliably in wet weather.
Colt revolvers were important weapons in the US arsenal for much of the 19th century, with at least four designs — the Colt 1847, the Colt M1848 Dragoon, the Colt Army Model 1860, and the Colt Single Action Army — seeing service.
The Colt 1847, known as the “Walker” for the Texas Ranger who helped design it, was based on previous Colt designs in service with the Republic of Texas and became the first mass-produced revolver in US service.
The Walker and the Dragoon, another .44-caliber revolver adopted by US Army cavalry and mounted-infantry units, saw service in the Mexican-American War and on both sides of the US Civil War.
The most popular Colt design of the 19th century was the Colt Army Model 1860, a .44-caliber revolver adopted just before the Civil War. It was used in large numbers by the Union and the Confederacy — 130,000 were built for the Union alone, and over 200,000 had been made by the time production ceased in 1873.
The invention of metallic cartridges again revolutionized firearms, eliminating the need for percussion caps, a separate powder container, and ramrods. Colt’s most well-known model featuring this innovation was the Colt Single Action Army.
The new revolver fired a .45-caliber center-fire cartridge and was a huge success, becoming a standard sidearm for the US for more than 20 years. It saw action in every US war and military campaign until 1905 and was used extensively on the US Western frontier by bandits and government personnel alike, earning it nicknames like “the Peacemaker.”
Some soldiers, such as Gen. George S. Patton, carried their personal Colt SAAs with them as late as World War II.
The last revolver in US service was the M1917, a six-shot pistol made by Colt and Smith & Wesson and introduced for interim use. After World War I, M1917s were used mostly by support units, though they again saw frontline service with the Vietnam War’s tunnel rats.
In 1911, the US military adopted what would become one of the most iconic firearms in history — the M1911.
Designed by firearms legend John Browning, the .45 ACP pistol was a semiautomatic, single-action, recoil-operated pistol capable of firing seven rounds from a magazine held in the grip of the gun.
The M1911 was one of the most popular weapons in American history. It was the standard-issue sidearm, with few changes, for all branches of the US military for more than 70 years and saw action in almost every American conflict during that period, including both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the US Invasion of Grenada in 1983.
The M1911 was officially replaced in 1985, but a number of special-operations units carried them into 21st century. It was so popular that the Marine Corps brought it back into limited service in 2012 in the form of the M45A1 CQBP.
In 1986, the military selected the Italian Beretta 92 as the new sidearm for all branches.
Lightweight and modern, the pistol used the smaller 9 x 19 mm round, enabling it to carry 15 rounds in the magazine, double that of the M1911, but at the cost of less penetration power.
In service as the M9, the pistol was used by US troops for 30 years and saw action in Yugoslavia, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and other operations during the War on Terror.
The Pentagon bought more than 600,000 M9s, but they had reliability problems and had gained a bad reputation by the 2010s. In 2015, the US Army and Air Force began searching for a replacement.
In January 2017, Sig Sauer’s P320 was announced as the winner of the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition. The pistol has two variants: the full-length M17 and the compact M18.
The Army received its first M17s in June 2017. The Air Force began its procurement in June 2019, and the Marine Corps started officially fielding the M18 in September.
The pistols can be configured for different missions and have a rail on which accessories like lasers and optical sights can be mounted. Their standard capacity of 17 9-mm rounds can be increased to 21 with an extended magazine.
The Pentagon plans to buy 420,000 M17s and M18s for $580 million over a 10-year period.
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.
The Army is now testing virtual-reality goggles that will allow soldiers to rehearse combat missions that they are about to undertake.
The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, known as IVAS, will be tested by 82nd Airborne Division troops next month at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The IVAS goggles will allow soldiers to see simulated images superimposed over the actual terrain.
The soldiers will wear the goggles and miniature computer equipment as they negotiate obstacle courses, run land navigation and conduct other missions, said officials from Program Executive Office Soldier.
Called Soldier Touchpoint 2, the test is designed to provide feedback to PEO soldier so the IVAS heads-up display can be further enhanced before 200,000 of the headsets begin to be fielded in 2021.
Brig. Gen. Matthew Easley, director of the Army’s AI Task Force, discusses how artificial intelligence will modernize the force during a Warriors Corner presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2019.
