The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords launched a Naval Strike Missile on Oct. 1, 2019, marking the first time the NSM has been fired in the Indo-Pacific region, the Navy told Insider.
The NSM, along with additional firepower from US and Singaporean forces, sank the decommissioned frigate USS Ford as part of an exercise with Singapore’s navy in the Philippine Sea on Oct. 1, 2019.
The Gabrielle Giffords, along with US Navy helicopters, ships, and submarines, and Singaporean navy ships, conducted the exercise as part of Pacific Griffin, a biennial exercise in the Pacific near Guam.
“LCS packs a punch and gives potential adversaries another reason to stay awake at night,” Rear Adm. Joey Tynch said in a statement. “We are stronger when we sail together with our friends and partners, and LCS is an important addition to the lineup.”
The NSM, made by Raytheon, is a stealthy long-range missile capable of hitting targets up to 100 nautical miles away. It flies at low altitudes and can rise and fall to follow the terrain, and it can evade missile-defense systems.
Read on to learn more about the Pacific Griffin exercise and the sinking of the USS Ford.
Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Abby Rader)
This is the first time an NSM has been deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, and the Gabrielle Giffords is the first littoral combat ship to deploy with an NSM on board.
Eventually, the entire littoral-combat-ship (LCS) fleet will have NSMs aboard, CNN reported. The LCS fleet and NSMs will allow the US Navy to engage with China in the South China Sea.
With the NSM, “You can hit most areas in the South China Sea if you’re in the middle” of the sea, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Insider.
Compared with China’s DF-21 “carrier-killer” missile, the NSM has a shorter range but better precision targeting, enabling it to destroy an enemy vessel rather than just damage it, as the DF-21 is built to do, Clark said.
An MH-60S Seahawk fires an AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the former USS Ford.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza)
An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter fired Hellfire missiles at the USS Ford.
The Hellfire missile is a precision-strike weapon and can be fired from airborne systems, like the MH-60S Seahawks used in Oct. 1, 2019’s SINKEX, or from vessels like an LCS.
B-52 bombers from the US Air Forces’ Expeditionary 69th Bomb Squadron also dropped ordnance during the exercise, and the Republic of Singapore multirole stealth frigates RSS Formidable and RSS Intrepid fired surface-to-surface Harpoon missiles at the Ford.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords launches a Naval Strike Missile at the decommissioned USS Gerald Ford.
(Screenshot via US Navy)
The Gabrielle Giffords is the first LCS to perform an integrated NSM mission in the Indo-Pacific region.
Littoral combat ships can carry MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aboard, as well as Mark 110 57 mm guns and .50-caliber machine guns.
Many littoral combat ships have Harpoon missiles aboard, which don’t have the long range of the NSM.
Littoral combat ships are designed for use in the open ocean and closer to shore, in littoral waters. They typically perform mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare, but they are capable of performing a variety of missions, according to the Navy.
The decommissioned USS Ford during a sinking exercise as part of Exercise Pacific Griffin 2019.
(Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific / US Navy)
The Navy follows very specific protocols when performing a so-called SINKEX.
Decommissioned vessels that are used in these kinds of exercises, like the Ford, are referred to as “hulks.”
They must be sunk in at least 6,000 feet of water and at least 50 nautical miles from land.
Before they’re sunk, they’re cleared of transformers and capacitors, as well as of trash, petroleum, and harmful chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury, and materials containing fluorocarbons, according to a Navy release.
Watch the full video here:
USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) launches a Naval Strike Missile during exercise Pacific Griffin.
A video made the rounds awhile back of a CH-47 Chinook pulling off an amazing rescue on the slopes of Mt. Hood in central Oregon. If you’ve seen it, you may be wondering just how the heck that happened — after all, the Chinook is a very big helo that isn’t known for its maneuverability, like the Apache, or its versatility, like the Blackhawk. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it below.
The maneuver used on Mt. Hood, an active volcano that reaches about 11,240 feet high according to the United States Geological Service, is not exactly unusual. This technique is known as a “pinnacle landing” and has been commonly performed by the Chinook in combat theaters, most notably Afghanistan. The concept is simple — execution, however, is not. To carry out this kind of landing, the CH-47 pilot will orient the aircraft so that the aft gear is on the terrain while the front gear remains in midair. Personnel and cargo can then be loaded (or unloaded) in otherwise treacherous terrain.
This same approach works for rooftops as well. This technique allows small units to be delivered to otherwise inaccessible locations, which is an awesome advantage for American and allied troops. According to a release by the Canadian Forces, the maneuver isn’t mechanically difficult, but requires a good deal of crew coordination as the pilots up front are operating blindly.
“We are very reliant on the Flight Engineers and Loadmasters in the back to help land the aircraft — they are in the best position to pick the exact landing point and then provide us with a constant verbal picture of where the wheels are,” Major Robert Tyler explained in the release.
One of the earliest recorded instances of employing this landing technique was in 2002, during the Battle of Tora Bora. That theater, in particular, is known for sheer cliffs and steep crags, making this technique an essential for depositing and extracting troops.
It’s not often that we see this maneuver get caught on video, which is what makes the recent Mt. Hood rescue such a rare affair.
What’s most impressive about this is that the CH-47 in question was flown by National Guard personnel.
The CH-47, a transport helicopter, isn’t exactly known for its search-and-rescue capabilities, but if it weren’t for some political maneuverings, these types of rescues would be much more common.
Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.
Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Army Don Hirst)
In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.
The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.
Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.
(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)
The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.
(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)
While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.
Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)
North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.
The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.
The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.
Thanks to George Aldrich and his team of NASA sniffers, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is a chemical specialist or “chief sniffer” at the White Sands Test Facility’s Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. His job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.
Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, they’re stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren’t able to open the window for extra ventilation, Aldrich said. He also said that it is important not to introduce substances that will change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle.
More than being merely unpleasant, smells in space can indicate a health threat. Even objects that give off no odor can emit dangerous chemicals by a process called off-gassing. If an object’s off-gassing has toxic effects, it can be a matter of life and death.
“Smell is brought out by confined spaces and heat,” said Aldrich, “yet astronauts have no way of escaping a smell if it becomes pervasive. If that smell comes from dangerous compounds, it’s a serious health threat.”
It is Aldrich’s job to use his sense of smell to ensure the olfactory comfort, as well as the safety, of astronauts on orbit.
When he was just 18 years old, Aldrich began working at White Sand’s fire department and was asked to be on the department’s Odor Panel. Aldrich explained that one of the requirements to get a job as a sniffer is a lack of any allergies or respiratory problems. “If you have a lot of allergies, your nasal passages are already irritated and cannot be used,” he said.
NASA calibrates and certifies its sniffers’ noses every four months using a “10-bottle test” in which seven of the bottles have odors and three of them are blanks. The seven scents must be categorized as musky, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, minty, pungent or putrid.
According to the NASAexplores Web site, Aldrich’s team tests nearly all items that astronauts would encounter during their flight — including fabric, toothpaste, circuit boards, makeup and even the ink on their checklists.
First, the items are tested for toxicity. They are placed into individually sealed containers and then into an oven, which is heated to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days to speed up the off-gassing process. The gases are then extracted and tested to determine whether they are toxic or carcinogenic. If the gases are deemed safe, the items then undergo odor testing.
Aldrich and four other team members smell the items and rank them on a scale of zero to four, ranging from non-detectable (zero), to barely detectable, easily detectable, objectionable and offensive (four). Aldrich refers to level four as “get-me-out-of-here.” Because the sense of smell can vary from person to person, sniffers give each object its own ratings, from which an average is obtained. If an item rates more than a 2.4 on the scale, it fails the test and is not allowed on the flight. Some items that have failed are camera film, felt-tipped markers, mascara and certain types of stuffed animals. Aldrich has done 765 of these “smell missions” to date.
NASA could use dogs or “electronic noses” for this testing, but as Aldrich pointed out, the Agency would rather use human sniffers because they serve as a screening test for the also-human astronauts. The human testers can more accurately identify smells that will offend the human crewmembers than an electronic nose could.
As a result of his career, Aldrich has had some uncommon opportunities. He has served as a judge four times at the Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Competition. He has also appeared on television a number of times, including appearances on two game shows.
While others may chuckle at his unusual occupation, Aldrich said he believes in its value.
“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was important,” he said.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
Eager to get out its message that the Boeing-Leonardo MH-139 helicopter would save the US taxpayer $1 billion as the replacement of the UH-1N helicopter, Boeing flew several journalists this afternoon to demonstrate its capabilities.
Boeing also delivered nine boxes to the Defense Department this afternoon containing its proposal for the program that will supply 84 helicopters for a range of missions, including moving security crews in the event of threats to our nation’s ICBM fields, escorting convoys moving nuclear weapons, flying senior government officials out of the capital in the event of an emergency, and also providing support to the US Embassy in Japan.
Lockheed has also submitted its proposal for the UH-1N helicopter replacement program. “We are confident it will provide the best solution for the Air Force’s critical missile site and utility support missions,” spokeswoman Melissa Chadwick says in an evening email.
One bit of good news for the Air Force: Because this program has already been funded, it won’t be affected by yet another congressional Continuing Resolution, such as the one covering government spending to December. The bids come four days before the start of the Air Force Association’s annual conference, site of so many abortive announcements about this program.
This program has been a long time coming. Just ask Gen. John Hyten, head of Strategic Command. “Of all the things in my portfolio, I can’t even describe how upset I get about the helicopter replacement program,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April. “It’s a helicopter, for gosh sakes. We ought to be able to go out and buy a helicopter and put it in the hands of the people that need it. And we should be able to do that quickly.”
As Breaking D readers will remember, the Air Force yielded to congressional pressure after it tried to issue a sole source contract to buy 25 of Lockheed Martin’s UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for the nuclear mission.
A key requirement for the competitors to meet is the ability to carry a full load of nine combat-ready airmen. Lockheed says their HH-60U can carry nine fully outfitted Security Forces specialists, special equipment, and two special mission aviators for the Continuity of Operations mission, which is all about getting senior leaders out of harm’s way in a disaster or attack.
Boeing would not discuss how many fully combat ready Security Forces troops its helicopter can carry and the aircraft we flew in was not configured as it would be for the program. When configured for commercial use (mainly oil and gas companies), though, the helicopter can carry 15 passengers, so I’m betting it can handle the load.
There have been questions about the ability of the offerings to handle some of the Air Force requirements, especially those involving the “high and hot” requirements. Flying at altitude in hot weather places great strain on helicopters and is one of their greatest challenges. I understand the highest altitude they would operate at around the missile fields is about 6,200 feet. Of course, the Continuity of Operations mission could involve flights at a wider array of locations, but low-lying Washington DC is far and away the most likely.
One of the most striking things about today’s flight on the Boeing-Leonardo aircraft was the lack of vibration. Anyone who’s flown on Blackhawks knows the comforting vibrations from its four rotors. (I usually fall asleep within five minutes of takeoff.) The MH-139 has five rotors, which, with their tapered blade ends, significantly reduce the amount of vibration. The helicopter was also noticeably quieter than most of its conventional military competitors. We flew up to 150 knots and it felt as smooth as a large Mercedes sedan on the highway. Also, as a 62-year-old with lousy Achilles tendons, I noticed that entry and exit was pretty easy.
