The Cold War was a great time for weapons manufacturers. It seems like almost everything was fair game to be weaponized, and nothing seemed out of bounds. The CIA weaponized everything from cars to cats.
But the Americans weren’t alone in their planning to fight World War III with a variety of unique weapons. Our French allies were in on the game too. And nothing could be more stereotypically French than a bazooka-armed Vespa, which seems like something more out of the movie “Roman Holiday” than the 1944 capture of Rome.
Yet, in 1950, the French military commissioned one: an anti-tank scooter that used a two-wheeled Vespa as its base model. It featured a bulletproof, reinforced frame, and an M20 75mm recoilless rifle mounted to the front.
Vespa 150 TAP scooters (also called Vespa ACMA, after the company who designed and made them, Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles) was designed to be a fast-moving anti-armor weapon that could be parachuted into a combat zone to support paratroopers (troupes aéroportées, hence the TAP designation).
A two-man team would be air-dropped in along with a pair of the Vespa 150 TAP motorbikes. The duo worked in concert with one another, one carrying the weapon, and the other carrying the 75mm rounds.
The Vespa was never intended to be able to actually fire the recoilless rifle while moving. The intent was for the pair to stop, unmount the rifle from its perch on the Vespa, use a machine gun mount to set up the rifle, fire, then move on. But it could be fired while moving, if necessary. Still, it was a very mobile anti-armor system.
While the weapon wasn’t as effective against heavy armor, it could still penetrate up to 100mm with high-explosive warheads. This would not be effective against the later T-72 Soviet tanks, but could still be used against T-54 and T-55 as well as the T-62 main battle tank the Soviet Union was fielding at the time.
While the combat Vespa may seem a little silly and stereotypically “French” by today’s standards, the project was actually designed to replace France’s then-current motorcycle fleet. Airborne motorbikes aren’t supposed to be heavy duty gear. Think of them more like pack animals that can be airdropped into combat and make quick runs wherever they were needed.
The French used American-made Cushman scooters to great effect during World War II. Just like the Vespa TAP, Cushman scooters were designed to be dropped with paratroopers from aircraft. Although not fitted with the same (or even similar) firepower, the Cushman line of World War II bikes were similarly lightweight but could be used to move supplies, wounded troops, and messages quickly and efficiently.
France’s new Vespa was designed to handle all of the old Cushman bike’s missions, with the added benefit of being able to potentially take down some of the enemy’s armor along the way. Best of all (for the French Army) it was entirely made and serviced in France.
The French Army eventually made more than 500 of the scooters and deployed the Vespa 150 to serve in both Algeria and in Indochina.
Anyone who might be doubting the effectiveness of the scooter in post-World War II combat (or even today) should remember that messengers on bikes was one of the means of communication used by retired Gen. Paul Van Riper to defeat the U.S. military in the 2002 Millennium Challenge exercise.
So remember the old military adage: if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.
The U.S. Marine Corps is progressing with a new project to arm its MV-22 Osprey aircraft with new weapons such as laser-guided 2.75in rockets, missiles and heavy guns – a move which would expand the tiltrotor’s mission set beyond supply, weapons and forces transport to include a wider range of offensive and defensive combat missions, Corps officials said.
“Currently, NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Dahlgren explored the use of forward firing rockets, missiles, fixed guns, a chin mounted gun, and also looked at the use of a 30MM gun along with gravity drop rockets and guided bombs deployed from the back of the V-22. The study that is being conducted will help define the requirements and ultimately inform a Marine Corps decision with regards to armament of the MV-22B Osprey,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
Adding weapons to the Opsrey would naturally allow the aircraft to better defend itself should it come under attack from small arms fire, missiles or surface rockets while conducting transport missions; in addition, precision fire will enable the Osprey to support amphibious operations with suppressive or offensive fire as Marines approach enemy territory.
Furthermore, weapons will better facilitate an Osprey-centric tactic known as “Mounted Vertical Maneuver” wherein the tiltrotor uses its airplane speeds and helicopter hover and maneuver technology to transport weapons such as mobile mortars and light vehicles, supplies and Marines behind enemy lines for a range of combat missions — to include surprise attacks.
The initial steps in the process will include arming the V-22 are to select a Targeting-FLIR, improve Digital Interoperability and designate Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment solutions. Integration of new weapons could begin as early as 2019 if the initiatives stay on track and are funded, Burns added.
Burns added that “assault support” will remain as the primary mission of the MV-22 Osprey, regardless of the weapons solution selected.
“Both the air and ground mission commanders will have more options with the ability to provide immediate self-defense and collective defense of the flight. Depending on the weapons ultimately selected, a future tiltrotor could provide a range of capabilities spanning from self-defense on the lighter side to providing a gunship over watch capability on the heavier scale,” Burns explained.
So far, Osprey maker Bell-Boeing has delivered 290 MV-22s out of a planned 360 program of record.
Laser-guided Hyra 2.75inch folding fin rockets, such as those currently being fired from Apache attack helicopters, could give the Osprey a greater precision-attack technology. One such program firing 2.75in rockets with laser guidance is called Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System, or APKWS.
Bell-Boeing designed a special pylon on the side of the aircraft to ensure common weapons carriage. The Corps is now analyzing potential requirements for weapons on the Osprey, considering questions such as the needed stand-off distance and level of lethality.
“We did a demonstration with Bell where we took some rockets and we put them on a pylon on the airplane using APKWS. We also did some 2.75 guided rockets, laser guided weapons and the griffin missile. We flew laser designators to laser-designate targets to prove you could do it,” Rick Lemaster – Director of Business Development, Bell-Boeing, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Lemaster also added that the Corps could also arm the MV-22 with .50-cal or 7.62mm guns.
New Osprey Variant in 2030
The Marine Corps is in the early stages of planning to build a new, high-tech MV-22C variant Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to enter service by the mid-2030s, service officials said.
While many of the details of the new aircraft are not yet available, Corps officials told Scout Warrior that the MV-22C will take advantage of emerging and next-generation aviation technologies.
The Marine Corps now operates more than 250 MV-22 Ospreys around the globe and the tiltrotor aircraft are increasingly in demand, Corps officials said.
