Military doctrine identifies five domains of warfare — land, sea, air, space, and information. While borders and barriers define the four natural domains, the fifth dimension, with the advancements of artificial intelligence, is rapidly expanding with the potential to destabilize free and open international order.
Nations like China and Russia are making significant investments in AI for military purposes, potentially threatening world norms and human rights.
This year the Defense Department, in support of the National Defense Strategy, launched its Artificial Intelligence Strategy in concert with the White House executive order creating the American Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
The DoD AI strategy states the U.S., together with its allies and partners, must adopt AI to maintain its strategic position, prevail on future battlefields and safeguard order.
“The (executive order) is paramount for our country to remain a leader in AI, and it will not only increase the prosperity of our nation but also enhance our national security,” said Dana Deasy, DoD chief information officer.
Deasy also launched the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center in February 2019 to transform the DoD by accelerating the delivery and adoption of AI to achieve mission impact at scale. The goal is to use AI to solve large and complex problem sets that span multiple services; then, ensure the services and components have real-time access to ever-improving libraries of data sets and tools.
Col. Jason M. Brown is the Air Force Lead at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center believes developing robust artificial intelligence capability is necessary to stay inside a potential adversaries decision making loop.
“The United States needs to drive the development of AI otherwise our adversaries will and we can’t rely that certain adversaries or rivals out there won’t develop AI that meets our standards when it comes to ethics, safety and surety,” said Col. Jason M. Brown, the Air Force lead for the JAIC.
For the DoD that also means working hand in hand with partners and industry leaders in technology and innovation to get smarter, faster.
At the 2019 Air Warfare Symposium, Mark Cuban, renowned entrepreneur and investor, spoke about the world industry competition in AI.
“It’s scary,” Cuban said. “AI is not just important — it’s everything. That’s how the battles (of the future) will be fought.”
Cuban explained China has a huge advantage because they are doing things the U.S. won’t and they have made AI a national focus over the last couple of years.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Stephen Wilson discusses the need for developing artificial intelligence capabilities with Mark Cuban at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando. Fla. in Feb. 2019.
(U.S. Air Force)
“In order to do AI it’s not just about capturing data, which is important, it’s not about algorithms and research into AI; it’s how fast can you process,” Cuban said. “If there’s somebody that has a (fabrication facility) in China that’s building more advanced processors that’s just as important as keeping track of warheads.”
Brown believes AI deterrence will soon be on par with the mission of nuclear deterrence.
“If our adversaries see us moving at a speed and scale because it’s enabled by AI, that will clearly get their attention,” Brown said. “I’d much rather be in the driver seat as we develop these capabilities than to play catch up.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
As the United States shifts its posture away from ongoing counter-terror operations and back toward great power competition with nations like China, the U.S. is being forced to reassess it’s aircraft carrier force projection strategy. If U.S. carriers find themselves on the sideline for such a conflict, it may be worth revisiting the idea of a different kind of aircraft carrier: the flying kind.
China’s arsenal of hypersonic anti-ship missiles have created an area denial bubble that would prevent American carriers from sailing close enough to Chinese shores to launch sorties, effectively neutering America’s ability to conduct offensive operations against the Chinese mainland. Without the ability to leverage the U.S. Navy’s attack aircraft, combat operations in the Pacific would be extremely difficult. It is, however, possible (though potentially impractical) to develop and deploy flying aircraft carriers for such a conflict–the United States has even experimented with the concept a number of times in the past, and is continuing to pursue the idea today.
Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019 (DARPA)
DARPA’s Gremlins Program
The most recent iteration of a flying aircraft carrier comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has seen testing successes as recently as January of this year.
In January, DARPA successfully launched a Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlin UAV from the bay of a Lockheed Martin C-130A cargo aircraft. The program is aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of low-cost combat-capable drones that can be both deployed and recovered from cargo planes. DARPA envisions using cargo planes like the C-130 to deploy these drones while still outside of enemy air defenses; allowing the drones to go on and engage targets before returning to the airspace around the “mother ship” to be recaptured and carried home for service or repairs.
The test showed that a drone could be deployed by the C-130, but the drone itself was ultimately destroyed when its parachute failed to open after the completion of an hour-and-a-half flight. A subsequent test that would include drone capture was slated for the spring of this year, but has likely been delayed to due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Between the success of this test and other drone wingman programs like Skyborg, the concept of a flying aircraft carrier has seen a resurgence in recent years, and may potentially finally become a common facet of America’s air power.
The plan to turn a Boeing 747 into a flying aircraft carrier
The Boeing 747 has already secured its place in the pantheon of great aircraft, from its immense success as a passenger plane to its varied governmental uses like being a taxi for the Space Shuttle or as a cargo aircraft. The 747 has proven itself to be an extremely capable aircraft for a wide variety of applications, so it seemed logical when, in the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force began experimenting with the idea of converting one of these large aircraft into a flying aircraft carrier full of “parasite” fighters that could be deployed, and even recovered, in mid-air.
Boeing AAC design sketch
Initial plans called for using the massive cargo aircraft Lockeed C-5 Galaxy, but as Boeing pointed out at the time, the 747 actually offered superior range and endurance when flying with a full payload. According to Boeing’s proposal, the 747 could be properly equipped to carry as much as 883,000 pounds.
Sketch of a micro fighter inside a 747 fuselage.
