As such, they can not only strike within six feet of their aim point thanks to their precision guidance (an optional low-cost laser seeker will give the rounds the ability to engage a moving target), they can also travel over 12 miles when fired from a baseline mortar like the M120 120mm mortar or the M252 81mm mortar.
Now, imagine if these were dropped from a UAV from, say, 25,000 feet, as opposed to being fired by a mortar on the ground. During a presentation at the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, Alan Perkins of UTC Aerospace Systems discussed how these mortars could be used on UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper instead of the usual AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
The reason: The mortar rounds will have long range – in excess of 30 miles – when dropped from a UAV’s normal altitude. Furthermore their warheads are much smaller than the Hellfire’s. The 120mm mortar’s M57 round has about four and a half pounds of high explosive. Compare that to the 20-pound warhead on a Hellfire. That greatly reduces collateral damage, but when a 120mm mortar round lands six feet away from some ISIS terrorists, it still ruins their day.
In short, the old way of hitting ground targets for airplanes has become new again.
The SR-71 Blackbird is the arguably the most popular and easily recognizable airframe ever used by the U.S. Air Force. It maintains the speed record it set back in 1976 (even with a broken engine). The Blackbird’s missile evasion technique is legendary; it simply flew faster than the whatever was chasing it.
Not one SR-71 was ever shot down.
It could take a full photo of the entire country of North Korea in seven minutes and fly across the entire United States, lengthwise, in just over an hour.
Not bad, but that capability didn’t happen overnight. The Air Force actually developed more than one supersonic plane for its reconnaissance and strike missions.
1. XB-70 Valkyrie
Only 2 of North American Aviation’s B-70 bombers were ever built, and the program only lasted for the five years between 1964 and 1969. The Valkyrie was a six-engine bomber, capable of flying Mach 3, designed to outrun enemy interceptor aircraft with speed and altitude. At the time, interception was the only defense against bombers.
Surface-to-air missiles changed the game.
The XB-70 was still fast enough to fool radar, but its limited range and expense made the B-52 a more economically efficient choice for production. Though short-lived, the Valkyrie did blaze a trail for the structural dynamics that would be so crucial to the SR-71.
Not to be confused with the later naval stealth fighter proposal dubbed the A-12 Avenger II, the A-12 Archangel was a recon aircraft developed by Lockheed for the CIA between 1962 and 1967. The defense giant’s “Skunk Works,” the nickname given to its Advanced Development Programs department, developed the A-12 for the CIA’s Oxcart Operation.
Oxcart was the agency’s effort to replace the U-2 spy plane after it became increasingly susceptible to Soviet SAMs. They were wildly successful – the planes boasted a host of new technologies designed just for the program. They were built with titanium to handle hypersonic speeds (strangely obtained from the Soviet Union).
Though designed to fly over Cuba and the USSR, the Lockheed A-12 never executed that mission. It flew over North Vietnam and North Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.
The North Vietnamese were able to track the A-12 via radar, and routinely launched missiles at it. It never took a direct hit from a SAM but did get debris from an exploding missile lodged in its fuselage.
Since the A-12 was never going to fly over the Soviet Union and the use of satellite photography was on the rise, the program was scrapped almost as soon as it had begun. The A-12s were either stored in Palmdale, California, or sent to museums.
The M-21 variant of the A-12 was designed to carry the Lockheed D-12 Drone. This variation had a cockpit for the drone’s launch control officer who released the autonomous drone which was mounted on the back of the M-21 airframe.
The D-21 was launched from the back of the A-12. Once its mission was complete, the drone would eject the data it collected at a preprogrammed point and then self-destruct. The ejected data was caught in mid-air by a C-130.
This program was canceled in 1966 when a drone collided in midair with its launcher. The M-21 crew all bailed out, except for the LCO. From then on, the D-21 would be launched from under the wing of a B-52.
4. Lockheed YF-12
The YF-12 was a twin-seat version of the A-12. Designed to be an interceptor, the YF-12 set the speed records that would only be surpassed by the legendary SR-71. It also has the distinction of being a publicly announced aircraft, which had benefits of keeping the A-12 a secret because the public couldn’t tell the difference.