“This upgrade will ensure that the Marine Corps has state-of-the-art, medium-lift assault support for decades to come,” Corps spokesman Maj. Paul Greenberg told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
The Osprey is, among other things, known for its ability to reach speeds of 280 knots and achieve a much greater combat radius than conventional rotorcraft.
Due to its tiltrotor configuration, the Osprey can hover in helicopter mode for close-in surveillance and vertical landings for things like delivering forces, equipment and supplies – all while being able to transition into airplane mode and hit fixed-wing aircraft speeds. This gives the aircraft an ability to travel up 450 nautical miles to and from a location on a single tank of fuel, Corps officials said.
“Since 2007, the MV-22 has continuously deployed in a wide range of extreme conditions, from the deserts of Iraq and Libya to the mountains of Afghanistan and Nepal, as well as aboard amphibious shipping. Between January 2007 and August 2015, Marine Corps MV-22s flew more than 178,000 flight hours in support of combat operations,” Greenberg added.
Corps officials said th idea with the new Osprey variant is to build upon the lift, speed and versatility of the aircraft’s tiltrotor technology and give the platform more performance characteristics in the future. While few specifics were yet available — this will likely include improved sensors, mapping and digital connectivity, even greater speed and hover ability, better cargo and payload capacity, next-generation avionics and new survivability systems such as defenses against incoming missiles and small arms fire.
Greenberg also added that the MV-22C variant aircraft will draw from technologies now being developed for the Army-led Future Vertical Lift program involved in engineering a new fleet of more capable, high-tech aircraft for the mid-2030s
“The MV-22C will take advantage of technologies spurred by the ongoing joint multi-role and future vertical lift efforts, and other emerging technology initiatives,” Greenberg added.
The U.S. Army is currently immersed in testing with two industry teams contracted to develop and build a fuel-efficient, high-speed, high-tech, next-generation medium-lift helicopter to enter service by 2030.
The effort is aimed at leveraging the best in helicopter and aircraft technology in order to engineer a platform that can both reach the high-speeds of an airplane while retaining an ability to hover like a traditional helicopter, developers have said.
The initiate is looking at developing a wide range of technologies including lighter-weight airframes to reduce drag, different configurations and propulsion mechanisms, more fuel efficient engines, the potential use of composite materials and a whole range of new sensor technologies to improve navigation, targeting and digital displays for pilots.
Requirements include an ability to operate in what is called “high-hot” conditions, meaning 95-degrees Fahrenheit and altitudes of 6,000 feet where helicopters typically have difficulty operating. In high-hot conditions, thinner air and lower air-pressure make helicopter maneuverability and operations more challenging.
The Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, or JMR TD, program has awarded development deals to Bell Helicopter-Textron and Sikorsky-Boeing teams to build “demonstrator” aircraft by 2017 to help inform the development of a new medium-class helicopter.
Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter is building a tilt-rotor aircraft called the Bell V-280 Valor – and the Sikorsky-Boeing team is working on early testing of its SB1 Defiant coaxial rotor-blade design. A coaxial rotor blade configuration uses counter-rotating blades with a thrusting technology at the back of the aircraft to both remain steady and maximize speed, hover capacity and manueverability.
The Bell V-280 offering is similar to the Osprey in that it is a tiltrotor aircraft.
Planned missions for the new Future Vertical Lift aircraft include cargo, utility, armed scout, attack, humanitarian assistance, MEDEVAC (medical evacuation), anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, land/sea search and rescue, special warfare support and airborne mine countermeasures, Army officials have said.
Other emerging technology areas being explored for this effort include next-generation sensors and navigation technologies, autonomous flight and efforts to see through clouds, dust and debris described as being able to fly in a “degraded visual environment.”
Meanwhile, while Corps officials say they plan to embrace technologies from this Army-led program for the new Osprey variant, they also emphasize that the Corps is continuing to make progress with technological improvements to the MV-22.
These include a technology called V-22 Aerial Refueling System, or VARS, to be ready by 2018, Greenberg explained.
“The Marine Corps Osprey with VARS will be able to refuel the F-35B Lightning II with about 4,000 pounds of fuel at VARS’ initial operating capability. MV-22B VARS capacity will increase to 10,000 pounds of fuel by 2019. This will significantly enhance the F-35B’s range, as well as the aircraft’s ability to remain on target for a longer period,” he told Scout Warrior.
The aerial refueling technology on the Osprey will refuel helicopters at 110 knots and fixed-wing aircraft at 220 knots, Lemaster added.
“The intent is to be able to have the aircraft on board the ship have the auxiliary tanks on board. An aircraft can then fill up, trail out behind the Osprey about 90-feet,” he explained.
The VARS technology will also be able to refuel other aircraft such as the CH-53E/K, F-18, AV-8B Harrier jet and other V-22s, Greenberg added.
The Corps is also developing technology to better network Osprey aircraft through an effort called “Digital Interoperability,” or DI. This networks Osprey crews such that Marines riding in the back can have access to relevant tactical and strategic information while in route to a destination. DI is now being utilized by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and is slated to be operational by 2017.
According to a company release, the 30-kilowatt laser was fired against five unmanned aerial vehicles and “defeated airborne targets in flight by causing loss of control and structural failure” during the test, which was conducted in conjunction with Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
A video released by Lockheed showed that the targets, MQM-170C Outlaw drones, based on the Griffon Aerospace G2, were destroyed in crashes caused by the damage inflicted on the tail by the laser. Designation-Systems.net notes that the MQM-170A version of the Outlaw, based on Griffon’s G1 has a top speed of 120 miles per hour, can fly as high as 16,000 feet, and has as much as four hours of flight time.
The need to take down enemy drones has been acutely demonstrated in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. During the fighting for Mosul, the radical Islamic terrorist group made extensive use of UAVs, including spotting for mortar gunners, as well as to carry out small bomb attacks.
One particularly insidious tactic was to land a booby-trapped drone, and then to detonate it as coalition troops attempted to recover it.
The development of lasers has been advancing in recent years, and while right now they’re being used to target drones, that’s not all defense planners have planned for beam weapons.
“As we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we’re making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our warfighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range,” Lockheed Martin’s Chief Technology Officer, Keoki Jackson, said.
You can see a video of the Outlaws being put into the ground by the laser below.