May the best helicopter program, embodying the best combination of cost and capability, win.
This is a plane that kicks a lot of butt. But the Marine Corps has its own version. And theirs is far more versatile than the Spectre.
Let’s get a closer look at the AKC-130J Harvest HAWK.
Now, before AC-130 fans prepare the flames, we have nothing but respect for the AC-130. With a 25mm GAU-12, a 40mm Bofors, and a M102 105mm Howitzer, the AC-130 can blast the hell out of just about any target.
It is a circling angel of death. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Nazgul have nothing on the Spectre — and would be advised to learn their lesson from the Fellowship of the Ring when Arwen called in that flash flood: Don’t bother running, you’ll just die tired.
But the Harvest HAWK is more versatile. As GlobalSecurity.org points out, the AKC-130J started out as the KC-130J. This provided a number of benefits.
First, the Marines already had the airframes flying over Afghanistan to refuel their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers that provided air support.
What makes the Harvest HAWK so lethal? It can carry (or drop) a variety of weapons. One of them is the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the one commonly used on Predator drones to make the world a better place by blowing terrorists to smithereens.
With a range of five miles and a 20-pound warhead, this missile was intended to take out tanks. The Harvest HAWK carries four, usually on the left wing, according to a 2012 NAVAIR release.
The Marines also say another weapon the Harvest HAWK uses to deadly effect is the AGM-176 Griffin. Designation-Systems.net describes the Griffin as a tube-launched missile that is smaller than the Hellfire (Predators can carry three Griffins for each Hellfire).
NAVAIR says that the Griffin can be fired through a modified cargo door. The is only about 13 pounds, though. But that can still do in a terrorist — or a tank, even.
The Harvest HAWK also can use the GBU-44 Viper Strike. Originally known as the Brilliant Anti-Tank submunition (or BAT), it had one problem: its missiles kept getting cancelled.
In 2007, Strategypage.com noted that the Army eventually put a modified BAT on the MQ-5 Hunter. With a 2.5-pound warhead, it can take out a target without damaging the structures nearby.
Oh, and the Harvest HAWK also is slated to get a 30mm cannon in the future, according to a Pentagon report. The likely choice will be the Mk 44 Bushmaster II used on the M1296 Dragoon, a modification of the M1126 Stryker.
With all that, the Harvest HAWK can still refuel the AV-8B, F/A-18, and F-35B jets the Marines use to support infantry. Firepower and fuel, in one airframe – now, that’s awesome!
In 1975, South Vietnam fell, and while many escaped, a lot of gear fell into the hands of the North Vietnamese. In fact, as late as 1987, FlightGlobal.com credited the Vietnamese People’s Air Force with as many as 50 F-5A/B/E variants in service, along with at least 25 A-37 Dragonfly counter-insurgency planes. Tigers might be next.
Presently, Vietnam has 40 Su-27/Su-30 “Flanker” fighters in its inventory, with six more on order, according to FlightGlobal.com. These planes are supplemented by 36 Su-22 “Fitter” ground-attack planes, similar to those targeted earlier this year in a Tomahawk strike on a Syrian air base. Vietnam retired its MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters in 2015. Like the F-5, upgrade kits are available for the Fishbed.
The F-5E was a widely exported daytime fighter, capable of carrying up to 7,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and AIM-9 Sidewinders. It has a top speed of 1,060 miles per hour, a range of 870 miles, and was first flown in 1972. It is equipped with a pair of M39A2 revolver cannon, each with 280 rounds.
The world lost another great today, as legendary songwriter John Prine succumbed to complications from COVID-19, his family confirmed to Rolling Stone. Prine, 73, lost his battle with the novel coronavirus at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Prine was known for his innumerable talents but none better than his ability to tell the story of humanity through his words. Prine’s acclaim as one of America’s best songwriters has prompted a flood of tributes from celebrities and fans alike as they mourn an indescribable loss.
We’re heartbroken here. And all our love — each of us, the entire Belcourt community, our town — to Fiona and John’s family. We’ve loss a beautiful one.pic.twitter.com/SShyVQ2cC3
From gracing the Opry House stage for those memorable New Year’s Eve shows to other special Opry appearances including one alongside the StreelDrivers and Bill Murray, John Prine has touched our hearts with his music. We are thinking of his family and friends tonight. pic.twitter.com/FV3nIfT1kc
Oh John Prine, thank you for making me laugh and breaking my heart and sharing your boundless humanity. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is one of the most gorgeous songs ever written. Bonnie Raitt John Prine – Angel From Montgomery https://youtu.be/1T5NuI6Ai-o via @YouTube
Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois. He was one of four sons of a homemaker and a union worker, who raised the boys to love music. Prine grew up on the likes of Hank Williams and other performers of the Grand Ole Opry, but it was really his father’s reaction to Williams’ music that touched Prine. “I used to just sit and watch how he would be so moved by the songs,” Prine said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “In fact, I might have been more affected by the way the songs touched him than by the songs themselves – they seemed to have such power.”
Prine graduated from high school in 1964 and started his career with the U.S. Postal Service as a mailman. Instead of focusing on the monotony of his day job, Prine used the time to write songs. But his career delivering mail was cut short when he was drafted in 1966 into the Army. The war in Vietnam was escalating, but Prine was sent to Germany where he served as a mechanical engineer. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Prine said his military career consisted largely of “drinking beer and pretending to fix trucks.”
After two years, Prine returned to the postal service and started writing songs until he became a regular on the Chicago music circuit.
