Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The U.S. Air Force’s venerable F-22 Raptor is widely seen as the world’s most capable air superiority fighter, but for a short time, it was nearly joined by a sister platform modified specifically for the Navy in the NATF-22.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor came about as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program that aimed to field an all-new aircraft that could not only compete with advanced Soviet jets like the Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29, but dominate them. The Su-27 and MiG-29 had both been developed with America’s F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon squarely in their sights, and although the Soviet Union was on its last leg by the late 1980s, the Air Force remained steadfast in their need for a new generation of fighter.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies in formation with a Polish MiG-29 during exercise Sentry White Falcon (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shaun Kerr)

Ultimately, the F-22 Raptor won out over its (arguably more capable) Northrop YF-23 competition, thanks in no small part to Lockheed’s flair for dramatic presentations and Northrop’s troubled reputation at the time. While the YF-23 boasted better range and stealth, the YF-22 and its operational F-22 successor offered a combination of solid capability and Lockheed Martin’s reputation for delivering highly capable military aircraft. While the YF-22 ultimately won the decision, either aircraft would have gone on to become the world’s first stealth fighter, establishing a new generation of fighters to come. Had the YF-23 won out, it would have been the defacto choice for a Navy fighter variant for consideration.

While some still contend that an F-23 could have been the superior fighter, the F-22 quickly separated itself from its operational competition thanks to a combination of low observability, high speed, and acrobatic performance. The Raptor was not only able to reach and sustain speeds as high as Mach 2.25, it also offered the ability to “supercruise,” or to maintain supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburners on its pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans. The thrust pouring out of those engines was managed by the aircraft’s Thrust Vector Control surfaces, which allowed the pilot to orient the outflow of the engines independent of the direction the aircraft was pointed. In other words, an F-22 pilot can point its nose (and weapons) down at you while it continues to push forward through the sky.

Related: COULD THE YF-23 HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN THE F-22?

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
F-22 Raptors during testing (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-22 proved so capable, in fact, that Congress pressed the Navy to consider adopting a sweep-wing version of the new fighter under the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program that began in 1988. In return for the Navy considering the NATF as a potentially lower-cost alternative to developing their own replacement carrier-based fighter, the U.S. Air Force agreed to evaluate a modified version of the carrier-based stealth bomber being developed under the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program as a replacement for their own aging F-111.

In theory, this agreement would allow the Air Force to leverage Navy R&D for their new bomber, while the Navy leveraged the Air Force’s for their new fighter. This approach to sharing development costs across branches, one could argue, would reach its zenith when multiple combat aircraft programs across the Navy, Air Force, and Marines were merged to create what would go on to become the (incredibly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Related: AN F-35 PILOT EXPLAINS WHY THE JET’S BAD PRESS MISSES THE POINT

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
F-35 Joing Strike Fighter (USAF Photo)

In a prelude of things to come, the NATF program, and its associated plans for an NATF-22, were soon seen as prohibitively expensive. By 1990, some seven years before the F-22 would first take to the sky, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, the man responsible for outlining the Navy’s requirements for a new fighter, was quoted as saying that he didn’t see any way the F-22 could be incorporated into an affordable plan for Naval aviation. As a result, the NATF-22 concept was dropped in early 1991.

Had the U.S. Navy opted to pursue a carrier-capable variant of the F-22, there would have been a number of significant technical hurdles to overcome. Aircraft designed for carrier operations have to manage a very different set of take-off and landing challenges than their land-based counterparts. The aircraft fuselage needs to be more physically robust to withstand the incredible forces applied to it during catapult launches and short-distance landings supported by a tailhook at the rear of the aircraft. The NATF-22 would also have to leverage the same sort of variable-sweep wing approach found on the F-14 to grant the aircraft the ability to fly slowly enough to safely land aboard a carrier.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
Artist’s rendering of the NATF-22

That variable-sweep wing design itself brought a slew of its own problems engineers would need to solve. First and foremost, the Navy was already dealing with the high cost of maintaining the sweep wing apparatus on the F-14 Tomcat. A new sweep wing design likely wouldn’t alleviate the high operational costs associated with the Tomcat. As the Air Force has gone on to prove, the Navy’s decision was probably right. Even with fixed wings, the F-22 remains one of the most expensive fighter platforms to operate.

It also stands to reason that the variable sweep wing design would compromise some degree of the aircraft’s stealth. If the connecting surfaces of the moveable wings produced a high enough return on radar to secure a weapons grade lock on the aircraft, the value of such a fighter would be fundamentally compromised. The F-22 may be fast and maneuverable, but the Navy’s existing F-14 Tomcats were faster — and despite their high maintenance costs, still significantly cheaper than building a new stealth fighter for the Navy’s flattops, even if it was borrowing heavily from the Air Force’s program.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
The F-14 utilized a variable-sweep wing design to offer it the ability to manage both low and high speed flight effectively. (U.S. Navy photo)

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why the U.S. Navy opted not to pursue the NATF-22. It was complicated, expensive, and may have only offered a slight improvement over the Navy’s existing carrier-based platforms if any at all. But, nonsensical as it may be in practical use, the very concept of a variable-sweep wing F-22 carrying on the legacy of the fan-favorite F-14 Tomcat aboard America’s super carriers is just too cool not to look back on a bit wistfully.

