Mark Bentley of De Pere, Wisconsin was proficient in the use of the Army’s top secret W54 weapon. But it’s a great thing he never had to use it.
The W54 was a nuclear weapon that fit inside an Army-issued duffel bag with a payload one-tenth the size of the “Little Boy” weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in World War II.
Bentley told the Green Bay Press Gazette that the portable nuclear weapons were part of a plan to disrupt any potential Soviet movements into Western Europe in the event of World War III.
The Army learned a lot about mountain fighting in the Korean War. It also developed smaller nuclear weapons, ones like the M28 Davy Crockett device. These tactical devices could be fired from a weapon as small as a recoilless rifle. The idea was to block certain passes with ash and radiation, forcing the massive Red Army to redirect its movement.
An estimated 400 W54 man-portable Special Atomic Demolition Munitions (SADM) – backpack nukes – were built by the United States in 1961 and deployed until 1971. They weighed roughly 50 pounds and were roughly 11 inches in diameter, with a height of 15 inches.
Originally the nukes were built with the idea that special operations forces like the U.S. Navy SEALs could infiltrate enemy harbors and destroy them with such devices. For the U.S. Army, the idea was not to destroy large chunks of Soviet military units or bases. Instead, the idea was to funnel large formations into a greater kill zone.
“The problem was, the blast range was larger than the trajectory,” he said.
This means there was no way of escaping the nuclear device’s death zone before it was triggered. Still, he signed up for the job in 1968 – because it was better than being drafted.
Bentley had a very low draft number during one of the hottest years of the Vietnam War. He described his choice as either getting drafted to be a target for two years or spending three years doing something he actually wanted to do.
The draft ended just after he signed on to enlist, but stayed in, eventually joining a Special Atomic Demolitions Munitions platoon. He spent his entire career training for World War III in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
He said someone would have to set the explosive and secure it until it went off. It would either be the person carrying it or another person who would secure the site after the soldier who set the nuclear charge made a hasty retreat.
“You set your timer, and it would click when it went off, or it went ding or I forget what, but you knew you were toast,” he said. “Ding! Your toast is ready, and it’s you.”
The U.S. Air Force developed similar nuclear devices affixed to the AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missile, the only air-to-air device to be fitted with a nuclear warhead, intended to knock out large Soviet bomber formations.
The W54 wasn’t the only compact nuclear device developed by the U.S. military. An advanced version, the W72 was an air-to-ground guided bomb device that could be used for the same purpose, without the suicide sacrifice of a soldier on the ground.
A Chinese destroyer used a weapons-grade laser to target a US Navy P-8A surveillance aircraft flying above the Pacific last week, US Pacific Fleet said Thursday.
In a statement, the US accused the People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer of “unsafe and unprofessional” actions over the incident, said to have occurred about 380 miles from Guam, where the US has a significant military presence.
The laser appeared to be part of the destroyer’s close-in weapon system, a Pacific Fleet spokeswoman told Insider.
“The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A,” Pacific Fleet said. “Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.”
The Chinese destroyer, hull No. 161, appears to have been the Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyer Hohot.
US Pacific Fleet accused the Chinese warship of violating international rules and regulations, including agreements on conduct at sea, by targeting the aircraft, which was operating in airspace above international waters, with a laser.
The latest incident is not the first time the US military has accused the Chinese military of using lasers against US assets and personnel.
In 2018, the Department of Defense accused the Chinese military, specifically personnel stationed at the country’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti, of using lasers to target US aircraft operating nearby, CNN reported at the time.
A notice to airmen issued at the time urged pilots “to exercise caution when flying in certain areas in Djibouti,” saying the call for caution was “due to lasers being directed at US aircraft.”
“During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” the notice said.
The Pentagon said the activity posed “a true threat to our airmen.”
Every year at SHOT Show, there seems to be a theme among the new product releases. 2018 seemed to be the year of the Roland Special & pistol comps, the year prior was pistol caliber carbines, before that was the modular rifles and suppressors. We are already seeing a trend forming here, Glock clones.