(Photo by Mr. Gary Sheftick)
IVAS has been touted by senior leaders as a “game-changer” for soldier lethality and a quick win for the modernization priority.
The IVAS headsets are a good example of how artificial intelligence is being used to enhance soldier lethality, said Brig. Gen. Matthew Easley, director of the Army’s AI Task Force.
Each pair of IVAS goggles has “significant amounts of high-tech sensors onboard and processors,” Easley said at a Warriors Corner presentation Monday afternoon during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Each IVAS headset has integrated AI chips built into the system, he said.
“Those chips are doing visual recognition,” he said. “They’re tracking a soldier’s eye movements, they’re tracking a soldier’s hand as it interfaces with the system, and they’re tracking a soldier’s voice.”
Brig. Gen. Matthew Easley, director of the Army’s AI Task Force, discusses how artificial intelligence will modernize the force during a Warriors Corner presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
The IVAS headset “uses a customized AI piece” to make it work, he said.
AI will be an enabler for all of the Army’s modernization programs over the next decade, Easley said.
“Each one of those systems need AI,” he said, from Future Vertical Lift to Long-Range Precision Fires to the Next Generation Combat Vehicle.
“AI, as you know, is becoming a pervasive part of our society,” he said.
“Every system that you can think of — from self-driverless cars to ride-sharing applications, to restaurant recommendation systems to healthcare systems — they span every area of our society.
“They need to span every battlefield system that we have,” as well, he said, from maneuver to fire control.
People like to talk about the best tanks, rifles, and tactical gear. It’s a great discussion — there are many sophisticated pieces of tech in the military world, each with various strengths and weaknesses. That said, we rarely talk about the flip side of this coin: What are some of the worst pieces of gear out there?
There are some weapon systems out there whose sole purpose in existence is to act as an example of what not to do. So, let’s dive in, without restraint, and take a look at the very worst the world has to offer across several gear categories.
U.S. Army soldiers train with the G36, which had a lot of problems in hot weather — or after firing a lot of rounds.
Worst Rifle: Heckler and Koch G36
Heckler and Koch usually makes good guns. The MP5 is a classic submachine gun that’s still in service around the world. The G3 rifle was second only to the FN FAL. But then there’s the G36.
Intended to replace the G3, the G36 was to be Germany’s new service rifle in the 5.56mm NATO caliber. Well, the gun had many problems. First and most importantly, the gun was horribly inaccurate when hot. In temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit or after firing many rounds, the gun was liable to miss a target 500 meters away by as many as 6 meters. Spray and pray is not a tactic known to successfully defeat an enemy.
It would help if the MG5 could hit the broad side of the barn…
(Heckler and Koch)
Worst Machine Gun: Heckler and Koch MG5
Heckler and Koch has the dubious distinction of owning two items on this list. HK made the under-appreciated G8, which could serve as anything from a designated marksman rifle to a light machine gun in 7.62 NATO. The company’s MG4 is a solid 5.56mm belt-fed machine gun — again, the company knows how to make good weapons. Unfortunately, they also made the MG5.
This is a gun that can’t shoot straight. Granted, when you’re using a machine gun, the task usually involves laying down suppressive fire, but it’d probably help to hit the bad guys occasionally.
The crew of this T-72 was smart and abandoned it rather than try to face the United States.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Mace M. Gratz)
Worst Tank: T-72
Two words: Desert Storm. This tank’s poor performance speaks volumes. When it fired its main gun at a M1A1 Abrams tank from 400 yards, the round bounced off. Read that again: The. Round. Bounced. Off.
You can’t get worse than that. In general, the best anti-tank weapon is another tank, but the T-72 is simply useless. Any crew you send out in this vehicle should be immediately considered lost.
The Koksan self-propelled howitzer has long range, but that may be its only virtue.
(USMC photo by Albert F. Hunt)
Worst Artillery: Koksan self-propelled howitzer
This thing has a long range (it hits targets up to 37 miles away) but, for everything other than that, this gun is impractical. The rate of fire is not measured in rounds per minute, but rather by minutes per round — to be precise, two and half minutes per round.
Yes, it is self-propelled, but it has a very slow top speed (25 miles per hour) and it doesn’t carry much in the way of ammo.
It’s had a good career, but the AAV-7 is not able to handle modern threats.
(DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel E. Smith)
Worst APC/IFV: AAV-7
First, let’s talk about the good of this vehicle: it can carry a lot of troops (21 grunts and a crew of three) and it has some amphibious capability. Unfortunately, those benefits are outweighed by the huge size, relatively puny armament (a .50-caliber machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher), and light armor.
The design is 45 years old and ready for retirement yesterday.
Luke Skywalker may have claimed the Millennium Falcon was a “piece of junk” when he first saw it (even though it could, you know, make point-five past lightspeed) — but he probably wouldn’t be saying that about United Airlines’ shiny new Boeing 737-800.
To celebrate the December 2019 theatrical release of “The Rise of Skywalker,” billed as the last film in the nine-film Skywalker saga, the airline has launched a special “Star Wars”-themed plane — and though it can’t travel at lightspeed, it does look pretty spiffy, or at least nothing at all like the heavily modified ship of a certain scruffy-looking nerf herder (sorry, Han Solo).
The plane made its first flight earlier this month, from Houston to Orlando, Florida. Though there were plenty of evil First Order stormtroopers on hand, thankfully no one was taken away for questioning by Kylo Ren.
Here’s what the plane is like inside.
The “Dark Side” portion of United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
The “Light Side” portion of United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Exterior detail on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Exterior details on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Headrests with the symbol of the Resistance on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Headrests with the logo of the First Order on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Amenity kits on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
First Order stormtroopers aboard United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
A First Order stormtrooper confronting a passenger, presumably asking to see some identification.
First Order stormtroopers in the terminal.
First Order stormtroopers at the airport in Orlando, Florida.
The droid BB-8 at the maiden launch of United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
The United Airlines “Star Wars”-themed plane as seen on Flight Aware.
United Airlines’ “Star Wars”-themed plane.
Rear detailing on United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
The tail of United Airlines’ new “Star Wars”-themed plane.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
The Marine Corps is leading the way in employing advanced technologies and robotic construction.
In early August 2018, the Additive Manufacturing Team at Marine Corps Systems Command teamed up with Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force to operate the world’s largest concrete 3D printer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois. As a joint effort between the Marine Corps, Army and Navy Seabees, an expeditionary concrete 3D printer was used to print a 500-square-foot barracks hut in 40 hours.
The Marine Corps is currently staffing a deliberate urgent needs statement and concept of employment for this technology. The results of the field user evaluation will inform future requirements to give the Corps a concrete construction additive manufacturing program of record.
“This exercise had never been done before,” said Capt. Matthew Friedell, AM project officer in MCSC’s Operations and Programs/G-3. “People have printed buildings and large structures, but they haven’t done it onsite and all at once. This is the first-in-the-world, onsite continuous concrete print.”
Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force learn how to operate the world’s largest concrete 3D printer as it constructs a 500-square-foot barracks hut at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The team started with a computer-aided design model on a 10-year old computer, concrete and a 3D printer. Once they hit print, the concrete was pushed through the print head and layered repeatedly to build the walls. In total, the job took 40 hours because Marines had to monitor progress and continually fill the printer with concrete. However, if there was a robot to do the mixing and pumping, the building could easily be created in one day, Friedell said.
“In 2016, the commandant said robots should be doing everything that is dull, dangerous and dirty, and a construction site on the battlefield is all of those things,” Friedell said.
The ability to build structures and bases while putting fewer Marines in danger would be a significant accomplishment, he said.
“In active or simulated combat environments, we don’t want Marines out there swinging hammers and holding plywood up,” said Friedell. “Having a concrete printer that can make buildings on demand is a huge advantage for Marines operating down range.”
It normally takes 10 Marines five days to construct a barracks hut out of wood. With this FUE, the Marine Corps proved four Marines with a concrete printer can build a strong structure in less than two days. Ideally, the Corps’ use of concrete printers will span the full range of military operations, from combat environments to humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.
The world’s largest concrete 3D printer constructs a 500-square-foot barracks hut at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in mid-August in Champaign, Illinois.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
As the first military services on site in natural disasters, the Navy and Marine Corps are great at providing food and water, but struggle to provide shelter, Friedell said. In many locations, cement is easier to acquire than wood. During humanitarian or disaster relief missions, Marines could safely and quickly print houses, schools and community buildings to replace those destroyed.
