It started out as an unguided air-to-air rocket. Then, someone had the idea to put a sensor on it that could pick up the heat put out by an airplane’s engine. Add a control system and you’ve got yourself an effective, deadly missile — one that has been relied upon for decades by American pilots and their allies.
That missile is the AIM-9 Sidewinder, and it’s come a long way since its combat debut in 1958. The Taiwanese scored this missile’s first kill when it was carried on and fired by North American F-86 Sabre fighters. Today, the missile is a key part of the weapons suite for the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning stealth fighters.
The AIM-9 wasn’t even called AIM-9 when it was being designed. Its original name was the AAM-N-7, which is fairly decipherable for those familiar with missile naming conventions. It was designed as an Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) for use by the Navy (N) and it was the seventh in the sequence (7). The old naming system was in use until 1963, when it was replaced by the one used today.
The missile was solely a Navy weapon for its first few years. The United States Air Force backed the GAR-2 Falcon, which later got the designation AIM-4. Eventually, the Navy’s missile won out and the Air Force adopted it.
Since then, the Sidewinder has been one missile that American pilots can rely on. During the Vietnam War, it scored 82 kills. The missile also saw action in the Falklands War, Desert Storm, and even scored the first air-to-air kill for the F/A-18E Super Hornet over Syria. The missile has gone from a short-range (maximum range of 2.6 nautical miles for the AIM-9B) tail-chase missile to an all-aspect medium-range (22 nautical miles) missile in the form of the AIM-9X.
The AIM-9X will be around for a long time, with an improved version of the missile slated to enter service in 2022.
Learn more about the Sidewinder in the video below:
The art of sniping is more than just proper cover, concealment and sight alignment; it demands vigilant situational awareness, flawless timing and solid arithmetic skills.
U.S. soldiers had a five-day Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) with Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers at a base outside of Amman, Jordan, in October 2019. The Military Engagement Team-Jordan (MET-J), 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard; in collaboration with Jordan Operational Engagement Program (JOEP) soldiers; 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 42nd Infantry Division, New Jersey National Guard.
“As a group, we [MET-J, JOEP] were able to collaborate and come up with a good exchange,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Johnny Vidrio, with MET-J, 158th MEB, AZANG, “The sniper field is a perishable skill so you have to use it a lot to retain it. We are working with the JAF to keep our exchanges going.”
A U.S. Army soldier, with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, adjusts the scope of a Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers’ rifle during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
Snipers are known for their specialization in shooting targets from long-range distances with a modified weapon, as well as their reconnaissance abilities. Vidrio, who served as the Sniper SMEE team lead, has more than 20 years’ experience with various weapons systems through his civilian and military occupations.
A U.S. Army Soldier, with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, discusses a mathematical equation with Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) Soldiers during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
Vidrio explained how the MET-J shared information on how the U.S. Army executes sniper tasks and in turn, the Jordanians shared their way of doing the same task. The exchange not only reviewed basic sniper skills but incorporated different approaches to instruct the material to other soldiers. The two nations were able to work through the Jordanians’ Basic Sniper Manuel which provided a platform for the Jordanian snipers to hone their basic skills and enhance their teaching techniques.
A rifle faces downrange during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange between Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, and the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
“The more you teach with a group, the more comfortable you will feel teaching by yourself,” explained Vidrio, “That’s what we were doing, helping them feel comfortable about teaching.”
MET-J facilitates and conducts military-to-military engagements with regional partners within the U.S. Army Central area of responsibility in order to build military partner capability and capacity, enhance interoperability and build relationships.
A Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) sniper looks downrange through a tactical monocular during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
Areas covered during the Sniper SMEE included setting up a comfortable firing position, weapons maintenance, correcting malfunctions, zeroing and determining wind values, to name a few. The snipers discussed how half value, full value, tail and headwinds affect the drift of a bullet. They examined techniques to find the directional movement of wind, such as observing the path of dust, smoke, trash or mirage waves, that are near an intended target. Target range estimation was calculated through a mathematical equation, but each nation used a different formula.
Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers practice setting up firing positions during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
“They [JAF] have a different calculation for range estimation, this was new to American snipers,” said Vidrio “We learned a whole new way of estimating distance and ranges.”
SMEEs allow open information flow and an opportunity for coalition soldiers to work together, learn and grow from one another, which is beneficial to both counties. The United States is committed to the security of Jordan and to partnering closely with the JAF to meet common security challenges.
Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers hold certificates of appreciation given to them by U.S. Army Soldiers after the completion of a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
One soldier who expressed favor in ongoing SMEEs with U.S. Army was JAF Sgt. 1st Class Ghareeb Alaomary, sniper instructor and logistics coordinator. He too specifically found value in the transfer of knowledge with the arithmetical equation calculations for target distance and range. “The mathematic equation formulas given [by the U.S.] were new information for us,” explained Alaomary, “It added to their [JAF snipers] knowledge to help make more accurate calculations.”
Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers pose for a photo after the completion of a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at Joint Training Center-Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
According to Alaomary, the exchange between the two countries was engaging and an abundance of wisdom was shared, which resulted in a successful exchange. They plan to take the knowledge gained through the Sniper SMEE back to their individual units to cross-train with their comrades.
“I would like to give a special thanks for the effort you [U.S. Army] have dedicated to the students and the valuable information you have provided,” said Alaomary.
A U.S. Army Soldier, with 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 42nd Infantry Division, New Jersey National Guard, looks downrange through a tactical monocular during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange between the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) and Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)
The U.S. military has a long-standing relationship with Jordan to support our mutual objectives by providing military assistance to the JAF consistent with our national interests. Our people and governments have a historic, unbreakable, strategic relationship that spans decades and different administrations. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region but in the world as a whole. This isn’t going to change.
The United States Air Force says they intend to pit an artificial intelligence-enabled drone against a manned fighter jet in a dogfight as soon as next year.
Although drones have become an essential part of America’s air power apparatus, these platforms have long had their combat capabilities hampered by both the limitations of existing technology and our own concerns about allowing a computer to make the decision to fire ordnance that will likely result in a loss of life. In theory, a drone equipped with artificial intelligence could alleviate both of those limiting factors significantly, without allowing that life or death decisions to be made by a machine.
As any gamer will tell you, lag can get you killed. In this context, lag refers to the delay in action created by the time it takes for the machine to relay the situation to a human operator, followed the the time it takes for the operator to make a decision, transmit the command, where it must then be received once again by the computer, where those orders translate into action. Even with the most advanced secure data transmission systems on the planet, lag is an ever-present threat to the survivability of a drone in a fast paced engagement.
Unmanned aerial vehicle operators in training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman BreeAnn Sachs)
Because of that lag limitation, drones are primarily used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and air strikes, but have never been used to enforce no-fly zones or to posture in the face of enemy fighters. In 2017, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone successfully shot down another, smaller drone using an air-to-air missile. That success was the first of its kind, but even those responsible for it were quick to point out that such a success was in no way indicative of that or any other drone platform now having real dogfighting capabilities.
“We develop those tactics, techniques and procedures to make us survivable in those types of environments and, if we do this correctly, we can survive against some serious threats against normal air players out there,” Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, said at the time.
Artificial intelligence, however, could very feasibly change this. By using some level of artificial intelligence in a combat drone, operators could give the platform orders, rather than specific step-by-step instructions. In effect, the drone operator wouldn’t need to physically control the drone to dogfight, but could rather command the drone to engage an air asset and allow it to make rapid decisions locally to respond to the evolving threat and properly engage. Put simply, the operator could tell the drone to dogfight, but then allow the drone to somewhat autonomously decide how best to proceed.
A hawk for hunters
The challenges here are significant, but as experts have pointed out, the implications of such technology would be far reaching. U.S. military pilots receive more training and flight time than any other nation on the planet, but even so, the most qualified aviators can only call on the breadth of their own experiences in a fight.
Drones enabled with some degree of artificial intelligence aren’t limited to their own experiences, and could rather pull from the collective experiences of millions of flight hours conducted by multiple drone platforms. To give you a (perhaps inappropriately threatening) analogy, you could think of these drones as the Borg from Star Trek. Each drone represents the collected sum of all experiences had by others within its network. This technology could be leveraged not just in drones, but also in manned aircraft to provide a highly capable pilot support or auto-pilot system.
“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple thousand hours of experience,” explains Steve Rogers, the Team Leader for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Autonomy Capability Team 3 (ACT3). “What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?”
As Rogers points out, such a system could assess a dangerous situation and respond faster than the reaction time of even highly trained pilots, deploying countermeasures or even redirecting the aircraft out of harm’s way. Of course, even the most capable autopilot would still need the thinking, reasoning, and directing of human beings–either in the cockpit or far away. So, even with this technology in mind, it appears that the days of manned fighters are still far from over. Instead, AI enabled drones and autopilot systems within jets could both serve as direct support for manned aircraft in the area.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)
By incorporating multiple developing drone technologies into such an initiative, such as the drone wingman program called Skyborg, drone swarm initiatives aimed at using a large volume of cooperatively operating drones, and low-cost, high capability drones like the XQ-58A Valkyrie, such a system could fundamentally change the way America engages in warfare.
Ultimately, it may not be this specific drone program that ushers in an era of semi-autonomous dogfighting, but it’s not alone. From the aforementioned Skyborg program to the DARPA’s artificial intelligence driven Air Combat Evolution program, the race is on to expand the role of drones in air combat until they’re seen as nearly comparable to manned platforms.