Scientists have claimed that computers would replace humans in the cockpit for some time, but artificial intelligence simply hadn’t reached the point where it could compete successfully against a human opponent.
But now, at least in simulators, it has. ALPHA, the AI, bested a retired Air Force fighter pilot repeatedly while running on a tiny, cheap Rasberry Pi computer that is often used to teach children coding basics.
Retired Air Force Col. Gene “Geno” Lee helped guide ALPHA’s programming and flew against ALPHA in a series of air battles in a computer simulator, battles that he lost every time when flying against the mature version of ALPHA.
At first, ALPHA was being used as a tool to create better simulators for training pilots and testing tactics. ALPHA took control of “Red” fighters flying against a “Blue” force. Red typically held a numerical advantage while Blue typically had a technological advantage with longer range missiles, a larger payload, and an AWACS flying in support.
The AWACS is a radar system that gave Blue forces better situational awareness and targeting data.
In the initial matchups, ALPHA’s Red team won more than it lost but took heavy losses. Then Lee and the programmers at Psibernetix, the company that created ALPHA, began making adjustments to its programming and ALPHA begin to win. Soon, it won every engagement.
So, Lee decided to take control of a Blue fighter personally to try and give the other team an advantage. He flew engagement after engagement against ALPHA.
ALPHA won every fight and, whenever Lee stayed in the air for a protracted period, Lee was shot down.
Lee told the researchers that ALPHA was “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI (he’s) seen-to-date.”
Lee later told UC Magazine reporter M.B. Reilly that, after flying missions against ALPHA, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”
Now, ALPHA does have some advantages of its own. First, it utilizes a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system. GFT systems work closer to the way a human brain works than most computers. Rather than try to calculate every variable when computing a solution, it keeps track of key bits of data and forms generalities.
But it can form decisions based on those generalities 250 times faster than a human can blink. When controlling four aircraft, it can take in all available sensor data, create a new plan of action, and adjust each jet’s controls to implement that plan every 6.5 milliseconds.
This allows ALPHA to constantly choreograph the jets’ movements to cover one another. If one pair of Red planes are forced to evade and are in danger, ALPHA can direct a second pair to move into position on the attackers instantly.
Researchers believe that if ALPHA was split among two computers, one handling sensor data and the other computing actions, ALPHA could adjust its plans and adjust flight paths 1,100 times per second.
The success of ALPHA is impressive, but the system isn’t exactly ready for combat. While ALPHA receives sensor data with “noise” incorporated, errors and missing data that would occur in a real fight, it hasn’t flown in a situation where the signals between planes were jammed. This would make its coordination between planes more challenging.
It’s often said that if you want to know what equipment your car will have in 10 to 20 years, just look at the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; and it’s true. Every car today has a pretensioner seatbelt that preemptively tightens to prevent you from jerking forward in the event of a crash. The S-Class was the first car to include this feature in 1981. Today, many cars have active safety systems that use radar and cameras to detect if you’re about to have a collision and apply the brakes to bring you to a stop. While adaptive cruise control was first introduced by Mitusbishi, Mercedes introduced the first system that could bring the car to a complete halt on the S-Class back in 2005. The same principle applies to the military too. If you want to know what the regular line soldier will be equipped with in a few decades, look no further than special forces. Here are a few pieces of gear that have trickled their way down from tier one.
1. Rifle Optics
In modern infantry units, just about every soldier gets some sort of optic on their rifle. Whether it’s a magnified ACOG or red dot CCO, having some sort of optic is a huge help when you’re on the shooting range (both one-way and two-way). The Army has even adopted a new variable-power rifle optic to equip all of its line soldiers across the force. However, before optics were commonplace in infantry units, they were first seen in special forces. One of the first red dots fielded by special forces was the Aimpoint 2000. “This was a game changer to me,” said former Delta operator Larry Vickers. “I went through OTC with iron sights…went to A Squadron, saw guys using red dot, I tried it, and at that point I realized the advantage that something like an Aimpoint red dot sight brings to the table…The way that red dot rights are used today kinda started back in the Delta Force late 1980s era with the Aimpoint 2000.”
Yes, they’re called silencers. Hiram Percy Maxim received the patent for his design in 1909 and marketed them as “Maxim Silencers”. The DoJ and ATF also use the term silencer. However, silencers are a bit of a misnomer. Depending on variables like caliber, bullet weight, powder, and barrel length, a silencer generally suppresses the sound of a gunshot. Very few firearms can actually be silenced to Hollywood levels of quiet. Still, the devices are effective at masking or modifying the noise created by a gunshot. Special forces units have used silencers since at least WWII with specialized weapons like the Welrod. In 1993, the Special Operations Peculiar Modification kit was introduced. The SOPMOD accessory system allowed special forces operators to adapt their weapons to different missions with attachments like optics, lights, and a silencer. At the end of 2020, the Marine Corps announced that it had begun widespread fielding of suppressors. The Corps’ goal is to field 30,000 suppressors by FY2023. The Army is also considering widespread use of suppressors with its Next Generation Squad Weapon program.
Well, ATVs and four-wheelers anyway. A specialized dune buggy called the Desert Patrol Vehicle was used extensively by special forces during Operation Desert Storm. In fact, the first U.S. forces to enter Kuwait City were Navy SEALs in DPVs. During the early years of the War on Terror, light utility vehicles were purchased off-the-shelf and employed by special forces. They proved invaluable for navigating the mountainous terrain and rough trails of Afghanistan. Motorcycles, quad bikes, and four-wheelers all helped tier one operators hunt down and destroy Taliban fighters throughout Operation Enduring Freedom. Seeing the potential of off-the-shelf vehicles like these, the Army adopted Polaris vehicles like the MRZR Diesel and the Sportsman MV850. These vehicles are often employed by light infantry units as scouts to quickly transit rough terrain. Their small size means that they can also be driven into a CH-47 Chinook and airlifted onto the battlefield.
While pistols are not new to line units, they are less common. The Beretta M9 was generally issued to officers and senior non-comissioned officers, but not to leaders at the squad and fireteam levels. On the special forces side, all members are dual-armed with both a rifle or their assigned weapon and a pistol. However, with the adoption of the Sig Sauer M17/M18 pistol, the Army plans to issue sidearms down to squad and fireteam leaders. This new policy gives junior leaders in regular line units more options in close quarter battle situations. Moving in this direction, it’s likely that all line soldiers will eventually be dual-armed just like special forces.
