This MH-139A is the Air Force's replacement for the Huey - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

For nearly 40 years, the Air Force missions of VIP transport in the DC area as well patrolling Air Force Global Strike Command missile fields has been performed by the UH-1N Huey. Despite modernization efforts, the aging fleet of Air Force Hueys is limited by range and speed which makes its primary missions of transport and patrol difficult. In September 2018, the Air Force awarded a $2.38 billion contract to Boeing-Leonardo to supply 84 MH-139A helicopters to replace the Huey.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
A Grey Wolf conducts a test flight from Leonardo’s Philadelphia plant (U.S. Air Force)

Based on the commercially available AugustaWestland (now Leonardo helicopter division) AW139, the first MH-139A was delivered to the Air Force on December 19, 2019 at Duke Field, Florida. It was at this unveiling ceremony that the new helicopter was given the name Grey Wolf. “As they hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many,” said AFGSC Commander General Timothy Ray of the MH-139A. “That’s exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission.”

The Grey Wolf boasts a cruising speed of 130-140 knots compared to the outgoing Huey’s 90-100 knots. It also has much longer legs than the Huey with a range of 778 miles vs. just over 300 miles for the UN-1N. The Grey Wolf is also equipped with armor, countermeasures, a forward-looking infrared camera system, and the ability to mount a machine gun. These capabilities will prove to be crucial in AFGSC’s primary missions of security and patrolling.

Testing is currently underway on the Grey Wolf. Flying from Duke Field at Eglin AFB, a Boeing pilot and Maj. Zach Roycroft of the 413th Flight Test Squadron made the first combined test flight on February 11, 2020. “This first flight with Boeing was a critical step for the MH-139A program and allows us to establish a foundation for government testing,” Roycroft said. As testing progresses, production at Leonardo and Boeing’s Philadelphia facilities is ramping up as well. Full-rate production is expected to be achieved in 2023 with an anticipated delivery rate of 10 aircraft per year into the early 2030s. Of course, the most important part of acquiring a new helicopter is teaching pilots how to fly it.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
A UH-1N Huey escorts a payload transporter convoy, a mission that the Grey Wolf will soon take over (U.S. Air Force)

On November 20, 2020, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett announced that Maxwell AFB, Alabama would host the MH-139A Formal Training Unit. Less than 100 miles to the southeast of Maxwell is the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama. There, alongside their Army counterparts, Air Force flight students of the 23d Flying Training Squadron earn their wings flying the TH-1H Huey II training helicopter before going on to specialized helicopter training. Students selected to the fly the new Grey Wolf will have a short PCS up the road to Maxwell.

In addition to the nuclear security and National Capitol Region missions, the Grey Wolf is also slated to replace the Huey in civil search and rescue, airlift support, and survival school and test support missions. Following successful testing and acceptance by the Air Force, the Grey Wolf is scheduled for initial delivery to the 37th Helicopter Squadron at Warren AFB, Wyoming, the 40th Helicopter Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, the 54th Helicopter Squadron at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and the 1st Helicopter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland in 2021.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The new MH-139A Grey Wolf is unveiled and named at Duke Field (U.S. Air Force)
Articles

This is why the former French carrier Foch is headed for a sad scrapyard farewell

Six months ago, the Brazilian Navy announced that its aircraft carrier, NAe Sao Paolo was to be decommissioned and sent to the scrapyard. It’s a sad end for the Clemenceau-class carrier, which entered service with France in 1963, serving for 54 years.


What makes her unique is that the Sao Paolo is one of the last conventionally-powered aircraft carriers in service.

Most aircraft carriers today are nuclear-powered. The Foch and her sister ship Clemenceau — both named for French leaders in World War I — were to be replaced by a pair of nuclear-powered carriers. Only one of the new carriers was built, but France disposed of both carriers, selling the Foch to Brazil, and the Clemenceau to a scrapyard. The Foch was commissioned in 1963, and served with the French Navy for 37 years before she was sold to Brazil, where she served another 17 years.

The French had hoped to keep her in service until 2039, but the Foch was proving to be the maritime equivalent of a hangar queen.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The Sao Paolo, operating AF-1 Skyhawks (former Kuwaiti planes) and a S-2 Tracker. (Wikimedia Commons)

The demise of the Foch is part of a larger trend. Most navies seeking a carrier that launch high-performance planes (as opposed to those that operate V/STOL jets like the AV-8B Harrier and Sea Harrier) have gone nuclear. The United States has 11 nuclear-powered carriers, France has one.

India, Russia, and China each have one conventionally-fueled carrier that launch high-performance jets, and India and China are building more. But Russia and China are planning to go to nuclear-powered carriers. The British are building the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, but they’re only flying the V/STOL version of the F-35 Lightning.