After all, with only 186 F-22 Raptors ever rolling out of Lockheed Martin’s factories, this king of sky combat is destined to have a painfully short reign. One has to wonder… could a Navy variant of the F-22 have been enough to save this program from the budgetary ax?

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The truth is, probably not — but the pictures sure are cool to look at.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marine Corps tested a skateboard unit in the 1990s

Before the days of the Iraq War made training to fight in urban centers a necessity, the Marine Corps was being proactive with the idea that the U.S. Military might have to capture some cities during a war. Urban combat exercises became a focal point after the Battle of Mogadishu, culminating in the large-scale Urban Warrior exercises in 1999.

One of the innovations tested in Urban Warrior was the development of the combat skateboard.


Urban Warrior was a test by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to test the effectiveness of Marines fighting in large urban areas, which the Corps predicted would materialize on the world’s coastlines. The urban area was more than just another terrain for fighting. It came with its own set of obstacles to overcome including lack of shelter, lack of resources and the ease of booby-trapping rooms, trash, and even entire buildings.

The idea was that conventional U.S. Military power would be limited in an urban environment with a large civilian population and the potential for collateral damage. American tanks, munitions, and other go-tos of the arsenal of democracy would be useless in such an environment. On top of that, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance would have to accompany the fighting to prevent the devolution of the city into another Stalingrad.

Since the Corps knew what wouldn’t work, Urban Warrior was a chance to see what would work.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Like these spiffy “new” Urban BDUs.

On top of weapons, strategies, and uniforms, the Marines who landed and took over parts of Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland in 1999 also tested a number of tactical ideas at their makeshift proving grounds, including the combat skateboard.

The Marines used store-bought, off-the-shelf, skateboards during Urban Warrior to detect tripwires in buildings and draw sniper fire, among other uses. What the Marines really took away from its experimentation with combat skateboards is that standard knee and elbow pads were useless for American troops fighting in urban centers and specialized ones would have to be obtained.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Lance Cpl. Chad Codwell, from Baltimore, Maryland, with Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines, carries an experimental urban combat skateboard which is being used for manuevering inside buildings in order to detect tripwires and sniper fire. This mission is in direct support of Urban Warrior ’99.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Vallee)

Also tested by Marines in urban combat exercises were paragliders and bulldozers, which Marines dubbed “the bulldozer from hell.”

Articles

Whether it’s used in space or in Afghanistan, the Makarov pistol is out of this world

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
A Russian Makarov PM pistol with its 9×18 mm ammunition, a common sidearm anywhere in the world where the Soviet Union had influence. Public domain photo.


If you are a Russian cosmonaut, you’ve got more than a space suit to protect you.

The Russians have been packing heat in low Earth orbit for decades.

Along with fishing gear and a first aid kit, the Granat-6 survival kit in every Soyuz spacecraft has a Makarov PM semi-automatic pistol and plenty of ammunition.

Presumably available to hunt game or provide a self-defense option, the pistol is just one more tool for the space-faring Russian to use if things go wrong.

But the Makarov PM – for Пистолет Макарова, or pistolet Makarova in honor of its chief designer Nikolay Makarov – has plenty of down-to-Earth uses.

Concealable and compact, it fires the Russian 9 x 18mm Makarov round, which is slightly shorter and fatter than the 9-mm NATO pistol round used throughout the rest of the world. It has a double-action mechanism – if a round is already chambered the pistol can be fired by pulling the trigger without manually cocking the hammer.

Even though it is heavy for its size and has a stiff trigger pull, it’s a natural for police work and covert operations. The designer even copied features from the Walther PP (police pistol) designed in 1929, including its size and the shape of the pistol’s frame.

Not surprisingly, since its introduction in 1951 the Makarov was frequently the handgun brandished by state security agents in the U.S.S.R. or the old Eastern Bloc when they said, “Comrade, come with us.”

Even in the age of polymer-frame pistols, the Makarov has its adherents.

Spetsnaz (Russian special forces) team members often carried the Makarov as their sidearm, particularly team commanders, deputy commanders, and radiomen. They sometimes carried a suppressed version of the weapon for so-called “wet works” – kidnappings and assassinations where stealth, surprise, and silence were necessary for mission success as well as personal survival.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, many Makarovs flooded the market and eventually ended up in the hands of shooters in the United States.

“The Makarov is more reliable than most of the more expensive small pistols, is well made of good material, and is surprisingly accurate,” writes Matthew Campbell, author of 21st-Century Stopping Power: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. “This makes the Makarov a superior choice to most of the double action first-shot .380 ACP pistols in this size and weight class.”

Despite the fact it was officially phased out in 2003 by the Russian Ministry of Defense, thousands of the pistols remain in service with police officers, soldiers, and intelligence personnel. It is frequently in the hands of combatants fighting the Russia-Ukraine War, serving as the sidearm for both sides.

