Riot police in the U.S. have long combated the challenge of containing large crowds by non-lethal means. Typically, these means are some assortment of rubber bullets, tear gas, riot shields, batons, and others. However, with the advent and rapid advancement of unmanned technology in the military—the new future of riot containment may be laser drones.
LAPD National Guard practices firing tear gas—is this soon to be a thing of the past?
That’s right—laser drones, and no, this isn’t some sci-fi renegade episode of Black Mirror or an excerpt from a long forgotten Arthur Clarke novel, this could genuinely be the next phase of riot control. The implication may seem like a scary one, but removing the human element in these situations may be a step in the right direction.
The tendency for riot situations to escalate leads the (sometimes undertrained and inexperienced) riot crews to make rash errors out of a flight or fight response. They may rely on more lethal attacks, as their non-lethal weapons could seem ineffective. However, if a robot is the one operating the non-lethal weapon, it has no regard for its own safety (and a lowered chance of human error), and it could safely utilize non-lethal means consistently, and more effectively, thus making riot situations safer for all involved.
A sneaky civilian drone
Enter: the ever-popular drone. But not just any drone, a drone equipped with an incapacitating laser and a stun gun. The drone is set to make a public debut on June 25 at the International Military-Techincal Forum (aka “Army Expo”) in Moscow, Russia. The Russian Scientific and Production Association of Special Materials Corporation will be unveiling the drone.
The unmanned drone features a laser that causes temporary blindness when directed toward a crowd. This turns the drone into a flying machine dropping less-severe flashbangs, dispersing crowds without doing any long-lasting physical harm. This is also mandatory for all laser weapons created after the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. The protocol dictates that laser weapons can only do permanent harm to vehicles, weapons, or sensors but not damage to humans.
U.S. Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa
(1st Lt. Danielle Dixon/ USMC)
There are additional attributes that make this drone a potential game-changing riot stopper. According to Samuel Bendett, an advisor at the Center for Naval Analysis, “This drone can be a disruptor without the need to employ larger technology like crowd-control trucks and maybe even without the need to utilize soldiers or police to disperse people — that is why this UAV can also be equipped with a loudspeaker, a siren, and a thermal imager…”
This, of course, would make it the perfect vessel for domestic riots. In addition, this type of unmanned aircraft could also have use in a military sense, as it could damage enemy sensors and jam some weapons without putting boots on the ground.
As of now, the minimum safety distance for the temporary blinding laser is 13 feet. Whether or not a human could operate the drone around that distance and still be precise and efficient is yet to be seen. However, even with that limitation, the idea of a drone that could safely disperse a crowd is an interesting notion that continues to inch closer to reality.
There’s a common idea among people who get their gun education from movies and video games that all you need to make a firearm completely silent (or at least barely as loud as someone whispering, “pew“) is to attach a silencer to the front of it. For the record, they are sometimes called “silencers,” but they are still far from silent. The more accurate term is a firearm “suppressor.”
A suppressor works by dampening the gas that leaves the barrel after each shot. Inside the tube of the suppressor are rings, called baffles, that slow down the gas. When a round is fired normally, the gas leaves the barrel super hot and concentrated — creating a loud and beautifulbang sound. When fired out of a suppressed firearm, the gas is slowed by the baffles and leaves cooler and dispersed — creating a less-loud phut sound.
As for the pew that comes out of every gun in Hollywood spy movies, that is entirely a work of fiction. In a May 2011 episode of MythBusters, Jaime and Adam experimented with the effects of a suppressor on an un-suppressed .45 caliber and a 9mm handgun. They had a sound engineer record the decibels and fired three shots from each gun. They repeated the experiment using firearm suppressors and compared the results to what we see in most films.
They found that the average level of the un-suppressed handguns was 161 dB, while the suppressed firearms came in at 128 dB. Decibels are a logarithmic loudness measurement, which means that 33dB difference is very significant. An ordinary conversation at 3ft registers at about 60 dB and is the baseline for relative loudness. Although significantly quieter, 128 dB is still roughly 115.2 times louder than that baseline conversation.
Turning the math into a real-world perspective, if someone were to say the word “bang” at a normal speaking voice from three feet away under nominal conditions, a suppressed handgun would be roughly just as loud firing from 34 feet away (or roughly the width of an average 4-lane street). An un-suppressed handgun reaches that same volume at 50.5 feet away. Both still above the 125 dB threshold of pain.
