US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

In August, China launched two ballistic missiles that, according to a Chinese military expert, hit a moving target ship in the South China Sea thousands of miles from their launch sites.

If true, the test — which came a month after the US deployed two carrier strike groups to the region and a day after a US U-2 spy plane observed a Chinese navy live-fire drill — is the first known demonstration of China’s long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles against a moving target.

“We are doing this because of their provocation,” Wang Xiangsui, a former Chinese colonel and professor at Beijing’s Beihang University, reportedly said in reference to the deployments, calling the test “a warning to the US.”

Not to be outdone, the Russian navy conducted its third test launch of the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile in the White Sea in December. Launched from a frigate, the missile reached a speed of Mach 8 before hitting a “coastal target” more than 200 miles away.

The tests are just the latest indication that American aircraft carriers, long viewed as kings of the seas, may soon face a real threat to their existence.

High-priority targets

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other US Navy ships during a passing exercise with the Indian navy in 2012. 

America’s carriers have always been among the biggest targets for rivals. While the Soviets publicly lambasted carriers as “the oppressor of national liberation movements,” they recognized them as a dominant weapon platform.

This was especially the case after they realized US carrier air wings included aircraft carrying nuclear payloads.

Declassified CIA documents reveal that by the 1980s, the Soviets rarely criticized carriers in internal discussions and even praised them for providing “high combat stability.” One document from 1979 stated that carriers would be “the highest priority in anti-ship attacks” in potential war scenarios, with amphibious assault ships probably close behind.

Plans to deal with carriers were based almost entirely on anti-ship cruise missiles fired from submarines, bombers, and surface ships — ideally all at once. To that end, the Soviet navy emphasized cruise missile technology and missile-carrying capacity on all of its vessels — even on its own aircraft carriers.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Soviet navy Kiev-class aircraft carrier Minsk, February 9, 1983. 

Soviet navy Tu-16, Tu-95, and Tu-22 bombers were the primary aerial delivery systems. Cruisers of the Kynda, Kresta, Slava, and nuclear-powered Kirov classes were the primary surface delivery platforms.

A host of nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, like the Oscar II- and Juliett-class, would fire those missiles from underwater and on the surface.

But even this may not have been enough. US carrier defenses and air wings were deemed so strong by the Soviets that as many as 100 bombers would be sent to attack one carrier, with losses expected to be as high as 50%. Soviet pilots weren’t even given detailed flight paths for their return.

It was also feared that the missiles could be shot down or intercepted, so the Soviets concluded that many had to be armed with nuclear warheads.

Waning carrier dominance

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
USS Nimitz departs Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, June 8, 2020. 

With the Cold War over and the Soviet Union gone, American carrier dominance seemed more than assured. Those carriers have played key roles in conflicts the US has been involved in since the 1990s.

But the post-Cold War order is slowly being challenged — mainly by China’s meteoric rise in military power, which has implications for the carrier’s dominance.

American carriers are among Beijing’s biggest concerns. Their presence helped deter an invasion of Taiwan in the 1950s, and in 1996 two carrier battlegroups embarrassed China by operating freely around Taiwan during a period of heightened tensions, forcing Beijing to recognize US military power.

Since then, China has invested heavily in anti-carrier capabilities. It first bought a slew of weapons from Russia, including Su-30MKK multirole fighters, 12 Kilo-class attack submarines, and four Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers.

But missiles have been China’s main focus. It has amassed one of the world’s largest and most advanced missile arsenals, 95% of which falls outside the limits of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibited the US and Russia from having missiles with ranges between 310 miles and 3,100 miles. The US recently withdrew from the treaty, and China was never party to it.

The two missiles tested in August were variants of the DF-21 and DF-26, which have ranges up to 1,300 and 2,400 miles respectively.

Flying higher, faster, and farther than Soviet cruise missiles, China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles could overwhelm the anti-missile defenses of a carrier and its escorts, and force the carrier to stay far enough away to render its air wing useless.