The idea behind the Boeing 747 AAC (Airborne Aircraft Carrier) was simple in theory, but incredibly complex in practice. Boeing would specially design and build fighter aircraft that were small enough to be housed within the 747, along with an apparatus that would allow the large plane to carry the fighters a long distance, drop them where they were needed to fight, and then recover them once again.
This graphic from Boeing’s proposal shows different potential flying aircraft carrier platforms and their respective ranges. (Boeing)
Boeing’s 60-page proposal discusses the ways such a program could be executed, but lagging questions remained regarding the fuel range of a 747 carrying such a heavy payload and about how the fighters would fare in a combat environment. Previous flying aircraft carrier concepts showed that the immense turbulence from large aircraft (and their jet engines) made it extremely difficult to manage the fighters they would drop, especially as they attempted to return to the aircraft after a mission.
Potential “micro-fighter” design (Boeing)
Further concerns revolved around how well these miniature “parasite” fighters would fare against the top-of-the-line Soviet fighters they would conceivable be squaring off with.
Ultimately, the proposal never made it off the page — but it did establish one important point for further discussion on this topic. According to the report, Boeing found the concept of a flying aircraft carrier to be “technically feasible” using early 1970’s technology. Technically feasible, it’s important to note, however, is not the same as financially feasible.
The insane Lockheed CL-1201: A massive, nuclear-powered flying aircraft carrier
The Skunkworks at Lockheed Martin have been responsible for some of the most incredible aircraft ever to take flight, from the high-flying U-2 Spy Plane to the fastest military jet ever, the SR-71. But even those incredible aircraft seem downright plain in comparison to Lockheed’s proposal to build an absolutely massive, nuclear powered, flying aircraft carrier–the CL-1201.
The proposal called for an aircraft that weighed 5,265 tons. In order to get that much weight aloft, the design included a 1,120 foot wingspan, with a fuselage that would measure 560 feet (or about two and a half times that of a 747). It would have been 153 feet high, making it stand as tall as a 14-story building. According to Lockheed, they could put this massive bird in the sky using just four huge turbofan engines which would be powered by regular jet fuel under 16,000 feet, where it would then switch to nuclear power courtesy of its on-board reactor. The flying aircraft carrier could then stay aloft without refueling for as long as 41 days, even while maintaining a high subsonic cruising speed of Mach 0.8 at around 30,000 feet.
The giant aircraft would carry a crew of 845 and would be able to deploy 22 multirole fighters from docking pylons installed on the wings. It also would maintain a small internal hangar bay for repairs and aircraft service while flying. Unsurprisingly, this design didn’t make it past the proposal stage, but the concept itself stands as a historical anomaly that continues to inspire renewed attention to this day.
Convair GRB-36F in flight with Republic YRF-84F (S/N 49-2430). (U.S. Air Force photo)
The B-36 Peacemaker
This massive bomber weighed in at an astonishing 410,000 pounds when fully loaded with fuel and ordnance (thanks to its large fuel reserves and 86,000 weapon capacity). Development of the B-36 began in 1941, thanks to a call for an aircraft that was capable of taking off from the U.S., bombing Berlin with conventional or atomic ordnance, and returning without having to refuel. By the time the B-36 made it into the air, however, World War II had already been over for more than a year.
The B-36 had a massive wingspan. At 230 feet, the wings of the Peacemaker dwarf even the B-52’s 185-foot wingspan. In its day, it was one of the largest aircraft ever to take to the sky. Despite it’s incredible capabilities, the B-36 never once flew an operational mission, but the massive size and range of the platform prompted the Air Force to consider its use as a flying aircraft carrier, using Republic YRF-84F Ficon “parasitic” fighters as the bomber’s payload.
The idea was similar to that of the later proposal from Boeing, carrying the fighters internally to extend their operational range and then deploying them via a lowering boom, where they could serve as protection for the bomber, reconnaissance assets, or even execute offensive operations of their own before returning to the B-36 for recovery.
View of the YRF-84F from inside the B-36 — the pilot could enter and exit the cockpit from within the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The U.S. Air Force ultimately did away with the concept thanks to the advent of mid-air refueling, which dramatically increased the operational range of all varieties of aircraft and made a flying aircraft carrier concept a less cost effective solution.
Using rigid airships as flying aircraft carriers
Although we very rarely see rigid inflatable airships in service to national militaries today, things were much different in the early 20th century. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s airships (dubbed “Zeppelins”) were proving themselves to be a useful military platform thanks to their fuel efficiency, range, and heavy payload capabilities. These massive airships were not only cost-effective, their gargantuan size also offered an added military benefit: their vast looming presence could be extremely intimidating to the enemy.
However, as you may have already guessed, it was that vast presence that also created the rigid airship’s massive weakness: it was susceptible to being shot down by even the simplest of enemy aircraft. England was the first nation to try to offset this weakness by building an apparatus that could carry and deploy three Sopwith Camel biplanes beneath the ship’s hull. They ultimately built four of these 23-class Vickers rigid airships, but all were decommissioned by the 1920s. The U. S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics took notice of the concept, however, and set about construction on its own inflatable airships, with both the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5) serving as flying aircraft carriers.
The airships were built with an apparatus that could not only deploy F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes, they could also recover them once again mid-flight. The airships and aircraft fell under the Navy’s banner, and the intent was to use the attached bi-planes for both reconnaissance (ship spotting) and defense, but not necessarily for offensive operations.
