Russia's new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

The Russian Ministry of Defence has finally completed a prototype of the Altius-U, its version of the US’s RQ-4 Global Hawk and Predator drones, Russian state news agency TASS has reported.

After several practical setbacks and cost increases, as well as the arrest of Alexander Gomzin, the general director of Altius’s original designer last year, the six-ton Altius-U took to the skies for 32 minutes on Aug. 20, 2019, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced.

The prototype was outfitted with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment during the test flight, said Samuel Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation. Eventually, the drone will be armed to carry out precision attacks and will be able to carry up to one ton, Bendett told Insider.


The UAV flew at an altitude of about 800 meters, or 2,600 feet, although Bendett said that both the Altius and Russia’s new Okhotnik stealth drone would eventually be able to fly at very high altitudes to penetrate adversaries’ air defenses.

Heavy Russian drone Altius-U makes it maiden flight

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According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Altius-U is capable of a 24-hour flight time, which gives it the capability to move far beyond Russia’s borders.

Bendett told Insider that Russia was trying to wean itself off of foreign military equipment and to learn lessons from combat in Syria — and the development of both the Altius-U and the Okhotnik shows just how far Russia has come on both those fronts.

“This was a capability they were craving,” Bendett told Insider.

But the Altius prototype is only on its first test — “A lot has to happen” before either UAV is part of the Russian arsenal.

Even so, it’s a clear signal to Russia’s adversaries that it’s taking note of UAV technologies coming from the US and Israel in particular, and that it is developing the capabilities to fight in the wars of the future.

The testing of the two UAVs “moves beyond the discussion of whether or not they can [build these types of weapons] to, ‘Yes they did,'” Bendett said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is how an RPG works

The United States and the Soviets disagreed on almost everything; except the fact that anti-tank infantry capabilities are necessary for decisive offensive combat. The Soviets fear our tanks because of their armor, speed, and firepower and raced us in the manufacture of rocket propelled grenades, also known as RPGs. Due to the variety of RPGs in circulation, we will focus on the RPG-7, the most widely used of all Soviet-era anti-tank weaponry.


Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

(TRADOC BULLETIN NO. 3 U.S. Army)

The RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher is cheap, simple, and effective. The RPG-7 is part of one of many evolutionary branches of rockets. It is a decedent of the German Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon from which all RPG series stem from. In 1961 the RPG-7 was adopted by Soviet Armed forces.

The RPG-7 is 37.8 inches in length and weighs 14.5 lbs unloaded and 19 lbs when loaded with the 85mm caliber round (the rocket). It has a rate of fire of 4-6 rounds per minute at an arming range of 5 meters. It has a sighting range of 500 meters and a maximum range of 900 meters, at which point it self destructs. This speed is more or less three football fields per second.

The initial velocity of the rocket is 117 meters per second that increases up to 294 meters per second when the rocket assist engages. At full speed, it can penetrate up to 13 inches of armor at zero degrees.

This weapon has seen a wide range of use throughout the world along with the communist favorite AK-47.

How an RPG 7 works

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The grenade is separated into two parts, the warhead and sustainer motor, and the booster charge. These two parts must be screwed together before the grenade is ready to fire.

When the projectile is first launched it is powered by a small strip powder charge to reduce the backblast area from harming the gunner. At approximately 11 meters the sustainer rocket kicks in, ignites, and boosts the rocket to maximum velocity.

The fins open after launch with canted surfaces that spin the rocket and stabilize the rocket in flight.

The rocket itself is 36.62 inches long and weighs 4.6 pounds. HEAT rounds are olive drab, and practice rounds are black. They use a point impact fuse with a base detonator.

The shape of the warhead is to penetrate tank armor by using the Munroe Effect:

The greatly increased penetration of an explosive into a surface (as of metal or concrete) that is caused by shaping a conical or hemispherical hollow in the forward end of an explosive cartridge – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When the round detonates a small cone of metal forms and burns through the armor. There is no explosion after the core penetrates the armor, it is often the metal continuing out the other side of the target.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

Soviets training.

(Larry Cook)

Since the RPG-7 is a direct fire weapon, it’s effectiveness on the battlefield is directly affected by the ability of the gunner. The weapon’s biggest weakness is crosswind when leading a target down range. In winds greater than 7 miles per hour, a gunner cannot expect to hit more than 50% of the time beyond 180 meters. They must calculate both wind direction and velocity, but even then results may vary.

There are two standard sights for this weapon: Iron sights and a telescopic sight.

