The 120mm mortar has become a standby for American troops. It is used by just about any type of battalion, and the Marines have deployed the M327 Expeditionary Fire Support System — which is based off a French design — that makes this potent weapon super mobile.
However, Israel has its own systems. The first, CARDOM, is used by a number of countries, including on the M1129 Stryker Mortar Carrier. According to Defense-Update.com, CARDOM is a recoil-based mortar system based on Israel’s SOLTAM mortar system, merging it with modern target acquisition devices. With precision-guided PERM rounds, CARDOM can reach out and hit targets roughly 10 and a half miles away.
But the system is heavy. The Israelis, though, began work to lighten the system, and created the SPEAR. According to Elbit Systems, an improved recoil system allows SPEAR to be deployed on vehicles as light as a HMMWV or the new JLTV.
SPEAR has an initial burst rate of fire of 15 rounds per minute. That means that this system can be airlifted in by helicopters. This would give Army units like the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the 10th Mountain Division a huge boost in terms of firepower without losing their strategic mobility.
SPEAR can get in action in roughly one minute, and it takes about that long to be prepped for moving again. That enables it to “shoot and scoot,” thus avoiding counter-battery fire. It only needs two or three crew to operate. In short, this is a system that could rapidly ruin any bad guy’s day.
We don’t know when and where it was filmed, but the following video surely shows a pretty weird accident occurred to a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter. Indeed, the short clip shows the heavy Marine chopper (whose empty weight is more than 10 tons – 23,628 lb) with folded tail boom being towed aboard a ship using a “system” made of a tug towing another tug coupled to a tow bar attached to the Super Stallion’s nose landing gear.
At a certain point, the tow bar disconnects from the helicopter that starts to slide backwards towards the pier. The end of the story is that no one seems to be hurt by the giant chopper that comes to a stop when the folded tail hits the ramp that was being used to board it.
Here’s the video, shared by the always interesting Air Force amn/nco/snco FB page:
Many have criticized the way used to board the helicopter, saying that the one shown in the footage is not a standard procedure. Others have highlighted the fact that no one was in the cockpit riding the brakes during the operation. We don’t know what the procedure called for in this case, whatever, based on the footage, it is safe to say that the ending could have been worse: despite a significant risk for all those involved or observing the boarding, perhaps the Super Stallion got (minor?) damages and an unscheduled inspection…
Thanks to its impressive lift capacity the Super Stallion is able to carry a 26,000-pound Light Armored Vehicle, 16 tons of cargo 50 miles and back, or enough Marines to lead and assault or humanitarian operation. For this reason it is used for a wide variety of tasks.
The latest version of the iconic CH-53, designed CH-53K King Stallion, will replace the current E variant in the coming years and will feature a lift capacity three times that of the Super Stallion retaining the same size of its predecessor.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
What’s old is new again. So it is with rye whiskey. In the 17-and-1800s, Bourbon’s spicier, dryer sibling was once the pre-eminent whiskey on this continent. But after prohibition, American’s taste for the stuff waned. Thankfully for the whiskey drinkers of today, times have changed. Our golden age of whiskey has turned back the clock and rye is resurgent. Whiskey, drinkers of all stripes cant seem to get enough of the brown stuff and as their pallets are becoming increasingly adventurous, rye’s spice is becoming more and more a called shot. Not only is it great on the rocks but, rye is killer in a summer cocktail. Whether you like your whiskey neat, on the rocks or in a mixed drink, here are five rye whiskeys to try.
1. Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye
New for this year, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye was recently named the best in class at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition. Bottled at 119.6 proof, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye is quite capable of kicking you in the teeth if you’re not careful, but all that undiluted flavor will also waltz beautifully along your tastebuds. It’s a thick, rich mouthful with spicy, peppery notes playing off a deeply satisfying caramel sweetness.
Best Enjoyed: With a couple of cubes.
2. Willet Family Estate Single Barrel Rye
Well-balanced and richly complex, Willet rye never fails to impress. It’s peppery spice is enhanced with deep rich dark fruit flavors. It can be a bit tough to find, so if you come across it a retail, stock up… and give us a shout, so we can replenish our bar.
