It’s pretty clear that in today’s military, rifle suppressors are a thing.
Long relegated to James Bond movies and secret squirrel types in the U.S. military, firearms mufflers now are becoming more popular in line units. Infantry leaders are beginning to recognize the benefits of silencers, with their ability to help mask a shooter’s location by suppressing both sound and flash.
Experts also preach that a suppressor makes shooting a lot easier on the trooper by reducing recoil and tamping down the “flinch” reaction that inevitably comes from firing a 165 decibel rifle shot.
“Cans,” as they are colloquially known, reduce an M4 rifle shot’s report an average of about 20 decibels — that’s not enough to “silence” them, but it’s enough to meet hearing safety requirements for government regulators.
But how these little tubes of steel or titanium do what they do has always been a bit of a mystery to most shooters. The internal architecture of the suppressor’s baffles are part engineering mastery, part material science part alchemy and each manufacturer has its own design to get the sound down.
Now, an Alabama-based silencer maker has built his cans with a clear, hardened acrylic that shows in vivid detail exactly what’s going on inside when the smoke and flame eject from the muzzle. And YouTuber SmarterEveryDay took his high speed camera to the range and got some amazing footage of the gas and blast dissipating trough a silencer.
It’s a very cool look at a device silencer expert and current 2nd Marine Division Gunner Christian Wade says “increases the effectiveness of your weapon.”
The US Army is prototyping drones and soldier devices armed with new cyberwar and electronic attack technology as an essential element of a massive, service-wide push to double its EW force and integrate EW and cyber.
“We are standing up a cyber-electromagnetic activity staff, doubling the force, doubling the amount of training and increasing our tactical ability,” Brig. Gen Jennifer Buckner, head of Army Cyber Command, said recently at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
The plan is multi-faceted, consisting of simultaneous efforts to provide an EW platoon in every Military-Intelligence company and connect integrated EW and cyber-warfare technologies with existing SIGINT (signals intelligence) ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) technology, such as small drones.
One senior Army official stressed the operational importance of further combining EW and cyber.
“You have to have globally integrated joint operations, because cyberspace is pervasive. I believe cyber is a subset of the electromagnetic spectrum,” he told Warrior.
Warrior talked to the Army’s Program Manager for Electronic Warfare, Col. Kevin Finch, who said the service plans to start building and testing prototypes of new EW-Cyber equipped drones and attack technology by 2019 — following an extensive analysis.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)
“The idea is to leverage the technology we are using today and put cyber and SIGINT on the same platforms,” Finch told Warrior in an interview.
Merging cyber, EW and SIGINT brings a new generation of warfare advantages by, among other things, enabling forces armed with EW weapons to produce a narrower, much more targeted signal.
This changes the equation, as most current EW weapons emit a larger single across the desired area and use so much power that it overwhelms an enemy receiver, Jerry Parker, EW developer with CACI, told Warrior in an interview.
This phenomenon creates several extremely significant tactical implications; by emitting a broad signal with large amounts of power, attackers using EW typically give up their own combat positions, as larger signals are usually noticed by enemy forces.
“When you light up the spectrum, you become a target,” Parker explained.
Of equal significance, emitting a large signal can also knock out signals for one’s own force, in some respects.
“The traditional way is if you are transmitting 901 MegaHertz, you put out a ton of power and wipe out everything in the spectrum, to include Blue Forces (friendly forces),” Parker said.
The emerging method, Parker said, is to establish a much more “surgical” way of using EW-cyber attacks, which do not emit a large, area-wide signal.
This can be done by using narrower, more targeting signals emitted from a drone or small device which is able to locate enemy communication networks, radar, radios, and other key targets.
“You look at where an adversarial radio is and pinpoint that one. You use a specific frequency and use a lot of different techniques to analyze the enemy signal, analyze the protocol and narrow a target,” Parker explained. “If you can keep an enemy from communicating, it adds an element of disarray to the battle space where we can achieve overmatch,” Parker said.
Sgt. Jason E. Gerst, a Virginia Beach, Va., native, now a squad leader with 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, launches the RQ-11B Raven unmanned aerial vehicle during Raven training.
CACI is now equipping a small drone with this technology, as part of an effort to support the Army’s initiative.
As cyber and EW become increasingly integrated, with software-defined radios, new jamming techniques and smaller form factors, Army developers can pursue more targeted methods of attack, as enemy cyber and EW threats become increasingly sophisticated.
“We spend a lot of time on the sensing part of the spectrum. We analyze what is out there and ID what various threat signals are. We look at its modulation scheme and protocol and then build techniques to destroy it,” Parker added.
Developers explain that EW innovations are drawing from some existing systems which emerged during the last 15-years of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. EW technology evolved considerably in recent years as the Army learned new jamming techniques, expanded frequencies and found new applications. The vehicle-mounted DUKE and soldier mobile THOR EW systems were successful jamming IED signals in Iraq and Afghanistan, often averting a potentially deadly explosion.
Here is how Brig. Gen. Buckner explained this massive Army push for new combined cyber, EW weapons, and technology.