And it’s still not that “pew” sound.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah N. Petrock)
One of the benefits of having a firearm suppressor — a benefit many who use one can attest to — is that it brings noise below the 140 dB permanent damage mark. Along with the more control of sound in the battlefield, the Marine Corps has been eyeing adding suppressors on all of their rifles and an integrated suppressor on the new M27 infantry automatic rifle. Another benefit, especially on a handgun, is that the additional weight of a suppressor at a firearm’s business end helps with recoil control.
All of these firearm suppressors are spectacular for troops, veterans and civilian firearm owners. It just won’t ever make the whispered “pew” of a Hollywood silencer.
No one is debating the effectiveness of the AH-64 Apache. It’s one of the deadliest combat aircraft ever fielded. In Afghanistan, its mere presence in the sky is enough to deter enemy fighters from even thinking about taking a shot on troops on the ground. However, there’s something to be said for close air support provided by fixed-wing aircraft. Of course, everyone is familiar with the legendary A-10 Thunderbolt II and its ability to deliver huge volumes of precision fire on ground targets.
In WWII, the Army Air Corps tore into German supply convoys with the P-47 Thunderbolt at low altitude. In Korea and Vietnam, the Navy and Marine Corps utilized the A-1/AD-4 Skyraider with great efficiency to support ground troops. Today, the Marine Corps still integrates its infantry with close air support through the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. By combining these two crucial components, the MAGTF is able to organically conduct combat operations with increased efficiency. Marines on the ground are supported by Marines in the air and everyone speaks the same language and knows what the other needs to do their job. So, why doesn’t the Army do this?
After the creation of the Air Force in 1947, the military needed to clearly define its purpose amongst the established branches. In 1948, Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal held a meeting with the service chiefs in Key West, Florida to do just that. Due to the location of the meeting, the policy paper that resulted is commonly referred to as the Key West Agreement. Broadly, the agreement gave the Air Force control of everything in the sky. The Air Force’s functions included air superiority, strategic air warfare, close combat and logistical air support, aerial intelligence gathering, strategic airlift, and even maritime operations like antisubmarine warfare and aerial mine-laying. However, the agreement did provide for the Navy to retain its combat air arm “to conduct air operations as necessary for the accomplishment of objectives in a naval campaign.” The Army, on the other hand, made out like a bad divorce. Army aviation assets were reduced to solely reconnaissance and medical evacuation purposes.
The Key West Agreement was built upon with the Pace-Finletter Memorandum of Understanding of 1952. Secretary of the Army Frank Pace and Secretary of the Air Force Thomas K. Finletter came together to expand the Army’s allowed aviation capabilities. In an effort to restrict the Army’s use of combat aircraft, the Key West Agreement limited the weight of Army rotary-wing aircraft. With the Pace-Finletter MOU, this weight restriction was removed, paving the way for combat helicopters like the UH-1 Huey gunship, AH-1 Cobra, and AH-64 Apache. However, it did place an arbitrary weight restriction of 5,000 pounds on Army fixed-wing aircraft. Although this restriction was later modified, it set the precedent to make the Army reliant on the Air Force for close air support and airlift.
If the previous agreements weren’t enough, the Johnson-McConnell Agreement of 1966 was one more blow to Army fixed-wing aviation. In Vietnam, mountainous terrain made resupply by airlift difficult with the Air Force’s primary cargo planes like the C-123 Provider which required 1,750 feet of runway to take off. To address this problem, the Army employed the CV-2 Caribou and planned to acquire the CV-7 Buffalo airplanes. Both planes could perform short takeoffs and landings while carrying more cargo than the Army and Air Force’s helicopters could lift in and out. This didn’t sit well with the Air Force and private negotiations were held between Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson and Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell. The resulting agreement forced the Army to relinquish control of the CV-2 and CV-7 to the Air Force. However, the Air Force did relinquish its sweeping control over rotary-wing aircraft. This expanded the Army’s ability to field helicopters and resulted in the diverse fleet that the Army Aviation Branch fields today.
While the Army doesn’t fly CAS airplanes like the A-10 and is still technically restricted from acquiring new CAS airplanes like the A-29 Super Tucano, it’s worth noting that the Army does have some fixed-wing aircraft. The Army flies nealy 200 turboprop R/C-12 Hurons for light transport and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Something that will further surprise most people is that the Army does fly jet aircraft for VIP transport. The UC-35 is based on a Cessna business jet and the C-37 and C-20H are based on Gulfstreams.
