Paracord, commonly known as “550-cord,” is a simple, nylon, kernmantle rope that was originally used by paratroopers in World War II for suspension lines. The tiny bit of fabric is designed to have a minimum breaking strength of 550 lbs — hence the unofficial name.
But the usefulness of paracord has extended far beyond Airborne units. Throughout the decades that’ve followed its introduction, troops have found many creative and ingenious uses for the cord. Here’s what makes it such a versatile tool:
Paracord is abundant in nearly every supply room
The main reason why so troops use paracord for virtually everything is that supply rooms have spools of it laying around. If you ask nicely, they can toss you a bunch off the hand receipts.
On a post-9/11 deployment, the cord (and ponchos that are rarely used in the desert) is used to zone tents, marking off the area “owned” by each troop.
Paracord can secure anything
The cord can support up to 550 pounds before you run the risk of snapping it. For most tasks, this is more than enough. Because of its strength, it’s the go-to tie-down strap for many military operations.
It’s used for everything, from acting as a stand-in shoelace or belt to securing sensitive equipment, like NVGs and rifle optics. The U.S. Army trusts paracord.
It’s perfect for arts and crafts
On a deployment, you’ll have plenty of downtime. Troops get pretty ingenious when coming up with ways to pass that extra time. It’s not uncommon to see troops learning how to make key chains, rosaries, and survivalist bracelets out of 550-cord.
The idea here is that if a troop ever needs some cord, they can snap off the plastic that holds their little doll together and unwind several feet of it for good use. When a troop doesn’t need some cord, they have a toy. Joy!
Paracord can be used everywhere
The cord is remarkably durable. The strength comes from the interwoven braids and the outer cord protects those braids from withering in the elements, making it water and sand resistant. 550-cord can easily hold together a radio antennae through a hot Afghan summer.
But it really has been used everywhere. In a 1993 repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, senior engineer Mark Neuman fixed things up with thermal blankets with 35 feet of paracord. This means that the -billion-dollar astrological marvel was fixed using about of paracord.
It can become a makeshift anything
If you’re in a bind and all you have is your trusty paracord bracelet, you’re in luck because this stuff can be made into anything. The cord’s guts can be great for sewing, fishing, and starting a fire while the outside can make a great shoe lace or trap.
The Pentagon wants a new style of sophisticated protective eyewear that features adjustable vision enhancement so Marines and soldiers can identify and sight in on targets more quickly than ever before.
The goal of Vision Enhancement for the Dismounted Soldier is to “enhance natural eyesight to aid in visual detection, identification, and acquisition of targets, friendlies, and other items of interest that would otherwise be obscured or difficult to see in military relevant environments with the unaided eye,” according to a Sept. 24, 2018 solicitation posted on the government website for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is designed to encourage small businesses to engage in federal research and development.
The research effort is looking to defense firms to present designs that “take into consideration the pupil location of the individual wearer, as needed, to optimize performance and compatibility with weapon technologies,” the solicitation states.
“Hands-free activation (such as voice command) is also of interest, but not necessary for the purposes of this effort. In the event of power loss, imaging shall revert to an unaided mode for unobstructed vision,” the document states. “Ultimately, the objective of the effort is to increase lethality and survivability through enhanced vision, and faster target detection and identification times, of persons and items of interest in military environments, without limiting capabilities naturally afforded by unaided vision.”
Currently, soldiers and Marines rely on a combination of natural vision and optical aids such as scopes, binoculars, image intensifiers and thermal imagers to enhance combat vision.
Soldiers observe the impact zone during a howitzer live-fire exercise at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Jan. 17, 2018.
(Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
“Donning and doffing of individual visual aids takes time and are impractical in situations when seconds count,” according to the solicitation.
The effort, however, is not intended to duplicate or replace current weapons’ optics and other sensors, it states.
The program is searching for concepts that:
Reduce time needed to detect targets or friendly forces as compared to performance when relying on unaided vision.
Ensure natural vision is not degraded in the event of power failure.
Ensure performance is reasonably stable in different operating environments, such as temperatures, lighting conditions and humidity levels.
Minimize distracting or confusing images that may decrease situational awareness, such as unwanted reflections, glare, ghost images, erratic flickering and image distortion.
Companies wishing to participate have until Oct. 24, 2018, to submit proposals, the solicitation states.
