Soldiers, Marines, and special operators will be soon sporting a new sniper rifle.
Following a lengthy acquisition process that began in 2016, the Army, Marine Corps, and US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) have started receiving the first batches of the Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) sniper rifle made by Barrett.
In the Army, the MRAD rifle will replace the M107 and M210 sniper rifles. In the Marine Corps, the new weapon will replace all bolt-action sniper rifles, such as the M40, which dates all the way back to the Vietnam War.
What makes the MRAD rifle special is its ability to be adapted according to the situation. The bolt-action rifle can quickly be re-configured to an array of different calibers as the tactical situation demands, thus giving warfighters more options.
On the battlefield, snipers can potentially face several scenarios, from vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (VBIED)—moving vehicle bombs—to high-value targets, to waves upon waves of assaulting enemies. The ability to efficiently adjust depending on the scenario is a remarkable and highly-sought out trait.
In addition, the MRAD rifle has a smooth recoil that allows snipers to quickly get a sight picture after engaging a target.
Initially, the MRAD rifle was a SOCOM-driven initiative through the Advanced Sniper Rifle program, with the Army and Marine Corps entering the process at a later stage. It comes in three calibers (7.62 NATO, .300 Norma Magnum, and .338 Norma Magnum).
According to the manufacturing company, the MRAD rifle’s “robust design, user modularity and unfailing accuracy combined with the new cartridge designed by Hornady, offer an unbeatable system for long-range effectiveness.”
A spokesperson with the Program Executive Officer Soldier who spoke to Task & Purpose said that the Army is planning to purchase close to 3,000 MRAD rifles, almost six times more than what was originally planned. The Marine Corps plans to buy a significantly smaller number, with just 250 rifles budgeted for.
DARPA wants “gremlins” to fly out of the bellies of C-130s or other large planes, assist jets in bombing missions, and then return to their motherships for the flight home in order to be ready for another mission within 24 hours.
The gremlins are semi-autonomous drones that would hunt targets and find air defenses ahead of an attack by a piloted fighter or bomber. In some cases, the gremlins could even find and identify targets that their motherships would engage with low-cost cruise missiles.
Some of the drones could be configured as electronic warfare platforms, hiding themselves and the other aircraft from enemy air defenses or jamming the enemy radar altogether.
A typical mission would play out like this: A stealth jet would approach unfriendly airspace ahead of the gremlins’ mothership. The drones would launch and proceed ahead of the jet into hostile territory, seeking out enemy air defenses and mission objectives on the ground.
The jet pilots would then use the intelligence from the gremlins to decide how to engage the target, either with weapons on the jet or with cruise missiles from the mission truck that is still flying just outside of the enemy air defenses. Once the bombs or missiles take out the radar, other aircraft can now force their way into the country while the drones fly back into the mothership.
If everything comes together, the gremlins will be part of DARPA’s “System of Systems” project. The idea is a new weapons system that would work with different aircraft as time went on. So, the gremlins could fly from C-130s in support of F-22s and F-35s now, then support new aircraft as they’re added to the U.S. military arsenal.
The F-35 Lightning II, designed to be a stealthy sensor platform that can fly and fight nearly anywhere in the world, can now feed its targeting data back to Navy ships, allowing the task force to engage dozens of targets without the F-35 having to fire its own weapons and break stealth.
A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II takes off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth on October 9, 2018, with inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.
The change comes thanks to an upgrade on the ship side, not on the Lightning II. Basically, the Navy has a communications system known as the Ship Self Defense System. SSDS is typically built into carrier strike groups and the larger amphibious ships, like Landing Helicopter Assault and Landing Helicopter Dock ships.
So, basically anything that an F-35 can take off from. But now, the SSDS on the USS Wasp can accept communications from the F-35’s Link 16 Digital Air Control. This allows the F-35 to directly feed its sensor data into the fleet’s communications.
The most important application of this capability is that commanders can now see what the Lightning II sees and order surface ships to engage targets with missiles, other aircraft, or even naval artillery if it’s in range.
The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) steams through the Mediterranean Sea.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan G. Coleman)
This will be a huge boost for the F-35 in a war. F-35s and F-22 Raptors can’t carry many missiles and bombs while remaining stealthy, and firing their weapons can give away their positions.
