Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first-ever atomic weapons test, ending America’s monopoly on the most destructive weapon system ever conceived by man. An arms race that had already begun immediately kicked into high gear, with both nations working frantically to develop new weapons and capabilities that were powerful enough to keep the opposition in check.

From our modern vantage point, the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union seems like an exercise in overblown budgets and paranoia, but it’s important to remember the context of the day. Many senior leaders in both D.C. and Moscow had seen not one but two World Wars unfold during their lifetimes. After the uneasy alliance between the Soviet Union and the rest of the Allied Nations failed to last beyond the final shots of World War II, many believed a third global conflict would be coming in short order. And terrifyingly, most believed it would begin with a nuclear exchange — including those with their fingers on the proverbial nuclear buttons.

Although the destructive force of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been so monstrous that they changed the geopolitical landscape of the world forever, both the U.S. and Soviet Union immediately set about developing newer, even more powerful thermonuclear weapons. Other programs sought new and dynamic delivery methods for these powerful nukes, ranging from ballistic missiles to unguided bombs.

Project Pluto and the SLAM Missile

One such effort under the supervision of the U.S. Air Force was a weapon dubbed the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM (not to be mistaken for the later AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile). The SLAM missile program was to utilize a ramjet nuclear propulsion system being developed under the name Project Pluto. Today, Russia is developing the 9M730 Burevestnik, or Skyfall missile, to leverage the same nuclear propulsion concept.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin recently pointed out, nuclear propulsion offers practically endless range, and estimates at the time suggested the American SLAM Missile would likely fly for 113,000 miles or more before its fuel was expended. Based on those figures, the missile could fly around the entire globe at the equator at least four and a half times without breaking a sweat.

Project Pluto The Alien looking SLAM Missile from Project Pluto (YouTube)

The unshielded nuclear reactor powering the missile would practically rain radiation onto the ground as it flew, offering the first of at least three separate means of destruction the SLAM missile provided. In order to more effectively leverage the unending range of the nuclear ramjet, the SLAM missile was designed to literally drop hydrogen bombs on targets as it flew. Finally, with its bevy of bombs expended, the SLAM missile would fly itself into one final target, detonating its own thermonuclear warhead as it did. That final strike could feasibly be days or even weeks after the missile was first launched.

Over time, the SLAM missile came to be known as Pluto to many who worked on it, due to the missile’s development through the project with the same name.

Nuclear Propulsion

Tory II-A engine developed by Project Pluto

The nuclear ramjet developed for SLAM under Project Pluto was designed to draw in air from the front of the vehicle as it flew at high speed, creating a significant amount of pressure. The nuclear reactor would then superheat the air and expel it out the back to create propulsion. This ramjet methodology is still in use in some platforms today and plays a vital role in some forms of hypersonic missile programs.

The onboard nuclear reactor produced more than 500-megawatts of power and operated at a scorching 2,500 degrees — hot enough to compromise the structural integrity of metal alloys designed specifically to withstand high amounts of heat. Ultimately, the decision was made to forgo metal internal parts in favor of specially developed ceramics sourced from the Coors Porcelain Company, based in Colorado.

Ramjet propulsion (WikiMedia Commons)

The downside to ramjet propulsion is that it can only function when traveling at high speeds. In order to reach those speeds, the SLAM would be carried aloft and accelerated by rocket boosters until the missile was moving fast enough for the nuclear ramjet to engage. Once the nuclear ramjet system was operating, the missile could remain aloft practically indefinitely, which would allow it to engage multiple targets and even avoid intercept.

The nuclear-powered ramjet wasso loud that the missile’s designers theorized that the shock wave of the missile flying overhead on its own would likely kill anyone in its path, and if not, the gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor sputtering fission fragments out the back probably would. While this effectively made the missile’s engine a weapon in its own right, it also made flying the SLAM over friendly territory impossible.

A missile carrying 16 hydrogen bombs

While the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has since made the launch of just one nuclear weapon the start of a cascade that could feasibly end life on Earth as we know it, Project Pluto’s SLAM Missile was practically apocalyptic in its own right. The nuclear powerplant that would grant the missile effectively unlimited range would also potentially kill anyone it passed over, but the real destructive power of the SLAM missile came from its payload.

Unlike most cruise missiles, which are designed with a propulsion system meant to carry a warhead to its target, Project Pluto’s SLAM carried not only a nuclear warhead, but 16 additional hydrogen bombs that it could drop along its path to the final target. Some even suggested flying the missile in a zig-zagging course across the Soviet Union, irradiating massive swaths of territory and delivering it’s 16 hydrogen bombs to different targets around the country.