A US Defense Department report released this year stated that China’s missile development was one area in which Beijing has “achieved parity with — or even exceeded — the United States.”

New threats

Hypersonic missiles are another serious threat.

Able to fly at speeds over Mach 5 (over 3,800 mph), hypersonic missiles are too fast for anti-missile defenses to respond effectively. They can also change direction mid-flight, making it virtually impossible to intercept them.

China has two hypersonic weapons in service: the DF-17, and the DF-100. Russia has a number of hypersonic weapons in development, with the Zircon the most promising. Russian officials have said they hope to be able to arm all new ships in the Russian navy with hypersonic weapons.

British officials have already voiced concern about the threat that Russian hypersonic weapons could pose to their carrier.

“Hypersonic missiles are virtually unstoppable,” a senior British naval source told The Daily Mirror. “With no method of protecting themselves against missiles like the Zircon the carrier would have to stay out of range, hundreds of miles out at sea.”

“Its planes would be useless and the whole basis of a carrier task force would be redundant,” the source said.

The true capabilities of Russia’s and China’s new anti-carrier weapons are still unknown, but recent tests prove that US Navy carriers may not enjoy unquestioned dominance for much longer.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy designed this lethal one-man turret in World War II

When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.


Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
This version of the Elco Thunderbolt had four 20mm Oerlikon cannon and two M2 heavy machine guns. (U.S. Navy photo)

PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
This early Thunderbolt had six M2 heavy machine guns and two 20mm Oerlikon cannon. (Photo from National Archives)

The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
A PT boat off New Guinea. Operations in the Solomons lead to a push for more firepower. (U.S. Navy photo)

One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Brian Norman defends the ship with a Mark 38 .25mm machine gun supported by the phone talker, Torpedoeman’s Mate 2nd Class Edwin Holland during a small boat training exercise aboard the guided missile frigate USS Ingraham (FFG 61). (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jeremie Kerns.)

By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Chinook could have been a search and rescue legend

Search-and-rescue choppers have become legendary. Remember the Jolly Green Giants and Pave Hawks? Well, it turns out that there was another helicopter that almost joined those two in fame. Why it didn’t make it? Well, it’s a long story — and it had nothing to do with the chopper’s performance.


The Air Force had been looking to replace their search and rescue helicopter, the HH-60G Pave Hawk, in the 2000s. The program even had a name — Combat Search and Rescue, or CSAR-X. Three designs competed for that contract, one from Lockheed (based on the EH-101 helicopter, also used then as the basis for a Marine One replacement), one from Sikorsky (based on the S-92), and one from Boeing (the HH-47, based on the MH-47G, a special ops version of the CH-47F Chinook).

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
An Army CH-47 helicopter attached to the 159th Aviation Regiment lifts a Naval Special Warfare 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) during a maritime external air transporation system training exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robyn Gerstenslager)

Boeing’s HH-47 won the contract, but Lockheed and Sikorsky protested the decision. Such protests aren’t exactly unusual  — the recent M17/M18 handgun contract drew a protest from the loser of that competition, too. Unlike the protest over the M17/M18, however, the Government Accountability Office upheld the protests and forced a re-do.

Well, the HH-47 won again. That’s when the politicians, including Senator John McCain, stepped in. All in all, the CSAR-X program never had a chance to get off the ground. In 2009, the HH-47 was cancelled by the Obama Administration. In 2013, the new Combat Rescue Helicopter program picked a joint Lockheed-Sikorsky design, the HH-60W, as a winner after other companies declined to bid.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Artist’s impression of Sikorsky’s HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter (Graphic from Lockheed Martin)

Did the Air Force miss out on a better helicopter due to the political maneuverings of the CSAR-X competition losers? A look at the specs on paper indicates the HH-47 would have offered higher speed, more range, and more capacity to evacuate wounded personnel. But by sticking with a version of the HH-60, however, the Air Force will not have to make major changes to logistics systems training programs. Much of this is speculation, however, as both Lockheed and Sikorsky reps declined to comment for this piece.