Additionally, the fleet has many more missiles than the planes can carry — and that can be key during a complex fight. If Marines are landing ashore, they don’t want to hear that their air support is running low on missiles. They want to hear that there’s an endless rain of effects coming their way, and that all of them are going to be digitally targeted against the most dangerous threats.
While the digital communications upgrade is currently only placed on the USS Wasp, the rest of the carrier and LHA/LHD groups will receive it in the near future.
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Michael Lippert, test pilot with the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force, continues First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) developmental test flights aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 30, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann)
In addition to passing targeting data, the F-35 sends back its status information, like fuel and weapon inventories, while receiving information from the mission commander, like assignment information.
Most soldiers really don’t like to have “Carl” around. There is one exception, though. Now, it looks as if this “Carl,” which the Army grunts want to have around, may also be helping a few good men as well.
U.S. Paratroopers assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade fires the M3 Carl Gustav rocket launcher at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Aug. 18, 2016. (U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Gerhard Seuffert)
We’re talking about the M3E1 version of the Carl Gustav, which the Army has been working on for a while now. This version is smaller, lighter, and makes it easier to carry out some of the basic tasks to keep this recoilless rifle in good shape for a long career of blasting the bad guys into oblivion.
Now the Marines are looking at acquiring this system, too, as a replacement for the Shoulder-launched, Multipurpose, Assault Weapon (SMAW), also known as the Mk 153. This system entered service in 1984 – and it was an import from Israel. It consists of a launcher, the Mk 153 Mod 0, and two types of rockets – the Mk 3 High-Explosive Dual-Purpose and the Mk 6 High-Explosive Anti-Armor.
The SMAW came with a 9mm spotting rifle to determine range – with the Mk 217 cartridge that duplicates the characteristics of the Mk 3 and Mk 6 rockets. The system was effective against targets almost 550 yards away. An updated version, which replaces the spotting rifle with a laser-range finder and adds a thermal sight, entered service this month.
During Desert Storm, the Marines even loaned the Army some, prompting the Army to develop a version called the M141 that was a disposable version for bunker-busting.
So, why will the Marines eventually shift to this Carl? The biggest reason is that the M3E1 is a lot more versatile in the ammo that it can fire. Plus, the logistics will be simpler with just one bunker-busting system for ground troops across the services.
You can see a video about the M3E1 and its acquisition by the Marine Corps below.
U.S. Army robotics officials got their first look Aug. 30, 2018, at an innovative new technology for launching and recovering unmanned aerial systems (UAS) from a moving combat vehicle.
“Think of a drive-through Venus flytrap,” Don Sando, deputy to the commanding general of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told defense reporters Aug. 30, 2018, following a robotics and autonomous systems industry day.
Hosted by the Capabilities and Integration Directorate, the event drew 200 participants representing 100 defense industry firms.
“Ten percent of them were first-time participants with the Department of Defense and Department of the Army as we look at expanding our collaboration beyond traditional big defense companies to some of the smaller companies that may have some creativity and innovation that we are just not aware of yet,” Sando said.
One of the small firms that stood out was Target Arm LLC, which is developing the Talon UAS launch and recovery system.
Talon is a very “simple design, applicable to any vehicle, wheeled or tracked. That’s very innovative in my judgment,” said Sando, who was impressed with a YouTube video he saw Aug. 30, 2018.
“I was like, ‘Hey, that is simple, yet elegant,’ ” he said. “The ability to launch and recover aircraft from a moving platform really helps our ground formations on a battlefield, where we know they have to move quickly. Anytime you stop, you become a target.”
While there were no demonstrations at the event, many of the companies brought white papers to showcase new technologies that might meet the needs of the service’s new Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Initial Capabilities Document, said Col. Thomas Nelson, director of Robotics Requirements at Benning.
The document was approved at Army level in July 2018 and “essentially approved by the Joint Staff in August 2018,” Sando said, adding that it will help the service focus its goals for how new RAS technology will communicate with soldiers and other Army systems.
Many of the industry day attendees will take part in experiments scheduled for November and December 2018 in the United Kingdom, said Lt. Col. Nick Serle, commanding officer of the U.K. Infantry Trials and Development Unit.