Though these 20th century agreements prevent the Army from flying combat airplanes, advancements in rotary-wing technology have led to high-speed helicopters like the S-97 Raider and large tiltrotor aircraft like the V-280 Valor. Aircraft like these will carry Army Aviation into a new age of aircraft and allow soldiers in the sky to retain the advantage on the battlefield.
There are also examples of Chinese military systems looking suspiciously like US systems — the F-22 and the MQ-9 Reaper drone among them. Other elements of those Chinese systems — the software, technology, and manpower used to operate them — aren’t on par with the US military yet.
Esper told attendees that he had cautioned European allies against allowing Chinese companies to build 5G cyber networks in their countries, warning that to do so would risk sensitive national security information.
“Every Chinese company has the potential to be an accomplice in Beijing’s state-sponsored campaign to steal technology,” he said, highlighting China’s integration of civil and military technology, an area in which Beijing surpasses the US.
“China has systematically sought to acquire US technology both through traditional espionage means, as well as through legal investments in companies,” Daniel Kliman, director of the the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told Insider.
“The United States very much still retains a military technological edge, but it’s clear that edge is eroding,” Kliman said.
Read on to see how China’s carbon copies stack up to US weapons systems.
Chinese air force J-20 stealth fighters.
The PLA’s J-20 looks extremely similar to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.
Su Bin, a Chinese national and aerospace entrepreneur, pleaded guilty to cyber espionage in 2016. He and coconspirators spied on US plans for the C-17 Globemaster, the F-35, and the F-22.
But while the J-20 looks like the F-22, it’s not quite in the same league.
Michael Kofman, a senior research analyst at the CNA think tank, told Insider last year that he suspected “the J-20 probably has great avionics and software but, as always, has terrible engine design. In fact, Chinese low-observation aircraft designs like J-31 are flying on older Russian Klimov engines because the Chinese can’t make an engine.”
Kofman also expressed doubt about the J-20’s stealth capability.
“It’s got so many surfaces, and a lot of them look pretty reflective from the sides too. I’m pretty skeptical of the stealth on that aircraft,” he said.
A Chinese Shenyang J-31.
The Chinese Shenyang J-31 is strikingly similar to the US F-35.
The Shenyang J-31 is still under development but will likely replace the J-15 fighter, at least on aircraft carriers. The J-15 has been plagued with issues, including multiple fatal crashes and problems with its engine, the South China Morning Post reported last year.
The J-31 is the People’s Liberation Army’s second stealth aircraft and was first seen in 2014. There is widespread speculation that the J-31 is based on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plans, although China has denied those claims.
The J-31 is lighter and has a shorter range than the F-35 but may beat it with maximum speed of Mach 1.8 to the F-35’s Mach 1.6, Popular Science reported in 2017.
The question of how well these aircraft actually match up to their US competitors remains, and, Kliman said, appearances are only part of the equation.
“Sometimes superficially the designs do look similar — it could be, in part, from some of the attempts China’s made to acquire good technology, but I would just caution that at the end of the day, it’s hard to know how similar it is or not,” he told Insider.
An MQ-Reaper over Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, June 25, 2015.
The Caihong-class unmanned aerial vehicle, including the CH-4 and CH-5, look unmistakably like US MQ-9 Reaper drones.
While there’s no concrete evidence that the Chinese design is the result of espionage or theft, the visual similarities are unmistakable — nose-mounted cameras on the CH-4B, as well as locations for external munitions are just like those on the Reaper, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, calling the two aircraft “identical.”
Breaking Defense reported in 2015 that, in addition to the same domed nose and V-shaped tail, the UAVs both have 66-foot wingspans.
Drone designer Shi Wen, of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, told China Daily three years ago that the CH-5 model “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency.”
But again, Chinese technology and specifications likely don’t match up to US counterparts.
For starters, the Reaper can carry roughly double the munitions of the CH-5. And while the CH-5 can travel farther, with a range of about 1,200 miles, its flight ceiling is about 23,000 feet, compared to the Reaper’s nearly 50,000-foot ceiling, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies’ China Power project.