Iron sights are permanently attached and can sight 200 to 500 meters with no wind or lead adjustment. In a conventional force, it is the backup sight system, but since most forces who use this weapon are unconventional, it is usually the primary.

The Soviet tactical doctrine regarding the RPG-7 states that it is most effective at 300 meters or at a point blank target with a height of two or more meters. The reasoning for 300 meters is that it will reduce the target reaction time to take evasive action or to counterattack. Even if it doesn’t kill the target, it’s still going to scare the sh*t out of it long enough to reload and strike again.

A U.S. Army test against a stationary M60 tank concluded that at 300 meters the probability of a gunner hitting his target is 30%. A second round has a 50% chance of hitting. The round was designed to penetrate 13 inches of armor but in practice penetrates 11 inches of steel instead.

During these tests, the U.S. Army also found that exposed tanks not in defilade are twice as vulnerable as one that is. A troop is to react immediately when fired at by an RPG-7. Because a second round is more likely to hit, it is imperative to suppress with machine guns, pop smoke, and move out of the kill zone.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

(vietnamwarjournal)

Out of all the Soviet weapons, the deadliest is their propaganda infecting governments around the world.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Yes, you should keep an E-tool in your trunk

The trunk of a car is its own sort of tool shed. And, among the jumper cables, road flares, tie-downs, bungie cords, first aid kits, and other emergency supplies there should be another woefully under-appreciated tool: the utility shovel. A multi-tool in a shovel’s body, a good utility shovel can dig your car out of trouble. But it’s also handy for chopping away branches, clearing pathways, and battling roving hordes of the undead that happen to ruin your road- or camping trip.

A far cry from your grandma’s gardening shovel, the best utility shovels are made of high-grade materials like carbon, have a wide handle and sharp spade point, and are collapsible or folding. They also feature rows of serrated teeth or a beveled edge so you can hack or saw away when necessary. In short, they belong next to your tire iron and spare. Here, then, are four excellent options.


Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

In the world of specialty knives and tools, SOG is one of the most respected names in the game. Known for cranking out durable, superior quality gear, their Entrenching Tool is no exception.

1. SOG Folding Shovel Survival Shovel

Buy now .99

Made of high carbon steel, the folding shovel is one of the best values around. Users praise its unique triangular handle, which makes it sturdy and easy to operate. Additionally, the tempered blade is lined with a row of sharp teeth, ideal for slashing through whatever gets in its way. Stow it away in its ballistic nylon sheath, throw it your car, or strap it to your belt loop if you’re on the move. Either way, it’ll quickly become an indispensable favorite.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

There’s no denying that the M48 Kommando Survival Shovel looks seriously badass. The shovel head is constructed of tempered stainless steel with a sleek, matte-black oxide coating.

2. M48 Kommando Survival Shovel

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The sharpened shovel serves as dual-purpose tool, with one concave edge great for chopping, and another serrated edge perfectly suited for all of your sawing needs. It also boasts an ergonomic, injection-molded nylon handle that’s 30 percent fiberglass, making it light but virtually indestructible. Especially popular with campers and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s an official “Amazon’s Choice” product and comes highly-rated from legions of satisfied fans.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

3. Iunio Military Portable Folding Shovel

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Built to tackle the extreme, it was specially designed based on feedback collected from intrepid outdoor enthusiasts. The shovel comes with all of the bells and whistles, including a slew of supplemental tools (think hexagonal wrench, pickax, nail extractor, fish scaler, and more). The military-grade multitool is built from high carbon steel, making it completely wear-resistant and hard-wearing. And thanks to its ingenious extension bar, you can adjust the length based on your height and even use it for stand-up digging.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

4. FiveJoy Military Folding Shovel

Buy now

When it comes to super impressive multitools, few can compare with this military-grade model from FiveJoy. In addition to being a heavy duty shovel, it’s also outfitted with an axe, hoe, hammer, rescue knife, wire cutter, bottle opener, firestarter, whistle, glass-breaker, paracord, and more. The blade and knife are made from high quality, heat-treated solid carbon steel and the knife itself boasts aerospace grade aluminum. Measuring a smidge more than 21 inches in length when fully extended, the lightweight wonder is just over 2 pounds. It’s safe to say calling this bad boy versatile is a vast understatement.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why DARPA wants to build reusable drone swarms

For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well, however, driving up the costs for vehicle design, operation and replacement. An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach.