“That really ties into the great partnership that we have between [Benning’s] Maneuver Battle Lab over here and the work that we do back in the U.K.,” he said. “We will be learning together.”
For now, there isn’t an Army requirement for the Talon system, but the technology could be submitted to the Robotic Enhancement Program (REP), Nelson said, adding that the company could submit a proposal “and potentially, there may be Army funding to explore that potential innovative solution further and test it by letting soldiers get hands on.”
Currently, combat vehicles are limited to line-of-sight targeting and surveillance systems, Sando said. “But what if it had its own [UASs] that it could dispatch kilometers and miles in advance just to help me see, help me target beyond line of sight?
“So the next thing is how I start to describe and quantify that combat advantage to being able to do that. … Put it in the hands of soldiers and say, ‘OK, how would you use this? Does it really make you better as opposed to stopping and launching a system and then recovering?’ Or ‘Hey, I don’t have to stop at all; I can maintain my momentum. I don’t have to hazard my soldiers by taking them out of a protective combat vehicle.'”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Even in peaceful times, stockpiled warheads can pose a danger if they’re accidentally set off or fall into the wrong hands. Plus, there’s always a chance conflict could escalate, which is why many experts support dismantling nuclear warheads around the world.
But most arms-control treaties don’t require warheads to be inspected, since the process could reveal military secrets. And even if inspections were required, nuclear experts worry that nations could try to fool inspectors by offering imitation warheads.
To eliminate the risk that countries would lie about this, two MIT researchers have come up with a novel way to verify that a warhead is authentic — all without revealing how the weapon was built.
The scientists describe the new technology in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications. Their method uses neutron beams: streams of neutrons that can plunge deep into a warhead and reveal its internal structure and composition, down to the atomic level.
The technology, if implemented, could encourage countries like Russia and US to allow their warheads to be inspected and verified as real before they get dismantled.
During the Cold War era, the US and Russia built up their arsenals of nuclear warheads. By 1967, the US had acquired the most warheads in its history — around 30,000. The Soviet Union reached its peak warhead supply in 1986, when it had around 45,000.
When the Cold War ended in 1991, the nations agreed to dismantle some of these weapons, but they didn’t allow each other to inspect the actual warheads. Instead, they showed proof that the devices that carried these warheads, such as missiles and aircrafts, had been torn apart — which meant that the warheads couldn’t be deployed.
The US, for instance, cut off the wings of B-52 bombers and splayed them out in a “boneyard” in the Arizona desert. Russian officials could then verify via satellite that the planes were out of commission.
A B-52 bomber.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah E. Shaw)
Today, the US and Russia each have around 4,000 warheads left in their military stockpiles, in addition to around 2,000 warheads each that are “retired,” or ready to be dismantled. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia is dismantling up to 300 retired warheads per year, but confirming that number isn’t easy.
That’s where the technology from the MIT researchers comes in.
The tool captures a warhead’s unique shadow, not classified details
The MIT researchers’ tool can detect isotopes like plutonium, which are found in the core of a warhead, since those atoms release specific wavelengths of light. These measurements then pass through a filter that scrambles and encrypts them. This allows a warhead’s unique structure to get probed without any resulting 3D image of its exact geometry. (It’s kind of like looking at a shadow of the warhead rather than the object itself.)
W80 nuclear warhead.
The researchers estimate that the scan can be completed in less than a hour.
The test’s encryption process is more secure than encrypting information on a computer, which can be hacked.
If nations are confident that their military secrets are safe, the researchers said, they could be more inclined to allow their warheads to be inspected. Of course, the method would need to be more thoroughly vetted before it could be implemented, they added.
But eventually, they said, it could help to “reduce the large stockpiles of the nuclear weapons that constitute one of the biggest dangers to the world.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Some 50,000 troops, tens of thousands of vehicles, and all their gear and supplies have descended on Norway, where they’re taking part in Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.
Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen are jetting around Norway and through the air over the Baltic and Norwegian seas during the exercise, which NATO says is purely to practice defending an alliance member from attack.
Also present at the exercise is one of the mainstays of US Army aviation: The CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which has ferried troops and supplies to and from battlefields since the Vietnam War.
