The H-60 helicopter may have gotten its cinematic turn as the MH-60 Black Hawk in “Black Hawk Down.” But if you think that the H-60 is just about hauling troops, you’ve grossly under appreciated what’s arguably the most versatile rotary-wing airframe that has served in the U.S. military.
According to Flight Global, the H-60 serves operationally with the Army, Air Force, Navy, and United States Coast Guard. The Marine Corps is a holdout when it comes to operational use, but there are some H-60 airframes in service with HMX-1, which transports the president and other government officials.
UH-60s with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) 2nd Brigade Air Assault into a city in the Centcom Area of Responsibility during an operation to occupy the city. (Army photo by: SGT Luis Lazzara)
2. Anti-Submarine Warfare
The Navy saw this versatile airframe and turned it into an anti-submarine platform. The SH-60B Seahawk was the first, while the SH-60F Oceanhawk was designed to fly off carriers (it got a star turn in the novel “Red Storm Rising” when an ace ASW pilot killed several Soviet subs). The Navy soon began hanging missiles off the SH-60B, notably the AGM-119 Penguin. Later the Navy replaced the SH-60B and SH-60F with the MH-60R Seahawk.
3. Special Operations
The Black Hawks in “Black Hawk Down” were actually MH-60K special operations versions. These modified A-model Blackhawks flew with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and eventually were replaced by MH-60Ls (variants of the UH-60L).
Today, the MH-60M is in service with special operators.
4. Search and Rescue
The Coast Guard used the HH-60J Jayhawk for search and rescue missions. The Jayhawks operate either from shore or Coast Guard cutters.
5. Drug Interdiction
The Coast Guard is also involved in drug interdiction missions, so the HH-60J received an “Airborne Use of Force” package, including a .50-caliber sniper rifle and a 7.62mm machine gun, and became the MH-60J. These are being replaced by MH-60Ts.
Oh, and these helos can still perform the SAR mission of the HH-60J.
6. Combat Search and Rescue
This has been one mission that has gotten some attention a while ago. The Air Force used the HH-60G Pave Hawk to replace the famous “Jolly Green” HH-3s. After the HH-47 was cancelled, the replacement for the HH-60G will be the HH-60W.
The Navy’s dedicated version was the HH-60H, later replaced by the MH-60S.
7. Vertical Replenishment
The MH-60S Knighthawk replaced the HH-46 for the vertical replenishment mission for the Navy. The MH-60S can also be used for transporting troops (as seen in “Act of Valor,” when it runs Roark Engel’s SEALs into Mexico for the climatic op).
The “dust-off” has long been a mission of helicopters, you even see some taking wounded troops to the 4077th in the opening credits of “MASH.” The UH-60Q was one version in Army service, and it is being replaced by the HH-60M.
9. VIP Transport
The VH-60N serves with HMX-1, and at times serves as Marine One when a VH-3 Sea King is not available.
10. Electronic Warfare
The EH-60A Quick Fix was a version of the Blackhawk designed to mess with enemy communications. An improved version is the EH-60L.
11. Command and Control
One of the Black Hawks that got a lot of air-time in “Black Hawk Down” was one with two colonels sitting in it. That was the EH-60C, a command and control version.
The H-60 airframe has even developed a gunship version, known as the MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator. This packs the same M230 cannon as the AH-64 Apache, and it can carry the same suite of rockets and missiles as the Apache. Pretty nifty adaptation, even though it can’t carry troops – but maybe that will be for the next generation.
Lockheed is pitching the HH-60U to replace the last of the UH-1 Hueys in Air Force service. While the Marines are still using the UH-1Y Venom, it may just be a matter of time before the Marines get a version of their own.
After all, the letters X, Y, and Z are still available.
The Air Force and Lockheed Martin have now “validated” several new weapons on the F-22 Raptor to equip the stealth fighter with more long-range precision attack technology, a wider targeting envelope or “field of regard,” and new networking technology enabling improved, real-time “collaborative targeting” between aircraft.