Interestingly enough, the South Korean Air Force uses a modified version of the CH-47D Chinook as a search and rescue platform, an aircraft very similar to the contract-winning HH-47. One has to wonder what it could have done in the hands of the United States Air Force.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Still the champ: 3 things you should know about the SR-71 Blackbird

Before the advent of stealth aircraft, the U.S. military had a very different approach on how to operate its planes in contested airspace. That approach could be summarized in two words:

Brute force.

In those early years of air defense system development, the U.S. was less interested in developing sneaky aircraft and more concerned with developing untouchable ones– utilizing platforms that leveraged high altitude, high speed, or both to beat out air defenses of all sorts — whether we’re talking surface to air missiles or even air superiority fighters.


Lockheed’s legendary Kelly Johnson, designer of just about every badass aircraft you can imagine from the C-130 to the U-2 Spy Plane, was the Pentagon’s go-to guy when it came to designing platforms that could evade interception through speed and altitude. His U-2 Spy Plane, designed and built on a shoestring budget and in a span of just a few months, first proved the concept of flying above enemy defenses, but then America needed something that could also outrun anything Russia could throw its way. The result was the Blackbird family of jets, including the operational SR-71 — an aircraft that remains the fastest operational military plane ever to take to the sky.

You could make a list of 1000 amazing facts about the SR-71 without breaking a sweat — but here are three even a few aviation nerds may not have of heard before:

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

USAF

The Blackbird had over 4,000 missiles fired at it. None ever hit their target.

The SR-71 Blackbird remained in operational service as a high speed, high altitude surveillance platform for 34 years — flying at speeds in excess of Mach 3 at altitudes of around 80,000 feet. This combination of speed and altitude made it all but untouchable to enemy anti-air missiles, so even when a nation knew that there was an SR-71 flying in their airspace, there was next to nothing it could do about it. According to Air Force data collected through pilot reports and other intelligence sources more than 4,000 missiles were fired at the SR-71 during its operational flights, but none ever managed to actually catch the fast-moving platform.

Its windshield gets so hot it had to be made of quartz.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

i1.wp.com

Flying at such high speeds and altitudes puts incredible strain on the aircraft and its occupants, which forced Lockheed to find creative solutions to problems as they arose. One such problem was the immense amount of heat — often higher than 600 degrees Fahrenheit — that the windshield of the SR-71 would experience at top speeds. Designers ultimately decided that using quartz for the windshield was the best way to prevent any blur or window distortion under these conditions, so they ultrasonically fused the quartz to the aircraft’s titanium hull.

The SR-71 was the last major military aircraft to be designed using a ‘slide rule.’

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

USAF

There are countless incredible facts about the SR-71 that would warrant a place on this list, but this is one of the few facts that pertains specifically to the incredible people tasked with developing it. Not long after the SR-71 took to the sky, the most difficult mathematical aspects of aircraft design were handed off to computers that could crunch the numbers more quickly and reliably — but that wasn’t the case for the Blackbird. Kelly Johnson and his team used their “slide rules,” which were basically just specialized rulers with a slide that designers could use to aid them in their calculations in designing the mighty Blackbird. Years later, the aircraft was reviewed using modern aviation design computers only to reveal that the machines would not have suggested any changes to the design.

Just for fun, here’s Major Brian Shul’s incredible “Speed Check” story about flying the Blackbird.

Major Brian Shul, USAF (Ret.) SR-71 Blackbird ‘Speed Check’

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-22 engines can be repaired with six tools found in any hardware store

If you’re about to join the Air Force any time soon, there’s a good chance your work is going to involve maintaining aircraft. If you’re lucky, you’ll get assigned to the F-22 Raptor. Even with the rise of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, there is no better air dominance fighter in the world. Unlike the F-35, however, if one of the F-22’s Pratt & Whitney engines fail and you don’t have the tools to fix it, you can just head out to Home Depot and get what you need.