Best Enjoyed: In a Manhattan. While great on the rocks, the Willet’s thick, cherry richness can elevate an ordinary Manhattan to the level of craft cocktail.
3. Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond
If you’re totally unfamiliar with rye, Rittenhouse is the place to start. Long a bartender favorite, Rittenhouse is not quite a spicy as some but still has tons of flavors to discover, citrus, vanilla and chocolate to name a few.Bottled at 100 proof, Rittenhouse easily stands out in a substantially iced cocktail.
Best Enjoyed: You can sip this one, but where it really shines is in a cocktail like an Old Pal. At under $30, this is a great rye for experimenting.
4. High West Double Rye
For the last several years, High West has been concocting some of the tastiest and most creative blends on the market. But until recently, they weren’t making their own spirit to formulate their creations. Finally the first batch from their new distillery is ready and High West has incorporated it into the latest release of their Double Rye. It’s a spice-forward whiskey with notes of honey, mint a cinnamon.
Best Enjoyed: We love the Double Rye in cocktails. It makes a great Old Fashioned but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous and up for pounding a few ice into pellets, try it in a rye mint julep.
5. Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye
Made from a mash of 100% rye, Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye is big, bold and intense. A glass of this rye is so chalked full of flavor, you can get lost in it’s amber waves and before your know it you’re three drinks deep. It’s a pricey indulgence, but it’s one of the best bottles you’re likely to try, if you can find it.
Best Enjoyed: Sip it… Slowly.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Perhaps the most famous Little John in history was Robin Hood’s sidekick. You know, the guy responsible for driving the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John crazy. But the United States Army had a “Little John” of their own that was designed to give airborne units, like the 82nd and the 101st, one heck of a punch.
During the 1950s, the Army had used the Pentomic structure for a number of its infantry divisions — a structure designed to fight in nuclear war. A problem remained within light units, however: They needed nuclear firepower to hold off hordes of Soviet tanks, but the nukes of the time were bulky things.
Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division load a MGR-3 “Little John” rocket on to a CH-47 Chinook. (U.S. Army photo)
By 1959, though, the answer had emerged: the M51, which the Army called “Little John.” It wasn’t based on the Robin Hood legend, though. The name was chosen since the Army had a self-propelled nuclear rocket launcher called the Honest John, and the Little John, as you might guess, was a smaller rocket system.
The Little John was eventually re-designated MGR-3. It had a range of about 11 miles and was unguided. Well, when a missile is packing a W45 thermonuclear warhead with a yield of 10 kilotons (a kiloton is equal to the explosive force of 1,000 tons of TNT) and has a speed of Mach 1.5, you don’t really need guidance to take out a target.
The MGR-3 stuck around for about a decade, but in 1969, they were quickly retired. The rockets had successfully held the line, but when an even smaller, lighter tactical nuclear weapon was developed — one that could fit inside the shell fired by a typical 155mm howitzer — Little John became redundant. That replacement was the W48 warhead.
See how the Army described the Little John as it entered service in the video below:
The SR-71 Blackbird is an awesome plane. But did you know that it could have been even more awesome than it was? The Air Force was planning to make a fighter version of the plane.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as the early iterations of the SR-71 were being designed, there was a need for an interceptor. The F-108 program had been cancelled due to its high cost. However, there was still a desire for a high-speed, long-range interceptor.
The A-12 OXCART being developed for the CIA was seen as a likely basis for a fighter. Lockheed’s Skunk Works team soon figured out how to add a powerful radar, the AN/ASG-18, capable of detecting targets from as far off as 500 miles in some cases, and four AIM-47 missiles.
The resulting plane was designated the YF-12, and three prototypes were built.
Designation-Systems.net notes that the AIM-47 had a range of over 100 miles and a speed of Mach 4. While a 250-ton W42 warhead never materialized for this missile, it did get a 100-pound high-explosive warhead.
News of the the YF-12’s development was leaked in an effort to distract the public from the work being done to make a reconnaissance plane. But the plane – awesome as it was – would not ever see service due to the development of reliable inter-continental ballistic missiles.
