In 1958, the DoD’s first contracting software was launched, using an early computer language called COBOL. As of 2017, that software still manages Pentagon contracts. It’s one of the oldest computer programs still in use.
According to Technology Review, the program known as MOCAS, Mechanization of Contract Administration Services, began its life on punchcards. Eventually it was updated to green screened, terminal-style computers.
Though a new-looking graphic interface often replaces the antiquated green text prompts, the insides are still very much the same. A series of new additions and plug-and-play storage devices hides an eight-gigabyte RAM system that manages $1.3 trillion in Pentagon contracting.
The reason the system was never replaced is due to the fact that its replacement would have to immediately take over the entire system as a whole to ensure that no contract — and none of the money — is lost in the transition.
The U.S. government has sent out multiple requests for proposals, but the cost of a replacement is a prohibitive factor.
It wasn’t always this way. The U.S. military is usually known for being on the cutting edge of technological development.
Although the F-14 Tomcat is no longer part of the U.S. Navy’s airborne arsenal, the Tomcat was using a 20-bit microprocessor in 1970, the year before Intel created the world’s first single-chip four-bit microprocessor.
The 28-point chipset controlled the fighter’s swing wings and flight controls.
MOCAS isn’t the only antiquated military technology. The U.S. nuclear missile force is known to run on 8-inch floppy disks, and spends $61 billion every year to maintain that system.
The Army’s COMPASS system, which tracks the shelf life of Army equipment, is 52 years old.
Last week, the Royal Air Force Capabilities Office and the branch’s Team Tempest held a virtual briefing to provide updates regarding their forthcoming 6th generation fighter dubbed “Tempest.” Along with industry updates and discussion about the program’s progress, the UK’s Ministry of Defence also revealed a new artist’s rendering of the new fighter (shown above).
Team Tempest includes a laundry list of defense contractors who are currently working on facets of the forthcoming aircraft, and they’ve made some lofy claims about what this new fighter will be able to do. Industry partners involved in the program include BAE Systems (the aircraft lead), Rolls-Royce, Leonardo, and MBDA.
“We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way. It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like,” UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
Like the U.S. Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD), the Tempest aims to leapfrog the capabilities offered by the world’s most advanced fighter jets in operation today–5th generation fighters like the F-35, F-22, J-20, and Su-57. However, the leap from the 5th to 6th generation is more about marketing than it is about function. Generational designations are effectively just industry shorthand to describe the design and production process that went into a platform.
While there are no formal requirements for the informal title of “6th generation” fighter, there are a number of assumptions defense experts have made regarding the capabilities such a jet would need to bring to the table. You can read a more thorough breakdown of those capabilities in our analysis of the 6th generation of fighters here. In the interest of brevity, some anticipated capabilities include the use of artificial intelligence to assist the pilot, the ability to manage drones in support of the fighter, and all the advancements that came along in the 5th generation, including stealth and data fusion.
According to this graphic created by BAE Systems, the Tempest promises to meet each of those requirements.
“Tempest is one of the UK’s most ambitious technological endeavours and designed to deliver a highly advanced, adaptable combat air system to come into service from the mid-2030s. This next generation combat aircraft, which forms part of a wider combat air system, will exploit new technologies as they evolve to respond to the changing nature of the battlespace, addressing increasingly high-tech and complex threats and conflict.”
-UK Ministry of Defence statement
In order to build upon the data fusion success of flying supercomputers like the F-35, Tempest’s project lead for electronics and avionics Leonardo has been developing a new Multi-Function Radar Frequency System specifically for the new fighter.
This system will leverage massive amounts of computing power to collect and process a claimed 10,000 times the data of existing radar systems. As Leonardo puts it, the Tempest will be able to gather and process the “equivalent to the internet traffic of a large city every second,” offering its pilot a positively unmatched degree of situational awareness. If the F-35 is considered a “quarterback in the sky,” Leonardo hopes to make the Tempest into an offensive coordinator.
