At 26 inches long, the Stealth Recon Scout by Desert Tech is the shortest sniper rifle you’ll ever see. Thanks to the same bullpup design made famous by FN Herstal’s P90 sub-machine, it’s nearly a foot shorter than conventional sniper rifles.
The design places the gun’s feeding mechanism in the buttstock, behind the grip and the trigger. This allows for a shorter overall weapon for the given barrel length while maintaining all the advantages of a traditional sniper rifle.
The Stealth Recon Scout is also versatile in that it can be adapted to individual mission requirements by changing the caliber and length. It can be adapted for use by a police sniper shooting 50 yards away or a military sniper shooting a mile down range. Learn more about this innovative weapon in the video below.
The Cold War must have been an amazing time to be a weapons manufacturer for the U.S. government. Like some kind of early Tony Stark (I guess that would be Howard Stark), if you could dream it, you could build it, and chances were very good the CIA would fund it. From funding LSD tests using prostitutes and their johns to a secret underground ice base in Greenland to trying to build an actual flying saucer, there was literally no end to what the CIA would try.
What they ended up actually building and then using was much less fun and much more terrifying. We only found out about it because Senator Frank Church decided to do a little investigating.
Among other things, he found a gun that caused heart attacks, a weapon that had been used against the U.S. political enemies and beyond.
Spurred by the publication of Seymour Hersh’s article in The New York Times in December 1974, the United States Congress decided to look into just what its internal and external intelligence agencies were doing in the name of the American people using their tax dollars. What they found was a trove of legal and illegal methods used by the CIA, NSA, FBI, and even the IRS. Among the abuses of power discovered by the Church Commission was the opening of domestic mail without a warrant and without the Postal Service’s knowledge, the widespread access intelligence had to domestic telecommunications providers and adding Americans to watch lists.
Even the Army was spying on American civilians.
The most shocking of the Church Commission’s findings was the targeted assassination operations the CIA used against foreign leaders. Allegedly, Fidel Castro wasn’t the only name on the CIA hit list. Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Gen. René Schneider of Chile were all targets for CIA-sanctioned killings.
Castro alone survived 600 assassination attempts.
The clandestine service had its people researching all sorts of various ways to kill its targets. The CIA soon latched on to poisons, ones that were undetectable and appeared to mimic a heart attack. They found it in a specially-designed poison, engineered for the CIA. Only a skilled pathologist who knew what to look for would ever discover the victim’s heart attack wasn’t from natural causes. To deliver the poison, the injection was frozen and packed into a dart.
Darts from the new secret assassination gun would penetrate clothing but leave only a small red dot on the skin’s surface. Once inside the body, the dart disintegrated and the frozen poison inside would begin to melt, entering the bloodstream and causing the cardiac episode. Shortly after, the deadly agent denatured quickly and became virtually undetectable. They even brought the gun to show Congress.
The Church Commission and its findings caused a massive frenzy in the United States. People became hungry for more and began to get hysterical in the wake of any news about the CIA. In the aftermath of the Church Commission, President Ford (and later, Reagan) had to issue executive orders banning the tactics of targeted assassinations by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
What became of the poison dart gun is anyone’s guess.
In the modern world, most nations cultivate a variety of martial arts disciplines within their borders, not as a formal effort of the government, but rather as a byproduct of public interest. Here in the United States, motivated students can find places to study anything from Japanese Karate to Israeli Krav Maga at their local strip mall, so it should come as no surprise that the military has also come to adopt a variety of disciplines into its own approach to martial arts-based combat.
The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, as one example, borrows from no fewer than 17 distinct martial arts disciplines, ranging from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Kung Fu, to ensure Marines are as capable in hand-to-hand combat as they are with their rifles.
Iran has also placed an emphasis on martial arts for the sake of defense, though like the nation’s military apparatus itself, their approach has been heavily informed by their culture, internal politics, and unusual military hierarchy, resulting in less than stellar results.
These guys look exactly like the generals that would show up in a movie with that plot.
Iran has allegedly forced martial arts instructors to work as assassins
According to a cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan’s Baku Mission that was revealed by WikiLeaks, the Iranian government expects martial arts schools and clubs to serve in the role of “enforcers” when it comes to stemming public dissent, but that’s far from the worst that’s been pressed upon martial arts instructors.