Why are conventional fuels like oil or gas fading out for supercarriers? It’s very simple: endurance matters. When you’re launching a conventional plane from a carrier, you need to get them up quickly or they go in the drink.

Aside from the fact that splash landings like those involving the Russian carrier Kuznetsov tend to draw lots of merciless mockery, they are also a good way to get a highly-trained naval aviator killed.

The Foch’s forward deck, showing some of the planes she operated in French service. (Wikimedia Commons)

To get those planes to climb quickly, carriers use catapults, but it helps when they can turn into the wind and go at speed. A nuclear-powered carrier can do that for years. Really, the only limits are how much ordnance and gas for the planes and food for the crew it can carry.

For a conventionally-fueled carrier, well… it’s got to refuel, too. That means you need to invest in a lot more ships.

So, as the Foch heads off to become razor blades, joining many other conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers not designed to use high-performance jets, it marks the departure of one of these magnificent vessels. The United States has been scrapping many of its old conventionally-fueled carriers, too. The fact is, if you want a carrier that can operate high-performance jets, you gotta have a nuke – and that leaves no future for ships like Foch.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Future body armor could be two atoms thick

If you’ve been a grunt, then you probably have a love-hate relationship with body armor. You love having it in a firefight — it can save your life by stopping or slowing bullets and fragments — but you hate how heavy it is — it’s often around 25 pounds for the armor and outer tactical vest (more if you add the plate inserts to stop up to 7.62mm rounds). It’s bulky — and you really can’t move as well in it. In fact, in one firefight, a medic removed his body armor to reach wounded allies, earning a Distinguished Service Cross.


This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
Marines in Interceptor Body Armor (USMC photo)

Imagine if the body armor were just another part of your clothes, like a light jacket. Imagine not having to haul around those extra 30 pounds. Well, troops may not have to imagine much longer. According to a release from the Advanced Science Research Center at the City University of New York, body armor could soon have the thickness of just two atoms. This is due to how graphene acts under certain conditions.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
By applying pressure at the nanoscale with an indenter to two layers of graphene, each one-atom thick, CUNY researchers transformed the honeycombed graphene into a diamond-like material at room temperature. (Photo by Ella Maru Studio)

“Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film. But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond,” lead researcher Elisa Riedo, a physics professor at CUNY said in the release.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The Torso and Extremity Protection System

This could have profound implications for personal protection and for creating protective coatings to reduce wear on essential components, like tires. While the new armor is still years away, troops can look forward to a lighter load, thanks to graphene, at some point in the future. That will be a huge weight off their minds — and bodies.

popular

The unknown Army aircraft that flew a tank

When you think ‘sherpa,’ the first thing that comes to mind is probably the folks who help people climb Mount Everest, not an Army aircraft. Unless you’re a pro, you’re probably not thinking about the Army’s C-23 transport plane.


Wait, the Army has a transport plane? That’s right. You see, the Army operates unarmed, fixed-wing aircraft. After the Army and Air Force split, the Air Force got the armed aircraft in the divorce settlement.

One of the unarmed transports the Army flies is the C-23 Sherpa. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Sherpa was acquired to serve as an intra-theater transport between U.S. Army bases in Europe. However, the plane soon took on responsibilities beyond that limited role. The C-23 can haul up to 30 troops or three pallets of cargo. The plane is also capable of using smaller runways than the C-130 Hercules and is cheaper to operate than a CH-47 Chinook. With a top speed of 281 miles per hour and a range of 771 miles, this particular aircraft soon found work outside Europe as well.

 

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
A C-23 Sherpa over Europe in the 1980s. (Photo from USAF)

 

According to a 2014 United States Army release, the C-23 was used in the American peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. The plane was also a valuable asset during Operation Iraqi Freedom, moving cargo to places where C-130s couldn’t land, which was particularly valuable in humanitarian relief missions.

Related: This is what happened when a C-130 aircraft and a C-17 had a baby

Ultimately, the United States bought 62 airframes and, aside from losing one in a crash, the planes remained in service until it was retired in 2014 to be replaced by the C-27J Spartan. Still, the C-23 isn’t going away just yet. Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Philippines are receiving some of these short-haul airlifters as second-hand assets. As for the C-27J, it was retired by the Air Force and Air National Guard without replacement.

 

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
A US Army (USA) C-23B Sherpa aircraft assigned to Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment unloads Soldiers at an undisclosed airfield in Iraq, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. (USAF photo)

 

To learn more about this aircraft, check out the video below:

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Helmets just got new technology to protect your brains

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has been a major issue in the War on Terror. These injuries are severe and can have a lasting impact. Current helmets, while effective against some combat hazards, such as fragments and, in some cases, bullets, aren’t so great at preventing TBI.