Brownells has been killing it with the exclusive Polymer80 options as well as their bargain-priced slides. With the success that Brownells saw with the Polymer80 frames and Brownells produced slides, it was only a matter of time for other manufacturers to jump on the Glock clone bandwagon.
Leading up to the show season Brownells even launched new Gen4 Glock slides,
The Glock clone army that might invade the 2019 SHOT Show really started on the floor of SHOT 2018 with the announcement of the PF940SC and the serialized PF940C frames. Could this have been foreshadowing of the impending invasion?
Our friends over at Grey Ghost Precision dropped their Combat Pistol frame on us back in August 2018, giving Glock builders yet another option. The Combat Pistol frame has a distinctive texture and is ready to build on right out of the box.
How about a folding Glock clone? Full Conceal launched their Polymer80 framed thing in 2018 as well.
There are even options to build a non-Glock Glock in large frame calibers like .45 ACP and 10mm with Polymer80’s recently announced PF45 frame.
As for 2019? We’ve seen a slew of new Glock clones announced like the Alpha Foxtrot aluminum frame, and the new Zev OZ9 pistol kicking the show season off strong. Following those, Faxon Firearms released their FX-19 pistol that appears to be based on a Faxon specific Poly80 frame.
If the Faxon pistol doesn’t do it for you, how about the new Glock build kit from Agency? This one came as the biggest surprise to us given Agency’s history producing some of the nicest Glocks on the planet. If you scoop one of these up, not only do you get an Agency stippled frame but also a lower parts kit and their Syndicate slide.
I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that the show floor is going to be littered with Glock clones built on their very own platform like the ZRO Delta Genesis Z9 or the half a dozen “new” pistols being offered that have a Polymer80 frame.
There are likely several other new Glock clone options that have been overlooked in the sea of plastic fantastic.
Regardless of what this year’s theme turns out to be, we will be pleased with any new products announced. After all, variety is the spice of life.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
The US Army is preparing to field new night vision goggles and an integrated weapons sight that will change the way US ground forces go to war.
The new Enhanced Night Vision Goggles – Binocular (ENVG-B) and the Family of Weapons Sights – Individual (FWS-I) will make US soldiers and Marines deadlier in the dark by offering improved depth perception for better mobility and increased situational awareness at night, as well as the ability to accurately shoot around corners and from the hip.
The Army will begin fielding this capability late September 2019 at Fort Riley in Kansas, where this new technology will be delivered to the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
The night vision goggles offer higher-resolution imagery, as well as improved thermal capabilities, giving ground troops the ability to see through dust, fog, smoke, and other battlefield obscurants.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular.
(US Army photo)
The goggles wirelessly connect to the weapon sight, delivering Rapid Target Acquisition capability. With a picture-in-picture setup, soldiers can see not only what is in front of them, but also whatever their weapon is aimed at, allowing them to shoot from the hip or point their weapon around a corner.
“This capability “enables soldiers to detect, recognize and engage targets accurately from any carry position and with significantly reduced exposure to enemy fire,” according to the Army.
This system was tested with US soldiers, special operators, Marines, and National Guard personnel.
Sgt. First Class Will Roth, a member of the Army Futures Command Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, was skeptical when he first learned about this technology, he told the Army in a statement. “I couldn’t envision a time when soldiers would accept this product and trust it in the field,” he said.
His mind changed after he saw a Marine lie down on his back and fire over his shoulder at targets 50 to 100 meters away, relying solely on the goggles paired wirelessly to the optics on the Marine’s rifle. “He hit five out of seven. It gave me chill bumps,” Roth said.
“I decided this was an insane game changer,” he added. “I’m a believer, one hundred percent. Nothing else offers these kinds of capabilities.”
Senior Army officials are optimistic about the capabilities of this new technology.
“It is better than anything I’ve experienced in my Army career,” Lt. Gen. James Richardson, deputy commander of Army Futures Command, told Congress earlier this year, adding that Rangers had “gone from marksman to expert” with the help of the new optics.
