The Badger is officially the smallest passenger tank on Earth, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s a one-man, all-terrain vehicle designed to breach buildings and other fortified positions. It’s powerful enough to break down doors yet small enough to fit in a lift.
Make no mistake, this tank is not a novelty. Howe Howe Technologies, the makers of this little beast, have experience making vehicles for the military. Howe Howe specializes in the fabrication and design of armored and military-grade vehicles. The Badger, however, is currently being used by SWAT teams.
Picture the brown-water Navy of the Vietnam War and you probably picture Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard floating upriver on a PBR to “terminate Col. Kurtz’s command…with extreme prejudice.” The Patrol Boat, River was a small rigid-hulled patrol boat used extensively in the Vietnam War to navigate the country’s many waterways. Employed operationally from 1966 until 1971, PBRs were used to conduct patrols, disrupt enemy movement, and most notably, insert and extract Special Forces units like Navy SEALs and the fictional Capt. Willard.
As the war in Vietnam escalated, the U.S. military quickly saw the need for a small and agile watercraft that could move quickly on Vietnam’s many rivers. The Navy approached civilian shipbuilder Hatteras Yachts to convert their 41′ fiberglass recreational family boat by shortening it and fitting it with water pump-jets instead of propellers. The pump-jets would allow the boat to operate in extremely shallow water. Willis Slane and Jack Hargrave of Hatteras took on the challenge and delivered the prototype to the Navy for testing in just 7 days.
A modern version of the Hatteras 41 on which the PBR is based (Hatteras Yachts)
In 1965, the Navy awarded a contract to Uniflite Boats to build the first 120 PBRs. They were powered by two Detroit 6V53N engines producing 180 hp each (later increased to 216 hp), and two 14YJ water pump-jet drives manufactured by Jacuzzi. With this power, the boats could cruise between 25 and 31 knots. The later Mark II PBR was slightly bigger, increasing from 31′ to 32′ in length and 10′ 7″ to 11′ 7″ beam. Mark II PBRs were also fitted with improved drives to reduce fouling and aluminum gunwales to resist wear.
The PBR was extremely maneuverable, being able to turn within its own length. But the PBRs party piece was its stopping ability. Fitted with thrust buckets, the PBR could reverse its Jacuzzi water pump-jets and go from full speed to a dead stop within a couple of its own length. Because of its fiberglass hull, the boat was also extremely light. This meant that it had a draft of just 2′ when fully loaded and could be slingloaded by a helicopter.
A CH-54 Tarhe prepares to hoist a PBR (U.S. Army)
PBRs were typically armed with a twin M2HB .50-caliber machine gun turret forward, a single rear-mounted M2HB, one or two M60 7.62mm light machine guns on the port and starboard side, and a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. However, PBR captains were known to augment their weapons suites with additional M2HBs and 81mm mortars. Some even swapped out their bow-mounted twin .50-cals for a Mk16 Mod 4 Colt 20mm automatic cannon. In addition to all this, the four-man crew was armed with a full complement of M16 rifles, shotguns, M1911 handguns, and hand grenades.
All this lethality came at the cost of protection. Though the .50-cal machine guns had some ceramic armor shielding and the Coxswain’s flat had quarter-inch thick steel armor plating, the fiberglass-hulled boats had little else in the way of armor. Rather, PBRs relied on their acceleration, maneuverability, and outright speed for their survivability. This made them extremely adept at hit and run attacks and special operations. In the latter, the PBR found great success. Not only did the boat serve as an excellent insertion and extraction platform, its heavy armament meant that it could provide direct fire support for special operations teams if necessary.
A PBR cruises down a river in Vietnam (U.S. Navy)
At the height of production during the Vietnam War, two PBRs were rolling off the assembly line every day. By the war’s end, over 750 had been built. Today, less than three dozen PBRs survive in conditions ranging from stripped hulls to fully operational, of which there are just seven. However, the PBRs legacy is greater than its surviving examples.