The Reaper also has a heavier maximum takeoff weight and can travel at twice the speed of the CH-5, due to persistent challenges with Chinese-made engines.
The Chinese air force’s Y-20 transport aircraft has design similarities to the US Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III.
Su Bin pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to steal technical data related to the C-17 from Boeing and the US Air Force.
That data likely was used to build the Xian Y-20, China’s large transport aircraft, nicknamed the “Chubby Girl.” As Garrett M. Graff notes in Wired, Su helped pilfer about 630,000 files related to the C-17.
Whether China used information about the C-17 to build the Y-20 is unclear — Beijing has denied stealing US technology for its weapons systems — but the similarities are apparent, from the nose to the tail stabilizer, as Kyle Mizokami points out in Popular Mechanics.
The Y-20 has a smaller empty weight and payload than the C-17, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, but the Y-20 is the largest transport aircraft in production. The Chinese military lacked a large transport carrier prior to the development of the Y-20, making it difficult to quickly mobilize large numbers of supplies and troops to battlefields or disaster areas, Wired reported in 2012.
“Just because something looks somewhat similar doesn’t mean it has equivalent capabilities,” Kliman cautioned, particularly where human capability is concerned.
“It’s not the technology alone. It’s the quality of the pilots in a fighter airplane. It’s the quality of the systems that are feeding the aircraft information,” Kilman said.
China hasn’t fought a foreign war since the brief Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. US service members and systems have much more battlefield experience than Chinese forces.
“The [People’s Liberation Army] has made a long-term effort to improve its human capital, including through training but also through education … but at this point, the US, our pilots, our operators get, certainly, the real-world experience,” Kilman said.
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
Where does China go from here?
If Esper and retired Navy Adm. William McRaven are to be believed, China is rapidly closing the technology and defense gap with the US, through both legal and illegal means.
Whether China is pouring money into research and development or committing outright intellectual-property theft, US officials have cause for concern about the future.
In August, Chinese national Pengyi Li was arrested on his way to Hong Kong after an undercover investigation by the Department of Homeland Security into the smuggling of components for missiles and surveillance satellites from the US to China, Tim Fernholz and Justin Rohrlich reported in Quartz.
Chinese nationals have also been found guilty of trying to smuggle accelerometers, which are necessary for guided missiles and spacecraft.
In terms of hypersonic technology, which “does seem pretty game-changing,” China is ahead of the US, said Kliman, who stressed that it’s important not to be alarmist.
“I think those statements are certainly well-intended and grounded in reality,” he said, referring to Esper and McRaven’s warnings.
Outside of military technology, Kliman said, China certainly is a leader in information technology. But when it comes to systems, allies, and people, the US still has a leg up on the competition — for now.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In many spy thrillers, the characters who work for a secret agency typically walk through a series of security checkpoints to get to their classified briefing rooms are offices.
The series of checks usually consists of voice and fingerprint confirmation. But one test movies love to use but may seem a little over-the-top is the retinal scan.
Developed in the 1980s, the basic science behind retinal scanners hasn’t changed much throughout the years. The electronic machines cast out low-energy infrared light tracing a path of the human retina while recording all the structures in a detailed image.
It’s much more accurate than a fingerprint. (Image via Giphy)In fact, ground troops have been using a retina scanning system called “Bat and Hiide,” or Biometric Automated Toolset and Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment to nab potential terrorists.
It is a civilian version of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon developed for paratroopers and, like its full-sized brother, is certain to turn heads when it’s pulled out to send some rounds downrange.
The FN Military Collector Series is a line of faithful reproductions built to exacting standards by the same builders of the actual government-issue service rifles. While other black rifles look like M4s and M16s, FN America Military Collector Series guns are M4s and M16s, with the only meaningful difference the lack of select fire capability.
While the two rifles in the series take “replica” to a whole new level, the M249 SAW models take things a step farther. Though semi-automatics rather than machine guns, there just aren’t other guns like this available without signing up for a term of service.
“The M249S Para is the fourth in our series of classic, semi-automatic FN military rifles and like the Standard, the Para is authentic to the last possible detail,” said John Keppeler, senior vice president of sales and marketing for FN America, LLC. “You’ll notice only two major differences between the semi- and full-auto versions — the barrel length and reconfigured internal components to change the rifle’s operation from open-bolt to closed-bolt.”
“Authenticity was critical in this series and we changed as little as possible,” he added.