Doing so would not only offer the ability to engage multiple targets, but would almost certainly also leave the Soviet populace in a state of terror. A low-flying missile spewing radiation as it passed over towns, shattering windows and deafening bystanders as it delivered nuclear hellfire to targets spanning the massive Soviet Union, would likely have far-reaching effects on morale.

How do you test an apocalyptic weapon?

Project Pluto’s nuclear propulsion system made testing the platform a difficult enterprise. Once the nuclear reactor onboard was engaged, it would continue to function until it hit its target or expended all of its fuel. Any territory the weapon passed over during flight would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, limiting the ways and the places in which the weapon’s engine could even be tested.

On May 14, 1961, engineers powered up the Project Pluto propulsion system on a train car for just a few seconds, and a week later a second test saw the system run for a full five minutes. The engine produced 513 megawatts of power, which equated to around 35,000 pounds of thrust — 6,000 pounds more than an F-16’s Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 afterburning turbofan engine with its afterburner engaged.

Project Pluto engine “Tory II-C” during testing (WikiMedia Commons)

However, those engine tests were the only large scale tests Project Pluto would ultimately see, in part, because a fully assembled SLAM missile would irradiate so much territory that it was difficult to imagine any safe way of actually testing it.

A weapon that’s too destructive to use

Ultimately, Project Pluto and its SLAM missile were canceled before ever leaving the ground. The cancellation came for a litany of reasons, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the introduction of global strike heavy payload bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress. There were, however, some other considerations that led to the program’s downfall.

Because the SLAM would irradiate, destroy, or deafen anyone and anything it flew over, the missile could not be launched from U.S. soil or be allowed to fly over any territory other than its target nation. That meant the missile could really only be used from just over the Soviet border, whereas ICBMs could be launched from the American midwest and reach their targets in the Soviet Union without trouble.

There was also a pressing concern that developing such a terrible weapon would likely motivate the Soviet Union to respond in kind. Each time the United States unveiled a new weapon or strategic capability, the Soviet Union saw to it that they could match and deter that development. As a result, it stood to reason that America’s nuclear-spewing apocalypse missile would prompt the Soviets to build their own if one entered into service.

Project Pluto and its SLAM missile program were canceled on July 1, 1964.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Despite having two horses shot out from under him, history would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6’2″ and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.


It’s not just that the man was fearless in battle (even though he really was). Washington suffered from a number of otherwise debilitating, painful ailments and diseases throughout his life that would have taken a lesser man down — but not the man who founded the most powerful country ever to grace the Earth.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

“Let them take cover in the woods! We’ll fight the indians in straight lines, in tight formations. That’ll show them who’s boss.” It didn’t show them who’s boss.

He should have died at the Battle of the Monongahela

Near what we today call Pittsburgh,a British force under General Edward Braddock was soundly defeated by a force of French Canadians and Indians during the French and Indian War. Braddock died of wounds sustained in the fighting, but Washington survived despite having two horses shot out from under him. When all was said and done, he also found four musket-ball holes in his coat.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

“C’mon guys… let’s make this quick. Suuuuuper quick.”

He had dysentery the whole time

During much of the French and Indian War, Washington reported bouts of dysentery, an infection that causes (among other things) persistent diarrhea. He suffered from this while dodging bullets at the Monongahela River. The discomfort from it actually made him sit taller on his horse.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

“This is way easier when you don’t have dysentery!”

He trotted 30 yards from enemy lines

During the 1777 Battle of Princeton, Washington rode on his horse as bullets fired from British rifles 30 yards away whizzed around him. When troops worried about their leader getting shot, he simply said, “parade with me my fine fellows, we will have them soon!”

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

America would get two more epic swings at German troops.

Trenton was cold as hell.

Crossing the Delaware was actually much more dangerous than the stories would have you believe. Giant chunks of ice were in the dark water that night and each threatened to overturn the longboats. Washington set out with three boats to make the crossing, and only his made it. Falling into the water likely meant a slow, freezing death for any Continental, even if they managed to get out of it.

Two Continental soldiers who survived the crossing stopped to rest by the side of the road and were frozen by morning.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

Paintings: the Presidential Snapchat filter.

He had six of the most lethal diseases of his time.

Normally, if you’re reading about someone in the 1700s contracting tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, or diphtheria, it’s because that’s how they died. Not only did Washington survive all of these conditions, he knew how to inoculate his army against smallpox, claiming the British tried using as an early form of biological warfare. It was the first mass military inoculation in history — and it worked.