In keeping with that breadth of awareness, BAE aims to create what would effectively be a virtual cockpit pilots will use in conjunction with a similar augmented reality interface to that of the F-35. Pilots would be able to customize every facet of the cockpit around them, using digital switches that can be rapidly re-mapped to serve different roles. The helmet interface and heads up display would allow the pilot to place the information they need where they can use it most.
Not to be outdone, Rolls Royce is working on a new propulsion system that will burn hotter than previous engines. These new engines are expected to be more efficient and powerful that past iterations, creating the significant power spurless Tempest will need to leverage directed energy weapons that are likely to come. The aircraft’s heat dissipation will also be manageable, according to BAE, so pilots can prioritize capability over stealth, or vice versa.
And like the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program, Australia and Boeing’s Loyal Wingman, or Russia’s recent efforts to pair their Su-57 with the Hunter UCAV, the Tempest will be designed to operate with its own flock of drones. These drones will extend the Tempest’s sensor reach, engage targets on the pilot’s behalf, and potentially even sacrifice themselves to save the crewed aircraft from inbound attack.
All that is to say that the Tempest has made some big promises, though arguably no bigger than those of the U.S., China, or Russia’s 6th generation fight programs. The question will really be, who will be able to deliver these new capabilities first, and ultimately, who will do it best?
Elon Musk’s plan to station thousands of satellites above the Earth is already starting to annoy astronomers.
Starlink is the project launched by Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX which aims to put up to 42,000 satellites in orbit with the aim of bringing high-speed internet to even the most remote corners of the globe.
Though only 120 of the satellites are up and running, they’re already wreaking havoc with astronomical research.
The brightness of the satellites mean that when they cross a piece of sky being watched by a telescope, they leave bright streaks that obscure stars and other celestial objects.
Last week astronomer Clarae Martínez-Vázquez of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile tweeted that 19 Starlink satellites crossed the sky and disrupted the work of the observatory because they were so bright they affected its exposure. “Rather depressing… This is not cool,” she added.
Dr Dave Clements of Imperial College London told Business Insider that SpaceX is applying a typically Silicon Valley approach to Starlink, rushing it through without fully thinking through the consequences.
“I’m very concerned about the impact of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation on all aspects of astronomy,” he said.
“Move fast and break things might be workable when you’re breaking a competitor’s business model or the outdated assumptions of an industry, but in this case Musk is breaking the night sky for personal profit. That is unacceptable, and is not something you can fix when you’re out of beta. The launches should stop until a solution is agreed with astronomers, professional and amateur.”
Clements added that the Starlink satellites also interfere with radio astronomy.
“They transmit in bands used by radio astronomers, especially at high frequencies. While these bands are used by other transmitters on the ground, we cope with that by having radio silent preserves around the telescopes. This won’t work when the Sky is full of bright satellite transmitters so Musk might be ruining several kinds of astronomy at once,” he said.
View of Starlink satellites.
Researchers working on a new state-of-the-art observatory due to open next year told the Guardian that private satellites launched by SpaceX, Amazon, and other private firms threaten to jeopardise their work.
Astronomers at the yet-to-open Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) ran simulations which suggested the vast majority of images taken by the telescope could be ruined by bright private satellites passing by.
The disruption caused by Starlink has not come as a surprise to the scientific community.
When SpaceX launched its last batch of 60 satellites earlier this month James Lowenthal, Professor of Astronomy at Smith College told the New York Times the project could majorly complicate astronomical research. “It potentially threatens the science of astronomy itself,” he said.
SpaceX was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Littoral Combat Ship is often criticized for being under-armed. In fact, its main weapon for anti-surface warfare is reportedly a version of the AGM-114 Hellfire (after several false starts with other missiles). Now, don’t get us wrong. The Hellfire is a good missile, and it has made plenty of enemy tanks and terrorists go boom.
At this year’s SeaAirSpace Expo, Kongsberg and Raytheon have proposed a solution – using the Naval Strike Missile on the LCS. According to a U.S. Navy release from 2014, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) test-fired the NSM during RIMPAC 2014.
