The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.
The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.
Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.
The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.
The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.
There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.
Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.
Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.
The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.
It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.
And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.
The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.
In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)
You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”
What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.
In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.
On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.
The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.
By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).
Fast forward to January 1989.
American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.
In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own.
President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology.
Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech.
Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap.
The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.
Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.
The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked.
That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it.
The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.
CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).
With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early.
Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.
They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.
John Browning’s most famous creation, at least in the United States, is the ubiquitous Model 1911. It’s everywhere, and probably within reach of well more than a few people reading this article. The 1911’s active service life in military organizations is pretty much over. However, another of Browning’s continues to serve — the Model 1919 Machine Gun.
The Model 1919 was essentially an air-cooled Model 1917. It was chambered in the powerful and effective .30-06 round, modernized following extensive ballistic testing in the post-World War I years. Unlike most ground-mounted WWI-era machine guns, the 1919 was air cooled, had a heavier barrel, and was easier to maintain under combat conditions than its water-cooled cousins.
It didn’t require all the accouterments of a water-cooled gun, such as a bulky water jacket, water, and a condensing can. The 1919 was originally fed by a cloth belt and designed for vehicles—or a very solid (and heavy) tripod. It had a reasonable rate of fire at 500 rounds per minute on average. By WWII, it was the standard U.S. light machine gun, serving alongside Browning’s M1917 and the legendary Browning M2 HMG.
Like most of Browning’s designs, the 1919 was very reliable for the day and age in which it was produced (insert Glock joke here). It was also apparent early on that the 1919 was versatile. By the end of WWII, it was mounted on tanks, in aircraft, and found in various calibers, including .303 British. It served in virtually every Allied army, and if you dig hard enough, you can even find pictures of enemy troops using captured 1919s. It was very effective against personnel, and when loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, it was also effective against thin-skinned armored vehicles.
In the air, the modified M1919 was called the ANM2. This variant was specifically modified for aerial warfare, boasting a blistering rate of fire at 1,200-plus rpm. The improvements in aircraft technology and design during the period meant rifle-caliber machine guns were only effective when their throw weight could be boosted by increased rates of fire, and by mounting anywhere from two to six of the guns. Feeding them with the most destructive type of ammunition available, generally one form or another of API-T (Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer), helped.
While the ANM2 served valiantly, it was not as effective as its Browning M2 brethren as an anti-aircraft machine gun. In the decade before WWII, fighter aircraft were increasingly fitted with heavier machine guns, generally .50 BMG Browning variants in the U.S., or 20mm (or larger) cannons in Europe. It wasn’t the fault of the ANM2 that it was less effective against aircraft; it was the fault of the ordnance officers who decided to mount it in aircraft in the first place.
In the infantry role, the M1919 was successful within its limitations. Keep in mind the M1919 was designed in an era when the belt-fed machine gun was essentially a static weapon. The exception to this trend at the time was the MG08/15, which was an intentional departure designed specifically to make the infantry machine gun more portable and useful. By WWII, the MG08/15 concept (a highly mobile, portable general-purpose machine gun [GPMG]) evolved into the MG34 and eventually the MG42 in German service. This is where the M1919’s combat failings became apparent.
Although accurate, reliable, and possessing a good sustainable rate of fire, it was clumsy and awkward on a mobile battlefield compared to the MG34 and MG42. The tripod was large and unwieldy, and it was not always easy to emplace. U.S. troops frequently had to improvise with the 1919, more or less propping it up against or on the WWII equivalent of “a rock or something” when the tripod simply wouldn’t work under the conditions.
As a result, the M1919A6 was developed. This variant added a buttstock and a bipod to the M1919 in attempt to turn it into a light machine gun, more like the MG34 or MG42. However, it was still about a pound heavier than the standard M1919 without the tripod, weighing in at 32 pounds. It was an improvised solution akin to adding a bipod and a buttstock to a boulder. It was still awkward; although it was a bit less unwieldy and more stable, it appeared far too late in the war to have much of an impact.
Again, don’t blame the gun, blame the ordnance weenies.
