While the B-1B Lancer has been one of two mainstays in the U.S. Air Force inventory of strategic bombers, Russia has a bigger bomber than the mighty Lancer.
This plane is the Tupelov Tu-160 Blackjack.
The Blackjack was intended to fill the same role as the B-1B – a long-range supersonic low-altitude penetrator. Russia had earlier developed the Tu-22M/Tu-26 Backfire as a supersonic bomber, but the Backfire was plagued by short range, and was more of a medium bomber along the lines of the FB-111A than a true strategic bomber.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Tu-160 has a top speed of 1,243 miles per hour, and a range of just under 8,700 miles. It can carry up to 12 AS-16 Kickback surface-to-air missiles, 6 AS-15 Kent air-launched cruise missiles, or up to 88,000 pounds of bombs. The plane made its combat debut during Russian operations in support of the regime of Bashir al-Assad in Syria.
Only 34 Blackjacks were built, counting the prototypes. At the end of the Cold War, production ended for a while. The bombers had been based in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were divided between Russia and Ukraine. The Ukrainians then sold eight airframes back to Russia, while 11 others were scrapped under the Nunn-Lugar disarmament program.
The Tu-160 achieved full operating capability in 2005. Currently, 16 of these planes are in service, as compare to roughly 60 B-1B Lancers. The Russians announced plans to re-open the production line for this powerful weapon according to a 2015 report by Flight Global, with plans to build up to 50 airframes.
You can see a video about this Russian bomber below.
For more than 30 years the B-1B Lancer has proven itself as an essential part of America’s long-range strategic bomber force. Capable of carrying the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force, the B-1 can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time.
The Air Force’s newly acquired B-52 Stratofortress hadn’t even taken off for it’s first flight before studies for its replacement began. Research started in the realm of a supersonic bomber resulting in the development of the B-58 Hustler and XB-70 Valkyrie in the late 50s. Although cancelled, a joint NASA-U.S. Air Force flight research program continued to use the XB-70 prototypes, which were capable of reaching Mach 3.0, for research purposes into the late 60s.
During that decade Air Force began to move away from developing high and fast bombers in favor of low-flying aircraft capable of penetrating enemy defenses.
In 1970 Rockwell International was awarded the contract to develop the B-1A, a new bomber capable of high efficiency cruising flight whether at subsonic speeds or at Mach 2.2. To meet all set mission requirements, such as takeoff and landing on runways shorter than those at established large bases, the B-1A was equipped with variable-sweep wings.
The first prototype flight occurred on December 23, 1974, and by the late 70’s four prototypes had been built, however, the program was canceled in 1977 before going into production.
Flight-testing of the prototypes continued through 1981 when, during the Reagan administration, the B-1 program was revived. For the B1-B, the Mach 2.2 number was dropped and the maximum speed limit set to about Mach 1.2 at high altitude due, in part, to changes from a variable air inlet to a fixed inlet. Other major changes included, an additional structure to increase payload to 74,000 pounds, an improved radar and reduction of the radar cross section.
The first production B-1 flew in October 1984, and the first B-1B was delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in June 1985. Initial operational capability was achieved on Oct. 1, 1986. The final B-1B was delivered May 2, 1988.
The B-1B holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class.
The B-1B was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. In 1999, six B-1s were used in Yugoslavia during Operation Allied Force, delivering more than 20 percent of the total ordnance while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties.
(Photo by James Richardson)
During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40 percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces. This included nearly 3,900 JDAMs, or 67 percent of the total. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the aircraft flew less than 1 percent of the combat missions while delivering 43 percent of the JDAMs used. The B-1 continues to be deployed today, flying missions daily in support of continuing operations.
The 9th and 28th Bomb Squadrons, 7th Bomb Wing, and the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas
34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons, 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota
Did you know?
The B-1B is nicknamed “The Bone” due to the phonetic spelling of its model designation B-ONE.
The B-1B has flown 12,000-plus sorties since 2001 in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
With it’s rapid deployment capability and long-range the B-1B can strike targets anywhere in the world from it’s home station.