NSM offers longer range than the Hellfire (at least 100 nautical miles compare to the Hellfire’s 4.85), and a much bigger warhead (265 pounds to the Hellfire’s 20). In other words, this missile has a lot more “stopping power” against any threat the LCS could face.
But the missile is also relatively light, coming in at 770 pounds overall. The Mk 54 MAKO Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo comes in at 608 pounds. This means that the embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters on a littoral combat ship could also carry these – and Kongsberg demonstrated that with a model at the display.
“Helicopter sold separately,” the representative said, jokingly. But the joke could very well be on an adversary – as the helicopter extends the stand-off reach the LCS would have. The helicopter capability would also add the ability to launch from an offset – complicating the targeting for an enemy.
NSM is already in service with Norway, equipping the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, the Skjold-class corvettes, and is in use on Norway’s F-16 Fighting Falcons. It replaced the Penguin in Norwegian service.
Kongsberg also displayed a mock-up of the Joint Strike Missile, a slightly larger version of the NSM, featuring a range of at least 150 nautical miles. Even with the increased size, a handout provided by Kongsberg reps at SeaAirSpace 2017 indicated that the missile can still be carried internally by the F-35 Lightning II.
In one sense, this would be going “back to the future.” In the 1990s, the United States Navy equipped the SH-60B Seahawks with the AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missile – also from Kongsberg. The Penguin also was a mainstay of Norway’s military during the 1980s and 1990s.
Get ready for a new A-10 budget fight. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein wants to fund new initiatives in connectivity, space, combat power projection, and logistics starting in 2021 – to the tune of $30 billion on top of what it is already using. One way to do that, says Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is to retire $30 billion worth of legacy aircraft.
That is, get rid of the old stuff to make room for the new.
While getting rid of these aircraft isn’t the only way to make room for the new initiatives and save $30 billion, it is the fastest route to get there, and many of the retirements make sense. Some of the planes’ missions are obsolete, some of the airframes are currently being updated with newer models, and at least one can’t even fly its primary mission due to treaty obligations.
The B-1B is already scheduled for retirement in the 2030s, but retiring the program early could save up to .8 billion. At 32 years old, the Lancers are already struggling with a 50 percent mission-capable rate. It can’t even complete the missions for which it was designed as a nuclear deterrent. The Air Force’s fastest bomber, the one that carries the biggest bomb loads, can’t carry nuclear weapons under the terms of the 1994 START I agreement with Russia.
Also scheduled for retirement in the 2030s, the B-2 Spirit has a mission-capable rate of 61 percent and is scheduled to be replaced by the new B-21 Bomber in the late 2020s. Retiring the B-2 early could save as much as .9 billion.
A-10 Thunderbolt II
The Air Force’s 281 A-10s are mission capable 73 percent of the time and are its primary close-air support craft. The average A-10 is 38 years old, and even though the bulk of the A-10 fleet has just been scheduled to get new wings, canceling the re-winging and retiring the Warthog could save as much as .7 billion.
Retiring the 59 heavy tankers in the U.S. Air Force fleet would save the service billion if they do it before 2024 – when they’re scheduled for retirement anyway. This may create a tanker shortage because the new Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker isn’t quite ready for prime time.
RC-135V/W Rivet Joint
This signals intelligence and optical and electronic reconnaissance aircraft is more than 56 years old but still kicking around the Air Force waiting for a yet-undeveloped Advanced Battle Management System to replace its old tech. While retiring it before 2023 would save .5 billion, it would create a gap in electronic and signals intelligence capacity.
E-3 Sentry AWACS
These 39-year-old planes are mission-ready just 66 percent of the time and are undergoing modernization upgrades. If the Air Force scraps its modernization along with the rest of the airframe before 2023, it could save billion.
U-2 Dragon Lady
Getting rid of the 37-year-old U-2 would save some billion for the Air Force. The Air Force could then rely on the much more efficient RQ-4 Global Hawk drone for ISR.
