While North Korea’s efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States have generated headlines, a different home-brew weapons project is worth attention. That project developed a long-range self-propelled howitzer.
This deadly machine is called the Koksan, and according to MilitaryFactory.com, it can reach out and touch targets just over 37 miles away. The fact that this howitzer can move makes it even more lethal and hard to find.
The main cannon has a diameter of 170mm, or just under 6.7 inches. The barrel is long, appearing to be almost twice the length of the vehicle, a modified Chinese Type 59 main battle tank chassis. That vehicle can go up to 186 miles on a single tank of gas.
The Koksan looks a lot like the American-designed M107 175mm self-propelled howitzer, and in many ways, it fulfills the same function of providing long-range firepower. That said, the Koksan comes with a set of minuses.
One of the biggest is that the howitzer is ungainly – largely due to the long barrel. It is also slow – with a top speed of just under 25 miles per hour. That’s a problem when a M1A2 Abrams arrives. The gun also fires slowly – with two and a half minutes between rounds. The first version, the M1978, didn’t even carry rounds with it.
A newer version, the M1989, which the North Koreans have paraded publicly, does have 12 rounds of ammo on the vehicle. This howitzer is probably more likely to be used in hardened defense positions. This has the benefit of protecting the crews better, but it does mean the howitzer’s position is fixed.
You can see a video about this North Korean big gun below.
Okay, when you first saw the headline, you were probably wondering how the heck a howitzer can be a sniper rifle. Sniper rifles are precision instruments, designed to dish out extremely concentrated hurt while howitzers are meant to do big damage — it seems like a contradiction, right? Wrong.
With the right ammo, there’s a howitzer out capable of being a giant sniper rifle with an extremely long reach. How long? Try 22 miles.
The M777 Ultralight Field Howitzer is a towed 155-millimeter gun that’s been in service since 2005 and is capable of hitting targets from remarkable distances. Over the last decade, it’s been slowly replacing the M198 towed 155-millimeter howitzer.
But here’s where the M77 has the M198 beat: It weighs in at just 8,256 pounds, according to MilitaryFactory.com. That might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing next to the 15,792 pounds of the M198. That’s a nearly 50 percent reduction in weight, making the M777 a superb option for units like the 82nd Airborne Division and the Marines.
Marines fire a M777 howitzer at 29 Palms to prepare for the real thing.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen)
Now, to achieve that 22-mile reach and sniper-rifle accuracy, the shell of choice is the M982 Excalibur round. This GPS-guided round can hit within about 30 feet of the aim point — a level of precision that’s proved extremely useful.
Australian troops fire their M777 to support Marines during a training mission.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Sarah Anderson)
In 2012, the Marines manning a M777 howitzer received word that some Taliban were up to no good. So, the artillery crew fired a round from their base, which was in Helmand Province, and hit the Taliban who were in Musa Qala. The Taliban were accurately dispatched from miles away before any of their plans could take root.
Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., fire 155mm rounds using an M777 Howitzer.
(US Army photo by Specialist Evan D. Marcy)
The M777 is currently in service with the United States Army and United States Marine Corps. Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, and India have all bought this cannon as well.
Learn more about this over-sized sniper rifle in the video below!
Marine Corps Systems Command just announced a contract award in its Squad Common Optic program to Trijicon. The Corps chose to outfit its Fleet Marine Force, basically all of its line units, with Trijicon’s VCOG 1-8x variable magnification optic.
According to Matt Gonzales at MARCORSYSCOM’s Office of Public Affairs:
Six months after seeking industry proposals, Marine Corps Systems Command awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract to Trijicon, Inc., of Wixom, Michigan, Feb. 21 to produce Squad Common Optic systems.
The contract has a maximum ceiling of million, and Trijicon is slated to produce approximately 19,000 units. The purchase also includes spare parts, training, nonfunctional units, interim contractor logistics support and refurbishment of test articles.
Fielding to Fleet Marine Forces will begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021 and will be completed by fiscal year 2023.
There is an ebb and flow with a troop’s love, hate, and pure apathy toward eating Meals, Ready to Eat.
Either you score the new Chicken Burrito Bowl or you get stuck with a veggie option so foul no amount of salt can help cover the taste. It usually goes from the “Oh cool! MREs!” feeling, to then despising the concept of eating from the same 24 brown bags for months, and finally gets beaten into a state of pure Stockholm Syndrome where you get used to and enjoy them again because it’s technically food.
Whatever your personal experience will be, the minds at Ameriqual, Sopakco, and Wornick have all crafted a very specific meal under very specific guidelines.