The YF-12 would get a production order for 93 airframes from the Air Force. However, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara refused to release the funds, and the project ended up being halted at the three prototypes. Two were handed over to NASA for research flights. One of those crashed after a fuel line caught fire in 1971, with the crew ejecting from the stricken plane.
The YF-12 will remain one of the biggest “could have been” planes in history. The jet still has a legacy – partially in the SR-71 Blackbird, but also in the form of the AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles used by the F-14 Tomcat. Even though this plane never got a chance to serve, it still did a lot for America’s military aviation development.
The B-2 Spirit is one of the most clandestine and rare planes in the world. Only 21 were ever built, and they reportedly have a stealth profile similar to that of a large bird despite their 170-foot wingspan. And they’re invisible to many infrared seekers, despite four large engines.
Here’s how engineers made a massive plane with large engines nearly invisible to systems designed to detect threats exactly like the B-2.
The B-2’s stealth profile is the result of extensive computer testing that wasn’t possible before its design. While the F-117 and B-1 were stealth aircraft, they were designed by nerds with slide rules and minimal computer modeling because the technology and the computers necessary simply didn’t exist.
But when it was time to design the B-2, the all-powerful nerds had super computers and leveraged them to create a model that had no flat surfaces with which to reflect radar directly back to the sensor. While a machine with no flat surfaces is harder to manufacture, the increase in stealth was deemed worthy of extra costs.
If the B-2 were flying directly towards the radar, most of the waves would actually be reflected 90 degrees away from the receiver, giving the radar operators next to nothing to work with.
But of course, the flying wing would lose most of its stealth if the engines were mounted outside of its high-tech form. So the engines were mounted inside with special openings for intake and exhaust that, again, would not reflect radar waves back to the dish.
It has a few (mostly classified) systems to help with this. The exact shape of the exhaust helps a lot, but it also cools its exhaust and mixes it with the outside air to create a final exhaust that is at nearly the same temperature as the air flowing into the intake.
This greatly frustrates pursuing missiles and fighters, but obviously still leaves it vulnerable if someone spots the plane and talks fighters into the vicinity to hunt it.
Anyone who has worked with most other jets knows that you can typically hear them before you see them, often by a matter of hundreds of feet. It’s the sound that lets you know to look for the plane, but the B-2’s tiny acoustic signature means that most observers on the ground won’t know there’s anything in the sky to look for.
Combined, this makes the B-2 a plane with little radar observability, that’s too quiet for most people on the ground to notice it flying nearby, and it gives off little heat, frustrating missiles and fighters sent to down it.
All of this still requires good pilots and planning. Determined defenders could use low-frequency radar waves and skilled fighters to hunt down a B-2 following a too-populated or well-defended route. But the last element of B-2 stealth comes from good intelligence, allowing pilots and planners to send the bombers in through relatively undefended routes or through routes the B-2 can defeat.
Because that’s a big part of the B-2’s mission. It’s not supposed to act as the primary bomber in most circumstances. It’s a first-wave attacker, clearing the air defenses on the ground and opening “alleys” for less stealthy aircraft. Ideally, they get a picture of the air defenses they will attack from reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 and are then able to dismantle them piece by piece.
But the B-2 can and has been sent against other targets, including bunkers in Iraq housing command and control elements during the invasion of that country. This is particularly useful when planners need to eliminate a target too early in the timeline to dismantle the air network first.
After all, if an enemy commander shows himself at a rally in the capital during an air campaign, you aren’t going to wait for the B-2s to finish opening the air corridors, you’re just going to send in B-2s to the final target (or you send B-1s if the B-2s can’t get there in time). You can get the radars later.
And that’s what’s so great about the B-2. While the plane costs more dollars per hour of flight than many others and carries fewer bombs than planes like the B-52 and B-1, it can hit targets that few other platforms can, largely because of its amazing stealth.
Everyone who’s fired one knows that the M320 grenade launcher isn’t the most accurate weapon in the infantry arsenal.
Propelled with a standard charge, the 40mm grenade follows a ballistic arc that forces a trooper to lob the projectile onto its target rather than shoot it straight in.
But new technology has allowed some weapons makers to miniaturize the same guidance systems housed in air-dropped missiles into ones that can be easily carried by ground troops.