The cost of the Vietnam War kept the YF-12 from the Air Force inventory. And by the time the funds were available, the YF-12 wasn’t necessary to defend the mainland U.S., so the program was scrapped.
The aircraft did successfully test the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which was the predecessor to the Phoenix missiles. The YF-12 also tested how AWACS could command bombers in a tactical environment, which later helped the development of the B-1 Bomber.
The YF-12 also tested how engine inlet performance affected airframe for NASA, as well as issues related to propulsion interaction, boundary layer noise, heat transfer under high-mach conditions, and altitude hold at supersonic speeds – all necessary to develop the SR-71, not to mention the Space Shuttle program.
Distinguishing between the bravery of warfighters like these is tough. After all, what’s the exchange rate between five Navy Crosses and two Medals of Honor? These men cannot be ranked, but they can and should be commemorated. And in that spirit WATM presents this lineup:
1. Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly
Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly was called the “fightenest Marine I ever knew” by the famed Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. In perhaps his most famous action, he encouraged the Marine advance at Belleau Wood in 1918 by turning to his men and yelling, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”
Daly was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Belleau Wood, but received the Distinguished Service Cross. He also received two Medals of Honor, a Navy Cross, and a Silver Star in addition to a number of foreign awards for other battles during his career.
2. Maj. Audie Murphy
Commonly called the most decorated soldier of World War II, Maj. Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, and two Bronze Stars with Combat V.
Murphy’s foreign awards were especially impressive. He received the French Forrager, Legion of Honor, and Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star and the Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm. He also received the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
3. Col. Edward V. Rickenbacker
When America entered World War I in 1917, race car driver Edward Rickenbacker volunteered for service. He started off as a staff driver but a chance meeting with Col. Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer, saw him reassigned to the new Army Air Corps where he became an “Ace of Aces” with 26 kills in only nine months.
The Distinguished Service Cross and one Navy Cross were received for actions Puller took at the Chosin Reservoir where he personally oversaw the Marine and Army defenses while under withering machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire over five days of fighting.
5. Boatswain’s Mate First Class James Williams
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James Williams holds every level of valor award with a Medal of Honor, a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, two Navy and Marine Corps Medals, three Bronze Stars with Combat V, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V.
In his Medal of Honor action, Williams was commanding a river patrol boat when he took fire from two enemy Sampans in Vietnam and gave chase. He was lured into an ambush but fought against overwhelming odds for three hours, leading a fight that saw 65 enemy ships destroyed by Williams’ crew and a detachment of helicopters that eventually reinforced him.
In early 1918, American troops were reaching France and beginning to make an impact on the ebb and flow of the war. While the previous combatants had been largely deadlocked for years, fresh American troops could turn the tide of otherwise evenly matched fights.
Germany was on the losing side of this power shift and needed to win the war before more American troops and equipment could arrive. A grand offensive was planned that would come to be known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres or the Battle of Lys.
If successful, it would have forced the British back to the channel ports and possibly caused an evacuation like that in nearby Dunkirk 22 years later.
A British artillery crew maneuvers its 18-pounder field gun at Saint Floris during the Battle of the Lys, also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)
A two-day artillery bombardment preceded an attack on April 9, 1918, that drove the Portuguese defenders in the Ypres Salient back five miles and cost 7,000 Portuguese lives.
British troops in the area were forced to pull back and cover the gaps of the withdrawing Portuguese soldiers and nightfall on April 9 found them in a precarious position. They held the high ground that the Germans desperately needed and they were outnumbered. The British 19th Division was attempting to hold off a concerted attack by the entire German Fourth Army.
In this brickfilm, a stop-animation movie made almost entirely with Legos, YouTube user Snooperking recreates that disastrous morning for the allies in April 1918 as the British attempt to hold the line and prevent the Germans taking the high ground.
