This was one of the world's first swing-wing fighters - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Russian MiGs are often a punchline for a joke.


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.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
MiG-23 Flogger with wings extended. (Youtube Screenshot)

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.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger-G aircraft with an AA-7 Apex air-to-air missile attached to the outer wing pylon and an AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missile on the inner wing pylon. (From Soviet Military Power 1985)

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtD9gfklELE
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army is trying to decide what, exactly, the next tank should look like

Could there be a lightweight armored attack vehicle able to speed across bridges, deploy quickly from the air, detect enemies at very long ranges, control nearby robots, and fire the most advanced weapons in the world — all while maintaining the unprecedented protection and survivability of an Abrams tank?

Such questions form the principle basis of rigorous Army analysis and exploration of just what, exactly, a future tank should look like? The question is fast taking-on increased urgency as potential adversaries continue to present very serious, technologically advanced weapons and attack platforms.



“I believe that a complete replacement of the Abrams would not make sense, unless we had a breakthrough…with much lighter armor which allows us to re-architect the vehicle,” Col. Jim Schirmer, Program Manager for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.

There are currently a range of possibilities being analyzed by the Army, most of which hang in the balance of just how quickly certain technologies can mature.

Newer lightweight armor composites or Active Protection Systems may not evolve fast enough to address the most advanced emerging threats, Schirmer explained.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Soldiers conduct a live-fire exercise with M1A2 Abrams tanks.

(Army photo by Gertrud Zach)

While many Army weapons developers often acknowledge that there are limitations to just how much a 1980s-era Abrams tank can be upgraded, the platform has made quantum leaps in technological sophistication and combat technology.

“Until technology matures we are going to mature the Abrams platform,” Schirmer said. We would need an APS that could defeat long-rod penetrators.(kinetic energy armor penetrating weapons) — that might enable us to go lighter,” Schirmer said.

A 2014 essay from the Institute for Defense Analysis called “M1 Abrams, Today and Tomorrow,” reinforces Schirmer’s point by detailing the rapid evolution of advanced armor-piercing anti-tank weapons. The research points out that, for instance, hybrid forces such as Hezbollah had some success against Israeli Merkava tanks in 2006.

Therefore, GD and Army developers continue to upgrade the Abrams and pursue innovations which will enable the Abrams to address these kinds of evolving threats — such as the long-range kinetic energy penetrator rods Schirmer mentioned; one of the key areas of emphasis for this would be to develop a more expansive Active Protection System able to knock out a much wider range of attack possibilities — beyond RPGs and certain Anti-Tank Guided Missiles.

The essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank bring unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate.

Using computer algorithms, fire control technology, sensors, and an interceptor of some kind, Active Protection Systems are engineered to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds. Many Abrams tanks are already equipped with a system known as “Trophy” which tracks and knocks out incoming enemy fire.

A next-gen APS technology that can take out the most sophisticated enemy threats could enable the Army to engineer a much lighter weight tank, while still maintaining the requisite protection.

For these and other reasons, the combat-tested Abrams weapons, armor and attack technology will be extremely difficult to replicate or match in a new platform. Furthermore, the current Abrams is almost an entirely new platform these days — in light of how much it has been upgraded to address modern combat challenges.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

U.S. Soldiers load the .50-caliber machine gun of an M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank during a combined arms live-fire exercise.

(U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

In short, regardless which future path is arrived upon by the Army — the Abrams is not going anywhere for many years to come. In fact, the Army and General Dynamics Land Systems have already engineered and delivered a new, massively improved, M1A2 SEP v3 Abrams. Concurrently, service and industry developers are progressing with an even more advanced v4 model — featuring a massive “lethality upgrade.”

All this being the case, when it comes to a future tank platform — all options are still on the table.

“Abrams will be out there for some time. We are funded from the v3 through the v4, but there is a thought in mind that we may need to shift gears,” David Marck, Program manager for the Main Battle Tank, told a small group of reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium. “I have no requirements for a replacement tank.”

Accordingly, some of the details, technologies, and applications intended for the v4, are still in flux.

“The Army has some decisions to make. Will the v4 be an improved v3 with 3rd-Gen FLIR, or will the Army remove the turret and build in an autoloader — reduce the crew size?” Michael Peck, Director, Enterprise Business Development, GD, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Also, ongoing work on NGCV could, to a large extent, be integrated with Abrams v4 exploration, Peck explained. GD is preparing options to present to the Army for input — such as options using a common lighter-weight chassis with interchangeable elements such as different turrets or an auto-loader, depending upon the threat.

“There are some things that we think we would do to make the current chassis lighter more nimble when it comes to crew size and electronics — eventually it may go on a 55-ton platform. We have a couple different interchangeable turrets, which we could swap as needed,” Peck asked.