The FN M249S Para has a machine gun grade 16.1-inch barrel, flip-up feed tray, integrated bipod, and the adjustable telescoping and rotating buttstock. It has an overall length of 31.5 inches to 37 inches and weighs in at a hefty 16 pounds — slightly lighter than the FN M249S Standard.
It can operate with linked ammunition or a standard M16 or M4/AR15 magazine.
Like the M249S Standard, the M249S Para has a top cover with an integrated MIL-STD-1913 rail for optics or other accessories, a folding carrying handle, crossbolt safety, non-reciprocationg charging handle, and quick-change barrel capability.
While the military M249 Para was originally intended for use by airborne infantry, the weapon’s shorter length and lighter weight have made it popular with many gunners, particularly those who spend a lot of time getting in and out of vehicles and those deployed to urban combat zones where space is tight and ranges are often short.
The FN Military Collector Series guns are top-notch firearms and draw a lot of attention when they’re sighted, but that quality and near-military authenticity does not come cheaply.
The FN M249S Para has an MSRP of $8,799 in black and $9,199 in flat dark earth. But owning and shooting one of these guns, particularly with a belt of 5.56, could make the steep price seem like a good deal.
The British have a long history with armored fighting vehicles. In fact, they were the first to introduce the tank to modern warfare during World War I. Today, the British Army’s armored vehicles are among the best in the world. That’s why it’s no surprise that the MCV-80 Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been around for over three decades and is still going strong.
The vehicle arose from a need to get British troops onto the battlefield while protecting them from enemy fire and keeping up with Challenger main battle tanks. And, of course, this vehicle would need to be able to bring the hurt to enemy forces.
The Warrior satisfies all of those requirements and then some. This vehicle, also known as the FV510, was first introduced in 1988. It weighs in at just under 31 tons, packs a 30mm Rarden auto-cannon, and can carry seven grunts to the battle at speeds of up to 47 miles per hour. A single tank of gas will take it 410 miles.
The Kuwaiti version of the Warrior, parked center-right, next to the A-4Ku, packs a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
British Warriors have seen action in Desert Storm, Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. That’s an impressive resume, but these aren’t the only Warriors out there. In the wake of Desert Storm, Kuwait made some very big upgrades to their military — in the process, they bought a version of the Warrior that packs a 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
The Warrior will be getting a bigger gun and other upgrades to keep it viable to 2040.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The Warrior has proven versatile over the years. Variants of the Warrior include vehicles for command, artillery observation (the Brits gave this version a dummy cannon to make it look like less of an easy target), and recovery and repair.
This infantry fighting vehicle is far from reaching the end of the road — there are plans in place to further upgrade this vehicle with a 40mm gun. We’ll likely see the Warrior in the fight until at least 2040.
Learn more about Britain’s troop-carrying Warrior in the video below!
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 1:13 a.m. PST Oct. 2, 2019, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is robust, flexible, ready and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure our allies. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.
The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.
“The flight test program demonstrates one part of the operational capability of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “The Minuteman III is nearly 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the mid-2030s when the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is fully in place. Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. PST, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 2, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson)
The test launch is a culmination of months of preparation that involve multiple government partners. The airmen who perform this vital mission are some of the most skillfully trained and educated the Air Force has to offer.
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB were selected for the task force to support the test launch. Malmstrom is one of three missile bases with crew members standing alert 24 hours a day, year-round, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for Malmstrom (AFB’s) team of combat crew and maintenance members to partner with the professionals from the 576th FLTS and 30th Space Wing,” said Maj. Kurt Antonio, task force commander. “I’m extremely proud of the team’s hard work and dedication to accomplish a unique and important mission to prepare the ICBM for the test and monitor the sortie up until test execution. The attention given to every task accomplished here reflects the precision and professionalism they — and our fellow airmen up north — bring every day to ensure the success of our mission out in the missile field.”
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. PST, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 2, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson)
The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command uses data collected from test launches for continuing force development evaluation. The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.
The launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch.
David Audet, chief of the Mission Equipment and Systems Branch in the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate, at the Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Soldier Center, is gearing up his team for the next User Touch Point activities to explore exoskeleton options in late January 2019.
“As we explore the more mature exoskeleton options available to us and engage users, the more we learn about where the possible value of these systems is to Army operations,” said Audet.