The wire, which came with the decidedly metal headline of, “IRAN: NINJA BLACK BELT MASTER DETAILS USE OF MARTIAL ARTS CLUBS FOR REPRESSION,” goes on to claim that the “ninja black belt master” in question knew of at least one instructor that “was used by the Intelligence service to murder at least six different individuals over the course of several months.” These alleged victims were referred to as “young intellectuals” and “pro-democracy activists.”
The Iranian government built an all-female, 3,500 strong ninja-army
Women in Iran may not enjoy the same rights or parity that can be found in Western nations like the United States, but that’s not to say that the Iranian government doesn’t occasionally recognize a woman’s ability to kick ass for their benefit. Most women may not be allowed to travel outside of their homes without a male escort, but some are trained in Japanese Ninjutsu to become stealthy assassins for their government.
In 2012, 3,500 women were registered to begin their training to become ninjas, according to a segment produced for Iran’s state-run media. Some in the United States have opined that Iran permits this training as a means to appease their stifled female population, but it seems more likely that Iran’s government believes it has a use for women that can fight.
The video of these women training may seem cheesy, but their form actually looks a lot better than some of Iran’s highly trained Special Operations troops…
Every nation occasionally releases motivational videos of their highly trained troops executing unusual techniques. The U.S. does insertion and extraction demonstrations with special operators at SOFIC in Tampa, Florida each year. Russia releases footage of their troops shooting live rounds at each other, and Iran… well, Iran’s special operators can be seen in this video losing a fight to a vase.
In the video, Iranian officials are shown looking on as men that have been referred to by a number of news outlets as Special Operations troops execute a series of dramatic spin kicks and even spinning back-hands to a vase that simply refuses to break. Eventually, the troops set the intact vase down and bow as their clearly disappointed superiors look on. It wouldn’t be fair to say that this demonstration characterizes all of Iran’s military martial arts efforts, but if these generals were smart, they probably forgot about the demonstration and went straight to the guy that made that vase to see if he was interested in getting into the tank business.
The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.
Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.
That all changed during the course of his usual work.
And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.
In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.
He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.
The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.
(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)
Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.
Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.
Even though President Donald Trump’s defense budget is committed to keeping the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane, as many as three squadrons could still be shut down.
According to a report in DefenseNews.com, the Air Force says that unless funding to produce more new wings for the A-10 is provided, three of the nine squadrons currently in service will have to be shut down due to fatigue issues in their wings. Re-winged A-10s have a projected service life into the 2030s.
“We’re working on a long-term beddown plan for how we can replace older airplanes as the F-35 comes on, and we’ll work through to figure out how we’re going to address those A-10s that will run out of service life on their wings,” Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command told DefenseNews.com.
Presently, only 173 wing kits have been ordered by the Air Force, with an option for 69 more. The Air Force currently had 283 A-10s in service, but some may need to be retired when the wings end their service lives.
The A-10 has a number of supporters in Congress, notably Rep. Martha McSally, who piloted that plane during her career in the Air Force. In the defense authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2017, Congress mandated that at least 171 A-10s be kept in service to maintain a close-air-support capability.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the A-10 was originally designed to bust enemy tanks, and was given the 30mm GAU-8 gatling gun with 1,174 rounds. It can also carry up to eight tons of bombs, rockets, missiles and external fuel tanks.
Fully 356 Thunderbolts were upgraded to the A-10C version, which has been equipped with modern precision-guided bombs like the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM. A total of 713 A-10s were built between 1975 and 1984.
There’s always been a competition between armored units and infantry. As far back as the Middle Ages, developments in technology constantly shifted who had the upper hand. For example, gleaming knights of old wore heavy armor that protected them from most weaponry — at least until the Battle of Agincourt introduced the piercing, infantry-wielded English longbow. Throughout history, technologies developed back and forth, until, finally, the gun firmly established that an ordinary grunt could beat armor with a good shot.
However, World War I drastically changed that dynamic. The tank emerged as the modern equivalent of armored knights, seemingly untouchable by infantry. The armored edge continued to grow through World War II. Even with the development of the bazooka, the best way to kill tanks was either with other tanks, or to call in artillery or air strikes. Times were tough for infantry.
The development of the FGM-77 Dragon and the BGM-71 Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided (TOW) missile helped American grunts, but these still had problems. First, the wire guidance meant that anti-tank teams had to stay in one location to guide the missile. Any sudden moves would put the missile off course. As you might imagine, remaining stationary in the face of a tank isn’t a great idea.
