Lasers have been a mainstay weapon of science fiction for years. In the real world, lasers haven’t quite reached the operational weapon stage, but have been used for range-finding and guiding weapons like the AGM-123 Skipper, AGM-114 Hellfire, and the Paveway laser-guided bombs. These weapons would home in on a target that was painted with the laser, and were able to hit within ten feet of their aimpoint routinely.
Well, laser weapons that do the damage themselves, as opposed to being mere guidance systems, are getting closer to reality. Earlier this year, the Army tested a laser weapon on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Navy had a laser on the afloat staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), which was in the Persian Gulf. Lockheed’s ATHENA laser was tested last month on five MQM-170C drones. Now, Lockheed has a tactical concept to put a laser weapon system of the H-60 airframe.
The concept system in question is the High Energy Fiber Laser. This is a self-contained pallet system that can make existing H-60s that could equip them with up to a 30-kilowatt laser. That’s the same level of firepower (or is laser-power the better word?) as the ATHENA. That sounds very impressive, and a big step forward. How is this done?
According to information Lockheed provided after a request made at the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., the High Energy Fiber Laser is actually a self-contained pallet that can be installed or removed from a H-60 airframe. With the HEFL system on board, the H-60 could defensively counter small threats, including rockets, artillery, mortars, or small UAV.
The introduction of laser weapons on an operation scale is still years away, so for now, zapping annoying Iranian drones and speedboats that harass U.S. Navy forces is still in the realm of science fiction. But that science fiction is coming closer to being science fact.
Sea bass is considered a culinary delicacy around the world. The Chilean sea bass, in fact, often turns up on five-star restaurant menus. But if you’ve been keeping up with the times, you know that there’s a new, American sea bass out in the ocean that has a very big bite. We’re talking something that can takes a chunk out of the metallic denizens of the ocean, both surface-dwelling warships and the subs that lurk beneath.
Okay, it’s not exactly a “sea bass,” but rather a “CBASS,” or Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System, and it’s a huge upgrade to the MK 48 Mod 7 torpedo currently in service.
You may be wondering why the United States Navy is looking to improve on the MK 48 — especially since a U.S. sub hasn’t fired a torpedo in anger since World War II.
MK 48 torpedo aboard USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740).
(DOD photo by Lisa Daniel)
The fact is that technology doesn’t stand still, and the Navy learned the hard way during World War II that reliable torpedoes are essential. Learning from history is why the US is constantly pushing to improve its torpedoes. And it’s a good thing, too, because Russia and China have been pushing to upgrade their naval forces in recent years.
According to Lockheed, the newest Mod 7 will include a suite of new, wide-band sonar systems, advanced signal processing, and enhanced guidance systems. All of this is attached to a 650-pound, high-explosive warhead atop a 3,500-pound torpedo.
43 years after this test shot, the MK 48 Mod 7 CBASS ensures that the United States Navy’s subs can still kill anything afloat — or under the surface.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Official handouts credit the MK 48 with a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a maximum range of over five nautical miles, and an operating depth of at least 1,200 feet. However, the real specs are probably much better in terms of performance. Unofficial figures show the torpedo actually has a top speed of 55 knots and a maximum range of 35,000 yards (almost 20 miles).
The United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy have teamed up to produce this very deadly “fish.” In this case, the CBASS is the predator.
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.”
Sun Tzu advised in The Art of War, “When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him.”
This is why, since the advent of flight, all battlefield commanders have sought to control the airspace above the battlefield – the “ground” above the high ground.
Control of the airspace grants its occupant a clearer view of an enemy’s movements, better communications with friendly forces and the freedom to move quickly and unpredictably to attack downhill well behind the enemy’s front lines.
Forces on land, at sea and in the air all reap the advantages of the establishment of air superiority – the keystone to victories from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just as important, occupying that high ground denies those same advantages to the enemy.
Research into lasers may offer advancement in propulsion technology to get us into deep space and beyond for a fraction of the cost. The geniuses at the Air Force Research Laboratory are developing multiple ways to utilize laser power to enhance weapons, mining in space and electrolyze water.