“Before the Army can consider investing in any development above what industry has done on their own, we need to make sure that users are on board with human augmentation concepts and that the systems are worth investing in. The Army is not ready yet to commit. NSRDEC [RDECOM Soldier Center] has a lead role in working with PEO-Soldier and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, to determine whether or not a longer-term investment in fielding new technologies is justifiable. But this is what we do best. We find the options and create the partnerships to help us figure it out.”
Soldiers from Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, were able to get hands on and try two of the current human augmentation technologies (pictured here) being pursued by the RDECOM Soldier Center. The soldier on the left is wearing the ONYX and the soldier on the right is wearing the ExoBoot.
(RDECOM Soldier Center)
Recent media has brought a lot of attention to the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Controls, or LMMFC, ONYX, a Popular Science award recipient for 2018.
As innovative as it is, and with all the attention on the Soldier Center’s .9 million Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) award, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose perspective of the overall work the Soldier Center is actually doing.
Out of the 48-month phased effort, roughly 0K has been put on the LMMFC OTA — currently focused on having enough systems to take to the field for operational evaluation. Although performing, the technology has yet to prove itself in a full operational exercise before moving forward. And while LMMFC is highly confident in their product and continues to invest their funding on further developing the system for commercial use, the Soldier Center is also looking at other technologies.
Located in Maynard, Massachusetts, Dephy, Inc.’s ExoBoot is another entrant in the program. The Dephy ExoBoot is an autonomous foot ankle exoskeleton that was inspired by research done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under collaboration with the Army. It is currently under consideration for evaluation during the third and fourth quarter of 2019. Brigadier General David M. Hodne has worn the ExoBoot during Soldier Center program updates and is quite intrigued by the capability. User feedback will determine if both systems move forward and under which considerations.
“Under ideal conditions, we would favor a full development effort,” said Audet. “However, given the push for rapid transition and innovation, we can save the Army a lot of time and money by identifying and vetting mature technologies, consistent with the vision of the Army Futures Command, or AFC.
(David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
“In order to achieve the goal of vetting and providing recommendations, NSRDEC [the Soldier Center] and PEO-Soldier are strong partners, teamed up to work with third party independent engineering firms such as Boston Engineering out of Waltham, Massachusetts. The engineering analysis of systems will provide an unbiased system-level analysis of any of the technologies under consideration, following rigorous analysis of the capabilities as they exist, the operational parameters provided by users and assessment of how humans will use and interact with the systems.”
“We are confident products will succeed or — at a minimum — fill a gap we have not been able to address by any other materiel or training means,” said Audet.
“We will be prepared to transition, but we know there is a road ahead before we get there. We aren’t committing to anything more than to bring the systems to a demonstration and educate the community at large on what these preliminary technologies can offer. In the meantime, we add a layer of third party independent analysis as a reassurance policy that we are mitigating bias and staying laser focused on user needs and meeting the demands of the future warfighting landscape.”
Program Executive Office Digital granted 13 drone technology contracts to innovative companies during a Pitch Day held July 24 at the Northeastern University Innovation Campus in Burlington.
The day-long event began with thirteen pitches from businesses, followed by deliberations by Air Force junior officers and civilians, who chose to award Phase 1 small business contracts to every Pitch Day participant. The afternoon included demonstrations from Northeastern University researchers, the Air Force Research Laboratory and two entrepreneurs selected earlier in the day.
“Hanscom Air Force Base plays a huge role in bringing small businesses, and their technology, into the fold for us,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. “We must be better at working with the most innovative and creative companies in tech hubs like Boston, San Francisco and Austin (Texas).”
Featured Image — From Right: Jeff Finan, vice president of business development for Washington-based Echodyne Corp., presents radar technology information after earning an on-the-spot contract for development with the U.S. Air Force during Unmanned Aerial Systems Pitch Day, July 24, at Northeastern University’s Innovation Campus as Steven Wert, program executive officer Digital, and Dr. William Roper, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, look on from the stage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Maki)
More than a decade ago, Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams earned the Silver Star Medal for saving several of his Special Forces comrades during an hours-long mountainside firefight in Afghanistan.
This week, the Green Beret will see that decoration upgraded to the highest level — the Medal of Honor.