Second, the missiles had a huge back-blast, which would immediately alert enemy armor to the idea that they’re being attacked. This, coupled with the wire guidance, meant enemy tanks knew when and where to look for anti-armor specialists. TOW teams were lucky: The missile’s range of 2.3 miles allowed the crews some standoff distance. Folks with the Dragon, sporting a range of just under a mile, often found themselves within heavy machine-gun range upon firing.
Thankfully, these issues have been addressed with the introduction of the FGM-148 Javelin. With a maximum range of about 1.5 miles, it gives the crews the ability to stand off. More importantly, it’s a fire-and-forget missile with a much-reduced backblast. So, even if the launch position is detected, the team can move to a new location, leaving enemy fire to rain upon an empty foxhole. The missile can attack the top of an armored vehicle (useful against tanks like the Russian Armata) or carry out a frontal attack.
That is why the Javelin is so deadly: It gives the light infantry a fighting chance against tanks. When you consider that “light” units, like the 82nd Airborne, are usually followed by heavier units with lots of tanks, the Javelin’s importance becomes very apparent.
Russia’s Federal Security Service reportedly suspects that plans for two of Russia’s new, game-changing hypersonic missiles have been leaked to Western spies.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense on July 19, 2018, released new footage of two of its most revolutionary weapons systems: a hypersonic
Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile and the Avangard, a maneuverable ballistic missile reentry vehicle specifically made to outfox the US missile defenses arrayed around Europe.
The Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, now suspects these systems, each of which cope with the challenges of flight at about 10 times the speed of sound, have been leaked to the West.
“It was established that the leak came from TsNIIMash employees,” a source close to the FSB investigation told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, as the BBC noted. TsNIIMash is a Russian state-owned defense and space company.
“A lot of heads will roll, and for sure this case won’t end just with a few dismissals,” the source said.
A Boeing X-51 hypersonic cruise missile at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2010.
China and Russia frequently test their weapons and have even fielded a few systems ahead of the US, but their focus is nuclear, while the US seeks a more technically difficult goal.
With nuclear weapons, like the kind Russia and China want on their hypersonics, accuracy doesn’t matter. But the US wants hypersonics for precision-strike missiles, meaning it has the added challenge of trying to train a missile raging at mach 10 to hit within a few feet of a target.
Given that nuclear weapons represent the highest level of conflict imaginable, believed in most cases to be a world-ending scenario, the US’s vision for precision-guided hypersonic conventional weapons that no missile defenses can block would seem to have more applications. The US’s proposed hypersonics could target specific people and buildings, making them useful for strikes like the recent ones in Syria.
But if Russia’s hypersonic know-how has somehow slipped into Western hands, as the FSB has reportedly indicated, then its comparative advantage could be even weaker.
Featured image: A MiG-31 firing a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US military and NATO have been significantly outgunned by Russia in eastern Europe for some time, but US Army generals recently laid out a plan to close the gap.
As it stands, Russia has more tanks, aircraft, better air defenses, and more long-range weapons systems than the US and NATO have in eastern Europe.
The US has known for some time that its air superiority, something the US has held over enemies for 70 years, has come under serious threat, but now they’re working on an answer.
“Because of the power and the range and the lethality of these Russian air defenses, it’s going to make all forms of air support much more difficult, and the ground forces are going to feel the effects,” Gen. Robert Brown, who commands the US Army in the Pacific, recently said, according to Military.com.
He said the answer was to “push the maximum range of all systems under development for close, deep, and strategic” strikes, and that the US has “got to outgun the enemy.”
Instead of risking US planes and pilots in covering US forces as they fight with Russia, the US should pivot to increasing the range of its rockets, artillery, and missiles, according to Brown. Then, using those systems, the US can knock out Russian defenses and keep its troops at bay, potentially fighting without air support for weeks, he said.
Brown was speaking at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
Russia has “got a range advantage over us in a number of different areas, particularly cannons,” John Gordon IV, a senior policy researcher at Rand Corp, said at the event. “Typically, modern Russian cannons have got 50 percent to 100 percent greater range than the current generation of US cannons.”