While the United States Navy has not used the flying boat in a long time, other countries have kept these planes around. After all, they do have some advantages in a military setting. You can’t exactly ground them by bombing a runway, it’s easy to re-deploy them to a new forward base, and flying boats are versatile assets – just look at the PBY Catalina.
One of the countries that is keeping the flying boat alive is China. This country operated the Harbin SH-5 flying boat as a maritime patrol and search-and-rescue asset. It has a top speed of 345 miles per hour and a range of just under 3,000 miles, according to MilitaryFactory.com. It can carry 13,000 pounds of bombs, missiles, or torpedoes. The Chinese only built seven of these planes, and FlightGlobal.com notes that three are still in service.
China has not stopped with the SH-5. According to a report by CNBC.com, the AG600, a four-engine flying boat roughly the size of the 737 has just made its first flight. Officially, the aircraft is intended to carry out firefighting and search-and-rescue missions. MilitaryFactory.com reports that has a top speed of 311 miles per hour and a range of just over 2,700 miles. So far, at least 17 airframes have been ordered.
Some Chinese media outlets are reporting the AG600 – or a variant – could be useful for military operations in the South China Sea. China has been building “unsinkable aircraft carriers” in the maritime flashpoint, enabling the People’s Liberation Army Navy and People’s Liberation Army Air Force to operate fighters in the area. This sort of development prompted the United States military to retire its flying boats.
China’s continued pursuit of flying boats could be seen as a hedge against the United States being able to disable the island bases in the South China Sea. The AG600 does have the capability to haul cargo and specialists to either repair a base, or to maintain a presence until a base can be fixed.
Two Department of Energy security experts took off to San Antonio in March, 2017. Their mission was to retrieve potentially dangerous nuclear material from a nonprofit research lab. Just to be certain they were getting the goods, they were issued radiation detectors along with a disc of plutonium and a small amount of cesium to calibrate their sensors.
When these two security experts stopped for the night along the 410 beltway, they left the nuclear materials in their rented Ford SUV in a Marriott parking lot that was not in the best neighborhood. The next morning, they were surprised to find the vehicle’s windows smashed in and the nuclear materials gone.
For the uninitiated, plutonium is one of the most valuable substances on Earth. It’s also one of few elements that will undergo nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It’s an extremely deadly and dangerous substance with a half-life of just over 24,000 years. One kilogram of plutonium can explode with the force of 10,000 tons of TNT. Luckily, the Idaho National Laboratory says the amount stolen isn’t enough to make a nuclear bomb — that requires nine pounds of uranium or seven pounds of plutonium.
Something the size and weight of a kettle bell could fill the material need for a nuclear weapon.
Cesium is an element that can be used in highly accurate atomic clocks and dirty bombs. It’s one of the most active elements on Earth and explodes on contact with water.
No one briefed the public, no announcement was made in the San Antonio area, and no one would say exactly how much fissile material was stolen and is currently in the hands of someone who thinks they’re just holding cool pieces of metal while slowly irradiating themselves and those around them.
And the military doesn’t have to do any of that, so they don’t. In fact, it happens so often there’s now an acronym for it: MUF – material unaccounted for. An estimated six tons of fissile material is currently considered MUF.
If there’s an acronym AND a powerpoint about it, you know that sh*t is happening all the time.
The Government Accountability Office doesn’t even have a thorough record of material it loaned to other nuclear nations, what the status of that material is, and if their systems are rigorously inspected. At least 11 of those sites have not been visited by U.S. inspectors since before the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In one instance, 45 pounds of enriched uranium — enough for five nuclear detonations — loaned from the military was listed as safely stored when it was actually gone as of 2009 and had been missing for as long as five years. Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency tracked 270 incidents where dangerous fissile materials were trafficked with the intent of doing harm.
“He seems totally trustworthy to me. Let’s transfer our plutonium immediately.”
The security contracting firm who lost the equipment was given an award, government bonuses, and a renewed contract. Since the Idaho National Lab considered the amount of nuclear material stolen to be of little consequence, they closed the case.
Jason Cabell finished his mainstream directorial debut with the film “Running with the Devil,” starring Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne. The film is inspired by Cabell’s service with the Navy SEALs, dealing with the drug trade.
With completing “Running with the Devil,” Cabell becomes a rare breed in Hollywood and the military- a combat veteran Navy SEAL who wrote and directed his own feature film. The cast thoroughly enjoyed working with him; Laurence Fishburne shares details about his experience on RWTD.
Fishburne: [It was] one of the best experiences I have had in recent years, especially with a new director. Jason is incredibly well-organized and beyond enthusiastic. His script was so clever, fun and simplistic. The best things usually are simple and his simplicity brought an elegance to the story. Jason was just incredibly well prepared, which is one of the most important things a director can be. He has incredible leadership abilities because he knows how to follow. Overall, one of the best experiences I have had in recent years.
Cole Hauser, Jason Cabell, Barry Pepper and Laurence Fishburne on set of “Running with the Devil.” (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)
Even with his career highlights in special operations and hard earned success as a filmmaker, he is a salt of the earth type of guy. Cabell comes from humble beginnings having been born in Chicago a couple of years after the 1968 Democratic Convention. The riots took place right across the street from where he lived. His father transferred to Colorado to get away from the inner city.
Cabell was born into a mixed family where he came to realize differences among his friends growing up. His father, an African American, was a World War II vet in the Navy as a 20mm gunner on an ammo ship. He served in the battle of Midway and Guadalcanal. After returning from WWII, he played football at Western Michigan University and tried out for the Chicago White Sox but wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse at the time due to his race. Cabell’s dad met his mom while she was working as a nurse.
Cabell’s mother was first generation from Norway. Her family fled Norway when the Nazis invaded. Cabell recalls her kindness and love throughout his childhood. “My mom always encouraged me and said I could be anything I wanted to if I worked hard enough. We always went to the movies together. That was our thing. She loved Dr. Zhivago and from an early age always took me to the Oscar contenders,” Cabell said.