In peacetime, maintaining air superiority provides a deterrent to those potential adversaries who heed the warning of Sun Tzu.
That is why the Air Force and its researchers are constantly looking far beyond the horizon of the current battlefield to develop new technologies enabling access to the highest ground possible – space.
Even before the Soviet Union successfully launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in October 1957, the United States was developing its own top-secret satellites to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) of potential adversaries – Project Corona.
While Sputnik was little more than a beeping aluminum ball orbiting the Earth, it was an undeniable Soviet flag planted on the global high ground. The U.S. government knew that ceding that high ground greatly increased the chances of defeat should the Cold War with the Soviet Union turn hot.
Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, who oversaw the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), firmly acknowledged the national security benefits of advancing the peaceful exploration of space in 1963.
“I, for one, don’t want to go to bed by the light of a Communist moon,” said Johnson.
To this day the U.S. Air Force has remained at the forefront of pushing farther into space, from launching communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to providing astronaut Airmen who first ventured into Earth orbit during Project Mercury, walked on the Moon during Project Apollo to Col. Jack D. Fischer currently aboard the International Space Station.
It is a legacy that surrounds and drives Dr. Wellesley Pereira, a senior research physical scientist with the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The very site at which Pereira conducts his research is named for an Airman who led the charge to put an American on the Moon.
The Phillips Research Site is named for Air Force Gen. Samuel Phillips, who served as Director of NASA’s Apollo manned lunar landing program from 1964 to 1969. That program culminated in the first humans, Neil Armstrong and then Air Force Lt. Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, landing on the moon in 1969 as Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 Command Module overhead. It was the kind of aggressive manned exploration of space that Pereira would not only like to see continue, but accelerate.
“The Air Force and its Airmen are seen as trendsetters, as in the case with GPS, benefiting all humanity, or with technologically-inspired precision airdrops from 30,000 feet of lifesaving supplies during humanitarian crises,” said Pereira. “In doing this the Air Force establishes itself as a global power in which it does not cede higher ground to anyone… It pays dividends to be at the leading edge of that technology as opposed to playing catch up all the time. The Air Force can really send a very positive message by being that trendsetter in space.”
Pereira is currently researching infrared physics and hyper-spectral imaging as a means to provide ISR data over a wide range of light not visible to the human eye.
“We simulate cloud scenes viewed from spacecraft,” said Pereira. ” (Examining) all the aspects that affect an image from space like the artifacts caused by movement in the space platform; trying to process signals, trying to process information. We try to simulate these things in our lab just to understand spacecraft processes and how we can deal with this in post-processing.”
Pereira’s current position at AFRL as a research scientist coupled with a background in astronomy, physics and space research gives him the opportunity to think deeply about space and human space flight.
“As a research scientist, I’ve been involved in building payloads for the Air Force on satellites,” said Pereira. “This has led me to think about satellites in general; launch, orbits, moving in and out of orbits, the mechanics of orbits and the optimization of orbits.”
Those contemplations have led Pereira to envision an Air Force of the future that will propel its assets and Airmen to increasingly higher ground in space in a cost-effective way that combines technology old and new – sails and lasers.
“Up until now, we’ve been using chemical propulsion to get into space. Chemical propulsion is limited in what it can do for us in the future. We cannot go very far. We have to take resources from the Earth into space, which is a big issue considering we only can carry so much mass, we only have so much power, and so on. It is limited by chemical bond, but it is also limited by size, weight, power,” said Pereira.
The concept of solar sails has existed for quite a while. A solar sail uses photons, or energy from the sun to propel a spacecraft. Photons have energy and momentum. That energy transfers to a sail upon impact, pushing the sail and spacecraft to which it is attached, farther into space, according to Pereira.
“The Japanese have already proven that we can fly stuff with a solar sail. In 2010, they sent up an experiment called IKAROS, Interplanetary Kite-raft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. This was a very successful project,” said Pereira.
“In the same vein as solar sails, futurists have also thought about laser sails. I think this is an area where the Air Force can develop an ability for us to propel spacecraft farther using lasers, either in the form of laser arrays on Earth or taking a laser array and putting it on the moon, to propel spacecraft without the cost of lifting spacecraft and chemical propellant from the Earth’s surface.”