And like many weapons, the Makarov has a “bad boy reputation.”

Noted terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez  (a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal) carried a Makarov. During the Vietnam War, many senior ranking North Vietnamese Army officers and Communist Party officials carried the pistol – special operators from the U.S. military or the CIA often found the weapon when they searched live prisoners or dead bodies.

To this day, Makarovs frequently appear on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria – a testament to the staying power of a rugged, Soviet-era pistol with few frills but incredible reliability.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Apparently this is what it takes to trust a robot

What does it take for a human to trust a robot? That is what Army researchers are uncovering in a new study into how humans and robots work together.

Research into human-agent teaming, or HAT, has examined how the transparency of agents — such as robots, unmanned vehicles or software agents — influences human trust, task performance, workload and perceptions of the agent. Agent transparency refers to its ability to convey to humans its intent, reasoning process and future plans.

New Army-led research finds that human confidence in robots decreases after the robot makes a mistake, even when it is transparent with its reasoning process. The paper, “Agent Transparency and Reliability in Human — Robot Interaction: The Influence on User Confidence and Perceived Reliability,” has been published in the August issue of IEEE-Transactions on Human-Machine Systems.


To date, research has largely focused on HAT with perfectly reliable intelligent agents — meaning the agents do not make mistakes — but this is one of the few studies that has explored how agent transparency interacts with agent reliability. In this latest study, humans witnessed a robot making a mistake, and researchers focused on whether the humans perceived the robot to be less reliable, even when the human was provided insight into the robot’s reasoning process.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

ASM experimental interface: The left-side monitor displays the lead soldier’s point of view of the task environment.

(U.S. Army illustration)

“Understanding how the robot’s behavior influences their human teammates is crucial to the development of effective human-robot teams, as well as the design of interfaces and communication methods between team members,” said Dr. Julia Wright, principal investigator for this project and researcher at U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, also known as ARL. “This research contributes to the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations efforts to ensure overmatch in artificial intelligence-enabled capabilities. But it is also interdisciplinary, as its findings will inform the work of psychologists, roboticists, engineers, and system designers who are working toward facilitating better understanding between humans and autonomous agents in the effort to make autonomous teammates rather than simply tools.

This research was a joint effort between ARL and the University of Central Florida Institute for Simulations and Training, and is the third and final study in the Autonomous Squad Member project, sponsored by the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Autonomy Research Pilot Initiative. The ASM is a small ground robot that interacts with and communicates with an infantry squad.

Prior ASM studies investigated how a robot would communicate with a human teammate. Using the situation awareness-based Agent Transparency model as a guide, various visualization methods to convey the agent’s goals, intents, reasoning, constraints, and projected outcomes were explored and tested. An at-a-glance iconographic module was developed based on these early study findings, and then was used in subsequent studies to explore the efficacy of agent transparency in HAT.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Researchers conducted this study in a simulated environment, in which participants observed a human-agent soldier team, which included the ASM, traversing a training course. The participants’ task was to monitor the team and evaluate the robot. The soldier-robot team encountered various events along the course and responded accordingly. While the soldiers always responded correctly to the event, occasionally the robot misunderstood the situation, leading to incorrect actions. The amount of information the robot shared varied between trials. While the robot always explained its actions, the reasons behind its actions and the expected outcome of its actions, in some trials the robot also shared the reasoning behind its decisions, its underlying logic. Participants viewed multiple soldier-robot teams, and their assessments of the robots were compared.

The study found that regardless of the robot’s transparency in explaining its reasoning, the robot’s reliability was the ultimate determining factor in influencing the participants’ projections of the robot’s future reliability, trust in the robot and perceptions of the robot. That is, after participants witnessed an error, they continued to rate the robot’s reliability lower, even when the robot did not make any subsequent errors. While these evaluations slowly improved over time as long as the robot committed no further errors, participants’ confidence in their own assessments of the robot’s reliability remained lowered throughout the remainder of the trials, when compared to participants who never saw an error. Furthermore, participants who witnessed a robot error reported lower trust in the robot, when compared to those who never witnessed a robot error.

Increasing agent transparency was found to improve participants’ trust in the robot, but only when the robot was collecting or filtering information. This could indicate that sharing in-depth information may mitigate some of the effects of unreliable automation for specific tasks, Wright said. Additionally, participants rated the unreliable robot as less animate, likable, intelligent, and safe than the reliable robot.

“Earlier studies suggest that context matters in determining the usefulness of transparency information,” Wright said. “We need to better understand which tasks require more in-depth understanding of the agent’s reasoning, and how to discern what that depth would entail. Future research should explore ways to deliver transparency information based on the tasking requirements.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why your future bunkers might be made of wood

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but they’re also great building materials. And the Department of Defense is eyeing a return to stick-based construction in some places where it currently uses concrete and similar materials. Fire and blast tests have already gone well, and the Army is working with universities to test its performance against ballistic weapons.