Also waiting for the unknown advanced battle management system, the 16 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar aircraft in the Air Force are already scheduled for retirement. But actually retiring the aircraft would save the USAF .7 billion.
Marine Corps Systems Command just announced a contract award in its Squad Common Optic program to Trijicon. The Corps chose to outfit its Fleet Marine Force, basically all of its line units, with Trijicon’s VCOG 1-8x variable magnification optic.
According to Matt Gonzales at MARCORSYSCOM’s Office of Public Affairs:
Six months after seeking industry proposals, Marine Corps Systems Command awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract to Trijicon, Inc., of Wixom, Michigan, Feb. 21 to produce Squad Common Optic systems.
The contract has a maximum ceiling of million, and Trijicon is slated to produce approximately 19,000 units. The purchase also includes spare parts, training, nonfunctional units, interim contractor logistics support and refurbishment of test articles.
Fielding to Fleet Marine Forces will begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021 and will be completed by fiscal year 2023.
Star Trek would be a lot less interesting if we found out the Enterprise didn’t run on an advanced isolinear computing system but instead ran on something like MS-DOS. We might laugh at how incredulous that work of science fiction would be. But in today’s U.S. Air Force, the F-22 – one of the most advanced fighters ever made – runs on a similar disparity.
But of course, the Air Force will remind you that it isn’t science fiction, it’s what they do every day.
The F-22 program was killed at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to reshape the U.S. military. The F-22 was designed as an air superiority fighter to take on advance fighters from China and Russia in air combat, not support troops on the ground. At the time, American troops were focused on insurgencies and ground combat. Until the terrorists started flying F-14s, there was little perceived need for such a fighter. Now that the U.S. military is refocused on great power wars, the need for such a program is becoming more apparent.
The F-22 is the fastest combat aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, even after the development of the F-35. It can detect and attack enemy aircraft from miles away, even if the enemy isn’t yet able to detect the incoming Raptor. In one instance, a Raptor was able to pop up from underneath two Iranian F-4 Phantoms and tell them to go home, which they promptly did, presumably to change their shorts.
It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.
Just the presence of a Raptor in a battlespace is enough to clear the skies of enemy aircraft. In a great power war with a country like China, the Raptor would be an indispensable part of the Air Force order of battle. Raptors will quickly disperse in order to keep China from targeting them with ballistic missiles. Their stealth and air combat abilities would then be used to escort C-17s and frustrate Chinese fighters, as well as any Chinese efforts to jam their communications. That’s due in large part to the pilots’ advanced training and the advanced stealth technology aboard the airframe. But the reason Chinese hackers couldn’t hack their computers is something different altogether.
The technology is more than 35 years old.
Like this, except on one of the world’s most advanced killing machines.
When the billion fighter was cut from the Pentagon budget, there was a lot of joking surrounding the fighter, that the United States had developed a weapon it would never use in combat – after all, until that point the F-22 hadn’t flown a combat mission over either of the two wars the U.S. was actually fighting. Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, found a silver lining, telling the Wall Street Journal that at the very least, the plane’s computer technology was safe from Chinese hackers.
“No one in China knows how to program the ’83 vintage IBM software that runs them,” he said.
Ten years later, the F-22 has definitely flown combat sorties over Syria and the rise of China and Russia, and their fifth-generation fighters, some of the technology stolen from the United States, might have the Pentagon wishing they had more Raptors.
We use our smartphones for just about everything, from mobile banking to hailing a cab, capturing and sharing photos, ordering food, and staying in touch with friends and family. As such, it’s important to make sure that the information on your phone remains secure and is only accessible to the people and apps you intend to share it with.
As data leaks become all the more common, with social apps like Instagram and Facebook, hotel chains like Marriott Starwood, and credit bureau Equifax all falling victim to breaches in recent years, keeping your web activity safe can be all the more critical.