The most decorated enlisted sailor in U.S. Navy history, James “Willie” Williams, commanded PBR 105. During a patrol on October 21, 1966, Williams’ and another PBR engaged over 65 enemy boats and numerous well-concealed ground troops in a three-hour running battle. Williams’ actions during the battle earned him the Medal of Honor. His citation notes that he “exposed himself to the withering hail of enemy fire to direct counter-fire and inspire the actions of his patrol” and that he “demonstrated unusual professional skill and indomitable courage throughout the 3 hour battle.”
Williams wields an M60 aboard his PBR (U.S. Navy)
To the unknowing tourist looking at a static display, the PBR might just be a greenish grey military boat. A cinephile might recognize it as the boat from Apocalypse Now. But, to the special forces teams that were pulled out of a hot extraction by one, the PBR was a guardian angel. To the sailors that crewed them, a PBR was home.
Ever since the first details were released about a stealth helicopter being used and crashing during the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the internet aviation community has been awash with great interest and speculation about the aircraft. Recently, an image of what looks to be a forerunner for the stealth Black Hawk used in the raid surfaced online.
The internet community was quick to perform a visual autopsy on the image and scrutinize it for telling details that might reveal hidden secrets about the enigmatic project. One highly respected and anonymous contributor shared as many explicit details, the type that can only come from firsthand knowledge, as they could without breaching an NDA.
According to this source, the aircraft pictured is a YEH-60A at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989 or 1990. The helicopter is allegedly sporting a “Direction Finding Enhancement Kit”, of which a half dozen were produced. The kit reportedly also featured additional components like tail modifications that do not appear in the picture. This is consistent with the fact that the tail rotor of the crashed Black Hawk from the OBL raid was heavily modified and resembled the tail rotor of the canceled RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter.
The tail rotor of the wreckage left behind from the raid (Public Domain)
The anonymous source goes on to detail that those involved in the program nicknamed the aircraft the “Black Blackhawk.” In keeping with its spectral name, the test team took a picture with the helicopter which the source had double exposed with them in and out of the photo. “We all looked like ghosts. This would be a real head-turner on the contest table,” the source said.
At the same time that the “Black Blackhawk” was being tested at Edwards, the Lockheed YF-22 was being tested out of a hangar not too far away. The helicopter can reportedly be seen in some photos of the YF-22 flight test operations. Allegedly, the Lockheed engineers were bewildered when they first saw the YEH-60A with its kit.
At one point, despite the secretive test site, the helicopter’s test pilots had to take off one hour before sunrise and arrive back at Edwards one hour after sunset so that the aircraft would not be observed. Even this was a loosened restriction since the aircraft allegedly had to fly exclusively at night when it first began testing.
While the modern MH-60L Direct Action Penetrators flown by the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are not pictured with any sort of stealth kit, the wreckage of the OBL raid helicopter and the release of this image are proof that the technology is out there and has been for some time.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin turbofan-powered aircraft designed specifically for close air support and ground attack missions against armored vehicles.
The aircraft’s sub-sonic speed and large straight-wing design allows for extreme maneuverability at low altitudes and extended time on target or to loiter above the battlefield.
The airframe was designed from the very start as a short takeoff and landing aerial platform for the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, which can fire 3,900 depleted uranium shells per minute. When combined with the ability to carry the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile and laser-guided bombs, the A-10 can destroy enemy armor at close range or from a standoff position.
Redundant control surfaces and hydraulic systems combined with titanium armor protecting the pilot, control systems, and ammunition make the A-10 highly survivable in combat.
When performing forward air control missions, the A-10 changes its designation to OA-10, although it remains just as combat capable as the A-10.
Its lethal effect on the battlefield combined with the toughness to return its pilot to base even after suffering extensive damage has led pilots and crew to nickname the aircraft the “Warthog.”
Development and Design
The A-10 was born of the Attack-Experimental (A-X) program office, which launched in 1966 to develop a ground-attack aircraft to replace the Douglas A-1 Skyraider.