Primary function: Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber Contractor: Boeing Power plant: Four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines with afterburner Thrust: 30,000-plus pounds each engine Wingspan: 137 feet (41.8 meters) extended forward, 79 feet (24.1 meters) swept aft Length: 146 feet, (44.5 meters) Height: 34 feet (10.4 meters) Payload: 75,000 pounds Internal (34,019 kilograms) Speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1 plus) Ceiling: More than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) Armament: Approximately 75,000 pounds of mixed ordnance: bombs, mines and missiles Crew: Four (aircraft commander, copilot, and two combat systems officers) Unit Cost: $317 million Initial operating capability: October 1986 Inventory: Active Duty, 62 (2 test); Air Force Reserve, 0; Air National Guard, 0
(Graphic by Maureen Stewart)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
A report in the Marine Corps Times from Friday, April 27, 2018, by journalist Kyle Rempfer revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command has filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or an Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft.
The aircraft would be equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area, a large training facility in the Arizona desert. The Yuma Range and Training Area accurately replicates current and potential threat environments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Rempfer’s report for the Marine Corps Times, the solicitation read in part, “The [Mi-24] attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force.”
In their potential role as a technically realistic opposing force flying against U.S. Marine ground forces in training the helicopters would accurately replicate the threat capabilities of many potential adversary forces. While the Mi-24 attack helicopter is primarily an air-to-ground attack helicopter the report also mentioned a potential role for any Russian helicopters acquired or contracted as providing a simulated opposing force capability against U.S. Marine Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft to possibly include the UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Super Cobra and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.
The U.S. Marine Training Command’s request went on to read, “The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”
In the combined air/ground combat role most commonly performed by the U.S. Marine Corps one relevant adversary aircraft for threat simulation may include the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO codename “Frogfoot”), although no specific information indicates an interest in the Su-25 from the U.S. Marines.
A remarkable 57 countries currently use the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, built at the Mil Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia. The aircraft is infamous in western nations for its rugged survivability and significant combat capability. The request for actual Mi-24 Hind helicopters seems to acknowledge the type’s unique and significant capabilities as a potential adversary.
There are currently at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters privately owned in the U.S. by the Lancaster Air Museum in Lancaster, Texas. The aircraft fly frequently at events and airshows around the country.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
The AK-47 assault rifle is one of the most classic firearms of all time. It has seen combat all across the world — in the both the hands of national armies and various non-governmental entities, like terrorist groups, insurgencies, and drug cartels. But did you know there was a predecessor to the AK-47?
That rifle is the SKS, which, arguably, is responsible for popularizing the 7.62x39mm cartridge used in the AK-47. Officially, it was known as the SKS-45. This rifle, in some senses, is fairly similar to the M1 Garand. It’s semi-automatic (meaning it fires one shot each time the trigger is pulled) and has an internal magazine (albeit one loaded with stripper clips instead of the en bloc clip used by the M1). The SKS holds ten rounds of ammunition.
Communist China made over eight million SKS rifles, including those held by these sailors with the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Seeing action from World War II to the War on Terror
Some of the SKS prototypes saw action against Nazi Germany in World War II, but the rifle didn’t have a long service career with the Soviet Union. The AK-47’s introduction quickly shifted the stock of SKS rifles into the hands reserve units or allies. Other Soviet-friendly nations, including Communist China, produced it under license. The Chinese made at least eight million of these rifles.
In China, their version of the SKS, the Type 56 carbine, served for a long time alongside their version of the AK-47, called the Type 56 assault rifle. After the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict, both of these weapons were replaced by the Type 81 assault rifle. Despite that, Russian and Chinese SKS rifles continue to see action across the world — the rifles are prominently mentioned in a 2003 report about guerrilla warfare in East Timor and have been spotted in the eastern portion of Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels are fighting the central government.
Many SKS rifles were passed on to Soviet allies during the Cold War.
Because the rifle is not capable of fully-automatic fire, the SKS has been imported into the United States for the civilian market, where it has gained a lot of popularity. The SKS may have first seen action over 70 years ago, but it will likely see use, in one capacity or another, for decades to come.