The document does not provide a timeline, contract awards or fielding goals except to say that phase one deliverables shall include monthly reports and conceptual drawings and designs.
Phase two deliverables include schematics and 12 working prototypes of spectacles or goggles.
“End item cost shall be considered early on,” the solicitation states. “Target cost is 0 or less (with an ultimate goal of 0 or less once in production).”
The target weight of the entire system — including batteries — is less than 3 ounces if a “spectacle platform is chosen” and less than 6 ounces if a “goggle platform is chosen,” the solicitation states.
“The ability to enhance vision and increase lethality shall be validated through testing,” according to the solicitation.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The Army is starting formal production of a new self-propelled Howitzer variant engineered for faster movement, better structural protection, improved drive-train ability, new suspension, and advanced networking tech, service and industry developers said.
The new vehicle is built with a more capable, larger chassis, designed as an initial step toward building a next-generation cannon able to outgun existing Russian weapons..
As part of a longer-term plan to leverage the new larger chassis built into the Army’s new M109A7 variant, the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is beginning work on a new cannon able to hit enemies out to 70 kilometers, senior Army developers said.
Senior Army weapons developers have explained that the current 80s-era 39 calibre Howitzer is outgunned by its Russian equivalent — a scenario the service plans to change.
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago — its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets — such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.
The M777 A2 is a towed 155mm artillery piece that fires GPS guided Excalibur rounds.
(Photo by Capt. Jesse Platz)
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast growing attack drone fleet — all point to a growing need for the US to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.
Furthermore, given the Pentagon’s emphasis upon cross-domain warfare, land weapons are increasingly being developed to attack things like enemy ships, aircraft and ground-based air defenses; naturally, the idea is to pinpoint and destroy enemy targets while remaining at a safer, more protected distance.
Former Deputy Program Executive Officer for Missiles Space, Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch (Rasch is now the PEO) told Warrior in a previous interview that the service is making a decided push to upgrade and develop longer-range weapons as a way to address current threats and re-adjust following more than 15 years of counterinsurgency.
Building a higher-tech, more lethal Paladin
Following years of development and advanced engineering, the Army and BAE Systems are now formally entering full-rate production of the new M109A7 and accompanying M992A3 ammunition carrier vehicles. BAE officials said the new Howitzer, designed to replace the existing M109A6 Paladin, will have 600-volts of on-board power generation, high-voltage electric gun drives and projectile ramming systems.
Army developers say the A7 has a turret ring down revamp, including a new hull along with a new suspension and power-train. The new Howitzer will, among other things, greatly improve speed and mobility compared to the A6.
“In the past, the A6 Paladin was the slowest vehicle in the Army. It needs to leapfrog. We are restoring that mobility so it will be one of the faster vehicles. Howitzers can now outrun 113s,” a senior Army weapons developer said.
Soldiers of Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division prepare to dry fire an M109A6 Paladin howitzer during exercise Combined Resolve II at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, May 20, 2014.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brian Chaney)
Also, as part of maintenance, life-cycle and service extension — all aimed to improve logistics — the new Howitzer is built with an engine and other parts common to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and emerging Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
Improved on-board power is, similar to other emerging higher-tech platforms, designed to enable the vehicle to quickly accommodate upgrades and new weapons technologies as they may evolve — such as lasers or advanced ammunition.
The advanced digital backbone and power generation capability provides significant growth potential for future payloads, a BAE Systems statement said.
One senior Army official told Warrior Maven that improved combat connectivity can enable multiple Howitzers to quickly share firing data, as part of a broader effort to expand battlefield networking and operate in more dispersed formations depending upon mission requirements.
The Army has also been working with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office to explore additional innovations for the Howitzer platform.
While initially conceived of and developed for the Navy’s emerging Rail Gun Weapon, the Pentagon and Army are now firing the Hyper Velocity Projectile from an Army Howitzer in order to potential harness near-term weapons ability, increase the scope, lethality and range ability to accelerate combat deployment of the lethal, high-speed round.
The rail gun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.
Firing from an Army Howitzer, the hypervelocity projectile can fire at high speeds toward enemy targets to include buildings, force concentrations, weapons systems, drones, aircraft, vehicle bunkers, and even incoming enemy missiles and artillery rounds.
“We can defend against an incoming salvo with a bullet,” a senior Pentagon weapons developer told reporters during prior testing of the HVP.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Two decades after the Marines predicted most warfare would be in urban areas, the Air Force is coming to the same conclusions. Simply put, the great majority of humans live in cities these days, and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas.