The Pike™ munition measures 40 mm in diameter, only a half-inch larger than the 25 mm rounds fired by some military machine guns. (Photo from Raytheon)
That’s resulted in a missile small enough to be fired from an M320 or FN Mk-13 grenade launcher but with near pinpoint accuracy up to two miles away.
Built by defense manufacturer Raytheon, the Pike missile is only 16 inches long and weighs less than two pounds. The missile is guided to its target by following a laser pointed by a second shooter.
“Pike uses a digital, semi-active laser seeker to engage both fixed and slow-moving, mid-range targets,” said J. R. Smith, Raytheon’s Advanced Land Warfare Systems director. “This new guided munition can provide the warfighter with precision, extended-range capability never before seen in a hand-held weapon on the battlefield.”
The missile ejects 10 feet from the shooter before the rocket motor ignites and is smokeless in order to reduce the missile’s signature and keep the shooters concealed.
The system was successfully tested in 2015 and weapons experts in the Army and special operations units are looking hard at using the system in combat, documents show.
Raytheon says future developments include giving Pike the ability to network with other missiles so more than one can ride the same laser, and company officials say the missile is being adapted for UAVs and small boats.
“Pike will become smarter and smarter as we continue to develop its capabilities,” said Smith. “In the current configuration, the warfighter will enter programmable laser codes prior to loading Pike into its launcher. Spiral development calls for multiple-round simultaneous programming and targeting with data link capabilities.”
The trunk of a car is its own sort of tool shed. And, among the jumper cables, road flares, tie-downs, bungie cords, first aid kits, and other emergency supplies there should be another woefully under-appreciated tool: the utility shovel. A multi-tool in a shovel’s body, a good utility shovel can dig your car out of trouble. But it’s also handy for chopping away branches, clearing pathways, and battling roving hordes of the undead that happen to ruin your road- or camping trip.
A far cry from your grandma’s gardening shovel, the best utility shovels are made of high-grade materials like carbon, have a wide handle and sharp spade point, and are collapsible or folding. They also feature rows of serrated teeth or a beveled edge so you can hack or saw away when necessary. In short, they belong next to your tire iron and spare. Here, then, are four excellent options.
In the world of specialty knives and tools, SOG is one of the most respected names in the game. Known for cranking out durable, superior quality gear, their Entrenching Tool is no exception.
Made of high carbon steel, the folding shovel is one of the best values around. Users praise its unique triangular handle, which makes it sturdy and easy to operate. Additionally, the tempered blade is lined with a row of sharp teeth, ideal for slashing through whatever gets in its way. Stow it away in its ballistic nylon sheath, throw it your car, or strap it to your belt loop if you’re on the move. Either way, it’ll quickly become an indispensable favorite.
There’s no denying that the M48 Kommando Survival Shovel looks seriously badass. The shovel head is constructed of tempered stainless steel with a sleek, matte-black oxide coating.
The sharpened shovel serves as dual-purpose tool, with one concave edge great for chopping, and another serrated edge perfectly suited for all of your sawing needs. It also boasts an ergonomic, injection-molded nylon handle that’s 30 percent fiberglass, making it light but virtually indestructible. Especially popular with campers and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s an official “Amazon’s Choice” product and comes highly-rated from legions of satisfied fans.
Built to tackle the extreme, it was specially designed based on feedback collected from intrepid outdoor enthusiasts. The shovel comes with all of the bells and whistles, including a slew of supplemental tools (think hexagonal wrench, pickax, nail extractor, fish scaler, and more). The military-grade multitool is built from high carbon steel, making it completely wear-resistant and hard-wearing. And thanks to its ingenious extension bar, you can adjust the length based on your height and even use it for stand-up digging.
When it comes to super impressive multitools, few can compare with this military-grade model from FiveJoy. In addition to being a heavy duty shovel, it’s also outfitted with an axe, hoe, hammer, rescue knife, wire cutter, bottle opener, firestarter, whistle, glass-breaker, paracord, and more. The blade and knife are made from high quality, heat-treated solid carbon steel and the knife itself boasts aerospace grade aluminum. Measuring a smidge more than 21 inches in length when fully extended, the lightweight wonder is just over 2 pounds. It’s safe to say calling this bad boy versatile is a vast understatement.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Somewhere out in the California desert, a streamlined, aerodynamic behemoth woke up on April 13, 2019. It was Stratolaunch Systems’ critical test flight for an airframe designed to launch rockets into space while in mid-air. The aircraft was a long time coming, the dream of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who died of Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2018.