Below, you can see what one Chinook pilot says are the most rewarding — and most demanding — parts of the job.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey)
A US Army Reserve Chinook crew assist with preparations for Hurricane Florence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Sept. 18, 2018.
(US Army Reserve photo by Sgt. Stephanie Ramirez)
Kapaldo conducts maintenance on a Chinook at Rena Leir Airfield, Norway, Oct. 26, 2018.
(US Army photo by Charles Rosemond)
(US Army photo)
A South Carolina Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift cargo helicopter supports the South Carolina Forestry Commission to contain a remote fire near the top of Pinnacle Mountain in Pickens County, South Carolina, Nov. 17, 2016.
(US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine)
British and US soldiers are transported to a training mission in a US Army 12th Combat Aviation Brigade Chinook helicopter near Rena, Norway on Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael O’Brien)
US soldiers conduct aft wheel pinnacle landing training in a CH-47F helicopter, June 28, 2016.
(US Army photo by Luis Viegas)
Hovering with only the rear wheels touching the edge of a cliff, US Army pilots perform a maneuver called a pinnacle in a CH-47F Chinook helicopter during a training flight, Aug. 26, 2010.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Hoskins)
(Photo by Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez, CJTF-101 Public Affairs)
Soldiers prepare attach a sling load to a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter at Forward Operating Base Altimur in Logar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2009.
(US Army photo)
Engineers connect a bridging section to a CH-47 Chinook as they move their mulitrole bridging company from a secure airfield to a water obstacle in northern Michigan, Oct. 13, 2018.
(Michigan National Guard photo by Lt. Col. John Hall)
US soldiers sling load a Humvee to a Chinook at McGregor Range, New Mexico, Sept. 11, 2018.
(Fort Bliss Public Affairs photo)
(Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Freeman)
A US Army Reserve CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew member scans the Registan Desert in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
(US Army photo)
“It’s just a great feeling at the end of the day, knowing that I get to shape the battlefield from a Chinook.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When it comes to making good military aircraft, some countries are obvious go-tos. The United States, France, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom all immediately spring to mind as creators of classic combat planes. Then, you’ve got some smaller countries, like Israel and Sweden, that have produced some great aircraft. It may be time now to include another country on that list: India.
In some ways, it’s not a surprise. India has built some modern fighters, like the Jaguar and MiG-27, under license from their original manufacturers. They’ve also managed to seriously upgrade their force of MiG-21 Fishbeds. The “Bison” program gave these 1960s-vintage fighters the ability to use modern missiles, like the AA-11 Archer and AA-12 Adder. India’s force of Fishbeds, however, was getting worn out.
India was looking to replace its Fishbeds as far back as 1983. It took quite a while to develop the replacement program, though, and the resulting plane, the Tejas, did not fly until 2001 – after eighteen years of research and development. The plane spent another 15 years getting tested and fixed up for operational service. India had hoped to see this plane emerge as not only something for their air force, but also as an option for their Navy to operate from carriers. The naval version didn’t work out, however, so India bought the MiG-29K.
The HAL Tejas is a delta-wing fighter, bearing a resemblance to planes like the Mirage 2000, the Mirage 5, and the IAI Kfir. It is equipped with the Israeli Elta M-2032 radar, a General Electric F404 engine, and has a two-barrel 23mm cannon with 220 rounds. It can carry both air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including anti-ship missiles. It has a top speed of 1,370 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,056 miles. An improved version, the Tejas II, will have a more powerful GE F414 engine.
Learn more about India’s latest fighter in the video below.
Roughing it in the field can be tough. The first few days might seem kind of fun and cool, but after a week of limited internet and electricity, no showers, and sleeping in the dirt, everyone starts itching for a few creature comforts.
But, there are a few gadgets and tools that can make life easier (without weighing down your ruck). Here are 8 of them:
1. Portable solar chargers
One of the best things for keeping a modern, connected life going in the field is solar power. Grunts at a small base or outpost aren’t going to get much access to generator power, but small solar panels can let them power a couple of devices.
The big concern on these is balancing weight to power. No one is willing to add too many pounds on just for a chance to play Pokemon Go in the field.