To help make that technology a reality, DARPA has launched the Gremlins program. Named for the imaginary, mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II, the program envisions launching groups of UASs from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft—as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms—while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
A Navy artistic depiction of a drone swarm launched from a cargo aircraft.
(U.S. Navy)

The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades.

The Gremlins program plans to explore numerous technical areas, including:

  • Launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts
  • Low-cost, limited-life airframe designs
  • High-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping

The program aims to conduct a compelling proof-of-concept flight demonstration that could employ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and other modular, non-kinetic payloads in a robust, responsive, and affordable manner.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why B-52s are about to be four times as threatening

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a legendary bomber that can bring the intimidation factor. One incident during Desert Storm proved this when an Iraqi commander who surrendered gave as his explanation, “the B-52s.” He was reminded that his unit wasn’t hit by those bombers. He said he knew that, but he had seen units that were hit by the BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat F***ers).

Back then, the B-52 could only carry dumb bombs. They were a blunt instrument. Today, the B-52 can carry all sorts of smart bombs, and it is still quite intimidating. Now, there is talk of upping it even more by enabling it to carry four times its current external load. That’s a lot more intimidation just on volume alone.


The current external load the B-52 can carry is about 10,000 pounds. According a report by Janes.com, that figure could go up to 40,000 pounds through the installation of new pylons. The current pylons were installed in the 1960s, and while they have served well, they haven’t kept up with new ordnance. B-52 external pylons have been used to carry a variety of weapons, including Mk 82 and M117 bombs, AGM-142 HAVE NAP missiles, AGM-86 and AGM-129 cruise missiles, and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

The B-52 has carried a wide variety of weapons in its long career.

(USAF photo)

Air Force Materials Command has sent out the request for information on a new pylon. There is no word yet on the timeline, but one very tantalizing prospect is that the B-52 would now be able to carry some of the largest weapons in the Air Force’s inventory on those pylons, enhancing its options against hard targets like cave complexes and bunkers.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

The GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst currently can only be delivered by MC-130H/J transports, but new pylons could allow the B-52 to carry this powerful weapon.

(USAF photo)

One weapon likely to be added to the B-52’s repertoire would be the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst — fondly referred to as the “Mother Of All Bombs.” This GPS-guided system is currently only usable by MC-130s with Special Operations Command, which has 37 MC-130J Commando II and 18 MC-130H Combat Talon transports in service. The Air Force presently has 58 B-52s in active service and another 18 BUFFs in the Air Force Reserve.

Plans also call for work to be done on the B-52’s wings and to replace their eight TF33 engines with commercial engines that would have much greater fuel efficiency. Combined with these new pylons, the B-52 could end up having a huge part to play for decades to come.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These DARPA simulators could predict a war before it starts

DARPA, BAE Systems, and the Air Force Research Lab are working to pioneer new computer simulations, algorithms, and advanced software to provide military decision makers with organized, near real-time information on causes of war and conflict in operational scenarios.

Drawing upon a range of otherwise disconnected sources of raw data, the new software program is designed to use reasoning algorithms and simulations to analyze intelligence reports, academic theories, environmental factors, and details from operational scenarios and other kinds of user input.


“It is about taking information from disparate sources which would be impossible for a person to consume in a short amount of time,” Jonathan Goldstein, Senior Principal Scientist, Autonomy Controls and Estimation, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The Air Force Research Laboratory recently awarded a $4.2 million deal to BAE Systems to develop CONTEXT; DARPA is sponsoring BAE’s efforts.

The emerging product, called Causal Exploration of Complex Operational Environments (CONTEXT) models different political, territorial, and economic tensions that often cause conflict. These nodes, or variables making up a complex, yet interwoven tapestry of causes, include things like economic tensions, terrorism, tribal or religious conflict and issues about resources or territorial disputes — among other things.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
Gregory Feitshans, chief engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory
(DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)


“The technology evaluates causal insertions in different forms and innovates them into a model of interwoven causal relationships present in otherwise disconnected sources. We are building a model that can rapidly be used by an expert, so that when a new conflict flares up, decision-makers can understand the underlying issues,” Goldstein said.

While on the surface, organizing and performing some analytics of large pools of data might bring AI to mind, CONTEXT evaluates material input by users and does not necessarily access massive volumes of historical or stored data. Nonetheless, it does appear to perform some measure of automation and AI like functions, in so far as it organizes and integrates different sources for a human decision maker.

“This shortens the decision cycle. People are not good at maintaining a causal model with complexity in their head. The software creates a large graph of causes, evaluates approaches and examines the potential consequences of a given approach,” Goldstein explained.