A Swedish company, MIPS, has developed a helmet technology called the Brain Protection System. This technology, which is part of their MIPS:F2 solution, helps protect the wearer from TBI and concussions by mitigating the effects of rotational motion.

The company claims that one reason helmets haven’t protected troops from concussions or TBI is because they’re tested all wrong.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
Most helmets have been tested for falls like the one on the left. (Photo from mipsprotection.com)

Most companies test their helmets by dropping them on a flat surface in a perfectly vertical fashion, but when people fall, how often does it happen like that? We’re willing to bet it’s not very often. In fact, falls are anything but predictable, and those odd angles and impacts are what cause rotational motion, which is conducive to TBI.

To prevent that motion, the Brain Protection System uses a low-friction layer between the liner and the outer shell that permits the helmet to slide, allowing it to absorb more rotational force.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
TBI effects. (Photo from mipsprotection.com)

MIPS doesn’t normally make helmets for the military. Instead, their specialty is helmets for snow sports, where TBI and concussions are common. However, the applications for both law enforcement officers and military personnel are evident.

“With the MIPS:F2 system, we can not only expand that technology into more sports helmet models, but also we can help keep safe those who put their lives on the line to protect our communities every day,” Jordan Thiel, CEO of MIPS said in a release.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

Just how long it will take for this technology to be fully fielded is a matter of budgets, but anything that lowers the number of TBI and concussions is a good thing.

Articles

The battle of the tank busters: Frogfoot versus Warthog

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the undisputed king of close-air support.


But what you may not know is that the plane nearly wasn’t picked to handle close-air support – it had to compete with the Northrop A-9.

And that plane looks a heck of a lot like the one the Soviets picked to bust American tanks if the Cold War went hot.

So how does the Su-25 “Frogfoot” in service with Russia stack up against the A-10? Let’s take a look.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. John Marks, poses with an A-10 Thunderbolt II at King Fahd Air Base, Saudi Arabia, during Desert Storm in February, 1991. Destroying and damaging more than 30 Iraqi tanks was one of Marks most memorable combat missions during Desert Storm. | Courtesy photo provided by Lt. Col. Marks

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

The big reason the A-10 won the A-X competition in 1973 was due to the fact that Fairchild had the design pretty well locked down. The plane was merged with the GAU-8 30mm Avenger cannon, given a very powerful bomb load (up to 16,000 pounds of cluster bombs, laser-guided bombs, iron bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and rockets). The A-10C, which entered service in 2005, added the ability to use Joint Direct Attack Munitions (GPS-guided smart bombs) and the Wind-Corrected Munition Dispensers (cluster bombs with GPS-guidance and a range of over 12 miles). The plane even carries AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defense (although, Desert Storm proved that the GAU-8 can take down aircraft, too). In short, this is a plane that is designed to kill enemy tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and grunts.

The A-10 can not only dish out punishment, it can take it. Like the P-47 Thunderbolt, there are tales of terribly damaged A-10s bringing their pilots home. Perhaps the most famous example was the 2003 incident where Air Force Capt. Kim “Killer Chick” Campbell brought her A-10 home on manual reversion. The A-10 was designed to come home with serious battle damage – and it has.

The Su-25, though, is an interesting beast. The Soviets followed the A-X competition and decided they needed a plane like that of their own.

That said, they picked the loser of the competition to copy. The Su-25 carries about 9,000 pounds of bombs, rockets and missiles, including the AA-8 Aphid. It is a bit faster, hitting Mach .8 as opposed to the A-10’s Mach .56, and has a longer range (750 nautical miles to the A-10’s 695). Like the A-10, it, too, has a 30mm Gatling gun.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Alex Beltyukov

So, which plane is the better option? Let’s be very blunt here: The A-10 brings more payload and is tougher. The Frogfoot might be 40% faster than the Warthog, but it can’t outrun a Sidewinder, while an AA-8 is likely to just annoy the Warthog’s pilot and really infuriate the crew chief.

Let’s be honest, the Soviets made a knock-off of the losing design, and it would probably lose in a fight with an A-10, too.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How bureaucratic nonsense made the M16 less effective

When the Department of Defense first started buying AR-15s, they were clean, fast-firing, and accurate weapons popular with the airmen and Special Forces soldiers who carried them. But as the Army prepared to purchase them en masse, a hatred of the weapon by bureaucrats and red tape resulted in weapon changes that made the M16s less effective for thousands of troops in Vietnam.