The two new weapons, which have been under testing and development for several years now, are advanced variants of existing weapons — the AIM-9X air-to-air missile and the AIM 120-D. Upgraded variants of each are slated to be operational by as soon as 2019.
The new AIM-9X will shoot farther and reach a much larger targeting envelope for pilots. Working with a variety of helmets and display systems, Lockheed developers have added “off-boresight” targeting ability enabling pilots to attack enemies from a wide range of new angles.
“It is a much more agile missile with an improved seeker and a better field of regard. You can shoot over your shoulder. If enemies get behind me in a close-in fight, I have the right targeting on the plane to shoot them,” Ken Merchant, Vice President, F-22, Lockheed, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Raytheon AIM-9X weapons developers have told Warrior that the Block 2 variant adds a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition safety device that enhances ground handling and in-flight safety. Block II also features updated electronics that enable significant enhancements, including lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon datalink to support beyond visual range engagements, a Raytheon statement said.
Another part of the weapons upgrade includes engineering the F-22 to fire the AIM-120D, a beyond visual range Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), designed for all weather day-and-night attacks; it is a “fire and forget” missile with active transmit radar guidance, Raytheon data states.
An F-22 flyover.
(US Air Force photo)
The AIM-120D is built with upgrades to previous AMRAAM missiles by increasing attack range, GPS navigation, inertial measurement units, and a two-way data link, Raytheon statements explain.
“The new AIM-120D uses a better seeker and is more maneuverable with better countermeasures,” Merchant said.
As the Air Force and Lockheed Martin move forward with weapons envelope expansions and enhancements for the F-22, there is of course a commensurate need to upgrade software and its on-board sensors to adjust to emerging future threats, industry developers explained. Ultimately, this effort will lead the Air Force to draft up requirements for new F-22 sensors.
F-22 lethality is also getting vastly improved through integration of new two-way LINK 16 data link connectivity between aircraft, something which will help expedite real-time airborne “collaborative targeting.”
“We have had LINK 16 receive, but we have not been able to share what is on the Raptor digitally. We have been doing it all through voice,” Merchant explained.
Having a digital ability to transmit fast-changing, combat relevant targeting information from an F-22 cockpit — without needing voice radios — lessens the risk associated with more “jammable” or “hackable” communications.
Newer F-22s have a technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, which uses electromagnetic signals or “pings” to deliver a picture or rendering of the terrain below, allowing better target identification.
The SAR technology sends a ping to the ground and then analyzes the return signal to calculate the contours, distance and characteristics of the ground below.
An F-22A Raptor from the 27th Fighter Squadron “Fighting Eagles” located at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, fires an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile and an AIM-9M sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile at an BQM-34P “Fire-bee” subscale aerial target drone over the Gulf of Mexico during a Combat Archer mission.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Ammons)
The F-22 is also known for its “super cruise” technology which enables the fighter to reach speeds of Mach 1.5 without needing to turn on its after burners. This enables the fighter to travel faster and farther on less fuel, a scenario which expands its time for combat missions.
The fighter jet fires a 20mm cannon and has the ability to carry and fire all the air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons including precision-guided ground bombs, such Joint Direct Attack Munitions called the GBU 32 and GBU 39.
It also uses what’s called a radar-warning receiver — a technology with an updateable database called “mission data files” designed to recognize a wide-range of enemy fighters, much like the F-35.
Made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the F-22 uses two Pratt Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines with afterburners and two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles, an Air Force statement said. It is 16-feet tall, 62-feet long and weighs 43,340 pounds. Its maximum take-off weight is 83,500.
The aircraft was first introduced in December of 2005; the F-22 Raptor fighter jet delivered some of the first strikes in the U.S.-led attacks on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, when aerial bombing began in 2014, service officials told Warrior.
After delivering some of the first strikes in the U.S. Coalition-led military action against ISIS, the F-22 began to shift its focus from an air-dominance mission to one more focused on supporting attacks on the ground.