Snooperking, YouTubeSnooperking does a pretty impressive job with the Legos, representing dead bodies from previous fighting with small skeletons and using different Lego heads to capture the fear of the attackers, the resolve of the defenders, and the utter panic when any soldier finds himself on the wrong end of the bayonet.
Luckily, while the middle weeks of April 1918 were disastrous for the British in terms of lost territory, they did bleed the Germans heavily for every yard of territory lost. The German offensive stalled and was called off at the end of April. German losses during the attack allowed for their stunning defeats a few months later as Allied forces, bolstered by American reinforcements, went on the offensive.
In the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, the remnants of Nazi Germany’s military leadership signed an unconditional surrender to Allied forces.
When the news broke the next day, soldiers and civilians around the world heralded Victory in Europe Day — the Soviet Union would mark Victory Day on May 9 — exuberant about the end of nearly six years of war that had destroyed much of Europe.
When German and Allied military officials gathered again in Berlin near midnight on May 8 to sign surrender documents, the atmosphere in the room was laden with emotional and political weight.
The Germans, characteristically severe, went through the proceedings in a mix of resignation and resentment, while the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies were relieved at the war’s conclusion.
All of them were uncertain what would come next.
Historian Antony Beevor’s sweeping history of the final months on the eastern front, “The Fall of Berlin 1945,” captured the mood in the room as victors and vanquished gathered to bring their conflict to an end:
“Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall ‘in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst.’ General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation.”
“A staff officer whispered in their ears and ‘they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake’ and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newreel cameramen apparently ‘behaved like madmen’. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies.”
The German delegation then entered the room — its members looking both “resigned” and “imperious.”
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander of the Nazi armed forces during the final days of the war, “sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists,” Beevor wrote. “Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention ‘was crying without a single muscle of his face moving.'”
Gen. Georgy Zhukov, a senior Soviet commander during the war’s final days, stood to invite the Germans “to sign the act of capitulation.” Keitel, impatient, gestured for the documents to be brought to him. “Tell them to come here to sign,” Zhukov said.
Keitel walked over to sign, “ostentatiously” removing his gloves to do so, unaware that the representative for the chief of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, was lingering just over his shoulder.
“‘The German delegation may leave the hall,'” Zhukov said once the signing was complete, Beevor wrote, adding:
“The three men stood up. Keitel, ‘his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog’s’, raised his marshal’s baton in salute, then turned on his heel. As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody would in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was [British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur] Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other with bear hugs.”
“The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over.”
The chaos of the war had ceased, but for Soviets and Germans other hardships were to come.
Zhukov, long a confidant of Stalin, earned glory for his command during the war, but he would soon find himself on the outs with the mercurial Soviet leader.
Keitel would face war-crimes charges, including crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged in October 1946. Like other Nazi leaders who were hanged, Keitel’s body didn’t drop with enough force to break his neck. He dangled at the end of the hangman’s rope for 24 minutes before dying.
Germans, many of them under the yoke of the Soviet Union, would struggle to rebuild both physically from the war and emotionally from their encounter with Allies forces — Soviet soldiers in particular. Berlin, buffered by two weeks of intense urban fighting, was shattered.
The Soviet Union’s drive for political vengeance and economic advantage lead it to hobble or strip much of East Germany’s infrastructure and resources.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez is a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who was awarded the Air Force Cross for heroism during an intense firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.
JTACS are military personnel who direct combat support aircraft like the A-10, calling in air strikes to support ground operations.
Gutierrez was part of a nighttime raid with an Army special forces detachment to capture a high-value Taliban target, a “brutal” man living outside of the city of Herat in Western Afghanistan.
The team was attacked with heavy fire from a numerically superior and battle-hardened enemy force. Gutierrez was shot in the chest, his team leader was shot in the leg, and the ten-man element was pinned down in a building with no escape route.
“We were just getting hammered, getting peppered,” he recalls in a six-minute interview. He talked to his team’s leader who wanted to drop bombs on the enemy targets.
“If you put a bomb on that it’ll kill us all,” he told his leader. “Guys are getting wounded. Our best chance is a 30mm high-angle strafe.”