Until the M60 (a less-than-fantastic GPMG, but a product of the “made here” school of ordnance development) was made widely available during the Vietnam War, the U.S. infantry were saddled with the M1919 and M1919A6 combination.
As a vehicle-mounted machine gun, the 1919 excelled. As a matter of fact, it does such a good job it’s still in service in many places across the globe. It’s been modernized, now using disintegrating link belts instead of old-fashioned cloth belts. Most 1919s still in service were converted to 7.62 NATO, as well, to ease the strain on logistics. Notably, however, one 1919 variant, the M37 Coaxial MG, was somewhat notoriously problematic, again mostly because some people just can’t resist fixing something that works.
There have been some interesting variants of the 1919 over the years. Several ANM2s were converted into a variant called the Stinger. The Stinger was basically a scavenged aircraft-mounted gun with a bipod, carry handle, and buttstock. The extremely high rate of fire was welcomed (for the six or so guns which appear to have actually made it into combat), but the Stinger only served in limited numbers. Its primary claim to fame was being the weapon “Terrible” Tony Stein used during the combat action that earned him a Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima.
If you ever get a chance to fire a ground-mounted M1919, we highly recommend you do so. As it was originally designed, it’s accurate, reliable, and very easy to shoot. As a machine gun for a fixed position, it can easily hold its own against any gun of its era. It’s easy to manipulate, strip, and clean, and it’s very robust in its most common and most current variant, the 1919A4. However, remember it’s almost a 100-year-old design; don’t expect it to perform like a modern machine gun.
The Su-27 Flanker and the MiG-29 Fulcrum were both designed and built by Russia to fight World War III side-by-side. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, that conflict didn’t happen. However, the two Russian fighters would square off over Eastern Africa.
Since Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, a border dispute had been simmering between the two countries, mostly over the territory surrounding the town of Badme. Things heated up in 1998, when Eritrean forces stormed in and took the town.
According to a report by ACIG.org, the Eritreans had been building up their military for just such an occasion. Among their purchases were ten refurbished MiG-29s from Russia. The intention was to use the planes to secure air superiority on the battlefield.
When the war started, Ethiopia began to search for a counter to the Eritrean Fulcrums. Their F-5 Freedom Fighters and MiG-21 Fishbeds were clearly outclassed. Their choice to change that situation would be the Su-27 Flanker. Eight surplus airframes were purchased from Russia in December of 1998. By the end of the following February, they would be in action.
On Feb. 25, 1999, in a pair of engagements, Ethiopian Su-27s would shoot down two MiG-29s. The next day, Eritrean MiG-29s shot down a pair of Ethiopian MiG-21s. Ethiopia would claim that a “Capt. Asther Tolossa” would shoot down a MiG-29, but the existence of Capt. Tolossa is disputed.
In March, Ethiopian Flankers claimed two more Eritrean Fulcrums.
The last encounters in that war between Fulcrum and Flanker would take place in May 2000. On May 16, Ethiopia claimed that one of their Flankers shot down an Eritrean Fulcrum. Two days later, another Eritrean Fulcrum was shot out of the sky by a Flanker. The war ended in June 2000 with Ethiopia re-claiming the seized territory, and holding on to it despite an international court ruling favoring Eritrea.
When all was said and done, ACIG noted that the Ethiopian Flankers had shot down at least five, and as many as seven, Eritrean MiG-29s, as well as one Learjet. The Eritrean MiG-29s had shot down three MiG-21 Fishbeds and a MiG-23 Flogger.
In that war, the Flanker had bested the Fulcrum, and cemented its place as one of Russia’s hottest exports. Ironically, Eritrea was among the countries to buy Flankers, operating two of those planes according to World Air Forces 2017.
Lighter weight protective body armor and undergarments, newer uniform fabrics, conformal wearable computers and integrated sensors powered by emerging battery technologies — are all part of the Army’s cutting-edge scientific initiative aimed at shaping, enhancing and sustaining the Soldier of the Future.
The U.S. Army has set up a special high-tech laboratory aimed at better identifying and integrating gear, equipment and weapons in order to reduce the current weight burden placed on Soldiers and give them more opportunities to successfully execute missions, service officials said.