USS Akron (ZRS-4) Launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane (Bureau # A8604) during flight tests near Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, 4 May 1932. (U.S. Navy)
The biplanes were stored in hangars on the airship that measured approximately 75′ long x 60′ wide x 16′ high — or big enough to service 5 biplanes internally.
Sparrowhawk scout/fighter aircraft on its exterior rigging (U.S. Navy)
After lackluster performance in a series of Naval exercises, the Akron would crash on April 4, 1933, killing all 76 people on board. Just weeks later, on April 21, its sister ship, the USS Macon, would take its first flight. Two years later, it too would crash, though only two of its 83 crew members would die.
The United States Air Force needs aggressor aircraft. There is no geopolitical adversary for the United States quite like Russia and its Soviet-built airplanes. American combat crews need to train against someone, and the best we can get comes in the form of MiG-29 fighters and Sukhoi-27 aircraft.
It doesn’t matter that the aircraft are from the 1970s, so is the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 fleet. American airmen need targets, and these are the most likely real-world ones.
In 2017, onlookers spotted an F-16 engaged in a life or death dogfight over Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. with a Russian-built Su-27 Flanker aircraft. It’s highly unlikely an errant Russian fighter penetrated NORAD and began an attack on a specific base. The only logical explanation was that Nellis has a supply of Russian-built fighters for U.S. airmen to train against. It turns out, that is exactly what happened in the skies over Nevada that day. Make another notch in the win column for Occam’s Razor.
The United States Air Force has acquired and maintains a number of Russian and Soviet-built aircraft for airmen to fly against. Where they get the aircraft is anyone’s guess, but The National Interest reported it likely gets the most advanced fighters from Ukraine. Other fighters are on loan from private companies who acquired the Russian planes on their own. That’s another W for capitalism.
Anything is possible with enough money.
So even if the United States Air Force couldn’t afford to own and maintain its own supply of Russian aggressor aircraft, there are apparently a number of civilian contractors who have acquired them and are willing to loan those fighters out to the USAF. Among those come MiG-29s from a company called Air USA, MiG-21s and trainer aircraft from Draken International, and the two aforementioned Sukhoi-27 fighters from Pride International via Ukraine.
Let’s see the semi-Communist oligarchs in Moscow pull off acquiring an F-22 Raptor using their shady business dealings. But even if the United States couldn’t fight real Russian fighters, American pilots could still get excellent training.
The emperor has new clothes.
If you’re not sure what’s happening in the photo above, that’s an F-16 Fighting Falcon all dressed up as a Sukhoi-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter. While the F-16 may not have stealth and definitely isn’t a fifth-gen fighter, it still gives U.S. airmen training on what to look for while engaging a Russian in the skies. The paint job is used by the Russians to make the Su-57 look like a different, smaller aircraft from a distance. Acquiring real enemy aircraft and training under the conditions closest to combat will give American pilots the edge they need.
That is, if they ever need that edge against the Russians.
US Air Force weapons developers are working with industry to pursue early prototypes of a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile able to pinpoint targets with possible attacks from much farther ranges than bombers can typically attack.
Service engineers and weapons architects are now working with industry partners on early concepts, configurations, and prototypes for the weapon, which is slated to be operational by the late 2020s.
Many senior Pentagon and Air Force officials believe the emerging nuclear-armed Long Range Stand-Off weapon will enable strike forces to attack deep within enemy territory and help overcome high-tech challenges posed by emerging adversary air defenses.
The Air Force awarded two 0 million LRSO deals in 2017 to both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as a key step toward selecting one vendor for the next phase of the weapon’s development. Due to fast growing emerging threats, the Air Force now envisions an operational LRSO by the end of the 2020s, as opposed to prior thoughts they it may not be ready until the 2030s.
While many details of the weapons progress are not available naturally for security reasons, Air Force officials tell Warrior Maven that plans to move into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase are on track for 2022.
A cruise missile armed with nuclear weapons could, among many things, potentially hold targets at risk which might be inaccessible to even stealth bombers in some instances.
As a result, senior Air Force leaders continue to argue that engineering a new, modern Long-Range Standoff weapons with nuclear capability may be one of a very few assets, weapons or platforms able to penetrate emerging high-tech air defenses. Such an ability is, as a result, deemed crucial to nuclear deterrence and the commensurate need to prevent major-power warfare.
United States Tomahawk cruise missile.
“The United States has never had long-range nuclear cruise missiles on stealthy bombers,” Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, told Warrior Maven.
Therefore, in the event of major nuclear attack on the US, a stand-off air-launched nuclear cruise missile may be among the few weapons able to retaliate and, as a result, function as an essential deterrent against a first-strike nuclear attack.
“There may be defenses that are just too hard. They can be so redundant that penetrating bombers becomes a challenge. But with standoff (enabled by long-range LRSO), I can make holes and gaps to allow a penetrating bomber to get in,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, former Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, (and Current Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force) told the Mitchell Institute in 2014.
At the same time, some experts are raising concerns as to whether a nuclear-armed cruise missile could blur crucial distinctions between conventional and nuclear attacks; therefore, potentially increasing risk and lowering the threshold to nuclear warfare.