Despite the speed, mobility and transportable power challenges known to encumber the current Abrams, the vehicle continues to be impactful in combat circumstances — and developers have sought to retain the technical sophistication designed to outmatch or counter adversaries.

“Today’s tank is so different than the tanks that took Baghdad. They were not digitized, did not have 1st-Gen FLIR and did not have commander’s independent viewers,” Marck said.

Next-Generation Combat Vehicle

The massive acceleration of the Army future armored platform — the Next Generation Combat Vehicle — is also informing the fast-moving calculus regarding future tank possibilities.

Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat, told Warrior Maven in an interview the Army developers are working on both near-term and longer term plans; he said it was entirely possible that a future tank or tank-like combat vehicle could emerge out of the NGCV program.

“We want to get as much capability as quickly as we can, to stay above parity with our adversaries,” Cummings said.

The program, which has now been moved forward by nearly a decade, could likely evolve into a family of vehicles and will definitely have unmanned technology.

“Right now we are trying to get the replacement for the Bradley to be the first optionally manned fighting vehicle. As we get that capability we may look at technology that we are getting in the future and insert them into current platforms,” Cummings said.

Any new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people, and ammunition. Also, as computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control

Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin III.

However, while clearly emphasizing the importance of unmanned technology, Schirmer did say there was still room for growth and technological advanced necessary to replicate or come close to many human functions.

“It is not impossible — but it is a long way away,” Schirmer said.

The most advanced algorithms enabling autonomy are, certain in the nearer term, are likely to succeed in performing procedural functions able to ease the “cognitive burden” of manned crews who would then be freed up to focus on more pressing combat-oriented tasks. Essentially, the ability of human cognition to make dynamic decisions amid fast-changing variable, and make more subjective determinations less calculable by computer technology. Nonetheless, autonomy, particularly when enabled by AI, can condense and organize combat-essential data such as sensor information, targeting technology or certain crucial maintenance functions.

“Typically a vehicle commander is still looking through multiple soda straws. If no one has their screen turned to that view, that information is not of use to the crew, AI can process all those streams of ones and zeroes and bring the crews’ attention to threats they may not otherwise see,” Schirmer said.

Abrams v3 and v4 upgrades

Meanwhile, the Army is now building the next versions of the Abrams tank — an effort which advances on-board power, electronics, computing, sensors, weapons, and protection to address the prospect of massive, mechanized, force-on-force great power land war in coming decades, officials with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems told Warrior Maven.

The first MIA2 SEP v3 tank, which includes a massive electronics, mobility and sensor upgrades, was delivered by General Dynamics Land Systems in 2017.

“The Army’s ultimate intent is to upgrade the entire fleet of M1A2 vehicles — at this time, over 1,500 tanks,” an Army official told Warrior.

The first v3 pilot vehicles will feature technological advancements in communications, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency and upgraded armor.

This current mobility and power upgrade, among other things, adds an auxiliary power unit for fuel efficiency and on-board electrical systems, improved armor materials, upgraded engines and transmission and a 28-volt upgraded drive system, GDLS developers said.

In addition to receiving a common high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations, some of the current electronics, called Line Replaceable Units, were replaced with new Line Replaceable Modules. This includes a commander’s display unit, driver’s control panel, gunner’s control panel, turret control unit and a common high-resolution display, developers from General Dynamics Land Systems say.

Facilitating continued upgrades, innovations and modernization efforts for the Abrams in years to come is the principle rationale upon which the Line Replacement Modules is based. It encompasses the much-discussed “open architecture” approach wherein computing standards, electronics, hardware, and software systems can efficiently be integrated with new technologies as they emerge.

This M1A2 SEP v3 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare devices such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device – Electronic Warfare – CREW. An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together.

The Abrams is also expected to get an advanced force-tracking system which uses GPS technology to rapidly update digital moving map displays with icons showing friendly and enemy force positions.

The system, called Joint Battle Command Platform, uses an extremely fast Blue Force Tracker 2 Satcom network able to reduce latency and massively shorten refresh time. Having rapid force-position updates in a fast-moving combat circumstance, quite naturally, could bring decisive advantages in both mechanized and counterinsurgency warfare.

Using a moving digital map display, JBCP shows blue and red icons, indicating where friendly and enemy forces are operating in relation to the surrounding battle space and terrain. JBCP also include an intelligence database, called TIGR, which contains essential information about threats and prior incidents in specific combat ares.

Current GD development deals also advances a commensurate effort to design and construct and even more advanced M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond.

The v4 is designed to be more lethal, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said.

SEPv4 upgrades include the Commander’s Primary Sight, an improved Gunner’s Primary Sight and enhancements to sensors, lethality and survivability.