In the near future, Pereira sees this method as a cost-effective way the Air Force can lift satellites into higher Earth orbit.
“You have spacecraft go into orbits that are just about 300 to 600 kilometers above the Earth. We call those Low Earth Orbits or LEO. Likewise, you have orbits that could be about 36,000 to 40,000 kilometers above the Earth. We call them Geostationary Earth Orbits or GEO orbits. Many communications satellites, as well as, a few other satellites are in Geostationary orbit…the way of the future, would be to use laser based arrays, instead of chemical propulsion, to fire at a satellite’s sail to push it to a higher orbit,” said Pereira.
“Our goal is to try and minimize taking resources from earth to space. We can literally just launch a rocket using a catapult that could boost to about 100 meters per second and, once we get it to a certain altitude, we can have an array of lasers focus on the sail on the rocket, propel it out farther, whether it’s intended for a LEO orbit or whether it’s intended for a GEO orbit. As long as you can build material that can endure the laser energy without tearing, I think this is a far cheaper way to go and it could save the Air Force a lot of money.”
According to Pereira, developing this technology would naturally lead to the ability to propel spacecraft carrying Airmen farther into the solar system where they could establish self-sustaining outposts on ever higher ground.
“NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the MPCV, is essentially a spacecraft designed to take astronauts farther than any human has ever gone before. One test flight concept is to visit an asteroid called 1999 AO10, in around 2025,” said Pereira. “This asteroid does not have a lot of gravity and not a lot of surface area, so rather than walking on the asteroid, the idea is for the spacecraft to connect itself to the asteroid, and for the astronauts to do spacewalks to mine materials, so that they can bring them back to Earth for analysis.”
Past and current Air Force research during manned space flight has led to increased understanding of human physiological response to microgravity and exposure to radiation, development of life support systems, nutritious food packaging, sophisticated positioning, navigation and timing software and systems that could one day enable Airmen to routinely fly to and mine asteroids and planetary moons for needed resources.
Pereira also sees Air Force cooperation with commercial companies developing space flight technologies as a benefit to both, from developing suborbital space planes, manned capsules and space waypoints, or “hotels”, to projects as ambitious as Breakthrough Starshot, a proposed mission to send a microchip all the way to Proxima B, an exo-planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, and transmit data back to Earth.
“They want to do this at about 20 percent of the speed of light, meaning it will take five times as long as it would take light to travel between the Earth and Proxima Centauri, approximately four light years away. So it could take only about 20 years for this chip to get to Proxima Centauri. Then if it beams images back at the speed of light, it would take another four years for that data to come back. In about 24 years, we would get data from Proxima Centauri, our nearest star,” said Pereira.
Pereira believes that the Air Force participating in such ventures into the space domain could lead to technologies that could send Airmen to the moons of outer planets in our solar system within a person’s lifetime, benefiting the human race and keeping the Air Force firmly atop the high ground.
“First and foremost, Airmen, as many times in the past, can serve in the capacity of professional astronauts: providing services in scouting and setting up breakthrough scientific missions, establishing colonies for repair and mining in order to reduce or avoid having to take materials from Earth to space…enabling safe pathways, providing in-flight maintenance, refueling crews, more effectively than machines might be able to do.”
“There are so many wonderful things about space that are so fascinating that we can explore and learn so much more if we just keep that aspect of space exploration going. We can achieve this by having our Airmen lead the way to an era of exploration enabled by human space flight.”
Not many remember the Australians’ commitment to aiding the United States in Vietnam, but the Aussies were there, and they sent their best. Australia’s best troops included their very own Special Air Service, special operators in the mold of Britain’s SAS, formidable fighters capable of bringing the enemy’s method of irregular warfare right back home to Hanoi.
The Aussies weren’t content with the M-16, for a number of reasons, so they opted instead to do a little frontier mechanical work on their weapons. The end product became known as “The Bitch.”