“We have never been in a nuclear war where escalation is about to happen and early-warning systems are poised to look for signs of surprise nuclear strikes. In such a scenario, a decision by a military power to launch a conventional attack — but the adversary expects and mistakenly interprets it as a nuclear attack — could contribute to an overreaction that escalates the crisis,” Kristensen said.
Potential for misinterpretation and unintended escalation is, Kristensen said, potentially compounded by the existence of several long-range conventional cruise missiles, such as the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER. Also, in future years, more conventional cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons are likely to emerge as well, creating the prospect for further confusion among potential adversaries, he explained.
“Stealthy bombers equipped with numerous stealthy LRSOs would — in the eye of an adversary — be the perfect surprise attack weapon,” Kristensen said.
However, senior Air Force and Pentagon weapons developers, many of whom are strong advocates for the LRSO, believe the weapon will have the opposite impact of increasing prospects for peace — by adding new layers of deterrence.
B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber.
“LRSO will limit escalations through all stages of potential conflict,” Robert Scher, former Sec. of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, told Congress in 2015, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists.
In fact, this kind of thinking is analogous to what is written in the current administration’s Nuclear Posture Review which, among other things, calls for several new low-yield nuclear weapons options to increase deterrence amid fast-emerging threats. While discussing these new weapons options, which include a lower-yield submarine-launched nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress the additional attack possibilities might help bring Russia back to the negotiating table regarding its violations of the INF Treaty.
The LRSO will be developed to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile or ALCM, currently able to fire from a B-52. The AGM-86B has far exceeded its intended life-span, having emerged in the early 1980s with a 10-year design life, Air Force statements said.
Unlike the ALCM which fires from the B-52, the LRSO will be configured to fire from B-2 and B-21 bombers as well, service officials said; both the ALCM and LRSO are designed to fire both conventional and nuclear weapons.
While Air Force officials say that the current ALCM remains safe, secure, and effective, it is facing sustainment and operational challenges against evolving threats, service officials also acknowledge.
The rapid evolution of better networked, longer-range, digital air-defenses using much faster computer processing power will continue to make even stealth attack platforms more vulnerable; current and emerging air defenses, such as Russian-built S-300s and S-400s are able to be cued by lower-frequency “surveillance radar” — which can simply detect that an enemy aircraft is in the vicinity — and higher-frequency “engagement radar” capability. This technology enables air defenses to detect targets at much farther ranges on a much larger number of frequencies including UHF, L-band and X-band.
Russian officials and press reports have repeatedly claimed its air-defenses can detect and target many stealth aircraft, however some US observers believe Russia often exaggerates its military capabilities. Nonetheless, many US developers of weapons and stealth platforms take Russian-built air defenses very seriously. Many maintain the existence of these systems has greatly impact US weapons development strategy.
Accordingly, some analysts have made the point that there may be some potential targets which, due to the aforementioned superbly high-tech air defenses, platforms such as a B-2 stealth bomber, might be challenged to attack without detection.
However, Air Force leaders say the emerging new B-21 Raider stealth bomber advances stealth technology to yet another level, such that it will be able to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the world, at any time.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Through intense, specialized training, special operations units become the elite arm of any military. To make the most of their training, these units often get special tools.
According to reports, a new tool, the DAGOR ultra-light combat vehicle, has been delivered to Canadian special ops units. WATM got a good look at these vehicles at the 2017 AirSpaceCyber expo, where the DAGOR was on display with three litters and an M2 heavy machine gun.
So, why would a spec-ops unit not opt for something like the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV)? Both of these vehicles can carry some heavy firepower, like the BGM-71 TOW missile or the M2 heavy machine gun.
The answer is, simply, that these vehicles are too big. While you can fit them into a C-130, you still need a good place to land to roll them out or air-drop them. Even then, when it’s time to leave, if you can’t arrange proper pickup, you now have the options of leaving it behind for the enemy to take (not a good idea) or blowing it up, and these vehicles are expensive. Yes, it is possible to have too much vehicle for a mission.
The DAGOR is the type of vehicle that addresses these problems. Two of these can fit on a CH-47 Chinook (the Canadians have them on inventory as the CH-147F). They hold nine troops and can pack some serious firepower, including an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun. They can go 500 miles on a tank of diesel fuel and can carry up to 3,000 pounds.
Learn more about the Canadian purchase in the video below.
The only bad news is, while the Canadian military can buy these, Polaris still asks people who request quotes to certify that they are an “authorized government purchaser, government supplier, educational institution, non-profit organization, or representing a government agency” and “not inquiring about Polaris Defense products for personal use.” So much for that joyride…
When the U.S. Air Force gets its first F-35 Lightning II distributed mission training simulator system at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, this spring, pilots will have the ability to fly virtually as a group, alongside other aircraft, and practice exchanging information across a network, according to Lockheed Martin officials.
“When the F-35 [deploys to] a fight, we know it’s not going by itself,” said Chauncey McIntosh, vice president of F-35 Training and Logistics for Lockheed. McIntosh spoke during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) conference in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday.
“So by allowing our … warfighters to really bring in all the other assets in a virtual environment and practice that, to ensure they get high-end training in these dense, immersive environments, [it] is going to be a game changer,” he added.
McIntosh said the distributed mission training simulator, or DMT, has been in testing for months, and is in the final stages of integration before the technology is introduced in the spring.
