The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound - We Are The Mighty
Intel

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Special operations raids into enemy territory are about to get faster and quieter.


In 2014, DARPA (the Pentagon’s research development arm) granted Logos Technologies a small business innovation research grant to develop a military-use hybrid-electric motorcycle with near-silent capability. During this phase, Logos teamed up with Alta Motors to test their RedShift MX dirt bike in multiple terrains and riding conditions to understand troop requirements.

Also Read: DARPA Is Making A Real-Life Terminator (Seriously)

In January 2015, Logos announced that the company was issued a second grant to develop a prototype in partnership with Alta. The Logos-Alta team named their concept dirt bike SilentHawk and plan to have an operational prototype in 18 months. Here’s a concept rendering of what it looks like:

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

According to War Is Boring, the SilentHawk runs on a hybrid-electric drone engine and can use three different fuels – gasoline, diesel, and JP-8, a type of jet fuel. Since the combustion side isn’t silent, operators will have to switch to the electric battery when they want to be stealthy.

DARPA has been interested in silenced motorcycles as stealthy, quick, insertion and extraction vehicles for quite some time. According to Defense Industry Daily, Air Force teams have been shoving dirt bikes out of planes since 2010, and the Marine Corps has been training troops on third party vendors since 2012.

Zero Motorcycles toyed with the idea and developed the Zero MMX, but it didn’t work out. DARPA pulled their funding because the battery only lasted two hours.

Here’s a video of the RedShift in action:

CNN, YouTube

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The thing everyone gets wrong about post-apocalypse vehicles

Every generation has concerns about the apocalypse. From doomsday prophets to Y2K bugs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an era of humanity that didn’t include some portion of the population that sincerely believed they were living in the end times. My generation is different, however.


We may be the first generation that seems to be hoping for it.

Between popular blockbusters depicting the end of the world, popular TV shows dramatizing post-apocalyptic survival, and seemingly ever-rising tensions between very real global powers on the world’s stage, my generation didn’t grow up with the specter of nuclear war quite like our parents did. Instead, we grew up in the cynical aftermath: wedged somewhere between the Baby Boomers in power and the young millennials clamoring for it. Those of us in the middle have grown up with a romanticized idea of the end times, if only as a refuge from the problems of today.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Everybody seems to think they’d be the guy IN the car, rather than the one strapped to the front.

(Warner Brothers Pictures)

There’s a big difference between fantasizing about the end of the world and surviving it

Many of us like to be “prepared” for a bad situation. Maybe that’s because people my age are all old enough to have already lived through one or two. But some take that drive to be prepared a few steps further, intent on not just being ready for the end of the world, but genuinely hoping to thrive once it comes about. Of course, some others settle for wistfully talking about what they’d do if the zombies descended on their house: head to Walmart to stock up, load up on firearms at the local gun store, and then swing by the National Guard armory for a Humvee, right?

No credit scores. No social obligations. No debts, bosses, or reason to get up early. Just you, your survival ride, and hordes of the undead to roll over. There’s just one problem with that idea: your dream survival rides would all get you killed.

Whether you hope to take to the streets in a muscle car like Mad Max or Will Smith in I am Legend, or you plan to drive over your problems in an armored military vehicle, you’re screwed either way.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

This thing would be awesome until anything broke.

(U.S. Marines)

Armored and specialized survival rides aren’t maintainable

Sure, cruising through the apocalypse in an up-armored humvee or MRAP sounds like your best bet, but those planning on raiding the Motor T lot of their local National Guard center seem to forget that in order to operate all those armored vehicles, the United States employs a veritable army of maintainers, mechanics, and service technicians each with specialized skills and a fair amount of training.

You can’t service these massive vehicles with the floor jack out of your Honda Accord either, and that’s why those pesky diesel mechanics usually have their own building chock-full of heavy lifts and power tools. Ever changed the tire on a Humvee? Even with the right tools on hand, it can be a real pain in the ass. I’d imagine that only gets worse when the old Motor T guys are trying to eat your brains while you’re at it.

Big, specialized vehicles aren’t just hard to work on; they’re hard to find parts for. Specialty vehicles need specialty dealers, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find some other Mercedes 6×6 trucks to cannibalize parts from in a jam. You’re better off on a Vespa that runs than you are in a Mercedes that doesn’t.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

The least believable part of “I am Legend” was a Mustang Cobra driving on these streets.

(Warner Brothers Pictures)

Sports cars and muscle cars won’t go anywhere

Maybe you’ve got a less pragmatic approach to survival and after a world-ending cataclysm your first priority would be getting your hands on the keys to a brand new mid-engine Corvette, or that ’68 Charger you’ve always dreamed of. After all, with all the current owners dead or zombified, what’s to stop you? Well, the roads for one thing.

Despite the number of potholes on my street, we do tend to enjoy fairly well maintained and clear roads here in the United States. That stops immediately when all the hard-working folks responsible for that start eating each other. That means your super-low sports car will have trouble making it anywhere at all, let alone at the speeds it was designed to achieve.

And then, of course, we get back to that first problem with finding parts and having the know-how required to repair or maintain your vehicle. In many newer performance cars, repairs are as much a digital effort as they are a physical one, and unless you have the specialized equipment you need to communicate with a car’s ECU (or other form of on-board computer), you’re going to be sh*t out of luck when it comes time to throw some wrenches at a problem.

Intel

The Navy’s plan to replace the super hornet by the 2030s

The Navy needs a new fighter to replace the Super Hornet by the 2030s, and that means moving a whole lot faster than the F-35’s development.

The U.S. Navy joined the Air Force in garnering attention for their Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program recently, but just because they’re using the same acronym as the Air Force doesn’t mean they intend to field the same aircraft. In fact, it seems the Navy is open to looking broadly at potential replacements for its workhorse 4th generation fighter, as well as its electronic warfare counterpart, the EA-18G Growler.

This new fighter, which some have assumed will qualify for a “6th generation” moniker, will have its work cut out for it as the United States military pivots back toward deterring nation-level foes with increasing technological parity like China. In fact, it’s likely that whatever the Navy’s new fighter is, it’ll require support from at least one un-crewed aircraft in order to maximize its capabilities.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Artist’s rendering of a 6th generation Navy fighter (Boeing)

“As we look at it right now, the Next-Gen Air Dominance is a family of systems, which has as its centerpiece the F/A-XX – which may or may not be manned – platform. It’s the fixed-wing portion of the Next-Gen Air Dominance family of systems,” Rear Adm. Gregory Harris explained.

Admiral Harris’ suggestion that the Navy’s next fighter might not have a pilot may not be indicative of where the program currently sits developmentally, but rather, it likely suggests that the U.S. Navy is willing to consider a variety of potential solutions to the problems facing the nation’s fleet of flat-top fighters.

China, widely seen as America’s most militarily potent adversary, has already begun fielding hypersonic anti-ship missiles with operational ranges in excess of a thousand miles. Because of the incredible speed in which these weapons fly (greater than Mach 5), the U.S. currently does not have any reliable means of intercepting or defending against such an attack. As a result, America’s supercarriers would have to remain outside the thousand-plus mile reach of these weapons, creating what’s known as an “area denial bubble” extending from Chinese shores with these weapons in place.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Hypersonic weapons travel in excess of Mach 5. China and Russia both claim to have hypersonic weapons in service. The U.S. has multiple hypersonic weapons in development. (DARPA)

Currently, America’s Navy fighters have a combat radius reaching up to 750 or so miles, making them unable to cover the distance required to fly combat sorties over China without putting their carriers at risk of hypersonic missile strikes. You can read a more complete explanation of this area denial bubble and the Navy’s fighter fuel range woes in our in-depth discussion on it here.