Gutierrez is having this discussion as bullets pepper the walls behind him, as a medic works on his chest wound, a through-and-through which the medic couldn’t find the entrance wound. He is also still holding off Taliban fighters with his M4 rifle.
“This is danger close, I need your initials,” he told his team lead.
“Less than 10 meters.”
Gutierrez needed the support of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka “Warthog,” whose 30mm GAU-8 Cannon rounds are the size of beer bottles, to make a precision strike on the attacking insurgents.
Capt. Ethan Sabin, an A-10 pilot based at Kandahar Airfield, asked a nearby F-16 pilot to mark the target with the laser on his targeting pod.
The A-10 attack was so close, Gutierrez’s right eardrum burst and his left eardrum was severely damaged from the noise. He lost five-and-a-half pints of blood getting away from the combat zone.
After the first A-10 strafing, the medic had to re-inflate Gutierrez’ collapsed lung so he could direct two more strafing runs. For four hours, the team held off the enemy fighters and escaped the battlespace.
To give an idea of the kind of interactions JTACs have with close-air support pilots in the heat of the moment, the video below is a prime example of the extraordinary actions Gutierrez and airmen like him perform on the battlefield every day.
News that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attending the ceremony remembering the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack has drawn some interest.
Unfortunately, it also seems to have drawn some advice from White House Spokesman Josh Earnest directed toward veterans of the surprise bombardment.
During a recent press briefing, Earnest said that World War II veterans should “set aside their own personal bitterness” over the unprovoked attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that left 2,403 Americans dead and over a thousand wounded.
Japan has refused to apologize for the attack, which sank or damaged 19 American vessels, including eight battleships and destroyed or damaged over 300 aircraft.
“If I were a World War II veteran who was drafted by the United States military to go and fight for our country overseas in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, I might feel quite embittered. And I think it would be a perfectly natural and understandable human reaction to not be particularly satisfied with the words of the Japanese Prime Minister,” Earnest said during the Dec. 5 briefing.
“There may be some who feel personally embittered,” he added. “But I’m confident that many will set aside their own personal bitterness, not because they’re personally satisfied by the words of the Prime Minister, but because they recognize how important this moment is for the United States.”
Abe is the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit Pearl Harbor, declaring his intent to “mourn the souls of the victims” of the attack. American forces shot down 29 Japanese planes, and sank five midget submarines and one submarine.
Fifteen Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the attack, while 51 received the Navy Cross, four received the Distinguished Service Cross, and 53 received the Silver Star.
It is estimated that 161,000 American military personnel were killed in action while fighting in the Pacific Theater. The war lasted for three years and nine months, with the end taking place when Japan signed surrender documents on board the USS Missouri (BB 63) on Sept. 2, 1945.
But these are not the first Americans to have been held hostage. A 2017 list from USA Today before Warmbier’s release noted some other incidents dating from 2009 to the present. These cases have involved civilians. However, prior to 1996, when Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu River, there had been some incidents where American troops were held hostage.
The environmental research ship USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was attacked and captured by North Korean Forces. One American was killed in the initial attack, while 82 others were held for 11 months. The vessel is still in North Korean hands.
2. July 14, 1977
A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by North Korean forces, killing three of the crew. The surviving crewman was briefly held by the North Koreans until he was released, along with the bodies of the deceased.
Disney’s “The Finest Hours” tells the story of a Coast Guard motorboat crew dispatched into an Atlantic storm after two 500-foot tankers break apart in 1952.
The crew is led by Boatswain’s Mate Bernard Webber, played by Chris Pine. Webber is second string, the junior ranking boatswain assigned to Chatham lifeboat station in Massachusetts.
The senior boatswain leads the rescue effort to the first tanker reported broken in the storm, the Fort Mercer. So when a Coast Guard plane spots the broken Pendleton, it falls to Webber and a few volunteers to attempt to rescue the 33 survivors in a small motorboat.
The movie does a good job of showing the perils of a rescue at sea in a severe winter storm. The waves crash onto a deadly sandbar with ominous booms, the boat is flipped in the waves, and the compass is ripped from the boat by a severe wave crash.