“It’s not just F-35-to-F-35; it’s F-35 to anything that we can bring in a virtual reality environment to the network … regardless of where it’s located,” he said.
F-35A Lightning II.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
According to the company, the simulator “creates interoperability across military platforms for continuation training and large force exercise.”
“We expect this capability will be used in Virtual Flag exercises, allowing warfighters to practice complex training scenarios with other platforms virtually for integrated training operations,” Lockheed said in a statement to Military.com.
The Air Force will be the first to use the technology, with the expectation that it will continue to be rolled out “throughout the F-35 enterprise” in the future, Lockheed officials added.
The Defense Department has put an emphasis on group training, with other services attempting their own digital training initiatives.
For example, a priority for the Army has been the synthetic training environment, also known as the STE.
(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
Engineers collect data to reconstruct cities, mountainsides, bunkers etc. to more accurately represent what soldiers will experience in the STE, thus getting a more authentic representation of what they may face in combat.
The plan is for the STE to develop to a point that squads can operate together in training, facing virtual high-end threats.
However, it’s unclear how soon that level of training will be realized.
During the annual Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in October, Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, the STE cross-functional team director, said elements of the STE were in jeopardy given ongoing negotiations between lawmakers over the next fiscal budget.
“Once we see the final number, we’ll understand the impact” on making STE operational, Gervais said at the time.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Usually as planes get older, they become less capable. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has been a decided exception to that rule.
In fact, as it gets older it get even more deadly.
Part of this venerable bomber’s ascent to a new level of combat capability is new electronics. The short version: The B-52 is becoming “smarter” through the addition of the Combat Network Communication Technology package, or CONECT.
According to a 2014 Boeing release, CONECT allows a B-52 to use intelligence in real time on moving map displays, the re-targeting of weapons in flight, and also gives the BUFF a state-of-the-art computing network. This makes the B-52 a much more flexible asset, meaning ordnance doesn’t have to be brought back if the target is gone for one reason or another.
In 1965, the Air Force modified most of the B-52D versions of the Stratofortress to carry a lot of conventional bombs. The modifications increased the number of bombs from 27 to either 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound M117 bombs. These bombers proved effective, first in the bombing missions in support of ground troops, then during Operation Linebacker II.
When the modification program is complete, the B-52H bombers in service will be able to carry a dozen missiles like the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on the wing pylons and eight in the bomb bay. In essence, each B-52 will be able to carry 20 weapons, as opposed to 12 — that’s a 66 percent increase in targeting capability.
It means fewer sorties, and less strain on a force that has just turned 65 years old.
That’s not a bad thing. You can see a video about the upgrades to the B-52 below.
For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.
This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.
The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”
Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.
The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.
The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.
Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.
Chinese officials have touted their progress with a new type of rocket propulsion that they say could give them an advantage in a potential conflict around the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan mountains.
The project reportedly intends to add electromagnetic force to the launch of traditional rocket artillery, which is typically cheaper than missiles and can be fired in larger quantities.
Han Junli, lead researcher on the project, told the state-run Science and Technology Daily that an electromagnetic launch “can give the rocket a very high initial speed on its launching state.”
Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military expert, told the South China Morning Post that an electromagnetic catapult “may also be able to help stabilize the rocket during launch and improve its accuracy.”
Han, who researches the use of China’s ground forces, called the project the first of its kind and said work on it had been progressing steadily “with great breakthroughs.”
Chinese Type PHZ-89 122 mm 40-tube self-propelled multiple rocket launchers assigned to an army artillery regiment during a live-fire exercise in Jiangxi Province, Aug. 21, 2016.
(Wang Liang/Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China)
Han’s work has reportedly involved gathering data from the Tibetan Plateau, which has an altitude of about 13,000 to 15,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains that reach higher.
Han told Science and Technology Daily that the greater range of electromagnetically launched rockets would mean they don’t need to deploy to the front lines — a challenging task in the region’s rough terrain.
Thinner air at higher elections, which may hinder traditional rockets, would also not be as big an obstacle for electromagnetically launched rockets. Reduced friction from thinner air may also allow such rockets to hit higher speeds, though thinner air may mean less precision.
“Conventional artillery that uses powder may suffer from lack of oxygen on plateaus,” Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the state-run Global Times in early August 2018.
Electromagnetically launched rockets — which Song said could reach distances of 200 kilometers, or roughly 125 miles — would not face that issue, which “makes [them] very valuable in warfare on plateaus.”
“The plateau covers 26 per cent of China’s entire land territory,” Han was quoted as saying. “Rockets deployed in the field can cause severe damage to any invader in hundreds of square kilometres.”
“It is like in boxing,” he reportedly said. “The person who has longer arms and harder fists enjoys the advantage.”
Details about electromagnetic rocket artillery, like its range and how far along work on it is, remain unclear, but it is not the only potential venue for such technology.
Electromagnetic force is used in rail guns to fire projectiles with more precision and greater range that typical propulsion systems, and China’s military may include electromagnetic catapults on its next aircraft carrier.
China’s progress may be overstated, however.
While the rail gun appeared to be undergoing testing on a Chinese navy ship, sources told the Post that the vessel was a landing ship repurposed to hold the bulky electrical equipment needed to power the expensive-to-use weapon and that the new destroyers on which the rail gun is supposed to be deployed are not well suited for it.
A possible rail gun mounted on the Chinese Navy Type 072III-class landing ship Haiyang Shan.