But these new jets will need more than just range in order to dominate a 21st-century battlespace. The Navy’s Super Hornet replacements will need to leverage at least some degree of stealth in order to be survivable, and in fact, will likely need improved stealth capabilities over jets like the F-35 and F-22 in order to be seen as a truly 6th generation fighter. Improved avionics and data fusion capabilities are also all but certain–but the element that may make these new fighters really stand out from Lockheed Martin’s existing stealth jets is their use of drones for a variety of support roles.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Image of a recent test linking an F-35, F-22 and Kratos Valkyrie drone. (Air Force photo)

“But we truly see NGAD as more than just a single aircraft. We believe that as manned-unmanned teaming comes online, we will integrate those aspects of manned and unmanned teaming into that,” Harris said.

“Whether that – we euphemistically refer to it as our little buddy – is an adjunct air-to-air platform, an adjunct [electronic warfare] platform, discussion of could it be an adjunct advanced early warning platform. We’ll have to replace the E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye] at some point in the future, so as we look to what replaces that.”

The U.S. Air Force drew headlines the world over last year when they announced that they had already built and tested a prototype for their NGAD fighter program, prompting many to wonder if a new jet is right around the corner. Of course, the truth is, that prototype was likely a demonstrator for some elements of new fighter technology, like operating while interlinked with a constellation of support drones. In other words, the Air Force’s tests might have been about proving something was possible, moreso than moving into production.

But the progress the Air Force has made in the NGAD realm will almost certainly benefit the Navy’s NGAD efforts, despite both branches being clear that they have no intention of repeating mistakes made during the F-35’s acquisition process. The Joint Strike Fighter program that berthed the F-35 required a single fighter platform that could fill the disparate needs of multiple military branches and allied forces. The result was an incredibly complex, expensive, and slow development process that hasn’t been fully completed to this day, even in its 14th year of flying.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
The F-35 is widely touted as the most capable fighter on the planet, but it’s also expensive. The Navy will operate F-35Cs alongside their NGAD fighter. (DoD Photo)

With the Navy’s stable of Super Hornets and Growlers expected to age out of service within the next two decades, the F-35’s timetable just won’t cut it. The Navy needs a new, more capable, longer-range fighter–and it needs it sooner rather than later. That’s where some degree of cooperation between the branches can still be viable, even as the Navy and Air Force pursue different airframes with different specialties.

By using an open system architecture in designing these aircraft, the Navy and Air Force will be able to leverage new sensors and other digital technologies in both aircraft. Fielding the same modular systems would reduce costs, increase interoperability, and importantly, make it similarly inexpensive to replace those systems with newer ones as technology allows.

“So if you think about it, a contractor may have a particular sensor – let’s just use the radar as an example – and over time, perhaps the performance of that radar isn’t what you want, either from a sustainability standpoint or purely from a capability standpoint,” he said.

“With that open mission system architecture, you have an ability to more rapidly replace that without getting into vendor lock. And we’ve seen vendor lock create problems for us before. We firmly believe that competition will give us a better reliability, lower sustainment costs and lower the overall costs.”

The Navy is taking a two-step approach to replacing its 4th generation jets, first focusing on a replacement for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and then for the EA-18 Growler, which is fundamentally the same or very similar, but is equipped with a suite of electronic warfare systems instead of kinetic munitions. The next-generation platforms in these roles may not be two similar jets. Instead, some roles will likely be filled by drones, as the Navy works toward fielding a larger uncrewed fleet.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
An EA-18G Growler, from the “Cougars” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139, touches down on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Elliot Schaudt/Released)

The Navy is currently developing the MQ-25 Stingray as part of this very endeavor. Boeing’s prototype was originally intended to serve as a carrier-based UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), but the Navy pivoted toward a fuel carrier in order to begin picking away at China’s area denial bubble. The MQ-25 will be able to refuel manned aircraft in contested airspace, allowing for greater range. It stands to reason, however, that the MQ-25 could find other uses aboard the Navy’s flat tops, including the kinetic one it was originally designed for.

“Right now – notionally – looking at driving towards an air wing that has a 40-60 unmanned-manned split and overtime shift that to a 60-40 unmanned-manned split. So to try to drive an air wing that is at least 50 percent or more unmanned over time,” Harris explained.

“Again, a lot of that’s going to be dependent on the success we see with the MQ-25 Stingray, on our ability to truly learn how to operate around the aircraft carrier and safely execute that both on the flight deck and then airborne.”

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
MQ-25A Stingray (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

Related: MQ-25 STINGRAY: A NEW DRONE THAT COULD BE A GAME CHANGER

Despite an increased focus on using artificial intelligence to aid in decision making aboard drones, it seems unlikely that the Navy’s next fighter will come without a cockpit. Dogfights between aircraft are considered to be among the most complex situations pilots could contend with, and the technology isn’t quite mature enough to hand those life or death decisions off to an AI system yet. Further, before we can field such platforms, America will have to contend with the idea of giving a machine the decision to choose a target and execute. Currently, human operators manage those decisions. However, using drone platforms as “arsenal ships” or “missile magazines” that support stealth aircraft may indeed be feasible.

“Having an unmanned platform out there as an adjunct missile carrier I see as not a step too far, too soon. I could have an unmanned friend. I typically say a flying Dorito chip when I’m thinking about it – doesn’t have to be that, right,” Harris continued.

“An unmanned system with missiles I can clearly in my mind envision a way to say, ‘fine defensive combat spread. Shoot on this target.’ And I will squeeze the trigger or I will just execute – enable that unmanned platform to shoot the designated target. That doesn’t stretch beyond my realm of imagination.”

It seems clear that the next fighters America fields will be just one piece of a larger “family of systems,” blending crewed and uncrewed aircraft, fusing data from air, ground, and sea-based sensors, and engaging targets with its own munitions as well as weapons carried by other assets. This networked interoperability will allow decision makers a broader set of options and pilots a great degree of awareness and capability.

The only question is, can they do it in time to beat the Super Hornet’s final flight off into the sunset?

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s why the Army is buying fewer JLTVs next year

The U.S. Army is slowing down its timeline to acquire a fleet of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, an armored Humvee replacement that some have criticized as being better suited to past wars.


The Army’s $178 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2021 earmarks $894.4 million to buy “1,920 JLTVs of various configurations as well as 1,334 JLTV-T companion trailers,” according to a Feb. 10 Army statement.

“They are reductions; they are not cuts,” Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, director of Army budget, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We are extending the production life for JLTV.”

The Army began slowing its JLTV acquisition strategy last year, announcing it would buy 2,530 JLTVs in fiscal 2020, a significant reduction from its 2019 purchase of 3,393 vehicles.

The JLTV was one of 93 programs the Army cut or reduced last year, putting roughly billion in savings toward the Army’s ambitious modernization effort.