In 1970, the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s overwhelming number of tanks along the borders of Western Europe led the Air Force to request contractor proposals for an airframe specifically designed to conduct the CAS mission and destroy enemy armor.
The call for designs stipulated a low-cost aerial weapons platform – less than $3 million per unit – capable of loitering above the battlefield and engaging enemy targets at low altitude and speed with a high-speed rotary cannon, while providing extreme crew and aircraft survivability.
Later, the requirements would be further specified to include a maximum speed of 450 mph and a normal operating speed of 300 mph in combat to enable easier engagement of slow moving ground targets.
Furthermore, the new aircraft was required to take off in less than 4,000 feet, enabling operations from small airfields close to the front lines, carry an external load of 16,000 pounds and have a mission radius of 285 miles, all for a final cost of $1.4 million per aircraft.
Of the six proposals submitted to the Air Force, Northrop and Fairchild Republic were selected to build prototypes.
In 1973, Fairchild Republic’s YF-10 was the winner of a fly-off against Northrup’s YF-9 and full production began in 1976, with the first A-10 being delivered to Air Force Tactical Air Command that March.
Features and Deployment
Fairchild Republic’s WWII fighter, the P-47 Thunderbolt, had begun its service in Europe as fighter and bomber escort, but soon earned a reputation as a relentless and tough ground-attack aircraft that dispatched Nazi armor and artillery in close proximity to friendly troops, while creating havoc in enemy assembly areas and along rail and road supply routes. It was a natural choice for the company to name its new CAS-dedicated aircraft after its WWII-era forefather: “Thunderbolt II.”
The entire design of the aircraft revolved around the high-speed 30mm Avenger cannon. The weapon gives the A-10 its up-close tank-busting capabilities announced by the long “buuuuurp” sound that has saved and encouraged many an infantryman in dire straits on the battlefield.
Although developed initially to provide an aerial counterpunch to the mass of Soviet tanks poised along the borders of Western Europe, the A-10 did not see combat until the Gulf War in 1991.
There the “Warthog” earned its nickname, getting pilots back to base despite heavy damage from ground fire, while destroying 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and trucks and over 1,200 artillery pieces. Just four A-10s were lost to Iraqi surface-to-air missiles in over 8,000 sorties.
The A-10 next saw combat and search and rescue missions in the Balkans in 1994-95 and again in 1999, before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and participating in the entirety of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It still currently conducts operations against ISIS targets.
Did You Know?
Many of the A-10’s parts, such as engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers are interchangeable on both sides of the aircraft, greatly increasing ease of maintenance and decreasing operational and maintenance costs.
The A-10’s ailerons constitute nearly 50 percent of the total wing surface, giving it an astonishing rate of roll and maneuverability at low altitudes and speeds.
If the redundant hydraulic systems and backup mechanical system are all disabled, the pilot can still lock landing gear into place using a combination of gravity and aerodynamic drag. The main gear does not fully retract leaving the wheels exposed decreasing damage in an emergency belly landing.
The A-10 gained its first air-to-air victory during the Gulf War in 1991 when Capt. Robert Swain shot down an Iraqi helicopter with 30mm cannon fire.
In 2010, the A-10 was the first Air Force aircraft to fly powered by biofuels.
FACT SHEET: A-10 Thunderbolt II
Primary function: close air support, airborne forward air control, combat search and rescue
Contractor: Fairchild Republic Co.
Power plant: two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans
Thrust: 9,065 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches (17.42 meters)
Length: 53 feet, 4 inches (16.16 meters)
Height: 14 feet, 8 inches (4.42 meters)
Weight: 29,000 pounds (13,154 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 51,000 pounds (22,950 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 11,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Payload: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms)
Speed: 450 nautical miles per hour (Mach 0.75)
Range: 2580 miles (2240 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,636 meters)
Armament: one 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations, including 500 pound (225 kilograms) Mk-82 and 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) Mk-84 series low/high drag bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, combined effects munitions, mine dispensing munitions, AGM-65 Maverick missiles and laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs; infrared countermeasure flares; electronic countermeasure chaff; jammer pods; 2.75-inch (6.99 centimeters) rockets; illumination flares and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Unit cost: $18.8 million
Originally published in Airman Magazine November 2017.