When the M-16 first took over for the M-1 Garand as a standard-issue infantry weapon, the result was less than stellar. It jammed. A lot. Frustrated troops began leaving their M-16s at home and using AK-47s captured from the enemy instead. The Aussies preferred a weapon that worked. Even after the weapon was updated to fix its issues, the Australians still opted for a different solution. They liked how handy the M-16 could be, but they wanted the stopping power of a 7.62 round.
But the barrel of the S1A2 self-loading rifle was so heavy… what to do?
The Australian special operators lopped that heavy barrel and its tripod off at the end of the gas block. Then, the MacGuyvers from Down Under fashioned special flash suppressors for the new muzzle for those who wanted it. For those who didn’t, they just left the weapon without any kind of suppression at all. The new, shorter barrel was louder and produced a much bigger bang for the buck.
They wanted the Communists to know who was pulling the triggers and raining death on their Ho Chi Minh Trail parade. If that weren’t enough, sometimes the operators would put a pistol grip on the end so they could control the weapons in fully automatic settings. Others preferred a grenade launcher attachment.
Fun was had by all.
Feature image: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.
This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.
But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.
So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.
The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.
Shooting a .276 Pedersen PB Rifle
An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.
The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.
Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.
But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.
Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.
And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.
So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.
Unmanned air vehicles, better known as drones, have been operating for a long time. And those drones have been used in some high-ranking terrorist kills, like the one that took out Anwar al-Awlaki of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
Other unmanned vehicles are on the ground and are being tested by the Army and Marine Corps.
And the Navy’s gotten into the unmanned game as well. In 2014 the service tested small, unmanned boats as a way to prevent a repeat of the 2000 attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67). But Rolls Royce is now proposing something that could put the Navy’s plans to shame.
According to a company release, Rolls Royce is developing a 700-ton vessel capable of operating for 100 days unmanned, and it could be a game-changer for navies around the world. This vessel would be about the size of the Nanuchka-class corvette. It would have a range of 3,500 miles and a top speed of more than 25 knots.
What might this vessel be used for? The big mission Rolls Royce is pitching is “coastal patrol and surveillance,” logistical support, or even as a means to protect other vessels. This ship would still be very capable for its size, largely because, “[m]any of the habitation systems and accommodation compartments are removed, bringing immediate cost savings and making the vessel smaller.”
“The autonomous platforms are likely to cover a range of single role missions, e.g. patrol and surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening, while the larger manned ships will cover the multi-role missions,” Rolls Royce adds.
In addition to having on-board sensors, the unmanned vessel could also carry a number of unmanned aerial vehicles. In essence, it is a robotic aircraft carrier for drones. This could make things very interesting at sea.
“One of the coolest, most creative videos I’ve ever seen produced by a military journalist.”
That comment from a Vimeo user is a pretty spot-on assessment of Steel Rain — a brief but beautiful video of a Marine artillery unit mercilessly raining fire on ISIS in Syria.
In the spring of 2017, then-Sgt. Matthew Callahan deployed to an undisclosed location in Syria with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to tell the story of artillery Marines deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The Marines conducted 24-hour all-weather fire support for the Syrian Democratic Forces as they fought the Battle of Raqqa.
drone footage captures U.S. artillery Marines conducting strikes against ISIS”
After the SDF recaptured the city in the fall of 2017, Army Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell told Business Insider that US-led coalition forces were firing on ISIS in Raqqa “every minute of every hour” in order to keep pressure on the terrorist group, and the Marine fire supporting them was so intense that the barrels on two of the howitzers burned out.
Armed with a camera and drone, Callahan was there to capture all the steel-raining glory of the M777-A2 Howitzers and their crews. Now a civilian video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine, Callahan was the first service member ever named Department of Defense’s military videographer of the year and military photographer of the year simultaneously.
In this roughly two-minute piece of cinematic wizardry, the award-winning filmmaker and photographer captures some of the sexiest footage you’ll ever see of the King of Battle raining righteous hellfire on America’s enemies. Watch Steel Rain above; then check out the four-minute extended cut that’s just as beautiful and more detailed here. You’ll be glad you did.