Part of the reason for increasing the emphasis on urban conflict, which isn’t something you might traditionally think of about the service that brings us fighters, bombers, and satellites, is that the Air Force may not be well equipped to handle it.
“How do we design an Air Force for this kind of conflict?” Goldfein asked during his speech here. “Today, I think we are more designed for working in open spaces.”
By contrast, the Army and Marines are focused on urban areas like a, well, laser. The Marines had Fallujah — with the Army joining in to retake the city — and smaller versions in Afghanistan. The Army had Sadr City, Mosul (before ISIS), Samarra, and more. The largest service also has some institutional memories of urban battle from World War II, but hasn’t trained for full-out war in cities for some time.
As Goldfein noted in his speech, 80 percent of humanity will live in cities by 2050. And megacities, those with more than 10 million people. will grow from a dozen to 50.
One of the greatest problems with urban warfare is limiting civilian casualties and leaving much of the city standing, as the latest battle for Mosul illustrates in Iraq. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, during a Q and A with reporters, pointed to directed energy weapons (think fricking lasers! and related technologies like electronics-frying microwaves) as potentially useful tools. She also repeated a point she’s been making recently, that no one will tolerate the US using dumb munitions any more.
“The world can no longer tolerate imprecise weapons, at least from the United States of America,” she said when I asked her and the chief about what might an urban warfare Air Force look like. During her recent tour of Central Command, she learned about an airstrike against Daesh.
“They needed a weapon so precisely placed it would destroy ISIS and make the wall fall the other way,” she said, shaking her head to show how impressed she was. Friendly forces were only 13 meters away, she said. The fire request went out. A tasking order was drawn up. Fuzes were set. What may have been a Small Diameter Bomb was dropped and the wall did fall toward ISIS.
When I pressed Goldfein about what platforms and what weapons might be best suited to urban air support, given his comment about the force being designed for open spaces, he said the focus needed to be on modes and networks, as well as on range, persistence, and payload. That echoes such of what the Army has said for the last five years when discussing its next round of weapons: the network is the key, not the new tank.
Could this also have implications for the Light Attack experiment? One Air Force colonel was convinced it would help make the argument for such aircraft to be combined with precision weapons and, perhaps, lasers. But Goldfein made clear he had elevated urban warfare recently and didn’t have all the answers yet.
“Measured by its major accident rate per 100,000 flight hours, which is the military standard, the Harrier is the most dangerous plane in the U.S. military,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Alan C. Miller in the video below. “Overall the Marines have lost more than one-third of the entire Harrier fleet to accidents.”
The first Harrier model, the AV-8A had a Class A mishap rate of 31.77 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The Marines improved the rate to 11.44 per 100,000 hours with the introduction of the AV-8B in the mid-1980s, according to Miller.
By contrast, the Harrier has more than twice the accident rate of the F-16, more than three times the rate of the F/A-18, and about five times the rate of A-10.
Despite its astronomical accident rate, the fighter is beloved and remains in service more than 40 years since its introduction in 1971.
“One Marine general who flew the plane early on described it as an answer to a prayer,” Miller said.
The Corps’ need for an aircraft with a vertical landing and short takeoff capability can be traced to the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines lost over 1,000 men during that fight and felt abandoned by the Navy to fend for themselves.
“Since then, the precept that the Marines in the air should protect the Marines on the ground has been an essential part of the Corps’ ethos,” Miller said.
This History Channel video shows how the Harrier supports the Marine Corps’ mission to fight anywhere, anytime regardless of the risks:
Boston Dynamics has come out with a new version of its Atlas robot that is more mobile, more agile, lighter, quieter, and doesn’t require a power tether.
The new robot was introduced in a YouTube video this morning where it was shown escaping a building and marching through the snow:
Then it stacked boxes like some sort of Robo-POG:
Like other POGs, the Atlas was bullied pretty harshly on the job:
The new generation Atlas weighs only 180 pounds, approximately half the weight of its 330-pound predecessor. It is powered by onboard batteries and can navigate obstacles that tripped up earlier Atlas robots at the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
Boston Dynamics has withdrawn from the DARPA challenge to focus on building commercially-viable robots, meaning they might try to sell the robot to the military or other buyers within the next few years.