This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

During a lull in the fighting in the Citadel, a Marine takes time out to clean his M16 rifle.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

(A note on measurements in this article: Most of the historical data in this article came from when the Army still used inches when discussing weapon calibers. The most common measurements are .22-caliber, roughly equal to 5.56mm ammo used in M4s today and .30-caliber, which is basically 7.62mm, like that used by some U.S. sniper rifles. There is also a reference to a proposed .27-caliber, which would have been 6.86mm).

The AR-15 was a derivative of the AR-10, an infantry rifle designed by Eugene Stoner for an Army competition. The AR-10 lost to what would become the M14. But a top Army officer was interested in smaller caliber weapons, like the AR-10, and he met with Stoner.

Gen. Willard G. Wyman was commanding the Continental Army Command when he brought an old Army report to Stoner. The report from the 1928 Caliber Board had recommended that the Army switch from heavy rifle rounds, like the popular .30-cal, to something like .27-caliber. The pre-World War II Army even experimented with .276-caliber rifles, but troops carried Browning Automatic Rifles and M1 Garands into battle in 1941, both chambered for .30-caliber.

These heavier rounds are great for marksmen and long-distance engagements because they stay stable in flight for long distances, but they have a lethality problem. Rounds that are .30-caliber and larger remain stable through flight, but they often also remain stable when hitting water, which was often used as a stand-in during testing for human flesh.

If a round stays stable through human flesh, it has a decent chance of passing through the target. This gives the target a wound similar to being stabbed with a rapier. But if the round tumbles when it hits human flesh, it will impart its energy into the surrounding flesh, making a stab-like wound in addition to bursting cells and tissue for many inches (or even feet) in all directions.

That’s where the extreme internal bleeding and tissue damage from some gunshot wounds comes from. Wyman wanted Stoner to make a new version of the AR-10 that would use .22-caliber ammunition and maximize these effects. Ammunition of this size would also weigh less, allowing troops to carry more.

Stoner and his team got to work and developed the AR-15, redesigning the weapon around a commercially available .22-caliber round filled with a propellant known as IMR 4475 produced by Du Pont and used by Remington. The resulting early AR-15s were tested by the Army and reviewed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The weapons did great in testing, and both services purchased limited quantities for troops headed to Vietnam.

But, importantly, the bulk of the Army bureaucracy still opposed the weapon, including nearly all of the groups in charge of buying ammunition and rifles. They still loved the M14s developed by the Army itself.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

Pvt. 1st Class Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA.) fires is M16 rifle into a suspected Viet Cong occupied area.

(U.S. Army Spec. 5 Robert C. Lafoon)

Approximately 104,000 rifles were shipped to Vietnam for use with the Air Force, airborne, and Special Forces units starting in 1963. They were so popular that infantrymen arriving in 1965 with other weapons began sending money home to get AR-15s for themselves. The Secretary of the Army forced the Army to take another look at it for worldwide deployment.

As the Army reviewed the weapon for general use once again, they demanded that the rifle be “militarized,” creating the M16. And the resulting rifle was held to performance metrics deliberately designed to benefit the M14 over the M16/AR-15.

These performance metrics demanded, among other things, that the rifle maintain the same level of high performance in all environments it may be used in, from Vietnam to the Arctic to the Sahara Desert; that it stay below certain chamber pressures; and that it maintain a consistent muzzle velocity of 3,250 fps.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

A soldier with an M-14 watches as supplies are airdropped into Vietnam.

(Department of Defense)

It was these last two requirements that made Stoner’s original design suddenly problematic. The weapon, as designed, achieved 3,150 fps. To hit 3,250 fps required an increase in the amount of propellant, but increasing the propellant made the weapon exceed its allowed chamber pressures. Exceeding the pressure created serious, including mechanical failure.

But Remington had told civilian customers that the IMR 4475-equipped ammo did fire at 3,250 fps as is. The Army tests proved that was a lie.

There was a way around the problem: Changing the propellant. IMR 4475 burned extremely quickly. While all rifles require an explosion to propel the round out of the chamber, not all powders create that explosion at the same rate. Other propellants burned less quickly, allowing them to release enough energy for 3,250 fps over a longer time, staying below the required pressure limits and preventing mechanical failure.

The other change, seemingly never considered by the M14 lovers, was simply lowering the required muzzle velocity. After all, troops in Vietnam loved their 3,150-fps-capable AR-15s.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

A first lieutenant stands with his M-16 in Vietnam.

(U.S. Army)

Instead, the Army stuck to the 3,250 fps requirement, and Remington and Du Pont pulled IMR 4475 from production. The Army turned to two slower-burning powders to make the weapon work, but that created a new issue. The powders created a lot more problems.

The new powders increased the cyclic rate of the weapon from 750 rounds per minute to about 1,000 while also increasing the span of time during each cycle where powder was burning. So, unlike with IMR 4475, the weapon’s gas port would open while the powder was still burning, allowing dirty, still-burning powder to enter the weapon’s gas tube.