Advanced networking technology with next-generation sights, sensors, targeting systems and digital networking technology — are all key elements of an ongoing upgrade to position the platform to successfully engage in combat against rapidly emerging threats, such as the prospect of confronting a Russian T-14 Armata or Chinese 3rd generation Type 99 tank.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

A Russian T-14 Armata.

Interestingly, when asked about specific US Army concerns regarding the much-hyped high-tech Russian T-14 Armata, Schirmer said the Army would pursue its current modernization plan regardless of the existence of the Armata. That being said, it is certainly a safe assumption to recognize that the US Army is acutely aware, to the best of its ability, of the most advanced tanks in existence.

The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round, Army developers told Warrior.

While Army officials explain that many of the details of the next-gen systems for the future tanks are not available for security reasons, Army developers did explain that the lethality upgrade, referred to as an Engineering Change Proposal, or ECP, is centered around the integration of a higher-tech 3rd generation FLIR – Forward Looking Infrared imaging sensor.

The advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Army official said.

Improved FLIR technologies help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander’s independent thermal viewer.

Rear view sensors and laser detection systems are part of these v4 upgrades as well. Also, newly configured meteorological sensors will better enable Abrams tanks to anticipate and adapt to changing weather or combat conditions more quickly, Army officials said.

The emerging M1A2 SEP v4 will also be configured with a new slip-ring leading to the turret and on-board ethernet switch to reduce the number of needed “boxes” by networking sensors to one another in a single vehicle.

Advanced Multi-Purpose Round

The M1A2 SEP v4 will carry Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round able to combine a variety of different rounds into a single tank round.

The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.

The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter, Army developers explained. The MPAT round has a two-position fuse, ground and air, that must be manually set, an Army statement said.

The M1028 Canister round is the third tank round being replaced. The Canister round was first introduced in 2005 by the Army to engage and defeat dismounted Infantry, specifically to defeat close-in human-wave assaults. Canister rounds disperse a wide-range of scattering small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality and, for example, destroy groups of individual enemy fighters.

The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.

AMP also provides two additional capabilities: defeat of enemy dismounts, especially enemy anti-tank guided missile, or ATMG, teams at a distance, and breaching walls in support of dismounted Infantry operations

A new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack.

The Institute for Defense Analysis report also makes the case for the continued relevance and combat necessity for a main battle tank. The Abrams tank proven effective both as a deterrent in the Fulda Gap during the Cold War, waged war with great success in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 — but it has also expanded it sphere of operational utility by proving valuable in counterinsurgency operations as well.

The IDA essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank brings unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate and conduct attacks.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

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That time Egypt pulled a perfect ‘MacGyver’ move to defend its ships from air attack

When Egypt bought the two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that France declined to sell to Russia, one thing that didn’t come with those vessels was the armament.


According to the “16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World,” Russia had planned to install a mix of SA-N-8 missiles and AK-630 Gatling guns on the vessels if France has sold them to the Kremlin. But no such luck for Egypt, which had two valuable vessels that were unarmed – or, in the vernacular, sitting ducks.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
The Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Anwar el-Sadat, prior to being handed over to the Egyptian navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And then, all of a sudden, they weren’t unarmed anymore. A video released by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense celebrating the Cleopatra 2017 exercise with the French navy shows that the Egyptians have channeled MacGyver — the famed improviser most famously played by Richard Dean Anderson — to fix the problem.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
A helicopter comes in for a landing on an Egyptian Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. An AN.TWQ-1 Avenger is secured to the fight deck in the background. (Youtube screenshot)

 

Scenes from the video show at least two AN/TWQ-1 Avenger air-defense vehicles — better known as the M1097 — tied down securely on the deck of one of the vessels, which have been named after Egyptian leaders Gamel Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. The Humvee-based vehicles carry up to eight FIM-92 Stinger anti-air missiles and also have a M3P .50-caliber machine gun capable of firing up to 1200 rounds a minute.

 

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
An Avenger missile system is capable of firing eight Stinger missiles at low-flying enemy airplanes and helicopters. (Photo: US Army Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

The Mistral-class ships in service with the French navy are typically equipped with the Simbad point-defense system. Ironically, the missile used in the Simbad is a man-portable SAM also called Mistral. The vessels displace 16,800 tons, have a top speed of 18.8 knots and can hold up to 16 helicopters and 900 troops.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
The Simbad missile system that fires the Mistral man-portable SAM. (Wikimedia Commons)

You can see the Egyptian Ministry of Defense video below, showing the tied-down Avengers serving as air-defense assets for the Egyptian navy’s Mistrals.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This soldier trained to carry backpack nukes on one-way suicide missions

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. 

SADM backpack nukes
Scientists look at a MADM nuclear land mine. Cutaway casing with warhead inside, code-decoder / firing unit is at left.