A main impetus for the effort, called Warrior Integration Site, is grounded in the unambiguous hopef reducing the weight carried by today’s Army infantry fighters from more than 120-pounds, down to at least 72-pounds, service officials explained.In fact, a Soldier’s current so-called “marching load” can reach as much as 132-pounds, Army experts said.
“We’ve overloaded the Soldier, reduced space for equipment and tried to decrease added bulk and stiffness. What we are trying to do is get a more integrated and operational system. We are looking at the Soldier as a system,” Maj. Daniel Rowell, Assistant Product Manager, Integration, Program Executive Office Soldier, told Scout Warrior in an interview during an exclusive tour of the WinSite facility.
Citing batteries, power demands, ammunition, gear interface, body armor, boots, weapons and water, Rowell explained that Soldiers are heavily burdened by the amount they have to carry for extended missions.
“We try to document everything that the Soldier is wearing including weight, size and configuration – and then communicate with researchers involved with the Army’s Science and Technology community,” he added.
The WinSite lab is not only looking to decrease the combat load carried by Soldiers into battle but also identify and integrate the best emerging technologies; the evaluation processes in the make-shift laboratory involve the use of computer graphic models, 3-D laser scanners, 3-D printing and manequins.
“This is not about an individual piece of equipment. It is about weight and cognitive burden – all of which contributes to how effective the Soldier is,” Rowell said.
The 3-D printer allows for rapid prototyping of new systems and equipment with a mind to how they impact the overall Soldier system; the manequins are then outfitted with helmets, body armor, radios, water, M-4 rifles, helmets, uniforms, night vision, batteries and other gear as part of an assessment of what integrates best for the Soldier overall.
In addition, while the WinSite is more near term than longer-term developmental efforts such as the ongoing work to develop a Soldier “Iron Man” suit or exoskeleton, the Army does expect to integrate biometric sensors into Soldier uniforms. This will allow for rapid identification of health and body conditions, such as heart rate, breathing or blood pressure – along with other things. Rapid access to this information could better enable medics to save the lives of wounded Soldiers.
Lighter weight fabrics for uniforms, combined with composite body armor materials are key elements of how the Army hope to reach a notional, broad goal of enabling Soldier to fight with all necessary gear weighing a fraction of the current equipment at 48-pounds, Rowell explained.
WinSite is primarily about communication among laboratory experts, scientists and computer programmers and new Soldier technology developers – in order to ensure that each individual properly integrate into the larger Soldier system.
After the US-led raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and several civilians, Yemen is reportedly barring the US from further special-operation ground missions against terrorists in the region.
The Air Force is now aged well into its seventies and the branch that started as an offshoot of the U.S. Army is looking at having a child of its own — the U.S. Space Force. Even though the mere need for the U.S. Air Force is one that is still debated in some circles, it’s pretty safe to say the service is here to stay, and for good reason. The men, women, and aircraft of the U.S. Air Force have accomplished some of the most incredible feats in military history.
When you look back at the legacy of the USAF, there are so many important, pivotal events that either established the Air Force as one to be reckoned with, cemented the legendary status of some great American heroes, or made the difference when it was needed the most. There’s a reason these moments will live forever in our collective imagination. Like the mythological tales of great heroes setting out to impress the gods, these are the Air Force’s finest moments.
You have to admit, it’s ballsy to go into combat in a rig made of canvas and popsicle sticks.
(U.S. Air Force)
1. The St. Mihiel Offensive – World War I
For four years, the St. Mihiel Salient was a giant bulge in the lines of the Western Front. In 1914, the German Army managed to create a 250-square mile indentation on the front while trying to capture the fortress at Verdun. When the United States joined World War I in 1918, General John J. Pershing demanded an area of the front that was exclusively the responsibility of American forces. He got it.
An important aspect of that battle was the air war over St. Mihiel, the largest air battle of the entire war. 1,476 allied aircraft took on 500 German aircraft over four days in September 1918. The First U.S. Army Air Service took command of air elements from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Portugal. Combined force air power destroyed enemy aviation, achieved complete air superiority, and aided ground forces while denying enemy air reconnaissance assets.