Cabell’s grandfather was a carpenter and settled the family in Skokie, IL. His grandpa built houses in the Skokie area. When visiting Skokie with his family, Cabell would work for his grandfather and remembers noticing the tattoo on his tenants’ arms from concentration camps, as Skokie was a Jewish hub where many Jewish people had relocated from Europe post WWII.
His parents stressed traditional values: be polite, be courteous, always be present for Sunday dinner, have family values, obey the golden rule, be respectful to elders and others and give respect where respect is due. His parents wanted the children to take pride in their appearance and focus on details like not missing belt loops. Cabell recalled that as a military man, “My father wanted us to make our bed and be disciplined in all things.”
Cabell said his parents taught him to “Take the hard right over the easy wrong. Do what you say you will do. Be reliable. Don’t commit to anything that you can’t do. Be honest with yourself and other people. You have to deliver every time and be a man of your word.” Cabell was always close to his family. Both of his parents have passed but he continues to model their values with his own two children. Cabell pressed forward from his youth in Colorado to the next big adventure- the Navy SEALs.
Cabell had a call to adventure which led to him to the to the SEALs, where he wanted to explore the world. At the time he joined in the late ’80s, no one really knew about the SEALs. He was living in Arizona and saw an Air Show with the U.S. Navy Parachute Team- the Leapfrogs (a group of SEALs). After seeing the Leapfrogs he went to sign up for the Navy SEAL program without knowing how to swim. To learn, he worked with a coach before heading out to the Navy.
Cabell said, “In training you play with your life every day. Things are pretty dynamic, spending 320 days-a-year with your teammates. You constantly ask yourself, would I train and put my life on the line for these people? I got to see and experience the world with these guys.”
He went to well over 100 countries and got to experience places like Iwo Jima, Wake Island, and even stopped to see different atolls from WWII. One of his most memorable training events took place in Monashka Bay in Alaska. The team did a maritime training mission in the area where they experienced a really big weather front but still had to go through with the training mission. Cabell got frostbite from the mission and still has a scar from it.
His foray into the filmmaking business may surprise some people, but he believes he is on the right path. “I always seem to end up where I am supposed to be. If you listen to the universe and head in the right direction, then 1,000 hands will push you along,” Cabell said.
Nicolas Cage and Jason Cabell on set of “Running with the Devil” (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)
There were not any barriers for him in transitioning from the SEALs to being a filmmaker despite having no film school education. Throughout his journey, Cabell has gained many fans and industry professionals that appreciate his work. One is Andrew Ruf, managing partner at Paradigm Talent Agency, who shares this on working with Cabell:
Ruf: Having exceptional rapport is a two-way street that requires constant collaboration to build a strong, positive relationship. When Jason and I first met, we bonded over shared personal experiences and a mutual passion for actors and storytelling. Jason is a down to earth guy who genuinely has great instincts for the work we do and has an incredibly focused drive. His work ethic is unparalleled.
Cabell led a 77-person combat assault force in Baghdad during the height of the war, which helped him tremendously in life and leadership. His leadership experiences prepared him for leading on set. On the set of “Running with the Devil” in Colombia, they had a 250-person crew, which beckons for a person that knows how to get things done.
He said, “You have to possess extreme discipline to be the best.” Cabell read over 1,000 scripts, studying both the good and bad examples, to get the beat pattern down. His experiences on a SEAL team taught him to learn quickly and taught military skills like, skydiving, flying an airplane, calling for fire, calculus and dive physics. Cabell thinks the military education system is the best education system in the world. Actor, writer, director Peter Facinelli worked with Jason on RWTD and shared his thoughts on the experience.
Facinelli: Jason’s military background was apparent; he is a commander on-set and you are part of his troop. I felt protected and that he would have my back, due to his confidence under stress. I never saw a lack of confidence at any point. Jason won’t let people see him sweat. He is efficient and keeps things moving like clockwork. He keeps the “troops” informed and lets the actors know what is expected from them- a well-run set. I have worked with a lot of directors and he has earned my respect.
Facinelli and Cabell on the set of “Running with the Devil.” (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)
Cabell got his start on the creative side of the industry by writing scripts. He started small by directing an 0,000 movie, “Smoke Filled Lungs.” He produced a TV movie for MarVista titled “2020,” and just kept learning and moving.
He said, “My father always taught me you can do anything you want if you are willing to sacrifice and put the work in.” He made a lot of sacrifices to begin a new career where reinventing oneself is tough and becomes harder as age increases.
“One of the things nowadays is making excuses and being a victim,” said Cabell. “People fetishize being a victim in our culture as opposed to being a success. No one will give you anything. You have to work for it. You have to work beyond exhaustion and failure, or you will never succeed.”
He believes there are many people that are victims from societal pressures. He said, “To succeed you need to stay away from negative people that crap on your dreams. If you have the talent and are doing the right things, then keep doing it.” Cabell has never been the fastest or strongest but has found a way to grind it out.
Producer and executive Lauren Craig also experienced working on set with Cabell.
Craig: I worked with him from the beginning to the end of production. He was professional, open to ideas and it was easy to follow through on what he wanted because he was so direct with his vision. Jason found a way to separate who he is as a SEAL and who he is as a filmmaker, which greatly benefited the production. He focused on his vision and story and tried to make it as universal as possible… Jason was always trying to boost the morale of everyone on set. We were in the snow, desert, and urban areas. No matter the situation, he was always encouraging and trying to bring everyone up. Jason is the consummate professional; we were all on a team together even though he was the director. He made us feel like we were a part of something bigger.
Jason Cabell on set in the Sandia Mountains (NM) with Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne and AP Lauren Craig. (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)
Fishburne had positive insights into Cabell’s directing abilities.
Fishburne: A little bit of Eastwood comes through in Jason’s directing. His enthusiasm is similar to John Singleton’s enthusiasm. John was a first-time director when I worked with him. Jason’s experience as a veteran plays into his abilities as a director. He has a young man’s spirit with an older man’s wisdom. Jason is the kind of guy that will tell you he was afraid of something and he is also wise enough not to show it. Showing fear will not get you through it; moving through your fear is what truly helps you.