Automation and AI, which are of course progressing at near lighting speed these days, are often described in terms of easing the “cognitive burden,” meaning they can quickly perform analytics and a range of procedural functions to present to a human operating in a command control capacity.

At the same time, causes of conflict are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined variables – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances, and larger sociological phenomena. This naturally raises the question as to how much even the most advanced computer programs could account for these and other somewhat less “tangible” factors.

Leading AI and cybersecurity experts often say that advanced computer algorithms can analyze data and quickly perform procedural functions far more quickly than human cognition – yet there are nonetheless still many things which are known to be unique to human cognition. Humans solve problems, interpret emotions and at times respond to certain variables in a way that the best computer technology cannot.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

“War causation is always over determined. Even with advanced statistical regressions on extremely large data sets, it is unlikely that what causes conflict can be determined with accuracy,” Ross Rustici, Senior Director, Intelligence Services, Cybereason – and former DoD Cyber Lead Intrusion Analyst and Technical Lead for DoD, East Asia, told Warrior Maven.

At the same time, despite natural limitations, using software and simulation to analyze data in this fashion is of course by no means useless, Rustici added.

Calling CONTEXT a “step in the right direction,” Rustici said “any effort to update war prosecution and war cessation planning will go a long way towards updating a military that has learned hard lessons in counterterrorism and regime building. Gaining a finer understanding of how populations and defeated military groups will respond to tactics for winning the war and securing the peace is something that is long overdue.”

Rustici further elaborated that human understanding of some elements of causality can without question have a beneficial impact in many respects. However, there are of course substantial limitations, and few would disagree that there are many concepts, feelings, variables and subjective factors informing causality — underscoring the widespread recognition that, despite the pace of technological computer advances, there are still many things which machines cannot do.

“This program is unlikely to have a significant impact beyond understanding how to conduct further modelling in the future,” Rustici said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Say goodbye to the EA-6B Prowler with these fun facts

In March 2019, the Marine Corps stood down its last squadron of EA-6B Prowlers. This stand down marked the end of the Prowler’s active service in the U.S. military. The tactical electronic warfare jamming bird first started its career in 1971, making it one of the oldest airframes still flying. Well, until Mar. 8th. 2019, it will be.

It will be replaced by the advanced capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, just like the F-35 replaced the F/A-18 Hornet and the AV-8B Harrier.


Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

#BabyPictures

It fought everyone from Ho Chi Minh to ISIS

First introduced to southeast Asia in 1972, the Prowler has been there with the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps through thick and thin, deploying more than 70 times and flying more than 260,000 hours.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

Its victories were flawless

Not one Prowler has ever been lost to enemy action. Many have tried; North Vietnam, Libya, Iraq (a few times!), Iran, the Taliban, Panama, no one has been able to take down any of the 170 Prowlers built to defend America. Unfortunately, 50 of those were lost due to accidents and mishaps.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

An EA-6B Prowler at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

Its job was to jam enemy radar

But what to do when there’s no enemy radar to jam? It still blocks radio signals and weapon targeting systems. The Prowler was a perfect addition to the Global War on Terror, as it also could block cell signals and garage door openers, keeping troops on the ground safe from many remotely-triggered improvised explosive devices.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

It’s the longest serving tactical jet

F-16? Never met her. The service life of the Prowler beats that of even the F-16, making it the longest-serving tactical fighter jet in the history of the U.S. military.

For now.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

The Prowler helped ice Bin Laden

Sure, the SEALs had a specially-built top-secret helicopter to help them sneak into Pakistan. But it was an EA-6B Prowler that made sure the area around Osama bin Laden’s compound was free and clear of any pesky radar or electronic signals that might give the operation away.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This video offers a first-ever look inside the cockpit of a B-2 stealth bomber

A new video offers a look at the inside of the B-2 Spirit bomber for the first time in the three-decade history of one of America’s most secretive aerial weapons.

The US Air Force allowed a civilian journalist to board a B-2 stealth bomber and record the flight from inside the cockpit, capturing exclusive footage of one of the service’s most closely-guarded secrets.


The video was taken by documentary filmmaker Jeff Bolton aboard a B-2A with the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman Air Force Base, Miss., the only operational base for the Spirits.

Exclusive First Look: Step inside the cockpit of a B-2 stealth bomber

www.youtube.com

“In an era of rising tensions between global nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia, and North Korea — this timely video of is a vivid reminder of the B-2’s unique capabilities,” Bolton said in a statement. “No other stealth bombers are known to exist in the world.”