Of course, that likely won’t happen by next year. The first training engagement between a drone and a human pilot will likely end in the pilot’s favor… but artificial intelligence can learn from its mistakes, and those failures may not be all that long lived.
“[Steve Rogers] is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said during a June 4 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event. “If he does it, great.”
The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet are both “lightweight” fighters. Each was intended to complement a larger, heavier fighter (the F-15 for the F-16, the F-14 for the F/A-18). But they also have some big differences. Let’s look over some of them:
1. The number of engines
The F-16 has one engine – the F/A-18 has two. This is largely due to their differing operational environments. The F-16 operates from land bases, while the F/A-18 operates primarily from carriers.
Of course, this also bears a lot on survivability. If an F-16 loses an engine, the pilot’s gotta grab the loud handle. An F/A-18, on the other hand, can limp back to the carrier.
2. Operating from a carrier
The F-16 is tied to land bases – its landing gear cannot handle the shock of hitting a carrier deck. On the other hand, the F/A-18 can readily shift between a carrier operation and flying from land bases.
3. Initial weapons suite
Did you know the F-16 originally didn’t have any radar-guided missiles? Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that early A/B versions (Blocks 1, 5, 10, and 15) didn’t have the ability to fire the AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-7 Sparrow. The Block 15 ADF was the first version to carry a radar guided missile, the AIM-7.
The F/A-18, though, could carry radar-guided missiles from day one. This was because while the F/A-18 was replacing an attack plane, it was also intended to help defend the carrier.
4. Pure speed
The F-16 has a top speed of Mach 2.0. The F/A-18 can only reach Mach 1.8. Still, these planes are both very fast when they need to be. But in a pure drag race, the F-16 will win – and by a decent margin.
5. How they refuel
The F/A-18 uses a probe to latch into a drogue. The good news is that it can use just about anyone’s tankers – even USAF tankers, which are modified to carry drogues in addition to their booms.
The F-16s in the United States Air Force inventory, though, have a receptacle for the boom from a KC-135, KC-10, or KC-46 to plug into. Part of this is because the Air Force also has to refuel big bombers and cargo planes that need a lot of fuel quickly – and the boom can do just that.
6. Movie career
The F-16 has a clear edge in this one. In the movie “Iron Eagle,” the F-16 is arguably the star alongside Louis Gossett, Jr. (Chappy Sinclair) and Jason Gedrick (Doug Masters). The F/A-18 played a role in “Independence Day,” but it wasn’t quite the star the F-16 was in Iron Eagle.
So, what other differences can you think of between these two planes?
The Pentagon office in charge of outfitting America’s secret warriors is asking industry for new technologies that will allow commandos to target and track bad guys through goggles or a head’s up display in their weapon sights, see colors at night and fly small surveillance drones that are nearly undetectable.
The new technologies sound like something from science fiction, but the spec ops gear buyers want to see what industry has in the works that could get to troops behind enemy lines in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya.
According to an official industry solicitation, U.S. Special Operations Command will hold a so-called “Military Utility Assessment” at Camp Blanding, Florida, in mid-November to see what capabilities are out there to enhance special operators’ ability to see the enemy in adverse conditions, surveil bad guy positions at great distances and tag and track targets without detection.
Current night vision equipment either enhances available light like stars or the moon or uses thermal imaging to see heat. Both technologies can be digitally modified to present the images in limited color, but the detail is usually poor.
The special operations community wants to see if there are options out there that help commandos identify objects and people in the dark with better resolution.
The command is looking for night optics “that aid in target discrimination, mobility, combat identification, identify friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner.”
“The need is from clear sky no moon to daylight conditions,” USSOCOM says. “A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination is of interest.”
The special operators will consider systems that either attach to existing goggles, scopes or optics or entire new night vision equipment that can replace them. The key is keeping down the weight and increasing battery life, the command says.
SOCOM also wants to see if there are options out there for passive targeting scopes that will allow commandos to move a cursor to their target and share that data with other assaulters and snipers. They even want to be able to call in air strikes using the embedded targeting capability.
Clearly, unmanned aerial vehicles have become an important part of warfighting these days, and SOCOM wants to see how it can take advantage of the bleeding edge of technology for unmanned systems. The command has asked industry if it can field drones that are unseen and unheard above a target and can see details like vehicle license plates or the types of bombs loaded on a parked plane.
The special operators want “technologies that can be programmed to orbit or perch and stare at an area or object of interest,” it said. “Technology should be visually and acoustically undetectable by persons or systems resident at an observed area or object of interest, while providing users VNIIRS 9 or better video quality in real time.”
SOCOM is asking for technology proposals that are either on the drawing board or have prototypes ready for field testing.