Last April, then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said that the JLTV was essentially designed to fight a war with the kind of improvised explosive device (IED) threats that existed in Iraq.

The JLTV became a modernization priority for the Army and Marine Corps in the early days of Iraq, after the Humvee proved unable to protect troops from deadly IEDs.

Army leaders said last year that the service was considering lowering its procurement objective of buying 49,000 JLTVs by the mid-2030s.

Now Army budget officials say that the service has extended JLTV’s production life until 2041.

“The total number remains the same; it’s just over a longer period that it is going to be procured,” Chamberlain said.

Oshkosh Corp. was selected in August 2015 over Lockheed Martin Corp. and AM General LLC to build the JLTV, but Army budget officials said Tuesday that the service may award another competitive JLTV contract in 2022 to get a better deal.

“Normally, we do that to drive price down on the end-state, so if you have competition in the production space, you will eventually get some savings out of it,” John Daniels, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Plans, Programs and Resources, told reporters at the Pentagon.

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

Articles

Thursday Threesome: These optics show how much has changed in tactical glass

Stalking and intelligence gathering are different from creepin’, right? We’re pretty sure there’s a distinction. But good glass (i.e. a scope) can help with all three.


According to John Ratcliffe Chapman’s book Instructions To Young Marksmen, the first truly telescopic rifle scope was invented in 1835 and 1840 — put together by Morgan James with design help from Chapman himself.

Demand for (and improvement of) the rifle scope quickly increased until, with the advent of the Civil War, it became strident — though only in some circles. Although the use of marksmen with scoped rifles was considered by many generals to be ungentlemanly or even murderous, many a Whitworth, Kerr, Sharps, or Kerr Whitworth rifle went to work on Civil War battlefields with side-mounted Davidson, Vernier, Creedmore, and other scopes.

Some of them were a couple feet long (or longer), and extraordinarily heavy.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Image courtesy of oldsouthantiques.com.

And things have certainly come a long way since then, as NikonGPOTAC, and Atibal aptly demonstrate.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

One company building good rifle optics is Nikon. Most of you associate them with cameras, but they manufacture all sorts of “glass,” including binos and riflescopes. They’ve recently introduced a new line of scopes they call BLACK.

Another company is GPO – they’re about as little known as Nikon is well known, but we hear some good things about ’em. They’ve just introduced their GPOTAC 8XI Riflescope.

They’ve taken a German design and upgunned it with some high tech features. Then there’s Atibal, whose sights and spotting scopes — specifically the MROC — have made a pretty good impression on some of our friends in a short amount of time (and are rumored to be releasing a 3-12 variable soon).

Now, let’s be clear, we haven’t personally tried any of these. We’re just huge fans of optics because we’ve seen first hand what a force multiplier good glass can be in a real fight. From reflex sights to variable power first focal plane fightin’ scopes, glass is good. If you’re still running irons alone, you likely still have a rotary dial telephone. Going “old school” is all well and good for your social media persona, but blows a hard one wants the metal starts hitting the meat.

Not that we’re judging you or anything.

Anyway, here’s three new pieces of glass for your Thursday Threesome.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

1. Atibal MROC

The Atibal MROC is a 3 x 32 magnified optic that demonstrates in one small package just how improved our ability to reach out and see (then shoot) somebody has come. MROC stands for Modern Rifle Optic Component. It features an illuminated laser-etched reticle, fixed at three power magnification with an illuminated compensation chevron (for bullet drop) included (it’s calibrated for 5.56mm). The manufacturer advises it has a 37.7 field of view at 100 yards, which they describe as the “…largest field of view of any 3x prismatic scope currently on the market.”

An expanded field of view, of course, can make the difference between putting one in his noggin and catching on in yours.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Image courtesy of Blue Braid Tactical.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Image courtesy of Arizona Defense Supply.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Image courtesy 1 Shot Kill It Media.

The lens is FMC (Fully MultiCoated) to reduce glare and reflection. It is also intended to improve clarity of view. Windage and elevation adjustments are made by hand (no tools necessary, and ALL CAPS (see what we did there?) are leashed so you don’t lose them on the range or in the field. An integrated and detachable picatinny rail provides mounting options. The MROC runs on a single CR2 lithium battery.

Speaking of batteries, you might want to co-witness yours in case it goes dead. Not sure what that means or how to it? Easy – we’ll learn ya right here.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Here are the specs on the Atibal MROC as they provide them (or, you can find more online here). We’ll provide more info as we get. The price point on these, taken in context with what we hear about their performance, piques our interest. Follow ’em on Instagram, @atibalsights.

  • F.O.V FT@100YDS: 37.7ft
  • F.O.V Angle: 7.2°
  • Eye Relief: 2.8″
  • Click Value: .5 MOA
  • W/E Max. Adj.: 60 MOA

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Something else coming soon?

  • Parallax Free: 100yds
  • Battery Type: 1x CR2
  • Illumination: RED
  • Lens Coating: FMC
  • Length  5.11″

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

2. GPOTAC 8XI Riflescope

“[The] GPOTAC 8Xi is a scope like no other – it’s amazing. It’s packed with optical brilliance and technical features expected from super-premium tactical riflescopes. We were very careful to make sure every demanded feature available was jammed into this optic. You’ve got to see this scope.”

That’s what owner and CEO of GPO, USA says anyway. And it’s jammed full of vitamins too! You know though, if you can overlook the sensational, breakfast cereal commercial style prose, you’ll find the 8Xi does indeed seem to have some interesting features.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

The 34mm tube optic will initially be offered in what they call the 1-9 x 24i version, with something called the “iControl illuminated mil-spec reticle” — and it’s a first focal plane reticle too, which is a huge plus-up in our minds. Turrets are locking metal milrad, with what the describe as “GPObright high transmission lens-coating technology.” It features double HD glass objective lenses, “fast focus” rubberized oculars, and wide machined-aluminum magnification adjustment rings. The horseshoe center point is fiber optic driven, with an auto-off feature to prevent unnecessary battery drain (and provides an alert when the battery is down to 15% remaining life).

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Yes, the press release sounded like it was written by Billy Mays, but this is another one we’re actually very interested in. You can check it out online here; full specs are at the bottom of the page. They’re on Instagram (sorta), @gpo_usa) and Facebook. FYSA they’ve also just released a binocular line.

Remember – even the best gear in the world will avail you nothing if you rely on equipment to compensate for skill and honed ability. Train accordingly.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

3. Nikon BLACK Riflescope Series

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

The BLACK Line optics are not Nikon’s first — they’ve had ProStaff, Monarch and other styles for years. However these are some of the first ones Nikon has manufactured specifically for tactical applications.

Its lineup includes five versions of what the company calls the BLACK X1000. That selection includes 4-16×50 and 6-24×50 models with X-MRAD or X-MOA reticles synced to windage and elevation turrets. Nikon describes what you see through the glass is a, “…visually clean, yet highly functional and advanced too for estimating range or maintaining holdovers.” (Not sure what all that means? Read this piece about Minute of Angle).

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Their 1-4×24 scope uses what they call the “SpeedForce” reticle (nothing to do with Barry Allen, Jay Garrick, Wally West or anyone else drawn by Alex Ross). This reticle is intended to be used with the scope dialed to true 1x. It features an illuminated double horseshoe intended to assist in quick target acquisition, better ability to hit a moving target, and more precise intermediate range holdovers. (You can learn more about MILS here; we break it down Barney style.)