From the USAF’s raid on the Ploesti Airfields in Romania.
(U.S. Air Force)
2. World War II
An essential element to early Nazi successes in World War II relied on the new tactic of blitzkrieg, which required large but very fast movements of concentrated forces and massive air firepower. Before entering the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces saw the importance of air power in the skies over London and were shown that power in force at Pearl Harbor. After entering the war, the Air Forces were tasked with gaining air superiority, crushing the Germans’ ability to wage war, and prepare Fortress Europe for an allied invasion.
During World War II, being on a bomber crew was deadlier than even landing on the beaches of the Pacific with the U.S. Marines. As the war came home to Germany, the Air Force only stepped up the intensity of the bombing campaign while proving that American airmen and technology were more than a match for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the Nazi air forces struggled to put up a fight as fuel, pilots, and ammunition were in such short supply against the overwhelming air power of the USAAF.
In the Pacific theater, the Air Force immediately brought the pain as fast as they could after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid started out the war with Japan by reminding them that they weren’t out of the United States’ long reach. The Air Force fought alongside the Navy in as many pitched air battles as were needed, but the real strength of the Air Force came at the end of the Navy and Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign. As air bases were set up closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, Army Air Forces bombers pummeled mainland Japan with firebombs, crippling Japanese industry until two days in August 1945 changed the world forever: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Pacific War for good.
In all your life, you’ll never be this cool.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. The Tuskegee Airmen – World War II
In the days before the integration of the Armed Forces, African-Americans served primarily in support roles, and usually as enlisted men. That all changed in the lead up to World War II when President Roosevelt ordered the Army to begin training black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field – in the heart of the segregated South. It was a time when Americans widely believed that black people could not be trained to use advanced technological equipment, especially aircraft.
Not only were the college-educated Tuskegee Airmen able to fly and operate aviation technology, they were really, really good at it. Tuskegee Airmen flew some 15,000 sorties in the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II, risking their lives and the reputation of their entire race on their performance. Their success rate on bomber escort missions was twice as high as other groups in the 15th Air Force and, over the course of the war, they took down hundreds of enemy planes, thousands of enemy railcars, and even sank an enemy destroyer.
The massive successes of the more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen led to the integration of the Armed Forces after the war and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the first black Amy Air Force pilots, became the first African-American general of the newly-created U.S. Air Force.
The Original Grubhub.
4. The Berlin Airlift – Cold War
The first battle in the ideological war that pit Western Capitalism against Eastern Communism wasn’t fought with guns or bombs, it was fought with food. After WWII, Berlin was divided into four zones, each administered by one of the victorious European Allies. The area surrounding the city was entirely Soviet-dominated. The German capital was, effectively, nestled deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany. As Cold War tensions mounted, the USSR cut off all land routes to the Western-occupied parts of the city in an effort to starve out the capitalist allies. Any help to Berlin could only come through a dedicated air corridor.
In the days before massive cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy, the U.S. Air Force and the Western Allies launched what became known as the Berlin Airlift, a massive coordinated cargo hauling campaign that (at its height) saw an aircraft land in Berlin every single minute. German ground crews were soon able to unload an aircraft within 20 minutes in order to make sure the city was nurtured with the 394,509 tons of food, coal, and other supplies the city would need to survive the almost year-long Soviet siege of the city.
5. MiG Alley – Korean War
During the Korean War, the Air Force was again put to the test. The Nazis developed jet-powered fighters by the end of World War II, but even then, it was an imperfect technology. By the time the Korean War saw Communist forces engage the United Nations Coalition on the Korean Peninsula, both sides were still flying propeller driven aircraft. That soon changed. As the war ground on through December of 1950, the United States still had no jet-powered answer to the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter.
Then, finally, came the F-86 Sabre. The swept-wing design and the skill of UN and American pilots were able to make short work of MiG-15 fighters. In the infamous “MiG Alley” – the Northern area of North Korea, near its border with China – where Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean fighters waited at high altitudes to come down raining death on UN fighters, featured massive jet vs. jet air battles. Air Force F-86 pilots had a stunning 10-1 kill ratio.