In the end, Washington was felled by what modern doctors think was a case of epiglottitis, an acute bacterial inflammation of the little flap at the base of the tongue that covers the trachea.

Like the Rebel Alliance finding an exhaust port in the Death Star plans, life found a way to take down one of history’s greatest. It took 67 years and whole lot of trial and error.

Articles

How Germany deployed the first weapon of mass destruction

In World War I, Germany invented and debuted the world’s first weapons of mass destruction — poison gas artillery shells and pressurized tanks that wafted the deadly toxins over the battlefield. They killed and wounded thousands.


The Germans first attempted two attacks in October 1914 and January 1915 that failed due to technical reasons. But the first successful attack came in April 1915.

That gas attack took place at Ypres, Belgium, where German troops released hundreds of tons of chlorine gas through buried pipes across a four-mile front. Over 1,000 Allied soldiers were killed and another 7,000 were injured.

And that was the opening of Pandora’s Box. The British military responded with its own chlorine attack in September 1915 at the Battle of Loos. The Germans introduced mustard gas into the fighting in 1917 and America joined the war — and chemical warfare — in 1918.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
U.S. Army Soldiers put their gas masks on for a simulated chemical attack during a training mission near Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 25, 2007. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Andrew D. Pendracki)

The war ended with approximately 100,000 chemical weapons deaths and 1 million wounded. The use of chemical weapons was widely banned in 1925 in The Geneva Protocol.

But countries, including some who signed onto the treaty, have used the weapons since. It’s happened everywhere from World War II Italian attacks on North Africa to the modern day.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Future Army artillery so strong it needs better muzzle brakes

The U.S. Army is asking defense firms to develop prototypes for a new, lightweight artillery muzzle brake that’s designed to work with the service’s future extended-range cannons.

The Army has made long-range precision fires its top modernization priority under a bold plan to field new, more capable weapons systems by 2028.

In the short term, Army artillery experts are working to develop a 155 mm cannon capable of striking targets to 70 kilometers, a range that doubles the effectiveness of current 155s.


As part of this effort, the Army recently asked the defense industry to develop “novel muzzle brake structures for extended range cannon artillery systems” that are 30 percent lighter than conventional muzzle brakes, according to a solicitation posted on www.sibr.gov, a government website for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

The M109A6 Paladin.

(US Army photo)

“Given the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires priority, a need exists for novel and innovative muzzle brakes capable of supporting the new extended range cannons and sabot, direct, and indirect munitions currently under development,” the solicitation states.

“High pressure waves produced within gun barrels during projectile acceleration have negative impact upon the surrounding environment due to muzzle blast … exiting the barrel,” it adds.

Muzzle brakes are also subjected to “material degradation due to collisions with small particles exiting the gun barrel, such as solid propellant grains that did not undergo combustion,” the solicitation states.

Because of this, current muzzle brakes tend to be heavy.

The effort “seeks to develop novel muzzle brake aerodynamic designs and structures which minimize the overall mass of the artillery system without compromising performance,” according to the solicitation.

Interested companies have until Feb. 6, 2019, to respond to the Nov. 28, 2018 solicitation.

The first phase of the solicitation asks companies to model and simulate the operational performance of proposed muzzle brake designs that meet the weight-reduction requirements and simulate mechanical wear over the life cycle of the brake.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

The M109A6 Paladin.

(US Army photo)

Companies will then produce at least one prototype for Phase Two, which will be tested on a large-caliber Army platform identified during the Phase One effort, according to the solicitation. Companies will document “recoil, acoustic and optical signature, and muzzle blast” and make refinements on the prototype design, it says.

Companies then will conduct a live-fire demonstration of their final prototype in an operational environment with involvement from the prime contractor for the weapon system, according to the solicitation.

Meanwhile, under the Extended Range Cannon Artillery program, or ERCA, the Army plans to fit M109A8 155 mm Paladin self-propelled howitzers with much longer, .58 caliber gun tubes, redesigned chambers and breeches that will be able to withstand the gun pressures to get out to 70 kilometers, Army officials said.