“This capability would enable a great partnership with the local community because it is low cost, easy to use, and robotics could print the buildings,” Friedell said. “We can bring forward better structures, houses and forward operating bases with less manpower and fewer Marines in harm’s way.”
The AM Team plans to conduct further testing and wants to get the capability into the hands of more Marines to inform future requirements for cutting-edge technology and autonomous systems.
“Our future operating environment is going to be very kinetic and dangerous because we don’t necessarily know what we’re going into,” said Friedell. “The more we can pull Marines out of those potentially dangerous situations — whether it’s active combat or natural disaster — and place robotics there instead, it helps us accomplish the mission more efficiently.”
On September 30, 2020, U.S. Army Contract Command awarded a $77,168,400 contract to SIG Sauer to equip soldiers with the Direct View Optic for use on the M4A1 carbine. The outgoing M150 Rifle Combat Optic, manufactured by Trijicon as the TA31RCO, provides soldiers with a fixed 4x magnification and is effective out to 500 meters. The new DVO allows the end-user to quickly switch between 1x and 6x magnification and boasts an increased effective range of 600 meters.
Introduced by the Army in 2007, the RCO makes up a relatively small portion of the service’s M4 carbine optics. Though equipment varies by unit, the majority of soldiers are issued rifles equipped with the M68 Close Combat Optic. Manufactured by Aimpoint as the CompM2, the CCO was accepted by the Army in 2000 and is a non-magnified red dot reflex sight designed for use with the M4 out to an effective range of 300 meters.
The Army has not said whether or not the DVO will eventually replace the CCO as well. While the CCO excels at close-quarters fighting thanks to its reflex reticle, the Army’s requirement for the DVO stated that, “The DVO will be capable of variable power magnification with minimum magnification of 1.0x with no rounding and maximum magnification greater than or equal to 6.0 power.” The “1.0x with no rounding” is important because it calls for the DVO to provide a true 1x magnification setting; many commercial Low Power Variable Optics provide close to, but not true, 1x magnification. This requirement is given reasoning in the Army’s notice. “Variable power magnification optics combine the capabilities of the non-magnified optic’s ability to engage close quarter targets with a fixed-magnification optic’s ability to detect, recognize, identify, and precisely engage targets at extended ranges,” the Army explained. “This allows the Soldier to have both critical capabilities without the limitations of either non magnified or fixed magnification optics.”
Given these requirements, it would not be unreasonable to think that the Army may try to distribute the DVO across entire infantry squads. After all, the Marine Corps has already done just that with its new Squad Common Optic. On February 23, 2020, the Marine Corps announced that it had awarded a $64,000,000 contract to Trijicon to supply its infantry with the Variable Combat Optical Gunsight 1-8×28 mm rifle scope for use on the M4 carbine and M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle weapon systems. The SCO is set to begin replacing the Corps’ RCO during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021.
While the exact model of SIG Sauer LPVO is unknown, there is speculation that the DVO may be the company’s Tango6T 1-6×24 mm SFP scope. The Tango6T has already been selected for use on the Army’s M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, a derivative of the Heckler & Kock G28/HK417, and general use by Special Operations Forces.
The contract allows for delivery of the DVO over the next five years. However, it is unknown how many of the new optic the Army plans to acquire from SIG Sauer, further lending to the theory that the DVO may replace the CCO as well.
The U.S. Department of Defense just outlined its strategy to reap the benefits of artificial intelligence and the result is less Terminator and more Alexa. Rather than deploying a weapon that knows how to target and kill America’s enemies, the Pentagon’s AI strategy wants to focus on more mundane things here at home rather than blowing up exotic locations abroad.
That still requires a human at the stick.
The autonomous weapons that the Pentagon would very much like to develop one day aren’t going to be all that autonomous anyway. Even the latest artificial intelligence directives state that commanders will exercise the appropriate amount of human judgment in the military’s use of force.
According to the DoD’s report, there are five key points the Pentagon wants to address, each more boring than the last:
Delivering AI-enabled capabilities that address key missions.
Scaling AI’s impact across DOD through a common foundation that enables decentralized development and experimentation.
Cultivating a leading AI workforce.
Engaging with commercial, academic, and international allies and partners.
Leading in military ethics and AI safety.