Robin Olds is the reason for the Air Force’s “Mustache March” tradition.
6. Operation Bolo – Vietnam War
The early days of the air war over Vietnam didn’t go so well for the USAF. The Vietnam War’s kill ratio is a dismal but disputed 2-1. Air Force sorties coming to the landward side of Vietnam from bases in Thailand were picked up by superior North Vietnamese early warning radar and intercepting Communist planes were able to wait for the incoming Air Force planes. Once inside North Vietnam, Air Force pilots had only their eyes to help guide them. Air Force pilots would always end up on the defensive against skilled North Vietnamese pilots and surface-to-air missile batteries.
Air Force legend and triple ace Robin Olds devised a way to take advantage of the increasing boldness of Vietnamese pilots. In “Bolo,” Olds created what looked like a standard USAF F-105 bombing run to North Vietnam’s radar. Enemy MiG-21s made a beeline for what they thought were the usual F-105 Thunderchief bombers only to find Olds and his fleet of F-4 Phantoms ready for air-to-air combat. Without suffering a single loss, the Air Force downed seven enemy MiG-21s, changing the way the Air Force fought in the air. In the weeks that followed, North Vietnam lost half of its combat planes to U.S. airmen.
Behold: The reason the movie “Jarhead” has no climactic battle scenes.
(U.S. Air Force)
7. Operation Desert Storm
The air war of Operation Desert Stom was one of the most massive and successful air campaigns ever. Since Coalition aircraft could roam the skies in the region virtually unopposed. The buildup of men, materiel, equipment, and aircraft was one of the largest airlift operations in military history (even bigger than the Berlin Airlift). By the time the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went, the U.S. Air Force was more than ready to take the initiative.
Starting Jan. 17, 1991, the Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties against Iraqi targets and dropped more than 88,000 tons of ordnance. Like a modern-day Noah’s Ark story, the Air Force pummeled Iraq for some 40 days and 40 nights. After the U.S. Air Force smashed some 38 Iraqi aircraft, those pilots still in the air fled to Iran (who they just finished an eight-year war with) rather than face the U.S. Air Force in combat. The Gulf War ended in Iraqi defeat on Feb. 23, 1991.
The 64th anniversary of the U-2 spy plane’s historic, and accidental, first flight came in early August 2019.
While much about the Dragon Lady has changed in the past six decades — most of the 30 or so in use now were built in the 1980s, and they no longer do overflights of hostile territory, as in the 1960 flight in which Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union — the U-2 is still at the front of the military’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, lurking off coastlines and above battlefields.
The U-2 is probably best known for what pilots call “the optical bar camera,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.
“It’s effectively a giant wet film camera,” about the size of a projector screen, that fits in the belly of the aircraft and carries 10,500 feet of film, Patterson said during a panel discussion about the U-2 and its mission.
The camera has improved greatly since the 1950s. “What we can do with that, for instance, in about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California,” Patterson said. “The fidelity is such that if somebody is holding a newspaper out … you can probably read the headlines.”
US Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loading test film into an onboard camera for a test in preparation for a U-2 mission at a base in Southwest Asia in 2008.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)
The aircraft’s size and power allow it to carry a lot of hardware, earning it the nickname “Mr. Potato Head.”
“We can take the nose off, and we can put a giant radar on the nose, and you could actually image … out to the horizon, which, if you think about it, from 70,000 feet, is about 300 miles,” Patterson said. “So if you’re looking 360 degrees, you can see 600 miles in any direction.”
Another option is “like a big digital camera,” Patterson said. “It’s got a lens about the size of a pizza platter, and it has multiple spectral capabilities, which means it’s imaging across different pieces of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually pull specific data that these intel analysts need to actually identify what is this material made out of.”
“We also carry what’s called signals payloads, so we can listen to different radars, different communications,” Patterson said. “We have a number of antennas all across the aircraft [with which] we’re able to just pick up what other people are doing.”
“Some of these sensors can see hundreds and hundreds of miles, so even if we’re not overflying, you can get a real deep look at what you actually want to see,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman, also a U-2 pilot, said at the event.