The service also is finalizing a new version of a rocket-assisted projectile (RAP) round that testers have shot out to 62 kilometers. Artillery experts plan to make improvements to the round by fiscal 2020 so Army testers can hit the 70-kilometer mark, service officials said at the 2018 Association of the United States Army annual meeting and exposition.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why bulletproof glass doesn’t exist but is still awesome

Myth: There is such a thing as true bulletproof glass

In movies and TV shows, bulletproof glass is often depicted to be indestructible. No matter what weapon is used, no matter how many bullets are fired, bulletproof glass remains intact and unchanged. The only problem is, in real life, bulletproof glass isn’t really bulletproof and it isn’t really glass.

The correct term for “bulletproof” glass is bullet resistant. Why? Because with enough time and concentrated effort or just a big enough caliber bullet, a person can become victorious over the supposed indestructibility of “bulletproof” glass. The strength and durability of bullet-resistant glass depends on how it is made and the thickness of the final product.


Fire a bullet at a normal sheet of glass and the glass will shatter, right? So, how exactly does glass become bullet resistant? There are three main kinds of bullet-resistant glass:

1) Acrylic: Acrylic is a hard, clear plastic that resembles glass. A single piece of acrylic with a thickness over one inch is considered bullet resistant. The advantage of acrylic is that it is stronger than glass, more impact resistant, and weighs 50 percent less than glass. Although acrylic can be used to create bullet-resistant glass, there is no actual glass in the final product.

2) Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is also a type of plastic, but it differs from acrylic in many ways. Polycarbonate is a versatile, soft plastic with unbeatable strength. It is a third of the weight of acrylic and a sixth of the weight of glass, making it easier to work with, especially when dealing with thickness. Polycarbonate is combined in layers to create a bullet resistant product. Whereas, acrylic repels bullets, polycarbonate catches the bullet and absorbs its energy, preventing it from exiting out the other side. Polycarbonate is more expensive than other types of materials, including glass and acrylic, so it is often used in combination with other materials for bullet-resistant glass.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

3) Glass-Clad Polycarbonate Bullet-Resistant Glass: This type of bullet-resistant glass uses a combination of materials to create the desired result. We are all familiar with the process of lamination. It is what teachers do to paper to protect it from the unidentifiable substances of kids’ fingers so it will last longer. Manufacturers of glass-clad polycarbonate bullet-resistant glass use the same process. A piece of polycarbonate material is laminated, or sandwiched, between ordinary sheets of glass and then it undergoes a heating and cooling process to mold the materials together into one piece. The end result is a product that resembles glass but is thicker and more durable.

Thickness plays a huge part in a product’s ability to resist bullets. Bullet-resistant glass is designed to remain intact for one bullet or one round of bullets. Depending on the force of the bullet being fired and what type of weapon is used, a thicker piece of bullet-resistant glass is needed to stop a bullet with more force. For instance, a shot fired from a 9mm pistol is less powerful than one fired from a rifle. Therefore, the required thickness of bullet-resistant glass for a 9mm pistol is less than is needed for a rifle. The final thickness of bullet-resistant glass usually ranges from about .25 inches to 3 inches.

The latest and greatest design for bullet-resistant glass is one-way bullet-resistant glass. Yes, it is exactly what is sounds like. One-way bullet-resistant glass consists of two layers–brittle glass and a flexible material such as the polycarbonate plastic material described above. When a bullet hits the brittle glass layer first, the glass breaks inward toward the plastic, which absorbs some of the bullet’s energy and spreads it over a larger area so the polycarbonate material is able to stop the bullet from exiting. When a fired bullet hits the polycarbonate material first, the bulk of the force is concentrated on a small area that prevents much energy from being absorbed. Then, since the glass material breaks outward away from the polycarbonate, the bullet maintains enough energy to break through the glass and travel toward its destination. One-way bullet-resistant glass is most ideal for armored vehicles.

The moral of the story is don’t believe everything you see. Although movies do a good job to entertain us and teach us a thing or two, the truth about bullet-resistant glass is not one of them.

Bonus Facts:

  • Depending on the size and type of bullet-resistant glass, it can cost between and 0 per square foot.
  • Although polycarbonate plastic can bond with glass to resist bullets, paper towels can scratch its surface and ammonia-based window cleaning liquids will damage the material.
  • Obtaining bullet-resistant glass is completely legal in the United States. You don’t even need a permit.
  • The most popular bullet-resistant product in demand is bulletproof transaction windows like those used in banks.
  • Ever thought about making your beloved iPad bulletproof? A company in California created an iPad cover made of polycarbonate material to better protect the device. Although the new transparent cover will protect the screen from scratches, dents, and shattered glass, there is no guarantee that the bullet-resistant material will actually stop a bullet.
  • A sheet of polycarbonate plastic can take an hour beating with a sledgehammer, whereas, an acrylic piece of comparable thickness might succumb in minutes.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

Articles

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly ten months in 1916 and according to some estimates, resulted in almost 950,000 casualties. In essence, it was perhaps the epitome of the trench warfare that dominated World War I.