The Air Force is looking to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The problem is, one of the planes that they’re pitching as a primary replacement, the F-35, is not seen as a close-air support bird. In an effort to explore other options, there’s the OA-X competition. So far, attention has been primarily focused on three of the four competitors: The AT-6 Wolverine, the AT-29 Super Tucano, and the Textron AirLand Scorpion.
There was a fourth plane that hadn’t been originally considered, but the Air Force brought it along. That fourth option is the AirTractor AT-802U Longsword. The makers of this plane, which is based on a widely-used cropduster, seem to think that it is the best choice to replace what’s considered the best close-air support plane to have ever flown. Let’s take a look, shall we?
MilitaryFactory.com notes that this plane has been around since 1990. It has a top speed of 221 miles per hour and a maximum range of 802 miles. The military versions can carry about 9,000 pounds of payload. So, it carries roughly what the Textron Scorpion can, but it’s slower and can’t fly as far.
The AT-802U does have the ability to operate from dirt roads and improvised airstrips, according to a brochure provided by AirTractor. The plane is capable of firing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. It also packs two .50-caliber Gatling guns with a total of 2,900 rounds of ammo. On its own, that looks like some impressive firepower, but it pales in comparison to the A-10, which packs 1,174 rounds of 30mm ammo that can kill a tank.
The fact is, as WATM has noted before, none of these planes really bring everything to the table like the A-10. The A-10 may be one of those planes, like the C-130, that can only be replaced by a newer, more lethal version of itself.
Learn more about the cropduster that has delusions of replacing the A-10 by watching the video below.
Most sniper rifles for military special operations units are long, heavy affairs. With barrels out to 20 inches, long bolt actions geared toward large calibers like .338 Lapua Magnum and beyond, it’s tough to get compact when the goal is to reach out to distant targets with pinpoint accuracy.
And these rifles aren’t exactly the most portable things either, with snipers usually having to sneak to a hide in the dark so the bad guys don’t catch a glimpse of that obviously specialized firearm.
Seeing a need for a sniper rifle that could be covertly carried into a position and deployed in seconds on a target, a top tier special operations unit asked industry to come up with a super short, take-down bolt gun that could be assembled in less than a minute and be precisely on target with the first shot.
Remington Defense answered the call with its “Concealable Sniper Rifle,” or CSR, which breaks down into three pieces no longer than 16 inches and can be assembled and shot in less than 60 seconds.
“The whole thing fits in a Jansport kind of granola-eater-looking backpack,” said Remington’s chief of military products Josh Cutlip. “So if someone needed to insert and egress quietly, there’d be no indication of what’s on their backpack.”
Optimized for subsonic ammunition, the 14-inch barrel is chambered in .308 and is built with a 1:8 twist, which gives the lower-velocity subsonic round better ballistics. The CSR is fitted for an Advanced Armament Corp. SR-7 7.62 suppressor to keep things quiet.
The CSR features a folding, fully-adjustable stock and a one-piece handguard that’s keyed precisely to the receiver’s Picatinny top rail. Another cool thing about the handguard includes a Remington proprietary accessory attachment system that officials say can hold the weight of a soldier if his kit gets caught on a side rail section and he’s hanging out the door of a Black Hawk.
The concealable sniper rifle system includes an indexed torque wrench to tighten up the barrel nut assembly and company officials say the rifle holds its zero from backpack to firing position.
“There are precision applications where size and concealability can be distinct advantage,” Cutlip said. “The entire nexus of this platform was to get down to the smallest components you could.”
The US Marine Corps started issuing the Glock 19M pistol to marines, which they call the M007, in May 2017.
“The M007 has a smaller frame and is easier to conceal, making it a natural selection to meet the Marine Corps’ conceal carry weapon requirement,” Gunnery Sgt. Brian Nelson said in a November 2017 Marines Corps Systems Command press release.
And since the Corps continually upgrades and adds new weapons to its arsenal, we reached out to the Marines Corps Systems Command, which is in charge of all acquisitions for the Corps, to find out which standard issue weapons it currently gives to Marines.
The KV-1 and KV-2 are recognized as being amongst the most heavily armoured tanks deployed during WW2. At least initially largely impervious to anything less than a direct, point-blank hit from a dedicated anti-tank weapon, the KV series was so formidable that the first time the Wehrmacht encountered them, Soviet soldiers destroyed dozens of anti-tank guns by simply driving towards them in a straight line and running them over.