While Prine’s discography is impressive, it was his song “Sam Stone” about a veteran struggling with addiction that resonated with millions of soldiers across the world. Maybe Prine really did just drink beer and fix trucks, but his haunting portrayal of Sam Stone will never be forgotten.
Sam Stone came home, To the wife and family After serving in the conflict overseas. And the time that he served, Had shattered all his nerves, And left a little shrapnel in his knees. But the morhpine eased the pain, And the grass grew round his brain, And gave him all the confidence he lacked, With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, Don’t stop to count the years, Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.Sam Stone’s welcome home Didn’t last too long. He went to work when he’d spent his last dime And soon he took to stealing When he got that empty feeling For a hundred dollar habit without overtime. And the gold roared through his veins Like a thousand railroad trains, And eased his mind in the hours that he chose, While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, Don’t stop to count the years, Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.Sam Stone was alone When he popped his last balloon, Climbing walls while sitting in a chair. Well, he played his last request, While the room smelled just like death, With an overdose hovering in the air. But life had lost it’s fun, There was nothing to be done, But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill, For a flag-draped casket on a local hero’s hill.There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, Don’t stop to count the years, Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.
Prine’s ability to tell a story through his words was truly second to none. In his memoir, “Cash,” Johnny Cash wrote, “I don’t listen to music much at the farm, unless I’m going into songwriting mode and looking for inspiration. Then I’ll put on something by the writers I’ve admired and used for years–Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Guy Clark, and the late Steve Goodman are my Big Four.” Rolling Stone referred to Prine as “the Mark Twain of American songwriting.”
Your death leaves a hole in our hearts, John Prine. Rest in peace, Sir.
Army Futures Command on Sept. 25, 2019, began equipping the first of two combat brigades, selected so far, to receive the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B), a capability that modernization officials promise will improve marksmanship, day and night.
The ENVG-B is a wireless, dual-tubed technology with a built-in thermal imager that is part of a capability set modernization officials started fielding to soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kansas.
The Army has also selected 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, as the next unit to receive the new capability in March 2020, Bridgett Siter, spokeswoman for the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, told Military.com. The service plans to buy as many as 108,251 ENVG-Bs to issue to infantry and other close-combat units.
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston and senior modernization officials celebrated the fielding as the first major achievement of Army Futures Command.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B).
(US Army photo)
“This is a historic event; I am really proud to be here,” Grinston said during a discussion with reporters at Riley. “So, we can say we stood up the Army’s Futures Command, and then today we are delivering a product in two years.”
The service announced its plan to create the command in 2017, but didn’t activate it until August 2018.
During the process, the Army has conducted 11 user evaluations, known as Soldier Touchpoints, in which soldiers and Marines have field-tested the prototypes of ENVG-B and “helped us get this right,” said Brig. Gen. Dave Hodne, director of the Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team and chief of infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In addition to the creation of Army Futures Command, officials credited the work of the cross-functional teams — made up of requirements experts, materiel developers and test officials — that make it possible to field equipment much faster than in the past.
Sgt. 1st Class William Roth, Technical Advisor, Soldier Lethality-Cross Functional Team, gets ready to step off for an overnight hike to the summit of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire using the Enhanced Night Vision Google- Binocular during a Soldier Touchpoint on the system July 10-12, 2019.
(Photo by Photo by Patrick Ferraris)
The structure “really enables us to move faster as an enterprise than we have ever been able to move before, in being able to derive and deliver capabilities for our soldiers,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, commander of Program Executive Office Soldier.
The binocular function of the ENVG-B gives soldiers more depth perception, and the thermal image intensifier allows soldiers to see enemy heat signatures at night and in the daylight through smoke, fog and other battlefield obscurants, Army officials say.
But when the system is teamed with the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual (FWS-I), which is being fielded with the ENVG-B, soldiers can view their sight reticle as it’s transmitted wirelessly into the goggle.
Sgt. Gabrielle Hurd, 237th Military Police Company, New Hampshire Army National Guard, shows her team the route they will take before embarking on an overnight hike to the summit of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire, during an Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular Soldier Touchpoint, July 10-12, 2019.
(Photo by Photo by Patrick Ferraris)
“Now we are able to move that targeting data straight from that weapon, without wires, up in front of a soldier’s eyes,” Potts said, adding that the process is much faster and “makes a soldier far more lethal.”
“What you are seeing today is the first iteration of a capability fielding … and we are going to continue to grow this capability out so that we really treat the soldier as an integrated weapon platform,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.
At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.
The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.
He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.
A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.
Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.
What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.
I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.
Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).
His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.
This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.
They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?
Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.
His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.
Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.
The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.
(Library of Congress)
Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.
It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.
He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.
This Is The First F-35C Carrier Variant Joint Strike Fighter For The U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-314.
Marines are also getting the F-35C CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Assisted Recovery) variant of the Lightning II. Here’s their first Carrier Variant Jet in VMFA-314 markings.
Along with flying the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft, that operates from amphibious assault ships, the U.S. Marine Corps is transitioning to the F-35C, the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Assisted Recovery) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (also known as CV – Carrier Variant), that can operate from U.S. Navy’s flattops (the Nimitz-class ones, until issues with the Ford-class carriers are fixed).
Indeed, the Corps plans to operate 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs to replace three types of aircraft: the F/A-18A++/C/D “Legacy” Hornet, the AV-8B Harrier II and the EA-6B Prowler.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, is the first Marines squadron that will replace the “Legacy” Hornet with the brand new F-35C.
The first F-35C delivered to a USMC squadron, VMFA-314, at NAS Lemoore.
Photo by United States Marine Corps
At the time of writing, VMFA-314 has already started training alongside the U.S. Navy’s VFA-125, the F-35’s only Fleet Replacement Squadron, based at NAS Lemoore, California. The plan is to complete the preparation by next Spring.