2. Rugged cell phones
Some manufacturers make special “military grade” phones, but troops can usually get away with a solid, mainstream phone in a great case.
The phone should have a solid state hard drive and either be waterproof or have a waterproof case. In a pinch, a standard case and an MRE beverage pouch make all phones waterproof.
A quality e-reader is standard kit for avid bibliophiles in the field and can keep a soldier or Marine in the field occupied during whatever off-duty time he or she is afforded. The best models are rugged, have low power requirements, and can hold plenty of books.
Avoid anything that is more tablet than e-reader. With only a limited amount of solar power, fancy readers with color graphics and other power hungry features can end up spending most of their time in a line for a charger.
4. Pop up bed net
These quick shelters keep out all the annoying bugs that bite and crawl over troops in the field. In areas at high risk for West Nile and other diseases, the military branches sometimes issue them. Everyone else has to buy them with personal funds.
Like everything else on this list, keep a firm eye on weight and make sure to pick a camouflaged or subdued color. The first sergeant won’t let you use a bright orange shelter in a tactical situation.
5. Chemical heating pads
Look, it gets cold in the field and hour six on overnight guard in a hasty machine gun position is much more comfortable with a small heating pad in your pockets or taped to your chest. The problem is most of them can only be used once.
That’s all right, though. Pick a small, long-lasting version rather than a big back pad or something that’ll give a short burst of heat. A single hand warmer on a patch of skin with high blood flow—try the hands, near the armpits, or anywhere with a major artery—can take the edge off the cold and last for an entire guard shift. It’ll usually even have enough juice left to help you get to sleep when you rack out afterward.
6. Small flashlights and headlamps
Headlamps with red lenses are a necessity for the field. No one wants to wear that big, D-battery flashlight the military often includes on packing lists. Opt for a smaller LED flashlight that can be carried in the pocket for directional lighting, and get a headlamp for map reading, walking around and general use.
7. Field stool
This isn’t complicated. There’s not always a hill or fallen log to sit on, so a nice field chair is a great asset. The best of these are small stools that only weigh a few ounces.
8. Steel spoon
Trying to cut through a beef patty with an MRE spoon can get dicey at times. You can hedge against broken utensils by always carrying an extra plastic spoon from an old MRE, or you can purchase a steel spoon like your grandfather carried and cut with confidence.
DARPA, BAE Systems, and the Air Force Research Lab are working to pioneer new computer simulations, algorithms, and advanced software to provide military decision makers with organized, near real-time information on causes of war and conflict in operational scenarios.
Drawing upon a range of otherwise disconnected sources of raw data, the new software program is designed to use reasoning algorithms and simulations to analyze intelligence reports, academic theories, environmental factors, and details from operational scenarios and other kinds of user input.
“It is about taking information from disparate sources which would be impossible for a person to consume in a short amount of time,” Jonathan Goldstein, Senior Principal Scientist, Autonomy Controls and Estimation, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The Air Force Research Laboratory recently awarded a $4.2 million deal to BAE Systems to develop CONTEXT; DARPA is sponsoring BAE’s efforts.
The emerging product, called Causal Exploration of Complex Operational Environments (CONTEXT) models different political, territorial, and economic tensions that often cause conflict. These nodes, or variables making up a complex, yet interwoven tapestry of causes, include things like economic tensions, terrorism, tribal or religious conflict and issues about resources or territorial disputes — among other things.
(DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)
“The technology evaluates causal insertions in different forms and innovates them into a model of interwoven causal relationships present in otherwise disconnected sources. We are building a model that can rapidly be used by an expert, so that when a new conflict flares up, decision-makers can understand the underlying issues,” Goldstein said.
While on the surface, organizing and performing some analytics of large pools of data might bring AI to mind, CONTEXT evaluates material input by users and does not necessarily access massive volumes of historical or stored data. Nonetheless, it does appear to perform some measure of automation and AI like functions, in so far as it organizes and integrates different sources for a human decision maker.
“This shortens the decision cycle. People are not good at maintaining a causal model with complexity in their head. The software creates a large graph of causes, evaluates approaches and examines the potential consequences of a given approach,” Goldstein explained.
Automation and AI, which are of course progressing at near lighting speed these days, are often described in terms of easing the “cognitive burden,” meaning they can quickly perform analytics and a range of procedural functions to present to a human operating in a command control capacity.