Introduced in 1939 and named for famed Soviet officer Kliment Voroshilov — a man who once personally tried to attack a German tank division with a pistol — the KV series was designed to replace the T-35 heavy tank, which was somewhat mechanically unreliable and costly to produce. The extremely heavily armoured KV series was first deployed during the Soviet Union’s 1939 war with the Finnish and then subsequently used throughout WW2.
The KV series was effectively designed with a single feature in mind — survivability. Towards this end, it was equipped with exceptionally thick armor. While this thickness varied somewhat based on model, for reference the KV-1 boasted armor that was 90 millimeters thick (3.5 inches) on the front and 70 millimeters (2.8 inches) on the rear and sides.
Of course, there’s always a trade-off in anything, and the thickness and weight of the KV’s armor came at the expense of almost everything else. The tank was slow, had limited maneuverability and firepower relative to what you’d expect from a tank this size, and, to top it all, had exceptionally poor visibility. In fact, it’s noted that Soviet commanders frequently complained about the tank, despite the defensive protection it offered. These sentiments weren’t echoed by the German troops who initially encountered this moving shield.
A 1939 KV-1 model.
The KV-1 and KV-2 (the two most popular models of the tank) were nearly invincible during initial skirmishes with the Germans, as few anti-tank weapons they possessed could punch a hole through the armor, and even the ones that could required uncomfortably close range to do it.
As noted by an unspecified German solider in a 1949 report compiled by the U.S. Army’s Historical Division,
…there suddenly appeared for the first time a battalion of heavy enemy tanks of previously unknown type. They overran the armored infantry regiment and broke through into the artillery position. The projectiles of all defense weapons (except the 88-mm. Flak) bounced off the thick enemy armor. Our hundred tanks were unable to check the twenty enemy dreadnaughts, and suffered losses. Several Czech-built tanks (T 36’s) that had bogged down in the grain fields because of mechanical trouble were flattened by the enemy monsters. The same fate befell a 150-mm. medium howitzer battery, which kept on firing until the last minute. Despite the fact that it scored direct hit after direct hit from as close a range as two hundred meters, its heavy shells were unable to put even a single tank out of action…
The KV-1 and KV-2, which we first met here, were really something! Our companies opened fire at about 800 yards, but [they] remained ineffective. We moved closer and closer to the enemy, who for his part continued to approach us unconcerned. Very soon we were facing each other at 50 to 100 yards. A fantastic exchange of fire took place without any visible German success. The Russian tanks continued to advance, and all armour-piercing shells simply bounced off them. Thus we were presently faced with the alarming situation of the Russian tanks driving through the ranks of 1st Panzer Regiment towards our own infantry and our hinterland. Our Panzer Regiment therefore about turned and rumbled back with the KV-1s and KV-2s roughly in line with them.
The former report also notes that a lone KV tank (the exact model isn’t clear) simply parked in the middle of the road blocking the main supply route and sat there soaking up anti-tank rounds for several days. “There were practically no means of eliminating the monster. It was impossible to bypass the tank because of the swampy surrounding terrain.”
Among the initial armament brought against the troublesome tank were four 50mm anti-tank guns. One by one the tank took them all out suffering no meaningful damage itself.
Frustrated, the Germans commandeered a nearby 88mm anti-aircraft gun, positioning it a few hundred feet behind the tank (basically pointblank range for a gun design to rip planes in half). While this weapon was capable of piercing the tank’s armor at that range, before they could fire, the KV turned the gun’s crew into a pink smear.
A KV-1 on fire, knocked out near Voronezh in 1942.
Next up, the Germans decided to send an engineer crew in under cover of darkness to try to take it out up close and personal. While they did manage to get to the KV and attach demolition charges, it turned out they underestimated the needed explosive power and only a few pieces of the tank’s track were destroyed, leaving the tank still fully functional.