By the time the Marine Aircraft Group 11 commander officer will certify the squadron as “safe for flight” and ready to operate independently of the FRS, VMFA-314 will have returned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.
The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the F-35C was declared on Feb. 28, 2019, after the first F-35C squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, conducted aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and received its Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification.
“In order to declare IOC, the first operational squadron must be properly manned, trained and equipped to conduct assigned missions in support of fleet operations. This includes having 10 Block 3F, F-35C aircraft, requisite spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs and a functional Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS). Additionally, the ship that supports the first squadron must possess the proper infrastructure, qualifications and certifications. Lastly, the Joint Program Office (JPO), industry, and Naval Aviation must demonstrate that all procedures, processes and policies are in place to sustain operations,” the Navy added in an official statement.
VFA-147 will conduct the first deployment with the F-35C integrated into the Carrier Air Wing 2, aboard the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson in 2021, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 will conduct the second F-35C carrier deployment.
Interestingly, at least one F-35C already sports full VMFA-314 markings. The first photos of CF-35/169601, modex VW-434, including those that you can find in this article, were posted three weeks ago by Col. Simon Doran, MAG 11’s commanding officer. More shots have started circulating on the Internet after the aircraft, with just a handful flying hours, made a public appearance at Tinker AFB Air Show, on Jun. 1, 2019.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
The U.S. military is famous for several things. The food in the DFACs, early morning PT and extreme grooming standards, just to name a few. One of the most underrated things about the military though is the sense of humor amongst troops in the field.
One gun crew from the 1st Armored Division certainly lived up to that legacy of laughs this week after a picture was posted on the division’s website showing that soldiers had named their M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer “Coronavirus.”
We’re taking preventative measures in the field as we continue to train and protect the safety of our Soldiers and Leaders.
As a force we must stay alert as we train to be lethal in combat.
#IronSoldiers #BulldogBrigade #COVIDー19 #IIICorpsCOVID19pic.twitter.com/V79CftGvf1
Yes, the virus currently circling its way around the globe and through the media has made its way into the psyche of a few soldiers.
But these 13Bs are hardly the first to christen their weapons with names. Earlier this year, an M1 Abrams belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division, was spotted sporting the name “Baby Yoda.” Other colorful names include “Change of Regime,” “Bull Dog II”, and “New Testament.”
The traditional isn’t limited to U.S. soldiers either.
In fact, soldiers have been naming their weapons since at least medieval times, when knights gave names to their trebuchets. And today, visitors to historic battlefields like Gettysburg can still make out the names etched on the back of a few artillery pieces.
As for the coronavirus, of COVID 19 as it is officially called, at press time, there are currently 11,500 cases in the U.S., according to a report from the Washington Post.
The U.S. military is on the frontlines of the country’s pandemic response. In addition to the thousands of National Guardsmen currently activated, President Donald Trump recently tasked the U.S. Navy to deploy both of its hospital ships to treat COVID 19 patients, reports Reuters.
The Navy operates two hospital ships, the U.S.N.S. Comfort and the U.S.N.S. Mercy. Although the ships belong to the Navy, the deck crew is usually manned by civilian members of Military Sealift Command, while the health care staff is comprised of military personnel.
The two ships, which were converted to floating hospitals from oil tankers in the 1970s, are the military’s only such vessels, with one covering the Atlantic and the other the Pacific.
As the United States reenters the realm of great power competition, America needs to maintain its technological edge in stealth, but would benefit from a renewed emphasis on speed in combat aviation… even at the expense of observability in some platforms.
For some, the above sentence will read like a ham-fisted oxymoron coming from a chump who doesn’t understand how air power works in the modern era. After all, the most potent threats on the horizon come from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia–both nations with advanced air defense capabilities that would make even the most capable fourth-generation fighters like the new F-15EX a pretty easy target.
The F-15EX is, quite literally, the fastest aircraft in Uncle Sam’s operational inventory, so one could argue that speed just isn’t what combat aviation is about anymore. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from most fighter pilots today. The F-35, for all its faults, is widely touted as perhaps the most capable tactical aircraft in history, despite being almost slow compared to Cold War powerhouses like the F-14 Tomcat. The F-35A can achieve speeds as high as Mach 1.6, while the F-35B and C are both limited to Mach 1.3–a speed they can only maintain for less than one minute. The long-retired Tomcat, on the other hand, could pass Mach 2.3 without breaking much of a sweat.
The truth of the matter is, in a high-end fight with a nation like China, the United States would be better off flying a fleet of slower F-35s than faster (and more easily targeted) F-14s… but that line of thinking isn’t accurate to the reality of America’s simmering conflict with China. Open and conventional war with China is extremely unlikely any time in the relative future, and while America needs to invest in the technology and a force structure that can deter such a fight even further, the Sino-American conflict is more likely to play out like a new Cold War in the decades to come. That means competing in the developing world, rather than in China’s backyard.
Finally, if a large-scale war were to break out, American pilots will need speed to effectively manage individual engagements as the conflict presses on. Sometimes, the best tactical decision a pilot can make is to “bug out,” or escape the area and an opponent’s advantage. That’s where speed, once again, becomes vital to survival.
Competition with China and Russia will take place in the developing world
Immediately after World War II, the United States and Soviet Union found themselves in a decades-long staring match that prompted huge investments in military capability across both nations. The goal was simple: build the platforms you’d need to win the third World War, and that alone may be enough deterrence to prevent it from starting. Both nations built fighters and bombers that could fly ever higher, ever faster, hoping to defeat burgeoning air defenses like the SR-71 could… by simply outrunning any missile you could shoot at it.