Fishburne provides a final thought on Cabell’s trajectory within the next 5 years. He said, “I will see Jason on set working somewhere and calling “Action,” saying “Very good, Mr. Fishburne, can we do another one?”
With the success of the film that has such a high level cast, the continued work ethic of Cabell and the agency behind him, Ruf is highly positive on Cabell’s upward trajectory.
Ruf: Jason is a very promising artist in Hollywood. I can see him being one of the highly sought after directors/writers in this industry in both film and television and running his own production company. His adaptability and leadership abilities will allow him to reach new heights in whichever field he decides to pursue but his passion for entertainment is certain and this is where I see him scoring. He is incredibly talented and knowledgeable when it comes to what the audience wants to see on screen, and we, here at Paradigm, look forward to what he has in store next.
When one thinks about Russia invading the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, it’s hard not to imagine it being a cakewalk for the Russians. For instance, none of these countries have any fighters or tanks, according to orders of battle available at GlobalSecurity.org. Russia, it goes without saying, has lots of both.
So, how might NATO keep these countries from being overrun in a matter of days, or even hours? Much depends on how much warning is acquired. The United States plans to deploy an Armored Brigade Combat Team to Europe to join the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is getting upgraded Strykers.
Still, when Russia can send a formation like the First Guards Tank Army, the Americans will face very long odds until more forces can arrive by sea. That will take a while, and the Russians will likely use bombers like the Tu-22M Backfire to try to sink them, as described in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising.
That said, the United States has a way to even the odds. One of the best is to use aircraft to take out tanks. In World War II, planes like the P-47 would be used against German tanks, as seen in this video. P-47s would fire rockets or drop bombs and each would kill a tank or two if they were lucky.
Today, there are more…surer ways to kill tanks. One of the best ways to kill a lot of tanks very quickly is to use a cluster bomb called the CBU-97. According to designation-systems.net, this bomb carries 10 BLU-108 submunitions, each of which has four “skeets.” Each skeet has an infra-red sensor, and fires an explosively-formed projectile, or EFP.
The EFP is capable of punching through the top armor of a tank or infantry fighting vehicle. So, each CBU-97 can take out up to 40 tanks, armored personnel carriers, or infantry fighting vehicles.
While fighters like the A-10 or F-15E can carry a decent number of CBU-97s, the B-1B Lancer can carry as many as 30. That allows it to take out up to 1,200 armored vehicles. The problem is that to use CBU-97s effectively, you have to get close enough for anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles.
But the CBU-97 can take something called the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser kit. This kit adds an inertial navigation system. According to designation-systems.net, this allows the bomb, now designated CBU-105, to hit within 85 feet of an aimpoint. When dropped from 40,000 feet, the bomb can hit targets ten miles away.
Not bad, but still a little too close for comfort.
That is where the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser-Extended Range, or WCMD-ER comes in. This adds wings to the inertial navigation system, and the CBU-97 now is called the CBU-115, and it can hit targets up to 40 miles away.
This is what would allow a small force of B-1Bs — maybe six planes in total — to deliver a deadly knockout punch against a formation like the First Guards Tank Army. The B-1Bs would launch from way beyond the range of most missiles or guns.
The Russians’ only hope would be to send fighters like the Su-27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum to try to shoot down the B-1s before they can drop their cluster bombs. Not only would the Flankers and Fulcrums have to fight their way through NATO fighters, but in all likelihood, there would be surface ships like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the Baltic Sea as well.
In all likelihood, the B-1s would be able to drop their bombs and then make their getaway with the help of a fighter escort. With over 7200 skeets being dropped on the First Guards Tank Army, the Russians are likely to suffer very heavy casualties — buying NATO time to get reinforcements to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
There’s no shortage of media featuring the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life at war or in the military. In fact, as we come out of the biopic zeitgeist and set our sights toward the digital era, the number of films, television shows, movies, and other forms of content featuring these elements is only growing. But not all depictions of combat are created equal.
It’s easier to make a film about war than it is to stay true to its source — so, which movies treat its combat with the most respect and realism? We asked some veterans, and here’s what they had to say.
While Christopher Nolan didn’t take home the 2018 Oscar for this particular war blockbuster, “Dunkirk” has gained universal acclaim as one of the best World War II films to date. It tells the story of trapped British and French forces attempting to evacuate a war-torn beach in May 1940, while German forces closed in. The clean-shaven soldiers may not be a testament to the details, but “Dunkirk” thrives on its atmosphere and closed cinema, which is used to communicate the overall gravity of the battle.
“‘Dunkirk’ succeeds in recreating the plight of tending to your fellow soldier while being under constant threat of bombardment,” said Tan Vega, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. With gritty visuals and stellar performances, the film uses tight angles and extreme close-ups to create and emanate panic, desperation, and fear to its audience. In moments of true cinema, we can examine the bonds forged between the troops, as well as the intense pressure they’re under to survive.
With Empire Magazine lauding the Omaha Beach landing as “the best battle sequence of all time,” this entry should come as no surprise. “Saving Private Ryan” uses its artistic license to enrich its characters and depict realistic events of war in a way that had never been done before. The movie focuses on the personal journey of a few soldiers venturing behind enemy lines to save fellow soldier Private James Ryan.
“The most realistic thing about ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is nothing is off the table,” said Gay Dimars, a veteran of the Vietnam War. “The water’s bloody, the soldiers are nauseous, and as an audience, we’re there with them.” However, Steven Spielberg did sacrifice historic authenticity in favor of dramatic effect — the film’s climax is strewn with inaccuracies, but with top-notch performances depicting the effect of war and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the film solidifies its place among the best war movies ever made.
Platoon 1986 Final battle scene with Charlie Sheen
“Platoon” is the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. The script capitalizes on Oliver Stone’s experiences in various combat units to expertly depict the severity of combat as well as the rippling effects of war. As such, the toughest critiques of the movie come from Stone’s former platoonmates, some of whom say they felt too exposed after the film’s release. “Platoon” was shot on location in the Philippines and utilizes long lenses, careful lighting, and talented actors to craft the atmosphere of the Vietnam War and inform the audience of the confusion, psychological trauma, and deep-seated violence Vietnam veterans endured.