The tweet is not much of a surprise. Aviation Week and Space Technology, sometimes referred to as “Aviation Leak,” noted during the Air Force One controversy that Trump had been critical of the F-35’s costs during his successful presidential campaign.
Last week, after Trump tweeted about the rising costs of the planned replacement for the VC-25, CNN reported that the CEO of Boeing contacted Trump to assure the president-elect that he would work to keep costs down.
The program — which has been so delayed that the Marines had to pull legacy F/A-18 Hornets out of the “boneyard” at Davis Monthan Air Force Base to have enough planes to do its mission — has seen costs climb to roughly $100 million per aircraft. The plane is slated to replace F-16 Fighting Falcons, legacy F/A-18 Hornets, A-10 Thunderbolts, and the AV-8B Harriers in U.S. military service.
The state of the Marine Corps F/A-18 inventory may preclude a complete cancellation of the F-35 buy, however. Since Oct. 1, four Marine F/A-18 Hornets have crashed. In the most recent crash, the pilot was killed despite ejecting from his plane.
Trump’s tweet comes as news emerged of the Pentagon concealing a report of $125 billion in “administrative waste” over the last five years.
The Northrop T-38 Talon supersonic trainer is a legendary airplane. Any plane that has served for over fifty years in not just its intended role, but in other roles (notably as an occasional aggressor) has a very valid claim to the title of legend. But let’s face it, the T-38’s not only getting up there in years, it’s also behind the times.
At a Lockheed Martin media briefing on the T-50 program held during the AirSpaceCyber expo at National Harbor, Maryland, retired Air Force General Bill Looney, a former commander of Air Education and Training Command, noted that in 1958, his father was a lead pilot for the T-38 program. The top planes in service then were the “Century” series of jet fighters – second-generation planes like the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger.
But today, the planes in service are the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II – and both are very different planes. As the T-38 has soldiered on, transitioning to those fighters, and even fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18 Hornet has become more and more difficult.
A joint project between Lockheed and Korean Aerospace Industries could be the answer. The T-50A, based on KAI’s FA-50 Golden Eagle, is one of three competitors that could offer the chance to not only replace the old T-38, but to radically restructure pilot training. Lockheed representatives at the briefing expressed the belief that a fair bit of lead-in fighter training, or LIFT, could be done on the T-50A, cutting the time a pilot would train in a F-16 Fighting Falcon from nine months to as little as four months.
This is a big freaking deal, to paraphrase a former Vice President. By shifting training time from the F-16 to the T-50A, this will not only reduce the flight hours on the F-16 airframes, allowing them to last longer, it would also reduce the maintenance costs for the F-16s at the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base. Similar reductions can also happen with training for the F-35 and F-22.
More savings could be possible because the T-50A program includes ground-based systems. Looney noted that when he learned to fly the F-15 Eagle, he had to fly eight radar intercept training sorties. With the T-50 program, that number could be reduced by doing some of the training in simulators.
The winner of this competition, whether it is the Lockheed/KAI T-50, the Leonardo/Raytheon T-100, or the Boeing/Saab T-X, could not only get sales from the United States Air Force, but would also have a leg up in replacing the Navy’s T-45 Goshawk and the T-38 used by a number of other American allies. So pay attention to this competition, folks, it will change a lot more than just the planes on the flightline. Check out this video from Lockheed on the T-50A below.
Militaries and private companies around the world are developing new technologies that turn war fighters into supersoldiers. Jet-powered suits that allow the wearer to hop between boats moving at 20 knots and flying hoverboards are just the start of it.