Let there be no doubt that this method of deterrence was effective, and in truth, the most potent weapon systems are those you never have to actually employ in order to achieve your geopolitical goals. But the unintentional side effect of developing more powerful nuclear weapons and more capable airpower platforms was an inability for American and Soviet forces to actually engage one another without bringing about the nuclear apocalypse.
In order to avoid that possibility, the United States and Soviet Union turned to partner nations and proxy forces, expanding influence and strategic leverage around the globe through overt diplomacy and covert military action and assistance. In some cases, partner or proxy forces supported by each respective nation would clash, leading to America’s involvement in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Terrible as these conflicts were, they were considered a tolerable alternative to nuclear winter as the world’s two superpowers tip-toed on the line of global conflict.
China, a nation that wields not only nuclear weapons but a vast amount of economic leverage and the largest naval force on the planet, is similarly positioned for a long and drawn-out staring contest with the United States. Not only would such a fight cripple both national militaries, but it would also neuter China’s ongoing plans for expanding its global influence, as well as create chaos throughout the global economy for decades to come.
China isn’t going to declare war on the United States any time soon… But China and the United States are going to continue to compete in practically every appreciable way, which includes establishing relationships in developing countries for the purposes of gaining access to strategic resources and ports. As luck (perhaps bad luck) would have it, the regions of the world that are most likely to have those very sorts of commodities on the market throughout the 21st century are often exactly where American and allied forces are already conducting counter violent extremists operations (Counter VEO): Africa and the Middle East.
But while America and its allies have been accumulating operational experience in these theaters, China hasn’t been sleeping. Despite China largely staying out of the Global War on Terror, it has been expanding its influence in these same regions via economic and infrastructure programs, including providing massive loans to developing nations that many suspect won’t be able to pay China back. China, it seems, would prefer they didn’t anyway–as the leverage defaulted loans would offer is more strategically valuable than paying interest on a loan could be.
“Right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometers are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” explained Daan Rogeveen, an author and expert on urbanization in China and Africa.
As a result, there’s an extremely high likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in places like Africa and the Middle East. In fact, America already does. These forces will likely find themselves in direct competition with proxy or partner forces receiving support from China and Russia. The quagmire that is the ongoing conflict in Syria serves as a contemporary example of just how diverse foreign interests within a single nation can be, and just how dangerous operations in one can get.
America’s only dogfight in more than 20 years was in uncontested airspace against a 50-year-old jet
It’s worth noting that it was, in fact, over Syria that the United States scored its only air-to-air kill in literal decades in 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was forced to engage a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter that was attacking partner forces on the ground.
This short fight also offered an important lesson about bridging the gap between longstanding airpower and the cutting-edge systems employed by the United States. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, the pilot in the Super Hornet, first locked onto the Soviet-era Su-22 with the one of the Navy’s latest and most advanced air-to-air weapons, the AIM-9X, but when he fired, the Fitter deployed flares and managed to fool what was previously considered to be the most capable air combat missile in service.
“It came off the rails quick,” Tremel said. “I lost the smoke trail and I had no idea what happened to the missile after that.”
Tremel then locked on once again with an older AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired, this time finding his target and turning the Su-22 into a fireball. While the Pentagon hasn’t offered an explanation as to why their newest missile failed to discern a real fighter from a bucket of flares, some experts have postulated that it may have been a result of the AIM-9X being too well-tuned to distinguish jets from the latest and most advanced flares employed by top-of-the-line 4th and 5th generation platforms. The Su-22 has been flying since 1966, and its dirty old flares weren’t something the AIM-9X expected to run into.
Sometimes, winning a fight isn’t about who fields the latest or most expensive technology. It’s about who fields the right technology for the right situation.
Detection isn’t a threat over the developing world. Distance is.
On October 4, 2017, a group of U.S. Army Green Berets and Nigerian soldiers was ambushed by fighters from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Niger. The tragic firefight ended with four dead U.S. troops, five dead Nigerian soldiers, and some difficult questions about how the most highly trained warfighters in the world with support from the most powerful military in the world found themselves fighting through a tactical disadvantage without any air support close enough to make a difference.
In 2012, a coordinated attack against two separate U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya came with similarly painful lessons. When the dust settled, four Americans were dead, including two CIA contractors and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Like the ambush in Niger, air support for Americans in Libya was too far away to provide any meaningful assistance throughout the majority of the fight.
These two instances were outliers stretched across two decades worth of counter-extremist operations, but they both perfectly demonstrate the very real limitations of American airpower when it comes to distance. Public perception of American airpower is not always congruous with the realities of combat, an issue that extends all the way to partner forces. The assumption among most is that America has all-seeing aircraft flying overhead at all times… but that simply isn’t true.
“Unfortunately, public perception is driven sometimes by news coverage, but also by modern movies,” Dr. James Kiras explained about partner forces in a recent episode of The Irregular Warfare Podcast.
“And the idea that somehow we can’t maintain persistent coverage, that a cloud-for example-moving between you and a target could allow you to lose coverage for a critical period just seems completely inconceivable to them.”
The American people also tend to think that the United States has MQ-9 Reapers or armed F-15E Strike Eagles standing by within firing distance of every military operation–something that has been true to a large extent throughout the past two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a “stack” of air support platforms are often standing by to engage the enemy. Now, however, as the U.S. repositions assets to better deter Chinese aggression, there will be fewer air platforms to go around in these regions.
At the same time, American special operations forces tasked with fighting or training proxy fighters for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East will be spread out further and operating with less support than ever before in the modern era. Without a new approach to air support, it’s a recipe for Niger or Benghazi-style disasters.