US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

Air Superiority: You can do it, we can help.

The F-35 steals headlines in terms of the latest whiz-bang technology when it comes to stealth, visibility, and even the giant helmets worn by F-35 pilots. But the F-35 cannot substitute what the Raptor brings to the fight. The F-35 has an aerodynamic performance similar to flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It can’t fly as high or as fast. What it brings is firepower – and a lot of it. It was designed to be an air-to-ground fighter.

Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor is the quiet professional in the world of air superiority fighters. It has a smaller radar cross-section than the F-35 (the size of a marble versus the size of a golf ball) and is probably the most lethal air combat aircraft in the world, even considering the fifth-generation fighters produced by great power adversaries like China and Russia. But the area where it’s even more superior isn’t in the air, it’s on the ground.

We’re talking about maintenance and repairs.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

The F-22 gets repaired like a normal plane while the F-35 is happy it doesn’t catch fire before take off. Small victories.

The F-22 Raptor is one of the Air Force’s most reliable planes. Roughly half the time a Raptor spends being repaired is just to fix Low Observable (LO) stealth coatings that get damaged when ground crews open her up for things like routine maintenance. Lockheed-Martin is currently working on a way to reduce the damage to the stealth coating for this. What is really impressive about the F-22 is how easy it is for a trained ground crew to repair her engines.

Lockheed-Martin designed the F-22 with two F-119 Pratt Whitney engines. These sturdy but powerful thrust monsters were designed to be maintained on the flightline using only six common tools available at any commercial hardware store – Not something you’d expect from one of the world’s most advanced air superiority fighters, but it came from what used to be a common principle in the military: simplicity.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

And yet, I still wouldn’t trust the Army with this.

The Pratt Whitney engines used in the F-22 Raptor deliver 22 percent more thrust while using almost half of the parts used in the previous Pratt Whitney designs while making the F-22 the most maneuverable fighter ever flown by any military anywhere and allowing for supercruise speeds of almost two times the speed of sound. Everything about this engine has been expertly engineered, from the titanium alloys to the ceramic coating used on certain parts to absorb radar signals.

Now new airmen can be sent to Home Depot to pick up the tools to fix this marvel of engineering – along with the usual buckets of prop wash.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The new Leatherman multi-tool at SHOT Show is KILLER

Leatherman’s new magnetic architecture is changing the game for multi-tools. Sure, they’ve had one-handed technology for a few years now, but it’s insane how easy it is to access everything in the tool with just one hand.

And their new P4 model is accessible for left- or right-hand dominate use.


NEW Leatherman MultiTools | SHOT Show 2019

www.youtube.com

Watch: Blade HQ checks out the Leatherman booth

“What makes these tools really special is how you don’t have to use your fingernails to access anything,” said Jeremy, the rep at the Leatherman booth at SHOT Show 2019. This year they are releasing six of best multi-tools they’ve ever had — which is saying something. Leatherman has been the lead in multi-tool technology for 25 years.

They’re calling it their new FREE line, and if you can’t get your hands on one yet, check out the video above to see how effortlessly each implement is accessed. They’ve got new locks, non-metallic springs, and magnet technology that, according to Blade HQ, “just changed the game bigtime, buddy.”

Also read: Our 7 most favorite issued items ever

“FREE is absolutely the future of multipurpose. It’s something totally different.”

In April, the FREE line will be available, and in June their new T-series pocket tools will launch. They’ll run on the same magnetic architecture but will be very light weight.

Check out the video above for some very satisfying tool porn (pun intended, I guess — it just felt inevitable).