As for the tank crew themselves, they initially received needed supplies to continue their barrage on the Germans via cover of night. However, ultimately the Germans were able to cut off supply access to the tank and then sent a whopping 50 of their own tanks in to take it out, or that was seemingly their plan; while the massive number of tanks were approaching and occupying the attention of the KV crew with their limited visibility, the Germans were able to, according to the 1949 account from the unnamed German soldier, “set up and camouflage another 88-ram. Flak to the rear of the tank, so that this time it actually was able to fire. Of the twelve direct hits scored… three pierced the tank and destroyed it.”
Of course, all good things must come to an end and the KV line’s many limitations saw it quickly go from a near impervious mobile fortress to a virtual sitting duck, with German forces reacting to it by developing new explosive anti-tank rounds fully capable of taking the KV’s out.
While still used throughout the war, once this happened, the KV’s were largely replaced by the more well-rounded T-34 tank. Still, it’s impossible to argue that the KV didn’t make one hell of a first impression, even if, ironically enough, it didn’t have staying power.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Air Force needs new spy pilots, especially for the Cold War-era U-2 Dragon Lady that has flown since 1955, but piloting the U-2 is different from nearly any other aircraft in the world right now. Pilots are strapped into the plane by a dedicated crew and then fly at the edge of space, capturing photographs and signals intelligence.
Here are 13 photos that show what that’s like:
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Reynato Acncheta, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, and Senior Airman Willy Campos help Maj. Sean Gallagher don his helmet before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
First, it really is a team effort to get pilots suited up. Flying at the edge of space exposes pilots to all sorts of hazards, from extreme cold to solar radiation. The extensive gear required would be nearly impossible for the pilot to put entirely on themselves, so enlisted airmen help them get in gear.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, helps Maj. Sean Gallagher don his flight suit before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
The pilot’s entire body is covered by the suit, and it helps regulate their blood pressure, even at high altitudes. The pilots also have to breathe in pure oxygen for a while before the flight to get the nitrogen out of their blood. Otherwise, they would develop decompression sickness, similar to when divers get the bends.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, gets in a vehicle to take him to his aircraft before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, greets his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
The U-2 is an ungainly beast on the ground, necessitating a ground crew. But once pilot and plane are together, the possibilities are great.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, ensures that Maj. Sean Gallagher’s flight suit is properly connected before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
The crew straps the pilot into the bird and plugs them into the systems in preparation for taxiing and takeoff.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Colin Cortez, a U-2 Dragon Lady crewchief assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, signals a U-2 aircraft as it taxis to a parking spot after flying a mission while deployed to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on November 23, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andy Kin)
The jet taxis on permanent gear that sits under the fuselage as well as two sets of wheels that are placed under the plane’s wings.
A U-2 Dragon Lady flies over the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco, California, March 23, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)
Once they’re in the air, though, they’re graceful and sleek with large wings supporting a thin fuselage. They can zip through the air at low altitudes, but they specialize at high-level flight, taking photos and collecting signal intelligence from up to 70,000 feet in the air or higher.
A U-2 Dragon Lady flies above the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California, March 23, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)
When flying at high altitudes, the plane’s lightweight construction and powerful engines allow it to continue even when the air gets thin and oxygen is scarce. This was vital in the 1950s when satellites didn’t yet exist. The Air Force thought they could retire the plane in 1969, but the date has been continuously pushed off or canceled. Most recently, the Air Force decided to cancel a 2019 retirement.
Ice forms around the canopy glass of a U-2 Dragon Lady flying over California, March 23, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)
This allows the U-2 to fly above the range of many air defenses and even the engagement altitudes of many jets. During the Cold War, some U-2s were caught in Soviet airspace and escaped simply because MiGs and Sukhois of the time couldn’t reach them. This isn’t quite immunity, though. As the war dragged on, the Soviets developed weapons that were quite capable of reaching near space, and China and Russia can both reach U-2s in flight.
U-2 Dragon Lady pilot lands on the runway at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
When U-2s land, the pilots have a very limited visibility, so the Air Force assigns chase cars to follow the planes and radio guidance to the pilot. Sometimes the pilots can make do with very little guidance, but the chase cars are needed in case anything goes wrong. This is especially true after long missions where the pilots may be exhausted form 12 hours or more in the air.