For the long term, given that the Air Force plans to fly the F-22 well into the 2060s, these weapons upgrades are engineered to build the technical foundation needed to help integrate a new generation of air-to-air missiles as they emerge in coming years.
“Our intent is to make sure we keep our first look, first shot, first kill mantra,” Merchant said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Innovation isn’t just a matter of creating something new. Rather, it’s the process of translating an idea into goods or services that will create value for an end user. As such, innovation requires three key ingredients: the need (or, in defense acquisition terms, the requirement of the customer); people competent in the required technology; and supporting resources. The Catch-22 is that all three of these ingredients need to be present for innovation success, but each one often depends on the existence of the others.
This can be challenging for the government, where it tends to be difficult to find funding for innovative ideas when there are no perceived requirements to be fulfilled. With transformational ideas, the need is often not fully realized until after the innovation; people did not realize they “needed” a smartphone until after the iPhone was produced. For this reason, revolutionary innovations within the DoD struggle to fully mature without concerted and focused efforts from all of the defense communities: research, requirements, transition, and acquisition.
Despite these challenges, the Army has demonstrated its ability to generate successful innovative programs throughout the years. A prime example is the recently-completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program.
The first implementation of FLIR gave the Army a limited ability to detect objects on the battlefield at night. Users were able to see “glowing, moving blobs” that stood out in contrast to the background. Although detectable, these blobs were often challenging to identify. In cluttered, complex environments, distinguishing non-moving objects from the background could be difficult.
These first-generation systems were large and slow and provided low-resolution images not suitable for long-range target identification. In many ways, they were like the boom box music players that existed before the iPhone: They played music, but they could support only one function, had a limited capacity, took up a lot of space, required significant power and were not very portable. Third Gen FLIR was developed based on the idea that greater speed, precision, and range in the targeting process could unlock the full potential of infrared imaging and would provide a transformative capability, like the iPhone, that would have cascading positive effects across the entire military well into the future.
Because speed, precision, and accuracy are critical components for platform lethality, 3rd Gen FLIR provides a significant operational performance advantage over the previous FLIR sensor systems. With 3rd Gen FLIR, the Army moved away from a single band (which uses only a portion of the light spectrum) to a multiband infrared imaging system, which is able to select the optimal portion of the light spectrum for identifying a variety of different targets.
U.S. Soldiers as seen through night vision.
The Army integrated this new sensor with computer software (signal processing) to automatically enhance these FLIR images and video in real time with no complicated setup or training required (similar to how the iPhone automatically adjusts for various lighting conditions to create the best image possible). 3rd Gen FLIR combines all of these features along with multiple fields of view (similar to having multiple camera lenses that change on demand) to provide significantly improved detection ranges and a reduction in false alarms when compared with previous FLIR sensor systems.
Using its wider fields of view and increased resolution, 3rd Gen FLIR allows the military to conduct rapid area search. This capability has proven to be invaluable in distinguishing combatants from noncombatants and reducing collateral damage. Having all of these elements within a single sensor allows warfighters to optimize their equipment for the prevailing battlefield conditions, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and survivability. Current and future air and ground-based systems alike benefit from the new FLIR sensors, by enabling the military to purchase a single sensor that can be used across multiple platforms and for a variety of missions. This provides significant cost savings for the military by reducing the number of different systems it has to buy, maintain and sustain.
We all love the A-10 Thunderbolt II, commonly known as the “Warthog.” For years now, this airframe has brought the BRRRRRRT and provided close air support to grunts on the ground. But the A-10 is actually older than many think.
For a combat plane, 46 is pretty old. Now, it’s not the grumpy, “get-off-my-lawn” level of old — the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress claims that honor. It entered service in 1952, making it old enough now to collect Medicare.
A number of A-10 Thunderbolts were painted green, but these days, they’re a plain gray.