Indeed, trench warfare really didn’t end until the emergence of the early tanks at the Battle of the Somme. Could some of America’s most modern armored fighting vehicles do better? Specifically, the Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
M1126 Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle. (U.S. Army photo)

At first glance, the Strykers seem very capable of punching through the trenches. With add-on armor, the Stryker can resist RPGs. They have a top speed of just over 62 miles per hour, according to army-recognition.com. The fire from a MG 08 would just bounce off a Stryker that didn’t have the add-on armor. But that misses one problem: Sheer numbers on the German side.

The Germans committed over a million troops to the battle. The Stryker Brigade would have roughly 4,500 troops and 300 vehicles, most of which are M1126 Infantry Combat Vehicles. The vehicles couldn’t roam in the enemy rear — resupply would be very difficult at best. But those vehicles have technology that would enable them to decisively rout the German offensives.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
A look at the Kongsberg M151 Protector Remote Weapon Station. (U.S. Army photo)

The key to what the Stryker would use, would not be in mobility, but in the M151 Protector Remote Weapons Station. The Strykers primarily use the M2 heavy machine gun and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. These outclass the MG 08 by a significant margin. Furthermore, they can be fired from within the Stryker, which negates one of Germany’s most powerful weapons in 1916: poison gas.

This is the second advantage the Stryker would have. The NBC protection capabilities in the Strykers would enable the defense to hold despite German chemical weapons. In essence, rather than facing incapacitated – or dead – defenders, the German troops would be going across “no man’s land” into mission-capable defenders.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
The Stryker’s remote weapon system and NBC protection would make it a formidable presence on a World War I battlefield. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sandra M. Palumbo) (Released)

Worse for them, the M2 heavy machine gun and the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher would tear massed infantry attacks apart. The optics of the Protector remote weapons stations would allow the Americans to pick out the guys with flamethrowers first. In essence, the Strykers would be able to bleed the Germans dry.

It gets worse for the Germans when the inevitable counter-attack comes. The same optics what would let a Stryker gunner pick out a machine gun position and take it out. Here, the M1128 Mobile Gun Systems and M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicles would also come into play, destroying bunkers. The M1129 Stryker Mortar Carrier Vehicles would be able to lay down a lot of smoke and high-explosive warheads on targets.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
The 105mm main gun would be a formidable bunker buster. (U.S. Army photo)

In essence, the Stryker would drastically alter Verdun, not by its mobility, but by virtue of being a poison gas-proof pillbox.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Chinese attack helicopter is its tank-killer

The attack helicopter has become a staple in many modern military forces. One country, though, has lagged a little bit with this crucial weapon: The People’s Republic of China. In fact, they were way behind the curve.


They really can only blame themselves: The June 1989 massacre of peaceful protestors at Tiananmen Square put the kibosh on acquiring a Western design, like the Augusta A129 or the Bell AH-1 Cobra. The fall of the Berlin Wall meant China lost out on buying the Mi-24 Hind. Communist China had to make do with arming the Harbin Z-9, a copy of the AS.365 Dauphin.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
Two Harbin Z-9Ws. The Chinese Communists used this as the basis for the Z-19. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Tksteven)

Now, however, China is catching up. The People’s Liberation Army took two approaches: One was to have the Russian helicopter company Kamov design a purpose-built anti-tank helicopter. The other was an effort to create a dedicated attack version of the Z-9, much like how the AH-1 Cobra was based off the famous UH-1 Iroquois utility helicopter.

Both of the projects are now reaching fruition, and it looks like the Chinese are going to use the products of each. The Z-10 is seen as the main attack helicopter, like the AH-64 Apache is for the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
The Harbin Z-19, an armed reconnaissance helicopter. (Wikimedia Commons photo by WU Ying)

The Z-19 is seen as more of an observation bird — albeit one with far more firepower than the retired OH-58 Kiowa. MilitaryFactory.com reports that it has a top speed of 152 miles per hour, a maximum range of 435 miles, is armed with up to eight anti-tank missiles, and has a crew of two. So far, only the Chinese Communists are using this helicopter — Pakistan, which is often a consumer of Chinese weapons, chose the Turkish copy of the A129 to fill its attack-helicopter needs.