This change, combined with an increase in the number of barrel twists from 12 to 14 and the addition of mechanical bolt closure devices, angered the Air Force. But the Army was in charge of the program by that point, and all new M16s would be manufactured to Army specifications and would use ball powder ammunition.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

Pvt. 1st Class John Henson cleans his XM16E1 rifle while on an operation 30 miles west of Kontum, Vietnam.

(U.S. Army)

Rifle jams and failures skyrocketed, tripling in some tests. And rumors that M16s didn’t need to be cleaned, based on AR-15s firing cleaner propellants, created a catastrophe for infantrymen whose rifles jammed under fire, sometimes resulting in their deaths.

Many of these problems have been mitigated in the decades since, with new powders and internal components that reduced fouling and restored the balance between chamber pressure, muzzle velocity, and ballistics. Most importantly, troops were trained on how to properly maintain the rifle and were given the tools necessary to do so.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Paralyzed for 27 years, veteran walks with exoskeleton

Since being paralyzed almost three decades ago, Dean Juntunen has competed in more than 90 wheelchair marathons, continued snowmobiling and four-wheeling, and taken up kayaking.

Now, Juntunen is taking another significant step. And then another step. And then another.

“Just standing talking to you is interesting,” Juntunen said. “I had not gone from a sitting position to a standing position in 27 years. I got injured in ’91, so just standing is fun. I like just standing up and moving around.”


The medically retired Air Force captain is walking with the aid of a wearable exoskeleton robotic device as part of a study at the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

About 160 veterans are participating in the program at 15 VA Centers across the country. After completing a series of rigorous training sessions, veterans in this study will take the exoskeleton home for use in everyday life.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

Juntunen executes a challenging 180-pivot with the aid of VA trainers Cheryl Lasselle (left) and Zach Hodgson.

Participants must meet certain criteria, including bone density. Users should be between about 5-foot-3 and 6-foot-3 and cannot weigh more than 220 pounds.

“Most paralyzed people, if not all, lose bone density,” Juntunen said. “So, you have to pass a bone density scan to qualify for this program. I happen to have unusually good bone density and I’ve been paralyzed for 27 years.”

Juntunen was on active duty when he was injured in between assignments from Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Montana, to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, when his life changed.

Fell 30 feet, broke spinal cord in two places

An avid hiker and outdoorsman, Juntunen’s life changed when a tree branch gave way and he fell 30 feet to the ground.

“I landed on my back in a fetal position,” said Juntunen, who lives near Mass City in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Spine folded in half, broke five vertebrae, wrecked my spinal cord in two spots.”

“Well, I have a hard time saying no and they strongly asked me to do it. So, I decided, that’s probably going to be fun playing with that robot. I guess I’ll make a bunch of trips to Milwaukee.”

Juntunen, who has an engineering degree, said the hardest part of mastering the robotic device was developing balance.

“One of the hardest things about getting paralyzed is relearning your sense of balance because you can’t feel anything through your butt,” he said. “I’m paralyzed from the base of the rib cage down, so it’s like I’m sitting on a stump all the time.”

Turns and pivots presented challenges, as did going up an incline, he said.

“I liken this to walking on stilts for an able-bodied person because you have to feel the ground through wooden or metal legs. That’s basically what I’m doing in this thing.”

“I don’t really describe this as walking, more like riding the robot,” he said. “The interesting thing is, my brain feels like it’s walking. I’m a complete injury, so I can’t feel anything. My brain has no idea what my legs are doing, but nonetheless, it feels like I’m walking in my head.”

Not all participants are able to sufficiently master the nuances of the 51-pound device to meet the requirements of the study.

Basic training needed to master balance skills

“Some people don’t get past what we call the basic training,” said Joe Berman, Milwaukee VA project manager. “To be eligible to go into the advanced training, you have to be able to master some balance skills and do five continuous steps with assistance within five training sessions. That’s been shown by previous research to be a good predictor of who is going to succeed in passing the advanced skills that we require to take the device home.”

The training sessions at Milwaukee last about two to two-and-a-half hours, usually twice a day. With the aid of certified trainers, Juntunen walked up to a quarter mile, starting with the lightly trafficked tunnel between the main hospital and the Spinal Cord Injury Center.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

When Juntunen takes the device home, companions trained to assist will replace the VA trainers.

He eventually progressed to one of the main public entries to the hospital, which had inclines, carpeted areas, and pedestrian traffic.

“The inclines are harder,” Juntunen said. “Here, you’ve got short incline, then flat, then incline, so the transitions are harder. You’re in balance going down and when it flattens out, you have to change where your balance is, so the transition is a little trickier. Coming up is the worst, up the ramps is the hardest. You kind of have to reach behind you with the crutches. It’s more exertion and more difficult on the balance because the robot is always perpendicular to the surface.”