Whichever meal you are tossed usually contains an entree, side, cracker or bread, spread, dessert, a beverage, Flameless Ration Heater, and accessories. Every MRE also needs to have a constant 1,250-calorie count, have 13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates, and make up one third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals.
Finally, each box of MREs must have a shelf life of at least 18 months in above 80°F conditions, three years below. This has been the constant ever since it’s inception in 1975 and standard issue in 1986.
One of the more impressive creations in the MRE is the Flameless Ration Heater. Water activated, the pouch quickly reaches heats that can warm up an eight ounce ration within minutes. Simply put the food pouch inside the bag, lean it against a rock or something, and you’re ready to eat.
Whatever you do, do not take two of the heaters, empty a tiny Tabasco sauce into a bottle of water, add the heaters and water to about the half way point, seal it, shake it, then toss it somewhere.
It’s a dick move and your squad will call you out for your douchebaggery. This is because the heat and fumes decompress within the bottle to the point of exploding.
There is also the First Strike Ration, a compact, eat-on-the-move ration that is designed to be half the size and a third of the weight while giving troops the nutritional intake of an entire days worth of food.
The Combat Feeding Directorate developed this after they noticed troops would “field strip” their MREs of unwanted and burdensome extra items, like boxes, accessory packs, heaters, and bags. The total calorie count of an FSR comes to 2,900 calories.
The actual menu changes year to year. 2017 changes are no different.
Thankfully, they’re removing “Rib shaped BBQ Pork Patty,” that fried rice thing, chicken pesto pasta, ‘Hooah!’ bars, and the wheat snack bread (which only the power of the Jalapeno Cheese Spread could make edible). The replacements actually sound delicious (like the previously mentioned Chicken Burrito Bowl) and are even more thought out.
I can see the successor of the most coveted MRE item: caffeinated teriyaki beef sticks. Julie Smith, senior food technologist at Combat Feeding Directorate of the Natick Soldier, Research, Development and Engineering Center said of the alternative to beef jerky “Typically, when we do evaluations, we get feedback from the war fighter that they want to have more beef jerky varieties. It’s such a high sodium item, however, that we have to be careful in how to include it in the menu.”
There is also the new version of the pound cake. It’s now fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids which research shows is great for muscle recovery and resiliency — all without affecting the taste of one of the better desserts in the MRE.
Far off into the future, Jeremy Whitsitt, the Deputy Director at Combat Feeding, says that one day there will be the ability to monitor an individual’s nutritional needs and -essentially- “print out a bar or a paste specifically designed for that soldier to return them to nutritional status.” He continues: “We’re laying the groundwork now through research and development to get us to that point.”
In the meantime, we can still hold out for the Pizza MRE. No timeline on its release, but it’ll be after they can work out the bread going brown after six months in 100°F.
The US Navy has shed light on a previously highly classified project meant to protect aircraft carriers from the grave and widespread threat of torpedoes, and it’s been a massive failure.
Virtually every navy the US might find itself at war against can field torpedoes, or underwater self-propelled bombs that have been sinking warships for more than 100 years.
US Navy aircraft carriers represent technological marvels, as they’re floating airports powered by nuclear reactors. But after years of secretive tests, the US has given up on a program to protect the ships against torpedoes.
“In September 2018, the Navy suspended its efforts to develop the [surface ship torpedo defense] system. The Navy plans to restore all carriers to their normal configurations during maintenance availabilities” over the next four years, the report said.
(Photo by Michael D. Cole)
Essentially, the report said that over five years the program made some progress in finding and knocking down incoming torpedoes, but not enough. Data on the reliability of the systems remains either too thin or nonexistent.
This leaves the US Navy’s surface ships with almost no defense against a submarine’s primary anti-surface weapon at a time when the service says that Russia’s and China’s submarine fleets have rapidly grown to pose a major threat to US ships.
The US ignored the threat of torpedoes, and now anyone with half a navy has a shot
The new class of speedy torpedoes can’t be guided, but can fire straight toward US Navy carriers that have little chance of detecting them.
Torpedoes don’t directly collide with a ship, but rather use an explosion to create an air bubble under the ship to bend or break the keel, sinking the ship.
High-speed underwater missile Shkval-E.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
Other Russian torpedoes have a range of 12 miles and can zigzag to beat countermeasures when closing in on a ship.
In a combat exercise off the coast of Florida in 2015, a small French nuclear submarine, the Saphir, snuck through multiple rings of carrier-strike-group defenses and scored a simulated kill on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and half its escort ships, Reuters reported. Other US naval exercises have seen even old-fashioned, diesel-electric submarines sinking carriers.