Learn more about this helicopter in the video below:

 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfNARRFA6b0
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-35 is getting new weapons, including the ‘StormBreaker’

The Air Force has begun early testing, software development, and weapons integration for its upcoming Block 4 variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an emerging model intended to give the multi-role fighter a new dimension of weapons and attack mission possibilities, service leaders said.

The new version, to emerge in the early 2020s, will add new long-range precision-tracking weapons such as the newly named StormBreaker weapon — previously called the Small Diameter Bomb II.


“StormBreaker™ successfully completed Developmental Testing and the Government Confidence Testing phase in early 2018. StormBreaker demonstrated all operating modes, the capability to send, receive, and process data-link messages via both link-16 and UHF, Tara Wood, an official with Raytheon’s weapons development unit, told Warrior Maven.

The Air Force and F-35 weapons integration office are also integrating a new upgraded AIM-9x air to air missile, which will enable pilots to attack enemy fighters “off-boresight,” a term which refers to an increased target envelope.

An “off-boresight” AIM-9s will give pilots an ability to target and destroy enemies behind and to the sides of the F-35, Joe Dellavedova, an official with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

US Navy F-35C.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)

“The next step for F-35 weapons integration will be to address the weapon requirements within Block 4. Integration of the Small Diameter Bomb II has already begun, and flight test is scheduled to start as early as 2019,” Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force Spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven in a statement a short time ago.

StormBreaker – Small Diameter Bomb II

StormBreaker, described as a key element of Block 4, is a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said.

Wood further explained that StormBreaker detects, classifies, and tracks a wide array of targets, both moving and stationary. It also has an ability to prosecute moving targets through adverse weather conditions. StormBreaker™ is currently in Operational Test, Wood said.

GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets. StormBreaker has already completed a series of wind tunnel tests.

While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the SDB II is built with a two-way, dual-band data link which enables it to change targets or adjust to different target locations while in flight, Raytheon developers told Warrior Maven.

Operational Testing will utilize the weapon in real world conditions in operationally relevant scenarios, she explained.

A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.

Raytheon weapons developers say the tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground, Raytheon officials told Warrior.

One Raytheon SDB II developer told Warrior in a previous interview that “the millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then, the weapon can turn on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology.”

The SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.

If weapons are kept in an internal weapons bay and not rested on an external weapons pod, then an aircraft can succeed in retaining its stealth properties because the shapes or contours of the weapons will not be visible to enemy radar.

About 105 pound of the SDB II is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “plasma-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, Raytheon officials explained.

The SDB II also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles. The weapon can classify tanks, boats or wheeled targets, Raytheon officials added.s, this will no longer remain the case.

StormBreaker, which is also being integrated on the F-15E, is carried on the BRU-61, a 4 place miniature munitions rack that fits in the F-35’s internal weapons bays. The weapons will be integrated on the F/A-18E/F and F-35B for the Navy and Marine Corps before the F-35A and F-35C, developers explained.

“StormBreaker™ uses Universal Armament Interface protocol to make the weapon/aircraft interface compatible with a wide range of aircraft, including F-35,” Wood added.

AIM-9X

Designed as part of the developmental trajectory for the emerging F-35, previous test-firings of the AIM-9X were intended to further the missile’s ability to demonstrate this “off-boresight,” attack technology. Previous test data and observers have confirmed the F-35 identified and targeted the drone with its mission systems sensors, passed the target ‘track’ information to the missile, enabled the pilot to verify targeting information using the high off-boresight capability of the helmet mounted display and launched the AIM-9X from the aircraft to engage the target drone, a statement from the F-35 JPO said.

F-35 to 2070

The current consensus among senior Pentagon weapons developers holds that, at the moment, the F-35 is the most capable 5th generation plane in the world. Maintaining this edge, however, is anticipated to quickly become more and more difficult now that both Russia and China are building 5th-gen stealth fighters.

“Block 4 is important with the national defense strategy to make sure we are modernizing the plane to keep it dominant on the battlefield. We are close to knowing the strategy for how to go after it,” Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told a group of reporters in early 2018.

While the applied impact of Block 4 will incorporate a range of mission-expanding technologies, much of the ongoing preparation work is in the realm of software development, Roper said.

“The physical pieces of the plane are moving in a good direction. Most of what we have left to do is software. The department (DoD) has not historically been good at software development. That will take a little longer. I cannot imagine building anything for the Air Force that is not software intensive,” Roper said.