It’s all thanks to a new material that all the cool architects are talking about: cross-laminated timber. The footnotes version on this stuff is that it’s timber assembled in layers, and each layer is placed at 90 degrees from the previous one.

So, think of a Jenga tower, but with lots of glue so the blocks don’t slide apart. Believe it or not, this actually creates a super-strong structure, so strong that architects are certain they can make skyscrapers with the stuff, though buildings of about five stories are the norm right now and the tallest completed so far is 14 stories.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Believe it or not, this is a passing fire test. Cross-laminated timber passed the test for fire resistance, but organizers were a little disappointed that it never self-extinguished. It was hoped that as the wood charred, which greatly reduces its flammability, the flame would run out of fuel.

(YouTube/Sisekaitseakadeemia)

But the Pentagon isn’t eyeing the material for tall office structures, or at least not exclusively for that. They allowed the Forest Products Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to test CLT structures against blasts. Yeah, they want to know how the buildings will do against bombs.

The FPL has already tested the material when set on fire, when exposed to extreme moisture, and when shaken as it would in an earthquake. The wood did great in the earlier tests, but the military didn’t want to adopt new materials that would get destroyed the first time a big, bad wolf tried to blow it up.

The blast tests were done in 2016 and 2017 at Tyndall Air Force Base. This was before the hurricane wiped out many of the base’s structures (which were not CLT).

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

That blast looks stronger than the Big Bad Wolf, but somehow, the stick-buildings are still standing.

(Air Force Civil Engineering Center AFCEC, Tyndall Air Force Base)

The wood performed well during the tests, flexing and twisting in some cases but—in most of the tests—surviving the blasts. The panels did rupture during the final test, a test designed to overwhelm the timbers and push them well beyond their design limits. But even then, the buildings were safe to enter and walk through.

Now, Georgia Tech in Atlanta is working on a ballistics test with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. The tests are slated to include additional blast testing as well. So, yeah, the Army wants to figure out whether it makes tactical and strategic sense to have wood buildings and structures, even in some places where it might currently use concrete.

All-in-all, CLT is a promising material for the military, and it’s achieved a lot of acceptance in the civilian world. It’s much better for the environment than concrete, which releases CO2 both in production and construction, and steel, which is energy intensive to mine, smelt, forge, and ship.

Timber, in contrast, actually removes carbon from the atmosphere as it’s created and grown, and it’s very lightweight, so it doesn’t cost as much fuel to move the material.

Currently, though, the material is quite expensive to purchase as there are only a few manufacturers making it. Prices are expected to come down over the next couple of decades. An ambitious plan for a 7-story building is slated for completion in 2041, partially because building right now would require that the builders buy up all available CLT, making the project cost as much as double what normal construction would.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This new guided-missile LCS packs a lot of punch

USS Freedom (LCS-1), the lead of the Freedom-class of littoral combat ships, brought some much-needed positive attention to the LCS in 2010 when it carried out a deployment in Southern Command’s area of operations. In just seven weeks, it made four drug busts while accomplishing a host of other missions.

It’s no secret that the development and deployment of the Littoral Combat Ship has been rife with problems. This big success was exactly what the class needed to secure an export order. Well, to be more specific, a modified version of the Freedom has found an international buyer.


According to a showing at the 2018 SeaAirSpace Expo, Lockheed Martin has been hard at work modifying and upgrading the Freedom-class LCS. Not only have they designed a guided-missile frigate based on this ship (which is to compete for selection via the Navy’s FFG(X) program), they also designed the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), which is, essentially, a frigate designed to serve as a general-purpose vessel.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The RIM-162D Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is the primary anti-air armament of the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew J. Haran)

The MMSC maintains many of the same armaments as the Freedom-class LCS; it’s armed with a 57mm gun, RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, and the ability to operate two MH-60 helicopters. The MMSC, however, brings more punch to the table. For starters, it’s armed with eight over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles, either RGM-84 Harpoons or Kongsberg NSMs.

Also on the MMSC: an eight-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch system. Each cell in this system holds up to four missiles, meaning the MMSC is armed with 32 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. This is a huge step up in air-defense capabilities. This plethora of missiles is joined by Mk 32 torpedo tubes for lightweight anti-sub weaponry, like the Mk 54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo or Mk 50 Barracuda.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

USS Freedom (LCS 1) is the basis for Lockheed’s Multi-Mission Surface Combatant.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird)

Currently, the MMSC has secured an export order with Saudi Arabia as part of a massive arms package that was worked out last year with the United States. Although this ship is impressive, it does drive us a little crazy that this is what the LCS could have been.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US B-52 bombers upgraded to carry even more bombs

US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers — America’s longest-serving bomber aircraft — are expected to get an upgrade that will allow them to drop bombs like never before.

The service is currently testing a major upgrade for the decades-old bombers, as well as the revolutionary Conventional Rotary Launchers (CRLs). The upgrade will increase the number of munitions a single B-52 bomber can drop at one time, the Air Force revealed in a recent statement.