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

They’re all built with a 30mm body using an aircraft grade aluminum alloy, and they’re TYpe 3 anodized. The turrets are spring-loaded and “zero-reset”, and MSRP ranges from $399.95 up to 649.95. You can expect ’em to start showing up in the Spring and early Summer — meaning they’re just in time to let you, uh, provide “overwatch” on the beach or where they’re sunbathing out back of sorority row.

Follow Nikon on Instagram for lots of pretty pictures; @nikonusa.

This has been your Thursday Threesome. Got a tip on some new gear we should look at? Hit us up on the Instagramz, @breachbangclear, or drop us an e-mail at SITREP(at)breachbangclear.com. You can also send us a PM on Facebook. Don’t post nuthin’ to our wall. We never read it.

More news as we get it. You can also follow our Be Advised column (warning: occasionally NSFW).

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army fast tracks new howitzer that can out-reach Russia

The Army is fast-tracking an emerging program to engineer a longer-range artillery cannon able to out range enemy ground forces by hitting targets at more than twice the distance of existing artillery.

The service is now prototyping an Extended Range Cannon Artillery weapons with a larger caliber tube and new grooves to hang weights for gravity adjustments to the weapon — which is a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer.

Existing 155m artillery rounds, fired with precision from mobile and self-propelled howitzer platforms, have a maximum range of about 30km; the new ERCA weapon is designed to hit ranges greater than 70km, Army developers said.


“When you are talking about doubling the range you need a longer tube and a larger caliber. We will blend this munition with a howitzer and extend the range. We are upgrading the breach and metallurgy of the tube, changing the hydraulics to handle increased pressure and using a new ram jet projectile — kind of like a rocket,” a senior Army weapons developer told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The modification adds 1,000 pounds to the overall weight of the weapon and an additional six feet of cannon tube. The ERCA systems also uses a redesigned cab, new breech design and new “muzzle brake,” the official explained.

“The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system,” an Army statement said.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

Marines fire an M777A2 155 mm howitzer.

(United States Marine Corps photo)

As part of an effort to ensure the heavy M777 is sufficiently mobile, the Army recently completed a “mobility” demonstration of ERCA prototypes.

The service demonstrated a modified M777A2 Howitzer with an integration kit for the mass mock-up of the modified XM907 ERCA cannon at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

“Their [user] concern is that when the self-propelled program is done they will be left with a towed cannon variant that they can’t tow around, which is its number one mode of transportation,” David Bound, M777ER Lead, Artillery Concepts and Design Branch, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, said in an Army statement.

The ERCA is currently being configured to fire from an M109a8 Self-Propelled Howitzer, using a 58-Cal. tube; the existing M109a7, called the Paladin Integrated Management, fires a 39-Cal. weapon.

ERCA changes the Army’s land war strategic calculus in a number of key respects, by advancing the Army’s number one modernization priority — long-range precision fires. This concept of operations is intended to enable mechanized attack forces and advancing infantry with an additional stand-off range or protective sphere with which to conduct operations. Longer range precision fire can hit enemy troop concentrations, supply lines and equipment essential to a coordinated attack, while allowing forces to stay farther back from incoming enemy fire.

A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago – its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets – such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.

In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast growing attack drone fleet – all point to a growing need for the US to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

An M109A6 Paladin fires a gas propelled 155mm Howitzer round.

In fact, senior Army developers specifically say that the ERCA program is, at least in part, designed to enable the Army to out-range rival Russian weapons. The Russian military is currently producing its latest howitzer cannon, the 2S33 Msta-SM2 variant; it is a new 2A79 152mm cannon able to hit ranges greater than 40km, significantly greater than the 25km range reachable by the original Russian 2S19 Msta – which first entered service in the late 1980s, according to data from globalsecurity.org.

In early 2018 statements from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said that 2S19 Msta-S modernized self-propelled howitzers were fielded near Volgograd, Russia. The 2S19 Msta-S howitzers are equipped with an automated fire control system with an increased rate of fire, digital electronic charts, ballistic computers, and satellite navigation systems, the report says.

Therefore, doing the simple math, a 70km US Army ERCA weapon would appear to substantially outrange the 40km Msta-S modern Russian howitzer.

While senior Army weapons developers welcome the possibility of longer-range accurate artillery fire, they also recognize that its effectiveness hinges upon continued development of sensor, fire control, and target technology.

“Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain,” the senior Army developer said.

Multi-domain warfare is also integral to the strategic impetus for the new ERCA weapon; longer range land weapons can naturally better enable air attack options.

Operating within this concept, former Army TRADOC Commander Gen. David Perkins and Air Force Air Combat Command Commanding General James Holmes launched a new series of tabletop exercises several months ago — designed to to replicate and explore these kinds of future warfare scenarios. The project is oriented toward exploring the kind of conflicts expected to require technologically advanced Army-Air Force integration.

In a previous Pentagon report, Holmes said the joint wargaming effort will “turn into a doctrine and concept that we can agree on.”

Such a development would mark a substantial step beyond prior military thinking, which at times over the years has been slightly more stove-piped in its approach to military service doctrines.

Interestingly, the new initiative may incorporate and also adjust some of the tenets informing the 1980’s Air-Land Battle Doctrine; this concept, which came to fruition during the Cold War, was focused on integrated air-ground combat coordination to counter a large, mechanized force in major warfare. While AirLand battle was aimed primarily at the Soviet Union decades ago, new Army-Air Force strategy in today’s threat environment will also most certainly address the possibility of major war with an advanced adversary like Russia or China.

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(Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

In fact, the Army’s new Operations 3.0 doctrine already explores this phenomenon, as it seeks to pivot the force from more than a decade of counterinsurgency to preparedness for massive force-on-force warfare.

Jumping more than 40 years into the future beyond AirLand Battle into to today’s threat climate, the notion of cross-domain warfare has an entirely new and more expansive meaning. No longer would the Air Force merely need to support advancing armored vehicles with both air cover and forward strikes, as is articulated in Air-Land Battle, but an Air Force operating in today’s war environment would need to integrate multiple new domains, such as cyber and space.

After all, drones, laser attacks, cyber intrusions, and electronic warfare (EW) tactics were hardly on the map in the 1980s. Forces today would need to harden air-ground communications against cyber and EW attacks, network long-range sensor and targeting technology and respond to technologically-advanced near-peer attack platforms, such as 5th-generation stealth fighters or weaponized space assets.

In a concurrent related effort, the Army is also engineering a adaptation to existing 155mm rounds which will extend range an additional 10km out to 40km.

Fired from an existing Howitzer artillery cannon, the new XM1113 round uses ram jet rocket technology to deliver more thrust to the round.

“The XM1113 uses a large high-performance rocket motor that delivers nearly three times the amount of thrust when compared to the legacy M549A1 RAP,” Ductri Nguyen, XM1113 Integrated Product Team Lead.” “Its exterior profile shape has also been streamlined for lower drag to achieve the 40-plus kilometers when fired from the existing fielded 39-caliber 155mm weapon systems.”