It’s only a matter of time before “Bagram Batman” addresses artificial intelligence.
Since China and Russia are making “significant investments” in artificial intelligence for military applications, the report begins, the U.S. must also make investments to maintain our global military supremacy. The only difference will be our shared responsibility for protecting human rights and international norms as we develop our robotic weapons for security, peace, and stability in the long run.
The goal of American artificial intelligence is to streamline data-intensive processes and decision making, save money from labor and maintenance inefficiencies while reducing operational costs, and increase the effectiveness of military planning while reducing civilian casualties – everything from intelligence gathering to aircraft maintenance could be predicted by AI.
“Hold on guys, the computer sees the problem.”
This latest move on artificial intelligence comes as Russia and the United States jointly blocked a United Nations ban on autonomous weapons, ones that can kill without the judgment of a human behind a trigger somewhere. The UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was set to place autonomous weapons alongside blinding laser beams and napalming civilian targets, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an NGO who is moving to muster support for banning the weapons.
Russia is already testing autonomous tanks in Syria, China has already developed an unmanned submarine, and the United Kingdom wants a squadron of drones to fight in the skies above Britain – and the UN hasn’t even been able to bring autonomous weapons to a vote – a vote that would require unanimous agreement for a ban.
In order to get from drone strikes to “Killer Robots,” however, American AI technology has a long way to go. Even the biggest of the U.S.’ tech companies aren’t stepping up to help develop the tech required. Until then, AI diagnostics will have to do.
The U.S. Marine Corps is progressing with a new project to arm its MV-22 Osprey aircraft with new weapons such as laser-guided 2.75in rockets, missiles and heavy guns – a move which would expand the tiltrotor’s mission set beyond supply, weapons and forces transport to include a wider range of offensive and defensive combat missions, Corps officials said.
“Currently, NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Dahlgren explored the use of forward firing rockets, missiles, fixed guns, a chin mounted gun, and also looked at the use of a 30MM gun along with gravity drop rockets and guided bombs deployed from the back of the V-22. The study that is being conducted will help define the requirements and ultimately inform a Marine Corps decision with regards to armament of the MV-22B Osprey,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
Adding weapons to the Opsrey would naturally allow the aircraft to better defend itself should it come under attack from small arms fire, missiles or surface rockets while conducting transport missions; in addition, precision fire will enable the Osprey to support amphibious operations with suppressive or offensive fire as Marines approach enemy territory.
Furthermore, weapons will better facilitate an Osprey-centric tactic known as “Mounted Vertical Maneuver” wherein the tiltrotor uses its airplane speeds and helicopter hover and maneuver technology to transport weapons such as mobile mortars and light vehicles, supplies and Marines behind enemy lines for a range of combat missions — to include surprise attacks.
The initial steps in the process will include arming the V-22 are to select a Targeting-FLIR, improve Digital Interoperability and designate Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment solutions. Integration of new weapons could begin as early as 2019 if the initiatives stay on track and are funded, Burns added.
Burns added that “assault support” will remain as the primary mission of the MV-22 Osprey, regardless of the weapons solution selected.
“Both the air and ground mission commanders will have more options with the ability to provide immediate self-defense and collective defense of the flight. Depending on the weapons ultimately selected, a future tiltrotor could provide a range of capabilities spanning from self-defense on the lighter side to providing a gunship over watch capability on the heavier scale,” Burns explained.
So far, Osprey maker Bell-Boeing has delivered 290 MV-22s out of a planned 360 program of record.
Laser-guided Hyra 2.75inch folding fin rockets, such as those currently being fired from Apache attack helicopters, could give the Osprey a greater precision-attack technology. One such program firing 2.75in rockets with laser guidance is called Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System, or APKWS.
Bell-Boeing designed a special pylon on the side of the aircraft to ensure common weapons carriage. The Corps is now analyzing potential requirements for weapons on the Osprey, considering questions such as the needed stand-off distance and level of lethality.
“We did a demonstration with Bell where we took some rockets and we put them on a pylon on the airplane using APKWS. We also did some 2.75 guided rockets, laser guided weapons and the griffin missile. We flew laser designators to laser-designate targets to prove you could do it,” Rick Lemaster – Director of Business Development, Bell-Boeing, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Lemaster also added that the Corps could also arm the MV-22 with .50-cal or 7.62mm guns.