In the early days of the Cold War, the United States was working on developing advanced surface-to-air missiles to intercept Soviet bombers. The first and only missile for a while that fit the Air Force’s bill was dubbed the “Bomarc.”
According to Designation-Systems.net, the missile was first called the XF-99, as the Air Force was trying to pass it off as an unmanned fighter. Eventually, the Air Force switched to calling the Bomarc the IM-99.
The system made its first flight in 1952, but development was a long process, with the IM-99A becoming operational in September 1959. The IM-99A had a range of 250 miles, a top speed of Mach 2.8, and could carry either a 1,000-pound high-explosive warhead or a 10-kiloton W40 warhead.
The IM-99A had a problem, though – its liquid fuel needed to be loaded into the booster before launch, a process that took about two minutes. The fueling was not exactly a safe process, and the fuel itself wasn’t entirely stable. So, the Air Force developed a version with a solid booster. The IM-99B would end up being a quantum leap in capability. Its speed increased to Mach 3, it had a range of 440 miles, and only carried the nuclear warhead.
The Bomarc also has the distinction of making Canada a nuclear power. Well, sort of. Canada bought two squadrons’ worth of the missiles, replacing the CF-105 Arrow interceptor. Canada’s Bomarcs did have the nuclear warhead, operated under a dual-key arrangement similar to that used by West Germany’s Pershing I missiles.
The Bomarc, though, soon grew obsolete, and by the end of 1972 they were retired. However, the Bomarc would end up sharing the same fate as many old fighters, as many of the missiles were eventually used as target drones since their speed and high-altitude capability helped them simulate heavy Russian anti-ship missiles like the AS-4 Kitchen and AS-6 Kingfish.
Over 700 Bomarcs were produced. Not a bad run at all for this missile.
Naval mine countermeasures have not gotten a lot of attention in the press, which is strange considering that the job is crucial. Of the last four US Navy ships damaged by hostile action, three were by mines — the other was an Oct. 2000 terrorist attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67).
In 1988, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) suffered severe damage from an Iranian mine, which put the vessel out of action for over a year. During Operation Desert Storm, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH 10) were both damaged by mines.
So, what keeps today’s Navy safe from deadly mines?
USS Scout (MCM 8), an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, in Los Angeles for Fleet Week.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Harkins)
11 Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
The Navy built 14 of these vessels, starting with USS Avenger (MCM 1), which was commissioned in 1987. Prior to that, the bulk of the Navy’s minesweeper force consisted primarily of World War II-era vessels. The other 13 Avenger-class vessels entered service within the following seven years. Eleven of these ships are still in service. USS Avenger and USS Defender (MCM 2) have been decommissioned, and one vessel, USS Guardian (MCM 5), ran aground and was a total loss.
These vessels have a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 84 officers and enlisted. Their primary systems for mine warfare are remote operated vehicles that can descend hundreds of feet below the ocean to neutralize mines.
A MH-53 Sea Dragon lowers its mine-hunting sonar.
(US Navy photo by MCSN William Carlisle)
30 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters
The Navy operates 30 of these heavy-lift helicopters that were acquired in the 1980s. While they bear a superficial resemblance to the CH-53E Super Stallion, there are some big differences. Most notable is the fact that they have larger sponsons to hold more fuel. They can also carry additional fuel tanks in the cargo compartment.
The MH-53E has a maximum range of 885 miles and a top speed of 172 miles per hour. These helicopters tow a mine-sweeping sled and can operate from any aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship. These helicopters are slated to retire in 2025.
A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter hovers while a technician drops down to handle a mine.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Devin Wray)
256 MH-60S Seahawk multirole helicopters
This helicopter will assume the airborne mine-countermeasures role among the many other missions it carries out when the Sea Dragons retire. This versatile helicopter is responsible for vertical replenishment, combat search-and-rescue missions, anti-surface warfare, medical evacuation, and supporting special operations forces. They can operate from any carrier, amphibious vessel, or surface combatant.