“We are focused on growth and acceleration — bringing cyber to the tactical edge. The Chief of Staff of the Army recognizes the operational imperative to do that,” Buckner said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
When the U.S. military is looking for a custom bike, they look to DARPA. This time, they needed a stealthy dirt bike that could handle rough terrain… and maybe a few other tasks SEALs and Green Berets might need during an operation.
Two potential models were the frontrunners for DARPA’s project. The Silent Hawk, designed by Logos Technology, and the Nightmare, built by LSA Autonomy. They are both hybrids, capable of running on lithium-ion batteries or a variety of fuels, including JP-8, propane,
or even olive oil.
An artist’s rendering of the Silent Hawk.
Both are about as loud as a garbage disposal while running on fuel and about as loud as an indoor conversation when running on batteries.
The differences are where it gets interesting. The Nightmare weighs 400 pounds while Silent Hawk weighs 350. Those extra 50 pounds go toward generating additional horsepower for the Nightmare’s all-wheel drive. Silent Hawk was built with a battery pack that has a higher density and active cooling system to keep lithium-ion batteries from exploding.
The two bikes can also provide power to external devices, including medical equipment, blue force trackers, and communications gear.
Bikes — especially dirt bikes — aren’t new to the military. Veterans and active duty bike enthusiasts have been building their own custom bikes for years. It’s a huge community. One retired Marine Corps First Sergeant even founded a vocational therapy non-profit centered on building custom dirt bikes. It’s called
For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well, however, driving up the costs for vehicle design, operation and replacement. An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach.
To help make that technology a reality, DARPA has launched the Gremlins program. Named for the imaginary, mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II, the program envisions launching groups of UASs from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft—as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms—while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.
The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades.
The Gremlins program plans to explore numerous technical areas, including:
Launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts
Low-cost, limited-life airframe designs
High-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping
The program aims to conduct a compelling proof-of-concept flight demonstration that could employ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and other modular, non-kinetic payloads in a robust, responsive, and affordable manner.
The TOW missile has been the go-to weapon for blowing up tanks since the Vietnam War.
The Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile was made by Hughes Aircraft and was initially deployed in Vietnam on Huey helicopters.
Unlike the Javelin with its fire-and-forget capability, the TOW missile system uses wires to guide its payload to targets. When the missile is launched, the optical sensor on the tube continuously monitors the position of the missile during flight, correcting its trajectory with electrical signals passed through the cables. This means that the target must be kept in the shooter’s line of sight until impact. The weapon quickly evolved into a portable system that could be fired by infantry units in the field and mounted on jeeps and other vehicles.
In 1997, Raytheon purchased Hughes from General Motors and continued to improve the TOW line. Under Raytheon, the TOW missile has evolved into a wireless version that uses a one-way radio link for guidance. It’s currently used by the Army and the Marine Corps.
Of course, tankers on the other side of the missile hate it for how it cuts through their armor. Watch:
Body armor for your average infantry troop has come a long way. Today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are issued amazing technology designed to stop the most common threat they will likely face in combat: the rifle round. But the tech that will stop a lethal bullet isn’t just one miracle material that they can wear all over their bodies. There is a combination of forces at work, working to stop another combination of forces.
Soldiers don the Interceptor Armor before going on patrol in Iraq.
Kevlar itself is a plastic material five times stronger than steel. Everything about the material, from how it’s woven, right down to its molecular structure just screams strength. Its tensile strength is eight times that of steel. It doesn’t melt, it doesn’t get brittle with cold, and is unaffected by moisture. Kevlar is an awesome antiballistic material because it takes incredible amounts of kinetic energy to pass through it. Its molecular structure is like that of rebar through solid concrete, and forces a bullet to fight its way through at every level.
When layered, the material can sort of “soak up” a lot of the kinetic energy from a projectile. For most low-velocity handguns and even some of the more powerful handguns, a few layers of Kevlar is enough protection. But for high-velocity rifles, it needs some help. That’s where ceramic plates come in.
The standard AK-47 fires with a muzzle velocity of 716 meters per second. For Kevlar alone to protect a soldier from that kind of kinetic energy, the Kevlar would have to have more layers than a troop could carry while retaining the mobility necessary to perform his or her job functions. Kevlar is lightweight, but it’s not weightless, after all. The standard-issue Interceptor body armor was not tested to stop rounds at that velocity, which is classified as Level III protection. The Interceptor Armor does have pockets on the outside of the vests, so ceramic plates can be inserted to upgrade the armor to Level-IIIA.
Just like the Kevlar, the ceramic plates redistribute the kinetic energy of an incoming rifle round, slowing it down enough that it would not be able to penetrate the Kevlar, if it passed through the ceramic at all. It also prevents blunt force trauma from other rounds that may not penetrate the Kevlar, but still cause indentations in the material. The impact from bullets that don’t penetrate the Kevlar can still cause internal injuries. Ceramic inserts are rated to stop whatever projectiles are listed on the plate, and can take up to three hits before failing.
The ESAPI plate saved Sgt. Joseph Morrissey when he was hit in the chest with a 7.62mm round from about 30 meters while deployed to Afghanistan.