Still, the Atlas is far from reaching the battlefield. The new improvements could get it ready to serve behind the lines, but it’s about as noisy as the BigDog robot which was shelved by the Marine Corps for being too loud. And there are no signs that it’s ready to carry its own weapon.
For now, developers will probably continue to target disaster response and similar missions.
The Pentagon has announced plans to replace the Afghan air force’s inventory of Russian-built Mi-17 “Hip” utility helicopters with American ones, stating that the purchase has turned out to be a bad deal.
According to a report by the Washington Times, the Hips will be replaced by UH-60 Blackhawks. The Russian-built helicopters reportedly were maintenance nightmares, with the Afghan Air Force unable to keep up with the logistical supported needed to address constant breakdowns.
The Hips were initially chosen because defense planners thought Afghan pilots would be more familiar with the Russian-built helicopters. The Obama Administration had praised the Mi-17 in its last report on operations in Afghanistan, calling it the “workhorse” of the Afghan air force. The report noted that 56 Hips were authorized, and 47 were available.
According to Militaryfactory.com, the Mi-17 “Hip” has a crew of three and can carry a wide variety of offensive loads, including rocket pods, 23mm gun pods, and even anti-tank missiles. Army-Technology.com notes that the Russian-built helicopter can carry up to 30 troops.
Over 17,000 Mi-17s and the earlier version, the Mi-8, have been built since the Mi-8 first flew in 1961. The Hip has also been widely exported across the globe, being used by over 20 countries, including China, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Iraq.
By comparison, the UH-60 Blackhawk, which also has a crew of three, can only carry 11 troops, according to manufacturer Lockheed Martin. However, the 13th Edition of the Combat Leader’s Field Guide notes that with the seats removed, a Blackhawk can carry up to 22 troops.
The Blackhawk is limited to door guns as its armament. Militaryfactory.com notes that the Blackhawk is used by 26 countries, including Poland, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Argentina, Thailand, and Israel.
Some countries have both the UH-60 and Mi-17 in their inventories, notably Iraq, Argentina, China, Thailand, and Mexico.
Spring 2019, Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, head of PEO Soldier, plans to brief the Army’s senior leadership for a decision on whether to move forward on a new version of the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI, that features a more streamlined design.
“We are looking at a plate with the design that we refer to as a shooter’s cut,” he told reporters recently. “We believe that an increase in mobility provides survivability just as much as coverage of the plate or what the plate will stop itself.”
Potts said the new design offers slightly less coverage in the upper chest closest to the shoulder pocket.
The Modular Scalable Vest being demonstrated at Fort Carson.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds)
“Our soldiers absolutely love it, and the risk to going to a higher level of injury is .004 meters squared. I mean, it is minuscule, yet it takes almost a full pound off of the armor,” he said.
Potts said he plans to brief Army Vice Chief of Staff James C. McConville in the next couple of months on the new plate design, which also features a different formula limiting back-face deformation — or how much of the back face of the armor plate is allowed to move in against the body after a bullet strike.
“Obviously, when a lethal mechanism strikes a plate, the plate gives a little bit, and we want it to give a little bit — it’s by design — to dissipate energy,” Potts said. “The question is, how much can it give before it can potentially harm the soldier?”
The Army has tested changing the allowance for back-face deformation to a 58mm standard instead of the 44mm standard it has used for years.
“We have found what we believe is the right number. We are going to be briefing the vice chief of staff of the Army, and he will make the ultimate decision on this,” Potts said.
“But right now, with the work that we have done, we think we can achieve, at a minimum, a 20 percent weight reduction. … We have been working with vendors to prove out already that we know we can do this,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The U.S. Army‘s acquisitions chief said recently that the military needs to make a major technological breakthrough in speed if combat forces are to maintain their edge on future battlefields.
“What is it that we could do that would be the same as ‘own the night?’ ” said Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisitions, logistics and technology, referring to the service’s breakthrough in night-vision technology. “And I’ll tell you, the thing that keeps coming is speed.”
Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Science Technology Symposium and Showcase, he recalled an experience he had in the early 1980s as a tank commander during a force-on-force training exercise at Fort Carson, Colorado.
“I was coming up over this ridgeline, and the other guy is coming up over the other ridgeline. I saw him, he saw me,” Jette said.
Each tank started rotating its turret toward the other.