Brig. Gen. Dave Hodne, director of the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, told reporters in October 2018 that he “can’t imagine, right now, any future sighting system that will not have that kind of capability.”
The ENVG-B and FWS-I mark the first deliverables of the US Army’s one-year-old four-star command, Army Futures Command, which is dedicated to the development of next-generation weapons and warfighting systems.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As the US military is focusing on the Russian and Chinese threat, the Arctic becomes an ever more important region. The bountiful natural resources reportedly existing under the endless ice of the Arctic make the contested region highly desirable for all contestants — and there’s a lot of them.
In addition to the US, the European Union, China, Russia, Canada, and the United Kingdom all present some claim to the Arctic and are claiming sovereignty over portions of the plentiful natural resources that are hidden underneath the ice.
US special operations units, thus, have every interest to prepare for action in an arctic environment since they are at the tip of the spear of the American military.
In September, a Special Forces mountain team from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, participated in exercise Valor United 20. The exercise, which brought together special operations and conventional troops, took place in Seward, Alaska. Its aim was to boost the experience and expertise of the participants in arctic warfare and increase the interoperability between special operations and conventional forces.
A Navy SEAL with a Special Operations Military Working Dog training in arctic conditions (US Navy).
The participants focused on patrolling, arctic, alpine, and glacier movement, crevasse rescue, and long-range communications under the austere conditions of the arctic environment. Regarding the last aspect of the training (long-range communications), the Special Forces team’s communications sergeants were able to send high-frequency messages from their positions to their headquarters in Okinawa, more than 4,400 miles away. In doing so, they tested their ability to securely transmit a message over an extremely long distance without being compromised. It’s important to remember that in a near-peer conflict, the enemy’s capabilities compete with or match those of the US military, unlike what has been happening in the Middle East for the past 20 years where US troops have been fighting a technologically inferior enemy.
A Special Forces communication sergeant (18E) with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) sets up an antenna for high-frequency transmission during Valor United 20, an arctic warfare training exercise in Seward, Alaska (1st SFG).
While they were in the area, the 12-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) had the chance to work alongside the 212th Rescue Squadron and assist the Air Commandos in wilderness search and rescue missions.
“This was a great opportunity to refine previous Small Unit Tactics training and expand our proficiency to conduct arctic operations in an austere mountain environment,” said the ODA’s team sergeant in a press release.
Training offers units the opportunity to test tactics, techniques, and procedures, the utility of gear, and the rationale of established concepts in different environments. For example, a soldier moving and fighting in the arduous arctic environment needs significantly more calories than a soldier who sits on a forward operations base most of the day and goes out on a direct action mission at night or from a troop who is training a partner force. Thus, exercises like Valor United 20 are a great opportunity to answer the “what” and “how” questions units might have about operating in different geographical environments.
Rangers undergoing the Cold Weather Operations Course (US Army).
Army Special Forces soldiers aren’t the only ones who are getting additional arctic warfare training. The 75th Ranger Regiment, arguably the world’s premier light infantry special operations unit, has been sending troops to the Cold Weather Operations Course (CWOC) with increased frequency.
The Army has recognized the increased importance of and emphasis on arctic warfare by introducing the Arctic Tab. Since January, soldiers who successfully complete the Northern Warfare Training Center’s Cold Weather Leaders Course (CWLC) are awarded the Arctic Tab. This decision sparked some controversy since many feel that another tab would diminish the value of the preexisting ones, such as the Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Honor Guard Tab, or Sapper Tab.
NASA has taken another step toward re-introducing supersonic flight with the award of a contract for the design, building, and testing of a supersonic aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale, California, was selected for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration contract, a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract valued at $247.5 million. Work under the contract began April 2, 2018, and runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will complete the design and fabrication of an experimental aircraft, known as an X-plane, which will cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB), instead of a sonic boom.