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. 

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
H-912 transport container for Mk-54 SADM

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. 

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The Israeli Arrow shot down a SAM for its first kill

Israel’s Arrow missile defense system managed to get its first kill. This particular kill is notable because it was a Syrian surface-to-air missile.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, Israeli jets had attacked a number of Syrian targets. After the successful operation, they were targeted by Syrian air-defense systems, including surface-to-air missiles.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
An Arrow anti-ballistic missile is launched as part of the on going United States/Israel Arrow System Improvement Program (ASIP). (U.S. Navy photo)

Reportedly, at least one of the surface-to-air missiles was shot down by an Arrow. According to astronautix.com, the system designed to kill ballistic missiles, had its first test flight in 1990 and has hit targets as high as 60 miles up.

Army-Technology.com notes that the Israeli system has a range of up to 56 miles and a top speed of Mach 9. That is about three times the speed of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that the Arrow 2 can engage up to 14 targets, with the first battery deployed in 2000, with a second in 2002. A third is reportedly stated for deployment as well.

The surprise, of course, is that the Arrow proved capable of killing the unidentified surface-to-air missile the Syrians fired.

Surface-to-air missiles are much harder targets to hit than ballistic missiles because they will maneuver to target a fighter or other aircraft.

Furthermore, the SAM that was shot down is very likely to have been of Russian manufacture (DefenseNews.com reported the missile was a SA-5 Gammon, also known as the S-200).

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
A SA-5 Gammon on its launcher. Was a similar missile the first kill for the Arrow? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the missiles are from various production blocks of the Arrow 2, but this past January, Reuters reported that the first Arrow 3 battery had become operational.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
The Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) completed the second successful flyout test of the Arrow-3 interceptor in 2014. (Dept. of Defense photo)

While the Arrow 2 intercepts incoming warheads in the atmosphere, the Arrow 3 is capable of exoatmospheric intercepts. One battery has been built so far, and will supplement Israel’s Arrow 2 batteries. The Arrow 3’s range is up to 2,400 kilometers, according to CSIS.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Artificial Intelligence refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, for example — recognizing patterns, learning from experience, drawing conclusions, making predictions, or taking action — whether digitally or as the smart software behind autonomous physical systems.

The Air Force is utilizing AI in multiple efforts and products tackling aspects of operations from intelligence fusion to Joint All Domain Command and Control, enabling autonomous and swarming systems and speeding the processes of deciding on targets and acting on information gleaned from sensors.


The AI Advantage

vimeo.com

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

An illustration depicting the future integration of the Air Force enabling fusion warfare, where huge sets of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data are collected, analyzed by artificial intelligence and utilized by Airmen and the joint force in a seamless process to stay many steps ahead of an adversary. Illustration // AFRL

Sensors are data collection points, which could be anything from a wearable device or vehicle, all the way up to an unmanned aerial vehicle or satellite. Anything that collects information, across all domains, helps comprise the “Internet of Battlefield Things.”

This mass amount of data is processed and analyzed using AI, which has the ability to speed up the decision-making process at the operational, tactical and strategic levels for the Air Force.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Dr. Mark Draper, a principal engineering research psychologist with the 711th Human Performance Wing at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, stands in the Human Autonomy Lab where research focuses on how to better interconnect human intelligence with machine intelligence.

“The world around us is changing at a pace faster than ever before. New technologies are emerging that are fundamentally altering how we think about, plan and prepare for war,” said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper. “Whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years. We have to get there first.”

In 2019, the Air Force released its Annex to the Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy, highlighting the importance of artificial intelligence capabilities to 21st century missions.

TACE: Can We Trust A.I.?

www.youtube.com

The strategy serves as the framework for aligning Air Force efforts with the National Defense Strategy and the Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy as executed by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. It details the fundamental principles, enabling functions and objectives necessary to effectively manage, maneuver and lead in the digital age.

“In this return to great power competition, the United States Air Force will harness and wield the most representative forms of AI across all mission-sets, to better enable outcomes with greater speed and accuracy, while optimizing the abilities of each and every Airman,” wrote then-Acting Secretary of the Air Force Donovan and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein in the annex. “We do this to best protect and defend our nation and its vital interests, while always remaining accountable to the American public.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.


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4 reasons why Doug Masters is a better fighter pilot than Maverick

Okay, with the news that a “Top Gun” sequel is in the works, it looks like Pete Mitchell is gonna be back on screen. With three kills, he may think he’s all that, but is he?


Well, Doug Masters, the hero of “Iron Eagle”, may have a few things to say about why he’s a better fighter pilot than Maverick.