Crossing the sandbar was one of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Attempts to cross it could have easily destroyed the boat and left the crew drowning in the icy waters.
These details and others come from the factual book the movie is based on, and they’re brought to life by Craig Gillespie, the film’s director who spent his young life near the ocean.
“I grew up on the water in Australia, and I have a lot of respect for the ocean,” Gillespie told We Are The Mighty. “I sailed, I grew up surfing.
“When there’s a huge swell, you can hear it a mile and a half from the ocean, and it’s scary,” he said.
While the movie depicts the events on the boat and the Pendleton largely right, it takes more liberties with the story of Webber’s girlfriend, Miriam. During the real rescue, Miriam and Bernard were already married and Miriam was too ill to comprehend when told of Bernard’s mission.
But the movie Miriam is healthy and attempts to aid Bernard from the shore. She first argues with his commanding officer. When that doesn’t help, she seeks ways of ensuring that Bernard, if he’s successful in the rescue, will be able to make it home without a compass or any visible stars to follow.
Actress Holliday Grainger shaped her portrayal of Miriam after speaking to the Webber family and spending time at Chatham lifeboat station that the Coast Guard still operates.
She said that Miriam’s journey in the movie is about learning what it takes to be a Coast Guard wife.
“He will always be in danger,” Grainger told We Are The Mighty when discussing Miriam’s attitude toward Bernard, “and if she wants to be with him, she has to live with that, because he does it for the greater good. He can’t always put their family first. He has to put others lives first.”
“The Finest Hours” deftly weaves Bernard and Miriam’s stories, breaking up the chaos at sea with the tension on the coast.
“The Finest Hours” opens in theaters nationwide on Jan. 29.
Times were simpler in the days of the Civil War. Back then, any ol’ college professor might volunteer for the Union Army and become a straight up slayer of bodies, earning the Medal of Honor along the way.
That’s how it was with Joshua Chamberlain, onetime professor of theology in Maine’s Bowdoin College. He turned in his mortarboard for the Union blue when the time came. He helped raise the 20th Maine Regiment, believing the south secession was treachery and eventually rose to become its commander.
Chamberlain was a wildly accomplished Civil War officer and led a successful career after the war. Though he had finished with the Civil War by the time it came to an end, the Civil War wasn’t done with him. It came back to haunt Joshua Chamberlain in a big way – earning him the title of “last casualty of the Civil War.”
Before the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine hadn’t seen much action. They were at the Battle of Fredericksburg, but missed out on the Battle of Chancellorsville. Chamberlain’s finest hour was yet to come. It would happen on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
That pivotal battle of the Civil War not only decided the outcome of the war, but of the lives of many of those who fought in the battle. For Joshua Chamberlain, this was a very good thing. He and the 20th Maine were positioned on the Union’s far left flank, a little hill called “Little Round Top.” Chamberlain realized how important his position was and as soon as it came time, he was determined to hold it.
Confederate forces attacked the Mainers over and over throughout the day, often pushing the Union troops nearly double back on themselves. Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge that pushed the Confederates down the hill, capturing 101 of them and saving the day for the Union. His stalwart defense of Little Round Top and decision to launch a bayonet charge earned him the Medal of Honor.
Throughout his Civil War career, Chamberlain had a total of six horses shot out from under him and suffered six different wounds. He survived most of them. One of the wounds just took a little longer to kill him than the others. About 50 years longer.
In 1864, Chamberlain was wounded at the Battle of Petersburg, as the Army of the Potomac attempted to capture the supply lines of Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia. The Union laid siege to the city of Petersburg, and would eventually attack the city in earnest two months later. During the June 18 battle, Chamberlain was shot through the right hip and groin, with the bullet exiting through his left hip.
The doctors on the battlefield believed the wound would be fatal and told him as much. He had lost so much blood that he passed out on the battlefield. Newspapers in Maine reported his death and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant gave him a battlefield promotion to brigadier general believing he would die.