Nicknamed the “Dragon Lady” and developed by Lockheed Martin, the U-2 spy plane was made famous in the 1960s when one was shot down conducting a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union.
Today, the surveillance jet continues its duty as it searches for threats in Afghanistan. Once the pilot detects a potential hazard to coalition forces, it locks onto the attacker’s location and sends the signal 7,000 miles away to Beale Air Force Base in California. Once the base receives the incoming traffic, the surveillance analysts decode the information and track the enemy movement.
As the analysts locate the threat, the surveillance team quickly intervenes and relays the vital information down to ground troops. With the highly sophisticated onboard radio system, the U-2 spy plane can then assist in choreographing with nearby fighter jets to initiate a strike tactic on enemy forces below before they manage to assault allied forces.
With its incredible versatility, the spy plane can conduct its mission from an altitude of 70,000 feet.
The life of a foreign partner nation force member was saved last month through MARSOC’s first operational use of freeze-dried plasma.
The foreign ally sustained life-threatening injuries during an operation in the US Central Command area of operations, requiring battlefield trauma care made possible by MARSOC training and availability of the new product.
According to US Navy Lt. Eric Green, force health protection officer, freeze-dried plasma is providing better medical care on the battlefield. Green is the study coordinator with MARSOC Health Services Support. He explained that freeze-dried plasma is a dehydrated version of plasma that replaces the clotting factors lost in blood. Typically, plasma is frozen and thawed over a period of five days, preventing quick use in a deployed setting.
Another disadvantage of traditional blood products for special operations is the need for additional equipment, such as refrigerators and electricity. This creates a higher target profile for special operations forces (SOF) teams, and presents a logistical challenge for Navy corpsmen. Use of such equipment, as well as timely casualty evacuation options, is not always possible during SOF missions. FDP eliminates the need for this equipment and buys precious time for corpsmen to treat the injured before evacuation.
“I think it reassures Raiders that when they’re in harm’s way, they have a life-saving product in the medical bags of their very capable corpsmen,” said Green.
With the need for freezing and refrigeration eliminated, FDP can sustain a wider range of temperatures and is therefore more stable and reliable than traditional plasma during military operations. The dehydrated state of the plasma allows for a shelf life of two years and is compatible with all blood types. Before MARSOC received approval to begin use of freeze-dried plasma, battlefield treatment options for hemorrhaging – the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield – were mainly limited to tourniquets and chemical clotting agents.
“It is stable in the field unlike whole blood or if we were to do fresh plasma or frozen plasma, so our guys can carry it with them in their resuscitative packs,” said US Navy Capt. Necia Williams, FDP primary principal investigator and MARSOC force surgeon with MARSOC HSS. “They can quickly reconstitute it, infuse it to somebody, and it buys time that is so critical.”
According to US Navy Lt. Aaron Conway, Marine Raider Regiment surgeon with MARSOC HSS, reconstitution happens within six minutes and patients start showing improvement in vital signs minutes later. The precious time bought using FDP allows medical personnel to transfer patients to a hospital where they can receive full medical care. Conway, MARSOCs FDP principal investigator, said during medical care, FDP’s effects can be physically seen most in a patient when surgery and recovery is happening.
Since December 2016, every MARSOC special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman deploys with a supply of freeze-dried plasma and the experience to administer it. By October 2017, every MARSOC unit deployed will be outfitted with FDP.
Once the FDP has returned unused from a deployment it goes into quarantine and gets used during training exercises to prepare Navy corpsmen in its use. Corpsmen go through a rigorous academic and practical training process to prepare them for the field. They get practical experience before deploying and learn how to reconstitute and identify the indications to use FDP.
“We’ve trained with it, we’ve sourced it to our guys, and now we’ve actually got the combat wounded application of the product,” said Conway. “I think it is a tip of the spear life-saving measure.”
This life-saving measure is manufactured by French Centre de Transfusion Sanguine de Armees and used since 1994. They provide the US with FDP while it is pending Food and Drug Administration approval and is under an Investigative New Drug protocol. Currently the use of FDP has been allowed within US Special Operations Command. MARSOC was the second service component within US Special Operations Command to receive approval for use of freeze-dried plasma.
In 2010, US Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, then-SOCOM commander, learned that US allied forces were using FDP successfully in Iraq and Afghanistan. McRaven wanted it made available to US forces, so he pushed his plan and helped expedite the process between the White House and the FDA.
The main roadblock getting FDA approval was the historical spike of Hepatitis B after World War II, causing the stoppage of production and use by US forces, resulting in rigorous testing and changes to the original formula. Plasma donors now undergo more testing for infectious diseases to prevent similar events. Freeze-dried plasma is expected to receive FDA approval by 2020.