Here is a piece of trivia: “Iron Eagle” actually came out four months before “Top Gun” did. It had Louis Gossett Jr. in the role of Colonel “Chappy” Sinclair, and Robbie Rist (notorious as Cousin Oliver in the original “Brady Bunch” series, and “Doctor Zee” in the original Battlestar Galactica) in a small supporting role.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
Maverick may have gotten Jester, but Doug Masters would be far more challenging. (Paramount)

1. Doug Masters is a multi-threat pilot

Let’s face it, when their movies came out, the F-14 Tomcat did one thing – air-to-air combat – and has one of the best suites for that, including the AIM-54 Phoenix missile, the AWG-9 radar, and a lot of maneuverability and performance.

On the other hand, Doug Masters didn’t just handle the air-to-air threats. He also killed ground targets. In the movie, he and Chappy Sinclair combined to shoot up two airfields, four anti-aircraft guns, a pair of SAM launchers, and an oil refinery.

Heck, he even fired an AGM-65 Maverick missile while still on the ground to complete the rescue of his dad.

Sorry, Mav, but Doug wins this one.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
A tower goes up during the attack on Il Kareem in Iron Eagle. (Youtube screenshot)

2. Doug rigged a cool sound system for his jet

Doug Masters also figure out a way to play some tunes while flying his jet. So when he and Chappy Sinclair blew that first airfield out of commission, they did it to the tune of Queen’s “One Vision.” Then, he shoots up another airfield to “Gimme Some Lovin’.”

C’mon, at a minimum, Doug gets style points, right?

3. Doug used his cannon

In the last dogfight of “Top Gun,” Maverick forgot that his Tomcat was equipped with a M61 Vulcan cannon. Note, this could have been very useful at some points of the engagement – like when Iceman had that MiG on his tail.

Doug Masters, on the other hand, was a dead-eye with his cannon. We all know that gun kills are the best kills, right?

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
U.S. Navy sailors load a M61A1 20mm Cannon Gatling Gun in a Grumman F-14B “Tomcat,” assigned to the “Jolly Rogers” of Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-103). Maverick didn’t even use his cannon during his dogfight. (U.S. Navy photo)

4. Doug had the higher air-to-air score

Maverick has three confirmed “Mig-28” kills. Not bad, especially since he used four missile shots to get that.

Here is what Doug Masters shot down: Four MiGs and two choppers. Add to that the multiple SAM launchers and ack-ack guns. Don’t forget the other ground targets as well, even if he shared the first airfield with Chappy Sinclair.

So, Maverick loses this fight. It also means that Doug Masters is the one who gets to buzz the tower in celebration.
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Germany’s Puma is a 40-ton death machine

Germany introduced the world to the concept of blitzkrieg. One of the key elements to this strategy is to have a force of tanks and mechanized infantry strike deeply and (relatively) quickly behind enemy lines. This means that to successfully execute a blitzkrieg, one needs not only effective tanks, but also good infantry carriers.

For decades now, Germany has relied on the Marder to be the infantry fighting vehicle accompanying Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 main battle tanks. The Marder, which entered service in 1971, packs a 20mm autocannon, has a crew of three, and holds seven troops. However, the Marder is starting to show its age — after all, it’s about a decade older than the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. That’s where the Puma comes in.


This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
(Photo by Motorpferd)

A Puma infantry fighting vehicle in the field.

Naturally, Germany have a replacement in mind. This vehicle is called the Puma, and it’s slated to bring a few huge leaps in capability to German armor — but nothing is without its drawbacks. Like the Marder, this vehicle has a crew of three, but only carries six grunts in the rear. That’s a slight hit in one area of capability, but the Puma’s firepower makes up for it.

The Puma is equipped with a 30mm cannon (a big step up from the Marder’s 20mm gun). It also packs a 5.56mm coaxial machine gun and a 76mm grenade launcher. It can reach a top speed of 43 miles per hour and go 373 miles on a tank of gas.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
(U.S. Army photo by Paula Guzman)

The Marder infantry fighting vehicle has served Germany well for almost 50 years.

What’s most notable is that the Puma is only roughly six tons heavier than the Marder, despite the increased firepower. This is due to the use of composite armors that are both more resistant to modern weapons and weigh much less than older armor technology. This enables the Puma to be hauled by the Airbus A400.

Germany is planning to have 320 Pumas delivered by 2020 to replace the Marder. Export possibilities abound, particularly to Canada, which is looking for an infantry fighting vehicles to pair with its Leopard 2 tanks.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy is pursuing stealthier torpedoes for submarines

Navy weapons developers are seeking a high-tech, longer range, and more lethal submarine-launched heavyweight Mk 48 that can better destroy enemy ships, submarines, and small boats, service officials said.

The service has issued a solicitation to industry, asking for proposals and information related to pursuing new and upgraded Mk 48 torpedo control systems, guidance, sonar, and navigational technology.