A U.S. Air Force maintainer from the 380th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron runs to the wing of a U-2 Dragon Lady from the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron to install a pogo support at an undisclosed location.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
Once its back on the ground, the U-2 is again limited by its paltry two sets of wheels which are lined up like a bicycle’s. So maintainers are sent out with “pogos,” the small sets of wheels that prop up the wings and keep the plane stable on the ground.
A U-2, flying from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, approaches the maintenance hangar after the final sortie for one of its mission systems, December 15, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Carwile)
If the plane is landing at a new base or has flown through possible contamination, the pilot may have to take it through a wash down. This is also traditionally done when an airframe or a mission module has flown its final mission.
U.S. Air Force Major Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, explains the U-2 Dragon Lady’s mission after landing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
Pilots then climb down from the high-flying bird, exhausted. But their missions ensure American safety and security by collecting intelligence that might otherwise be impossible to garner. Its sensors have collected data of enemy air defenses, troop deployments, and technology.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
There is a saying among the airborne forces (words to the effect): “The sky, even more so than the land or the sea, is terribly unforgiving to even the slightest mistake.”
I have been in ground combat units, airborne units both low and high-altitude operational in nature, and have extensive experience in both maritime undersea and surface operations. I agree that airborne operations are likely more dangerous than those maritime, but I insist that the land is by far the safest of all; in fact, I’m conducting a fairly safe land operation right this very minute!
Combat diving puts one in many claustrophobic situations. I happen to be mildly claustrophobic; I think a great percentage of us are, but I also happen to be clinically horrified of heights to the point of near incapacitation. For me, therefore, parachute training was the most stressful. That notwithstanding, I have ~800 parachute jumps to boast of.
While I know of many deaths, near deaths, and injuries from parachute operations (mostly broken limbs from landing and spinal injuries from hard parachute openings), I also have personal experience with two fatalities just in the basic training course for Special Forces underwater operations. In both cases the deaths were attributed to heart attacks. I should mention that the Army’s diving school is one of the most stressful, mentally and physically, in the world.
One of the concerns in airborne operations are early or late exits from the jump aircraft. As you may know, paratroopers try to land in a pre-designated area of land know as a Drop Zone (DZ) that is largely devoid of structures and obstacles like trees and communications lines. Therefore urban areas are avoided and deserts make for great DZs indeed. High altitude jumpers with highly maneuverable parachutes fancy the motto: “The whole world is a Drop Zone.”
In a jump aircraft, the pilot turns over control of the jump to the Jump Master in charge by way of a simple pair of lights located at the jump doors; one is red and the other green. Minutes from the DZ, the pilot will illuminate the red light indicating “no jump”. Once the pilot feels he is safely over the DZ, he will illuminate the green light indicating “safe for jump.”
(Sweet shot of a paratrooper just out the jump door with the green “Go” light illuminated.)
Paratroopers exiting on a red light is considered a major safety violation and is not tolerated across the community. Each incident warrants some measure of investigation to determine fault and safety conditions at the time. Such was the case of Red Light Randy.
Delta does very few if any low-level static lines drops, favoring the greater potential of drops from altitudes of 12,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) and above. Red Light Randy had a mission for which a low-level drop was needed, so he set out for a couple of rehearsal jumps prior to the mission.
The practice jumps went well, but on the night of the actual mission, the pilot failed to put the red light to green once over the DZ. Randy had positive visual recognition of his DZ reception party below, but had no jump authority. Frustrated at the sight of his DZ wasting away below him, he stuffed his team out the door with a frustrated enthusiasm. At a point along the exit the green light finally came on.
(A low-level drop has a much greater penchant to keep men less dispersed ever ground than a high-level drop.)
There was never a decent explanation given by the pilot for the late green light that caused Randy, the last to exit, to come down in some modest scrub past the far edge of the drop zone. There were no injuries or loss of equipment, and Randy and his men enjoyed a mission success for the night.
The Air Force reported the “incident” as an early exit on a red light, but the swift and efficient investigation that ensued determined that the pilot gave a late green, threatening a separation in Randy’s team. In combat it is not the prerogative to circle back and drop the rest of the team, so inevitably the loss of so many men of Randy’s team would have monumentally jeopardized mission success.