The Block 4 initiative is part of a long range trajectory planned for the F-35 described by Pentagon developers as C2D2 – Continuous Capability Development and Delivery. The idea, officials say, is to position the multi-role fighter such that it can consistently accommodate new weapons, stealth materials, sensors, and guidance technology as it becomes available

“We own today’s fight,” said Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, F-35 Test Director, Edwards AFB, told reporters in early 2018. However, Tucker went on to say that, in the absence of aggressive modernization, sustainment and various improvement efforts.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

Articles

‘Ensign Dilbert’ taught pilots to not accidentally kill their friends

Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.


But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.

The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
Shocker: This guy is the idiot. (Photo: YouTube/Nuclear Vault)

And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.

Check out the Dilbert video on aerial gunnery, Don’t Kill Your Friends, below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what happened to the USS Scorpion

The loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was the last peacetime loss of a Navy vessel until the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian ran aground off the Philippines. Unlike the case of the Guardian, 99 sailors lost their lives when USS Scorpion sank after an explosion of undetermined origin.


Related: Life aboard WWII submarines was brutal

For the time, America’s Skipjack-class submarines were very fast. According to the “13th Edition of Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” these 3,075-ton submarines had a top speed of over 30 knots. Armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing anything from World War II-vintage Mk 14 torpedoes to the early versions of the multi-role Mk 48, this sub was as lethal as they come.

 

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1960. (US Navy photo)

The USS Scorpion was the second of the six vessels to be completed and was commissioned in 1960. According to GlobalSecurity.org, she carried out a number of patrols between then and 1967 before being slated for an overhaul. However, this overhaul was cut short by operational needs. The Scorpion was sent out on Feb. 15, 1968, for what would become her last patrol.

After operating in the Mediterranean Sea, she began her return voyage, diverting briefly to monitor a Soviet naval force. The last anyone heard from the sub was on May 21, 1968. Six days later the Scorpion failed to arrive at Norfolk, where families of the crew were waiting.

The Navy would declare her to be “overdue and presumed lost,” the first time such an announcement had been made since World War II. The sub would not be found until October of that year.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
The bow of USS Scorpion (SSN 589), taken in 1986 by an expedition. (US Navy photo)

 

The Navy would look into the disaster, but the official court of inquiry said the cause of the loss could not be determined with certainty. But there are several theories on what might have happened.

One centered around a malfunction of a torpedo. But others suspect poor maintenance may have been the culprit, citing the rushed overhaul.

Check out this video about what it was like to be on the Scorpion.

Engineering Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy might know what sank its only major warship lost in WWI

When America joined the Great War, the British Fleet was holding most of the German Navy in the North Sea, meaning that American warships and troop ships rarely faced severe opposition. But one ship did fall prey to an unknown assailant: The USS San Diego, sank off the U.S. East Coast due to a massive explosion from an unknown source.


Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

The USS San Diego in March 1916.

(U.S. Navy)

But the ship is now a fish sanctuary, and researchers looking at the wreck and at historical documents think they’ve figured out what happened all those years ago.

On July 19, 1918, the armored cruiser was sailing from Portsmouth Naval Yard to New York with a full load of coal in preparation to strike out across the Atlantic. But, as it was coming up the coast, an explosion well beneath the waterline suddenly tore through the ship, hitting so hard that it warped the hull and prevented the closure of a watertight door.

The crew was already positioned throughout the ship in case of trouble, and damage control jumped into action to try to save the ship. Meanwhile, the captain ordered his men to fire the ships massive guns at anything that even looked like a periscope.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

USS San Diego sinks in this 1920 painting by Francis Muller.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

His working theory was that they had been hit by a German torpedo, and he wanted to both kill the bastard who had shot his ship and save the vessel. Unfortunately, he could do neither. The ship sank in 30 minutes into water 110 feet deep, and the crew never spotted the vessel that attacked them.

Six sailors died in the incident. They were Engineman Second Class Thomas E. Davis, Engineman 2nd Class James F. Rochet, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Frazier O. Thomas, Seaman 2nd Class Paul J. Harris, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Andrew Munson, and Fireman 1st Class Clyde C. Blaine.

It was a naval mystery for years, but there was a theory competing against the torpedo one: The ship might have struck a mine placed there by a submarine that was long gone when the San Diego arrived.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

The proud USS San Diego, also known as Armored Cruiser 6.

(U.S. Navy)

Researchers created a 3-D map of the wreck, and found damage that was most similar to the larger explosive load of a torpedo, but could have been caused by a large mine. And so they turned to naval records handed over by Germany after World War I.