“The Mk 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) torpedo is a heavyweight acoustic-homing torpedo with sophisticated sonar, all-digital guidance and control systems, digital fusing systems, and propulsion improvements,” William Couch, Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman, told Warrior Maven in early 2018.


Naturally, having a functional and more high-tech lethal torpedo affords the Navy an opportunity to hit enemies more effectively and at further standoff ranges and therefore better compete with more fully emerging undersea rivals such as Russia and China.

The Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo is used by all classes of U.S. Navy submarines as their anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare weapon, including the Virginia class and the future Columbia class, Couch added.

A Mk 48 torpedo is 21 inches in diameter and weighs 3,520 pounds; it can destroy targets at ranges out to five miles and travels at speeds greater than 28 knots. The weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound high-explosive warhead, available Navy and Lockheed data states.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo aboard USS Louisville.

Navy efforts to pursue new torpedo technologies are happening alongside a concurrent effort to upgrade the existing arsenal.

For several years now, the Navy has been strengthening its developmental emphasis upon the Mk 48 as a way to address its aging arsenal. The service restarted production of the Mk 48 torpedo mod 7 in 2016.

An earlier version, the Mk 48 Mod 6, has been operational since 1997 and the more recent Mod 7 has been in service since 2006.

Lockheed Martin has been working on upgrades to the Mk 48 torpedo Mod 6 and Mod 7, which consist of adjustments to the guidance control box, broadband sonar acoustic receiver, and amplifier components.

“The latest version of the Mk 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) is the mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System. The Mk 48 ADCAP mod 7 CBASS torpedo is the result of a Joint Development Program with the Royal Australian Navy and achieved initial operational capability in 2006,” Couch said.

With Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System, or CBASS, electronics to go into the nose of the weapon as part of the guidance section, Lockheed and Navy developers explained.

CBASS technology provides streamlined targeting, quieter propulsion technologies, and an ability to operate with improved effectiveness in both shallow and deep water. Also, the Mod 7 decreases vulnerability to enemy countermeasures and allows the torpedo to transmit and receive over a wider frequency band, Lockheed and Navy developers say.

The new technology also involves adjustments to the electronic circuitry to allow the torpedo to better operate in its undersea environment.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo was loaded into USS California.

Modifications to the weapon have improved the acoustic receiver, replaced the guidance-and-control hardware with updated technology, increased memory, and improved processor throughput to handle the expanded software demands required to improve torpedo performance against evolving threats, according to Navy data on the weapon.

Improved propulsion, quieting technology, targeting systems, and range enhancements naturally bring a substantial tactical advantage to Navy undersea combat operations. Attack submarines are often able to operate closer to enemy targets and coastline undetected, reaching areas typically inaccessible to deeper draft surface ships. Such an improvement would also, quite possibly, enable attack submarines to better support littoral surface platforms such as the flat-bottomed Littoral Combat Ships. Working in tandem with LCS anti-submarine and surface warfare systems, attack submarines with a more capable torpedo could better identify and attack enemy targets near coastal areas and shallow water enemy locations.

A Military Analysis Network report from the Federation of American Scientists further specifies that the torpedo uses a conventional, high-explosive warhead.

“The MK 48 is propelled by a piston engine with twin, contra-rotating propellers in a pump jet or shrouded configuration. The engine uses a liquid monopropellant fuel,” the FAS analysis states.

Submarine operators are able to initially guide the torpedo toward its target as it leaves the launch tube, using a thin wire designed to establish and electronic link between the submarine and torpedo, the information says.

“This helps the torpedo avoid decoys and jamming devices that might be deployed by the target. The wire is severed and the torpedo’s high-powered active/passive sonar guides the torpedo during the final attack,” FAS writes.

In early 2018, Lockheed Martin Sippican was awarded a new deal to work on guidance and control technology on front end of the torpedo, and SAIC was awarded the contract for the afterbody and propulsion section, Couch explained.

The Mk 48, which is a heavy weapon launched under the surface, is quite different than surface launched, lightweight Mk 54 torpedoes fired from helicopters, aircraft and surface ships.

The Navy’s Mk 48 torpedo is also in service with Australia, Canada, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

popular

Why did the US military switch from 7.62 to 5.56 rounds?

In the modern era, the M-16 style rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm has become ubiquitous in imagery of the U.S. military, but that wasn’t always the case. America’s adoption of the 5.56mm round and the service rifle that fires it both came about as recently as the 1960s, as the U.S. and its allies set about looking for a more reliable, accurate, and lighter general issue weapon and cartridge.