CRLs are rotating munition systems located inside the bomb bay that allow the heavy, long-range bombers to carry a larger and more varied payload of conventional smart bombs and other guided munitions.

“Before these launchers, the B-52 was not capable of carrying smart weapons internally,” Air Forces Strategic (AFSTRAT) Armament Systems manager Master Sgt. Adam Levandowski said when the first CRLs were delivered to the service in November 2017. “Now each CRL allows for internal carriage, which adds an additional eight smart bombs per aircraft,” he further explained.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gerald R. Willis)

The addition of the new CRLs increased the B-52’s smart weapon carrying capacity by 67 percent.

B-52 bombers flew into battle with the new launchers for the first time in December 2017, setting a new record for largest number of bombs ever dropped from the airframe, Military.com reported at the time.

A long-standing issue with the CRLs has been that power could only be supplied to four munitions at a time. The planned upgrade will provide full power to all internal munitions at once. In the past, aircrews could only power four munitions on one pass, as anything more might risk blowing the circuit breakers mid-flight.

“Now, a B-52 going into a war zone has the ability to put 20 munitions on a target area very quickly,” Senior Master Sgt. Michael Pierce, 307th Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament superintendent, said, referring to the eight internal weapons and the 12 additional munitions stored under the wings.

These figures refer to the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs) used in testing. The bombers can carry potentially larger quantities of other munitions.

“The entire effort to modify the CRL moved pretty quickly,” Pierce said. “The bottom line is yesterday we had the capability to deliver 16 weapons at one time and today we can deliver 20 of them.”

The Air Force is expected to upgrade all B-52s once testing is complete.

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

Articles

Inside the USS Zumwalt, the Navy’s most advanced warship

The United States Navy’s newest destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), is the most advanced ship in the ocean today. So what actually goes into making this ship the hottest of maritime hotrods?


Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) sails under the Pell Bridge. (US Navy photo)

According to All Hands magazine, the 15,656-ton vessel is equipped with many new advances. The most visible is the 155mm Advanced Gun System. Now, the Long-Range Land-Attack Projectile program was cancelled, but this gun has other ammo options. The Zumwalt also features 20 Mk 57 vertical-launch systems, each with four cells, capable of launching a variety of weapons, including the BGM-109 Tomahawk and the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) emerges past a point. (US Navy photo)

But the Zumwalt has more than just new firepower. The wave-piercing tumblehome design and the composite superstructure help reduce the ship’s radar cross-section, and the ship is also one of the quietest vessels in the world.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
The 1,000-ton deckhouse of the future destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is craned toward the deck of the ship to be integrated with the ship’s hull at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. The ship launch and christening are planned in 2013. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The ship also has the new Integrated Power System, a highly-survivable system that allows the power output from the ship’s LM2500 gas turbines to be used for anything from propulsion – taking the ship to a top speed of over 30 knots — to charging a crewman’s Kindle to powering the AN/SPY-3 radar.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
The future USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is underway for the first time conducting at-sea tests and trials on the Kennebeck River. The multi-mission ship will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces, and operate as an integral part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. (U.S. Navy photo /Released)

The ship can also carry two MH-60R multi-role helicopters and has a crew of 158.

Below, take a look at a pair of videos of this American maritime hotrod.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How you can buy M1911 pistols made from meteorites

Few weapons ever wielded by the U.S. Military are more beloved than the M1911. The weapon was designed by a competitive pistol shooter and equipped with the stopping power necessary to take down a berserk Moro rebel fighter. There’s a reason it was in the American arsenal for more than a century.

These days, the legendary .45 pistol isn’t used as much around the military, but it remains a collector’s item for veterans and aficionados alike. It retains its title of the greatest issued sidearm of all time – and now you can get one that came from interstellar space.


Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The Big Bang Pistol Set, crafted from a 4-billion-year-old meteorite from Namibia.

It may sound like the first in (probably) a long line of Space Force weapons programs from a less-than-honest defense contractor, but it’s actually just a nifty idea from American firearms manufacturer Cabot Guns. Their weapons are like the concept cars of firearms, with pistols that feature mammoth ivory grips (yes, Wooly Mammoth ivory) harvested from Alaska, a pistol crafted from a 50-layer block of Damascus steel, and a Donald Trump-level .45 with a gold finish, engraved with “Trump 45” along the barrel.

Gimmicky, maybe, but all are truly so well-crafted, they earned the right to be called “elite.” The biggest standout among the manufacturer’s arsenal has to be the Big Bang Pistol Set, crafted from the Gibeon Meteorite that fell in prehistoric Namibia.

The meteorite, believed to be at least four billion years old, is comprised of iron, nickel, cobalt, and phosphorous, along with numerous other rare minerals. The object fell from the sky and broke up in the days before history was recorded, dropping interstellar rocks in a meteor field some 70 miles wide. Prehistoric tribesmen would make tools and weapons of the hard material from the sky.

The Widmanstätten pattern formed by the alloy makes it a particularly interesting design for use in jewelry and other specialty items… like firearms.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

A slice of Gibeon Meteorite, featuring the Widmanstätten pattern.