In order to provide real airpower where it’s needed, the United States doesn’t need a fleet of slow and stealthy F-35s standing by on airstrips across friendly African nations–it needs fast air platforms with great fuel range and loitering capabilities that can reach operators in need, provide air support as necessary, and still make it back to an airstrip.
America will also need less advanced platforms that can fly from austere airstrips and travel alongside special operations teams (the Armed Overwatch Program). There are no advanced air defenses to defeat or sneak past in places like Africa. The greatest challenge to overcome then is what’s commonly referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”
When isolated elements of American troops are caught at a disadvantage, waiting four hours or more to get an F-16 on station may require a miracle, but waiting more than twice that long for a slow-moving MQ-9 Reaper may be impossible. Worse still, once the fast-moving F-16 does reach the embattled troops, they usually only have about 30 minutes of fuel to burn before having to head back–once again leaving these isolated troops without air support.
Speed has already proven handy in combat in the uncontested airspaces of the Middle East. Two years ago, I interviewed Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, for Popular Mechanics. He told me a story about one air support mission he flew in which the supersonic bomber’s speed made all the difference.
“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.
“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”
Of course, the B-1B Lancer is now slated for retirement, with the sub-sonic and stealthy B-21 Raider slated to replace it.
We need stealth to deter China, but we need speed and volume to counter them
We have a bad habit of treating these sorts of discussions like they’re all-or-nothing debates. When the Air Force requests funding for new F-15s, lawmakers and the public together cry foul at the idea of spending money on old jets that lack the stealth they’d need to survive a fight against China or Russia. Then, when the Air Force uses stealthy F-22s to conduct airstrikes against targets in uncontested airspace over places like Afghanistan, lawmakers and the public again cry foul over the high cost of using a stealth fighter for such a simple job. We can’t have it both ways, but we do need both jets.
America needs platforms like the F-35 and forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to win the wars of tomorrow, and importantly, to deter them today, but we can’t let our American preference for only the newest and best platforms unduly influence the composition of our military forces. In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t need any fighter jets. In an almost perfect world, the U.S. could afford to operate massive fleets of stealth fighters for each and every job. But in the decidedly imperfect world we live in, we’re often stuck choosing between capability and capacity. Do we want the best jets we can build or enough jets to meet our mission requirements?
While not exactly like the last Cold War, this new Sino-American Cold War possesses a similar capacity for proxy conflicts, and because these conflicts are likely to play out over the massive landmass of Africa as well as the Middle East, finding a way to get air support to far-flung troops quickly will undoubtedly save American lives.
But it won’t just be enough to field fast aircraft. They’ll also have to be cheap enough to be built in the sort of volume that would be required to overcome that tyranny of distance. With enough fast and cheap air support platforms spread throughout the continent, getting air support to special operations troops in Africa could shift from practically impossible to just another day at the office, or as close to that as one can come in combat.
Re-learning that dogfighting isn’t dead
While there’s a much higher likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in the developing world with interests that run counter to China’s or Russia’s, there remains the possibility that this new “Cold War” could boil over into a hot one. The implications of such a conflict would be massive, and even attempting an analysis of just the air war that would unfold would take a book in itself–but as this discussion pertains to tactical aircraft and speed, this is another place the U.S. needs more power under the hood.
If you talk to most modern fighter pilots, they’ll tell you that the days of dogfighting are over, thanks to the development of over-the-horizon weapons and advanced sensor suites that will allow pilots in America’s most advanced jets to target inbound fighters before their pilots even know there’s trouble brewing.
Ward Carroll, famed journalist, author, and former U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) has heard the contemporary arguments about dogfights being a thing of the past and warns about making assumptions amid a decades-long era of uncontested flight operations, especially in aircraft that aren’t fast enough to escape a pursuing fighter.
“We get too liquored up on the technology and we start to forget what happens when it gets messy. You can run out of a squadron of F-35s in short order,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“I get F-35 guys who are like, ‘you just don’t get modern battles anymore.’ No, I think I do. I think you’re not remembering the lessons of serious roll your sleeves up, get your nose bloodied warfare.”
The idea that dogfighting is dead has been informed not only by two decades worth of counter-terror operations against enemy forces with no airpower, but it also carries an uncomfortable similarity to the line of thinking that dominated air war conversations leading into Vietnam. The U.S. believed the days of dogfighting in close quarters were over, so they fielded fast-moving F-4s armed with air-to-air missiles that weren’t nearly as effective as they were intended… and no guns for fighting in close quarters.
As a result, American aviators took a serious pounding from dated Soviet aircraft with tighter turn radiuses and guns.
“That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam, told Air & Space Magazine.
“Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”
Winning a dogfight might take speed. Escaping one almost always does.
While American F-86 Sabre fighter pilots racked up a kill-to-loss ratio of 10:1 in the Korean war, American dogfighting performance, due largely to assumptions about how combat had changed, diminished dramatically in Vietnam. In the first half of the Vietnam war, American pilots could manage an average of only 2 kills for every U.S. fighter downed. Those losses directly led to the formation of the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program that most of us know today as Top Gun, where a renewed emphasis was placed on dogfighting tactics.
Now, after another multi-decade lull in air combat, America’s aviation corps is once again certain about the future of the fight, but history begs that we hedge those bets. Ward Carroll recently published a YouTube video called “Dogfighting 101” wherein he argues that dogfighting may be absent in today’s combat environment, but it’ll come back in a hurry if a near-peer conflict were to unfold. I’ll set the video to start at that portion, but it’s really worth watching Carroll’s analysis in full.
If you aren’t able to give the video a watch, here’s what Carroll had to say about dogfighting being dead:
“I’m going to submit that dogfighting is not dead, because if you’ve ever been in a major exercise, not to mention, an air-to-air war like Desert Storm, then you know that, in the heat of battle, there’s confusion, there’s all kinds of chaos, and ultimately a bandit is going to sneak through and you’ll find yourself basically engaged one-on-one with the bad guys in an old school kind of way.”