Even unsophisticated foes such as North Korea and Iran can field diesel-electric submarines and hide them in the noisy littoral waters along key US Navy transit routes.
The US Navy can deploy “nixies” or noise-making decoys that the ship drags behind it to attract torpedoes, but it must detect the incoming torpedoes first.
A US Navy carrier at 30 knots runs just 10 knots slower than a standard torpedo, but with a flight deck full of aircraft and personnel, pulling tight turns to dodge an incoming torpedo presents problems of its own.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.
The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.
Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.
The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.
But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.
But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.
The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.
The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
The US Navy has successfully altered a Raytheon Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) to be able to hit a moving target at sea, USNI News reports.
In a Jan. 27 test off of San Niolas Island, California, the Navy launched a TLAM which was guided into a moving maritime target through directions given by a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet flying overhead. TLAMs are capable of changing their direction mid-course.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, the Pentagon’s second-highest-ranked civilian, praised the successful test of the missile during a keynote speech at the WEST 2015 conference. He said the missiles were part of the Pentagon’s “Third Offset Strategy,” an initiative focused on research into new long-range weapons.
“A big part of the Third Offset Strategies is to find new and innovative ways to deploy promising technologies,” Work said. “This is potentially a game changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1000 mile anti-ship cruise missile.”
TLAMs are already used for land attack missions against static targets. By converting TLAMs into missiles capable of penetrating thickly-armored vessels at sea, the Navy plugs a serious gap in its current weapons capabilities. According to USNI News, TLAMs that have been converted into anti-ship missiles that could be used aboard the Navy’s newer guided-missile destroyers, which cannot currently use the service’s antiquated RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.
The new converted TLAMs would have a range of almost 1,000 nautical miles, allowing the US to maintain a considerable edge over rival naval powers. One of China’s most threatening new military advancements is its development of its own advanced anti-ship cruise missiles. However, these missiles would only have half the range of a converted TLAM.
If fully adapted, the newest iteration of the TLAM will function as a stop-gap measure until the Navy’s next-generation Long Range Anti-Ship missile is ready for action.
An F-117 Nighthawk is headed to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library December 2019 and will call the Simi Valley, California, hillside its permanent home.
The Reagan Foundation and manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced Nov. 4, 2019, that the single-seat, twin-engine stealth aircraft will be on display just outside the library, next to an F-14 Tomcat.
The restored jet, tail number 803, will be unveiled during the annual Reagan National Defense Forum on Dec. 7, 2019.
“The Reagan Library will now be one of two places in the nation where the general public can visit an F-117 Stealth Fighter on permanent display,” said John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
“We are deeply grateful to Lockheed Martin for their outstanding assistance in restoring the aircraft for such a meaningful display and to the U.S. Air Force for making it possible for the Reagan Library to exhibit the plane for millions of visitors to enjoy for years to come,” he said in a news release.
An F-117 Nighthawk.
Nicknamed the “Unexpected Guest,” the jet going to the library flew more combat sorties — 78 — than all other F-117s combined, according to the release. It entered service in 1984.
Another F-117 is on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
According to officials, Lockheed produced 59 operational F-117s and five developmental prototypes, beginning in 1981. The U.S. didn’t publicly acknowledge the stealth attack plane — capable of going after high-value targets without being detected by enemy radar — until 1988, even though a few crashed during trials.
“The F-117 was developed in response to an urgent national need,” said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the division that designs and engineers advanced development projects, which are typically highly classified.
“It has paved the way for today’s stealth technology and reminds us to continue redefining what’s possible,” Babione said in the release. “It’s been a privilege for our team to collaborate with the [Air Force] and the Reagan Foundation on this effort, and we are excited to see it on proud display at its new home.”
Congress gave authority in 2007 and 2008 to retire a total of 52 F-117s from the inventory but wanted them maintained so they could be recalled to service if they were needed for a high-end war, an official previously told Military.com.
“I was privileged to fly the airplane when the program was classified,” said retired Lt. Col. Scott Stimpert, the pilot for tail number 803. “It was an exciting time, and a vitally important capability, but not something you could share with friends or family. I’m glad the airplane can come out of the dark to take its rightful place in the light, somewhere it can be seen and appreciated by the people it helped to protect.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
It’s the most famous aircraft in the world, a highly-visible symbol of the United States wherever it travels.
Known as Air Force One, and popularly nicknamed ‘the Flying White House’, this massive jumbo jet, decked out in a special blue, white and silver livery, ferries U.S. presidents, their families, members of the press and various staffers and Secret Service protective agents across the globe on official trips to foreign and domestic destinations.