After the plane’s historic two-hour flight, Allen would have been proud to watch the mammoth plane land on the Mojave Desert test strip.
Stratolaunch’s six-engine, 500,000-pound aircraft has a 385-foot wingspan and is designed to fly around 35,000 feet. In comparison, the largest aircraft used for civilian air travel is the Airbus A380-800, with a wingspan of 238 feet and weighing in at slightly more than the Stratolaunch.
“The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want a first flight to be,” said test pilot Evan Thomas. “It flew very much like we had simulated and like we predicted.”
The previous record holder for largest aircraft ever flown was Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose, an eight-engine, wooden-framed plane that was less than half the weight of the Stratolaunch. Until April 13, it was the longest wingspan aircraft to ever fly.
“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd.
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011, the brainchild of Allen, who originally also wanted to make the rockets the Stratolaunch planes would launch into low earth orbit. The company plans to do incremental tests of the airframe over the coming years, as they had done in previous years. Other small tests included engine tests and runway taxis before the April flight.
While the two-hour test flight was a success, not much else was conclusive save for a deal with Northrop Grumman to use Stratolaunch planes to put their Pegasus XL rockets into space. Who knows – these could be the early models of a Space Force troop transport. The skies are no longer the limit.
Getting a new ship into the water is, presumably, the most important part of building a seafaring vessel. But not all ships are created equal — some are simply massive. They all need to get in the water somehow… can’t we just toss that bad boy in there?
Yes. The answer is yes, we can.
Traditionally, shipbuilders construct a ship-launching slipway — this is, essentially, a ramp that will slide a ship of any size into the water at full force. There are four ways of going about this:
This is something many of us have seen before. A ship slides sideways into the water on a ramp. That ramp has either been made slick with oil or wax, uses steel rollers, or detaches with the ship and is later recovered. The oldest ship-launching method was powered by gravity and is known as longitudinal oiled slideway launching. It uses minimal equipment, but makes heavy use of oil, which can pollute the water.
…it’d be a whole lot cooler if you did.
Ships built in drydocks are typically launched this way. Using locks, the drydock is filled with water and the ship simply floats out when launched. This is a much less violent way of launching a ship than throwing it over the side of the dock, but it’s also way less cool. Think about that — you could just chuck the Disney Fantasy directly into the Caribbean…
At least the boat was launched, right?
Why throw a ship into the water when you can place it there, like a reasonable, civilized person? For those less interested in a cool launch and more interested in keeping their smaller craft from sinking, a mechanical assist is a great option. Large ships, of course, can’t just be picked up and slowly moved, so this method’s for the lesser vessels.
Keep in mind, however, that introducing any additional element to launching a ship opens more areas for potential chaos.
This method is the safest for any size ship. The newest form of launching, employed primarily by Asian shipbuilders, uses these hardcore rubber airbags to slowly put a new ship to sea. It’s a safe way for smaller shipyards that may not have access to a slideway to get crafts in the water.
When people think hovercraft, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (also known as the LCAC) comes to mind. Understandably so — that hovercraft has been a vital piece of gear for the Navy and Marine Corps when it comes to projecting power ashore. But these are not the first hovercraft to be used in service. In fact, hovercraft saw action with both the Navy and Army during the Vietnam War.
In 1966, the Navy acquired four Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles, or PACVs (pronounced “Pack-Vees”), for test purposes and deployed them to Vietnam. The hovercraft quickly proved very potent, delivering a lot of firepower and speed and reaching areas inaccessible to traditional tracked or wheeled vehicles.
Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles packed a lot of firepower and were fast — but they never got past an operational test.
A PACV was equipped with a turret that held one or two M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top of the cabin, which held a crew of four. There were also two M60 general-purpose machine guns, one mounted to port and the other to starboard. Additionally, there were two remote-controlled emplacements for either M60s or Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.