Here’s a look at a few easy steps you can take to make using your smartphone more secure.
Using secure apps that employ techniques like encryption to protect your data can reduce the chances of intruders snooping on your conversations. Encryption is a process that makes information appear unintelligible when it’s being transferred from the sender to the recipient, increasing the likelihood that only the intended parties can see your text messages or emails.
Both Gmail and Outlook use encryption so long as the recipient is also using an email provider that supports it. Those who are dealing with extra sensitive information could also try Proton Mail, which doesn’t monitor web activity like large firms such as Google and only stores data in countries with strong privacy protections, such as Switzerland.
When it comes to messaging, the best choice for privacy-oriented users is Signal, which is available for iOS and Android and supports end-to-end encryption in addition to other security-centric features, like the ability to set your chat history to disappear. Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp also support end-to-end encryption by default.
2. Keep your phone’s software up to date.
Keeping your smartphone up to date is important for several reasons.
Not only does it often bring new features to your device, but it ensures that you’re running on the most secure version of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system. That’s because operating system updates sometimes include fixes for vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors if left unattended.
To see if your iPhone software is up to date, open the “Settings” menu, tap “General,” and choose “Software Update.” You can also choose to have updates installed automatically by tapping the “Automatic Updates” option in the “Software Update” settings.
On an Android phone, open the “Settings” menu and tap the “System” option to check whether an update is available for your device. Then choose, “Advanced” and select “System update.” If you don’t see the “Advanced” button, press “About phone.” These steps can vary depending on the Android device you’re using.
(Photo by Sara Kurfeß)
3. Limit which apps have access to your device and personal information.
From your location to the contacts in your phone book, apps can gather a broad array of data from your mobile device.
The best and most efficient way to cut down on the number of companies that may have access to your personal information is to delete any apps and their respective accounts you don’t use. Purge your app library and get rid of programs you haven’t opened in a while, especially apps you have may have downloaded for a specific event like a festival or a conference.
You can also manage which apps have access to certain aspects of your phone through the settings menu on iOS and Android.
On your iPhone, you can get started by launching “Settings” and scrolling all the way down to view the apps installed on your phone. Tapping an app will display what types of data and parts of your phone that particular app has permission to use. From there, you’ll be able to enable or revoke access. For example, tapping Google Maps will list the permissions that it requests, such as your location, Bluetooth sharing, microphone, and cellular data among others.
The process is similar for Android devices, although Google presents it differently. Open the “Settings” menu, choose “Apps notifications” and press the “Advanced” option. Then choose “App permissions” to see a list of all the different permissions apps can request access to. This includes data and components such as your contacts, calendar, call logs, and location, among others. Tapping each category will allow you to see which apps have access to that information and revoke access if desired.
(Photo by Markus Spiske)
4. Use a password manager.
Memorizing individual passwords for all of your online accounts can be difficult. And re-using the same password for multiple accounts is never a good idea.
That’s why apps like LastPass,1Password, and Keeper can be very useful. These apps generate complex random passwords and can automatically log you into websites. All you have to do is remember your master password for the service.
And when creating a master password — or any password — remember to create one that’s unique and difficult to guess.
(Photo by Bernard Hermant)
5. Use a virtual private network when connecting to Wi-Fi in public.
We transfer sensitive information over Wi-Fi networks every day, which is why it’s critical to make sure you’re doing so in a secure and private way. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, can help with that.
A VPN establishes a secure Wi-Fi connection that masks your device’s internet protocol address, therefore hiding your phone’s location and identity. That extra layer of security also makes it far less likely that intruders will gain access to sensitive information being shared over Wi-Fi than if you were to use a regular public network. Some popular VPN services include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and PureVPN.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
All too often the Arctic region is portrayed as an area on the cusp of military crisis. This is an easy narrative to sell; it harks back to the Cold War. Potent imagery persists of submarines trolling silently beneath the Arctic ice and nuclear ballistic missiles pointed across the North Pole.