“It was like quick draw: Who is going to get in line with the other guy first?” Jette said, describing how it all came down to “the rate at which the turret turned.”
The Russians are experimenting with robotic turrets that use algorithms to speed up decision-making in combat, he said. Images appear on a flat screen inside the tank, and “the computer goes, ‘I think that is a tank.’
An M1A2 SEP Abrams from 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Idaho Army National Guard (middle) and a M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle from 1st Squadron, 14th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., return from waging mock battle against one another during an eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise, at Orchard Combat Training Center, south of Boise, Idaho, Aug. 14, 2014.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chris McCullough)
“They have [pictures] of our tanks and vehicles in their computer, and the computer looks at them and puts little boxes around them and, depending on how far away they are and depending on what orientation they are in, the computer has an algorithm that says, ‘Shoot that one first, that one second and that one third,’ ” Jette said.
This reduces the number of steps the gunner must go through before engaging targets.
“I need your ideas on how to put ourselves way past what these guys are onto,” Jette said, addressing an audience of industry representatives. “How can we be faster? How can we be better?”
He added, “One of the reasons we are not doing that yet is we are not going to mistake an ice cream truck for a tank. Our probability of target detection and identification has to be extremely high. Our thresholds would have to be higher; we would have to be better, we would have to be faster. Speed is going to be critically important.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Decades before America’s Space Shuttle would roar into the sky, the United States already had plans to field a reusable spaceplane. Born out of Germany’s World War II efforts to create a bomber that could attack New York and continue on to the Pacific, Boeing’s X-20 Dyna-Soar was to be a single-seat craft boosted into the sky atop American rockets.
It would soar in the sky in the blurred line between earth’s atmosphere and the vacuum of space, bouncing along the heavens before releasing its payload over Soviet targets miles below. The X-20 was a 1950s science fiction fever dream born of the nuclear age and the earliest days of the Cold War… And according to some experts, it very likely would have worked.
Operation Paperclip and the burgeoning Cold War
As World War II came to a close, the United States and Soviet Union’s relationship with one another was already beginning to sour. Nazi Germany’s war machine had torn through the continent, often on the backs of Germany’s state-of-the-art military technology, but geopolitics is a game of theater and pragmatism in equal measure. While the world ached for justice, defense officials in both America and the Soviet Union already saw the Cold War looming large on the horizon. Justice mattered in the minds of these leaders, but not quite as much as surviving the next great conflict to come.
Nazi technology had given Germany an advantage on multiple military fronts, and both America and the Soviet Union knew the scientists responsible for these technological leaps would soon be looking for a means to escape prosecution for their roles in the conflict. Both nations, recognizing the strategic advantage their knowledge could offer, quickly set about capturing as many Nazi scientists and researchers as they could. In the United States, this effort to leverage Germany’s scientists came to be known as Operation Paperclip.
In all, Operation Paperclip, which was organized by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) and largely executed by the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, brought some 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians to the United States following the war, where they were given roles in America’s ongoing military and technological efforts. NASA’s famed Wernher von Braun, the man who developed the Saturn V rocket that brought America to the moon, was perhaps the most high profile German scientist to come through Paperclip, but among the others were Walter Dornberger and Krafft Ehricke.
In their newfound roles at Bell Aircraft, an American aircraft manufacturing firm, Dornberger and Ehricke first proposed the concept of a sort of vertical-launched bomber and missile in one. In Germany, they had called this theoretical platform the Silbervogel, or Silver Fish. Today, the plan seems quite logical: The vehicle would be sent aloft atop a rocket booster and propelled all the way into a sub-orbital but exoatmospheric altitude where it would briefly enter space, before gliding down toward the atmosphere and being “bounced” back up thanks to the vehicle’s wings.
Today, the idea of launching a reusable spaceplane into a suborbital altitude practically sounds run of the mill, thanks to similar concepts being leveraged by everything from nuclear ICBMs to the most advanced, cutting-edge hypersonic weapons, but Dornberger and Ehricke’s proposal was submitted in 1952 — five years before the Soviet Union would launch the world’s first man-made satellite into orbit. Operation Paperclip was devised specifically to leverage Germany’s scientists to help kick-start America’s own exotic military programs, and in hindsight, it’s hard to argue that the effort wasn’t a success, regardless of the ethical implications.