Another video from Bolton shows external footage of the B-2 refueling in flight, in addition to more shots from inside the cockpit.

Full Reveal Video inside the B2 Stealth Bomber

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The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role stealth bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated enemy defenses to strike targets with both conventional and nuclear payloads. The unmatched aircraft is a cornerstone of America’s nuclear deterrence capabilities.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US military laser can identify people by their heartbeats

Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, everyone also has a unique heartbeat, and that concept is crucial to the US military’s newest identification device.

The Department of Defense, at the request of US special operations forces, used this principle to develop an infrared laser that can identify enemy combatants from a distance by reading their cardiac signature, the MIT Technology Review reported June 27, 2019, citing Pentagon officials.

Jetson, as the US military’s new device is called, uses laser vibrometry (non-contact vibration measurements) to detect surface movement caused by a person’s heartbeat. The device is an extension of existing technology, such as already available equipment for measuring vibrations in distant structures like wind turbines.


The laser is reportedly able to penetrate clothing and achieve a positive identification roughly 95 percent of the time from up to 200 meters away, or about 650 feet, and there is the real possibility that the range could be extended.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

(National Guard photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene)

“I don’t want to say you could do it from space, but longer ranges should be possible.” Steward Remaly, a defense official in the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, told MIT Technology Review.

This technology is still in its early stages. The laser device can’t penetrate thick clothing and the person must be sitting or standing in one place for it to work. It takes about 30 seconds to get a reading.

And then there is a need for the creation of a cardiac signature database.

Current limitations aside, cardiac identification is joining a number of different biometric identification methods ranging from facial recognition to retinal scans, many of which play a role in people’s everyday lives. For example, many smart phones offer fingerprint and voice identification security measures.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

A special operations airman aims his weapon to designate the location of a threat.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)

While Jetson, an Ideal Innovations Inc. product, is far from perfect, cardiac identification offers some advantages over some of the traditional biometric identification methods. For instance, a person’s cardiac signature cannot be modified as a person’s face or fingerprints can.

The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office suggested two years ago that this technology could be combined with other identification technologies, explaining, “Being able to measure unique cardiac signatures obtained from an individual at a distance provides additional biometric identification when environmental conditions and changes in facial appearance hinder use of a facial recognition system.”

The office stressed that very simple changes to a person’s appearance, such as beards, sunglasses, or headwear, can render existing long-range biometric identification tools useless, but masking a person’s cardiac signature is much more difficult.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How NASA tracks wildfires to help firefighters below

Every evening from late spring to early fall, two planes lift off from airports in the western United States and fly through the sunset, each headed for an active wildfire, and then another, and another. From 10,000 feet above ground, the pilots can spot the glow of a fire, and occasionally the smoke enters the cabin, burning the eyes and throat.

The pilots fly a straight line over the flames, then U-turn and fly back in an adjacent but overlapping path, like they’re mowing a lawn. When fire activity is at its peak, it’s not uncommon for the crew to map 30 fires in one night. The resulting aerial view of the country’s most dangerous wildfires helps establish the edges of those fires and identify areas thick with flames, scattered fires and isolated hotspots.

A large global constellation of satellites, operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), combined with a small fleet of planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) help detect and map the extent, spread and impact of forest fires. As technology has advanced, so has the value of remote sensing, the science of scanning the Earth from a distance using satellites and high-flying airplanes.


Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

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Satellites Aid Active Fire Response

The most immediate, life-or-death decisions in fighting forest fires – sending smokejumpers to a ridge, for example, or calling an evacuation order when flames leap a river – are made by firefighters and chiefs in command centers and on the fire line. Data from satellites and aircraft provide situational awareness with a strategic, big-picture view.

“We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression. “When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.”

It’s not uncommon for an Earth-observing satellite to be the first to detect a wildfire, especially in remote regions like the Alaskan wilderness. And at the height of the fire season, when there are more fires than planes to map them, data from satellites are used to estimate the fire’s evolution, capturing burned areas, the changing perimeter and potential damage, like in the case of Montana’s Howe Ridge Fire, which burned for nearly two months in Glacier National Park last summer.