Brown also said the US needs to extend the range of its current systems and those in development to meet the threat, specifically by bumping up the range of the Army Tactical Missile System to 499 kilometers, just under the 500 kilometer range limit the US is bound to by an arms-control agreement.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commandant of the Army’s Field Artillery School, said the new missiles would have “the ability to hit a ship at sea, the ability to hit moving targets on the land domain, the ability to have sub-munitions that attack heavy armored targets and have effects … and the ability to use sensors to hone in on targets. Those are all aspects of future spirals of this missile that the base Precision Strike Missile will provide,” Military.com noted.
Additionally, the US is working on a new self-propelled howitzer that would increase the range out to 40 kilometers and increase the rate of fire.
Last month, the U.S. Air Force made headlines around the world by suggesting that a new “5th generation minus” fighter might be the answer to the branch’s operational cost woes. After years of touting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the future of military aviation, this announcement led to a flurry of headlines characterizing the F-35 as a failed program. Although that may be an unfair characterization of the aircraft itself (as we’ve discussed before), there’s no denying that the Joint Strike Fighter has proven to be both less capable and far more expensive than originally intended.
In truth, the Air Force didn’t write off the F-35 last month and more than it has in the past–like in 2018 when the branch threatened to reduce its order of F-35s in order to offset the aircraft’s high operating costs. Now, as then, the argument hasn’t been about whether or not the F-35 is a highly capable jet. In fact, among aviators who have spent time at the stick of the stealthy fighter, there’s little question as to how handy it is in a fight. The problem is, as is so often the case, really about money.
The F-35 is capable, but it’s also expensive.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s procurement price has lowered consistently over the past decade to the point where its per-unit price is now actually lower than that of the 4th generation powerhouse F-15EX being purchased as replacements for the force’s aging F-15s. That price is awfully misleading, however, for a number of important reasons.
A new F-35A will set the Air Force back a cool $77.9 million. For that price, the Air Force gets the stealthiest fighter on the planet with the best data fusion capabilities a fighter has ever seen… but only for 8,000 flight hours or so. Each of those hours, it’s important to note, cost the Air Force around $44,000.
The F-15EX, on the other hand, rings in at slightly more: about $80 million per jet–and while it may not be stealthy, the new F-15s are expected to have a whopping 20,000-hour operational lifespan, with each of those hours costing the branch about $29,000. Of course, it’s important to remember that the F-15EX isn’t a suitable replacement for the F-35… they really do fill very different roles.
The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft that isn’t the fastest or most nimble, nor does it carry a ton of firepower… but it is incredibly difficult to target, and perhaps most important of all, its onboard computers can manage disparate data from near and far sensors in a way no aircraft before it ever could. Having an F-35 in the neighborhood can actually make 4th generation jets nearby more lethal, thanks to fused data stream F-35 pilots have access to from inside their $400,000 helmets.
“There has never been an aircraft that provides as much situational awareness as the F-35,” explained Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 pilot in the Air Force Reserves.
“In combat, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold.”
This is really what Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr was getting at in his recent comments that took the world by storm.
“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays,” Brown said.
“This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”
If money were no object, the Air Force would probably be happy to replace every F-16 in the force with a shiny new F-35, but ongoing issues with the aircraft have stalled full-rate production for years, and truthfully, the Air Force couldn’t afford to fly a fleet of F-35s that large. It’s probably also important to note that if money were really no object, the Air Force would probably kickstart production of the F-22 for air superiority roles again. Though, it’s important to note that restarting the F-22 would likely cost far more than developing a new and better fighter. Much of the supply chain and facilities used for the F-22 have since been cannibalized by the F-35 here in the money-is-an-object dimension we’re all trapped in.
6th Generation fighters won’t be any better
So, with the understanding that the F-35 isn’t a cost-effective solution to tactical operations in uncontested or lightly contested environments, some may be apt to suggest we go all-in on the development of a “6th generation” fighter like the one the Air Force claims to have already tested. That approach, however, isn’t going to solve the F-35’s budgetary woes. Chances are, a more advanced fighter would exacerbate them.
The reason the F-35 has proven so expensive is really a combination of its unprecedented nature and poor acquisition policies within the Defense Department. When the Joint Strike Fighter program began. Lockheed Martin’s X-35 and Boeing’s X-32 were asked to build something with a broader capability set and greater technological requirements than any fighter that had come before them. In a very real way, many within the aviation industry weren’t even sure an aircraft could do all the things the Pentagon wanted from this new fighter.