So the early red light incident was over… or was it? The “potential ball-breaking” alarm sounded. The details of the event were rocketed off to me, and I got to work straight away producing the feature cartoon:
The drop aircraft is depicted still on departure field runway with Randy announcing the command to jump, The first man exits only to splat face-down on the tarmac. Early exit on red for Red Light Randy!
The bodies of two old helicopters sit uncovered on Bob Fritzler’s property. They tower over him as he walks by them on his way to his large garage.
He had to use a giant trailer to haul them out to his farm with his truck. He imagined it felt a lot like driving a semi. He doesn’t worry much about what the weather might do to the old birds outside. He’s just using them for parts.
Fritzler’s real treasure sits in that large garage on his land near Keenesburg. He’s working to restore a U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky H-34 helicopter, which was flown during Operation SHUFLY, a Marine helicopter operation that primarily ferried troops in Vietnam between 1962 and 1965. Fritzler said it was one of the first helicopters built to drop off troops in combat.
Back then, Fritzler said, helicopters were a huge game changer for Marines. Pilots could drop soldiers off anywhere. Before, they relied on ships, which required a coast.
Fritzler, now 82, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years. He flew the helicopter when he was a pilot. Several other squadrons flew it, too. He hopes to fix it up and eventually put it into the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
Fritzler went to a Marine reunion a couple years ago. There, he met Gerald Hail from Oklahoma who restored old planes back to flyable conditions. Hail invited him out to fly and Fritzler accepted. While out there, Fritzler noticed the H-34.
“I saw bullet hole patches,” Fritzler said. “I knew I could count over 100 bullet holes.”
The bird had aged, with much of the Marine Green paint had worn down to the aluminum. Fritzler’s old squadron number had been painted over with a different squadron’s number, but he still recognized the helicopter as the one he flew.
“I had a real love affair with it,” Fritzler said.
He asked Hail if he could buy it from him so he could restore it. Hail said he’d think about it. About a month later, Hail called Fritzler and told him he’d donate the helicopter if Fritzler would fix it up.
Fritzler’s been working on the restoration project here and there for a couple years. He has experience fixing up machines. He grew up on a farm in Windsor and spent much of his life making farm equipment run again. He thinks that made him fairly handy.
But it’s a lengthy process. It takes time to track down parts that are no longer in production. He bought an old blue and white Marine helicopter for the parts. The previous owner had it certified for commercial use and used it to lift large air conditioning units. Fritzler bought an old Army helicopter, too.
“Both of these (helicopters) are pretty complete,” Fritzler said. Now he just has to figure out which parts the H-34 needs and which ones to take from the others.
He’s not a teenager anymore, either, Fritzler said, so his energy has a limit.
“It didn’t take me long to realize I bit off more than I could chew,” Fritzler said. “I’ve had some help from other guys.”
He works on it for a couple hours a day, sometimes more. He’s mostly working on deconstructing old pieces and finding the new ones to replace them.
Sometimes when Fritzler looks back on his life as a pilot, he wonders if he really did all the things he remembers. It was a long time ago. He did two tours in Vietnam and did some airline flying, too. But his last flight in the cockpit was more than 20 years ago.
“I still love to fly,” he said.
He might not be able to pilot planes anymore, but this may be the next best thing.
The control room of the Navy’s most advanced submarine is filled with sophisticated computers, flat-screen monitors, and sailors who grew up in a digital world.
At times it can look a bit like a video game arcade, and not just because of the high-resolution graphics.
The Navy is beginning to use an Xbox 360 controller — like the ones you find at the mall — to operate the periscopes aboard Virginia-class submarines.
Unlike other types of submarines people are familiar with from Hollywood, Virginia-class submarines don’t have a traditional rotating tube periscope that only one person can look through at a time.
It’s been replaced with two photonics masts that rotate 360 degrees. They feature high-resolution cameras whose images are displayed on large monitors that everyone in the control room can see. There’s no barrel to peer through anymore; everything is controlled with a helicopter-style stick. But that stick isn’t so popular.