Back in the early 1950s, the fledgling North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) set about looking for a single rifle cartridge that could be adopted throughout the alliance, making it easier and cheaper to procure and distribute ammunition force-wide and adding a much needed bit of interoperability to the widely diverse military forces within the group. Despite some concerns about recoil, the 7.62x51mm NATO round was adopted in 1954, thanks largely to America’s belief that it was the best choice available.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
Sometimes it pays to have uniformity.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

 

The 7.62x51mm cartridge (which is more similar to the .308 than the 7.62x39mm rounds used in Soviet AKs) actually remains in use today thanks to its stopping power and effective range, but it wasn’t long before even the 7.62’s biggest champions in the U.S. began to recognize its shortcomings. These rounds were powerful and accurate, but they were also heavy, expensive, and created a great deal of recoil as compared to the service rifles and cartridges of the modern era.

As early as 1957, early development began on a new, small caliber, high velocity round and rifle platform. These new cartridges would be based on the much smaller and lighter .22 caliber round, but despite the smaller projectile, U.S. specifications also required that it maintained supersonic speed beyond 500 yards and could penetrate a standard-issue ballistic helmet at that same distance. What the U.S. military asked for wasn’t possible with existing cartridges, so plans for new ammo and a new rifle were quickly drawn up.

In order to make a smaller round offer up the punch the U.S. military needed, Remington converted their .222 round into the .222 Special. This new round was designed specifically to withstand the amount of pressure required to make the new projectile meet the performance standards established by the Pentagon. The longer case of the .222 Special also made it better suited for magazine feeding for semi-automatic weapons. Eventually, the .222 Special was redubbed .223 Remington — a name AR-15 owners may recognize as among the two calibers of rounds your rifle can fire.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
The 7.62×51mm NATO and 5.56×45mm NATO cartridges compared to a AA battery.
WikiMedia Commons

 

That led to yet another new round, which FN based off of Remington’s .223 caliber design, that was dubbed the 5.56x45mm NATO. This new round exceeded the Defense Department’s requirements for muzzle velocity and range, and fired exceedingly well from Armalite designed rifles. Early tests showed increases in rifleman accuracy as well as decreases in weapon malfunctions when compared to the M1 Garand, with many experts contending at the time that the new rifle was superior to the M14, despite still having a few issues that needed to be worked out.

Armalite (which is where the “A” in AR-15 is derived) had scaled down their 7.62 chambered AR-10 to produce the new AR-15, which was capable of firing the new .223 rounds and later, the 5.56mm rounds. It also met all the other standard requirements for a new service rifle, like the ability to select between semi-automatic and fully-automatic modes of fire and 20 round magazine capacity. The combination of Armalite rifle and 5.56 ammunition was a match made in heaven, and branches started procuring the rifles in the 1960s. The 5.56 NATO round, however, wouldn’t go on to be adopted as the standard for the alliance until 1980.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
Polish Special Forces carrying the Israeli-made IWI Tavor chambered in 5.56 NATO
(WikiMedia Commons)

 

Ultimately, the decision to shift from 7.62x51mm ammunition to 5.56x45mm came down to simple arithmetic. The smaller rounds weighed less, allowing troops to carry more ammunition into the fight. They also created less recoil, making it easier to level the weapon back onto the target between rounds and making automatic fire easier to manage. Tests showed that troops equipped with smaller 5.56mm rounds could engage targets more efficiently and effectively than those firing larger, heavier bullets.

As they say in Marine Corps rifle teams, the goal is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy — and the 5.56mm NATO round made troops better at doing precisely that.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force put some guys in a freezer to test out new survival gear

US airmen assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing tested a new arctic survival kit for the F-35A Lightning II in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.

A team of airmen from the 356th Fighter Squadron, F-35 Program Integration Office, 354th Operation Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment and 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 1, used a subzero chamber to replicate the extreme temperatures of interior Alaska.

The test was performed because the current arctic survival kit won’t fit in the allotted space under the seat of an F-35A. The 354th FW is expecting to receive its first F-35A in April of 2019.


“We are testing the kit that Tech. Sgt. John Williams, Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Ferguson and myself have developed over the last year in preparation for the integration of the F-35,” said Tech. Sgt. Garret Wright, 66th TS, Det. 1 Arctic Survival School noncommissioned officer in charge of operations.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Rumke tests an F-35A Lightning II survival gear kit in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.

Four members of the team, to include Lt. Col. James Christensen, commander of the reactivated 356th Fighter Squadron, stepped into two separate chambers, one at minus-20 and the other at minus-40, wearing standard cold-weather gear issued to pilots. Once inside the chambers, the test observers timed how long it took them to don the specialized winter gear from their survival kit.

After the gear was on, the Icemen lived up to their name and stayed in the chamber for six hours. Wright recorded their condition every 30 minutes to ensure the safety and accuracy of the test.