The Russian military is developing motorized body armor that looks like it belongs on Boba Fett from “Star Wars.” And the hoverboard isn’t just something from “Back to the Future,” it’s a real invention that France’s Franky Zapata successfully used to cross the English Channel.
The Russian military, as well as the US, France, and Great Britain, are all developing futuristic technologies that seem like something straight out of a Marvel blockbuster. But these technologies aren’t far off in the future; many are already in testing phases — or in use on the battlefield.
Read on to see some of the most wild futuristic military tech out there.
Jet-powered flyboard steals the show at Bastille Day celebrations
1. The French inventor Franky Zapata’s high-flying hoverboard made it all the way to France’s Bastille Day celebrations this year. French President Emmanuel Macron was so enamored that he tweeted a video of it, suggesting that the French military might use them in combat one day.
“Proud of our army, modern and innovative,” Macron tweeted during the Bastille Day festivities.
Zapata’s Flyboard Air can fly at speeds up to 190 kph (118 mph), according to The Guardian.
2. The US Army is in the final testing stage for its Enhanced Night Vision Goggles-Binocular (ENVG-B), which will allow soldiers to accurately shoot from the hip and around corners. They also provide improved situational awareness, thermal imaging, and better depth perception.
The new goggles have dramatically improved marksmanship, Lt. Gen. James Richardson, deputy commander of Army Futures Command, recently told Congress.
The goggles can display the weapon’s aim point and can be linked to see video or virtual feeds from other positions, allowing troops to accurately shoot around corners without exposing their heads.
An armored brigade combat team deploying to South Korea will be the first to use the new goggles, according to Army Times.
3. The FLIR Black Hornet III is a pocket-sized drone that will perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in combat. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, already has the drones, which come in a pair — one for daytime and one enabling night vision. The drones are about 6 inches long and can fit on a soldier’s utility belt. The Army hopes to equip every soldier with the drones in the future.
Paratroopers of the 83rd Airborne Brigade preparing for jump drills in 2017.
4. According to Russian state media, the Russian military is developing the D-14 Shelest parachute system, which will allow soldiers to access their weapons and begin firing immediately after they jump out of a plane.
Russia’s Tass news agency reported the parachute system would allow paratroopers to have small arms strapped to their chests and that the new technology would be tested at the Research Institute of Parachute-Making soon.
5. Russia’s infantry could soon be wearing the Ratnik-3 armor that reportedly allows soldiers to fire a machine gun with one hand. It has integrated electric motors — an improvement over the Ratnik-2 version, which was not motorized. It’s in testing.
The US had a similar suit in development, the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS. However, we’re not likely to see the TALOS in combat anytime soon, Task Purpose reported earlier this year.
6. The inventor and former Royal Marine Richard Browning tested his jet suit over the English Channel, using the five-turbine suit to move back and forth with ease between Royal Navy boats.
7. “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Rocket Man! Inventor, pilot and former Royal Marines Reservist Richard Browning, along side HMS Dasher, tested his jet-powered body suit over the water of the Solent for the very first time,” the Royal Navy tweeted on Tuesday.
7. The Army is developing a 50 kilowatt laser cannon, the Multi-Mission High Energy Laser (MMHEL), to be mounted on Stryker combat vehicles. It’s designed to shoot drones and explosives out of the sky, and the Army plans to roll it out in the next four years.
The Army accelerated the development and deployment of the MMHEL. “The time is now to get directed energy weapons to the battlefield,” Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, the director of hypersonics, directed energy, space, and rapid acquisition, said in a statement.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller using a HoloLens.
(US Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb)
8. The Army is testing goggles that employ facial recognition, as well as technology that translates written words like road signs. The goggles may even be able to project visual data from drones right in front of soldiers’ eyes. The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is a modified Microsoft HoloLens technology and is expected to go into wide use in the mid-2020s.
“We’re going to demonstrate very, very soon, the ability, on body — if there are persons of interest that you want to look for and you’re walking around, it will identify those very quickly,” Col. Chris Schneider, a project manager for IVAS, said at a demonstration of the technology recently.