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How a border wall may derail the Coast Guard in the arctic

The Coast Guard‘s top officer said on Aug. 1, 2018, that the U.S. can’t afford to delay its presence in the Arctic. But lawmakers are eyeing the cash planned for a new icebreaker to fund the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

With the November 2018 primaries looming, some members of Congress are eager to show their constituents that they support President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall along sections of the southwestern border. That left $750 million for a new heavy polar icebreaker out of a draft of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.


“I’m going to take a guardedly optimistic approach that … there’s still a lot of interest in getting an icebreaker to replace our 40-plus-year-old Polar Star, which is the only heavy icebreaker in the U.S. arsenal,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “… We need that ship now.”

A report released July 27, 2018, by the Congressional Research Service warns that Russia is increasing its military presence in the Arctic region. The Russians have more than 45 icebreakers, and they’re currently working on building a nuclear version, Schultz said.

China has also declared itself a near-Arctic nation and is working on building a new icebreaker. Diminishing ice levels could lead to an influx of traffic in the Arctic in coming years, and there’s “increasing mission demand for the Coast Guard up there,” Schultz said.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

That’s as two of the Coast Guard’s three polar icebreakers — Polar Star and Polar Sea — have exceeded their 30-year services lives, the report states. The Polar Sea is no longer operational, and the need for search-and-rescue and other missions in the region will increase as traffic in the Arctic picks up.

“The reality of the Arctic is on us today,” Schultz said. “My thinking is a six-three-one strategy. We need six icebreakers — three of them need to be heavy icebreakers and we need one today. We need to get going there.”

He said Trump’s 2019 budget request, which includes plans for a new icebreaker, shows that the Coast Guard’s mission in the region is a priority for this administration. The Senate’s appropriations draft for DHS still includes the 0 million for a Coast Guard icebreaker, so it’s still possible that the service could get the funding in 2019.

Eight House Democrats sent a letter to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Kevin Yoder, Homeland Security subcommittee chairman, criticizing the plan to ditch the 0 million icebreaker funding request, Business Insider reported.

The bill wastes “a staggering .9 billion on a border wall and increasing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget by 8 million,” the letter states, while leaving U.S. national security at a disadvantage for years to come.

The Coast Guard is working with the Navy on plans to acquire three heavy icebreakers for about 0 million per ship.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

6 of the coolest game-changing planes to ever fly

Since man was first able to attach weapons and reconnaissance equipment to planes, the U.S. and its allies have been deploying them into enemy airspace. Known for maintaining air superiority, the U.S. has developed some outstanding aerial technology that has long given allied forces the edge in conflicts.

Sure, not all the planes that we’ve developed over the years have earned a place in the history books, but these well-designed aircraft are so badass that they’ve become household names — or soon will be.


US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

Spitfire

This mass-produced, single-pilot fighter was an essential component in maintaining aerial dominance throughout World War II. This unique plane saw incredible action at the hands of some epic pilots and is responsible for taking down several enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain.

Powered by a Merlin engine and capable of reaching a maximum speed of 360 miles per hour, the Spitfire could blaze its eight wing-mounted, 0.303-inch machine guns at the touch of a button.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

F-14 Tomcat

Famous for its central role in Tony Scott’s Top Gun, the F-14 was the Navy’s go-to jet fighter for several decades. Designed as a long-range interceptor, the Tomcat is capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.

The Tomcat was so well-designed and capable that the Navy had to expressly prohibit pilots from performing five aerial maneuvers. This list of forbidden stunts includes some negative-G maneuvers and rolling with an angle of bank change more significant than 360 degrees — all made possible by the Tomcat’s extreme performance.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

F-4 Phantom

This twin-engine, all-weather plane hit top speeds faster than twice the speed of sound using two General Electric J79-GE-17 engines, making it one of the most versatile fighters ever built. Introduced in 1960, the Phantom became famous as it completed missions over the jungles of Vietnam.