Black Hawk Down Battle Scenes 2001 NO FINAL BATTLE
The film “Black Hawk Down” has faced criticism for wavering from the highly accurate book upon which it was based. “The combat is realistic, but many details miss the mark,” said Sharm Ali, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “What it does really well is explain how a noble cause could go south really quickly.”
“Black Hawk Down” tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu, during which U.S. service members were sent to kill or capture Somalia’s key warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, in a broader effort to stabilize a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. However, Somali forces shot down their helicopters and effectively trapped them on the streets of the foreign country, forcing them to fight their way out. The film is most impressive in its depiction of the harsh realities of urban combat that soldiers were forced to endure during the Somali conflict, and was notable in that it lifted the curtain on the types of operations the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were conducting at the time.
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.
High-Mobility Artillery Rockets systems are trucks that can take highly capable rockets right to the frontlines in combat, but before HIMARs, the Army experimented with strapping rockets onto helicopters in Vietnam and using them as true helicopter artillery — the Redlegs of the sky.
To be clear, this wasn’t air support or close combat attack; this was artillery in the air. These units belonged to the division artillery unit, their fires were controlled by the fire direction center, and they specialized in massed fires, not the pinpoint strikes of close combat attack helicopters.
It all started in 1962 when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Gen. Hamilton Howze called on military leaders to rethink land warfare, and subordinate leaders came back with a few concepts that might make the Army more flexible. One of those suggestions was to make artillery more responsive by creating two new unit types: aerial rocket artillery battalions and aviation batteries.
The aerial rocket artillery battalions were filled with helicopters strapped with dozens of rockets that they would fire en masse when receiving fire missions. The aviation batteries were helicopter units that could pick tube artillery, usually howitzers, and deliver them to firing points near the battlefield on short notice where they would then be used normally.
For infantrymen in combat, this meant they could request artillery support nearly anywhere in country and get it fast, even if they had been deposited by helicopter miles ahead of any artillery units.
Aerial rocket artillery didn’t focus on precision strikes, but they had the firepower to make up for it.
(U.S. Army illustration)
Tube artillery delivered via helicopter is still used today and worked about as you would expect. Usually, military planners would identify the need for artillery ahead of time and send in the gun, suspended under Chinooks, as soon as ground troops secured the firing point. But sometimes, the tube artillery would be requested after combat was already underway, and the Chinooks would rush the howitzers in.
The real craziness, though, came with the aerial rocket artillery battalions, the true helicopter artillery. These were UH-1 Iroquois or AH-1 Cobras modified to carry a loadout almost entirely composed of rockets. For AH-1s, this could be four rocket pods that each carried 19 rockets for a total armament of 76.
At times, they flew with Hueys modified to carry lights. This was valuable in any fight at night, but was especially great for base security where the “light ships” illuminated targets and tube artillery pounded it with rounds.
An early UH-1B in an aerial rocket artillery configuration without door guns.
But the rockets were effective in combat, so commanders kept asking for them. In addition to the quick response ground troops could get with helicopter artillery, there was the fact that the birds were more responsive on target than a howitzer conducting indirect fire could ever hope to be.
That’s because the pilots were the artillery officers, and they could adjust their fire on the fly, watching rounds impact and shifting fire as they went with limited guidance from the troops in the fight on the ground. And, aerial rocket artillery was fired from much closer to the target than tube artillery typically was.
The U.S. has long led the world in stealth technologies, and for a time, it looked as though America’s love for all things low-observable would extend all the way into rotorcraft like the RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter.
Despite being only a decade away from ruin, the Soviet Union remained a palpable threat to the security and interests of the United States at the beginning of the 1980s. However, elements of America’s defense apparatus were beginning to look a bit long in the tooth after decades of posturing, deterrence, and the occasional proxy war.
With the Soviet Union was believed to still be funneling a great deal of money into their own advanced military projects, the U.S. Army set to work on finding a viable replacement for their fleets of Vietnam-era light attack and reconnaissance helicopters in its forward-looking Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) program. The program’s intended aim was fairly simple despite the complexity of the effort: To field a single rotorcraft that could replace the UH-1, AH-1, OH-6, and OH-58 helicopters currently parked in Army hangars.
By the end of the decade, the Army announced that two teams, Boeing–Sikorsky and Bell–McDonnell Douglas, had met the requirements for their proposal, and they were given contracts to develop their designs further. In 1991, Boeing–Sikorsky won out over its competition and was awarded $2.8 billion to begin production on six prototype helicopters.
The need for a stealth helicopter
The Boeing–Sikorsky helicopter, dubbed the RAH-66 Comanche, was intended to serve as a reconnaissance and light attack platform. Its mission sets would include flying behind enemy lines in contested airspace to identify targets for more powerful attack helicopters or ground units, but the RAH-66 wouldn’t have to back away from a fight.
In order to meet the Army’s demands, the Comanche would need to be able to engage lightly armored targets as well as identify tougher ones for engagement from more powerful AH-64 Apaches.
Most importantly, the RAH-66 needed to be more survivable than the Army’s existing scout helicopters in highly contested airspace, which meant the new Comanche helicopter would need to borrow design elements from existing fixed-wing stealth platforms like the F-117 Nighthawk to defeat air defense systems and missiles fired from other helicopters.
The Boeing–Sikorsky team quickly set about building the program’s first two prototypes, leveraging the sort of angular radar-reflecting surfaces that gave the Nighthawk its enigmatic visual profile. Those surfaces themselves were made out of radar-absorbing composite materials to further reduce the RAH-66’s radar signature. The stealth helicopter also managed engine exhaust by funneling it through its shrouded tail section, reducing its infrared (or heat) signature to further limit detection.
Its specially designed rotor blades were canted downward to reduce the amount of noise the helicopter made in flight. Finally, a full suite of radar warning systems, electronic warfare systems, and chaff and flare dispensers would help keep the RAH-66’s crew safe while they rode behind Kevlar and graphite armor plating that could withstand direct hits from heavy machine gunfire.
The result of all this technology was a stealth helicopter said to have a radar cross-section that was 250 times smaller than the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter it would replace, along with an infrared signature reduced by a whopping 75%. It wasn’t just tough to spot on radar or hit with heat-seeking missiles either. The Comanche helicopter was also said to produce just half the noise of a traditional helicopter. While the rotorcraft could still be heard as it approached, that reduced signature would mean enemy combatants would have less time to prepare before the Comanche closed in on them.