At the time of the A-10’s introduction, NATO nations had half the tanks of signatories of the Warsaw Pact. The Warthog was intended to fight off those huge, armored hordes. The A-10’s GAU-8 30mm Gatling gun (that provides its signature BRRRRRT), was only part of the solution. The plane is also able to haul over eight tons of bombs, rockets, and missiles.
One missile is of particular note: The AGM-65 Maverick. The A-10 has been loaded up with several variants of this powerful weapon, mostly the AGM-65D and AGM-65G. These variants use imaging infra-red seekers and are able to hit targets in any condition, day or night, clear skies or bad weather.
The A-10 has been in service for over 40 years and, still, no plane has been able to truly replace it.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Melanie Norman)
The Maverick has a maximum range of 17 miles and packs either a 125-pound, shaped-charge warhead or a 300-pound, blast-fragmentation warhead. With this missile, the A-10 can pick off enemy anti-aircraft guns, like the ZSU-23, before closing in to drop bombs and give enemy tanks the BRRRRT.
Despite its age, the A-10 is slated to remain in service for a while. The Air Force is currently running the OA-X program in hopes of finding a true replacement, but the real solution may be to simply build more of this classic plane.
See how the Air Force introduced the A-10 back in ’72 in the video below.
What makes her unique is that the Sao Paolo is one of the last conventionally-powered aircraft carriers in service.
Most aircraft carriers today are nuclear-powered. The Foch and her sister ship Clemenceau — both named for French leaders in World War I — were to be replaced by a pair of nuclear-powered carriers. Only one of the new carriers was built, but France disposed of both carriers, selling the Foch to Brazil, and the Clemenceau to a scrapyard. The Foch was commissioned in 1963, and served with the French Navy for 37 years before she was sold to Brazil, where she served another 17 years.
The French had hoped to keep her in service until 2039, but the Foch was proving to be the maritime equivalent of a hangar queen.
The demise of the Foch is part of a larger trend. Most navies seeking a carrier that launch high-performance planes (as opposed to those that operate V/STOL jets like the AV-8B Harrier and Sea Harrier) have gone nuclear. The United States has 11 nuclear-powered carriers, France has one.
India, Russia, and China each have one conventionally-fueled carrier that launch high-performance jets, and India and China are building more. But Russia and China are planning to go to nuclear-powered carriers. The British are building the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, but they’re only flying the V/STOL version of the F-35 Lightning.
Why are conventional fuels like oil or gas fading out for supercarriers? It’s very simple: endurance matters. When you’re launching a conventional plane from a carrier, you need to get them up quickly or they go in the drink.
The Foch’s forward deck, showing some of the planes she operated in French service. (Wikimedia Commons)
To get those planes to climb quickly, carriers use catapults, but it helps when they can turn into the wind and go at speed. A nuclear-powered carrier can do that for years. Really, the only limits are how much ordnance and gas for the planes and food for the crew it can carry.
For a conventionally-fueled carrier, well… it’s got to refuel, too. That means you need to invest in a lot more ships.
So, as the Foch heads off to become razor blades, joining many other conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers not designed to use high-performance jets, it marks the departure of one of these magnificent vessels. The United States has been scrapping many of its old conventionally-fueled carriers, too. The fact is, if you want a carrier that can operate high-performance jets, you gotta have a nuke – and that leaves no future for ships like Foch.
In 1975, South Vietnam fell, and while many escaped, a lot of gear fell into the hands of the North Vietnamese. In fact, as late as 1987, FlightGlobal.com credited the Vietnamese People’s Air Force with as many as 50 F-5A/B/E variants in service, along with at least 25 A-37 Dragonfly counter-insurgency planes. Tigers might be next.
Presently, Vietnam has 40 Su-27/Su-30 “Flanker” fighters in its inventory, with six more on order, according to FlightGlobal.com. These planes are supplemented by 36 Su-22 “Fitter” ground-attack planes, similar to those targeted earlier this year in a Tomahawk strike on a Syrian air base. Vietnam retired its MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters in 2015. Like the F-5, upgrade kits are available for the Fishbed.