But he didn’t die. Through sheer tyranny of will, he survived and continued to serve in the war. Not only was he wounded once more and almost captured, he also received a promotion from President Lincoln himself.
After the war, Chamberlain went on with life as normal. He returned to teaching classes, was active with veterans groups, and even served as the Governor of Maine. He died in 1914 of complications from the wound he suffered at the Second Battle of Petersburg 50 years prior. The reason we know that is because one of his original battlefield surgeons was next to him as he died.
That’s how Joshua Chamberlain became known as “The last casualty of the Civil War.”
In 2011, Libyans took arms against the 40-plus year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. The dictator tried to brutally crush a demonstration against his regime in Benghazi. The response from the Libyan people was a nearly nine-month-long civil war which ended with the death of the dictator near his hometown of Sirte. But it was a victory that almost never was. The Libyan Rebels needed to level the playing field when it came to air superiority – they needed to be able to call in airstrikes.
That’s where Twitter came in.
Some people swear by it.
By mid-March 2011, Gaddafi’s loyalist forces were pushing the rebels back fast. All their hard-won gains liberated more than half of Libya from the dictator who promised to make the streets of Benghazi run red with rebel blood. Gaddafi’s air power was proving to be a decisive advantage in the civil war. Luckily for the rebels, there was a NATO task force assembling offshore.
American, French, British, and Canadian ships had all joined each other off the Libyan coast and began to hit Gaddafi’s positions with the full might of their respective sea-based air forces. They also began to enforce a no-fly zone. This was enough to turn the tide of the rebels, who were battle-hardened veterans, fighting for their lives. It was a strategic win for them, no doubt, but the tactical use of NATO air power proved problematic.
“I can just call a jet fighter and one will come kill these tanks? This must be what being a U.S. soldier is like.”
Many wondered how NATO fighters could know where to drop tactical missiles and bombs when their own JTACs are not on the ground with rebel forces, and NATO has no direct communications with the fighters it’s supporting. The answer is that the Twitter social media network became part of NATO’s overall “intelligence picture.” NATO allies began analyzing data gleaned from Twitter posts to understand Gaddafi’s movements but also to assist rebel fighters in pushing down pro-Gaddafi attacks.
Rebel fighters using their cell phones would gather coordinates from Google Earth and then tweet those coordinates to NATO, who would then come in and light up the loyalist forces. The top NATO brass says it’s a normal step any military would take.
That’s how Gaddafi would meet his end, and where his death would be posted for the world to see.
“Yes, right up his butt. It’s on YouTube.”
“Any military campaign relies on something that we call ‘fused information’,” said Wing Commander Mike Bracken, a NATO spokesman. “We will take information from every source we can… The commander will assess what he can use, what he can trust, and the experience of the operators, the intelligence officers, and the trained military personnel and civilian support staff will give him those options. And he will decide if that’s good information.”
Since NATO had no boots on the ground but deems it vital to support the Libyan rebels, extrapolating the information needed by commanders seems like a totally legitimate means of intelligence gathering – and an effective one to boot. NATO airplanes decimated Libyan air defenses and made the critical difference in the war for the Libyan people to liberate themselves from a terrible dictator.
The F-15 Eagle – an air-superiority fighter that has dominated the dogfight arena sine it was introduced into service, then later emerged as a superb multi-role fighter.
The Su-27 Flanker– Russia’s attempt to match the Eagle.
Which is the deadliest plane? To decide that, we will look at combat records, their avionics systems, their armament, as well as their performance specs to see who’d come out on top.
1. Combat Records
There’s no better way to judge a plane then how it has done in combat. Forget the specs you see on a sheet of paper, forget what it looks like. Just judge it by its record.
An F-15 Eagle departs during the mission employment phase exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Dec. 7, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
The F-15 has seen a lot of action. Perhaps the most important number is: “zero.” That is how many F-15s have been lost in air-to-air combat. This is an incredible feat for a plane that has been in service for 40 years and seen action in wars. In fact, the F-15 has shot down over 100 enemy planes with no losses.