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen preparing a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 13, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
‘Just a sensor’
The U-2 is “just a sensor in a broader grid that the United States has all over the world … feeding data to these professionals,” Patterson said.
Whether it’s radar imagery or signals intercepts, “We bring all that on board the aircraft, and we pipe it over a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world where we have a team of almost 300 intel analysts,” Patterson said.
“So while we’re sitting by ourselves over a weird part of the world doing that ISR mission, all the information we’re collecting is going back down to multiple teams around the globe,” he added. “They’re … distilling it, turning it into usable reports for the decision makers, and [getting] that information disseminated.”
Capt. Joseph Siler, the chief of intelligence training with the 492nd Special Operations Support Squadron, was tasked leading those efforts.
“I loved talking to the [U-2] pilots, and … having that pilot [who] is actually understanding the context of where they’re at and is able to dynamically change direction and help us, it just brings something to the fight,” especially when sudden changes require a new plan, Siler said at the same event, during a panel discussion about the mental and physical strain of Air Force operations.
A U-2 pilot signaling flight-line personnel while taxiing at Beale Air Force Base in California on Sep. 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valentina Viglianco)
“I got more of the quick-time, actionable intelligence” from U-2s, Siler said. “It’s all going into this common picture, but that’s where they fit into it.”
That doesn’t mean the U-2 can’t play a role in the action on the ground as it unfolds.
“We have multiple radios on board,” Patterson said. “So let’s say you’re flying a mission over a desert somewhere and we have troops on the ground that are in contact. We’ll be talking directly to them sometimes, providing imagery.”
That imagery isn’t going straight from the U-2 to the troops, but “they can tell me what they need to listen to, where they need to look, and we’ll move the sensors to that spot, snap an image, kick it back over whatever data links we need to get it to the intel professionals,” he said. “They will do their rapid analysis and send that, again, to the forward edge, where those folks can take a look at it.”
“You can see troop movements. You can see things like that,” Patterson said. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking for [improvised explosive devices] and providing [that information] real-time to convoys and things like that. I’ve done that personally.”
US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greeting his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia in 2010.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
‘Constant, constant stress’
Patterson analogized the relay of information to a game of telephone.
It’s on “the airmen that are receiving that to be able to make that decipherable and useful,” Siler said of intelligence gathered by U-2s. “When I was in there, in that environment, receiving all that information and how that work, it’s just such a weird place. It’s different from traditional conflict.”
The waves of incoming information are a source of “constant, constant stress,” added Siler, who has spoken about his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m getting information from the U-2. I’m getting information from satellites. I’m getting information from an MQ-9, and I have an Army task force that’s about to go in, and there’s people’s lives that are going to be tested,” Siler said.
“What the intelligence community does is we look at all the information we can get, from whatever sensor it is, we pipe that together, and then we say, ‘All right, based upon what the U-2 is saying and what the Global Hawk is saying and what the satellites are saying, we believe this is the best route, this is the best time.'”
Final decisions about when and where to go are made by operators. But, Siler said, “you can imagine the sense of responsibility that these young airmen, 19, 20 years old, feel as they make those calls, and we say, ‘is that the bad guy or is that his 16-year-old son?'”
A U-2 pilot driving a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 during a low-flight touch-and-go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 15, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
The reason the U-2 funnels that intelligence back to crew members on the ground is that “it’s so much data that we just simply can’t process all of it on board,” Patterson said.
A U-2 pilot can key on an interesting signal picked up by a sensor, sending imagery to intelligence analysts on the ground. Those analysts can decide to look into it, routing a satellite to take a look or sending a drone to get photos and video.
The process can run the other way as well. A tip from social media can lead an analyst on the ground to send in a U-2 to gather photos and other imagery. If necessary, assets like a drone or an F-16 with video capability can be sent in for a closer look.
“As you start networking [these assets], using these algorithms and using these processing capabilities, if I hear a signal here, and somebody hears the same signal but they’re over here, you can instantly refine that” if the assets are in sync, Patterson said. “We’re able to map down some pretty interesting stuff pretty quick.”