The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps all used the Phantom to test various missile systems due to its well-manufactured configuration.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

EA-18G Growler

When a mission requires that the opponent’s air-defense systems be rendered useless so that allied forces can get in undetected, the EA-18G Growler gets called up. This sentinel of the skies is equipped with receivers on each wing tip, which give it the ability to search for radar signals and locate an enemy’s surface-to-air missile systems.

If a threat is detected, the Growler activates one of three jamming pods stored underneath the jet’s centerline. This overwhelms ground radar by sending out electronic noise, allowing coalition aircraft to sneak by undetected.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

F-117 Nighthawk

The Nighthawk was the first aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology. This sneaky aerial marvel first arrived on the market in 1982 and was discreetly utilized during the Gulf War.

The well-designed aircraft was equipped with a payload of two 2,000-pound GBU-27 laser-guided bombs that crippled Iraqi electrical power stations, military headquarters, and biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons plants.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

SR-71 Blackbird

Lockheed Martin developed the SR-71 Blackbird as a long-range reconnaissance aircraft that could hit air speeds of over Mach 3.2 (2,455 mph) and climb to an altitude of 85,000 feet. In March, 1968, the first operational Blackbird was flown out of Kadena AFB in Japan.

With the Vietnam war in full swing, Blackbird was to conduct stealth missions by gathering photographs and electronic intelligence against the enemy.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out the Army’s augmented reality helmet display

Several new technologies are being developed that, once combined, will provide Soldiers an unprecedented overview of the battlefield.


That assessment came from Army personnel at Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate here, who hosted a recent media visit.

Those technologies involve the marriage of micro-displays with augmented reality.

Micro-display

The Army’s preferred method of acquiring new technologies is to use what industry is already developing for consumers, or modifying that technology for its own use, said Rupal Varshneya, an electrical engineer at CERDEC.

The Army employs its scientists and research laboratories for designing needed technologies that industry is not interested in pursuing, she said. Such was the case when the Army needed a very bright, high-definition micro-display, about the size of a postage stamp.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Rupal Varshneya, an electrical engineer at Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, Fort Belvoir, Va., looks through a micro-display.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)

First off, the Army approached makers of smartphone, tablets, TVs and even the gaming industry, she said. None of them were interested in making the micro-display because they didn’t foresee consumer demand or profit potential.

So Army researchers at CERDEC went to work.

David Fellowes, an electrical engineer at CERDEC, said researchers worked in stages building displays with progressively greater capability. About eight years ago, they developed a monochrome version.

Then, several years later, researchers developed a new silicone technology and manufacturing methods that enabled the micro-display to increase in brightness, he explained.

“If you’ve ever tried looking at your cellphone on a sunny day, it’s really hard,” he said. The increase in display brightness was such that Soldiers would now be able to see the tiny micro-display in sunlight.

Although the technology was being developed for dismounted Soldiers, other program managers took notice, he said. For example the program manager responsible for Apache helicopters wanted their pilots to have them for head-mounted displays.

They are not yet fielded for the Apaches, but a contract for them has already been signed. Other program managers wanted them for night vision goggles and even for weapons sights, he added.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
An early monochrome version of a micro-display developed by researchers at Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, Fort Belvoir, Va.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)

The next step, he said, was to develop an extremely high resolution, 2048-by-2048-pixel display in full color. That advancement came to fruition recently, and some of them were on display.

Augmented reality

The next phase of development had to do with taking the improved micro-display and pairing it with augmented reality, using the Nett Warrior system.

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Nelson, in charge of Soldier testing at CERDEC, was suited up in the Nett Warrior System, with a helmet-mounted micro-display attached. The media could see what he was seeing in his micro-display on a large TV screen.

Previously, Soldiers had a small radio attached to their chest, he said. Whenever they needed to get location coordinates or other data they had to look down and lost situational awareness to their front. Nelson compared it to a person walking across a busy street looking down at a cellphone. “Not good.”