Carroll doesn’t argue that American fighters are going to go looking for a chance to get up close and personal with China’s thrust-vectoring, stealth J-20B like some imagine when they picture dogfights. Instead, he reasonably expects that in a large force-on-force situation, the chaos of warfare is going to create the circumstances for these kinds of one-on-one engagements to occur.
Carroll’s argument seems to hold true when you look at the breakdown of the early days of the air war of Desert Storm. The Coalition Forces brought a massive amount of airpower to bear over Iraq in those first days of the conflict, but despite the sheer volume of airframes in the fight, a number of small dogfights broke out and, had there not been plenty of support in the area, many more could have.
You can see exactly what Carroll predicts in this breakdown from The Operations Room. The value of speed and maneuverability when within visual range is also evident in the video. Once again, I’ll start the video at the pertinent point, but it’s worth watching this in its entirety:
What does all this have to do with speed? It’s certainly of use in a dogfight, but speed is also extremely important when it comes to getting out of a dogfight. Even the most advanced stealth platforms aren’t invisible, and if an F-35 found itself squaring off with a J-20B in a one-on-one situation, it’s feasible that the Chinese fighter could have the advantage through surprise or the roll of the combat dice.
In either regard, it would be in the F-35 pilot’s best interest to bug out and get away from that fight, or at least, to create enough separation to gain an advantage he or she could then press in turn. Unfortunately, the F-35 wouldn’t be fast enough to escape a J-20 if a pilot tried, so he or she would just be giving the Chinese jet a perfect opportunity. What’s worse is that, at this range, the F-35’s opponent wouldn’t even have to be a stealth aircraft itself.
“Stealth doesn’t work against bullets,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“We have multi-axis missiles now where I can shoot you behind my three-nine line [behind my aircraft]. Okay, but once you Winchester, meaning run out of those weapons, and you’re now in the visual arena, then none of your [stealth] defensives are working. And now you have an airplane that can barely go supersonic. So, welcome to getting shot down.”
When we’re talking about fighters squaring off with one another, stealth is extremely valuable, but in a large-scale fight with hundreds of jets in the area, speed clearly counts too.
How do you build a force that balances cost, speed, and technology?
The Air Force purchasing new F-15EXs isn’t going to solve this problem. Not only do these new fighters cost around as much as an F-35 to build (despite offering significantly more service life), the new (old) fighters the Air Force receives are already slated to replace existing F-15s that are aging out of service. While they do offer greater capability than their predecessors, each jet can still only be in one place at a time.
“We’ve got to refresh the F-15C fleet because I can’t afford to not have that capacity to do the job and the missions,” now-retired General David Goldfein said in 2019.
“That’s what this is all about. If we’re refreshing the F-15C fleet, as we’re building up the F-35 fleet, this is not about any kind of a trade.”
SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program promises to alleviate some of this need by fielding a small and inexpensive aircraft that can provide ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and direct air support to special operators. These planes are expected to operate from austere airfields with support from a very small group of maintainers. Effectively, SOCOM wants a simple aircraft that can live with the troops in the vein of the OV-10 Bronco of Vietnam fame, but with advanced ISR capabilities usually only found in technological marvels that need airstrips and facilities to operate. It’s a tall order, but fielding such an aircraft would make the sorts of special operations skirmishes that are sure to litter the coming decades far more survivable.
Despite America’s massive military budget, resource and asset scarcity remains an ongoing challenge. The MQ-9 Reaper, for instance, is the most highly requested air asset among ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with only 280 of these remotely piloted aircraft to go around, the Air Force will have to choose between continuing to support the full breadth of combat operations in the Middle East or transitioning platforms to the Pacific where a more potent deterrent maritime force is increasingly necessary.
The truth is, even after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, the U.S. military can’t completely withdraw from the Middle East and will likely need to place a larger emphasis on Africa moving forward. There are only so many air platforms to go around, especially at modern fighter jet prices of around $100 million per aircraft. In effect, America is going to be stuck fighting its old wars for some time, while adding new conflicts and new tensions elsewhere around the globe. In order to do it all, America needs more platforms without increasing defense spending in a massive way.
That may be feasible through attritable programs like Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie is a low-observable UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) capable of carrying two small diameter bombs and covering more than 2,000 miles before refueling. What makes the Valkyrie special isn’t its payload or range capabilities though, it’s the cost. At just $2-3 million per airframe, the XQ-58 costs only slightly more than a single Tomahawk cruise missile.
The Valkyrie lacks the speed that would be necessary to cover the vast distances between units that we can expect in Africa and the Middle East in the coming years, with a top end of around 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.85), but the attritable premise coupled with more power could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Valkyries have already been launched from stationary platforms using rockets, which would mean that these types of drones could be deployed from places that don’t even have airstrips, and they’re cheap enough that losing a few in a fight won’t give a commander pause.
As for the high-end fight, America’s forthcoming NGAD program, under development with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, is expected to produce a family of systems that can effectively counter the most advanced fighters on the planet like the J-20B or SU-57 without breaking a sweat. This platform will hopefully incorporate a return to emphasizing speed as well as stealth, with fuel range serving as yet another essential facet of military aviation America needs to address.
It’s going to take new platforms to counter the full spectrum of threats nations like China pose in the 21st century, and these planes can’t take decades to go from the drawing board to production as the F-35 has. In many places, they won’t need to be stealth, nor is there a requirement for a human on board, but one thing they will need to overcome the tyranny of distance and protect American lives is speed.