Soldiers can also integrate the existing Precision Guidance Kit to the artillery shells as a way to add a GPS-guided precision fuse to the weapon. The new adapted round also uses safer Insensitive Munition Explosives.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Hellfire missile’s new replacement is cleared by the Army

The Joint Air-to-Ground missile has been cleared to begin low-rate initial production, weapons maker Lockheed Martin said on June 27, 2018.

The JAGM is the successor to the vaunted Hellfire missile and is meant to provide precision standoff-strike capability against high-value fixed and moving targets, both armored and unarmored, on land and at sea, even in poor weather conditions.

The new missile combines semi-active laser guidance, like that used on the Hellfire II, and millimeter-wave radar, like that used by the Longbow Hellfire, into a single system, which is paired with the warhead, motor, and flight-control system of the Hellfire Romeo missile.


Lockheed was the sole bidder for the missile contract, taking it on in summer 2015, and the weapons maker will give the Army 2,631 missiles under the production contract, Col. David Warnick, the Army program manager for Joint Attack Munition Systems, told Defense News.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Sailors load an AGM-114N Hellfire missile onto an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyeru00a0USS Jason Dunham.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The Hellfire was originally designed to be a 100-pound armor-piercing weapon to destroy tanks, but it has seen extensive use in the war against ISIS as a precision-guided munition that can be fired from planes, helicopters and drones. The Army has had to increase production for fear of running out.

The JAGM is to replace the Hellfire on all the platforms that fire the older missile. The new missile is also expected to be used on unmanned vehicles, like the MQ-9 Reaper drone. During the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the JAGM was tested and qualified on the AH-64E Apache and AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.

During testing, pilots spoke highly of the JAGM, particularly of the ability to toggle between semi-active-laser and radio-frequency guidance within seconds.

“Using a SAL missile, the last six seconds of the missile flight is the most critical to keep your laser sight on target,” Michael Kennedy, an experimental test pilot with the Aviation Flight Test Directorate at Redstone Test Center, said an Army release early 2018.

“If you’re getting shot at and your line of sight goes off the target, your missile misses,” Kennedy said. “JAGM can start off using the laser, then transition to the radar portion and still hit the target if the crew has to use evasive maneuvers.”

Lockheed said it had successfully carried out 10 limited-user test flights in the months leading up to approval for low-rate initial production.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
US Army soldiers load an AGM-114 Hellfire missile on an AH-64E Apache helicopter in Kunduz, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017.
(U.S. Army photo)

A Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report released in January 2018 said the Army carried out two successful ground launches and 20 successful air launches during fiscal year 2017.

“The test results demonstrated the system’s combat effectiveness and technical maturity,” Lockheed said in a release. “Additionally, the program successfully conducted supplier and prime contractor production readiness reviews establishing the program’s readiness to move into LRIP.”

The JAGM system has demonstrated more than 95% reliability in flight testing, Lockheed said in its release, adding that the system is being built into the production line by the same team that has churned out more than 75,000 Hellfire missiles.

JAGM’s development has not been without issues, though.

The DOTE report said several technical issues cropped up during testing and that, on several occasions during tests, the missile missed its target or failed to detonate. The Army said that the issues that appeared in earlier tests have been corrected, according to Defense News.

Warnick, of the Army’s Joint Attack Munition Systems program, said operational testing would take place in the 2019 fiscal year, which runs from October 2018 to September 2019. That will be followed by a full-rate production review between March and September 2020, he told Defense News.

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

Articles

This company is turning these old tanks into modern killers

The M60 Patton was America’s first main battle tank and a heavy-lifter for the U.S. from its adoption in 1960 to its final retirement in 1997. It’s still in service in allied countries around the world and Raytheon has come out with a modernization kit to get it ready for 21st-century combat.


The Raytheon M60A3 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) features a 950-horsepower engine (a 200-horsepower improvement), a 120mm main gun, new fire control and targeting systems with thermal and day sights, and more reactive motors to move the turret and main gun.

Replacing the old, 105mm M68 rifled gun with the L44 120mm smoothbore cannon is probably the most visible and important part of the SLEP upgrades. The L44 is also known as the M256, the main gun on the M1 Abrams main battle tank that America uses today. It features greater range and penetrating power than the M68 it is replacing.

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GIF: YouTube/arronlee33

The upgraded electric motors will allow crews to respond more quickly to enemies spotted on the battlefield than the old hydraulic motors. They also do their job more quietly, reducing the chances that the Pattons will be spotted as quickly in combat.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
GIF: YouTube/arronlee33

Meanwhile, the new, 950-hp engines will allow the tanks to reach more places more quickly, giving commanders better tactical and strategic options on the battlefield.

Finally, the sights on the tank are a leap forward for it, allowing crews to quickly and reliably engage targets with their larger cannon.

The tanks featured in a Raytheon video about the SLEP also seem to feature armor upgrades, but Raytheon hasn’t commented on what new capabilities the armor gives.

Of course, this is still an old dog learning new tricks and M60s would struggle against the most modern tanks on the battlefield. For Raytheon, it seems to be about giving customers who can’t afford new tanks an upgrade option rather than making the M60 a peer to Abrams, Leopard, or Armata tanks.

For countries who field the M60 and aren’t yet ready for a tank acquisition program, the SLEP offers a chance to deter aggressive neighbors without breaking the bank.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia doubles down on its version of the beloved A-10

The Su-25 Frogfoot, known as the Grach or “Rook” by Russian pilots, is one of those aircraft that may not be at the cutting edge of technology, but still has seen widespread service around the world because it offers an effective and useful solution to the need to blast targets on the ground.

As such, its obvious stablemate is the American A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane. But while the U.S. Air Force wants to retire the A-10 starting in 2022, the Su-25 is undergoing extensive upgrades to keep with the times.


Also unlike the Thunderbolt, it has been disseminated it all over the world and seen action in over a dozen wars, including in the air campaigns over Syria, Iraq and Ukraine.

Not only has Russia had a lot of experience flying Su-25s in combat — it has shot several down as well.

During World War II, Russia’s armored Il-2 Sturmovik attack planes, nicknamed “Flying Tanks,” were renowned for their ability to take a pounding while dishing it out to German Panzer divisions with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.

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An A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Unlike the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s, which was enamored with the concept of “winning” nuclear wars with strategic bombers, the Soviet air service, the VVS, placed more emphasis on supporting ground armies in its Frontal Aviation branch. However, no worthy successor to the Shturmovik immediately appeared after World War II

In 1968, the VVS service decided it was time for another properly designed flying tank. After a three-way competition, the prototype submitted by Sukhoi was selected and the first Su-25 attack planes entered production in 1978 in a factory in Tbilisi, Georgia. Coincidentally, the American A-10 Thunderbolt had begun entering service a few years earlier.

Like the A-10, the Su-25 was all about winning a titanic clash between the ground forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact by busting tanks and blasting infantry in Close Air Support missions. This meant flying low and slow to properly observe the battlefield and line up the plane for an attack run.

Flying low would also help the Su-25 avoid all the deadly long-range SAMs that would have been active in a European battlefield. However, this would have exposed it to all kinds of antiaircraft guns. Thus, the pilot of the Su-25 benefited from an “armored bathtub” — ten to twenty-five millimeters of armor plating that wrapped around the cockpit and even padded the pilot’s headrest. It also had armored fuel tanks and redundant control schemes to increase the likelihood of surviving a hit. And in their extensive combat careers, Su-25s have survived some really bad hits.