Global fire picture from space

In January 1980, two scientists, Michael Matson and Jeff Dozier, who were working at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service building in Camp Springs, Maryland, detected tiny bright spots on a satellite image of the Persian Gulf. The image had been captured by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument on the NOAA-6 satellite, and the spots, they discovered, were campfire-sized flares caused by the burning of methane in oil wells. It marked the first time that such a small fire had been seen from space. Dozier, who would become the founding dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California at Santa Barbara, was “intrigued by the possibilities,” and he went on to develop, within a year, a mathematical method to distinguish small fires from other sources of heat. This method would become the foundation for nearly all subsequent satellite fire-detection algorithms.

What was learned from AVHRR informed the design of the first instrument with spectral bands explicitly designed to detect fires, NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, launched on the Terra satellite in 1999, and a second MODIS instrument on Aqua in 2002. MODIS in turn informed the design of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, which flies on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 satellites. Each new instrument represented a major step forward in fire detection technology.

“Without MODIS, we wouldn’t have the VIIRS algorithm,” said Ivan Csiszar, active fire product lead for the Joint Polar Satellite System calibration validation team. “We built on that heritage.”

The instruments on polar-orbiting satellites, like Terra, Aqua, Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20, typically observe a wildfire at a given location a few times a day as they orbit the Earth from pole to pole. Meanwhile, NOAA’s GOES-16 and GOES-17 geostationary satellites, which launched in November 2016 and March 2018, respectively, provide continuous updates, though at a coarser resolution and for fixed portions of the planet.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

On the left is an imager of a cockpit of the National Infrared Operations Citation Bravo jet N144Z. On the right is a night vision picture of a fire.

(NISROPS image)

“You can’t get a global picture with an aircraft, you can’t do it from a ground station,” said Ralph Kahn, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “To get a global picture, you need satellites.”

The MODIS instrument mapped fires and burn scars with an accuracy that far surpassed AVHRR. And after nearly 20 years in orbit, the optical and thermal bands on MODIS, which detect reflected and radiated energy, continue to provide daytime visible imagery and night-time information on active fires.

From space, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor observed expansive smoke and aerosol plumes over California’s Central Valley on Nov. 8 and coast soon after the Camp Fire began.Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Aqua/MODIS

VIIRS has improved fire detection capabilities. Unlike MODIS, the VIIRS imager band has higher spatial resolution, at 375 meters per pixel, which allows it to detect smaller, lower temperature fires. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires.

The first moments after a fire ignites are critical, said Everett Hinkley, National Remote Sensing Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. In California, for example, when intense winds combine with dry fuel conditions, the response time can mean the difference between a catastrophic fire, like the Camp Fire that consumed nearly the entire town of Paradise, and one that is quickly contained.

“Those firefighters who are first responders don’t always know the precise location of the fire, how fast it’s moving or in what direction,” Hinkley said. “We’re working to try to give them real-time or near-real-time information to help them better understand the fire behavior in those early critical hours.”

Responders increasingly turn to the GOES satellites for early, precise geolocation of fires in remote areas. On July 2, 2018, for example, after smoke was reported in a wooded area near Central Colorado’s Custer County, GOES East detected a hotspot there. Forecasters in Pueblo visually inspected the data and provided the exact coordinates of what would become the Adobe Fire, and crews were sent quickly to the scene. The fire detection and characterization algorithm, the latest version of NOAA’s operational fire detection algorithm, is in the process of being updated and is expected to further improve early fire detection and reduce false positives.

“The holy grail is that firefighters want to be able to get on a fire in the first few hours or even within the first hour so they can take action to put it out,” said Vince Ambrosia, a wildfires remote-sensing scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “So it’s critical to have regular and frequent coverage.”

Remote sensing data on wildfires is accessed in many different ways. Among them, NASA’sFire Information for Resource Management System, or FIRMS, uses MODIS and VIIRS data to provide updates on active fires throughout the world, including a rough location of a detected hotspot. Imagery is available within four to five hours.

Smoke and public health

Of course, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and knowing how wildfire smoke travels through the atmosphere is important for air quality, visibility and human health. Like other particulate matter in the atmosphere, smoke from wildfires can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Satellites can give us important information on the movement and thickness of that smoke.

Terra carries the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, a sensor that uses nine fixed cameras, each viewing Earth at a different angle. MISR measures the motion and height of a fire’s smoke plume, as well as the amount of smoke particles coming from that fire, and gives some clues about the plume’s composition. For example, during the Camp Fire, MISR measurements showed a plume made of large, non-spherical particles over Paradise, California, an indication that buildings were burning. Researchers have established that building smoke leads to larger and more irregularly shaped particles than wildfires. Smoke particles from the burning of the surrounding forest, on the other hand, were smaller and mostly spherical. MISR’s measurements also showed the fire had lofted smoke nearly 2 miles into the atmosphere and carried it about 180 miles downwind, toward the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists also closely monitor whether the height of the smoke has exceeded the “near surface boundary layer,” where pollution tends to concentrate. Wildfires with the most energy, such as boreal forest fires, are the most likely to produce smoke that goes above the boundary layer. At that height, “smoke can typically travel farther, stay in the atmosphere longer, and have an impact further downwind,” Kahn said.