New Osprey Variant in 2030
The Marine Corps is in the early stages of planning to build a new, high-tech MV-22C variant Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to enter service by the mid-2030s, service officials said.
While many of the details of the new aircraft are not yet available, Corps officials told Scout Warrior that the MV-22C will take advantage of emerging and next-generation aviation technologies.
The Marine Corps now operates more than 250 MV-22 Ospreys around the globe and the tiltrotor aircraft are increasingly in demand, Corps officials said.
“This upgrade will ensure that the Marine Corps has state-of-the-art, medium-lift assault support for decades to come,” Corps spokesman Maj. Paul Greenberg told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
The Osprey is, among other things, known for its ability to reach speeds of 280 knots and achieve a much greater combat radius than conventional rotorcraft.
Due to its tiltrotor configuration, the Osprey can hover in helicopter mode for close-in surveillance and vertical landings for things like delivering forces, equipment and supplies – all while being able to transition into airplane mode and hit fixed-wing aircraft speeds. This gives the aircraft an ability to travel up 450 nautical miles to and from a location on a single tank of fuel, Corps officials said.
“Since 2007, the MV-22 has continuously deployed in a wide range of extreme conditions, from the deserts of Iraq and Libya to the mountains of Afghanistan and Nepal, as well as aboard amphibious shipping. Between January 2007 and August 2015, Marine Corps MV-22s flew more than 178,000 flight hours in support of combat operations,” Greenberg added.
Corps officials said th idea with the new Osprey variant is to build upon the lift, speed and versatility of the aircraft’s tiltrotor technology and give the platform more performance characteristics in the future. While few specifics were yet available — this will likely include improved sensors, mapping and digital connectivity, even greater speed and hover ability, better cargo and payload capacity, next-generation avionics and new survivability systems such as defenses against incoming missiles and small arms fire.
Greenberg also added that the MV-22C variant aircraft will draw from technologies now being developed for the Army-led Future Vertical Lift program involved in engineering a new fleet of more capable, high-tech aircraft for the mid-2030s
“The MV-22C will take advantage of technologies spurred by the ongoing joint multi-role and future vertical lift efforts, and other emerging technology initiatives,” Greenberg added.
The U.S. Army is currently immersed in testing with two industry teams contracted to develop and build a fuel-efficient, high-speed, high-tech, next-generation medium-lift helicopter to enter service by 2030.
The effort is aimed at leveraging the best in helicopter and aircraft technology in order to engineer a platform that can both reach the high-speeds of an airplane while retaining an ability to hover like a traditional helicopter, developers have said.
The initiate is looking at developing a wide range of technologies including lighter-weight airframes to reduce drag, different configurations and propulsion mechanisms, more fuel efficient engines, the potential use of composite materials and a whole range of new sensor technologies to improve navigation, targeting and digital displays for pilots.
Requirements include an ability to operate in what is called “high-hot” conditions, meaning 95-degrees Fahrenheit and altitudes of 6,000 feet where helicopters typically have difficulty operating. In high-hot conditions, thinner air and lower air-pressure make helicopter maneuverability and operations more challenging.
The Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, or JMR TD, program has awarded development deals to Bell Helicopter-Textron and Sikorsky-Boeing teams to build “demonstrator” aircraft by 2017 to help inform the development of a new medium-class helicopter.
Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter is building a tilt-rotor aircraft called the Bell V-280 Valor – and the Sikorsky-Boeing team is working on early testing of its SB1 Defiant coaxial rotor-blade design. A coaxial rotor blade configuration uses counter-rotating blades with a thrusting technology at the back of the aircraft to both remain steady and maximize speed, hover capacity and manueverability.
The Bell V-280 offering is similar to the Osprey in that it is a tiltrotor aircraft.
Planned missions for the new Future Vertical Lift aircraft include cargo, utility, armed scout, attack, humanitarian assistance, MEDEVAC (medical evacuation), anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, land/sea search and rescue, special warfare support and airborne mine countermeasures, Army officials have said.
Other emerging technology areas being explored for this effort include next-generation sensors and navigation technologies, autonomous flight and efforts to see through clouds, dust and debris described as being able to fly in a “degraded visual environment.”