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A Sukhoi Su-25SM at the Celebration of the 100th anniversary of Russian Air Force.

Despite the similarities with the A-10, the Su-25 is a smaller and lighter, and has a maximum speed fifty percent faster than the Thunderbolt’s at around six hundred miles per hour. However, the Frogfoot has shorter range and loiter time, can only operate at half the altitude, and has a lighter maximum load of up to eight thousand pounds of munitions, compared to sixteen thousand on the Thunderbolt.

More importantly, the types of munitions usually carried are typically different. The Thunderbolt’s mainstays are precision-guided munitions, especially Maverick antitank missiles, as well as its monstrous, fast-firing GAU-8 cannon.

The Su-25’s armament has typically consisted of unguided 250 or 500 kilogram bombs, cluster bombs and rockets. The rockets come in forms ranging from pods containing dozens of smaller 57- or 80-millimeter rockets, to five-shot 130-millimeter S-13 system, to large singular 240- or 330-millimeter rockets. The Su-25 also has a Gsh-30-2 30-millimeter cannon under the nose with 260 rounds of ammunition, though it doesn’t have the absurd rate of fire of the GAU-8.

The lower tip of the Frogfoot’s nose holds a glass-enclosed laser designator. Su-25s did make occasional use of Kh-25ML and Kh-29 laser guided missiles in Afghanistan to take out Mujahideen fortified caves, striking targets as far as five miles away. KAB-250 laser-guided bombs began to see use in Chechnya as well. However, use of such weapons was relatively rare. For example, they made up only 2 percent of munitions expended by the Russian Air Force in Chechnya.

The Su-25 was still packing plenty of antipersonnel firepower—and that’s exactly what was called for when it first saw action in Afghanistan beginning in 1981. The Su-25 was the workhorse fixed-wing attack plane in the conflict, flying more than sixty thousand sorties in bombing raids on mujahedeen villages and mountain strongholds. They often teamed up with Mi-24 attack helicopters to provide air support for Soviet armored units.

However, as the Afghan rebels began to acquire Stinger missiles from the United States, Su-25s began to suffer losses and the Soviet pilots were forced to fly higher to avoid the man-portable surface-to-air missiles. In all, some fifteen Su-25s were shot down in Afghanistan before the Soviet withdrawal.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Su-25s were passed onto the air services of all the Soviet successor states. Those that didn’t use Su-25s in local wars—on both sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for example—often exported them to countries that did. Frogfoots have seen action in the service of Macedonia (against Albanian rebels), Ethiopia (against Eritrea, with one shot down), Sudan (target: Darfur), and Georgia versus Abkhazian separatists that shot down several. And that list is not comprehensive.

In one notable episode, Cote d’Ivoire acquired several Su-25s and used them in its civil war. When the government of President Laurent Gbagbo was angered by the perceived partisanship of French peacekeepers, his mercenary-piloted Su-25s bombed the French camp, killing nine. Whoever ordered the attack didn’t consider that there was a French contingent stationed at the Yamoussoukro Airfield where the Frogfoots were based. The French used anti-tank missiles to destroy the fighter bombers on the ground in retaliation.

Russian Su-25 were back in action in the Chechnya campaign of 1994 to 1995, flying 5,300 strike sorties. Early on they helped wipe out Chechen aircraft on the ground and hit the Presidential Palace in Grozny with anti-concrete bombs. They then pursued a more general bombing campaign. Four were lost to missiles and flak. They were again prominent in the Second Chechen War in 1999, where only one was lost.

Of course, it’s important to note at this juncture that the Su-25 is one of a handful of Soviet aircraft that received its own American computer game in 1990.

Modern Su-25s

In addition to the base model, the Frogfoot also came in an export variant, the Su-25K, and a variety of two-seat trainers with a hunchback canopy, including the combat-capable Su-25UBM.

There were a number of projects to modernize the Su-25, including small productions runs of Su-25T and Su-25TM tank busters. But the Russian Air Force finally selected the Su-25SM in the early 2000s for all future modernization.

The SM has a new BARS satellite navigation/attack system, which allows for more precise targeting, as well as a whole slew of improved avionics such as news heads-up displays (HUDS), Radar Warning Receivers and the like. The Su-25SM can use the excellent R-73 short-range air-to-air missile, and has improved targeting abilities for laser-guided bombs. Other improvements reduce maintenance requirements and lower aircraft weight.

The National Interest‘s Dave Majumdar has written about the latest SM3 upgrade, which includes the capacity to fire Kh-58 anti-radar missiles, which could enable Su-25s to help suppress enemy air defenses, as well as a Vitebskelectronic-countermeasure system that could increase its survivability against both radar- and infarred-guided surface to air missiles.

Georgia and Ukraine also have limited numbers of their own domestically upgrade variants, the Su-25KM and the Su-25M1 respectively. You can check out the Su-25KM variant, produced with an Israeli firm, in this video full of unironic 1980s flair.

Speaking of Georgia, things got messy in 2008 when both Russia and Georgia operated Frogfoots in the Russo-Georgian War. The Georgian Frogfoots provided air support for Georgian troops seizing the city of Tskhinvali. Then Russian Su-25s assisted Russian armor in blasting them out. Russia lost three Su-25s to MANPADS—two likely from friendly fire—and Georgia lost a similar number to Russian SAMs. To the surprise of observers, however, the Russian Air Force did not succeed in sweeping Georgian aviation from the sky.

In 2014, Ukraine deployed its Frogfoots to support ground forces combating separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine. They assisted in the initial recapture of the Donetsk airport in May, would be followed over a half year of seesaw battles ending in a separatist victory in 2015. Ukraine lost four Su-25s in the ensuing ground-attack missions—three were hit by missiles (one MANPADS, two allegedly by longer-ranged systems across the Russian border), and a fourth was reportedly downed by a Russian MiG-29. Two others survivedhits from missiles. As a result, Su-25 strikes were sharply curtailed to avoid incurring further losses.

In 2015, the Russian separatists of the Luhansk People’s Republic claimed to have launched airstrikes with an Su-25 of their own. Depending on who you ask, the airplane was restored from a museum or flew in from Russia.

The Iraqi Air Force has deployed its own Su-25s in the war against ISIS, purchasing five from Russia in 2014 and receiving seven from Iran that had been impounded during the 1991 Gulf War.

Finally, in the fall of 2015, Russia deployed a dozen modernized Su-25SMs in support of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Many observers noted that of the aircraft involved in the mission, the Su-25s were the best adapted for the close air-support role. The Frogfoot flew 1,600 sorties against rebel-held Syrian cities, and expended more than six thousand munitions, mostly unguided bombs and S-13 rockets. They were withdrawn this year, leaving attack helicopter behind to perform more precise—and risky—close air support missions.

Lessons Learned from Flying Tanks?

While it’s fun to admire high-performing fighters like the MiG-29 or F-22 Raptor, the unglamorous Su-25 has so far had a greater impact on a wide range of conflicts. We can draw a few lessons from its recent combat record.

First, the significant losses suffered by Su-25s demonstrate that without effective air-defense suppression and electronic counter-measures, low-and-slow ground support planes are poised to take heavy losses against Russian-made surface-to-air missiles deployed in sufficient numbers.