The hovercraft could reach a top speed of 35 knots and had a maximum range of 165 nautical miles. But as maintenance and training proved problematic, especially given the trans-Pacific supply lines, the Navy decided to pull the plug. The Army, however, remained interested. The hovercraft operated primarily from a land base, but could also be deployed from amphibious ships (like today’s LCACs).
PACVs worked with the Navy’s Light Attack Helicopter Squadron Three (HAL-3), providing a fast response to enemy activity.
The Army acquired three Air-Cushion Vehicles, which operated within the 9th Infantry Division. Two were configured for attack missions and both were destroyed in 1970. The other, which was tooled as a transport, was shipped back to the United States.
Learn more about these early hovercraft that did some damage in Vietnam in the video below.
In fact, the U.S. Air Force’s 555th Fighter Squadron, now based at Aviano Air Base and part of the 31st Fighter Wing, was once famous as the “World’s Largest Distributor of MiG Parts” due to shooting down 39 MiGs during the Vietnam War.
But some MiGs weren’t exactly slouches. In 1971, the Soviet Union put the MiG-23 Flogger into service. The Flogger was a variable-geometry aircraft, which meant that its wings were capable of being swept or extended, depending on the situation.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Flogger was capable of a top speed of 1,553 miles per hour, a range of 1,752 miles, and it was capable of carrying AA-7 Apex radar-guided missiles, AA-8 Aphid missiles (either radar-guided or infra-red guided), and it had a twin 23mm cannon with 200 rounds of ammo.
In essence, it was intended to be an answer to America’s wildly successful F-4 Phantom.
Like the Phantom, it was widely exported, mostly to Warsaw Pact countries and to Soviet allies in the Middle East. Like past MiGs, the parts were often forcefully distributed – albeit this time by the Israeli Air Force in the 1982 Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The United States Air Force got into the business of distributing Flogger parts during Operation Desert Storm, and Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan MiG-23s in 1989 over the Gulf of Sidra.
Some MiG-23s did find their way to the United States during the Cold War. Egypt had purchased about 20 Floggers in the 1970s, but eventually sold a dozen to the United States Air Force, which took them somewhere in Nevada for testing.
Today, the MiG-23, like the F-4 Phantom, is fading away as the last airframes are being retired. The Flogger, though, holds a place in history as one of the Soviet Union’s first swing-wing fighters. You can see a video on this plane below.
Naval fleets are predominantly created and organized for power projection, taking the fight to the enemy on their turf to ensure that American are safe at home. But the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps do practice defending the fleet at sea should it come under a direct attack.
Here’s how they do it:
The guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) fires its Phalanx close-in weapons system during live-fire training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean on August 31, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Chen)
The Navy has a number of weapons that are custom designed for protecting ships and personnel. Perhaps one of the most famous of these is the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System. This is the final, goal-line defense against anything above the waterline. Basically, it’s R2-D2 with a 20mm, multi-barrel gun.
The Phalanx is typically associated with cruise missiles, and that’s because it’s one of the few weapons that can destroy cruise missiles in their final attack. But it’s also perfectly capable of attacking other threats, especially slower-moving items in the air, like planes and helicopters.
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) travels alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during a replenishment-at-sea.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Rosencrans)
Of course, the Marines aren’t content to wait for threats to approach the Navy’s Phalanx, and so, on larger ships like LHAs and LHDs, the Marines can drive their vehicles onto the decks and fire the guns off the ship, striking attack boats or enemies on nearby shores with anything from the .50-cal. machine guns to 25mm Bushmaster cannons to rounds from a 120mm Abrams cannon.
All of that’s in extremis, the-enemy-is-at-the-gates kinda of defense. The next ring out is provided by cruisers and destroyers who try to keep all the threats away from the heart of the fleet.
The beefier of these two is the cruiser. For the U.S. Navy, that’s the Ticonderoga class. It has 122 vertical-launch cells that can fire a variety of missiles. Lately, the Navy has been upgrading the cruisers to primarily fire the Navy’s Standard Missile-3. This baby can hit objects in space, but is predominantly designed to hit targets in the short to intermediate ranges from the ship.
The guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) conducts a tomahawk missile flight test while underway in the western Pacific.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin M. Langer)
But the Ticonderogas, and their destroyer sisters, the Arleigh-Burkes, can also carry Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, Standard Missile-2s, and Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles. Need to hit something below the waterline? Try out the ships’ Mk. 46 or Mk. 50 torpedoes. Both ship classes can fire the torpedoes via rockets, and the Ticonderoga can fire them directly from tubes.
The Tomahawk is the weapon that really increases the fleet’s range, hitting ships at ranges of almost 300 miles and land targets at over 1,000 miles. As attackers get closer, the fleet could start firing the shorter range weapons, like the anti-submarine rockets and SeaSparrows.
But there’s an overlap between the Tomahawks’ range and that of the fleet’s most powerful and longest-range protection: jets. The carrier groups and amphibious readiness groups have the ability to launch fighter and attack jets. As time marches on, these jets will be F-35Bs and Cs launching from carriers and Landing Helicopter Assault and Landing Helicopter Dock ships.
A U. S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Norwegian Sea, October 25, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adelola Tinubu)
For now, though, its mostly Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets taking off from carriers and Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers taking off from the LHAs and LHDs. The Harriers can only reach out to 230 miles without refueling, but the Hornets have a combat radius of over 1,000 miles without refueling.
And both planes can refuel in the air, usually guzzling gas from modified Super Hornets, but the Navy is working on a new, specialized drone tanker called the MQ-25 Stingray.
The Super Hornets pack 20mm cannons as well as a variety of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles and bombs, but their greatest ability to cripple an enemy attack comes from another plane: The E-2 Hawkeye.
An E-2C Hawkeye, assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron, approaches the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Roland John)
The Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control plane is unarmed and slower than most of its buddies in the sky, but it’s a key part of the Navy’s fleet defense and offense thanks to its massive radar. That radar can see out 340 miles and track over 2,000 targets. It can actively control the interception of 40 targets, helping guide friendly fighters to the enemy.
So, when the Navy’s fleets come under attack, enemies have to either catch them off guard, or fight their way through the concentric rings. Their land-based assets are susceptible to attack from over 1,000 miles from the fleet thanks to ground-attack aircraft and Tomahawks. Their ships are vulnerable at similar ranges from aircraft and 300 miles from the Tomahawks.
As they draw closer, they face SeaSparrows and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and their fighters can come under surface-to-air missile attacks from the Standard Missile-2. If they actually draw within 20 miles, they start facing the Navy’s deck guns and torpedoes. A short time later, the Marine get in on the fight with their vehicles driven up onto decks.
A Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine participating in Exercise Keen Sword with Submarine Group 7 and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force sailors and staff.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Electronics Technician Robert Gulini)
And all of that’s ignoring the possibility that a nuclear submarine is in the water, just waiting for a surface contact to fire their own torpedoes at.
Of course, a determined enemy could use their own large fleet to push through those defenses. Or, a crafty enemy could wait for a fleet to transit a chokepoint and then attack from the shore or with a large fleet of fast attack craft.
That’s the kind of attack the U.S. fears from Iran in the Straits of Hormuz. At it’s most narrow point, the strait is only 35 miles wide. U.S. ally Oman is on one side of the strait, but that still leaves any ships passing through within relatively easy range of Iran, even if they’re hugging the Omani shore.
The expeditionary mobile base platform ship USS Lewis B. Puller transits the Strait of Hormuz, Oct. 22, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialists 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)
And so, fast attack craft from Iran would be able to target one or two ships as they pass through the Strait, sending dozens of speedboats against the ships, preferably while those ships armed with Phalanxs and missiles are out of range or blocked by other vessels.
And that’s why the Navy makes such a big deal about chokepoints, like the Straits of Hormuz, or certain points in the South China Sea. Multi-billion dollar assets with thousands of humans aboard, normally well-protected at sea, are now within range of relatively unsophisticated attacks from American adversaries.
So, while the Navy needs to protect its fleets at sea, that’s the relatively easy part of the equation. The scarier proposition is taking an attack near hostile shores or being forced to sail into range of the enemy’s shore-based aircraft, where the fleet’s overwhelming firepower finds a strong counter that could cripple it.