Meanwhile, while Corps officials say they plan to embrace technologies from this Army-led program for the new Osprey variant, they also emphasize that the Corps is continuing to make progress with technological improvements to the MV-22.
These include a technology called V-22 Aerial Refueling System, or VARS, to be ready by 2018, Greenberg explained.
“The Marine Corps Osprey with VARS will be able to refuel the F-35B Lightning II with about 4,000 pounds of fuel at VARS’ initial operating capability. MV-22B VARS capacity will increase to 10,000 pounds of fuel by 2019. This will significantly enhance the F-35B’s range, as well as the aircraft’s ability to remain on target for a longer period,” he told Scout Warrior.
The aerial refueling technology on the Osprey will refuel helicopters at 110 knots and fixed-wing aircraft at 220 knots, Lemaster added.
“The intent is to be able to have the aircraft on board the ship have the auxiliary tanks on board. An aircraft can then fill up, trail out behind the Osprey about 90-feet,” he explained.
The VARS technology will also be able to refuel other aircraft such as the CH-53E/K, F-18, AV-8B Harrier jet and other V-22s, Greenberg added.
The Corps is also developing technology to better network Osprey aircraft through an effort called “Digital Interoperability,” or DI. This networks Osprey crews such that Marines riding in the back can have access to relevant tactical and strategic information while in route to a destination. DI is now being utilized by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and is slated to be operational by 2017.
The Army is arming Bradley Fighting Vehicles with heat-seeking Stinger air defense missiles to give the infantry carriers an improved ability to track and destroy enemy air threats such as drones, helicopters and low-flying aircraft.
Most current Bradleys are armed with TOW anti-tank missiles, a land weapon predominantly used for attacking enemy armored vehicles, bunkers or troop formations. Adding Stinger missiles will increase the attack envelope for the vehicles and potentially better enable them to protect maneuvering infantry and mechanized forces in combat.
“As directed by the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Army is conducting a proof of principle to incorporate Man Portable Air Defense Systems back into the Armored Brigade Combat Teams by modifying two dozen Bradleys to carry Stinger Missiles in lieu of TOW Missiles,” Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven.
As anti-armor weapons, TOW missiles are not typically used to attack enemy air threats.
“Current versions are capable of penetrating more than 30 inches of armor, or “any 1990s tank,” at a maximum range of more than 3,000 meters. It can be fired by infantrymen using a tripod, as well from vehicles and helicopters, and can launch 3 missiles in 90 seconds,” the Federation of American Scientists writes in a paper.
Stinger missiles, by contrast, are infrared-guided surface-to-air weapons with nearly twice the range as TOW missiles.
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, fire a TOW missile from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during training at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jonathan Camire)
Adding Stingers to Bradleys is entirely consistent with the Army’s broad strategic aims for the Bradley, which call for a highly-networked infantry carrier increasingly able to maneuver in support of ground infantry using long-range, high-tech sensors to find and hit targets.
“The Army has chosen to increase the cross-country mobility of the Bradley, allowing it to go further into off-road situations to support infantry formations,” Givens said.
An extended range TOW 2B Aero, engineered with a one-way radio link and range enhancing nose-cap, can hit targets more than four kilometers away; a Stinger missile, however, can reportedly hit targets out to eight kilometers.
Army information says a TOW Bunker Buster warhead consists of a blast type warhead designed to penetrate and then detonate inside Military Operations in Urban Terrain targets such as 8-inch double reinforced concrete, brick-over-block, and triple brick walls. The warhead utilizes both a cast titanium body and chisel style nose to allow better penetration capability while reducing ricochet probability.
The latest TOW upgrade uses Target Acquisition Systems that incorporate Far Target Location capability (ITAS-FTL), a technology which incorporates a global positioning satellite-based position attitude determination subsystem, Army officials said.
An Army paper says ITAS is the fire control system for the TOW missile and consists of integrated optical and second-generation forward-looking infrared sights and an eye-safe laser range finder. It offers improved hit probability by aided target tracking, improved missile flight software algorithms, and an elevation brake to minimize launch transients”
The TOW ITAS system provides the Soldier an instant grid location of his position and of the target that he sees in his ITAS sight. It is accurate to a 60-meter CEP (circular error of probability),” an Army report said.