Second, observation of Russia’s Syrian contingent suggests that despite possessing a diverse arsenal of precision guided munitions, the Russian Air Force continues to rely primarily on unguided bombs and rockets for the close air support mission.

Lastly, aircraft capable of delivering punishing attacks on ground targets while retaining a good chance of surviving hits taken in return are going to remain in high demand worldwide.

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

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The Navy is now creating its own version of ‘Waterworld’

The Navy has had a change of heart about the new expeditionary floating base sailing to the Fifth Fleet. The vessel USNS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (T ESB 3) will become USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), becoming a commissioned warship.


No matter the designation, in essence, the Kevin Costner box-office bomb “Waterworld” — where people were living on supertankers because ocean levels rose and covered almost all the land — partially become reality.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Artist’s impression of USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3). (USMC image)

The Puller is a 78,000-ton vessel capable of operating up to four Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. It has a crew of 145 and will be commanded by a Navy captain. It can also accommodate up to 298 additional personnel. Unlike the Exxon Valdez from “Waterworld,” the Puller is propelled by diesel-electric engines that give her a top speed of 15 knots.

It’s part of an ongoing program within the Navy and Marine Corps to create offshore bases for troops to execute raids and amphibious operations where countries are reluctant to base U.S. troops. Think of them as floating versions of the Chinese artificial islands cropping up in the South China Sea.

According to a report by USNI News, the decision to make the Puller a commissioned warship is due to requirements of the law of armed conflict. The current afloat base in the region, the Austin-class amphibious ship USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), is a commissioned warship that has supported mine countermeasures and special operations forces.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
USS Ponce. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Kummer)

“Without going into specific details on missions USS Ponce carried out, warship status for ESB will greatly enhance the combatant commander’s flexibility in using the ship to respond to emergent situations,” Navy Lt. Seth Clarke told USNI News. “Without this status, there would be significant limitations on ESB’s ability to support airborne mine countermeasure and special operations missions.”

The Lewis B. Puller will operate alongside the Ponce for a while, until Ponce returns to Norfolk for a 2018 decommissioning. While some assets will be transferred during that time, one item that won’t be is the prototype Laser Weapon System on board the Ponce.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-15EX may be the baddest 4th-gen jet on the planet

On Tuesday, the first ever F-15EX took to the skies in a test flight that brought the U.S. Air Force that much closer to fielding what may be the most capable 4th generation fighter on the planet. The F-15 has been in service for more than 45 years to date, and is widely regarded as the most successful air superiority fighter in history.

“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager.

“Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Our customer can feel confident in its decision to invest in this platform that is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.”

The last time the U.S. Air Force took delivery of an F-15 was in 2004, but the aircraft’s design has not stagnated in the 17 years since. Boeing, who absorbed the F-15 program when they merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997, has been updating and improving the F-15 for foreign sales throughout. In fact, foreign purchasers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funneled more than $5 billion into improving the F-15 Eagle as America moved on to sourcing more advanced, stealth fighters. The result of all this time and money is an incredibly capable iteration of the F-15 that couples advanced avionics with the low maintenance cost of non-stealth fighter.

Most of the world still relies on 4th generation fighters for engagements in the sky, which means the F-15EX may have some stiff competition… but this new bird isn’t resting on the F-15’s historic laurels. Instead, it just may be the baddest fighter of its generation anywhere on the planet.

Why doesn’t the Air Force just buy more F-35s?

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
(U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

In this era of flying stealth supercomputers like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor, many have questioned the wisdom of purchasing a slew of new old fighters. The F-15EX does not boast any stealth capabilities, nor does it have the same knack for sensor fusion that has earned the F-35 the unofficial nickname of “quarterback in the sky.” Despite this apparent lack of capability, the Air Force is procuring F-15EXs at a cost of around $87.7 million each, as compared to the now lower F-35 price of just $77.9 million per aircraft.

This price differential only emboldens the F-15EX’s critics, who point out that the F-35 offers a far wider variety of capabilities and is considered much more survivable in contested airspace (thanks to its stealth capabilities). When you only consider those figures, the F-15EX may seem like a pretty poor choice.

However, the reality of military acquisitions and combat capability are far more nuanced than a side-by-side tale of the tape might represent. While the F-15EX may indeed cost more per airframe than the latest batch of F-35s, it may actually be the savvier purchase. The F-35 is intended to have an operational lifespan of around 8,000 hours, whereas each F-15EX is expected to last 20,000. In other words, in order to fly the same number of hours as an F-15EX, the Air Force would need to purchase not one, but three F-35As.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
(U.S. Air Force photo)

That price reduction is further bolstered by operational costs. Keeping a high performance fighter in tip-top shape is expensive and time consuming, but in that portion of the ledger, the F-15EX once again shines. The Air Force expects to spend around $29,000 for every hour the F-15EX is in the air, far cheaper than the F-35’s figures recorded in 2018 of around $44,000 per hour. Now let’s do a bit of back-of-the-envelope math to assess how much these aircraft will actually cost in a fight.

The F-15EX costs $87.7 million per aircraft, and can fly for up to 20,000 hours at a cost of $29,000 per hour. So $29,000 per hour x 20,000 hours + $87.7 million for the aircraft comes out to a pretty serious $667.7 million dollars.

In order to match that operational lifespan, it would take three F-35As. So the math would look like $44,000 per hour x 20,000 hours + $233.7 million for three F-35s… and it comes out to more than a jaw dropping $1.1 billion. The F-15EX, then, offers a saving of around $446 million per aircraft over the lifespan of the jet (if things were this simple, anyway).

To give the F-35 a slightly more realistic shake, let’s use larger volumes of aircraft, rather than 1:1 comparisons. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 144 F-15EXs, but for the sake of simple math, let’s call it 100. The above per-aircraft cost times a hundred comes out to $66,770,000,000 spent on aircraft and 2,000,000 flight hours. You would need 250 F-35s to match the same flight hour total, which combined with operating costs come to $109,925,000,000. In this more realistic comparison, the F-15EX offers a less pronounced advantage, but still comes to the tune of some $43,155,000,000 in savings over the span of the program. $43 billion is certainly nothing to scoff at.

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Doesn’t seem quite as pricey now, does it?

Now, it’s important to note here that this math is egregiously simplified: Lockheed Martin and the Air Force are already working tirelessly to reduce the operating costs of the F-35 (because the Air Force says they can’t afford them if they don’t).

The cost per hour of the F-35 is sure to drop in the years to come — and just as importantly, the F-35 is a stealth platform built largely to engage ground targets. The F-15EX, on the other hand, is an air superiority fighter designed to duke it out in the skies. Both of these aircraft are capable of either role, but at a fundamental level, these jets simply aren’t built to do the same jobs. It might help to think of them as NASCAR and Formula 1 racers: Both are extremely capable platforms, but they’re each highly specialized for their specific use. The new F-15EXs the Air Force buys won’t fill F-35 spots, but will instead replace aging F-15s in America’s existing arsenal.

What makes this new F-15 better than our old ones?

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Boeing’s first F-15EX during production. (Boeing)

The United States currently maintains a fleet of around 230 F-15s in various trims (C/D). These jets represent the crux of America’s fourth generation air intercept fighters. The F-22 Raptor was intended to serve as a replacement for the F-15, but the program was canceled after just 186 Raptors were delivered.