For just ,500,000, you can own a piece of geological history with the power to end someone else’s history. Crafted from a 77-pound piece of the extraterrestrial rock, from the barrel to its smaller moving parts, the set contains two of the one-of-a-kind firearms. They are both fully functional pieces, made completely from the meteorite and feature the space rock’s natural pattern on the finish.

Firearms fan or not, the pistols are a pure work of art, along with all the other weapons the specialty manufacturer has to offer.

MIGHTY CULTURE

DARPA wants AI to dogfight, but not for reasons you think

The futurists over at DARPA are pursuing a vision that most of us knew was coming: creating artificial intelligence that can outperform human pilots in dogfights, can survive more Gs in flight without expensive life support, and can be mass produced. But it turns out, DARPA doesn’t think dogfights are the real reason the technology is needed.


DARPA is working “mosaic warfare,” a vision of warfighting that sees complex systems working together to overcome an adversary. Basically, a military force would be deployed across a wide front, but the sensors and command and control would be split across multiple platforms, many of them controlled by artificial intelligence.

So, even if the enemy manages to take out multiple armored vehicles, planes, or other platforms, the good guys would still have plenty of sensors and computing power.

And those remaining platforms would be lethal. The humans making the decisions would be in tanks or other vehicles, and they would have their own weapons as well as control of the dozens of weapons on the AI-controlled vehicles. Think multiple armored vehicles, a couple of artillery platforms, and maybe some drones in the sky.

In this vision of the future, it’s easy to see why dogfighting drones would be valuable. Human pilots could stay relatively safe to the rear while commanding the weapons of those robot dogfighters at the front. But the real reason DARPA wants the robots to be good at dogfighting is just so human pilots will accept them.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

A DARPA graphic illustrates how manned and unmanned systems could work together in fighter engagements.

(DARPA)

From a DARPA release titled Training AI to Win a Dogfight:

Turning aerial dogfighting over to AI is less about dogfighting, which should be rare in the future, and more about giving pilots the confidence that AI and automation can handle a high-end fight. As soon as new human fighter pilots learn to take-off, navigate, and land, they are taught aerial combat maneuvers. Contrary to popular belief, new fighter pilots learn to dogfight because it represents a crucible where pilot performance and trust can be refined. To accelerate the transformation of pilots from aircraft operators to mission battle commanders — who can entrust dynamic air combat tasks to unmanned, semi-autonomous airborne assets from the cockpit — the AI must first prove it can handle the basics.

Basically, DARPA doesn’t want robot dogfighters so they can win dogfights. After all, dogfighting is relatively rare now, and it doesn’t matter much if we lose one or two robots in dogfights because they’re cheap to replace anyway. But DARPA knows that pilots trust good dogfighters, so an AI that would be accepted by them must be good at dogfighting.

Once they’re in frontline units, the robots are more likely to act as missile carriers and sensor platforms than true dogfighters. Their mission will be to hunt down threats on the ground and in the sky and, at a command from the human, destroy them. It’s likely that the destruction will be conducted from beyond visual range and with little threat to the robot or the human pilot that it’s protecting.

This may sound like far future stuff, but it’s likely DARPA will find solid proposals fast. They’re soliciting proposals through May 17, but University of Cincinnati students created an AI named ALPHA in 2016 that repeatedly defeated a retired Air Force colonel in simulated dogfights. If that AI and similar tech can be properly adapted to work in current or future fighter aircraft, then we’ll be off to the races.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

NASA’s first all-electric plane is ready for testing

The first all-electric configuration of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell now is at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

The X-57, NASA’s first all-electric experimental aircraft, or X-plane – and the first crewed X-plane in two decades – was delivered by Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) of San Luis Obispo, California on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft, known as Modification II, or Mod II.

The X-57’s Mod II vehicle features the replacement of traditional combustion engines on a baseline Tecnam P2006T aircraft, with electric cruise motors. The delivery is a major milestone for the project, allowing NASA engineers to begin putting the aircraft through ground tests, to be followed by taxi tests and eventually, flight tests.


The X-57 Mod II aircraft delivery to NASA is a significant event, marking the beginning of a new phase in this exciting electric X-plane project,” said X-57 Project Manager Tom Rigney. “With the aircraft in our possession, the X-57 team will soon conduct extensive ground testing of the integrated electric propulsion system to ensure the aircraft is airworthy. We plan to rapidly share valuable lessons learned along the way as we progress toward flight testing, helping to inform the growing electric aircraft market.

X-57 Maxwell Electric Airplane Flight Simulation

www.youtube.com

While X-57’s Mod II vehicle begins systems validation testing on the ground, efforts in preparation for the project’s following phases, Mods III and IV, are already well underway, with the recent successful completion of loads testing on a new, high-aspect ratio wing at NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory. Following completion of tests, the wing, which will be featured on Mods III and IV configurations, will undergo fit checks on a fuselage at ESAero, ensuring timely transition from the project’s Mod II phase to Mod III.