The Su-27 family has seen much less action. Su-27s flown by the Ethiopian Air Force that saw combat in the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea scored at least two and as many as 10 air-to-air kills. The Flanker has also seen action over Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia, scoring one confirmed kill over Chechnya in 1994.
Advantage: F-15 Eagle
In the modern age of aerial combat, the plane’s electronics matter. Radar serves as eyes and ears, while electronic countermeasures (ECM) try to keep the other side deaf and blind.
The F-15 uses the AN/APG-63(V)3, an active electronically scanned array, or AESA, radar. This highly advanced system gives the Eagle a pair of very sharp “eyes” that locate targets up to 100 miles away and direct its radar-guided AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles. The Eagle also has the AN/ALQ-135 ECM system, which is very useful against opposing radars, whether on missiles or aircraft.
The avionics suite inside an Su-27 Flanker. (Photo from Wikimedia)
The Su-27’s avionics center around the N001 Mech radar, capable of tracking bomber-sized targets at 86 miles. For a target the size of the F-15, though, the range is only 62 miles. That is a difference of 38 miles – almost two-thirds of the Mech’s range. The Flanker doesn’t have internal jammers. Instead, there is the option to use two Sorbtsiya pods.
Advantage: F-15 Eagle
The F-15 can carry up to eight air-to-air missiles. The usual load is four AIM-120 AMRAAMs and four AIM-9X Sidewinders. It also carries a M61 20mm Gatling gun with 900 rounds of ammunition. The AIM-120D now in service has a range of 99 miles, while the AIM-9X can reach out to 22 miles. The AMRAAM is a “fire and forget” missile.
The Su-27 carries six R-27 (AA-10 “Alamo” missiles), which have a range of up to 80 miles. These missiles use semi-active guidance, meaning the Flanker has to “paint” its target to guide the missile. That means flying straight and level – not the best idea in aerial combat.
The Flanker also carries up to four R-73 missiles (AA-11 “Archer”), which has a range of up to 19 miles, and has a GSh-30 30mm cannon.
Advantage: F-15 Eagle
The F-15 has a top speed of Mach 2.5, a combat radius of 1,222 miles, and can maneuver in a dogfight, pulling up to 9 Gs.
With three 600-gallon drop tanks and two 750-gallon conformal fuel tanks (Fuel And Sensor Tactical, or “FAST” packs), the F-15’s range is 3,450 miles. In short, this plane has long “legs” and it can be refueled in flight by tankers.
The Su-27 has a top speed of Mach 2.35, a range of 2,193 miles, and is capable of some amazing aerobatic feats, notably the Pugachev Cobra. Like the F-15, it can pull 9 Gs in a maneuver. The Flanker can carry drop tanks and be refueled while flying.
So, who wins? While the F-15 Eagle is an older design, its advantages — particularly avionics — put the Su-27 at a huge disadvantage. Russia has other planes in the Flanker family (the Su-35), but they are few and far between.
So, how might the engagement between four United States Air Force F-15s and four Su-27s from BadGuyLand go?
Well, the F-15s would probably detect the Su-27s first. Once in AMRAAM range, the Eagle pilots will open fire, most likely using two missiles per target. The Flankers would be obliterated.
If it got to close range, though, the engagement is likely to be a lot less one-sided. Here, the AA-11 and AIM-9 are equal, and both planes can pull 9 Gs.
The skill and training of the pilots will be decisive. In this case, we will assume that BadGuyLand’s dictator, Sleazebag Swinemolestor, hasn’t quite trained his pilots well, and some were selected for their political liability. In this mix-up, the Eagles shoot down three Flankers for the loss of one fighter – the first F-15 lost in air-to-air combat.
Either way, though, it is a safe bet that the F-15 still comes out on top.
We’ve all heard the saying: “All is fair in love and war.” While it may hold true for love, the war part couldn’t be further from the truth for our troops.
According to the “Sanremo Handbook on Rules of Engagement” posted by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, the rules do not dictate how the troops achieve results. But they do say what’s unacceptable.