“If you were to go back to the year 2000 and somebody said, ‘I can build an airplane that is stealthy and has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and can go supersonic,’ most people in the industry would have said that’s impossible,” Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s general manager for the program from 2000 to 2013 told The New York Times.
“The technology to bring all of that together into a single platform was beyond the reach of industry at that time.”
It was the F-35’s forward reaching goals, combined with a policy of concurrent production wherein Lockheed Martin would start delivering F-35s before they had been fully tested, that would eventually turn the program into a cautionary tale for defense budgeteers. And while some elements of the acquisition process have improved as a result… a “6th generation” fighter would struggle under some of the same challenges.
Fighter generational designations are not based on military standards or government policy–they’re really nothing more than industry terms used to lump fighters of similar capabilities together. Currently, there are no established requirements for what makes a “6th generation” fighter, but by its very definition, it would have to represent a significant jump in capability over fighters like the F-35 or F-22. New technology is always more expensive than the stuff you have on your shelf.
As such, a next-generation fighter would indeed offer useful new capabilities, but likely in a package that’s not much easier to pay for than our current stable of stealth jets. America needs to field such a fighter, but in the short term, putting all of our eggs in that basket likely would result in more fiscal woes, rather than fewer.
4th Generation fighters are part of the answer
Any time you mention funneling money into new 4th generation fighter programs like the F-15EX or the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet, the response is the same: “Why buy old, non-stealthy fighters in this era of F-35s, F-22s, Su-57s, and J-20s?”
The answer is actually pretty simple. These stealth jets are unnecessarily expensive for combat sorties over places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or most of Africa–all of which currently see U.S. troops embedded with local militaries for varying sorts of combat and anti-terror operations. Why pay $44,000 an hour for close air support when the better suited A-10 can do it for a measly $19,000 per hour?
And therein lies the importance of America’s legacy aircraft. In order to balance current combat operations with mitigating threats posed by near-peer nations like China, the U.S. needs jets that can handle today’s fight without draining the budget, so it can afford to build the right aircraft for the threats looming on the horizon.
Regardless of what sensational headlines may have told you in recent weeks, the F-35 isn’t seen as a failure among most of the Pentagon’s decision-makers. And thanks to the political insulation F-35 production has as a result of Lockheed spreading its facilities across most of America’s 50 states, few lawmakers are apt to vote against it either. The F-35 is here to stay. Now America needs to find ways to support it with other highly capable aircraft.
“The F-35 is the cornerstone of what we’re pursuing. Now we’re going to have the F-35, we’re getting it out, and we’re going to have it for the future,” Brown explained.
“The reason I’m looking at this fighter study is to have a better understanding of not only the F-35s we’re going to get but the other aspects of what complements the F-35.”
5th Generation “Minus” fighters may be just what the budget doctor ordered
This brings us to General Brown’s recent statements about developing a “clean sheet” fighter that couples some of the technological leaps found in 5th generation computing powerhouses like the F-35 with some of the cost savings found in 4th generation workhorses like the F-15EX. The result would be an aircraft that isn’t as advanced as the F-35, but more capable than non-stealthy 4th generation jets. This concept can already be found in the joint South Korean and Indonesian fighter program dubbed KAI KF-X.
The truth is, nothing in war stays the same, least of all technology. As new air defense systems are developed, older systems become more affordable. In time, America may well find itself operating in airspace that is more contested than we currently find in the Middle East, but not quite as heavily defended as Moscow or Beijing.
In much the same way the F-117 was tasked with flying ahead of the non-stealth aircraft participating in Desert Storm so they could bomb Baghdad as the fighting kicked off, F-35s and B-21 Raiders will likely fill that role in the future. It would be the job of America’s stealthiest platforms to soften up target areas for the rest of the force, engaging anti-ship platforms with the long-range B-21 to move carriers in, and then anti-air platforms with carrier-launched F-35s–as one example.
Once those two objectives have been met, less stealthy aircraft can move in. Once air dominance has been established, so can the non-stealthy missile and bomb trucks like the F/A-18 Super Hornets.
By fielding an aircraft that adopts a stealth design but perhaps doesn’t rely as much on costly-to-maintain radar-absorbent coating, you get a plane that’s more survivable than an F-16 and cheaper than an F-35. If these aircraft are cheap enough, they can even replace 4th generation fighters in lightly contested airspace, making them more able to respond to a surprise development than older jets. Likewise, data fusion capabilities, while not as powerful as the F-35s, would give pilots more situational awareness, also increasing their survivability, as well as offensive capability.