A U-2 high above the earth.
(US Air Force)
But the goal is do it quicker, and the Air Force has been looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning to sort through all the data gathered by U-2s and other aircraft and sensors and make sense of it.
Integrating that into the broader intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission is still in its “infancy,” Nauman said.
“We know the capability’s there. We know the commercial sector is really doing a lot of development on that. They’re ahead on that frankly,” Nauman said. “We’re trying to figure out, A) how to catch up and be as good, and then Part B is what do we do with that, how do we make ourselves more effective with that.”
“Processing is getting really good, really fast, so there are a number of efforts to actually take a lot … of the stuff that we collect, running it through an algorithm at … what we call the forward edge — like right on board the aircraft — [and] disseminate that information to the fight real-time, without having to reach back, and those some of the projects that we’re working right now,” Patterson said, describing what senior leaders have called “algorithmic warfare.”
“It’s easier to put racks and racks of servers and [graphics processing units] on the ground, obviously, to do the processing, but how do we take a piece of that and move that to the air?” Nauman said. “I think that’s going to be kind of the follow-on step.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Marine Corps is hoping industry can make lightweight .50 caliber ammunition that provides machine-gunners with a 30 percent weight savings over existing linked belts of .50 caliber ammo.
Marine Corps Systems Command recently released a request for information to see if commercial companies have the capability to produce lightweight .50 caliber ammo that “will provide a weight savings when compared to the current M33 .50 cartridge in the DODIC A555 linked configuration,” according to the document released on FedBizOpps.gov.
“A belt of 100 Lightweight .50 Caliber cartridges with 101 links shall have a threshold overall weight of 24.6 lbs. or 15 percent weight savings compared to the legacy A555 configuration,” the document states. “A belt of 100 lightweight cartridges with 101 links shall have an objective overall weight savings of more than 20.3 lbs. or 30 percent compared to the legacy A555 configuration.”
Lightweight ammunition is not a new concept. Commercial companies continue to work new methods to lighten one of the heaviest necessities of warfare.
The Chesapeake Cartridge Corporation showed off its new line of nickel ammunition at SHOT Show 2018 in Las Vegas.
The shell casings, made of aluminum-plated nickel alloy, are lighter and stronger that traditional brass casings, Ed Collins, Chesapeake’s director for business development, told Military.com in January 2018.
The company is working toward creating ammunition that’s 50 percent lighter than conventional brass ammo. Currently, the company makes military calibers such as 9mm, 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO, but it plans to make it in additional calibers in the future.
Companies such as PCP Ammunition make polymer-cased ammunition, which offers up to a 30 percent weight savings compared to brass-cased ammo.
Textron Systems makes case-telescoped weapons and ammunition. The ammo concept relies on plastic case rather than a brass one to hold the propellant and the projectile, like a conventional shotgun shell.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Army has invested heavily in Textron’s concept, formerly known as Light Weight Small Arms Technology.
Textron doesn’t currently make .50-caliber, case-telescoped ammunition, but its 5.56mm CT ammo weighs about 37 percent less than standard belted 5.56mm.
Companies have until June 1, 2018, to respond to the RFI, the document states.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Since then, images of the Rangers and their vehicles — mostly Strykers with upgraded armor — have trickled out. And new video from Kurdistan24 and Rojava News gives an idea of what kind of firepower they’re packing. Hint: It’s a lot.
The Army usually deploys the minigun on helicopters for self-defense and landing zone suppression, but they’ve also appeared on everything from small boats to Humvees. The Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft crews deploy it on boats to support Navy SEALs and quickly destroy enemy craft. So, mounting them on a Stryker probably wasn’t too tough.
At least three vehicles in the video are carrying Javelin missiles strapped to the outside. While the Rangers would likely call for air strikes if they were threatened by hostile armor, the Javelins guarantee that they have a way to annihilate tanks if no jets are available in time. The operators can also call on Marine and Army artillery in the country.
The Marines and special operators are both involved in the fight to retake Raqqa, though it isn’t clear how much frontline fighting either is expected to do. The Marines are artillery troops equipped with 155mm howitzers, so they can fight 20 miles from the front lines but are still susceptible to attack if ISIS or other forces maneuver quickly.