Mastering use of the device in the public space was part of the requirement before Juntunen can take it home.

“In order to take the device home, they need to be able to navigate up and down Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramps and go through doorways,” said Zach Hodgson, a physical therapist at the Milwaukee VA and part of the certified training team. “Right now, we have three trainers, but at home, he’ll need a companion to walk with him at all times. It’s looking at all those skills we need to get to and then making plans based on how he’s progressing.”

“He’s going to use this device in his home and community so we really get a good idea about how useful these devices are,” Hodgson said.

At home, companions replace the VA trainers to help with the device. In Juntunen’s case, he’s getting help from his kayaking buddies.

“They’ve seen me transferring and stuff,” he said. “They know I can sit and balance, sit on the edge of my kayak before I transfer up to the seat. So, that’s all normal for them.”

After completing training in Milwaukee, Juntunen is scheduled to have another session at a shopping mall in Houghton, Michigan, tentatively followed by another session in the atrium of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is how the latest anti-ship missile kills its target

For decades, the anti-ship weapon of choice for the U.S. military has been Boeing’s Harpoon missile system. But that may change thanks to Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).


Related: Here’s video of the US Navy testing a ‘game-changing’ new missile 

Like the Harpoon Missile system, the LRASM is being developed out of necessity. The Harpoon was created to counter Soviet sea defenses during the Cold War. The LRASM will counter the growing capabilities of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy fleet.

In many ways the LRASM is a lot like the weapons system it’s intended to replace. The Harpoon and LRASM both have electronics to guide the warhead to its target from over the horizon.

The big difference between the two is the LRASM’s autonomous ability and range. The LRASM is a smart, stealthy, drone-like-kamikaze that flies itself to its intended target up to 200 nautical miles away (about 230 miles). Its onboard systems are expected to identify targets without prior intelligence or supporting technology, such as GPS.

The U.S. military expects the LRASM to be operational by 2018. It is based on the JASSM air-to-ground missile, also known as the “terrorist killer” for its bunker-blasting capability.

The LRASM will have the capability of launching from various platforms.

Its onboard systems are expected to independently identify and destroy its targets.

This Lockheed Martin video illustrates how the missile system is expected to work:

Articles

This is why Russia’s newest carrier jet is such a dud

The Russian-built MiG-29K “Fulcrum” multi-role fighters purchased for use off the Indian navy’s carrier, INS Vikramaditya, are breaking. This marks the latest hiccup for Russian naval aviation, going back to the Kuznetsov Follies of last year’s deployment, as Russia plans to replace its force of Su-33 Flankers with MiG-29Ks.


According to a report by the London Daily Mail, serviceability of the Fulcrums has dropped to below 16 percent in some cases. The Indian Navy had planned for the Fulcrums to last 25 years, and to also operate from the under-construction INS Vikrant, which is expected to enter service in 2023.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
An Indian MiG-29K purchased from Russia. (Photo: Indian Navy CC BY 2.5 IN)

The MiG-29K made its combat debut over Syria in 2016, primarily flying from land bases after being ferried over by the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. One MiG-29K made a splash landing during that deployment, which came to be called the Kuznetsov Follies. Land-based versions of the Fulcrum have turned out to be second-best in a number of conflicts, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force, and the Eritrea-Ethiopia War.

The MiG-29K is a single-seat multi-role fighter designed by the Mikoyan design bureau. According to GlobalSecurity.org, it carries a variety of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons, including the AA-11 Archer, the Kh-35 anti-ship missile, and bombs. It has a top speed of 2,200 kilometers per hour, and a range of up to 3,000 kilometers. India has purchased a total of 45 MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB fighters.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The INS Vikramaditya has the ability to carry over 30 aircraft comprising an assortment of MiG 29K/Sea Harrier, Kamov 31, Kamov 28, Sea King, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters. The MiG 29K swing role fighter is the main offensive platform and provides a quantum jump for the Indian Navy’s maritime strike capability.

INS Vikramaditya started out as a modified Kiev-class carrier known as the Baku. The vessel was re-named the Admiral Gorshkov in 1991 before being placed up for sale in 1996. When in Russian service, the vessel was armed with six twin launchers for the SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship missile, 24 eight-round launchers for the SA-N-9 Gauntlet surface-to-air missile, two 100mm guns, eight AK-630 Gatling Guns, and ten 533mm torpedo tubes.