Electromagnetic catapults for aircraft, which China is said to be considering for its next aircraft carrier, may not yet be viable either.
The US Navy — which has struggled with its own rail-gun research — has an electromagnetic catapult aboard its newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, but a Pentagon report released in early 2018 called into question that system’s ability “to conduct the type of high-intensity flight operations expected during wartime.”
A ‘win’ over a ‘bullying neighbor’
Han told Science and Technology Daily in early August 2018 that the necessity of rocket artillery was illustrated by a “military incident” that took place in a border region on a plateau in southwest China.
He did not specify what he was referring to, though he may have meant the 73-day border standoff between China and India in summer 2017 in the Doklam region where China, India, and Bhutan’s borders meet. After that incident, Han reportedly started making plans to target an unnamed opponent’s military installations in the area.
Chinese and Indian forces both backed away in late August that year, though troops from both sides have remained in the area and are believed to be reinforcing their positions, including upgrades to Chinese airbases in Lhasa and Shigatse and increased deployments to Indian airbases at Siliguri Bagdogra and Hasimara.
India has also moved forward with its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system, which is designed to intercept targets at greater distances and altitudes.
In the year since, Beijing and New Dehli have worked to mend relations, including the Chinese defense minister’s first visit since the standoff, during which he hailed their friendship as one dating to ancient times.
The two sides also agreed to “expand the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions” and to implement “confidence-building measures” along their border, including a hotline between armed forces there.
But China is reportedly still smarting from the incident. In the months since, Indian commentary has described the incident as a “win” for Dehli over a “bullying neighbor.” Comments this spring by India’s ambassador to China that attributed the standoff to Chinese actions drew a rebuke from Beijing.
“I imagine the Chinese are not pleased with how events unfolded last year, and there are some who felt like they were somewhat embarrassed by India,” Jeff Smith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said in an August 2018 interview. “So I’m sure they’re redoubling their efforts down there to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”
Featured image: Two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems assigned to the 41st Fires Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas, fire rockets during a live fire at the Udairi Range Complex, Camp Buehring, Kuwait, March 13, 2014.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sure, we all love the “Brrrrrt” of America’s A-10 Warthog — the legendary close air support plane that’s become the terror of Taliban insurgents and Iraqi bad guys alike.
But before the A-10 was the OV-10 Bronco. And while not a 100 percent close air support plane and tank killer like the A-10, the Bronco could deliver it’s own version of hurt when soldiers and Marines were in a pinch.
It’s rugged, powerful and can land just about anywhere with its beefed-up landing gear and high wing. In fact, it was even tested aboard the carrier USS John F. Kennedy in 1968 — without arresting gear.
Since it was retired in the 1995, the OV-10 has experienced a bit of a resurgence these days, with many in the special operations community, Army and Marine Corps calling for a “low and slow” light attack aircraft that can carry more, fly faster and orbit for longer than a helicopter, at a lot less cost than a sophisticated fighter like the F-35 Lightning II or even the aging A-10.
Heck, it even has a small cargo bay for gear and troops.
While there are other options out there, the OV-10 had been in the post-Vietnam inventory for years and still has a solid following in the services. In fact, U.S. special operations troops tested a NASA-owned Bronco recently for several of its missions and, according to an active duty aviator with knowledge of the tests, they loved it.
And if the Marine Corps or Navy says the OV-10 isn’t for them because it can’t land on a carrier? Well, here’s the evidence that it can.
Army researchers recently tested ground robots performing military-style exercises, much like soldier counterparts, at a robotics testing site in Pennsylvania recently as part of a 10-year research project designed to push the research boundaries in robotics and autonomy.
RoMan, short for Robotic Manipulator, is a tracked robot that is easily recognized by its robotic arms and hands — necessary appendages to remove heavy objects and other road debris from military vehicles’ paths. What’s harder to detect is the amount of effort that went into programming the robot to manipulate complex environments.
The exercise was one of several recent integration events involving a decade of research led by scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory who teamed with counterparts from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and General Dynamics Land Systems.
As part of ARL’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, the work focused on state-of-the-art basic and applied research related to ground robotics technologies with an overarching goal of developing autonomy in support of manned-unmanned teaming. Research within the RCTA program serves as foundational research in support of future combat ground vehicles.
An Army robot plans what to do to address a debris pile, full of objects.
(U.S. Army photo)
The recent robot exercise was the culmination of research to develop a robot that reasons about unknown objects and their physical properties, and decides how to best interact with different objects to achieve a specific task.
“Given a task like ‘clear a path’, the robot needs to identify potentially relevant objects, figure out how objects can be grasped by determining where and with what hand shape, and decide what type of interaction to use, whether that’s lifting, moving, pushing or pulling to achieve its task,” said CCDC ARL’s Dr. Chad Kessens, Robotic Manipulation researcher.
During the recent exercise, RoMan successfully completed such as multi-object debris clearing, dragging a heavy object (e.g., tree limb), and opening a container to remove a bag.
Kessens said soldier teammates are able to give verbal commands to the robot using natural human language in a scenario.
“Planning and learning and their integration cut across all these problems. The ability of the robot to improve its performance over time and to adapt to new scenarios by building models on-the-fly while incorporating the power of model-based reasoning will be important to achieving the kinds of unstructured tasks we want to be able to do without putting soldiers in harm’s way,” Kessens said.