Approximately five hours into the test, Wright noticed the temperature on the digital thermometer didn’t seem accurate in one of the chambers. He found a mercury-based thermometer and discovered the temperature one of the chambers was at minus-65 and the other was minus-51.

“After realizing that the ambient room temperature was at minus-65 at the five-hour mark, I knew that we had accomplished far more than we originally set out to,” Wright said. “Wing leaders wanted a product that would keep pilots alive at minus-40 and although unplanned, the findings were clear that the sleep system could far surpass this goal.”

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Wright holds a thermometer beside Rumke during an F-35A Lightning II survival kit test in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

After six cold hours, the Icemen stepped out of the subzero chamber and spoke with the survival, evasion, reconnaissance, and escape specialists and the AFE team to address discrepancies and better ways to utilize the equipment.

“The gear was great. There were a couple of minor tweaks that I think we could make to it to improve it but overall it was solid,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Rumke, 66th TS, Det. 1, Artic Survival School instructor.

After the debrief, the four Icemen agreed the equipment is more than capable of withstanding the harsh temperatures of the Alaskan landscape and said they would feel safe knowing they had this gear to help them survive in one of the world’s most extreme environments.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The truth about the Pentagon’s ‘shrimp fight club’

With a $716 billion budget and the mission to be the best at everything, the Pentagon finds some pretty creative ways of going about it. No, they didn’t have an actual underground boxing club among the military’s highest-ranking chiefs at the Pentagon (that we know of), but they did have some experiments that could have proven fruitful in giving America’s enemies a black eye.

The only problem is that Congress found out about it. That’s why the first rule is not to talk about it.


This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

The Mantis Shrimp, club cocked (more on that later).

In 2015, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake decided he was going to take on wasteful spending, releasing a Wastebookthat detailed what he believed was government spending run amok.

Quoting the movie Fight Club, Flake says, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have,” in the Wastebook, which is titled The Farce Awakens. Flake is referring to a 6,800 research grant given to Duke University researchers, who allegedly used it to pit 68 Panamanian mantis shrimp against each other to see who would win and why.

“To see so much money so outlandishly wasted, it’s clear that Washington’s ballyhooing over budget austerity is a farce,” Flake said. “Hopefully, this report gives Congress – which only ever seems to agree when it comes to spending money – something to Chewie on before the taxpayers strike back.”

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

This is the cover of the wastebook, no joke.

But the study wasn’t really useless, as it turns out. In fact, there’s an entire field of science called biomimetics dedicated to the idea of solving human problems with abilities and designs from animals found in nature. Duke University was doing research in just that vein. So far, they’ve been able to harness the mantis shrimp’s weapons and armor for human needs. It turns out the mantis shrimp (neither mantis nor shrimp) is one of the ocean’s premier brawlers.

The study didn’t really spend 0,000 on a fight club of shrimp. The grant covered the entire span of research on the mantis shrimp. What they discovered is a roving tank on the ocean floor. Its two main appendages act as underwater clubs to knock its prey out in a single punch – and that punch is what had the researchers so fascinated.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

Did you see that? I doubt it. Read on!

The mantis shrimp punch goes from an underwater standing start to 50mph in the blink of an eye. It generates 1,500 newtons of force, the equivalent of a 340-pound rock hitting you in the face. If a human could manage 1/10th of that force with its arms, we’d be chucking baseballs into low Earth orbit. To top it all off, those clubs pop out with the velocity of a .22-caliber bullet (one that isn’t underwater) and the sudden change in water pressure causes the water around them to boil at several thousand degrees Kelvin. If the punch doesn’t kill the prey, the punch’s shockwave still can.

But wait, there’s more.

The researchers also wanted to know how mantis shrimp defend against this kind of attack – how their natural armor protects them from other mantis shrimp super weapons. This punch goes right through the shells worn by crabs and clams as well as the natural protections of some species of fish (and aquarium glass, FYI. In case you’re thinking you want one). The clubs themselves are also intensely durable, maintaining their performance throughout the mantis shrimp’s lifespan.

Its primary weapon is a complex system of three main regions, all lightweight and durable, tougher than many engineered ceramics. Civilian applications could improve the performance of cars and airplanes while military applications include body armor and armor for vehicles and potentially aircraft.

“That’s the holy grail for materials engineers,” said University of California professor and researcher David Kisailus, who is pioneering such studies these days.

Articles

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers

ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.


The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.

Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.

It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.

Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
PACIFIC OCEAN — Petty Officer 3rd Class John Cartwright, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmember, releases the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”

The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.

With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.

Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.

In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.

Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.

The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.

Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters
PACIFIC OCEAN — The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle watches the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from afar during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.

The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.

The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.

As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.

That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.

Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.

“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.

The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.

At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.

Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.

But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.

Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.

Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.

The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.

More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.

“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.

“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”

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