This helicopter has a top speed of 180 knots and a maximum range of 245 nautical miles. While the 256 MH-60S helicopters purchased by the Navy offer a lot of versatility, the range and endurance are a significant step down from the Sea Dragon.
USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, is intended to help replace the Avenger mine countermeasures ships.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Kaleb R. Staples)
12 Littoral Combat Ships
So far, the Navy has commissioned 12 littoral combat ships. These ships were primarily intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, but also being given double duty in also replacing the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessels. Their mine-clearing capability is based on a mission package that is centered around the use of MH-60S helicopters and remote-operated vehicles.
The littoral combat ship has been controversial due to numerous breakdowns and a smattering of other issues, and the production run is being cut short in favor of new guided-missile frigates.
In order to meet the goal of a Navy numbering 355 ships, Naval Sea Systems Command will consider resurrecting a number of retired combat vessels from the dead and refitting them for active service.
Though nothing has been set in stone just yet, some of the “younger” ships parked at the various Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facilities around the country could get a new lease on life, thanks to dialed-down purchases of Littoral Combat Ships and the next-generation Zumwalt class destroyer.
Upon decommissioning, warships are often stripped for reusable parts, and sensitive equipment and gear are removed, along with the ship’s weapon systems. Frigates, destroyers and cruisers could lose their deck guns, their radars, and electronics suites — some of which will be used as spare parts for active ships, and the rest of which will be stored until the Navy determines that it has absolutely no use for these retired vessels anymore, heralding the start of the process of their dismantling.
A number of ships will also be sold to allied nations for parts or for active use.
Currently, the Navy retains less than 50 ships within its inactive “ghost” fleet, among them Oliver Hazard-Perry frigates, Ticonderoga guided missile cruisers, Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, and a variety of other types, including fleet replenishment ships and amphibious assault ships.
Among the ships to be evaluated for a potential return to service are a handful of Oliver Hazard-Perry class frigates and the USS Kitty Hawk, a conventionally-powered super carrier mothballed in Bremerton, Washington.
The Kitty Hawk, now over 57 years old, is apparently the only carrier in the Navy’s inactive fleet worthy of consideration for a return to duty. Having been retired in 2009, the Kitty Hawk was modernized enough to support and field all Navy carrier-borne aircraft currently active today.
However, the ship has since been heavily stripped down; many of her combat systems destroyed or sent around the Navy for use with other vessels. The extensive refurbishment this 63,000 ton behemoth would have to undergo would likely prove to be the limiting factor in bringing it back to duty.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Navy has explored the possibility of returning mothballed ships to active duty. In fact, in the 1980s as part of then-President Reagan’s 600 Ship initiative, the Navy recommissioned the legendary WWII-era Iowa class battleships, three of which had been inactive since the late ’50s and one of which had been retired in the late ’60s. All four vessels underwent a costly multi-million dollar overhaul and were ushered back into service.
Two of these battleships — the Wisconsin and the Missouri — would go on to see action during the Persian Gulf War before being quickly retired in 1990 along with their sister ships, the Iowa and the New Jersey.
Bringing back the Hazard-Perry frigates could be far more of a distinct possibility than any of the other ships in the inactive fleet. With the Navy reducing its planned buy of LCS vessels, originally designed to be the successor to the Hazard-Perry boats, and constant engineering issues plaguing the active LCS fleet, a gap has gradually emerged with many clamoring for a more effective frigate-type vessel… or a return to the ships which were previously to be replaced.
A number of Hazard-Perry ships have indeed been sold for scrap, or have been earmarked for a transfer to allied nations, though a few still remain in the inactive reserve, ready to be revamped and returned to service should the need arise.
Ultimately, it will be the bean counters who determine the final fate of the ships in the ghost fleet, and whether or not un-retiring them is a viable option. The cost of refitting and overhauling these vessels to be able to stay relevant against more modern threats, including boat swarms, could prove to be too much for the Navy to foot, especially for a short term investment.
Further options could include hastening the construction of current combat vessels on-order, while retaining more of the older ships in the fleet for an extended service term. However, given the Navy’s needs at the moment, it’s safe to say that NAVSEA will give returning some of these old veterans back to duty serious consideration.