With ATACMS, MLRS, HIMARs, the M109A6, and the M777, American artillery can and does deliver a huge punch at a distance. Compared to them, Civil War cannons look downright puny.
Don’t take that to the bank, though. These old cannon were pretty powerful in their day. The Smithsonian Channel decided to take a look at how to fire a Civil War cannon from start to finish using the Model 1841 12-pound howitzer.
According to Antietam on the Web, the howitzer of the time had a 4.62-inch bore (117 millimeters) and a 53-inch long barrel. It had a range of 1,072 yards – or about the same distance an M40 sniper rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO can reach out and touch someone.
It had three types of ammo: canister, which was essentially a giant shotgun shell; spherical case shot, which became known as a shrapnel shell; and a common shell, which was your basic impact-fused or time-fused explosive shell.
Without further ado, here’s the video from the Smithsonian Channel showing how to fire this cannon, using an authentic replica.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center successfully fired the first 3-D printed grenade launcher. This demonstration shows that additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3-D printing) has a potential future in weapon prototype development, which could allow engineers to provide munitions to Soldiers more quickly.
The printed grenade launcher, named RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance), was the culmination of six months of collaborative effort by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, the U.S. Army Manufacturing Technology Program and America Makes, the national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3-D printing.
RAMBO is a tangible testament to the utility and maturation of additive manufacturing. It epitomizes a new era of rapidly developed, testable prototypes that will accelerate the rate at which researchers’ advancements are incorporated into fieldable weapons that further enable our warfighters. Additive manufacturing is an enabling technology that builds successive layers of materials to create a three-dimensional object.
Every component in the M203A1 grenade launcher, except springs and fasteners, was produced using AM techniques and processes. The barrel and receiver were fabricated in aluminum using a direct metal laser sintering process. This process uses high-powered precision lasers to heat the particles of powder below their melting point, essentially welding the fine metal powder layer by layer until a finished object is formed. Other components, like the trigger and firing pin, were printed in 4340 alloy steel, which matches the material of the traditional production parts.
The purpose of this project was to demonstrate the utility of AM for the design and production of armament systems. A 40 mm grenade launcher (M203A1) and munitions (M781) were selected as candidate systems. The technology demonstrator did not aim to illustrate whether the grenade launcher and munition could be made cheaper, lighter or better than traditional mass-production methods. Instead, researchers sought to determine whether AM technologies were mature enough to build an entire weapon system and the materials’ properties robust enough to create a properly functioning armament.
To be able to additively manufacture a one-off working testable prototype of something as complex as an armament system would radically accelerate the speed and efficiency with which modifications and fixes are delivered to the warfighter. AM doesn’t require expensive and time-intensive tooling. Researchers would be able to manufacture multiple variations of a design during a single printing build in a matter of hours or days. This would expedite researchers’ advancements and system improvements: Instead of waiting months for a prototype, researchers would be able to print a multitude of different prototypes that could be tested in a matter of days.
Depending on a part’s complexity, there can be numerous steps involved before it is ready for use. For instance, in the case of RAMBO, the printed aluminum receiver and barrel required some machining and tumbling. After printing, the components were cut from the build plate, and then support material was removed from the receiver.
The barrel was printed vertically with the rifling. After it was removed from the build plate, two tangs were broken off and the barrel was tumbled in an abrasive rock bath to polish the surface. The receiver required more post-process machining to meet the tighter dimensional requirements. Once post-processing was complete, the barrel and receiver underwent Type III hard-coat anodizing, a coating process that’s also used for conventionally manufactured components of the M203A1. Anodizing creates an extremely hard, abrasion-resistant outer layer on the exposed surface of the aluminum.
The barrel and receiver took about 70 hours to print and required around five hours of post-process machining. The cost for powdered metals varies but is in the realm of $100 a pound. This may sound like a lot of time and expensive material costs, but given that the machine prints unmanned and there is no scrap material, the time and cost savings that can be gained through AM are staggering. The tooling and set-up needed to make such intricate parts through conventional methods would take months and tens of thousands of dollars, and would require a machinist who has the esoteric machining expertise to manufacture things like the rifling on the barrel.
Beyond AM fabrication of the weapon system, ManTech also requested that a munition be printed. Two RDECOM research and development centers, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC) and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), participated in this phase of the project to demonstrate RDECOM’s cross-organizational capabilities and teaming. An integrated product team selected the M781 40 mm training round because it is simple and does not involve any energetics—explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics are still awaiting approval for use in 3-D printing.
The M781 consists of four main parts: the windshield, the projectile body, the cartridge case and a .38-caliber cartridge case. The windshield and cartridge case are traditionally made by injection molding glass-filled nylon. Using multiple AM systems at multiple locations helped emphasize manufacturing readiness and the Army’s capability to design, fabricate, integrate and test components while meeting tolerances, requirements and design rules. ARL and ECBC used selective laser sintering and other AM processes to print glass-filled nylon cartridge cases and windshields for the rounds.
The .38-caliber cartridge case was the only component of the M781 that was not printed. The .38-caliber cartridge case was purchased and pressed into the additively manufactured cartridge case. Research and development is underway at ARDEC to print energetics and propellants.