Working in the shadow of Sputnik
On October 1, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made satellite. It was a small, metal sphere, measuring only about 23 inches in diameter, with four external radio antennas trailing behind it broadcasting signal pulses back to Soviet scientists, as well as the rest of the world. What followed has come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis” in the Western world.
America had been the de facto world leader in terms of both military and economic might following the end of the Second World War, but the success of Sputnik placed America’s supremacy into question. The Soviets had matched America’s nuclear weapons with a test of their own in 1949, and again with the hydrogen bomb in 1953. Now, instead of matching America’s success, the Soviets were starting to take an intimidating lead.
The United States had taken to developing Dornberger and Ehricke’s concept in three separate programs: a rocket bomber (RoBo), a long-range reconnaissance vehicle (Brass Bell), and hypersonic weapons research. Just days after Sputnik 1 launched, the U.S. re-organized their efforts, combing all three programs into the new single Weapons System 464L program, also known as Dyna-Soar.
The new Dyna-Soar effort was to mature in three stages. Dyna-Soar 1 would be a research vehicle. Dyan-Soar 2 would add reconnaissance, and Dyna-Soar 3 would incorporate bombing capabilities. America intended to work fast, planning to test the first iteration by 1963 in glide trials, with powered trials to follow the next year. By then, the Dyna-Soar 2 was expected to exceed Mach 18 in powered flight. A missile based on the Dyna-Soar program was expected to enter service by 1968, with the spaceplane itself operational by 1974.
In order to meet these deadlines, proposals were fielded by both Bell Aircraft and Boeing. Despite Bell’s head start, Boeing ultimately secured the contract and set about work on developing what was to be the X-20 Dyna-Soar.
Building a Dyna-Soar
By 1960, the spaceplanes overall design was largely settled, leveraging a delta-shape and small winglets for control in place of a traditional tail. In order to manage the incredible heat of reentry, the X-20 would use super alloys like the heat-resistant René 41 in its frame, and molybdenum, graphite, and zirconia rods all used for heat shielding on the underside of the craft.
“It was a hot-temperature structure using a nickel super alloy,” said Dr. Richard Hallion, former Air Force chief historian.
“The leading edges of the wing would be made of an even more exotic alloy. There was provision for active cooling.”
That same year, astronauts were chosen to fly America’s new space bomber. Among them was a thirty-year-old Navy test pilot and aeronautical engineer named Neil Armstrong, who would go on to leave the program in 1962.
By the end of that same year, the program was given the designation X-20 and it was unveiled to the public in a ceremony held in Las Vegas. America’s mighty B-52 Stratofortress was chosen to air-drop the X-20 for in-atmosphere flight tests, and the first firing of the rocket booster intended for higher altitude drop-tests was also a success. The project was incredibly ahead of its time, while somehow also being entirely feasible with the technology of the day. In the early 1960s, it seemed all but assured that America would soon be flying space bombers.
Once built, the X-20 Dyna-Soar’s first mock-up measured 35 and a half feet long with a 20.4-foot wingspan. It used three retractable struts for landing. Although it would have its own A-4 or A-9 rocket engine to help it reach an exoatmospheric trajectory, it would effectively glide throughout most of its mission, dipping down into the atmosphere just far enough to create lift, which it would use to bounce back up, skipping across the air enveloping the earth like a stone over a pond. It would continue to skip until it had lost enough velocity to prevent another bounce back up, at which point the pilot would glide the craft back down to earth just like the Space Shuttle.
The X-20 Dyna-Soar goes extinct
Although the X-20 concept was quite literally out of this world, it was still technically feasible, and early tests suggested that the Dyna-Soar may indeed work as advertised. However, the program was also incredibly expensive, and with the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration moving forward with its Gemini program, America’s civilian leaders were becoming more interested in fielding an actual spacecraft they could use to compete with the Soviets, rather than a weapon that offered little in the way of international prestige.
“If we had pursued it as a black-world program like the U-2, it might have gone ahead,” explained Hallion. “I never saw any technical issue that would have been a show stopper.”
On December 10, 1963, the X-20 program was canceled. The United States had invested $410 million in its development, or more than $3.5 billion in 2021 dollars, but the Dyna-Soar was still a long way off from being the space bomber it was intended to become. Even per Hallion’s positive recollection of the effort, the X-20 was still at least two-and-a-half years away from working and would have required at least another $370 million to complete. A space bomber would indeed offer global range, but in 1957, the U.S. Air Force had demonstrated that the B-52, the same bomber tasked with helping test the X-20, could circle the globe all on its own, without any need for pricey rockets.