It may surprise the younger counterterrorism buffs out there to know that France maintains one of the oldest and most experienced counterterror units in the world, the Group D’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. If you don’t speak French, all you need to know is that they’re gendarmes, soldiers who can arrest you and – when asked – will come to find you outside of France to arrest you.
This is not something you want to happen to you, as some foolish terrorists found out when they seized the holiest site in Islam at gunpoint.
Islam’s version of the end of the world has a number of minor and major signs to look out for. The major part begins with the appearance of the Mahdi, Islam’s redeemer, who brings the world’s Muslim community back to the religion, helps kill the anti-Christ, and paves the way for the rule of Jesus (yes, Christianity’s Jesus, same guy) on Earth.
Over the years, many people have come forward claiming to be the Mahdi. There was Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, the leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, killed near Najaf in 2003. The founder of the Nation of Islam, W. Fard Mohammed, claimed to be the Mahdi as many of the Nation’s followers do. Others have followers make the claim for them, like a leader of a Turkish sex cult.
“Listen, I never said I am the redeemer of Islam, I just didn’t say you were wrong to say I am.”
But no one in recent memory left quite the impression on history like Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, who led his personal army, al-Ikhwan, to capture the Grand Mosque in Mecca at gunpoint. The Grand Mosque is home to the Kabaa, the holiest site in Islam and destination for all the world’s Islamic pilgrims, a voyage every Muslim must make once in their lifetime. There are a number of other important holy sites contained within.
And in 1979, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani and an estimated 300-600 followers took it over, along with the tens of thousands of people inside. They actually let most of them go, but not before killing the poorly-armed security guards, cutting the phone lines, and sealing themselves in. They were well-armed, well-trained, and well-funded. The Saudis were going to need some help.
“I choose Pierre.”
That’s where GIGN comes in. While the truly ignorant can laugh about how “French commandos” sounds when the only history they know is from World War II, the rest of you need to know these guys wear ski masks and carry .357 Magnums as their sidearm. When the GIGN come to kill you, they want to make sure the job is done. Their training course has an astonishing 95 percent washout rate. While the US was toying with the idea of a special counterterrorism force, GIGN was probably retaking a cargo container ship somewhere.
Their job in Saudi Arabia would be no different, except they would also be training the Saudi and Pakistani special forces who would be going into the Grand Mosque with them.
Somewhere out there is a group of Pakistani commandos who pronounce “flashbang” with a little French accent. Fear those people.
The terrorists weren’t a bunch of desperate weirdos with a fundamentalist ideology. These guys were prepared to bring down the entire Saudi Kingdom while inciting other anti-Saud citizens to do the same. The terrorists immediately repelled the government’s counterattack and waited for whatever the King would throw at them next. GIGN is what came next. France sent three of their finest GIGN men who immediately began training their counterparts on how to effectively clear buildings of pesky terrorists. When the men were ready, they all prepared to storm the gates.
But there was a hitch. Muslim Saudi and Pakistani troops would be going in there alone because the Grand Mosque is forbidden to non-Muslims. Even when they’re trying to retake the mosque. Their GIGN mentors would have to sit back and wait to see how well they trained these men.
This photo of the captured militants doesn’t do justice to how well-trained they were.
Some 50 Pakistani SSG commandos and 10,000 Saudi National Guardsmen stormed the Grand Mosque after two weeks or so of being held by the terrorists. On Dec. 4, 1979, the militants were disbursed from the mosque and forced to hide about in the now-evacuated city of Mecca. The guardsmen and SSG men fared well against the terrorists, killing roughly 560 of them while others fled the scene into Mecca and the countryside, where most were captured.
After the Frenchmen left Saudi Arabia, the hubbub surrounding the Grand Mosque seizure didn’t die. Instead of crackdowns of unruly citizens, the King of Saudi Arabia opted instead to implement many the famous “sharia” laws Saudi Arabia suffered through for decades; the restrictions on women, powerful religious police, and more. Only in the 2010s has the kingdom seen a loosening of these religious laws.
There’s a common idea among people who get their gun education from movies and video games that all you need to make a firearm completely silent (or at least barely as loud as someone whispering, ”
pew“) is to attach a silencer to the front of it. For the record, they are sometimes called “silencers,” but they are still far from silent. The more accurate term is “suppressors.”
A suppressor works by dampening the gas that leaves the barrel after each shot. Inside the tube of the suppressor are rings, called baffles, that slow down the gas. When a round is fired normally, the gas leaves the barrel super hot and concentrated — creating a loud and beautifulbang sound. When fired out of a suppressed firearm, the gas is slowed by the baffles and leaves cooler and dispersed — creating a less-loud phut sound.
As for the pew that comes out of every gun in Hollywood spy movies, that is entirely a work of fiction. In a May 2011 episode of MythBusters, Jaime and Adam experimented with the effects of a suppressor on an un-suppressed .45 caliber and a 9mm handgun. They had a sound engineer record the decibels and fired three shots from each gun. They repeated the experiment using suppressors and compared the results to what we see in most films.