During the height of the standoff between NATO and the USSR, the world feared a barrage of nuclear warheads streaming in from the frozen north – and this experience has imprinted on the collective imagination and created distinct ideas about the region. This fear, for example, motivated from the 1950s the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Lines, a system of radar stations across the northern US (Alaska), Canada, and Greenland. The DEW Lines were meant to give the US and its NATO allies an early warning of an incoming Soviet nuclear strike.
The Cold War was a significant period in history. But catchy headlines playing off the parallels between the region and a new “cold” war are misleading. There have, of course, been increased tensions between the West and Russia since 2014 due to the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea. The 2018 Trident Juncture exercises in the Arctic, featuring “50,000 personnel from NATO Allies and partner countries”, are evidence of this. But the tension is not Arctic-specific and militaries are diverse actors in the region. This nuance, however, is often overlooked.
Belgian and German soldiers of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force train their weapons proficiency in Norway during Exercise Trident Juncture.
Current military exercises and equipment acquisitions fuel old Cold War perceptions. And a certain militarization is indeed occurring in the Arctic. Russia, for example, has recently invested heavily in updating its northern military infrastructure. So too have other Arctic states, such as Canada and Denmark. But military activity has, to varying degrees, occurred for decades in the north – it was just largely ignored by those not living there until recently.
The Arctic states guard their land and waterways through aerial, submarine and surface ship patrols, much as they have done for years. This hardly constitutes an escalation of military tensions, even if the infrastructure is being updated and, in some cases, increased. Despite this, talk of a new Cold War is heating up.
A nation’s armed forces often play a range of roles – beyond their traditional responsibilities in armed conflict. They are useful for rapid response during disasters, for example, and provide a range of security roles that don’t necessarily mean an escalation to war. They offer search and rescue (SAR) services and policing support.
In Norway, for example, the coast guard is one of the branches of the navy, along with the armed fleet, the naval schools and the naval bases. In Denmark, meanwhile, the coast guard’s Arctic activities are managed by the Royal Danish Navy.
The US Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which “secures the nation’s air, land, and sea borders to prevent illegal activity while facilitating lawful travel and trade“. By law, however, the US Coast Guard is outside the Department of Defense “in peacetime and is poised for transfer to the Department of the Navy during war“.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420 ft. icebreaker.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Prentice Danner)
Because of affiliations such as these, the line between military and civilian activity can become blurred. But that doesn’t mean all military activity is hostile or equates to an escalation towards war.
Climate change and technological advances have begun to open up the Arctic. And this means that more policing is required in a region that is remote and often out of reach for traditional police forces.
Other issues are also arising from climate change, such as increased forest fires. In July 2018, Sweden suffered major forest fires. As part of its effort to combat the fires it deployed “laser-guided bombs to douse forest fires”. This initiative was led by the Swedish air force. By using laser bombs, the “shockwaves simply blew out the flames in the same way our breath does to candles”.
As the region’s economic activity expands, armed forces are also being asked to assist more with civilian issues. In 2017, for example, the Norwegian Coast Guard was called in by local police in Tromsø to help police Greenpeace protesters who had entered a 500-metre safety zone around the Songa Enabler rig in an effort to stop drilling in the Korpfjell field of the Barents Sea. The Norwegian Coast Guard vessel, KV Nordkapp, responded, resulting in the seizure of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship and the arrest of all 35 people on board.
Given the Arctic’s growing economic potential, military infrastructure is getting more attention. Russia, in particular, has made it clear that with economic potential on the line in the Arctic, a military build up is essential. For Russia, Arctic resources are central to the country’s economic security so the government line is: “National security in the Arctic requires an advanced naval, air force and army presence.” But issues of national security are wide ranging and are not solely a matter of building capacity to defend oneself from or in war.
Overall, it is vital to remember that while militaries are tools of war, they are not just tools of war. They also contribute to and provide a wide range of security services. This does not mean that increased military spending and activities should not be viewed with a critical eye. Indeed, they should. But discussing “a new Cold War” is sensationalist. It detracts from the broader roles that militaries play throughout the Arctic and stokes the very tensions it warns of.