The micro-display attachment to the helmet allows Soldiers to stay focused on what’s in front of them, he said.

The micro-display not only gives Soldiers a clear view of what’s ahead of them, night or day, it also can accommodate overlays such as maps and symbols showing friendly forces and enemy forces. In this way, it replaces traditional night vision goggles.

Furthermore, information that’s wirelessly fed into the micro-display, such as maps and symbols, can be shared among other Soldiers using the device, as well as leaders in the tactical operation center, he said.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
A newer full-color version of a micro-display developed by researchers at Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, Fort Belvoir, Va.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)

They all have the ability to share the same picture of the battlefield and can add or manipulate the symbols as needed, he said.

Researchers are also adding micro-displays on the Soldiers’ weapons and feeding that display into the one attached to the

Soldiers’ helmets via a tablet worn on the waist. That enables Soldiers to get a split view of what’s around them plus the target the weapon is trained on, he said.

So if the rifle is pointed rearward and the Soldier is looking forward, the image shows both views, he explained, adding that creates novel ways for Soldiers to fire their weapons, such as shooting over a wall without being exposed.

The entire system is currently being tested by Soldiers at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, he said.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to send a hero a letter without picking up a pen

‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.


For your pal in the army:

~ Don’t send a salami; send them an actual letter. (There’s an app for that) ~

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Sandboxx: a digital solution to the analog problem of military morale.

It’s weird.

If you served in the military, then there’s a truth you hold to be self-evident:

There is nothing — nothing — better than getting mail.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Shake this one, Gene. I smell salami… (Image via Smithsonian Institution)

Nowhere on earth — outside of elderly care facilities and summer camps — is snail mail so coveted and mail call so anticipated as it is at the boot camps, bases, and outposts of the U.S. military.

But staying in the loop while you’re downrange gets trickier every year as smartphones divorce almost everyone you know from the memory of their own handwriting. And how are they supposed to send you photos? Go out and get them printed? Stop.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Its just so… quaint.

Somebody with military experience and a knack for tech entrepreneurship had to come along and fix this problem.

That somebody is Sam Meek, an Idahoan and former U.S. Marine Corps Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Defense Specialist, who found that in the civilian sector, the problem-solving mentality instilled in him by the Corps is a very valuable and leverageable asset indeed.

“I found it really fascinating that I was beating out kids… that had college degrees and… could actually articulate a cover letter for a resume. I realized that the experience that we garner in the military brings so much more… to a company than sitting in class for four years.”

–Sam Meek, Cigars and Sea Stories Podcast

 

Working first as Director of Development for a Wall Street hedge fund and then taking a mentor’s Marine Family Readiness platform concept and pivoting it toward present-day Sandboxx, Meek perfected the twin arts of making one’s own opportunities and capitalizing on those that arise from the heat of action.

Though Sandboxx has evolved to serve a number of important networking and communications functions for the modern military — see Units and Travel — its marquee offering is still getting letters to deployed troops.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
Now there’s an idea…

The app allows friends and family at home to tap out a message on a smartphone, upload a photo, and then have that digital missive converted to physical letter form and sent to their loved ones, wherever in the world they might be deployed. Sandboxx even includes a postage-paid return envelope to make it easy to reply from the field.

It’s military morale made simple and intuitive. It honors a rich American history of supporting our troops, one personally penned and postmarked message at a time.

The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.

Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army tests human-like robots

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.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

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.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why a simple fence is perfect armor on today’s battlefield

The M1126 Stryker is a beautifully designed vehicle. It’s packed with 16.5 tons of high-hardness steel to shield the passengers from direct attacks and a unique underbelly design to help defend against IEDs. Many are outfitted with remote weapon systems, allowing troops to engage the enemy without fear of snipers. It even has one of the most state-of-the-art fire-extinguishing systems in the world in case the worst happens.