More than one senior military leader has said the services are facing a “war for talent,” as a stronger economy and two decades of war, among other factors, make military service less appealing to young Americans.
The Army, striving to reach 500,000 active-duty soldiers by the end of this decade, has rolled out an esports team to attract recruits. The Air Force, facing a protracted pilot shortage, capitalized on the recent blockbuster “Captain Marvel” with a recruiting drive.
“What we have to think about — and we’re sort of a platform-centric service, both us and the Marine Corps — is how do we reduce the number of people we have and that distributed maritime force that we have? How do we get lethality out there without having to have 300 people on a ship to deliver it?” Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in response to a question about personnel costs, which rise faster than inflation.
“It also requires, I think, an increase in the level of capability and skill that we have in the force, and that’s why we’re investing so much in education, because you’re going to ask these people to do a lot more and to be a lot more adaptable in the jobs that … we’re asking them to do,” Modly said.
That thinking was “sort of the philosophy” behind the Navy’s future guided-missile frigate, Modly added.
Frigates do many of the same missions as destroyers and cruisers but are smaller and less equipped and therefore generally do those missions in lower-threat areas.
The Navy wants the new frigate to be able to operate in open-ocean and near-shore environments and to conduct air, anti-submarine, surface, and electronic warfare and information operations.
“That’s going to be a fairly lightly-manned ship with a lot of capability on it,” Modly said.
“I had a great example of a ship, and I won’t mention which manufacturer it was, but I went into the ship and they showed me a stateroom with four bunks and its own shower and bathroom facility,” Modly said.
He continued: “I was in the Navy back in the Cold War, and I said, ‘Wow, this is a really nice stateroom for officers.’ They said, ‘No, this where our enlisted people live.’ And I said, ‘Well, why did you design the ship like that?’ And they said, ‘We designed the ship like this for the type of people we want to recruit to man it.'”
“That’s really what we have to think about,” Modly added. “They’re going to be more lightly manned but with probably more highly-skilled people who have lots of opportunities to do things in other places, so we have to be able to attract those people. That is a big, big part of our challenge.”
The Navy’s most recent frigates were the Oliver Hazard Perry class, or FFG-7 — 51 of which entered service between 1977 and 1989 and were decommissioned between 1994 and 2015.
While the design for the future frigate, designated FFG(X), has not yet been selected, the Navy plans to award the design and construction contract in July, according to budget documents released this month.
The Navy is only considering designs already in use, and the firms in the running are Fincantieri with its FREMM frigate design, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Navantia with the latter’s F-100 variant, Austal USA with a frigate version of its Independence-class littoral combat ship, and Huntington Ingalls with what many believe may be a variation of the National Security Cutter it’s building for the Coast Guard, according to Defense News.
The Navy plans for design and construction of the first ship to take until 2026 but expects construction to increase rapidly thereafter, with the 10th arriving by 2030, eventually producing 20 of the new frigates.
Without an exact design, cost is hard to estimate, but the Navy wants to keep the price below a billion dollars per ship for the second through 20th ships and hit a total program cost of .81 billion.
The Navy also wants to use dual-crewing to maximize the time its future frigates spend at sea.
Switching between a “blue crew” and a “gold crew” extends the amount of time the ship can operate — allowing frigates to take on missions that larger combatants, like destroyers, have been saddled with — without increasing the burden on the crew and their families; it’s already in use on ballistic-missile submarines and littoral combat ships.
Dual-crewing “should double” the new frigate’s operational availability, Vice Adm. Ronald Boxall, then the surface-warfare director for the chief of naval operations, told Defense News at the end of 2018.
In the blue-gold crew model, the crew of the ship would still be working to improve their skills in what Boxall described as “higher-fidelity training environments.”
“In an increasingly complex environment, it’s just intuitive that you have to have time to train,” Boxall told Defense News. “We think Blue-Gold makes sense for those reasons on the frigate.”