Once NASA accepts the aircraft from the contractor in late 2021, the agency will perform additional flight tests to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, aircraft performance is robust, and it’s safe to operate in the National Airspace System.
Beginning in mid-2022, NASA will fly the X-plane over select U.S. cities and collect data about community responses to the flights. This data set will be provided to U.S. and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, which could enable new commercial cargo and passenger markets in faster-than-sound air travel.
The Syrian Civil War has been a testing ground for some of Russia’s latest weapons. Russia even sent their piece-of-crap carrier, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, to do a “combat deployment” in Syria (though the carrier’s planes operated from land). Russia made a big deal about the deployment but, as is typical of much of Russia’s arsenal, there wasn’t much behind the hype.
Now, it looks like the new Pantsir mobile air-defense system may join that list of weapons that fail to meet expectations. The Pantsir is a combined gun-missile system armed with enough SA-22 Greyhound missiles to, theoretically, shoot down an entire squadron of fighters.
As it turns out, the Pantsir made its combat debut as a result of the recent contretemps between Iran and Israel after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. Unfortunately for the Russians, this debut was less than stellar. The video above, released by the Israeli Defense Forces, shows the last seconds of a Pantsir’s existence, right up to the moment of impact.
According to an IDF release, the Israeli Air Force carried out an attack in response to rocket-launcher fire from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Israeli defense systems, like Iron Dome, destroyed four of the Iranian rockets, preventing any casualties and damages.
During the IDF’s response, Syrian air-defense systems fired on Israeli planes. All IDF aircraft returned home safely. Conversely, Israel claims that it destroyed several Syrian aerial interception systems, including the Pantsir.
A Pantsir air-defense system takes part in a 2016 live-fire demonstration.
(Photo by Sergey Bobylev, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
This isn’t the only time that Syria has taken the latest gear from Russia into battle only to see it perform poorly. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Syria sent T-72 main battle tanks into combat with the Israelis. The T-72s lost in action against Israel’s home-grown Merkava in what would prove to be a preview of that tank’s abysmal performance in Operation Desert Storm.
To see more on the Israeli Defense Forces’ recent operations in Syria, check out the video below.
In 2011, Libyans took arms against the 40-plus year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. The dictator tried to brutally crush a demonstration against his regime in Benghazi. The response from the Libyan people was a nearly nine-month-long civil war which ended with the death of the dictator near his hometown of Sirte. But it was a victory that almost never was. The Libyan Rebels needed to level the playing field when it came to air superiority – they needed to be able to call in airstrikes.
That’s where Twitter came in.
Some people swear by it.
By mid-March 2011, Gaddafi’s loyalist forces were pushing the rebels back fast. All their hard-won gains liberated more than half of Libya from the dictator who promised to make the streets of Benghazi run red with rebel blood. Gaddafi’s air power was proving to be a decisive advantage in the civil war. Luckily for the rebels, there was a NATO task force assembling offshore.
American, French, British, and Canadian ships had all joined each other off the Libyan coast and began to hit Gaddafi’s positions with the full might of their respective sea-based air forces. They also began to enforce a no-fly zone. This was enough to turn the tide of the rebels, who were battle-hardened veterans, fighting for their lives. It was a strategic win for them, no doubt, but the tactical use of NATO air power proved problematic.
“I can just call a jet fighter and one will come kill these tanks? This must be what being a U.S. soldier is like.”
Many wondered how NATO fighters could know where to drop tactical missiles and bombs when their own JTACs are not on the ground with rebel forces, and NATO has no direct communications with the fighters it’s supporting. The answer is that the Twitter social media network became part of NATO’s overall “intelligence picture.” NATO allies began analyzing data gleaned from Twitter posts to understand Gaddafi’s movements but also to assist rebel fighters in pushing down pro-Gaddafi attacks.
Rebel fighters using their cell phones would gather coordinates from Google Earth and then tweet those coordinates to NATO, who would then come in and light up the loyalist forces. The top NATO brass says it’s a normal step any military would take.
That’s how Gaddafi would meet his end, and where his death would be posted for the world to see.