The F-5E was a widely exported daytime fighter, capable of carrying up to 7,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and AIM-9 Sidewinders. It has a top speed of 1,060 miles per hour, a range of 870 miles, and was first flown in 1972. It is equipped with a pair of M39A2 revolver cannon, each with 280 rounds.
Recent North Korean missile launches, including four into the Sea of Japan earlier this month, have prompted a major deployment of U.S. forces, including B-52 Stratofortress bombers, also known as BUFFs (for Big Ugly Fat F*ckers), and F-35B Lightning II fighters to the Korean peninsula.
According to a report by The Sun, the deployments come as part of the Foal Eagle exercises, which are held by American and South Korean forces. Other assets being deployed in support of the exercises include the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its strike group, as well as B-1B Lancer heavy bombers.
The B-52s can carry a wide variety of ordnance.
Some of the things that they can deliver a lot of to the North Koreas, if Kim Jong Un continues on his present course, include dumb bombs (usually the Mk 82 500-pound bomb or the M117 750-pound bomb, but Mk 84 2,000 pound bombs are an option as well), AGM-86 cruise missiles in both conventional or nuclear versions, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, CBU-87 cluster bombs, CBU-97 cluster bombs, GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (2,000 pound GPS guided bombs), the AGM-142 HAVE NAP missile, the AGM-158 JASSM, and the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon.
The F-35s that will participate are Marine Corps F-35B variants that are based in Japan. The F-35Bs are fifth-generation multi-role strike fighters, capable to engaging targets in the air or on the ground. The planes carry AIM-120 AMRAAMs, AIM-9 Sidewinders, JDAMs, JSOWs, and cluster bombs.
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, prepare to land at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 18, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The planned exercises will involve 315,000 troops, most of them South Korean. North Korea has routinely claimed that the Foal Eagle exercises are rehearsals for an invasion. Earlier this month, a battery of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missiles were deployed to South Korea, a decision criticized by China, which vowed to make South Korea “feel the pain” for allowing the deployment.
Someone needs to tell Kim, “You’re making Chaos angry. You will not like it when Chaos gets angry.”
On Jun. 17, 2018, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire, WI hosted an airshow that included the display of the Air Combat Command’s F-16 Viper Demo Team.
Piloted by Maj. John “Rain” Waters, an operational F-16 pilot assigned to the 20th Operations Group, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina and the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team commander, the F-16 performs an aerobatic display whose aim is to demonstrate demonstrate the unique capabilities by one of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighters, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, better known as “Viper” in the pilot community.
The F-16 Viper Demo always starts with a take-off followed by a low, high-g turn. The maneuver was filmed from a privileged position (the slow motion effect contributes to the stunning results):
The U.S. Air Force’s venerable F-22 Raptor is widely seen as the world’s most capable air superiority fighter, but for a short time, it was nearly joined by a sister platform modified specifically for the Navy in the NATF-22.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor came about as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program that aimed to field an all-new aircraft that could not only compete with advanced Soviet jets like the Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29, but dominate them. The Su-27 and MiG-29 had both been developed with America’s F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon squarely in their sights, and although the Soviet Union was on its last leg by the late 1980s, the Air Force remained steadfast in their need for a new generation of fighter.
Ultimately, the F-22 Raptor won out over its (arguably more capable) Northrop YF-23 competition, thanks in no small part to Lockheed’s flair for dramatic presentations and Northrop’s troubled reputation at the time. While the YF-23 boasted better range and stealth, the YF-22 and its operational F-22 successor offered a combination of solid capability and Lockheed Martin’s reputation for delivering highly capable military aircraft. While the YF-22 ultimately won the decision, either aircraft would have gone on to become the world’s first stealth fighter, establishing a new generation of fighters to come. Had the YF-23 won out, it would have been the defacto choice for a Navy fighter variant for consideration.