While Air Force One itself is incredibly famous, it turns out that not a heck of a lot about this unique aircraft seems to be known in public circles. So the next time you find yourself at a party and you feel like impressing a few folks with Air Force One facts they probably didn’t know, today’s your lucky day! Here are 6 things about the President’s personal aircraft that you more than likely didn’t know:
1. “Air Force One” is technically a callsign and not the aircraft’s actual designation.
“Air Force One” is the callsign attached to any USAF aircraft the president is physically present on. The famous Boeing 747 decked out in the presidential scheme is officially designated “VC-25.” The Air Force One callsign originated in 1953 after air traffic controllers mistakenly put an aircraft carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the same airspace as a civilian airliner over New York City, after confusing the presidential transport’s name and code for a commercial flight.
Ever since, every military vehicle carrying America’s head honcho is temporarily relabeled with the name of the service the vehicle belongs to, followed by “One” (e.g. Marine One).
2. Each VC-25 has its own medical suite aboard the aircraft.
You read that correctly; whenever the president is aboard, Air Force One carries a qualified military surgeon/physician along for the ride. A small medical center aboard the aircraft, fully stocked and equipped, can be converted into an operating room should the need arise. While no sitting president has had to avail of the on-board doctor’s abilities and talents, it’s still helpful to always have one nearby, just in case.
3. Both VC-25s are equipped with extensive countermeasures and defensive systems.
On any given day, the threats to the president’s life number in the hundreds, though the Secret Service does everything it can to make sure the risks are largely negligible.
The Air Force also does its part by outfitting each VC-25 with the very best in defensive systems available at the moment. It’s unknown what exactly these systems consist of, but it could be safely assumed that the VC-25 comes standard with missile jammers, flare dispensers and more. On top of that, each Air Force One flight carries a small army of well-armed Secret Service agents and Air Force security specialists to provide security for the President and the aircraft on the ground.
4. It is one of the most expensive aircraft the US Air Force has ever operated.
Not only is the VC-25 one of the largest jets flown by the USAF, it’s also one of the most expensive the service has ever flown in its entire history. At an operating cost of approximately $200,000 per hour, Air Force One flights dwarf the expenses incurred by every other military-crewed and flown aircraft like the E-4B Nightwatch, the C-5 Galaxy and the B-2 Spirit. The security measures, passenger support (for members of the press, Secret Service and White House Staff), and communications systems operations all come together to account for this sky high figure.
5. The President can seamlessly interface with the military and government while airborne.
Each VC-25 possesses a highly integrated communications suite, staffed by a team of Air Force communication systems operators. These CSOs constantly monitor the aircraft’s satellite data-links, intranets and phone lines, ensuring that all incoming and outgoing calls on each flight are secured and highly encrypted.
In the event of national emergencies, the President can interact with military units from the aircraft, or direct the government and stay appraised of the situation at hand, thanks to the communications center and its CSOs.
6. It always parks with its left side facing the crowds gathered to see its arrivals.
Though it seems almost arbitrary, Air Force One does indeed park with its left side facing onlookers crowding behind the security cordon at airports. While the exact reasons for this are unknown, as both sides of the aircraft seem identical, it could be reasonably assumed that this is done for security purposes and practicality.
Positioning the big jet in such a way masks the President’s office from sight on the right side, while it also enables the use of air stairs built into the aircraft on the left side should an external stair unit be unavailable. Air Force One never parks at an airport terminal, nor does it accept a jet bridge connection.
The Naval Air Weapons Command has collected a lot of footage at their China Lake Ranges in California, and it released a new video that’s just five minutes of bombs hitting targets, piercing the ground, crushing towed vehicles, and creating massive light shows.
The video includes rockets, missiles, and bombs, and even has a little surface-to-air action at the start, with shoulder-fired missiles taking out aerial drones.
There are plenty of live weapons in the videos, as well as some inert ones. You can tell the inert ones because they’re blue, and also they’re the ones that don’t create a massive fireball after they explode. While the footage, from armored vehicles and tanks blowing up to trucks getting crushed, is exciting, that’s obviously not why the Navy does it.
The range has a crap-ton of cameras and sensors, allowing weapon designers and testers to see exactly how current and prototype weapons act when hitting a variety of targets. That’s why you see some munitions slam through a target just before flying across a wall with black and white grids.
Personnel rail launch an Integrator unmanned aerial vehicle at Naval Air Warfare Center China Lake, California.
The high-speed cameras capture the rotation, flight path, and speed of the round as it flies past the grid, either during normal flight or right after flying through a wall or two. That lets designers figure out the best way to tweak a weapon for stable flight or for performance after piercing a bunker wall or two.