But the special operators, with Strykers, M2s, Javelins, and miniguns, are equipped for a frontline fight even if they want to avoid one. If they do want to get into the fight, woe unto all ISIS fighters defending Raqqa right now.
Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.
Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”
On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.
“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”
“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.
The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.
The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.
The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”
Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.
Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.
The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.
CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.
In 2013, a former Soviet Navy officer named Maksim Y. Tokarev penned an article in the U.S. Naval War College Review called Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy. In the piece, Tokarev details how the USSR intended to use its Tupolev-22M Backfire bombers, a plan that had not been previously released.
The Soviets looked at Japanese tactics in WWII. They recognized Japan still had a fleet of capital ships but by then the nature of naval warfare had changed. Massive U.S. carriers became roving air forces in the oceans. Since much of their own naval and air forces were at the bottom of the Pacific, there was no way for the Japanese to effectively engage the U.S. forces.
The best way they could devise was a strategy as old as aviation in warfare: conduct the earliest possible strike to inflict such damage that the opponent is unable to launch its air forces. By 1944, the Japanese began these asymmetrical suicide attacks, widely known as kamikaze.
By the late 70s and early 80s, the Soviets were unable to create a carrier fleet to compete with the U.S. economically and politically. But they still had to create a strategy to deter U.S. Navy carrier task forces. So their idea was still centered around air combat, but their forces would be land-based, close to Soviet coastlines.
The tactics weren’t intended to look like kamikaze attacks, but in practice, not many Soviet sailors and airmen would be returning from these missions.
The USSR’s naval air force planned to send a fleet of 100 bombers armed with anti-ship missiles against any US aircraft carrier battle group, fully expecting to lose half of them to enemy action. This number would increase by 100 for every carrier. In their defense, these were calculated losses. Soviet planners wanted to slow the reactions of the task force’s entire air-defense system, to produce a “golden time” to launch a calculated missile strike.
Soviet planners learned U.S. interceptor crews were dependent on the opinions of air controllers, so the planners needed to find a way to fool those officers, to overload their sensors or relax their sense of danger by making attacking forces appear to be decoys, which were in reality full, combat-ready strikes.
In contrast, Soviet naval air forces did not trust the targeting information they got from satellites or other intelligence methods. To Soviet pilots, the most reliable source was the direct-tracking ship, a ship shadowing the U.S. fleet constantly sending back coordinates just in case war breaks out.
That’s not all. If war did break out, the shadowing ship was toast, and her captain knew it. So he was prepared to take appropriate action. Tokarev writes:
“At the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier’s position by radio, he would shell the carrier’s flight deck with gunfire…He could even ram the carrier, and some trained their ship’s companies to do so.”
The attacking planes would launch missiles from maximum range to distract the American crews while two reconnaissance TU-16 Badgers would attempt to breach into the center of the task force formation to find carriers visually, their only task to send its exact position to the entire division by radio.
No one in the Badger crews counted on a return flight. They were very aware they were flying a suicide mission.
“Why we are not getting a full tank of fuel, Vasily?”
Once the carrier was located, the main attack group would launch their missiles. Two to three strike groups would approach from different directions and at different altitudes. The main launch had to be made simultaneously by all planes.
The “golden time” opening for the missiles was just “one minute for best results, no more than two minutes for satisfactory ones. If the timing became wider in an exercise, the entire main attack was considered unsuccessful.”
The Soviets calculated twelve hits by conventional missiles would be needed to sink a carrier but single nuclear missile hit could produce the same result.
Because of the difficulty and accident rates associated with bailing out of, abandoning, or even in-flight refueling many Soviet-designed bombers, Soviet Naval Air Force bomber crews considered themselves suicide bombers anyway (even without an enemy). Officers on guided-missile ships assisting in a Soviet air raid counted on surviving a battle against a U.S. Navy carrier air wing for twenty or thirty minutes, tops.
All in all, the expected loss rate was 50 percent of a full strike, whether or not the objective number of U.S. or NATO warships were successfully hit.