Williams was born Oct. 3, 1981, and spent most of his childhood in the small town of Boerne, Texas. He initially wanted to be a detective or work for the FBI when he grew up, so he got his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
But after 9/11, Williams started rethinking how he could serve his country. He did some research into Special Forces programs and, in September 2005, joined the Army. Two years later, he became a weapons sergeant — someone who knows U.S. and foreign weaponry well and often goes behind enemy lines to help friendly forces train and recruit.
On April 6, 2008, then-Sgt. Williams was on his first deployment with several other Special Forces operators for Operation Commando Wrath, a mission to capture or kill high-value targets in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley.
His team and about 100 Afghan commandos were dropped into the mountainous area by helicopter. As the leading edge of the group began moving up a jagged mountainside, insurgents started attacking from above.
“It was kind of quiet, then all of a sudden everything exploded all at once,” Williams later explained in an interview. “[The insurgents] had some pretty good shooters, and a lot of people up there waiting for us.”
A map pinpoints the Operation Commando Wrath insertion point in Shok Valley, April 6, 2008.
The part of the group under attack, which included the ground commander, was trapped. Meanwhile, Williams and the rest of the team had trailed behind at the bottom of the mountain, and they were forced to take cover while trying to fight back.
When Williams got word that some in the group ahead of him were injured and close to being overrun, he gathered several of the commandos.
He led them across a 100-meter valley of ice-covered boulders and through a fast-moving, waist-deep river on a rescue mission up the mountain. When they got to the forward group, the Afghan forces kept the insurgents at bay while the Americans figured out their next move.
“I went about halfway down, called a couple more of our guys and asked them to bring more commandos up so we could basically make a chain to pass these casualties down, because they were going to be on litters (stretchers),” Williams said.
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams and other team members assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group pose for a photograph as they to be picked up by a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan in late spring 2007.
(Photo by Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
As they were setting up, another soldier was hit by sniper fire. Williams braved the enemy onslaught to give him first aid, get him on his feet, and help him climb down the mountain.
Williams then fought his way back up to the top to bring the rest of the endangered men down.
“I knew we couldn’t go up the same way we’d gone other times because it had been getting pretty heavy fire,” Williams said. “There was a cliff face that went around to a little outcropping. I saw that if we could scale that, we could get onto this outcropping, and we’d be able to come up from behind where those other guys were.”
It was a near-vertical, 60-foot mountain.
When Williams and others made it back to the top, he killed several insurgents and helped get communications back up and running. Then, still under fire, he went back to moving the wounded men down the mountainside to a little house they were using as their casualty collection point.
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, conducts long-range weapons training at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, during the fall of 2009.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
But they still weren’t safe; insurgents were threatening that position, too. So, over the next several hours, Williams led the Afghan commandos on another counterattack against more than 200 insurgents, keeping the enemy at bay until helicopters were able to fly in and evacuate the wounded.
“They were taking fire the whole entire time,” Williams said of the helicopter crews. “They were awesome pilots. They saved the day, really.”
Williams helped load the wounded men into the helicopters, then continued to direct fire to quell the enemy attack. That gave the rescue patrol time to move out without any further casualties.
The whole ordeal lasted more than six hours. Thankfully, no American service members were killed.
“That day was one of the worst predicaments of my life,” Williams said. “But the experience from that has helped me through my whole entire career — remain level-headed and focus on what needs to happen as opposed to what is happening.”
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams poses for a photo with his operational detachment’s interpreter in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2007.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Several months later, for his amazing leadership under fire, Williams and nine of the men with him during that mission each received Silver Stars. Now, his decoration is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He’ll receive the award Oct. 30, 2019, in a ceremony at the White House.
“I think it’s an honor for me to receive this on behalf of the Special Forces regiment, hopefully representing them in a positive manner and helping get the story out about what it is that we’re actually doing and what Green Berets are capable of, ” Williams said.
Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the nation’s highest honor for this operation. Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II received it a year ago.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Williams poses with his wife, Kate, just before they attend a friend’s wedding in October 2013.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
After his 2008 deployment, Williams went home and met his wife, Kate. They had a son. Williams has deployed five times since then and has done several extended training rotations in the field.
The family lives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Williams continues his role in the Special Forces. He said he’s hoping to keep that up, even with the notoriety that comes with being a Medal of Honor recipient.
Naval mine countermeasures have not gotten a lot of attention in the press, which is strange considering that the job is crucial. Of the last four US Navy ships damaged by hostile action, three were by mines — the other was an Oct. 2000 terrorist attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67).