The satellites have limitations. Among them, the heat signatures the instruments detect are averaged over pixels, which makes it difficult to precisely pinpoint fire location and size. Interpreting data from satellites has additional challenges. Although thermal signals give an indication of fire intensity, smoke above the fire can diminish that signal, and smoldering fires might not radiate as much energy as flaming fires at the observed spectral bands.

Up close with airborne ‘heat’ sensors

That’s where the instruments on the Forest Service aircraft come in. Data from these flights contribute to the National Infrared Operations Program (NIROPS), which uses tools developed with NASA to visualize wildfire information in web mapping services, including Google Earth. NASA works closely with the Forest Service to develop new technologies for the kind of thermal sensing systems these planes carry.

Each NIROPS plane is equipped with an infrared sensor that sees a six-mile swath of land below and can map 300,000 acres of terrain per hour. From an altitude of 10,000 feet, the sensor can detect a hotspot just 6 inches across, and place it within 12.5 feet on a map. The data from each pass are recorded, compressed and immediately downlinked to an FTP site, where analysts create maps that firefighters can access directly on a phone or tablet in the field. They fly at night when there’s no sun glint to compromise their measurements, the background is cooler, and the fires are less aggressive.

“Every time we’re scanning, we’re ‘truthing’ that fire,” says Charles “Kaz” Kazimir, an infrared technician with NIROPS, who has flown fires with the program for 10 years. “On the ground, they may have ideas of how that fire is behaving, but when they get the image, that’s the truth. It either validates or invalidates their assumption since the last time they had intel.”

The infrared aircraft instruments fill some of the gaps in the satellite data. Field campaigns, such as the NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ, now underway, are designed to address these issues too. But scientists are also looking to new technology. In 2003, representatives from NASA and the Forest Service formed a tactical fire remote sensing committee, which meets twice annually to discuss ways to harness new and existing remote sensing technology as it relates to wildfires. For example, a new infrared sensor is being developed that scans a swath three times wider than the existing system. That would mean fewer flight lines and less time spent over an individual fire, Hinkley said.

“The takeaway really is that we are actively investigating and developing capabilities that will aid decision-makers on the ground, especially in the early phases of dynamic fires,” Hinkley said. “We’re not just resting on our laurels here. We understand that we need to better leverage new technologies to help keep people safe.”

More information on the role of NASA and NOAA satellites and instruments in active fires can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-covers-wildfires-from-many-sources

Learn more about freely available NASA fire data and related resources: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/learn/toolkits/wildfires

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army uses pearls for life-saving technology

Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems are inspiring a U.S. Army research project to improve military armor.

By mimicking the outer coating of pearls (nacre, or as it’s more commonly known, mother of pearl), researchers at University at Buffalo, funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), created a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.

ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.

The research findings are published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials, and its earlier publication in J. Phys. Chem. Lett. (see related links below)


“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Dr. Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a member of University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, and the paper’s lead author. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems inspire U.S. Army researchers looking to improve military armor.

The bulk of the material is a souped-up version of polyethylene (the most common plastic) called ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, which is used to make products like artificial hips and guitar picks.

When designing the UHMWPE, the researchers studied mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.

“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

A new lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel may lead to next-generation military armor.

(University at Buffalo)

This is what’s known as soft armor, in which soft yet tightly woven materials create what is essentially a very strong net capable of stopping bullets. KEVLAR is a well-known example.

The material the research team developed also has high thermal conductivity. This ability to rapidly dissipate heat further helps it to absorb the energy of bullets and other projectiles.

The team further experimented with the UHMWPE by adding silica nanoparticles, finding that tiny bits of the chemical could enhance the material’s properties and potentially create stronger armor.

“This work demonstrates that the right materials design approaches have the potential to make big impacts for Army technologies,” Runnerstrom said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force is finally getting with the program and planning for urban fights

Two decades after the Marines predicted most warfare would be in urban areas, the Air Force is coming to the same conclusions. Simply put, the great majority of humans live in cities these days, and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas.