They found that the average level of the un-suppressed handguns was 161 dB, while the suppressed firearms came in at 128 dB. Decibels are a logarithmic loudness measurement, which means that 33dB difference is very significant. An ordinary conversation at 3ft registers at about 60 dB and is the baseline for relative loudness. Although significantly quieter, 128 dB is still roughly 115.2 times louder than that baseline conversation.
Turning the math into a real-world perspective, if someone were to say the word “bang” at a normal speaking voice from three feet away under nominal conditions, a suppressed handgun would be roughly just as loud firing from 34 feet away (or roughly the width of an average 4-lane street). An un-suppressed handgun reaches that same volume at 50.5 feet away. Both still above the 125 dB threshold of pain.
And it’s still not that “pew” sound.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah N. Petrock)
One of the benefits of having a suppressor on a firearm — a benefit many who use one can attest to — is that it brings noise below the 140 dB permanent damage mark. Along with the more control of sound in the battlefield, the Marine Corps has been eyeing adding suppressors on all of their rifles and an integrated suppressor on the new M27 infantry automatic rifle. Another benefit, especially on a handgun, is that the additional weight of a suppressor at a firearm’s business end helps with recoil control.
All of these are spectacular for troops, veterans, and civilian firearm owners. It just won’t ever make the whispered ” pew” of a Hollywood suppressor.
Air Force scientists and weapons developers are making progress developing swarms of mini-drones engineered with algorithms which enable them to coordinate with one another and avoid collisions.
Senior Air Force officials have said that the precise roles and missions for this type of technology are still in the process of being determined; however, experts and analyst are already discussing numerous potential applications for the technology.
Swarms of drones could cue one another and be able to blanket an area with sensors even if one or two get shot down. The technology could be designed for high threat areas building in strategic redundancy, Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Groups of coordinated small drones could also be used to confuse enemy radar systems and overwhelm advanced enemy air defenses by providing so many targets that they cannot be dealt with all at once, he said.
Zacharias explained that perhaps one small drone can be programmed to function as a swarm leader, with others functioning as ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platforms, munitions or communications devices. He also said there is great strategic and tactical value in operating a swarm of small drones which, when needed, can disperse.
“Do you want them to fly in formation for a while and then disaggregate to get through the radar and then reaggregate and go to a target? They can jam an enemy radar or not even be seen by them because they are too small. The idea is to dissagregate so as not to be large expensive targets. In this way if you lose one you still may have 100 more,” he explained.
An area of scientific inquiry now being explored for swarms of drones is called “bio-memetics,” an approach which looks at the swarming of actual live animals — such as flocks of birds or insects — as a way to develop algorithms for swarming mini-drone flight, Zacharias added.
“It turns out you can use incredibly simple rules for formation flight of a large flock. It really just takes a few simple rules. If you think of each bird or bee as an agent, it can do really simple things such as determine its position relative to the three nearest objects to it. It is very simple guidance and control stuff,” Zacharias said.
Also, small groups of drones operating together could function as munitions or weapons delivery technology. A small class of mini-drone weapons already exist, such as AeroVironment’s Switchblade drone designed to deliver precision weapons effects. The weapon, which can reach distances up to 10 kilometers, is engineered as a low-cost expendable munition loaded with sensors and munitions.
Air Force plans for new drones are part of a new service strategy to be explained in a paper released last year called “autonomous horizons.” Air Force strategy also calls for greater manned-unmanned teaming between drones and manned aircraft such as F-35s. This kind of effort could help facilitate what Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said about mini-drones launching from a high-speed fighter jet.
In the future, fighter aircraft such as the F-35 or an F-22 may be able to control drones themselves from the cockpit to enhance missions by carrying extra payload, extending a surveillance area or delivering weapons, Air Force scientists have said.
Zacharias explained this in terms of developments within the field of artificial intelligence. This involves faster computer processing technology and algorithms which allow computers to increasingly organize and integrate information by themselves – without needing human intervention. Human will likely operate in a command and control capacity with computers picking the sensing, integration and organization of data, input and various kinds of material. As autonomy increases, the day when multiple drones can be controlled by a single aircraft, such as a fighter jet, is fast approaching.
Drones would deliver weapons, confront the risk of enemy air defenses or conduct ISR missions flying alongside manned aircraft, Zacharias explained.
The Pentagon is in the early phases of developing swarms of mini-drones able launch attacks, jam enemy radar, confuse enemy air defenses and conduct wide-ranging surveillance missions, officials explained.
The effort, which would bring a new range of strategic and tactical advantages to the U.S. military, will be focused on as part of a special Pentagon unit called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO.