In 1988, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) suffered severe damage from an Iranian mine, which put the vessel out of action for over a year. During Operation Desert Storm, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH 10) were both damaged by mines.
So, what keeps today’s Navy safe from deadly mines?
USS Scout (MCM 8), an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, in Los Angeles for Fleet Week.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Harkins)
11 Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
The Navy built 14 of these vessels, starting with USS Avenger (MCM 1), which was commissioned in 1987. Prior to that, the bulk of the Navy’s minesweeper force consisted primarily of World War II-era vessels. The other 13 Avenger-class vessels entered service within the following seven years. Eleven of these ships are still in service. USS Avenger and USS Defender (MCM 2) have been decommissioned, and one vessel, USS Guardian (MCM 5), ran aground and was a total loss.
These vessels have a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 84 officers and enlisted. Their primary systems for mine warfare are remote operated vehicles that can descend hundreds of feet below the ocean to neutralize mines.
A MH-53 Sea Dragon lowers its mine-hunting sonar.
(US Navy photo by MCSN William Carlisle)
30 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters
The Navy operates 30 of these heavy-lift helicopters that were acquired in the 1980s. While they bear a superficial resemblance to the CH-53E Super Stallion, there are some big differences. Most notable is the fact that they have larger sponsons to hold more fuel. They can also carry additional fuel tanks in the cargo compartment.
The MH-53E has a maximum range of 885 miles and a top speed of 172 miles per hour. These helicopters tow a mine-sweeping sled and can operate from any aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship. These helicopters are slated to retire in 2025.
A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter hovers while a technician drops down to handle a mine.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Devin Wray)
256 MH-60S Seahawk multirole helicopters
This helicopter will assume the airborne mine-countermeasures role among the many other missions it carries out when the Sea Dragons retire. This versatile helicopter is responsible for vertical replenishment, combat search-and-rescue missions, anti-surface warfare, medical evacuation, and supporting special operations forces. They can operate from any carrier, amphibious vessel, or surface combatant.
This helicopter has a top speed of 180 knots and a maximum range of 245 nautical miles. While the 256 MH-60S helicopters purchased by the Navy offer a lot of versatility, the range and endurance are a significant step down from the Sea Dragon.
USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, is intended to help replace the Avenger mine countermeasures ships.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Kaleb R. Staples)
12 Littoral Combat Ships
So far, the Navy has commissioned 12 littoral combat ships. These ships were primarily intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, but also being given double duty in also replacing the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessels. Their mine-clearing capability is based on a mission package that is centered around the use of MH-60S helicopters and remote-operated vehicles.
The littoral combat ship has been controversial due to numerous breakdowns and a smattering of other issues, and the production run is being cut short in favor of new guided-missile frigates.
During the course of covering the five entries for the Navy’s FFG(X) program, much has been made of the light armament of the littoral combat ships. They are limited to what are essentially point-defense systems, specifically, the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. This missile has a range of about five nautical miles, and usually comes in launchers holding 11 or 21 missiles.
Now, the RIM-116 is joined by the Mk 15 Phalanx as the major point-defense systems on U.S. Navy ships. But there are some drawbacks that one has to keep in mind with these systems: they both have a finite supply of ammo (albeit the Phalanx’s ammo issues are not as bad as the RIM-116’s), and their limited range means that the ships may take some damage when the missile is stopped by those systems (albeit not as much as it would take from a direct hit).
The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile has a range of five nautical miles, but the launcher can only hold so many rounds.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr.)
One of the ways that those drawbacks will be addressed is from a system called HELIOS. According to materials obtained from Lockheed at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, this sea-based directed-energy weapon could either replace both of these systems or help supplement them.
Lasers would bring the best of both the RIM-116 and Phalanx systems for just about any warship. They would offer the extended range of a system like the RIM-116 (possibly a little more), and they would have almost no limits on the ammo (just keep the juice flowing!). This is a good thing for something like the littoral combat ship.
The Mk15 Phalanx carries more ammo than the launchers for the RIM-116, but has a much shorter range.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Weinert)
Lasers have been used to guide bombs in the past, and the United States tested an airborne laser on a 747 for a number of years before the plane was dismantled. Still, it may be that when it comes to beating missiles headed for ships, BRRRZAP could replace BRRRRRT or a missile launch in the near future.