While some still contend that an F-23 could have been the superior fighter, the F-22 quickly separated itself from its operational competition thanks to a combination of low observability, high speed, and acrobatic performance. The Raptor was not only able to reach and sustain speeds as high as Mach 2.25, it also offered the ability to “supercruise,” or to maintain supersonic speeds without the use of the afterburners on its pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofans. The thrust pouring out of those engines was managed by the aircraft’s Thrust Vector Control surfaces, which allowed the pilot to orient the outflow of the engines independent of the direction the aircraft was pointed. In other words, an F-22 pilot can point its nose (and weapons) down at you while it continues to push forward through the sky.
The F-22 proved so capable, in fact, that Congress pressed the Navy to consider adopting a sweep-wing version of the new fighter under the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program that began in 1988. In return for the Navy considering the NATF as a potentially lower-cost alternative to developing their own replacement carrier-based fighter, the U.S. Air Force agreed to evaluate a modified version of the carrier-based stealth bomber being developed under the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program as a replacement for their own aging F-111.
In theory, this agreement would allow the Air Force to leverage Navy R&D for their new bomber, while the Navy leveraged the Air Force’s for their new fighter. This approach to sharing development costs across branches, one could argue, would reach its zenith when multiple combat aircraft programs across the Navy, Air Force, and Marines were merged to create what would go on to become the (incredibly expensive) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
In a prelude of things to come, the NATF program, and its associated plans for an NATF-22, were soon seen as prohibitively expensive. By 1990, some seven years before the F-22 would first take to the sky, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, the man responsible for outlining the Navy’s requirements for a new fighter, was quoted as saying that he didn’t see any way the F-22 could be incorporated into an affordable plan for Naval aviation. As a result, the NATF-22 concept was dropped in early 1991.
Had the U.S. Navy opted to pursue a carrier-capable variant of the F-22, there would have been a number of significant technical hurdles to overcome. Aircraft designed for carrier operations have to manage a very different set of take-off and landing challenges than their land-based counterparts. The aircraft fuselage needs to be more physically robust to withstand the incredible forces applied to it during catapult launches and short-distance landings supported by a tailhook at the rear of the aircraft. The NATF-22 would also have to leverage the same sort of variable-sweep wing approach found on the F-14 to grant the aircraft the ability to fly slowly enough to safely land aboard a carrier.
That variable-sweep wing design itself brought a slew of its own problems engineers would need to solve. First and foremost, the Navy was already dealing with the high cost of maintaining the sweep wing apparatus on the F-14 Tomcat. A new sweep wing design likely wouldn’t alleviate the high operational costs associated with the Tomcat. As the Air Force has gone on to prove, the Navy’s decision was probably right. Even with fixed wings, the F-22 remains one of the most expensive fighter platforms to operate.
It also stands to reason that the variable sweep wing design would compromise some degree of the aircraft’s stealth. If the connecting surfaces of the moveable wings produced a high enough return on radar to secure a weapons grade lock on the aircraft, the value of such a fighter would be fundamentally compromised. The F-22 may be fast and maneuverable, but the Navy’s existing F-14 Tomcats were faster — and despite their high maintenance costs, still significantly cheaper than building a new stealth fighter for the Navy’s flattops, even if it was borrowing heavily from the Air Force’s program.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why the U.S. Navy opted not to pursue the NATF-22. It was complicated, expensive, and may have only offered a slight improvement over the Navy’s existing carrier-based platforms if any at all. But, nonsensical as it may be in practical use, the very concept of a variable-sweep wing F-22 carrying on the legacy of the fan-favorite F-14 Tomcat aboard America’s super carriers is just too cool not to look back on a bit wistfully.
After all, with only 186 F-22 Raptors ever rolling out of Lockheed Martin’s factories, this king of sky combat is destined to have a painfully short reign. One has to wonder… could a Navy variant of the F-22 have been enough to save this program from the budgetary ax?
The truth is, probably not — but the pictures sure are cool to look at.