Although described by Givens as a “limited effort,” integrating Stinger onto Bradley is a part of the broader Army Short Range Air Defense Strategy, an effort to strengthen air defense weapons across infantry brigade combat teams.
“This is a limited effort designed to inform the Army on Short Range Air Defense employment techniques and considerations,” she said.
Pvt. Denzell Darden, a Kansas City native and cavalry scout with Company A, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pushes a simulated tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missile into the turret on a M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf, 3rd BCT PAO, 1st Cav. Div.)
The Army SHORAD program, already being built into Stryker vehicles, represents a service-wide strategic and tactical need to respond to near-peer type mechanized combat threats. Focused on heavily during the Cold War, when facing a Soviet threat, SHORAD faded a bit during the last 15 years of ongoing ground wars. The Taliban and Iraqi insurgents did not possess much of an air threat.
However, today’s global threat environment is vastly different. Potential adversaries can easily acquire drone attack technology, as it is readily available on the international market. This means enemies could hold Army units at risk from the air in newer, more dangerous ways — and at farther ranges. Furthermore, the advent and proliferation of weaponized drones, enabled by growing levels of autonomy, could use long-range EO/IR to target and attack advancing infantry and armored units in ways previously not possible.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can. PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
Also, it goes without saying that any kind of major enemy ground assault is likely to include long range fires, massive air support as well as closer in helicopters and drones to support an advancing mechanized attack.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address these closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker or Bradley SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker or Bradley, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed armored vehicle. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The US Navy stands unmatched on earth in terms of size and ability, but Iran’s IRGC ships are small, fast, deadly, and designed specifically to present an asymmetrical threat to the toughest ships on earth.
The IRGC doesn’t have any interest going toe to toe with the US Navy by building its own destroyers or carriers, instead, it’s formed a “guerrilla army at sea” of vicious speedboats with guns, explosives, and some anti-ship missiles, Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider.
“They understand full well that there’s a decisive qualitative disadvantage against the US and its allies,” Lamrani said of the IRGC. “They know they can’t win, so they plan to attack in a very fast way with many, many small ships swarming the US vessels to overwhelm them.”
Iran’s fast attack craft, the type repeatedly used to harass US Navy ships.
(Fars News Agency photo)
Currently, that situation is exactly what the IRGC is training for. US officials said that more than 50 small boats are now practicing “swarming” attacks to potentially shut down the strait which sees about 30% of the world’s oil pass through, according to Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson .
For the Iranians, it’s a suicide mission. But in Iran’s struggle to oppose the US at any cost, something it sees as a spiritual matter, they could employ these little ships and irregular warfare to cripple the US Navy.
How the US would fight back
If the US knew a hostile group of IRGC fast attack craft were swarming around the Gulf trying to close down the Strait of Hormuz, there’s no question its destroyers and other aircraft carrying ships could unleash their helicopters to strafe the ships to the bottom of the sea. With enough notice, nearby US Air Force planes like the A-10 Warthog could even step in.
“The biggest weapon [US Navy ships] have against these swarm boats is the helicopter. Helicopters equipped with mini guns have the ability to fire very fast and create standoff distance to engage them,” said Lamrani.
Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Levi Horn observes as Operations Specialist 3rd Class Monica Ruiz fires a 50-caliber machine gun during a live-fire qualification aboard amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Caracci)
If some swarming ships did break through, the Navy has automated close-in weapons systems and missiles it can fire to pick the ships off. But, “the problem is, with these swarm boats, there’s only so much they can engage before the vessels get in range and cause damage.”
That means the ideal scenario for the US, where it sees the enemy a ways out and can call in devastating air power, likely won’t happen. Iran knows it can only win with a sneak attack, so Lamrani thinks that’s how they’ll do it.
“If they decide to do this, they’re going to go as fast as possible, in as many numbers as possible before they get wrecked,” said Lamrani.
The US Navy’s lack of training against low-end threats like speedboats further exacerbates the problem. Navy watchers frequently point out the force is stretched thin across a wide spectrum of missions, and that surface warfare, especially against a guerilla force, hasn’t been a priority.
“Given the constraints, this is a very, very effective tactic, very cost effective,” said Lamrani. “Even if they lost an entire fleet of speedboats and they managed to sink an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, a destroyer,” the effect would be devastating.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.