Part of the reason for increasing the emphasis on urban conflict, which isn’t something you might traditionally think of about the service that brings us fighters, bombers, and satellites, is that the Air Force may not be well equipped to handle it.

“How do we design an Air Force for this kind of conflict?” Goldfein asked during his speech here. “Today, I think we are more designed for working in open spaces.”

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. Photo from USAF.

By contrast, the Army and Marines are focused on urban areas like a, well, laser. The Marines had Fallujah — with the Army joining in to retake the city — and smaller versions in Afghanistan. The Army had Sadr City, Mosul (before ISIS), Samarra, and more. The largest service also has some institutional memories of urban battle from World War II, but hasn’t trained for full-out war in cities for some time.

As Goldfein noted in his speech, 80 percent of humanity will live in cities by 2050. And megacities, those with more than 10 million people. will grow from a dozen to 50.

One of the greatest problems with urban warfare is limiting civilian casualties and leaving much of the city standing, as the latest battle for Mosul illustrates in Iraq. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, during a Q and A with reporters, pointed to directed energy weapons (think fricking lasers! and related technologies like electronics-frying microwaves) as potentially useful tools. She also repeated a point she’s been making recently, that no one will tolerate the US using dumb munitions any more.

“The world can no longer tolerate imprecise weapons, at least from the United States of America,” she said when I asked her and the chief about what might an urban warfare Air Force look like. During her recent tour of Central Command, she learned about an airstrike against Daesh.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
Four 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions are released from an F-15E during a developmental test at Edwards Air Force Base in 2002. JDAM is known as the warfighter’s weapon of choice because of its accuracy, reliability, and low cost. Photo courtesy of USAF.

“They needed a weapon so precisely placed it would destroy ISIS and make the wall fall the other way,” she said, shaking her head to show how impressed she was. Friendly forces were only 13 meters away, she said. The fire request went out. A tasking order was drawn up. Fuzes were set. What may have been a Small Diameter Bomb was dropped and the wall did fall toward ISIS.

When I pressed Goldfein about what platforms and what weapons might be best suited to urban air support, given his comment about the force being designed for open spaces, he said the focus needed to be on modes and networks, as well as on range, persistence, and payload. That echoes such of what the Army has said for the last five years when discussing its next round of weapons: the network is the key, not the new tank.

Could this also have implications for the Light Attack experiment? One Air Force colonel was convinced it would help make the argument for such aircraft to be combined with precision weapons and, perhaps, lasers. But Goldfein made clear he had elevated urban warfare recently and didn’t have all the answers yet.

Articles

SOCOM wants drugs to turn its K9s into super dogs

Officials in charge of equipping America’s top commando units are looking for some high-tech drugs to help boost the performance if their 150 “multi-purpose canines.”


According to news reports, U.S. Special Operations Command wants to find pharmaceutical products or nutritional supplements that will enhance canine hearing, eyesight and other senses.

Think of it as a “Q” for America’s four-legged special operators.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
Military Working Dog Toby, 23d Security Forces Squadron, prepares for an MWD demonstration, Feb. 2, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Ttoby is a Belgian Malinois and specializes in personnel protection and detecting explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wolf)

According to an official solicitation for the Performance Enhancing Drugs, SOCOM is looking for a product or combination of products that will do the following:

  • Increase endurance
  • Improve a dog’s ability to regulate body temperature
  • Improve hydration
  • Improve acclimatization to acute extremes in temperature, altitude, and/or time zone changes
  • Increase the speed of recovery from strenuous work
  • Improve hearing
  • Improve vision
  • Improve scent
  • Decrease adverse effects due to blood loss.

SOCOM’s military working dogs have been front and center on several top commando raids — with the most famous being Cairo, a Belgian Malinois who joined SEAL Team 6 in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time

SOCOM, though, is also looking to neutralize enemy K9s through what another solicitation calls “canine response inhibitors.”

Now, during the Vietnam War, the preferred “canine response inhibitor” was known as the “Hush Puppy.” But these days SOCOM is looking for some less permanent methods, including:

  • Inhibit barking, howling, and whining
  • Inhibit hearing
  • Inhibit vision
  • Inhibit scent
  • Induce unconsciousness
  • Induce movement away from the area where the effects are deployed

Russia’s new high-altitude drone just flew for the first time
Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Julia A. Casper

Like the performance enhancers, the “canine response inhibitors” could also be used outside the military.

So, the company or companies that win the hearts and minds of SOCOM’s puppies could catch a huge break.

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