“When I think about that capability, I’m also thinking about the threat that we see today but the threat we’re projecting for the future,” Brown said.
“I want to have an understanding, which is why the study to me is important so we don’t just build something without thinking about the threat but also thinking about the complete fighter force. Not just the F-35 or NGAD.”
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need fighters. In a slightly less perfect world, they’d all be as stealthy as the F-35 and as dominant as the F-22. We live in neither, so in order to win America’s next war while supporting the ones we’re in, some budgetary compromise is required. A 5th generation “minus” fighter may be just that compromise.
Feature image courtesy of Korea Aerospace Industries
The U.S. Air Force just proved it can externally mount an advanced stealth cruise missile on the B-1B Lancer for the first time, a step forward in plans to have the B-1 carry future ordnance — like hypersonic missiles — outside of its internal bomb bay.
In the demonstration, carried out by Air Force Materiel Command and Boeing Co., the B-1 carried an inert AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, known as JASSM, on an external pylon. Then, the aircraft demonstrated its “ability to safely release” a mounted AGM-158 separation test vehicle, according to Air Force Global Strike Command spokesman Lt. Col. David Faggard.
“The captive-carry event is actually not a test, but a demonstration to revalidate the previously dormant external carry capability pre-existing on the B-1,” Faggard told Military.com. “No major modifications were needed.”
He added, “This demonstration may pave the way possibly for the B-1B to carry hypersonic weapons externally.”
Members of the 412th Test Wing’s 419th Flight Test Squadron, Global Power Combined Test Force, carried out the proof-of-concept over Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Nov. 20.
“Adapting a small number of our healthiest B-1s to carry hypersonic weapons is vital to bridge between the bomber force we have today, to the force of tomorrow,” Gen. Tim Ray, head of AFGSC, said in a statement.
Earlier this year, the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee said it would allow the bomber retirements as long as the service keeps 24 combat-coded aircraft; lawmakers previously demanded the service keep at least 36 bombers always ready for combat.
The weapons’ trial “is a true testament to the engineering and operations’ teams who took this idea from concept to rapid test in a short amount of time,” Ray added. He has previously advocated steps to make the remaining bombers even more lethal.
“This is a major step forward in our global precision fires capability and it is important we pursue these technologies to remain ahead of our competitors,” he said.
The external hardpoints on the B-1B were once built to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles — a mission the long-range aircraft no longer has. The conversion process to make the B-1 non-nuclear began under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, with the final conversion taking place in 2011.
While the external carriage demonstration reactivates the original design and inherent capability, the aircraft “will remain treaty-compliant,” Faggard said. “The expanded capabilities will be conventional-only,” he said.
If the Air Force pursues permanent modifications, the B-1’s hard points would be reconfigured to carry modern conventional weapons and the right-forward hardpoint that currently supports the targeting pod pylon — a tracking device used for target detection and identification — that has been in operational use for the past 15 years, Faggard said.
Kingston Reif, the director of disarmament & threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, pointed out the Air Force has publicized increasing the B-1’s weapons’ payload — particularly with JASSM — for months now.
“This would not violate the treaty because the bomber is still only carrying conventional weapons,” Reif said Tuesday. “They’re not reinserting the electronics that would be required to make the bomber nuclear-capable, or to carry nuclear weapons.”
He added, “They’re doing something to reverse what they’ve previously done, but that doesn’t mean it’s a violation of the treaty.”
Upgunning the Missiles
The variable sweep-wing aircraft is capable of carrying both precision-guided and conventional bombs.
During the Syria strike in 2018, the B-1 struck targets using 19 JASSMs, marking the first operational use of any variant of the missile (the standard JASSM-A missile variant was used, not the new extended-range variant, known as JASSM-ER).
In August 2019, the Air Force proved it could transform the Lancer to hold more ordnance, a first step toward carrying hypersonic weapons payloads. The test, also conducted by Edward’s 419th Flight Test Squadron, demonstrated that crews could fasten new racks onto the B-1’s external hardpoints as well as reconfigure its internal bomb bays to hold heavier weapons.