Upon canceling the X-20 program, the U.S. government diverted its remaining funding to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory effort that used Gemini spacecraft to demonstrate the value of a crewed military presence in Earth’s orbit.
But the X-20 was not completely swallowed up by history. Elements of the program could be found in NASA’s Space Shuttle, and of course, the Space Force’s secretive X-37B bears more than a passing resemblance to the X-20. The X-37B is not touted as a space bomber and almost certainly isn’t, but the reusable spaceplane may, in fact, be one of America’s most capable reconnaissance assets.
The B-52 has been serving in America’s nuclear deterrent arsenal since 1952. But a lot has changed on the BUFF and its mission since it was on the front line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The strategic bomber has gone from being designed to deliver huge nuclear bombs on Russia to dropping precision-guided conventional bombs on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, it is far more likely to deliver its nukes using air-launched cruise missiles than a gravity bomb.
But little did most people know that part of its post-World War II heritage equipped the lengthy bomber with tail guns.
The retirement of Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum is notable since he was the last of the B-52 tail gunners in the Air Force. Most versions of the BUFF had four .50-caliber M3 machine guns – fast-firing versions of the historic Ma Deuce (1,000 rounds per minute, according to GlobalSecurity.org) that were also used on the F-86 Sabre. Two B-52 versions went with different armament options, the B-52B (twin 20mm cannon in some planes) and the B-52H (an M61 Vulcan).
In the B-52G and H, the tail gunners were in the main cabin, using a remotely operated turret. Earlier models had the tail gunners sitting in a shooters seat in the rear of the plane, providing the BUFF an extra set of eyes to detect SAM launches.
Those tail guns even saw some action. During the Vietnam War, three B-52Ds used their tail guns to score kills. All three of the victims were North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds, who found out the hard way that the BUFFs weren’t helpless targets on their six.
The B-52s up to the G model ultimately used the MD-9 fire-control system for the tail guns. The B-52G used the AN/ASG-15 for its remotely-operated quad .50 caliber turret while the B-52H used the AN/ASG-21 to guide its M61 Vulcan.
An incident during Operation Desert Storm, though, would soon change things for the BUFF. A friendly-fire incident occurred when a tailgunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the U.S. jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which damaged the BUFF. The BUFF returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.
Shortly after the misunderstanding, the Air Force announced that the tail guns were going away.
So, for all intents and purposes, a generation has passed since the B-52 had a tail gunner. Gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52. To get a glimpse at what was lost, check out the video below.
DARPA has found a single, hyper-efficient motor that they think could power large UAVs, electrical generators, and robots. The engines are so small and so efficient, that soldiers could carry powerful generators in their rucksacks.
DARPA signed a contract with LiquidPiston for nearly $1 million to develop an engine that is much lighter than current military generators and that could generate the same amount of electricity for half as much JP-8 fuel.
“Today’s diesel/JP-8 engines and generators are extremely heavy,” Dr. Nikolay Shkolnick, a co-founder of LiquidPiston, said in an press release. “For example, a typical 3kW heavy-fuel generator weighs over 300 pounds, requiring six people to move it around. LiquidPiston’s engine technology may enable a JP-8 generator of similar output weighing less than 30 pounds that could fit in a backpack.”
The engine would get its outstanding efficiency through a patented “High Efficiency Hybrid Cycle,” design that is a large departure from piston engines. LiquidPiston holds the patent for this type of engine. See how it works at 0:40 in the video below.
And, with only two moving parts, the engines are much quieter and stealthier than those they would replace.
“Our engine has no vibration at all and it’s a lot quieter,” Alexander Shkolnik, the president of LiquidPiston, told MIT News while discussing LiquidPiston’s smallest engine. “It should be a much nicer user experience all around.”
If everything works out, forward operating bases and UAVs would get much quieter, generators could be delivered to outposts more easily, and the need for convoys in theater would be reduced as fuel requirements dropped.
On October 19, the Navy EOD released its Strategic Plan 2020-2030, its blueprints for the next 10 years. Its leadership is looking to mold the military’s maritime EOD force into one that best supports the U.S., its allies, and partner nations to compete and win in an era of Great Power Competition (GPC).