Elon Musk’s plan to station thousands of satellites above the Earth is already starting to annoy astronomers.
Starlink is the project launched by Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX which aims to put up to 42,000 satellites in orbit with the aim of bringing high-speed internet to even the most remote corners of the globe.
Though only 120 of the satellites are up and running, they’re already wreaking havoc with astronomical research.
The brightness of the satellites mean that when they cross a piece of sky being watched by a telescope, they leave bright streaks that obscure stars and other celestial objects.
Last week astronomer Clarae Martínez-Vázquez of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile tweeted that 19 Starlink satellites crossed the sky and disrupted the work of the observatory because they were so bright they affected its exposure. “Rather depressing… This is not cool,” she added.
Dr Dave Clements of Imperial College London told Business Insider that SpaceX is applying a typically Silicon Valley approach to Starlink, rushing it through without fully thinking through the consequences.
“I’m very concerned about the impact of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation on all aspects of astronomy,” he said.
“Move fast and break things might be workable when you’re breaking a competitor’s business model or the outdated assumptions of an industry, but in this case Musk is breaking the night sky for personal profit. That is unacceptable, and is not something you can fix when you’re out of beta. The launches should stop until a solution is agreed with astronomers, professional and amateur.”
Clements added that the Starlink satellites also interfere with radio astronomy.
“They transmit in bands used by radio astronomers, especially at high frequencies. While these bands are used by other transmitters on the ground, we cope with that by having radio silent preserves around the telescopes. This won’t work when the Sky is full of bright satellite transmitters so Musk might be ruining several kinds of astronomy at once,” he said.
View of Starlink satellites.
Researchers working on a new state-of-the-art observatory due to open next year told the Guardian that private satellites launched by SpaceX, Amazon, and other private firms threaten to jeopardise their work.
Astronomers at the yet-to-open Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) ran simulations which suggested the vast majority of images taken by the telescope could be ruined by bright private satellites passing by.
The disruption caused by Starlink has not come as a surprise to the scientific community.
When SpaceX launched its last batch of 60 satellites earlier this month James Lowenthal, Professor of Astronomy at Smith College told the New York Times the project could majorly complicate astronomical research. “It potentially threatens the science of astronomy itself,” he said.
SpaceX was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When it comes to aviation, original ideas are few and far between. Much of the progress that happens in the space can be considered more evolutionary than revolutionary. The F-15E Strike Eagle multirole fighter, for instance, was an evolution of the F-15 Eagle, an air-superiority fighter. This is often the case with transport planes, too.
For example, the general appearance of transport planes hasn’t changed much over the decades. There’s a huge, mostly hollow fuselage, high-mounted wings, and, at the very least, a rear ramp used to load vehicles or pallets of cargo. In developing cargo planes, the real issue isn’t figure out how to transport something, it’s figuring out how to transport that much.
A Y-20 in flight. This plane is based on the Russian Il-76 Candid transport.
(Photo by Alert5)
When the Chinese Communists were looking for a solution for massive-scale logistics, they decided to develop an aircraft based on the Il-76 “Candid” family of planes. They took this already-impressive aircraft and put it on a metaphorical steroid regimen, just like the ones former baseball sluggers Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez used to bulk up.
The Il-76 can haul 44 tons of cargo. Communist China’s Y-20, their ‘roided-out version of the Russian plane, hauls up to 66 tons. The Y-20 has a top speed of 572 miles per hour and a maximum range of 2,796 miles. The Il-76 can go for 2,734 miles at a top speed of 559 miles per hour.
China has acquired 30 planes in the Il-76 Candid, 22 of which are transports similar to this Indian Air Force Il-76.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
Now, that still doesn’t quite match up with the United States’ logistical powerhouse, the C-17, which can carry up to 85 tons of cargo up to 2,400 nautical miles. Additionally, the C-17 can be refueled in flight, so it can reach anywhere in the world. But compared to the baseline Il-76, the Y-20 is a substantial improvement, and gives Communist China a better plane — even if it’s still waiting on the WS-20 engines.
Watch the video below to see this plane go through some of its paces.