And the large ranges and massive restricted airspace allows Navy and other pilots to train in realistic conditions. So, when you want to learn to nail a fast-moving Land Rover, come to China Lake!*
*Must bring your own jet and bombs.
The range can be used for surface-to-surface warfare, but that isn’t featured much in the video, so this one is mostly for the aviation geeks. Check out the video at top.
On Nov. 16, 2018, the Air Force announced the first two bases that will host its new, highly advanced bomber for testing and maintenance.
The service said in a release that Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma would coordinate maintenance and sustainment for the B-21 Raider and that Edwards Air Force Base in California had been picked to lead testing and evaluation of the next generation long-range strike bomber.
Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force Base in Utah will support Tinker with maintaining and, when necessary, overhauling and upgrading the new bomber, the Air Force said.
Personnel at those bases will be equipped to rebuild the aircraft’s parts, assemblies, or subassemblies as well as to test and reclaim equipment as necessary for depot activations.
The first B-21 is expected to be delivered in the mid-2020s.
A B-2A stealth bomber at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma during a visit on April 11, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)
The release noted the “deep and accomplished history” of the Air Logistics Complex of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker and said officials believe the base has the knowledge and expertise to support the new bomber.
“With a talented workforce and decades of experience in aircraft maintenance, Tinker AFB is the right place for this critical mission,” Air Force Secretary Heather A. Wilson said.
Edwards Air Force Base is also home to the Air Force Test Center, which leads the service’s testing and evaluation efforts.
“From flight testing the X-15 to the F-117, Edwards AFB in the Mohave Desert [sic] has been at the forefront of keeping our Air Force on the cutting edge,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said. “Now testing the B-21 Raider will begin another historic chapter in the base’s history.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. Carl Schaefer, head of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards, said in 2018 that the B-21 would be tested at the base. Few details about the B-21’s development have been released, and previous reports suggested it could be tested at the Air Force’s secretive Area 51 facility.
A B-1B Lancer bomber awaits maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Jan. 27, 2017
(US Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)
The B-21 acquisition cycle is currently in the engineering and manufacturing-development phase, the Air Force said. The Raider’s design and development headquarters is at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne, Florida.
The Air Force expects to buy about 100 of the new bomber, with each cost over 0 million, according to Air Force Times.
The Air Force said in May 2018 that once the new bombers begin arriving they will head to three bases in the US — Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
The service said those bases were “reasonable alternatives” for the new bomber, although it will likely not make a final basing decision until 2019.
The B-21 is to replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers at those bases, but the Air Force doesn’t plan to retire the existing bombers until there are enough B-21s to replace them.
Using existing bomber bases would reduce operational impact, lower overhead, and minimize costs, the Air Force said in May. “Our current bomber bases are best suited for the B-21,” Wilson said at the time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Air Force is mapping a two-fold future path for its B-1 bomber which includes plans to upgrade the bomber while simultaneously preparing the aircraft for eventual retirement as the service’s new stealth bomber arrives in coming years.
These two trajectories, which appear as somewhat of a paradox or contradiction, are actually interwoven efforts designed to both maximize the bomber’s firepower while easing an eventual transition to the emerging B-21 bomber, Air Force officials told Warrior Maven.
“Once sufficient numbers of B-21 aircraft are operational, B-1s will be incrementally retired. No exact dates have been established,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven. “The Air Force performs routine structural inspections, tests and necessary repairs to ensure the platform remains operationally viable until sufficient numbers of B-21s are operational.”
The B-21 is expected to emerge by the mid-2020s, so while the Air Force has not specified a timetable, the B-1 is not likely to be fully retired until the 2030s.
Service officials say the current technical overhaul is the largest in the history of the B-1, giving the aircraft an expanded weapons ability along with new avionics, communications technology and engines.
The engines are being refurbished to retain their original performance specs, and the B-1 is getting new targeting and intelligence systems, Grabowski said.
A new Integrated Battle Station includes new aircrew displays and communication links for in-flight data sharing.
“This includes machine-to-machine interface for rapid re-tasking and/or weapon retargeting,” Grabowski added.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Another upgrade called The Fully Integrated Targeting Pod connects the targeting pod control and video feed into B-1 cockpit displays. The B-1 will also be able to increase its carriage capacity of 500-pound class weapons by 60-percent due to Bomb Rack Unit upgrades.
The B-1, which had its combat debut in Operation Desert Fox in 1998, went to drop thousands of JDAMs during the multi-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The B-1 can hit speeds of MACH 1.25 at 40,000 feet and operates at a ceiling of 60,000 feet.
It fires a wide-range of bombs, to include several JDAMS: GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54. It also fires the small diameter bomb-GBU-39.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.