Toiling away deep in the U.S. Army’s research and development arm of the Special Operations Command are the scientists crafting the Tactical Assault Light Operations Suit. It looks slick. It looks awesome. It looks like it’s going to change the battlefield in a big way.
The only problem with it is that when military journalists cover it, they see how it looks and immediately attribute it to some sci-fi universe by saying something like, “it’s a real-life Iron Man suit!” So, let’s take a closer look and determine where, exactly, within the broad horizon of nerdom this high-tech exo-suit belongs.
We weren’t exaggerating: Right off the bat, a comparison to Iron Man’s suit is invariably struck by nearlyeverysinglenewsoutlet. To a degree, we can see why. The suit, officials have said, will be considered complete when it’s functional, bullet-proof, and weaponized.
Even Jim Geurtz of SOCOM jokingly told NPR that it’s “not at the Iron Man-flying-suit, you know, flying-at-50,000-feet level.” Since he’s developing the suit, he gets a pass on calling it an Iron Man suit — but a more apt comparison is a War Machine suit. Since the suit is not going to be powered by a nuclear fission reactor and fire lasers, it’s a better match with War Machine’s kinetic arsenal.
(Punisher Vol 1. #218)
Though there’s no proof, we’re pretty sure the name TALOS is a backronym designed to share a name with the ancient Greek legend. In mythology, Talos is a bronze automaton said to have protected Crete from pirates and scoundrels (and is the God of Man in the Elder Scrolls universe, but that’s fantasy and not sci-fi). Coincidentally, Talos’ mythological job would fit it perfectly within the Boba Fett-inspired H&K AR500 suit. Looking at their helmet design, it’s obvious that they know full-well who they want it to look like.
A comparison that the TALOS suit doesn’t get often enough is to the armor of Halo’s Space Marines. The design is strikingly similar to the armor worn by non-player characters in the series.
The suit was also once projected to be able to relay vital information to the wearer via a heads-up display. Command information could also be relayed to the user through their fancy set of glasses. The early designs weren’t too far off from the in-game version, but that was also back when they thought Google Glass was going to change the battlefield…
In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.
This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.
But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.
So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.
The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.
An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.
The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.
Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.
A U.S. Marine with his trusty M1 Garand in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.
Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.
And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.
So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.
A pilot scans the screen on his helmet-mounted display, monitoring air speed and information about his ground target. Then in a quick turn and ascent, he pushes the plane through the flickering gloom of a stratus layer up to a brightly lit flight path above the clouds. For intermittent moments, his helmet-mounted display screen washes out in the changing light conditions. A thousand miles away outside a remote desert village, a special ops team storms a warehouse where hostages are being held, bursting from glaring daylight into a dark, windowless building. Do they waste precious seconds swapping sunglasses for clear ballistic eyewear before they enter?
The Air Force’s concern about reliable visibility of helmet-mounted displays led to a revolutionary light-attenuating liquid crystal technology that is working its way into flight helmet visors as well as combat eyewear for on-the-ground warfighters. In 1997, Bahman Taheri was on the faculty at Kent State University’s renowned Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) when he learned that the Air Force was looking for solutions to their helmet-mounted display visibility issues — solutions that had been stubbornly elusive.
“They wanted a product, not more research,” Taheri says. That meant the Air Force needed to move beyond the academic realm and work with a company that could actually develop and manufacture a technology. Taheri was intrigued, challenged, and confident he could help. With backing from the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, he and two colleagues from LCI, Tamas Kosa and Peter Palffy-Muhoray, co-founded AlphaMicron, Inc. AlphaMicron’s tint is just one of many successful innovations enabled by the U.S. Air Force’s SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
On the TV show Shark Tank, prospective entrepreneurs receive a chance to turn dreams of a successful business into reality by presenting their ideas to investors in hopes of receiving financial support.