For Indian service, many of those weapons were removed, and a ski-jump ramp was added. The vessel can fire Israeli-designed Barak surface-to-air missiles, and still has four AK-630s.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This ugly plane blinded enemy radar after 45 years

The naked eye can only see so far and it can’t track the really fast stuff. Radar makes up for that natural shortcoming and has become a necessity in warfare. In fact, it’s arguably the main reason that the British won the Battle of Britain.


Ever since the Battle of Britain, folks who wanted — or needed — to put bombs on target in enemy territory needed to disable enemy radar first. Blowing up enemy radar is no easy task as most military forces keep them well guarded. Thankfully, you don’t need to blow up the enemy radar — you just need to make sure it can’t see. During World War II, specialized units, like No. 100 Group of the Royal Air Force, flew a variety of planes modified with jammers with the sole purpose of disrupting radar.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

A U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 out of Woodby Island, Washington, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska, in support of exercise Northern Edge 2002. (USAF photo)

After World War II, the United States military decided they needed two planes for the job: the EF-111 Raven and the EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler entered service in 1971, replacing the EKA-3B Skywarrior, which was better known as the “Whale.”

Although both the Raven and the Prowler were modified attack planes, the Prowler hardly resembled its original after modifications. The A-6 had a crew of two while the EA-6B Prowler had a crew of four. The Prowler carries up to five pods for the ALQ-99 electronic countermeasures system. The ALQ-99 carries out what is known as “soft kills” of enemy radars and missiles. A “soft kill” doesn’t do physical damage, but instead confuses targeted systems by sending false signals, jamming enemy systems with static, or even turning displays blank.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
An EA-6B Prowler assigned to the Garudas of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 134 lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Stephens)

 

The EA-6B could also do the “hard-kill” work, using AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. This plane is still in service today with the United States Marine Corps and ended a 44-years term with the United States Navy in 2015.

Articles

This machine gun could replace the legendary M2 .50 cal for ground units

The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been a cornerstone of American military firepower for nearly 100 years. Its long range capability coupled with a heavy round combine for a devastating mixture on the battlefield — a weapon powerful enough to destroy a building or shoot down aircraft.


But for troops on the ground, the M2’s advantages come at a severe cost — namely weight. The typical M2 weighs in at a crushing 84 pounds, not to mention the weight of the ammunition itself (which is over 140 pounds for 500 linked rounds). That means despite the M2’s firepower, it’s not a man-portable weapon, requiring a heavy tripod for a mount that makes it more suitable for defensive positions and vehicle-mounted options.

A few years ago General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems proposed an alternative to the M2 and medium M240 chambered in an innovative new caliber. The company argued that its new machine gun came in at nearly 1/4 of the weight of the M2, but delivered a similar knockout punch to bad guys at .50 cal ranges.

Dubbed the “Lightweight Medium Machine Gun,” the new weapon is chambered in .338 Norma Magnum — a favorite of some precision shooters for its ability to reach out to targets at extended ranges while still having enough knockout power to take down the enemy.

While outside experts saw the capability as a game-changer, there really wasn’t any money available to add a major weapons program for ground forces at the time.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The .338 Norma Magnum has a maximum effective range close to the M2 .50 cal at a fraction of the overall weight. (Photo from General Dynamics OTS)

Now, five years later, the Army is in the market for ways to lighten its soldiers’ load and provide increased firepower with a smaller footprint. So there’s a renewed interest in the LWMMG program.

Weighing in at only 25 pounds, the General Dynamics-designed machine gun has a maximum effective range of more than 1,800 yards and can reach out as far as 6,000, according to company documents. The LWMMG in .338 NM has a lot of advantages over the current 7.62mm M240 machine gun as well, the company says.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey
The General Dynamics Lightweight Medium Machine Gun delivers a ballistic punch similar to an M2 .50 cal with less weight than the current M240. (Photo from General Dynamics Land Systems briefing documents)

“At 1,000 yards the LWMMG is capable of defeating Level III body armor and incapacitating soft skinned vehicles by delivering more than four times the terminal effects of the 7.62mm NATO cartridge,” General Dynamics documents say.

GD has also developed a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” system that the company says delivers the same recoil as an M240 despite the larger .338 NM round.

Some argue that the increased weight of the .338 round cancels out the LWMMG’s advantages for dismounted troops, since 1,000 rounds of 7.62 weigh about as much as only 500 rounds of .338 NM. But new developments in polymer case technology could combine to make the new machine gun a lighter option overall than the M240 while delivering the killer punch at M2 ranges.

 

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force planners want to grow future runways from bacteria

The Blue Horizons Program at Air University is an Air Force chief of staff-chartered, future-oriented think tank that creates and tests prototypes of new strategic concepts and capabilities.

Three Blue Horizons fellows, with different technical backgrounds, including a former member of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, were among those who graduated June 3, 2019, as part of this year’s class of 16.