With all that protection, it seems strange that someone decided a bunch of steel bars around it would make great armor…

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
It also works great for extra storage space for things you don’t mind losing.  (Photo from U.S. Army)

Though it might look flimsy, the simple fence design is an excellent counter considering how explosives blow up. Having thick, reactive armor works wonders against conventional fragmentation rounds, but HEAT (High explosive, anti-tank) rounds are designed specifically to burst through it.

Take a standard RPG-7 single-stage HEAT round for instance: The explosion isn’t what makes it deadly. By forcing the explosion into a narrow cone, it’s used to blow a hole through whatever it hits. It’s the molten copper follows and uses the pathway cleared by the explosion that’s truly deadly.

Not pleasant, to say the least. (Image via GIPHY)

In comes what we’ve been calling “fence armor.” This type of armor is actually called “slat armor” and has been used since the World War II on German panzers. The Germans needed an extra layer of defense from Russian anti-tank rifles and low velocity, high explosive rounds. They added steel plates. set a few inches away from the actual shell of the vehicle, so when it’s hit, the cheaper plates would be hit and the copper would have time to cool, causing minimal damage.

This method of stopping common HEAT rounds is still used today by armies going against enemies with RPGs. While slat armor isn’t 100% effective (no armor is, truly), it does have up to 70% effectiveness, which is remarkable for a solution that costs nearly nothing, is an addition to existing armor, and doesn’t negatively affect the mission.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
And hell, for years, troops used to just put sandbags under their seats and called it good enough. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Edwards)

Though nowhere near as effective, even ISIS tried to Mad Max their vehicles. Note, for this to work, slat armor needs to be a few inches away from the vehicle, it should cover vital spots, and shouldn’t be welded on (since the point of it is to be destroyed and swapped out).

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that
B- for effort. F for forgetting that missiles drop down — not across — at three feet above ground. (Image via Reddit)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why US troops in World War I ditched the bayonet for the shovel

World War I brought a new kind of fighting to the world. Wars were no longer conducted on an open field of battle with colorful uniforms in an effort to outmaneuver the opposing armies. Wars from henceforth would be mechanized factories of wholesale slaughter, fought by men covered in mud, killing each other with any means at their disposal. But in those grim early days, it was a surprise to all involved. Like most troops, however, those fighting the Great War adapted pretty fast.

One of the weapons they adapted saw the development of their entrenching tool as a weapon of war.


US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

They had a lot to work with.

Trench Warfare was not something the troops or planners ever anticipated, so troops were sent into combat with pretty basic weapons and supplies. The primary weapons for American troops were the rifle and bayonet, even though the United States didn’t enter the war until much later. Fighting in the trenches changed the way soldiers fought the war and thought about future conflicts. Clubs and knives became common among all troops, and British troops in particular, brought maces and other medieval devices to the fight. Americans came with all sorts of ready-made weapons, including brass knuckles.

The most terrifying but effective battlefield innovation actually saw soldiers ditching their rifle-mounted bayonets in favor of a more versatile weapon that could be used at close range, over and over, with terrifying effect.

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

There was way more to fear than just trench shotguns.

World War I soldiers found that using their bayonets could result in their primary weapon being lodged in the viscera of an enemy troop, leaving that guy dead but them at the mercy of anyone else whose bayonet was not lodged in an enemy. To get around this, some soldiers stopped leading with the bayonet and favoring their entrenching tool as a more effective means of dispatching someone who doesn’t want to leave their own trench.

It turns out the edges of American entrenching tools could be sharpened to an almost razor-fine edge, making it the perfect melee weapon for pouring into the German lines and pouring Germans out of those lines by force. Another great bonus of using an e-tool to entrench enemy troops into their new graves was that it was much shorter than the bayonet, and could be used more effectively in close quarters combat. As the war drug on, however, the armies of the world got the hint and developed better weapons. But soldiers on the front lines in every conflict since have always developed an easier means of killing the enemy with what was at their disposal.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

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