The Welrod was fielded heavily by allied clandestine and resistance forces during WWII. Designed by British Major Hugh Reeves at the legendary SOE Station IX, the gun was exceptionally quiet, developing just 73 dB when fired. Its low sound signature was due to its integral suppressor and manually cycled bolt. Chambered in .32 ACP and later 9x19mm Parabellum, the Welrod was extremely popular amongst irregular forces. For its use in covert and asymmetrical operations, it was nicknamed the assassin’s pistol. Approximately 2,800 of the pistols were made during the war, with more than 11,000 being made afterwards. Today, an original Welrod can fetch anywhere from $6,500 to $11,000 on the used market. However, for gun enthusiasts that want to live out their SOE or OSS fantasies, there is now an alternative.
B&T is a Swiss defense supplier famed for producing high-quality firearms and tactical components. Their APC9 was recently selected by the Army in its first submachine gun contract in over 50 years. Taking inspiration from the simple, quiet, and lethal Welrod, B&T developed the VP9 and released it 2014. Designed as a veterinary pistol, the VP9 retains the Welrod’s manual action and integral-suppressor in order to quietly and humanely put down sick and wounded animals. Its low sound signature allows vets to be more sensitive to other humans or animals nearby and its low muzzle velocity reduces the risk of ricochet. The VP9’s proprietary magazine integrated into the grip like the Welrod. However, its capacity was reduced from 6 to 5 rounds of 9x19mm. Realizing the potential for a more faithful Welrod reincarnation, B&T revamped the VP9 and released a new Welrod descendant in 2021.
Designed for shooters who want a modern Welrod experience, the B&T Station Six pays homage to the original Welrod and the famous SOE research bureau where it was developed. Giving shooters more options, the Station Six is chambered in both 9x19mm and .45 ACP. Regardless of caliber, the Station Six also utilizes 1911-pattern magazines for cross compatibility with existing firearms. Just like the Welrod and VP9, the Station Six features the famous manually cycled bolt. The lack of moving parts helps the Station Six stay as quiet as possible.
The Station Six will ship with its proprietary suppressor which is not integral. This means that it is user-serviceable when its baffles eventually wear out and its sound signature increases. B&T has also announced that a training suppressor will eventually be made available with the Station Six. Licensed B&T dealers in the U.S. are taking orders for delivery by the end of Q1. MSRP is reported to be around $2000.
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.”
In science-fiction movies and television shows, lasers are often used for fighter combat. Whether it is the Rebel X-wings from Star Wars or Air Force F-302s from Stargate SG-1, laser bolts have been taking out bad guys for years. But in real life, lasers aren’t there yet. Not by a long shot. Their biggest military application has been as a guidance system for weapons like the AGM-114 Hellfire and the Paveway laser-guided bombs.
That is in the process of changing. According to a report by CNBC, the Air Force has given Lockheed a contract to develop “high-energy fiber laser weapons” for tactical fighters that are not equipped with stealth technology. The intent is to give planes like Lockheed’s F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Boeing F-15 Eagle a means to destroy incoming surface-to-air missiles.
According to a Nov. 6 release by Lockheed, the contract comes from the Air Force Research Laboratory, which has a Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD program in place. The program has three components:
SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE), a targeting system for the laser beam.
Laser Pod Research Development (LPRD), which will design the pod to power and cool the laser
Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE), the high energy laser itself.
Lockheed has a concept High-Energy Fiber Laser that would turn a Blackhawk into a Laserhawk, albeit the pallet shown in a Lockheed graphic is too large for use on a fighter like the F-16 or F-15. That system is intended to help counter rocket and mortar attacks using a laser that can produce up to 30 kilowatts.
“The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles, and ships,” Dr. Rob Afzal said in the Lockheed release.
While the system seems geared towards zapping missiles, past tests have seen lasers used on vehicles and unmanned aircraft. Soon, it could be that hauling a gun like the A-10’s GAU-8 could be a thing of the past.
When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.
Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.
PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.
The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.
One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.
By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.