While the office has been in existence for some period of time, it was publically announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during the recent 2017 budget proposal discussions. The new office will, among other things, both explore emerging technologies and also look at new ways of leveraging existing weapons and platforms.
Carter said swarming autonomous drones are a key part of this broader effort to adapt emerging technologies to existing and future warfighting needs.
“Another project uses swarming autonomous vehicles in all sorts of ways and in multiple domains. In the air, they develop micro-drones that are really fast, really resistant. They can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9, like they did during an operational exercise in Alaska last year, or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert,” Carter said. “And for the water, they’ve developed self-driving boats which can network together to do all kinds of missions, from fleet defense to close-in surveillance, without putting sailors at risk. Each one of these leverages the wider world of technology.”
Meanwhile, the Office of Naval Research is also working on drone-swarming technology through an ongoing effort called Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology, or LOCUST. This involves groups of small, tube-launched UAVs designed to swarm and overwhelm adversaries, Navy officials explained.
“Researchers continue to push the state-of-the-art in autonomy control and plan to launch 30 autonomous UAVs in 2016 in under a minute,” an ONR statement said last year.
A demonstration of the technology is planned from a ship called a Sea Fighter, a high-speed, shallow-water experimental ship developed by the ONR.
Army Defends Against Mini-Drones
While swarms of mini-drones clearly bring a wide range of tactical offensive and defensive advantages, there is also the realistic prospect that adversaries or potential adversaries could use drone swarms against the U.S.
This is a scenario the services, including the Army in particular, are exploring.
The Army launched swarms of mini-attack drones against battlefield units in mock-combat drills as a way to better understand potential threats expected in tomorrow’s conflicts, service officials said.
Pentagon threat assessment officials have for quite some time expressed concern that current and future enemies of the U.S. military might seek to use massive swarms of mini-drones to blanket an area with surveillance cameras, jam radar signals, deliver weapons or drop small bombs on military units.
As a result, the Army Test and Evaluation Command put these scenarios to the test in the desert as part of the service’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The mini-drones used were inexpensive, off-the-shelf commercial systems likely to be acquired and used by potential adversaries in future conflict scenarios.
The drones were configured to carry special payloads for specific mission functions. Cameras, bomb simulators, expanded battery packs and other systems will be tested on the aircraft to develop and analyze potential capabilities of the drones, an Army statement said.
The mini-drones, which included $1000-dollar quadcopters made by 3-D Robotics, were placed in actual mock-combat scenarios and flown against Army units in test exercises.
“Acting as a member of the opposing force, the drones will be used for short-range missions, and for flooding the airspace to generate disruptive radar signatures. They will also be used as a kind of spotter, using simple video cameras to try and locate Soldiers and units,” an Army statement from before the exercise said.
There were also plans to fit the drones with the ability to drop packets of flour, simulating the ability for the swarm to drop small bombs, allowing the drones to perform short-range strike missions, the Army statement said.
“Right now there’s hardly anyone doing swarms, most people are flying one, maybe two, but any time you can get more than one or two in the air at the same time, and control them by waypoint with one laptop, that’s important,” James Story, an engineer with the Targets Management Office, Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, said in a statement last Fall. “You’re controlling all five of them, and all five of them are a threat.”
Aluminum has served in war since ancient times, but its most common application today is as armor, allowing for well-protected but light vehicles that can tear through rough terrain where steel would get bogged down. But aluminum has an unearned reputation for burning, so troops don’t line up to ride in them under fire.
Crewmen in the coupla of an M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle elevate the barrel during a 1987 exercise.
(U.S. Army Pfc. Prince Hearns)
Aluminum got its start in war as alum, a salt composed of aluminum and potassium. This was one of the earliest uses of aluminum in military history. Ancient commanders learned you could apply a solution of the stuff to wood and reduce the chances it would burn when an enemy hit it with fire.
As chemists and scientists learned how to create pure aluminum in the 1800s, some military leaders looked to it for a new age of weaponry. At the time, extracting and smelting aluminum was challenging and super expensive, but Napoleon sponsored research as he sought to create aluminum artillery.
Because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, it could’ve given rise to more mobile artillery units, capable of navigating muddy lanes that would stop heavier units. Napoleon’s scientists could never get the process right to mass produce the metal, so the ideas never came to fruition.
But aluminum has some drawbacks when it comes to weapon barrels. It’s soft, and it has a relatively low melting point. So, start churning out cannon balls from aluminum guns, and you run the risk of warping the barrels right when you need them.
Instead, the modern military uses aluminum, now relatively cheap to mine and refine, to serve as armor. It’s light, and it can take a hit, making it perfect for protection. The softness isn’t ideal for all purposes, but it does mean that the armor isn’t prone to spalling when hit.