“Yes, right up his butt. It’s on YouTube.”
“Any military campaign relies on something that we call ‘fused information’,” said Wing Commander Mike Bracken, a NATO spokesman. “We will take information from every source we can… The commander will assess what he can use, what he can trust, and the experience of the operators, the intelligence officers, and the trained military personnel and civilian support staff will give him those options. And he will decide if that’s good information.”
Since NATO had no boots on the ground but deems it vital to support the Libyan rebels, extrapolating the information needed by commanders seems like a totally legitimate means of intelligence gathering – and an effective one to boot. NATO airplanes decimated Libyan air defenses and made the critical difference in the war for the Libyan people to liberate themselves from a terrible dictator.
The U.S. military has been talking about it for years, but now the stars may be aligning to force a closer look at replacing the standard military rifle issued to most American troops.
The Army is reportedly exploring how it might outfit all its front-line troops with a rifle chambered in a larger round than the 5.56mm M4 and M16 for the current fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, insiders claim. Service officials are increasingly worried that that soldiers are being targeted by insurgent fighters wielding rifles and machine guns that can kill U.S. troops at a distance, while staying out of the effective range of America’s current small arms.
“A Capability Gap exists for 80 percent of US and NATO riflemen who are armed with 5.56mm weapons,” weapons expert and former Heckler Koch official Jim Schatz stated in a recent small arms briefing. “The threat engages friendly forces with 7.62mmR weapons 300 meters beyond the effective range of 5.56mm NATO ammo.”
“These 5.56mm riflemen have no effective means to engage the enemy.”
So the service is considering options to outfit soldiers with a true “battle rifle” chambered in 7.62×51, a more powerful round with a greater range than the 5.56, analysts say. It’s unclear which system the Army will pick if it decides to go this route, with rifles like the Mk-17 SCAR-H, M-110 and now the M110A1 CSASS either getting set for fielding or already in the inventory.
But military planners aren’t stopping there.
Multiple sources confirm that the service is also looking at fielding a so-called “intermediate caliber” round that can be used in both machine guns and infantry rifles that deliver better range and lethality than the 5.56 but in a smaller, lighter package than the NATO M80 7.62×51 ammo.
Dubbed the .264 USA, the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia, has been shooting a prototype intermediate caliber round for years. Similar to the 6.5 Grendel but with a case sized for use in a standard M4 magazine, the .264 USA has an 800 meter effective range and better terminal ballistics further out than a 5.56.
The round is also being developed with a polymer case instead of brass, which cuts down the weight significantly, experts claim.
“Stand-off shooters in Afghanistan employ the suppressive merits of 7.62x54R weapons by raining down .30 caliber projectiles onto troops armed mostly with 5.56mm rifles incapable of returning effective fire,” Schatz wrote. “A lightweight polymer-cased intermediate caliber cartridge and projectile would thus improve the probability of hit, incapacitation and suppression for all members of the squad without the weight and recoil penalties associated with 7.62mm NATO ammunition and weapons.”
The notion is to field one caliber that can work for a variety of missions — from close-in battle clearing houses to distant engagements using a rifle or a machine gun. In fact, there’s increased interest within the service to evaluate a new medium machine gun chambered in .338 Norma Magnum that would replace the M240 and potentially even the decades-old M2 .50 cal in some missions.
The Army has not taken an official position on the fielding of 7.62 battle rifles for its front-line troops or on the development of an intermediate caliber. The service did conduct a Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study to look into the issue, but the results have not yet been publicly released.
And weapons experts within the military and in industry confirm to WATM that the debate is heating up.
Two experts who spoke to WATM questioned the wisdom of fielding a 7.62 battle rifle as an interim solution, arguing the current M4 could benefit from better constructed, longer length, free-floated barrels and top-notch ammunition to make up for some of the ballistic shortfalls.
Another veteran and firearms expert said the M4’s range problem is more a training issue than it is a caliber one, calling the Army’s marksmanship program “a joke” and arguing good ammo and a longer barrel could solve many of the engagement distance problems.