The Navy EOD’s mission statement is to “eliminate explosive threats so the Fleet and Nation can fight and win — whenever, wherever, and however it chooses.”
This mission statement is to be achieved through:
• Developing the force to win against near-peer competitors and empowered non-state actors. • Expanding our advantage against competitors’ undersea threats. • Capitalizing on our unique ability to counter weapons of mass destruction. • Growing expertise in the exploitation of next-generation weapons systems. • Emboldening allies and partner nation’s capabilities.
In the Strategic Plan, the community of operators internalized 80 years of knowledge and sacrifice to honor the legacy of those who have come before and develop and prepare future generations of the Navy EOD community. With Navy EOD being in its ninth decade of service, it is looking beyond the horizon to chart its future course. Its aim is to remain the world’s premier combat force for eliminating explosive threats.
This is the force’s first major mission update since 1997. The plan was developed to meet the challenges of a changing national security environment and position Navy EOD to best serve its role within the NECF said Rear Adm. Joseph DiGuardo, commander of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).
“The Navy Expeditionary Combat Force (NECF) clears the explosive, security, and physical hazards emplaced by our adversaries; secures battlespace for the naval force; builds the critical infrastructure, domain awareness, and logistic capacity to rearm, resupply, and refuel the fleet; protects the critical assets the Navy and the nation need to achieve victory and reinforce blue-water lethality,” DiGuardo said.
NECF is comprised of Navy EOD, the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force, the Naval Construction Force, and diving and salvage units.
“As part of the NECF, our EOD forces play a pivotal role in clearing the explosive hazards in any environment to protect the fleet and Joint Force — from the simplest impediment to the most complex weapon of mass destruction—and build an understanding of our adversary capabilities by exploiting those hazards. Navy EOD is the key to our nation being undeterred by explosive threats,” DiGuardo added.
“The strategic plan ensures Navy EOD supports the NECF by eliminating explosive threats so the fleet, Navy, and nation can fight and win whenever, wherever and however it chooses,” Capt. Oscar Rojas, commodore of the Coronado-based EOD Group (EODGRU) said.
According to the plan, the force’s 1,800 members can also expect an increased emphasis on building their knowledge and capabilities in areas critical to success in a GPC environment. This will include Navy EOD enhancing its expeditionary undersea capabilities by tapping into the cyberspace. The force will pursue unmanned systems (UMS) to access adversary communication networks in order to disrupt, delay, or destroy weapons systems.
Moreover, the plan calls for Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures (ExMCM) companies to test these new systems and software. “The operators using emerging UMS technology are the closest to the challenges. Our strategic plan will empower them to provide us feedback from the tactical level during the capability development process to help accelerate solutions to the ever-evolving threats,” said Rojas.
The Navy EOD community has evolved through the years to face new and troubling threats as they have emerged: Magnetic influence mines in World War II serving as coastal defenses or strategic deterrents. Sea mines blocking the Wonsan Harbor from an amphibious landing during the Korean War. Land and sea mines dotting Vietnam, preventing full maneuverability of American forces. Iranian-emplaced limpet and sea mines targeting both naval and commercial ships in the Arabian Gulf. WMDs during the Cold War and into today.
And nowadays, with non-state actors like violent extremist organizations or lone wolves having easier access to information on how to create and employ improvised explosive devices or chemical and biological weapons Navy EOD’s job has only gotten harder.
“Our strategic plan was designed to guide us in creating a force that can deter adversaries and win in a complex security environment,” said Capt. Rick Hayes, commodore of EODGRU-2. “That is why we dedicated an objective to specifically focus on developing and caring for our Sailors. Our people are our most important asset — they are our weapons system.”
As Hayes said, all the objectives put forward in the 2030 plan are essential to delivering a lethal, resilient, and sustainable Navy EOD force that can be called upon during contingency and crisis operations.
“Realizing this vision will be impossible without the support of everyone in the Navy EOD community. By leveraging their creativity, discipline, and leadership, we will develop a force for 2030 that continues to protect the security and future of the American people,” Hayes added.
Sailors training for the Navy’s explosive ordnance disposal rating must complete the basic EOD diver course at Naval Dive and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida. The Navy EOD training pipeline can take nearly a year to complete and is unique among all other branches for teaching dive capabilities. Navy EOD technicians regularly integrate with special operations forces by regularly working alongside Navy SEALs or Army Special Forces soldiers.