As part of their research, Maj. MacKenzie Birchenough, a developmental engineer, and former deputy chief of the Commander’s Action Group at AFLCMC; Maj. Laura Hunstock, a combat systems officer; and Maj. Kelly Martin, an intelligence officer, formed a team called, “Project Medusa,” to develop a prototype landing strip to ensure continuity of airlift operations at austere locations during future military conflicts.


Fellows spend a year in specialized academics and focus research on a CSAF-directed question. Their research is on developing and testing prototypes of ideas that can help the Air Force meet future threats.

“As the United States turns its focus toward a potential near-peer conflict, the Air Force may no longer have access to its current mature basing structure,” Birchenough said. “In future fights, contingency operations will depend on the ability of mobility platforms to operate out of austere locations and under compressed timelines,” she said in describing the background for Project Medusa.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright pose with graduates of the Center for Strategy and Technology’s Blue Horizons class at Air War College, May 16, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Students actually go through an entire prototyping phase so that at the end of the year they can brief the CSAF on the problem they were able to address, what they did about it and then give a recommendation, with the ultimate goal of being able to transition it at the end of their year.

“We started out thinking about the differences between the way we fight today in the Air Force and what tomorrow’s fight might look like,” Hunstock said. “Knowing that we’re going into more of a near-peer competition, one of the things we talked a lot about was how we’re going to have to move away from our centralized basing that we use today and more into a dispersed and agile type of basing.”

The team wanted to narrow the scope of the problem down, so they looked at the issue of not having the availability of runways everywhere that the Air Force might need to go.

“We wanted to try to find a way that we could get into those austere locations to rapidly create landing zones for our aircraft where we don’t already have them,” Hunstock said. “That also means with this type of basing situation, you’re not going to have a month or two to go in and build your normal concrete runways. We need something that’s going to take a lot less time and require less people and less heavy equipment.”

While trying to think completely out of the box, which is what Blue Horizons fellows are asked to do, the team came up with an innovative idea that might seem on the edge of reality.

“The idea that we came to was using biomanufacturing to build runways, which can also be translated into things like ramp space or any hardened surface that you might need. By saying biomanufacturing, what we mean is that we’re applying bacteria to the surface, feeding it and effectively growing a runway. This process could potentially replace the need to bring in cement, heavy equipment and dozens of personnel to create a concrete runway,” Birchenough said.

“While our prototype is a small step toward enabling full runways to be built with something other than concrete, it demonstrates this technology is absolutely feasible outside of the laboratory and could be used to support the warfighter much sooner than expected,” Birchenough said.

They started by testing different protocols with two foot by two-foot boxes, but their final prototype was a 2,500 square foot site to demonstrate the process on a much larger scale. Working with bioMASON, a biomanufacturing company in Durham, North Carolina, the team created the site near there.

The 2,500 square foot prototype turned out great, working exactly how they expected it to, Birchenough said.

“It showed that we could reproduce what we had done in the laboratory and on a larger scale. The really exciting thing about this process is that it utilizes the local soil and requires very little equipment. Basically, you need an agricultural sprayer and some water tanks, so there is very little in materials you need to bring to the site,” Birchenough said.

This MH-139A is the Air Force’s replacement for the Huey

The Project Medusa Team members received strong support from bioMASON, the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, and the Air Force Civil Engineering Center.

(James O’Rourke)

“We learned that while biotechnology sounds like it is part of a future science fiction type of idea, it’s actually here and now, and it’s absolutely leverageable for the (Defense Department) and we need to be investing in it at a much higher rate,” she said.

The team was lucky to work with the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate on the project, according to Birchenough.

The SDPE office contributed more than 0,000 toward Project Medusa, and made significant contributions across the entire Blue Horizons portfolio this year, Birchenough said.

A follow-on effort will begin this summer between bioMASON, AFRL, and DARPA that will continue to mature the technology and build up different soil samples to see how well the technology functions across different areas of responsibility.

“AFRL is excited to continue the support for the follow-on project,” said Dr. Chia Hung, AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate research biological scientist. “We will continue to work with bioMASON in their optimization of the cementation process and we will also assist to identify unique requirements for different user cases. Based on what is learned from Project Medusa and will be learned from the follow-on, we will be better poised in helping to mature this technology for many users in not just the Air Force, but also other services within DoD.”

The Project Medusa team briefed their recommendation to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein May 16. Six other teams of Blue Horizons fellows also made presentations.

“Our recommendation to CSAF was to invest in biomanufacturing with a faster transition to the user, to continue this effort with both AFRL and SPDE to make sure that this technology will have great use out in the operational Air Force, as well as making sure the feedback of the user is incorporated into it from the get go,” Hunstock said.

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