Additionally, one world champion competitive shooter and tactical trainer told WATM that top-tier special operators who’ve taken his classes are using 18-inch barrels on their carbines, moving away from shorter options geared for tight spaces in favor of the range advantages of a longer gun.
The military has been debating the wisdom of sticking with the 5.56 since operations in Somalia prompted discussions over the terminal ballistics of the “varmint” round, but despite multiple studies claiming there are better options out there, the Army and the rest of the services haven’t seen a compelling enough reason to make a change.
Yet with the potential for increased defense budgets, a replacement for the M9 pistol coming on board and a Pentagon leadership that seems more in tune with the needs of troops fighting terrorists on the ground, the drive to rethink America’s arsenal could lead to major changes.
The MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are the two main drones in the United States arsenal. Both have become known as the bane of terrorists’ existence.
Well, okay, more accurately they are the means by which terrorists meet the end of their existence.
So, what’s it like to fly one of these? WATM got the chance to try at the 2017 AirSpaceCyber expo held at National Harbor, Maryland, and the experience was eye-opening. We took the controls of an MQ-9 Reaper simulator, and it proved more difficult than we imagined.
The controls at the simulator in the General Atomics booth were surprisingly responsive. It took a little getting used to, we were able to make turns reasonably well. The landing was a slightly different story. In fact, we’re confident that the only folks who would properly appreciate his landing have the call signs “Trip” and “Snooze.”
The recommended landing speed was between 100 and 115 knots. Our landing speed was somewhere between 150 and 155 knots. At that point, there was really only one thing to do: Play “Predator Eulogy.”
It’s a good thing that this was a simulator, because if it’d been for real, then a $64 million system would be back in the maintenance shop. Instead, the plane took back off, went back on autopilot, and a different expo attendee went there.
So, what does it take to learn to fly the Reaper, for real? WATM asked Air Education and Training Command, and here’s what we found out. According to Capt. Kaylee Ausburn, a public affairs officer with the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the entire time to train a MQ-9 pilot is one year from start to finish. This includes two months at Pueblo, Colorado, during which they fly the Diamond DA-20 Katana.
After five months of academic training and flying in a T-6 simulator, prospective Reaper pilots get five months of MQ-9-specific training involving at least 32 flight hours. Pilots do not even learn to land until well after graduating, once they have reached 500 flight hours.
So, surprisingly, it takes a lot of learning to fly – or land – a Reaper.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are poised to receive new, retrofitted F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft in the next few years.
The Navy on Aug. 13, 2018 awarded Boeing Co., the F/A-18’s manufacturer, a $17 million firm-fixed price contract to configure nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft to the standard Blue Angels’ aircraft structure. The squadron, which typically maintains 11 aircraft, currently flies the F/A-18C/D models.
While an upgrade, the new aircraft would not house the common nose cannon system used for strike operations. Like the Air Force Thunderbirds, the demonstration team uses “clean jets,” aircraft without missiles or bombs.
However, the Blue Angels’ F/A-18s are “capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours,” if necessary, according to the team’s fact sheet.
The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets fly in a tight diamond formation, maintaining 18-inch wing tip to canopy separation.
Boeing will configure the aircraft at its St. Louis facility, according to the contract announcement. The fiscal 2018 budget, once appropriated, will fund the work, the announcement said. The new jets are expected to be completed in December 2021.
The Blue Angels recently announced a new roster of officers for the 2019 show season.
The squadron selected three F/A-18 demonstration pilots, an events coordinator, flight surgeon, and supply officer to replace outgoing team members, the Navy said in August 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.
The Marine Corps is now arming its Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a range of weapons to enable its assault support and escort missions in increasingly high-threat combat environments.
Rockets, guns, and missiles are among the weapons now under consideration, as the Corps examines requirements for an “all-quadrant” weapons application versus other possible configurations such as purely “forward firing” weapons.