In current production, the M781 projectile body is made of zinc. Zinc is used because it’s easy to mass-produce through die-casting, it’s a dense material and it’s relatively soft. The hardness of the projectile body is critical, because the rifling of the barrel has to cut into the softer obturating ring of the projectile body. The rifling imparts spin on the round as it travels down the barrel, which improves the round’s aerodynamic stability and accuracy once it exits the barrel. Currently, 3-D printing of zinc is not feasible within the Army. Part of the beauty of AM is that changes can be made quickly and there is no need for retooling, so four alternative approaches were taken to overcome this capability gap:
The first approach was to print the projectile body in aluminum as an alternative material. The problem with that approach is that aluminum is less dense than zinc; therefore, when fired, the projectile achieves higher speeds than system design specifications call for. Interestingly, even though the barrel and projectile body were printed from the same aluminum material, because the printed barrel was hard-coat anodized, it allowed for proper rifling engagement with the softer untreated printed aluminum projectile body.
The second approach was to print the projectile body in steel, which better meets the weight requirements, and then mold a urethane obdurating ring onto it. The obturating ring is required to ensure proper engagement and rifling in the aluminum barrel. We couldn’t keep the obturating ring as steel, like we did with the first approach, because steel is a lot harder than aluminum, and even with the hard-coat anodization it would have destroyed the grenade launcher’s barrel. So for this approach, the projectile body’s design was modified to take advantage of design for AM. The original projectile body designs did not consider AM fabrication and processing. For this AM technology demonstrator, the design was modified to take advantage of AM design rules to reduce the amount of post-machining required. This approach also used 3-D printing to fabricate a “negative” mold and then create a silicone positive mold to produce an obturating ring onto the printed munition bodies.
The third approach also utilized a groove and obturating ring, but instead of overmolding, the plastic was printed directly onto the steel projectile body using a printer with a rotary axis.
The fourth approach used a wax printer to 3D-print projectile bodies. Using the lost-wax casting process, plaster was poured around the wax bodies and allowed to set. Once set, the hardened plaster mold was heated and the wax melted away. Molten zinc was then poured into the plaster mold to cast the zinc projectile bodies.
ARDEC researchers used modeling and simulation throughout the project to verify whether the printed materials would have sufficient structural integrity to function properly. Live-fire testing was used to further validate the designs and fabrication. The printed grenade launcher and printed training rounds were live-fire tested for the first time on Oct. 12, 2016, at the Armament Technology Facility at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.
Testing included live firing at indoor ranges and outdoor test facilities. The system was remotely fired for safety reasons, and the tests were filmed on high-speed video. The testing included 15 test shots with no signs of degradation. All the printed rounds were successfully fired, and the printed launcher performed as expected. There was no wear from the barrel, all the systems held together and the rounds met muzzle velocities within 5 percent of a production M781 fired from a production-grade grenade launcher.
The variation in velocities were a result of the cartridge case cracking, and the issue was quickly rectified with a slight design change and additional 3-D printing. This demonstrates a major advantage using AM, since the design was modified and quickly fabricated without the need for new tooling and manufacturing modifications that conventional production would require. More in-depth analysis of material properties and certification is underway. The RAMBO system and associated components and rounds are undergoing further testing to evaluate reliability, survivability, failure rates and mechanisms.
Before the live-fire testing, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center gathered warfighter input from the 2-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. The regiment was consulted on features and capabilities it would like to have available on the M203A1 grenade launcher. Using that feedback, NSRDEC created the standalone kit for RAMBO. The M203 grenade launcher is typically mounted under other soldier weapons.
NSRDEC researchers took advantage of AM and rapidly created prototypes and kits that included custom handgrips based on warfighter requests and specifications—customization made possible because of the design freedoms and rapid turnaround afforded by AM.
The concept and funding for this project initially came from ManTech and ARDEC. ARDEC managed and executed the project with collaboration from other RDECOM AM community of practice and associated member organizations. Some of that collaboration was ad hoc and need-based—the need to find certain printing capabilities that ARDEC lacked, for example—and other collaborative efforts represented a concerted effort to leverage the experience and expertise of the community of practice.
Key organizations included ARDEC, Army ManTech, ARL, ECBC, NSRDEC, America Makes, DOD laboratories and several small businesses. ARL worked with ECBC for development of printed glass-filled nylon cartridge cases, and with NSRDEC for designs and fabrication of the printed standalone kits with Soldier-requested variations.
The Army Special Services Division at Fort Meade, Maryland, expeditiously printed aluminum barrels and receivers to complement ARDEC’s capabilities for additive manufacturing of metals. America Makes developed and printed finely tuned AM barrels and receivers. The project also included services from several small businesses and service houses for AM. The cross-organization teaming between government and industry illustrated the current state of the art for AM and the robustness and manufacturing readiness of AM as an enabling technology for current and future U.S. production.
The 40 mm AM-produced grenade launcher and components were a highlighted project at the 2016 Defense Manufacturing Conference. Although there are still many challenges to be addressed before Armywide adoption of AM, demonstrations like this one show the technology’s advances. Successfully firing an AM-produced weapon system validates AM maturation and applicability in armament production.
By using AM, researchers and developers will be able to build and test their prototypes in a matter of days rather than months. Designs and parts previously unachievable can now be realized. Complex designs that lighten, simplify and optimize armaments are now feasible and manufacturable. These advancements will improve products and facilitate faster and more efficient transition from the labs to the field, further enabling our warfighters.