The major nations of the world have been in an air-to-air arms race since the first fighter pilots fired pistols at each other in World War I. From machine gun mounts to jet engines to stealth technology, the race has always been about making the human in one cockpit more lethal than the other.
It now appears that the race is moving to an entirely new stage where the goal is to make autonomous drones that can kill while the pilot is either in another cockpit or an office far away. While the manned F-22 Raptor is still the king of the roost and F-35 pilots are gearing up for their combat debut, these are the unmanned fighters in development to replace them in the future:
The Navy is still interested in developing a next-generation unmanned fighter, but that’s far in the future, while unmanned F-16s could be fighting within a few years.
3. DRDO AURA
India’s Autonomous Unmanned Research Vehicle is a technology demonstrator under development by the country’s Defense Research and Development Organisation. The final weapon is designed to carry its weapons internally and be capable of self-defense, reconnaissance, and striking ground targets.
China’s Sharp Sword is so wrapped in secrecy that no one’s sure what its ultimate mission will be. It has gone through some iterations and prototypes, but a blended-wing design that flew in late-2013 is the best known version.
That means it will need something to defend itself against fighters from U.S. carriers. If it doesn’t get integrated air-to-air weapons, expect it to act as a sensor for ground-based defenses and possibly take on an anti-ship role.
The Dassault nEUROn is a Pan-European UCAV designed for strike capabilities and technology testing. (Photo: Aerolegende CC BY-SA 3.0)
In addition to the UCAVs discussed above, there are a number of new drones designed to surveil and strike ground targets. Russia’s Skat was canceled, but its technology is incorporated into a new platform developed by Sukhoi, the same company that makes the PAK FA T-50.
Among the many planes flying sorties against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a version of the C-130. No, not the AC-130 gunship – although that plane did help blow up a lot of ISIS tanker trucks according to a 2015 Military.com report.
Here we’re talking about the EC-130H Compass Call. And while the highly-modified cargo plane doesn’t have the firepower appeal of the AC-130, it brings a lot of lethal wizbangery to the fight.
Things can go pear-shaped even with the best-laid operational plans when comms are crystal clear. Commanders can issue orders, and subordinates receive them and report information up the line.
Now imagine being an ISIS commander who is unable to send orders to units, and concurrently, they can’t send you any information. You’re now fumbling around, and figuratively blind as a bat against the opposition.
When the anti-ISIS coalition comes, backed up by special operators and air power, pretty soon you find yourself in a world of coalition hurt.
According to an Air Force release, the EC-130H has been doing just that against ISIS. This plane is loaded with jamming gear that cuts off communications.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, it works with the EA-18G Growler, the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, and the EA-6B Prowler. The plane, though, has been in service since 1983. It was first designed to help take down air-defense networks, usually by working with other planes like the F-4G Wild Weasel and the EF-111 Raven.
These are old airframes. The plane may have entered service in 1983, but the airframes are old.
“We have a 1964 model out here on the ramp and you run the gamut of issues from old wiring to old structural issues (and) corrosion. You find that many of the items on the aircraft have been on there for well over 20 or 30 years, and parts fail all the time. So the aircraft more often than not come down and they need us to fix it before it can fly again safely,” 1st Lt. John Karim, the Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge with the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, told the Air Force News Service.
They might be old, they don’t make things go boom, but they still help kick some terrorist ass.
Long before the development of JEEP prototypes, soldiers nicknamed a tractor that hauled guns as a JEEP because that’s all they had available to move equipment and soldiers. As the U.S. prepared to enter WWII, we were faced with a super slow logistics issue – mules, horses, and traditional battlefield movements were just too slow for the modern battlefield. Since U.S. military planners knew that eventually, the U.S. was going to have to get involved with WWII, they quickly realized that the only way to ensure a victory would be to revisit their approach to troop and equipment movement.