“The current requirement is for an allquadrant weapons system. We are re-examining that requirement — we may find that initially, forward firing weapons could bridge the escort gap until we get a new rotary wing or tiltotor attack platform, with comparable range and speed to the Osprey,” Capt. Sarah Burns, Marine Corps Aviation, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
Some weapons, possibly including Hydra 2.75inch folding fin laser guided rockets or .50-cal and 7.62mm guns, have been fired as a proof of concept, Burns said.
“Further testing would have to be done to ensure we could properly integrate them,” she added.
All weapons under consideration have already been fired in combat by some type of aircraft, however additional testing and assessment of the weapons and their supporting systems are necessary to take the integration to the next step.
“We want to arm the MV-22B because there is a gap in escort capability. With the right weapons and associated systems, armed MV-22Bs will be able to escort other Ospreys performing the traditional personnel transport role,” Burns added.
The Hydra 2.75inch rockets, called the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS), have been fired in combat on a range of Army and Marine Corps helicopters; they offer an alternative to a larger Hellfire missiles when smaller, fast-moving targets need to be attacked with less potential damage to a surrounding area.
Over the years, the weapon has been fired from AH-64 Apaches, Navy Fire Scout Drones, Marine Corps UH-1Ys, A-10s, MH-60s Navy helicopters and Air Force F-16s, among others.
Bell-Boeing designed a special pylon on the side of the aircraft to ensure common weapons carriage. The Corps is now considering questions such as the needed stand-off distance and level of lethality.
Adding weapons to the Osprey would naturally allow the aircraft to better defend itself should it come under attack from small arms fire, missiles, or surface rockets while conducting transport missions; in addition, precision fire will enable the Osprey to support amphibious operations with suppressive or offensive fire as Marines approach enemy territory.
Furthermore, weapons will better facilitate an Osprey-centric tactic known as “Mounted Vertical Maneuver” wherein the tiltrotor uses its airplane speeds and helicopter hover and maneuver technology to transport weapons such as mobile mortars and light vehicles, supplies and Marines behind enemy lines for a range of combat missions — to include surprise attacks.
Also, while arming the Osprey is primarily oriented toward supporting escort and maneuver operations, there are without question a few combat engagements the aircraft could easily find itself in while conducting these missions.
For example, an armed Osprey would be better positioned to prevent or stop swarming small boat attack wherein enemy surface vessels attacked the aircraft. An Osprey with weapons could also thwart enemy ground attacks from RPGs, MANPADS or small arms fire.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Finally, given the fast pace of Marine Corps and Navy amphibious operations strategy evolution, armed Ospreys could support amphibious assaults by transporting Marines to combat across wider swaths of combat areas.
New Osprey Intelligence System – Sustainment to 2060
Overall, the Marine Corps is accelerating a massive modernization and readiness overhaul of its MV-22 Osprey to upgrade sensors, add weapons, sustain the fleet and broaden the mission scope — as part of an effort to extend the life of the aircraft to 2060.
“We plan to have the MV-22B Osprey for at least the next 40 years,” Burns said.
While first emerging nearly two decades ago, the Osprey tiltrotor aircraft has seen an unprecedented uptick in deployments, mission scope, and operational tempo.
Other elements of Osprey modernization include improved sensors, mapping and digital connectivity, greater speed and hover ability, better cargo and payload capacity, next-generation avionics and new survivability systems to defend against incoming missiles and small arms fire.
The 2018 Marine Aviation Plan specifies that the CC-RAM program includes more than 75 V-22 aircraft configurations, identified in part by a now completed Mv-22 Operational Independent Readiness Review. CC-RAM calls for improvements to the Osprey’s Multi-Spectral Sensor, computer system, infra-red suppressor technology, generators and landing gear control units, the aviation plan specifies.
As part of this long-term Osprey modernization trajectory, the Marines are now integrating a Command and Control system called Digital Interoperability (DI). This uses data links, radio connectivity and an Iridium Antenna to provide combat-relevant intelligence data and C4ISR information in real-time to Marines — while in-flight on a mission.