The B-1 is also capable of carrying the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM. A single B-1B can carry up to 24 LRASMs; the Navy missile, which can autonomously locate and track targets while avoiding friendly forces, achieved early operational capability on the bomber in 2018.
The current initiative enables the B-1 “to carry 24 JASSMs [and or] LRASMs internally with 6 to 12 weapons externally,” Faggard said. The proposed increase means that two bombers would equal three bombers’ worth of weapons, he said.
The trial also determined that the B-1 can still carry a full, internal weapons complement even if JASSMs are positioned outside the bomb bay, Faggard said. Furthermore, the B-1 is able to employ internal weapons “without expending external weapons first,” he said.
Engineers are now reviewing the data collected during the Nov. 20 flight before the service moves on to the next phase of the demonstration: an external weapons release, Faggard said.
“This extensive engineering review will help the Air Force understand areas where we need to focus in order to maintain the B-1B as a multi-mission weapon system, potentially laying the groundwork for integration of future weapons on the aircraft,” he said.
Much has been written about the threat of Islamic State militants’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones, over the embattled city of Mosul.
IS was quick to weaponize UAVs with small improvised explosive devices.
On Jan. 24, they released a video showing up to 19 different aerial attacks by commercially purchased UAVs — the kind of drone you can buy in any shopping center. Iraqi forces have followed suit by attaching modified 40mm grenades with shuttlecock stabilizers onto their larger UAVs to drop on IS positions.
A crude inaccurate way of killing terrorists, its effectiveness is questionable. Weaponized IS UAVs have mainly been used to target Iraqi military commanders and troops congregating in the open near the front line.
It’s a low-end, low-altitude attack that can be thwarted by keeping in hard cover.
But both sides use the UAV’s more effectively as a means of providing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, known as ISR.
Islamic State UAVs in the air, once identified, are the warning that something is about to happen — either mortar fire, which is typically one hastily fired inaccurate round — before coalition air superiority can locate and target the firing point.
Or, more devastatingly, the launching of a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, an SVBIED.
Since the Battle for Mosul officially started on Oct. 16, 2016, hundreds of SVBIEDs have been launched.
Recently, Sky News’ Special Correspondent Alex Crawford and cameraman Garwen McLuckie faced a number of SVBIEDs during their reporting from West Mosul’s front line.
Each time a small UAV was hovering high above. One occasion two were spotted.
Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay, cameraman Nathan Hale and Producer Haider Kata were also targeted by a SVBIED. On this occasion the UAV filmed the SVBIED (an armored Fronting Loader) to its intended target, a tank.
Later, the video was posted on Islamic State websites.
Due to the built-up urban area and the ever-changing nature of the battle, IS drivers of the SVBIEDs are believed to be hiding in garages with their heavily armoured explosive-laden vehicles. Modified with armor at the front and cameras on the wing mirrors, they provide militants with a 360-degree view of the battlefield and are notoriously difficult to stop.
They wait as the Iraqi forces move slowly forward, seizing ground and minimizing the driving distance to strike.
If they launch too early, the SVBIED will be exposed to air strikes or anti-tank fire, the only two real ways of neutralizing the vehicle.
But hidden IS drivers may not know the exact location of the moving Iraqi forces or be familiar with the streets and or access routes to their targets.
This is where the UAV is the key component to the attack.
The operators of the UAV act as navigators for the suicide driver; guiding him by radio or cell phone through battle-worn streets, they can help deliver the driver to his intended target with greater efficiency and accuracy.
This is a deadly combination.
The coalition has attempted to blanket all of Mosul in a red no-fly zone for commercially purchased UAVs, but this has been thwarted by either smart software adjustments to the unit or by placing aluminum material over the GPS.
Other methods have included the Battelle Drone Defender gun (hand portable beam type weapon) and the Spynel infrared camera, which is used to locate incoming UAVs. Both have been very limited, as UAV use is usually confined within a few hundred meters at the very front of the fight where these systems are not always deployed.
If an IS UAV is sighted, the immediate response by Iraqi forces is to engage it with small and heavy weapons, a difficult shot when aiming at a high flying fast moving object of no more than a meter wide.
After the firing has stopped, all attention shifts to street level as experienced operators know the next thing coming will be more deadly.
Many harmless recreational drones have now become deadly tools of war.