But aluminum’s differences from steel extend deep into the thermal sphere. While aluminum does have a lower melting point than steel, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and specific energy (basically, it takes more heat to heat up aluminum than it does to heat up steel). So it can take plenty of localized heat without melting away.
An armored personnel carrier burns in the streets of Egypt during 2011 protests.
(In industrial applications that rely on aluminum burning, the process is usually started by burning another metal, like magnesium, which burns more easily and releases enough heat, and the aluminum is crushed into a fine powder and mixed with oxygen so that the soot doesn’t halt the reaction.)
In a book published in 1993, after the Bradley became one of the heroes of Desert Storm, he claimed that the vehicles survived because of changes made after those tests. But while the Army might have switched the locations where ammo was stored and other design details, they didn’t change the hull material.
But, again, aluminum does melt. And the few Bradley’s that did suffer extended ammo fires did melt quite extensively, sometimes resulting in puddles of aluminum with the steel frame sitting on top of it. This spurred on the belief that the aluminum, itself, had burnt.
The M2A3 Bradley is capable, but troops don’t love its aluminum hull.
(Winifred Brown, U.S. Army)
But aluminum melts at over 1,200 Fahrenheit, hot enough that any crew in a melting aluminum vehicle would’ve died long before the armor plates drip off. Aluminum is great at normal temperatures, providing protection at light weights.
And so aluminum protects vehicles like the M2 Bradley and the M113 armored personnel carrier. The new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that is slated to replace the M113 has, you guessed it, an aluminum hull. But while troops might enjoy the increased space, they’ll probably leave off any discussion of the vehicle’s material while bragging.
Let’s face it, today’s soldiers and Marines have a lot weighing on them.
Between gear, ammo, and weapons, some are carrying over 100 pounds. But how do you reduce that burden?
Barrett Firearms, which created the mighty M82A1 and M107 .50-caliber sniper rifles, has managed to do just that by improving the M240 medium machine gun. Now, the M240 is based on the FN MAG, which is is a classic machine gun used by many NATO allies.
This gun even replaced the M-60, which was the backbone of squad firepower for the U.S. military through Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The question comes: How do you improve a machine gun used by just about all of the Western world? The Army has developed the M240L, which uses titanium to lighten the gun, but they kept the riveted design, albeit with a 5-pound weight reduction.
However, Barrett managed make its 240LW medium machine gun five and half pounds lighter than the M240B without the use of exotic materials. The secret was in how they made the receiver. Barrett machined the receiver from forgings and welded them together, according to a brochure handed out at the National Defense Industry Association’s 2017 Armament Systems Forum.
Not only did this reduce the number of components from 64 to two, it also helped take about five and half pounds off the machine gun. The change also has boosted the reliability of the gun – by removing the rivets – which can be shaken loose by firing thousands of rounds.
There’s also less metal, due to the fact that there is no need to overlap the metal components.
Will the 240LW make an impact with the United States military? That remains to be seen, but it does show how Barrett manages to be very innovative when it comes to designing – or improving – small arms.
The US cyber strategy needs some major improvements if the country hopes to defend itself against threats from China, Russia, and other adversaries, according to a report released this week by a bipartisan group of senators.
Among its 80+ recommendations are the creation of a “national cyber director” overseen by new congressional committees on cybersecurity, more personnel trained in cyber operations, and increased funding to ensure federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission are equipped to carry out increasingly complicated missions.
“The U.S. government is currently not designed to act with the speed and agility necessary to defend the country in cyberspace,” concluded the report, the result of a year-long study by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a group created by Congress in 2018.
“We want this to be the 9/11 Commission Report without the 9/11,” Sen. Angus King, one of the commission’s co-chairs, told Cyberscoop, adding that the group is “trying to urge and foment change without a catastrophic event.”
To accomplish that goal, the commission suggested the US adopt a “layered cyber deterrence” strategy. Broadly, that involves encouraging allies to promote responsible behavior in cyberspace, shoring up vulnerabilities in private and public networks that enemies could exploit, and being able to retaliate against attackers.
“China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea all probed U.S. critical infrastructure with impunity,” the report said, while globally connected networks allowed criminals to commit cyber theft and extremist groups to raise funds and recruit followers.
“American restraint was met with unchecked predation,” the report said, advocating that the US take a more active role in deterring bad actors.
However, the report did not address some of the more controversial topics surrounding cybersecurity, like encryption — a frequent target of US Attorney General William Barr and others in law enforcement — and which offensive capabilities the US might be willing to give up to secure similar agreements from adversaries.
The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was modeled after President Dwight Eisenhower’s Project Solarium, which was formed in the 1950s to help the US devise a new foreign policy strategy around the Cold War, showing that the US is fundamentally rethinking how it’s approaching new digital battlegrounds as the nature of warfare evolves.