The new F-15EXs boast updated cockpit systems, an enhanced sensor suite and data fusion capabilities, and the ability to carry up to 29,500 pounds of ordnance split into 12 air-to-air hard points or 15 air-to-ground hard points. Its new twin engines aren’t just more efficient, they’re also more powerful, making the fastest fighter in America’s inventory even faster.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
(Boeing)

The F-15EX isn’t stealthy, but it does boast an electronic warfare suite that will help make it more survivable in contested airspace. Its streamlined pilot interface borrows from some 5th generation technology, integrating information into easier to manage displays that allow the pilot to focus more on the battle space than the gauge cluster. This not only improves pilot performance, it also reduces fatigue on long missions.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
The F-15EX’s central pylon can carry a notional 22-foot, 7,000 pound weapon. This artist’s concept shows an F-15EX after firing a hypersonic missile from that station. (Boeing)

In order to keep pace with new weapons as they emerge, the F-15EX leverages what Boeing calls an Open Mission System architecture designed specifically to be able to absorb new tech as it reaches the field. Importantly, however, the new F-15s retain around 80% of the old F-15 design, making them easy for maintainers to adapt to. Instead of having to train for an entirely new platform, they need only to train for the more modern additions to a jet they’re already intimately familiar with.

How does the F-15EX stack up against the top fighters from other countries?

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
(Boeing)

Despite its upgrades, the new F-15EX remains squarely within the 4th generation of fighters. There are currently four operational 5th generation fighters on the planet: America’s F-35 and F-22, Russia’s Su-57, and China’s J-20. If the F-15EX were to square off against these platforms, it would be at a huge disadvantage–and platforms like the F-35 or F-22 would likely be able to engage and destroy the F-15 before its pilot was even aware of their presence. Questions remain about the stealth and avionics found in the J-20 or Su-57, but even if their stealth isn’t quite as advanced, they’d still have a real leg up on the F-15EX.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

But to be honest, the chances of such an engagement are incredibly small. Russia’s troubled Su-57 program has seen setback after setback, and to date, there are only around 13 of the fighters in existence. Production is expected to pick up, but Russia lacks the funds to really field a large scale fleet of these stealthy fighters. China’s J-20 has also faced woes in its engine compartment, though China has managed to field more than 50 of these jets already. The new J-20B will incorporate thrust vector control (like America’s F-22) and is expected to be an even more capable aircraft… but again, it exists in extremely limited numbers.

Their rarity notwithstanding, if American jets were to square off against Chinese or Russian ones, America would leverage its fleet of hundreds of F-35s and F-22s. There would be no reason to send the F-15 into such a fight. However, F-15EXs could see a great deal of use in the uncontested airspace of trouble spots like Syria and Iraq, where stealth is as unnecessary as it is expensive.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Su-35 (WikiMedia Commons)

But what about the 4th generation fighters that make up the backbone of Chinese and Russian air forces? The Su-35, operated by both Russia and China, as well as the J-10 operated by China are both considered to be highly capable platforms, and the MiG-29 operated by a number of nations is also considered rather formidable (among others). However, the F-15 has already squared up against a number of capable fighters and emerged on top. In fact, of the 104 air-to-air duels the F-15 has entered, it has lost exactly zero of them. Not too shabby.

With the addition of 21st century avionics and more capable engines, it seems likely that the F-15 will maintain its advantage of the competition.

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Take a closer look at the cinematic villain helicopter of the 1980s: The Mi-24 Hind

The Mi-24 Hind had a reputation as a cinematic bad guy in “Rambo III” and the original 1980s Cold War flick “Red Dawn.”


Helping the Mujahidin kill it was the focus of 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But how much do you really know about this so-called “flying tank?”

Let’s take a good look at this deadly bird. According to GlobalSecurity.org, this helicopter can carry a lot of firepower, including 57mm and 80mm rockets, anti-tank missiles, and deadly machine guns or cannon. But it also can carry a standard Russian infantry section – eight fully-armed troops.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
A left side view of a Soviet-made Mi-24 Hind-D assault helicopter in-flight. (DOD photo)

So, it’s really not a flying tank. It’s a flying infantry fighting vehicle.

There really isn’t a similar American – or Western – helicopter. The UH-1 and UH-60s were standard troop carries, but don’t really have the firepower of the Hind. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra have a lot of firepower, but can’t really carry troops (yeah, we know the Brits did that one time – and it was [very] crazy!).

While the Mi-24 got its villainous cinematic reputation thanks to 1984’s “Red Dawn,” and the 1988 movie “Rambo III,” its first action was in the Ogaden War – an obscure conflict that took place from 1977-1978. After the Somali invasion of Ethiopia, the Air Combat Information Group noted that as many as 16 Mi-24s were delivered to the Ethiopians by the Soviets.

It has taken part in over 30 conflicts since then.

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Mi-24 Super Agile Hind, a modernized Hind by the South African firm ATE. At the Ysterplaat Airshow 2006. Photo by Danie van der Merwe, Flikr

The Hind was to Afghanistan what the Huey was to Vietnam: an icon of the conflict. GlobalSecurity.org reported that as many as 300 Mi-24s were in Afghanistan.

In the Russian war movie “The Ninth Company,” the Mi-24 gets a more heroic turn than it did in Red Dawn or Rambo III.

At least 2,300 have already been built, and versions of the Mi-24 are still in production, according to the Russian Helicopters website. This cinematic aviation bad boy will surely be around for many years to come.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This insane anti-aircraft gun chased the Israelis out of the sky

The Israeli Air Force has long been dominant over the skies of the Middle East. They have superb pilots and they use their planes very well. There was a time, however, when that dominance was challenged – and it was arguably Israel’s darkest hour.


In 1973, Israel stood triumphant in the Middle East. For a quarter-century, it had fended off efforts to wipe it off the map. But on Yom Kippur, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an attack. To protect their armored forces, the Egyptian-Syrian forces used a combination of two Soviet-designed systems: The SA-6 “Gainful” surface-to-air missile and the ZSU-23-4 “Shilka.”

The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound
Recognition graphic of a ZSU-23-4. (U.S. Army)

The latter system was truly deadly, considering Israeli tactics. Radar-guided and with four 23mm cannon capable of firing as many as 1,000 rounds per minute, the ZSU-23-4 was able to hit targets almost two miles away. Many Israeli pilots in A-4 Skyhawks, Mirage IIIs, Neshers, and F-4 Phantoms soon found out the hard way that flying low to avoid surface-to-air missiles was hazardous. In one strike, six aircraft were lost taking out a missile battery.

The Israelis eventually came up with workarounds to defeat the SA-6/ZSU-23 combo, but they needed aircraft replacements from the United States, due to losing roughly 100 aircraft. The Israelis would learn their lesson, and in 1982, Syrian forces found themselves on the wrong end of a turkey shoot.

Having proven itself in combat, the ZSU-23-4 was widely exported. As of 2014, 39 countries use this system to provide tactical air defense for their forces. Russia has since replaced the ZSU-23 in front-line units with the 2S6 Tunguska and the Pantsir gun-missile combo systems but this mobile gun will forever be known for the time it almost chased one of the best air forces in the world from the skies over a battlefield.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zEcPEIzekM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
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