At the same time, causes of conflict are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined variables – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances, and larger sociological phenomena. This naturally raises the question as to how much even the most advanced computer programs could account for these and other somewhat less “tangible” factors.
Leading AI and cybersecurity experts often say that advanced computer algorithms can analyze data and quickly perform procedural functions far more quickly than human cognition – yet there are nonetheless still many things which are known to be unique to human cognition. Humans solve problems, interpret emotions and at times respond to certain variables in a way that the best computer technology cannot.
“War causation is always over determined. Even with advanced statistical regressions on extremely large data sets, it is unlikely that what causes conflict can be determined with accuracy,” Ross Rustici, Senior Director, Intelligence Services, Cybereason – and former DoD Cyber Lead Intrusion Analyst and Technical Lead for DoD, East Asia, told Warrior Maven.
At the same time, despite natural limitations, using software and simulation to analyze data in this fashion is of course by no means useless, Rustici added.
Calling CONTEXT a “step in the right direction,” Rustici said “any effort to update war prosecution and war cessation planning will go a long way towards updating a military that has learned hard lessons in counterterrorism and regime building. Gaining a finer understanding of how populations and defeated military groups will respond to tactics for winning the war and securing the peace is something that is long overdue.”
Rustici further elaborated that human understanding of some elements of causality can without question have a beneficial impact in many respects. However, there are of course substantial limitations, and few would disagree that there are many concepts, feelings, variables and subjective factors informing causality — underscoring the widespread recognition that, despite the pace of technological computer advances, there are still many things which machines cannot do.
“This program is unlikely to have a significant impact beyond understanding how to conduct further modelling in the future,” Rustici said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
When you go to Sagamore Hill — the home (and now museum) that President and Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt had on Long Island — you may see a .38-caliber Model 1892 Army and Navy revolver. This was a six-shot revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt.
As a standard revolver, many were produced, but Teddy’s gun was important to him. It had been recovered from the wrecked battleship USS Maine (ACR 1). He famously used the revolver to rally the troops (as seen in artwork about the charge up San Juan Hill), but he also pulled the trigger, taking out the enemy with it at least once during that charge.
Roosevelt kept the gun, and after his death in 1919, his house became a museum; the revolver remained in the home for display. It was stolen in 1963 and recovered, but according to a 1990 New York Times article, it was swiped again. Valued at $500,000 at the time, it had not been insured.
Oddly enough, for a revolver that was clearly inscribed “From the Sunken Battle Ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898, San Juan, Carried and Used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt,” it was missing for 16 years until it was turned in to the FBI’s Art Crime Team.
The pistol is now back in the Dagamore Hill museum — presumably well-protected against theft. The thief who took the gun in 1990, though, is still at large.
Below is a video by Brad Meltzer about the gun’s history — and its 1990 theft.
About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.
Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.
Blast from the past
As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.
Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.
This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …
As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.
While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.
Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.
Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.
Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.
Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.
Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.
For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.
Latest and greatest
As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.
The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.
When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.
All the small things
While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.
The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.
The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.
Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
As the U.S. starts to forward-deploy more of its F-35 Lightning, China and Russia have been putting the finishing touches on their own batches of fifth-generation aircraft — and they all express vastly different ideas about what the future of air combat will look like.
For the U.S., stealth and sophisticated networks define its vision for the future of air combat with the F-22 and F-35.
For China, the plan is to use range to take out high-value targets with the J-20.
For Russia, the PAK-FA shows that it seems to think dogfighting isn’t dead.
Here’s how the F-35 stacks up to the competition.
The F-35 Lightning II
An F-35B begins its short takeoff from the USS America with an external weapons load. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The U.S.’s F-35 isn’t an airplane — it’s three airplanes.
And it isn’t a fighter — it’s “flying sensor-shooters that have the ability to act as information nodes in a combat cloud universe made up of platforms, not just airborne, but also operating at sea and on land that can be networked together,” retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Defense Aerospace Report in November.