The various developers of these off-the-shelf UAVs probably never envisaged that their products would be used in a lethal cat and mouse hunt through Mosul’s war-torn streets.
Attacking enemy fighters in close-air-support aircraft, using ground-based laser designators to “paint” targets for aircraft, and training friendly forces for the rigors of high-casualty close-in combat are all US Air Force Special Operations Force skills tested and refined during the last decade and a half of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Drawing upon these Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), Air Force Special Operations Command is accelerating a strategic shift from its recent counterinsurgency focus to preparing for “high-end” combat or major force-on-force warfare against a technologically advanced enemy.
“I would tell you there is definitely strategic value for Special Operations in the high-end fight. With our mentality, we think outside of the box and about how to present dilemmas for the enemy,” Lt. Gen Marshall Webb, said Sept. 17, 2018, at the Air Force Association Convention.
Webb emphasized that the Command’s counterterrorism focus will not diminish in coming years but likely increase as existing threats persist and new ones emerge. At the same time, he made it clear that AFSOC is “laser focused on the high-end” and currently adapting its well-established TTPs to support major power warfare.
“We have to extend the TTPs for high-end conflict as well, including multi-domain command and control,” Webb said.
Interestingly, migrating combat-tested TTPs to a high-end fight does not seem to be an insurmountable stretch but, rather, an extension of refined combat practices. Significantly, many TTPs fundamental to counterinsurgency are also of great tactical and strategic relevance to major-power warfare. For example, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Air Force Special Operations, the Special Tactics Squadron, used advanced targeting techniques to guide aircraft attacking the Taliban. This included using Forward Air Controllers to radio strike coordinates to circling attack aircraft and using laser designators to paint ground targets.
AFSOC contributions to the war in Afghanistan are highlighted in a 2017 Special Operations Annex portion of Air Force Doctrine published by the Lemay Center for Doctrine, Maxwell AFB.
An AC-130U gunship.
“AFSOC CCTs were instrumental in the first major gain of the conflict, leveraging airpower that led to the capture of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 9, 2001 — a major breakthrough in the struggle to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” the doctrine writes.
This kind of integrated air-ground operation, used to great effect in Afghanistan, is also something of potentially great value in a high-end conflict as well. The prospect of needing close air support to fortify advancing units on the ground or attacking low-flying enemy air assets presents the kinds of scenarios anticipated in major war.
The Air Force Special Operations AC-130 gunship, for instance, often circled Kandahar in Afghanistan, to fire its 105mm side-firing cannons to attack Taliban fighters. While there are of course major differences when between attacking insurgents and engaging in major air combat with a near-peer enemy, some of the tactics, approaches and technologies do seem to cross over and offer value to both kinds of conflict.
Webb further elaborated upon AFSOCs role in close air support missions will be enhanced by the service’s emerging Light Attack Aircraft. The aircraft is designed for rugged counterinsurgency missions in combat environments where the Air Force has established air superiority. At the same time, the need for these kinds of attack missions are at very least conceivable, if not likely, in large-scale warfare also.
“The need for the Light Attack Aircraft is an excellent requirement for AFSOC,” Webb said.
Special Operations Forces (SOF) are also known for a substantial intelligence expertise, used to both train and equip friendly forces and offer crucial combat-relevant detail to the larger force. Advising allied fighters is yet another instance of skills likely to be of great value in major war. Part of this intel mission includes air and ground reconnaissance using sensors, scouting forces and unique positioning in combat terrain in support of the larger fight.
Operating in small units, often somewhat autonomously, SOF are experienced fighters in austere, or otherwise hard to reach, combat areas. This skill also, quite naturally, would add value in major force-on-force warfare, as well.
SOF is “out there in the hinterlands and don’t have the luxury of an F-16,” Webb explained.
The Air Force’s Curtis Lemay Center for Doctrine, Development and Education also cites the full range of Special Operations mission sets, many of which are specifically designed for large scale war. Combat areas listed in the Doctrine text include a range of missions relevant to both COIN and major war such as “information operations, precision strike, ISR, command and control and specialized air mobility.”
The overall strategic roadmap, such as that articulated by Webb, mirrors multi-domain concepts written into special ops doctrine materials. The Lemay Center’s 2017 Doctrine Special Ops Annex text identifies a “combat continuum” for Special Ops missions, to include low-intensity conflict such as security cooperation and deterrence, limited contingencies and major operations.”
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.