In addition, the Osprey is being developed as a tanker aircraft able to perform aerial refueling missions; the idea is to transport fuel and use a probe technology to deliver fuel to key aircraft such as an F/A-18 or F-35C. The V-22 Aerial Refueling System will also be able to refuel other aircraft such as the CH-53E/K, AV-8B Harrier jet and other V-22s, Corps officials said.
“Fielding of the full capable system will be in 2019. This system will be able to refuel all MAGTF (Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force) aerial refuel capable aircraft with approximately 10,000 pounds of fuel per each VARS-equipped V-22,” the 2018 Marine Aviation Plan states.
Due to its tiltrotor configuration, the Osprey can hover in helicopter mode for close-in surveillance and vertical landings for things like delivering forces, equipment and supplies — all while being able to transition into airplane mode and hit fixed-wing aircraft speeds. This gives the aircraft an ability to travel up 450 nautical miles to and from a location on a single tank of fuel, Corps officials said. The Osprey can hit maximum speeds of 280 Knots, and can transport a crew of Marines or a few Marines with an Internally Transportable Vehicle.
Internally Transportable Vehicle can fly on the Osprey.
(Marine Corps Photo By: Pfc. Alvin Pujols)
Corps developers also emphasize that the V-22 modernization effort will incorporate new technologies emerging from the fast-moving Future Vertical Lift program; this could likely include the integration of newer lightweight composite materials, next-generation sensors and various kinds of weapons, C4ISR systems, and targeting technologies.
Fast-moving iterations of Artificial Intelligence are also likely to figure prominently in future V-22 upgrades. This could include advanced algorithms able to organize and present sensor data, targeting information or navigational details for Marines in-flight.
While the modernization and sustainment overhaul bring the promise of continued relevance and combat effectiveness for the Opsrey, the effort is of course not without challenges. The Corps plan cites concerns about an ability to properly maintain the depot supply chain ability to service the platform in a timely manner, and many over the years have raised the question of just how much a legacy platform can be upgraded before a new model is needed.
Interestingly, as is the case with the Air Force B-52 and Army Chinook, a wide ranging host of upgrades have kept the platforms functional and relevant to a modern threat environment for decades. The Air Force plans to fly its Vietnam era B-52 bomber weill into the 2050s, and the Army’s Chinook is slated to fly for 100 years — from 1960 to 2060 — according to service modernization experts and program managers.
The common thread here is that airframes themselves, while often in need of enhancements and reinforcements, often remain viable if not highly effective for decades. The Osprey therefore, by comparison, is much newer than the B-52 or Chinook, to be sure. This is a key reason why Burns emphasized the “common” aspect of CC-RAM, as the idea is to lay the technical foundation such that the existing platform can quickly embrace new technologies as they emerge. This approach, widely mirrored these days throughout the DoD acquisition community, seeks to architect systems according to a set of common, non-proprietary standards such that it helps establish a new, more efficient paradigm for modernization.
At the same time, there is also broad consensus that there are limits to how much existing platforms can be modernized before a new aircraft is needed; this is a key reason why the Army is now vigorously immersed in its Future Vertical Lift program which, among other things, is currently advancing a new generation of tiltrotor technology. Furthermore, new airframe designs could, in many ways, be better suited to accommodate new weapons, C4ISR technologies, sensors, protection systems and avionics. The contours and structure of a new airframe itself could also bring new radar signature reducing properties as well as new mission and crew options.
Overall, the Marine Corps is accelerating a massive modernization and readiness overhaul of its MV-22 Osprey to upgrade sensors, add weapons, sustain the fleet and broaden the mission scope — as part of an effort to extend the life of the aircraft to 2060.
“We plan to have the MV-22B Osprey for at least the next 40 years,” Capt. Sarah Burns, Marine Corps Aviation spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
While first emerging nearly two decades ago, the Osprey tiltrotor aircraft has seen an unprecedented uptick in deployments, mission scope and operational tempo.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.