“ESAero is thrilled to be delivering the MOD II X-57 Maxwell to NASA AFRC,” said ESAero President and CEO Andrew Gibson. “In this revolutionary time, the experience and lessons learned, from early requirements to current standards development, has the X-57 paving the way. This milestone, along with receiving the successfully load-tested MOD III wing back, will enable NASA, ESAero and the small business team to accelerate and lead electric air vehicle distributed propulsion development on the MOD III and MOD IV configurations with integration at our facilities in San Luis Obispo.”

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Artist’s concept of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell aircraft.

(NASA)

A goal of the X-57 project is to help develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets, including urban air mobility vehicles, which also rely on complex distributed electric propulsion systems. NASA will share the aircraft’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry, which will advance certification approaches for aircraft utilizing distributed electric propulsion.

The X-57 team is using a “design driver” as a technical challenge, to drive lessons learned and best practices. This design driver includes a 500% increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for communities on the ground.

The X-57 project operates under the Integrated Aviation Systems Program’s Flight Demonstrations and Capabilities project, within NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-35’s abysmal readiness rate is raising some questions

The US military’s F-35 Joint Strike Force program may be in trouble due to its abysmal mission readiness rates, according to a report from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

POGO’s report is based on a chart from the Joint Program Office’s Integrated Test Force showing that the 23-aircraft test fleet had a “fully mission capable” rate of 8.7% in June 2019 — an improvement over its May 2019 mission-capable rate of 4.7%. The average rate was just 11% for December 2018 through June 2019.

The F-35 program has been plagued with problems; loss of cabin pressure and aircraft control and serious issues in both hot and cold conditions are just a few of the challenges facing the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons system.


Such low rates can typically be attributed to a lack of spare parts or one of the many previously reported problems. The POGO report specifically points to issues with the aircraft’s Distributed Aperture System, which warns F-35 pilots of incoming missiles. While the aircraft can still fly without the system being fully functional, it’s a necessary component in combat.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

33rd Fighter Wing F-35As taxi down the flightline at Volk Field.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)

The Lightning II test fleet is actually performing far worse than the full F-35 fleet, but even that rate is less than ideal — it was only 27% fully mission capable between May and December 2018, according to Flight Global.

In October 2018, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis called for 80% mission capability for the F-35, F-22, F-16, and F-18 fleets by September, Defense News reported at the time.

But Air Force Times reported in July 2019 that the Air Force’s overall aircraft mission-capable rate fell eight percentage points from 2012 to 2018, dipping below 70% last year. Col. Bill Maxwell, the chief of the Air Force’s maintenance division, told Air Force Times that any downward trend in readiness is cause for concern but that the overall readiness rate was a “snapshot in time.”

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Hill Air Force Base F-35A Lightning IIs fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017.

(U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

The Pentagon is set to decide whether to move to full-rate production in October, but given low readiness rates, it is doubtful that testing will be completed by then. According to POGO, a major defense acquisition like the F-35 can’t legally proceed to full-rate production until after testing is completed and a final report is submitted.

The Joint Strike Fighter program declined INSIDER’S request for comment on the POGO report.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China is getting away with ‘the greatest intellectual property theft in human history’

China’s intellectual property theft of both civil and military information is no secret.

From alleged attempts to hack into Swedish telecom provider Ericsson to the theft of information related to the F-22 and F-35, there are several instances of China gaining access to foreign technology or trying to do so.

There are also examples of Chinese military systems looking suspiciously like US systems — the F-22 and the MQ-9 Reaper drone among them. Other elements of those Chinese systems — the software, technology, and manpower used to operate them — aren’t on par with the US military yet.


But they might not be far behind, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. At the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Summit on Sept. 19, 2019, he warned that China is perpetrating “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history.”

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

A US F-22, left, and a Chinese J-20.

Esper told attendees that he had cautioned European allies against allowing Chinese companies to build 5G cyber networks in their countries, warning that to do so would risk sensitive national security information.

“Every Chinese company has the potential to be an accomplice in Beijing’s state-sponsored campaign to steal technology,” he said, highlighting China’s integration of civil and military technology, an area in which Beijing surpasses the US.

“China has systematically sought to acquire US technology both through traditional espionage means, as well as through legal investments in companies,” Daniel Kliman, director of the the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told Insider.

“The United States very much still retains a military technological edge, but it’s clear that edge is eroding,” Kliman said.

Read on to see how China’s carbon copies stack up to US weapons systems.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

Chinese air force J-20 stealth fighters.

The PLA’s J-20 looks extremely similar to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.

As Popular Mechanics reports, the Chengdu J-20 is one of the aircraft that was designed using information from the US.

Su Bin, a Chinese national and aerospace entrepreneur, pleaded guilty to cyber espionage in 2016. He and coconspirators spied on US plans for the C-17 Globemaster, the F-35, and the F-22.

But while the J-20 looks like the F-22, it’s not quite in the same league.

Michael Kofman, a senior research analyst at the CNA think tank, told Insider last year that he suspected “the J-20 probably has great avionics and software but, as always, has terrible engine design. In fact, Chinese low-observation aircraft designs like J-31 are flying on older Russian Klimov engines because the Chinese can’t make an engine.”