In those records, they found reports from the U-156, a German submarine that did operate on the East Coast that month. But it wasn’t concentrating on finding ships to torpedo. She was carrying mines.

The first thing she did was to lay a string of mines right here, because this was the main convoy route. Most of the convoy routes were coming out of New York City, heading for Europe,” Retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox said in July during a ceremony to honor the six sailors lost in the sinking. “We believe those mines were what the San Diego hit.”

The mine explosion took place well below the waterline and against relatively thin plating. The mine detonated against a half inch of steel. If it had contacted at the armored band, it would’ve done paltry damage against the ship’s 5-inch thick armor belt.

Because of the limited ships the Central Powers could put to sea in the later years of World War I, the Navy concentrated on protecting and conducting logistics operations rather than chasing elusive fleet action. The Navy delivered more than 2 million soldiers to Europe without losing any soldiers to U-boats.

In World War II, it would be forced to conduct fleet actions while also delivering troops and supplies across the Pacific, Europe, and Africa.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This ‘Herky Bird’ is a favorite of Rangers and special operators

Special operations forces have long been fans of the C-130. Why not? It’s one of the most versatile platforms available. The basic transport has been a standby for airborne units over the years, but when it comes to carrying the precious cargo that is American special operations forces, no ordinary Hercules will do.


Over the course of several decades, the Air Force has developed advanced versions of the C-130 platform to be used specifically by special operations. One of the first was a variant of the old C-130E, dubbed the MC-130E “Combat Talon,” which entered service in 1966. The MC-130P “Combat Shadow,” derived from the HC-130P, entered service in 1986. The MC-130H was a special-operations version of the C-130H that entered service in 1991.

All of these planes, however, are pretty old by now.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

A MC-130J with the 413th Flight Test Squadron takes off. Note the winglets on the plane.

(USAF photo by Samuel King)

The C-130J version of the Hercules entered service in 1999, replacing aging C-130E models. Continuing the tradition of its predecessors, the C-130J was also modified for use by special operations forces. Older MC-130Es and MC-130Ps were first in line to be replaced by a total of 37 MC-130Js, according to a United States Air Force fact sheet.

The MC-130J first entered service in 2011. It was given the name “Commando II,” taking on the designation of the Curtiss-Wright C-46 “Commando,” a cargo plane that mostly saw action in the Pacific Theater of World War II and was retired in 1968.

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history

A new MC-130J Commando II taxis on the flightline at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

(USAF photo by Senior Airman James Bell)

The MC-130J has a top speed of 415 miles per hour and an unrefueled range of 3,000 miles. It’s capable of refueling up to four helicopters or tiltrotors at a time. It’s also equipped with advanced electro-optical and infra-red sensors.

Learn more about this impressive special-ops plane in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qun5hkYXkk

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Czech training jet was the Warsaw Pact’s answer to the T-38

The T-38 Talon has seen a long career training fighter pilots, entering service in 1961. Since then, over 72,000 pilots have been trained in that plane. But there were a number of countries that needed an advanced jet trainer, but had no access to the T-38. Those would be the Soviet Union and their allies.


Thankfully, for them, the Czechoslovakian aircraft manufacturer Aero came along. In 1972, the L-39 Albatros entered service with the Czechoslovakian Air Force, and then was imported by the Soviet Union and its allies. In the 45 years since, it has proven to be an excellent trainer and light-attack plane. MilitaryFactory.com notes that almost 3,000 of these planes have been built – compared to only 1,146 T-38s!

Project Pluto: The craziest nuclear weapon in history
An Aero L-39 Albatros on takeoff. (Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the T-38, the L-39 wasn’t supersonic – its top speed is 391 miles per hour. It’s just under 40 feet six inches long, with a wingspan of roughly 31 feet, and about 15 feet six inches tall. It has a maximum range of just under 1,100 miles. The lane can carry up to 1,100 pounds of weapons, including a 23mm cannon in a centerline pod, AA-2 Atoll missiles, and rocket pods. There are also provisions for two wing tanks.

The L-39 was exported to the Soviet Union (and after 1991, to the various successor states), as well as to many other Warsaw Pact countries (Poland being a notable exception), and to planes like Libya, Algeria, Vietnam, and North Korea. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the L-39 airframe has been receiving Western technology, including engines and avionics.

The L-39’s 45 years of service have seen huge changes. Over 200 L-39s are in private hands across the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. You can see a video about this long-lasting trainer below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi9c3vhK6vc
Do Not Sell My Personal Information