In a discussion with four F-35 pilots that was also produced by Defense Aerospace Report, a clear consensus emerged: The difference between an F-35 and an F-15 is like the difference between an iPhone and a corded wall phone. Phones of the past might have had crystal-clear call quality and the ability to conference call, but the iPhone brought with it unprecedented networking and computing capability that has changed life as we know it.
That said, the F-35 doesn’t offer any significant upgrades in range, weapons payload, or dogfighting ability over legacy aircraft, while its competition does.
The Chengdu J-20
China’s Chengdu J-20 has one thing in common with the F-35 — it’s not a fighter.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider that the J-20 is “not a fighter, but an interceptor and a strike aircraft” that doesn’t seek to contend with U.S. jets in air-to-air battles.
Instead, “the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS” — airborne early-warning and control systems — “and refueling planes so they can’t do their job,” Davis said. “If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”
On the J-20’s stealth, a senior U.S. low-observable-aircraft design engineer working in the industry told Business Insider that “the J-20 has many features copied from U.S. fifth-gen aircraft; however, it’s apparent from looking at many pictures of the aircraft that the designers don’t fully understand all the concepts of LO” — low-observable, or stealth — “design.”
The real danger of China’s J-20 lies not with its ability to fight against U.S. fighters, but with its laserlike focus on destroying the slower, unarmed planes that support U.S. fighters with its long range and long-range missiles, thereby keeping them out of fighting range.
Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
China’s J-31 looks a lot like the F-35, and one Chinese national has pleaded guilty to stealing confidential information about the F-35 program.
That said, the J-31 suffers from China’s inferior composite-materials technology and its inability to build planes in the precise way a stealth airplane needs to be built. Additionally, there’s reason to suspect the avionics in the Chinese programs significantly lag the F-35.
But the J-31, like the J-20, still poses a significant threat because China has developed long-range missiles, which combined with their ground-based radars and radar sites in the South China Sea could potentially pick off U.S. stealth aircraft before the F-35s and F-22s could fire back.
Davis told Business Insider that the J-31 doesn’t just seek to compete with the U.S. militarily, but that the J-31 “very clearly is an F-35 competitor in a commercial sense.” Nations that weren’t invited to participate in the F-35 program may seek to buy China’s cheaper and somewhat comparable J-31.
A fleet of J-31s in the hands of Iran, for example, could pose a serious threat to U.S. interests abroad.
The PAK-FA/T-50. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
Russia’s PAK-FA, also known as the T-50, has been criticized as being fifth-generation “in name only,” but as Russia proves time and time again, it doesn’t need the best and most expensive technology to pose a real threat to U.S. aircraft.
The PAK-FA’s greatest failure is in the stealth arena. While the PAK-FA has some stealth from the front angle, “it’s a dirty aircraft,” said a person who helps build stealth aircraft, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the work.
But stealth represents just one aspect of air combat, and the Russians have considerable counterstealth technologies. So while the PAK-FA fails to deliver the stealth or total networking capacity of the F-35, it is a fighter — and a damn good one.
The U.S.’s F-22 has 2D thrust-vectoring nozzles at the engines and is the most agile plane the U.S. has ever built. The PAK-FA has 3D thrust-vectoring nozzles and is even more agile.
Additionally, the PAK-FA can be armed to the teeth with infrared missiles that focus on heat and ignore the U.S.’s stealth. So while the U.S.’s fifth generation hinges on controlling the battle from range and at the jump-off point, Russia’s PAK-FA seems to focus on close-up fights, which the designers of the F-35 didn’t concentrate on.
The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
China and Russia have both shown the world something new in their fifth-generation aircraft. No longer will these rising powers look to advance the capabilities they currently have — they will actively seek to enter new areas of aerial combat.
Both Russian and Chinese entries seem to focus on key weak points in the U.S.’s force structure by using specialized aircraft.
But the U.S. doesn’t specialize. The F-35 does everything well and seeks the informational high ground with massive computing power, all-aspect stealth, and the ability to network with almost every set of eyes and ears in the U.S. military.
The F-35 has limited range and ability for close combat, but unlike the Chinese and Russian fifth-gens that try to score kills on their own, the F-35 plays like a quarterback, sending targeting information to any platform available.
As the F-35 software develops, pilots will be free to take on more demanding missions, but China’s and Russia’s fifth-gens will still be confined to relatively narrow ones.