Kofman also expressed doubt about the J-20’s stealth capability.

“It’s got so many surfaces, and a lot of them look pretty reflective from the sides too. I’m pretty skeptical of the stealth on that aircraft,” he said.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

A Chinese Shenyang J-31.

The Chinese Shenyang J-31 is strikingly similar to the US F-35.

The Shenyang J-31 is still under development but will likely replace the J-15 fighter, at least on aircraft carriers. The J-15 has been plagued with issues, including multiple fatal crashes and problems with its engine, the South China Morning Post reported last year.

The J-31 is the People’s Liberation Army’s second stealth aircraft and was first seen in 2014. There is widespread speculation that the J-31 is based on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plans, although China has denied those claims.

The J-31 is lighter and has a shorter range than the F-35 but may beat it with maximum speed of Mach 1.8 to the F-35’s Mach 1.6, Popular Science reported in 2017.

The question of how well these aircraft actually match up to their US competitors remains, and, Kliman said, appearances are only part of the equation.

“Sometimes superficially the designs do look similar — it could be, in part, from some of the attempts China’s made to acquire good technology, but I would just caution that at the end of the day, it’s hard to know how similar it is or not,” he told Insider.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

An MQ-Reaper over Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, June 25, 2015.

( Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/US Air Force)

The Caihong-class unmanned aerial vehicle, including the CH-4 and CH-5, look unmistakably like US MQ-9 Reaper drones.

While there’s no concrete evidence that the Chinese design is the result of espionage or theft, the visual similarities are unmistakable — nose-mounted cameras on the CH-4B, as well as locations for external munitions are just like those on the Reaper, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, calling the two aircraft “identical.”

Breaking Defense reported in 2015 that, in addition to the same domed nose and V-shaped tail, the UAVs both have 66-foot wingspans.

Drone designer Shi Wen, of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, told China Daily three years ago that the CH-5 model “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency.”

But again, Chinese technology and specifications likely don’t match up to US counterparts.

For starters, the Reaper can carry roughly double the munitions of the CH-5. And while the CH-5 can travel farther, with a range of about 1,200 miles, its flight ceiling is about 23,000 feet, compared to the Reaper’s nearly 50,000-foot ceiling, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies’ China Power project.

The Reaper also has a heavier maximum takeoff weight and can travel at twice the speed of the CH-5, due to persistent challenges with Chinese-made engines.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

The Chinese air force’s Y-20 transport aircraft has design similarities to the US Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III.

Su Bin pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to steal technical data related to the C-17 from Boeing and the US Air Force.

That data likely was used to build the Xian Y-20, China’s large transport aircraft, nicknamed the “Chubby Girl.” As Garrett M. Graff notes in Wired, Su helped pilfer about 630,000 files related to the C-17.

Whether China used information about the C-17 to build the Y-20 is unclear — Beijing has denied stealing US technology for its weapons systems — but the similarities are apparent, from the nose to the tail stabilizer, as Kyle Mizokami points out in Popular Mechanics.

The Y-20 has a smaller empty weight and payload than the C-17, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, but the Y-20 is the largest transport aircraft in production. The Chinese military lacked a large transport carrier prior to the development of the Y-20, making it difficult to quickly mobilize large numbers of supplies and troops to battlefields or disaster areas, Wired reported in 2012.

“Just because something looks somewhat similar doesn’t mean it has equivalent capabilities,” Kliman cautioned, particularly where human capability is concerned.

“It’s not the technology alone. It’s the quality of the pilots in a fighter airplane. It’s the quality of the systems that are feeding the aircraft information,” Kilman said.

China hasn’t fought a foreign war since the brief Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. US service members and systems have much more battlefield experience than Chinese forces.

“The [People’s Liberation Army] has made a long-term effort to improve its human capital, including through training but also through education … but at this point, the US, our pilots, our operators get, certainly, the real-world experience,” Kilman said.

Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Where does China go from here?

If Esper and retired Navy Adm. William McRaven are to be believed, China is rapidly closing the technology and defense gap with the US, through both legal and illegal means.

Whether China is pouring money into research and development or committing outright intellectual-property theft, US officials have cause for concern about the future.

In August, Chinese national Pengyi Li was arrested on his way to Hong Kong after an undercover investigation by the Department of Homeland Security into the smuggling of components for missiles and surveillance satellites from the US to China, Tim Fernholz and Justin Rohrlich reported in Quartz.

Chinese nationals have also been found guilty of trying to smuggle accelerometers, which are necessary for guided missiles and spacecraft.

In terms of hypersonic technology, which “does seem pretty game-changing,” China is ahead of the US, said Kliman, who stressed that it’s important not to be alarmist.

“I think those statements are certainly well-intended and grounded in reality,” he said, referring to Esper and McRaven’s warnings.

Outside of military technology, Kliman said, China certainly is a leader in information technology. But when it comes to systems, allies, and people, the US still has a leg up on the competition — for now.

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information