“The Navy got together and they asked a bunch of JOs and junior guys, ‘What can we do to make your life better?’ ” said Lt. j.g. Kyle Leonard, the USS John Warner’s assistant weapons officer, referring to junior officers and sailors. “And one of the things that came out is the controls for the scope. It’s kind of clunky in your hand; it’s real heavy.”
Lockheed Martin and Navy officials have been working to use commercial off-the-shelf technology to reduce costs and take advantage of the technological skills sailors grow up with. The integration of the video-game Xbox controller grew out of that effort.
Lockheed Martin refers to the classified research lab in Manassas where testing occurred as the submarine version of “Area 51,” the nickname for the Nevada base where some of the Air Force’s most advanced and secretive projects are tested.
The Xbox controller is no different than the ones a lot of crew members grew up playing with. Lockheed Martin says the sailors who tested the controller at its lab were intuitively able to figure out how to use it on their own within minutes, compared to hours of training required for the joystick.
The Xbox controller also is significantly cheaper. The company says the photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel that cost about $38,000 can now be replaced with an Xbox controller that typically costs less than $30.
“That joystick is by no means cheap, and it is only designed to fit on a Virginia-class submarine,” said Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the John Warner’s assistant navigator. “I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”
The Navy says that the system has gone through extensive testing over the past two years and that the Xbox controller will be included as part of the integrated imaging system for Virginia-class subs beginning with the future USS Colorado, which is supposed to be commissioned by November.
The Xbox controller will be installed on other Virginia-class submarines, such as the Norfolk-based John Warner, through the normal modernization process, according to Brienne Lang, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s program executive office for submarines. The John Warner had a demonstration model aboard this past week as it transited from Naval Station Norfolk to Groton, Conn.
Eichenlaub said the Navy doesn’t plan on stopping innovation with the Xbox controller, either. The goal is to develop technology that young people already are comfortable with, such as working with electronic touch screens on iPads and in virtual environments.
“Ideally, what they want to see in 10 years down the road is, there’s basically a glass panel display with windows, and you can just pull a window of information, review that, push it off, bring in the next window,” he said.
“They want to bring in sailors with what they have at home on their personal laptop, their personal desktop, what they grew up with in a classroom.”
Remotely piloted aircraft, more commonly known as drones, have become an established part of warfare, serving as both intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR for short) assets as well as attack platforms.
More recently, smaller man-portable drones have been proposed as a way to provide infantry units with a faster organic method of scanning the battlefield around them and relaying critical intelligence and data back to infantry leaders. Now, Nexter — a French defense contractor — wants to take drone usage in a different direction and attach them to heavy armored vehicles.
More specifically… tanks.
The gunner’s station in a Leclerc tank
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Rama)
The theory behind fitting out tanks with small drones is maddeningly simple — just tether a drone to the hull or turret of the tank, and integrate scanners and sensors aboard the drone into the tank’s onboard computers. This allows the drone to seamlessly pass what it sees to the tank’s crew, and allows them to use the data to get a visual on the enemy before the enemy sees them, or to dial in their shots for better effects on target.
Using drones, tanks could shoot “blind” out of a defilade position, allowing them to mail accurate shots downrange without having to break out of cover or expose themselves to enemy fire and retaliation.
Nexter, the developer of the Leclerc main battle tank, states that its drone, which will be fully unveiled later this year at the 2019 International Defense Exhibition Conference in the UAE, will be able to designate targets for the Leclerc, and will likely work in tandem with the company’s upcoming POLYNEGE and M3M “smart” 120 mm shells.
Given that the idea and its surrounding development is in full swing over in Europe, it’s only a matter of time until target-designating drones become an asset for American armored elements, especially the Army and Marine Corps’ M1A2 Abrams tank units, which have seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the past 15 years.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Ted Banks)
In recent years, both the Army and General Dynamics Land Systems (which supports, produces, and rebuilds M1A2s) have made moves towards developing methods for the Abrams to not only interface with drones, but also take control of them and use them to attack targets in a dynamic combat environment.
With a concurrent push for guided artillery munitions and “smart” shells for tanks, it’s only a matter of a few short years until the Department of Defense brings in Nexter’s tethered drone concept and implements it across the board with the latest iteration of the Abrams — the M1A2SEP V4.