We had no guns or equipment
The Army was ill-equipped to handle entering a global conflict, thanks in part to neglect, budget constrictions and typical Washington bureaucracy. Remember that for our role in WWI, we had to borrow howitzers from the French because we were so underfunded and had no arsenal or weapons stockpiles. It was just about the same setting for WWII, only with a greater sense of impending doom.
Horses and mules were just too slow
Just like planners in WWI recognized that light infantry fire wasn’t going to win a trench war, planners in WWII quickly saw that the reliance on horses and mules to transport equipment was antiquated and slow.
WWI showed strategists that four-wheel trucks and motorized transports were not only faster at moving across the battlefield but could move troops and weaponry in and out with greater consistency. This not only could save lives, but it could save morale, too. After all, who wants to be stranded in the middle of a field somewhere?
A committee is formed
In true Army fashion, a committee was formed to study the “need” for light motorized transport vehicles that could support infantry and cavalry troops. The Army concluded that there were no vehicles available on the civilian market that could hold up in combat – nothing was durable and rugged enough to handle the terrain or the weight load of the equipment that needed to be moved.
The Army hoped to find a small go-anywhere recon scout car that might help deliver battlefield messages, transmit orders, and function as a weapons carrier. But the commission failed to locate a vehicle that could support the needs of the Army, so they turned to the civilian sector to see if any American companies could design this kind of vehicle from scratch.
In June 1940, 134 bid invitations were sent to companies that might be able to design the kind of vehicle that would suit the Army’s needs. The bid was on a short deadline, though, since we were fighting a war, and gave the companies just one month to come up with something. That’s tough even by today’s standards but almost impossible in 1940 before the computerization of draft work. Because of the short deadline, just two companies responded to the Army’s call – American Bantam and Willys-Overland. These were the only two companies still selling four-cylinder vehicles, and they both specialized in selling cars smaller than the (then) American standard size car. Both companies were relatively small and on the brink of bankruptcy, proving the old adage, “Necessity breeds innovation.”
Bantam gets the contract for a few weeks
The drawings submitted by Willys-Overland weren’t nearly as comprehensive as the plans provided by Bantam Car Company. So Bantam was awarded the contract, and an order for 70 vehicles was placed. However, Bantam was such a small company that the Army worried it wouldn’t be able to meet the military’s needs once the war effort ramped up. So, while they loved the concept that Bantam presented, the Army ultimately sought out Ford Motor Company and reinvented Willys-Overland to rejoin the mission.
Both companies, Ford and Willy-Overland, watched the Bantam car’s testing and were allowed to examine the vehicle and the blueprints. Then, both designed their own vehicle based on Bantam’s designs.
Testing took forever but one company emerged
All three companies submitted new designs, and their vehicles were tested over and over, with little tweaks made along the way. By the end of the trials, each company has a finalized design to submit for bidding. Ford called its vehicle the GP, Willys-Overland called theirs the Willys MA, and Bantam came up with the very original name of the BRC-40 and the MK II. In all, thousands of prototypes were built, tested, and discarded.
The prototypes shared the same military designations for a truck, ¼ ton, 4×4. No one knows precisely where the word “JEEP” comes from, but since all of the Army vehicles are General Purpose, and since soldiers love a good acronym, it’s more than likely that someone along the way slurred the GP into what we now know as JEEP.
In 1941, on being interviewed by a journalist about the type of vehicle he was driving, a soldier replied that it was a JEEP and the name stuck. Willys-Overland, whose vehicle the soldier happened to be driving, quickly trademarked the name. During the war, JEEPS were modified to operate in desert conditions, plow snow, and function as a fire truck, ambulance, and tractor. They were capable of laying cable, operating as generators, and could be reconfigured to become a small railroad engine. JEEPS were small enough to be loaded onto aircraft, could fit in gliders, and were a significant part of the D-Day invasion.
As we know them now, JEEPS are as much a part of military culture as they are part of regular driving vehicles. Who knew that their predecessors could have been reconfigured to be so useful for wartime battlefield operations?