The RAH-66 was about more than stealth
With the Comanche’s stealth technology spoken for, next came the armament. The stealth helicopter was expected to engage both ground and air targets in a combat zone, and its munitions reflected that goal. Like the stealth fighters to come, the Comanche limited its radar cross-section by carrying its weapons internally, including a retractable 20-millimeter XM301 Gatling cannon and space inside the weapons bays for six Hellfire missiles. If air superiority had been established and stealth was no longer a pressing concern, additional external pylons could carry eight more Hellfires.
However, if the Comanche was sent out to hunt for other attack and reconnaissance helicopters behind enemy lines, it could wreak havoc with 12 AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles. Again, with air superiority established, an additional 16 Stinger missiles could be mounted on external pylons.
The pilot and weapons officer onboard would have utilized a combination of cockpit displays and helmet-mounted systems similar to the more advanced heads up and augmented reality displays found in today’s advanced stealth aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
It was equipped with a long-range Forward-Looking Infrared Sensor to help spot targets, as well as an optional Longbow radar that could be mounted above the rotors to allow the pilot to peak just the radar over hills or buildings–giving the crew important situational awareness of the battlefield ahead while limiting exposure of the rotorcraft itself. Once the Comanche spotted a target, a laser could be used to lock on for its onboard weapons systems.
The RAH-66 Comanche’s air-to-air credibility was further bolstered by the platform’s speed and agility. With a top speed just shy of 200 miles per hour and enough acrobatic prowess to nearly pull off loop-de-loops, the Comanche was fast, agile, and powerful… but by the time the first two Comanche prototypes were flying, it was also widely seen as unnecessary.
A warrior without a war
The first Comanche prototype took to the skies in January of 1996, five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The stealth helicopter had been envisioned as a necessary weapon amid the constant defense posturing of the Cold War, but without the looming threat of a technologically capable geopolitical boogeyman, the Comanche began to look more like a pile of problems, rather than solutions.
The Comanche was truly forward-reaching in its capabilities, but as is so often the case with first-of-its-kind platforms, that reach came with a long list of cost overruns and technological setbacks. The helicopter had proven to be far heavier than anticipated; So heavy, in fact, that some wondered if the stealth helicopter would even get off the ground with its intended weapons payload. And its weight was just the beginning of the Comanche’s headaches.
Just about every system intended for use aboard the RAH-66 met with setback after setback. Bugs in the software meant to manage the helicopter’s operation proved difficult–and expensive–to root out, the 3-barrel cannon wasn’t as accurate as intended, the target detection system failed to meet expectations, and efforts to both reduce weight and pull more power of the Comanche’s intended T800 turboshaft engines were both slow going.
Each of these issues could have been resolved with enough time and money, but the U.S. Army was already getting tired of waiting for the Comanche to live up to its hype. Then, September 11, 2001 shifted America’s defense priorities for decades to come. A year after the terror attack that would prompt a shift toward anti-terror campaigns, the Army reduced their order for Comanches by almost half, and just two years later, the program itself was canceled.
After decades of development and nearly $7 billion spent on the Comanche program, it came to a close with just two operational prototypes ever reaching the sky.
The Comanche’s life after death
While originally slated for a production run of 1,213 RAH-66 Comanche helicopters, the U.S. Army only ever took possession of the original two prototypes… but that doesn’t mean the program was a complete loss. In fact, among Defense Department insiders, the RAH-66 Comanche program is still seen in a fairly positive light. The difference in perception of the Comanche’s success or lack thereof could potentially be attributed to elements of other classified programs the American public isn’t privy to.
In 2011, Deputy Undersecretary of the Army Thomas Hawley was asked a question by a journalist about the “failed Comanche program.”
“I wouldn’t say Comanche was necessarily a failure of procurement… Comanche was a good program.”
-Deputy Undersecretary of the Army Thomas Hawley
A similar sentiment was also registered by (now former) Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker:
“Much of what we’ve gained out of Comanche we can push forward into the tech base for future joint rotor-craft kinds of capabilities.”
-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker
These assertions make some sense, but are also easily dismissed thanks to the noticeable lack of stealth rotorcraft in America’s arsenal. How could lessons from the Comanche really be used if the premise itself doesn’t carry over into further programs?
One high-profile possibility came in the form of images that emerged following the raid on Osama Bid Laden’s compound that resulted in the death of the terrorist leader… As well as the loss of one highly specialized Blackhawk helicopter. Immediately following the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, images began to surface online of a very unusual tail section that remained intact after American special operators destroyed the downed helicopter to ensure its technology couldn’t fall into enemy hands.
The tail is clearly not the same as the tail sections of most Blackhawk helicopters, and its angular design certainly suggests that it must have come from a helicopter that was intended to limit its radar return. Eventually, stories about America’s Special Operations Stealth Blackhawks, or Stealth Hawks, started making the rounds on the internet, and recently, the team over at The Warzone even managed to dig up a shot of just such a stealthy Blackhawk–likely a predecessor to the helicopters used in the historic raid.
While these modified stealth helicopters are not Comanches, the modifications these Blackhawks saw were almost certainly informed by lessons learned in the RAH-66 program. Reports from the scene of the raid also indicate how quiet the helicopters were as the American special operations team closed with their target. Clearly, efforts made to reduce the helicopters’ radar cross section, infrared signature, and noise level were all in play during the Bin Laden raid, just as they were within the Comanche prototypes.
And then there’s Sikorsky’s latest light tactical helicopter, the S-97 Raider. Its visual cues are certainly reminiscent of the company’s efforts in developing the RAH-66, and its performance is too. The S-97 Raider has been clocked at speeds in excess of 250 miles per hour–faster even than the proposed Comanche’s top speed–and like the Comanche, the Raider is nimble to boot.
The RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter may have been a bit too forward reaching for its time, but the lessons learned throughout its development and testing have clearly found new life in other advanced programs. With defense officials increasingly touting the value of stealth to increase combat aircraft survivability, it seems certain that we’ll see another stealth helicopter enter service at some point; And when we do, it will almost certainly have benefitted from the failures and successes of the Comanche.