In a way, the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program office is a ‘Shark Tank’ of sorts for the Air Force.
The SBIR program was established by congress in 1982, with the idea to set aside a substantial amount of research and development money to be focused on small businesses.
“The idea behind it was to look for problems within organizations where creative, innovative, leading-edge solutions could solve a problem not only quickly, but could also then spark the economy by nurturing a small business to grow and become a viable U.S. national asset,” said David Shahady, director of the Air Force SBIR/STTR program.
Shahady touts a recent SBIR program success story about a small business called MMA Design LLC, of Boulder, Colorado. A recipient of the 2016 SBIR Tibbetts Award, the company has developed several new technologies through the SBIR program to help alleviate the growing problem of space junk in orbit around the Earth. MMA Design employees created a virtual chute that opens up behind a satellite in order to slow and change the orbit of the satellite after it’s no longer useful, allowing it to fall and burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. They also designed a steerable solar panel array that allows smaller-class satellites to capture more power, allowing them to be used for longer missions, and then provides operators the ability to help steer the craft down into the atmosphere to get it out of orbit.
“It’s exciting to be the front-end investor that puts money into these small companies and see these folks mature their businesses,” Shahady said. “MMA Design started with a small number of people and now they have an increasing number of employees, so you’re not only solving an Air Force problem, but you’re also helping to build the national economy.”
Each year, federal agencies which are part of SBIR publish announcements of their topics or problems to be solved and small businesses can submit proposals for consideration.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The Marine Corps’ top future warfare planners say the days of an Iwo Jima-style beach assault — with hours of shore bombardment, waves of amphibious vehicles lumbering through the surf and Leathernecks plodding to shore through hails of gunfire — are long gone.
But the mission to enter an adversary’s country through a ship-to-shore assault is not.
The problem, they say, is coming up with innovative ways to take that beach without exposing U.S. forces to a World War II-esque bloodbath.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment prepare a newly developed system, the Multi Utility Tactical Transport, for testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 8, 2016. The MUTT is designed as a force multiplier to enhance expeditionary power enabling Marines to cover larger areas and provide superior firepower with the lightest tactical footprint possible. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)
That’s why the Corps has teamed with the Navy’s top research and development office to come up with technologies that can help with its future warfare plan. Service officials are asking industry for solutions to spoof enemy radars and sensors, mask the U.S. forces going ashore from overhead surveillance and keep manned platforms well out of harms way until the enemy’s defenses are taken out.
Planners are increasingly looking to unmanned systems like drone subs, robots and autonomous ships to do much of the amphibious assault work for them.
“Why put men at risk when we can have autonomous systems do this for us?” said Marine Corps Combat Development Command chief Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh during an interview with defense reporters Oct. 19. “We’re looking for technologies that can help us do ship-to-shore maneuver differently.”
Walsh imagined robotic boats flowing inland with cannon or mortars on them helping suppress enemy defenses; drones and electronic jammers that tell enemy sensors Marines and Navy ships are in one location, when they’re actually in another; drone submarines that find and destroy enemy sea mines so SEALs and other manned systems don’t have to do the dangerous work of clearing beaches — all in an effort to keep the Corps’ primary mission of amphibious assault intact, but giving it a 21st Century twist.
Engineers with the Navy’s research and development office alongside MCCDC are asking civilian companies and DoD labs to provide new systems and technologies that can be tested in a wide-ranging wargame set for next year.
Officials are looking for new gear to help Marines get to shore quicker and from farther out to sea; fire support systems that will hit targets both at sea and on land; new mine and obstacle clearing systems; jam-proof communications systems; and “adaptive uses of proven electromagnetic warfare techniques and decoys that lengthen the enemy’s targeting cycle, forcing them to commit resources to the decoys and incite an enemy response.”
“This concept of prototyping and experimenting at the same time is something totally new,” said the Navy’s Assistant Sec. for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Dr. Richard Burrows. “Industry is doing a lot of good things out there and we want to take a look at them.”