While ceramic may seem like an odd choice for stopping bullets, this isn’t the ceramic material used to make vases or coffee mugs. A lot of materials are actually ceramic, including titanium diboride, aluminum oxide, and silicon carbide, one of the world’s top ten strongest materials – the material used in the U.S. military’s Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI plates. These enhanced plates, combined with the Kevlar are capable of stopping a Springfield 30.06 round with a tungsten penetrator.
That’s why the U.S. military uses ceramic plates and Kevlar body armor. It not only protects troops but allows them enough mobility to do their jobs in a hostile environment. And body armor tech is only getting better. Materials like spider silk and nanotubes are being tested that are even lighter and don’t take on as much heat as Kevlar. Maybe one day, we all won’t be drenched in our own sweat when we take off our armor.
Time and again, the oft-repeated military adage is proven right: if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid. This old saying might be the military’s version of necessity being the mother of invention. Except in the military, necessity could mean the difference between life and death. This was certainly true of U.S. doughboys on the battlefields of World War I, where a single battle could cost up to 10,000 American lives or more.
Americans were used to overcoming long odds in combat. Our country was founded on long odds. But in the Great War, U.S. troops had to contend with a weapon from which they couldn’t recover: poison gas.
Many different gas masks were used on the Western Front, but one was more improvised than others.
Throughout American involvement in the First World War, poison gas attacks killed and maimed some 2,000 American troops and countless more allies who had been fighting for years before the doughboys arrived. As a result, all the Allied and Central Powers developed anti-gas countermeasures to try and give their troops a fighting chance in a chemical environment. But gas was introduced as a weapon very early in the fighting, long before the belligerents knew they’d need protection.
But they did need protection. Gas on the battlefield was first administered by releasing the gas from canisters while downwind – a method that could go awry at anytime, causing the wind to shift toward friendly forces. Later on, it would be used in artillery shells that would keep the gas in the enemy’s trench – at least, until the friendly troops advanced to take that trench.
German soldiers ignite chlorine gas canisters during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915.
But early gases weren’t as terrifying as chemical weapons developed in the course of the war. The first uses of gas attacks involved tear gas and chlorine gas. While tear gas is irritating, it’s relatively harmless. Even the first uses of tear gas on the Eastern Front saw the chemical freeze rather than deploy when fired. Chlorine gas, on the other hand, could be incredibly fatal but was not effective as an instrument of death. Chlorine gas had a telltale smell and green color. Troops knew instantly that the gas had been deployed.
To safeguard against it, allied troops used rags or towels covered in urine to protect their lungs from the gas. The thought was that the ammonia in urea was somehow neutralizing the chlorine to keep it from killing them. That wasn’t it at all. Chlorine just dissolves in water, so no chlorine would ever pass through the wet pieces of cloth on their face. They could have used coffee, and the trick would have still worked.
Water (or urine) wasn’t effective against what was to come.
Troops burned by mustard gas in the First World War.
More than half a million men were injured or killed by poison gas during World War I. The terrifying, disfiguring effects of gases like colorless phosgene gas that caused lungs to fill with fluid, drowning men in their beds over a period of days. Then there was mustard gas, a blistering agent that could soak into their uniforms, covering their entire bodies with painful, burning blisters.
Small wonder it was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925.
Innovation isn’t just a matter of creating something new. Rather, it’s the process of translating an idea into goods or services that will create value for an end user. As such, innovation requires three key ingredients: the need (or, in defense acquisition terms, the requirement of the customer); people competent in the required technology; and supporting resources. The Catch-22 is that all three of these ingredients need to be present for innovation success, but each one often depends on the existence of the others.
This can be challenging for the government, where it tends to be difficult to find funding for innovative ideas when there are no perceived requirements to be fulfilled. With transformational ideas, the need is often not fully realized until after the innovation; people did not realize they “needed” a smartphone until after the iPhone was produced. For this reason, revolutionary innovations within the DoD struggle to fully mature without concerted and focused efforts from all of the defense communities: research, requirements, transition, and acquisition.
Despite these challenges, the Army has demonstrated its ability to generate successful innovative programs throughout the years. A prime example is the recently-completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program.
The first implementation of FLIR gave the Army a limited ability to detect objects on the battlefield at night. Users were able to see “glowing, moving blobs” that stood out in contrast to the background. Although detectable, these blobs were often challenging to identify. In cluttered, complex environments, distinguishing non-moving objects from the background could be difficult.
These first-generation systems were large and slow and provided low-resolution images not suitable for long-range target identification. In many ways, they were like the boom box music players that existed before the iPhone: They played music, but they could support only one function, had a limited capacity, took up a lot of space, required significant power and were not very portable. Third Gen FLIR was developed based on the idea that greater speed, precision, and range in the targeting process could unlock the full potential of infrared imaging and would provide a transformative capability, like the iPhone, that would have cascading positive effects across the entire military well into the future.
Because speed, precision, and accuracy are critical components for platform lethality, 3rd Gen FLIR provides a significant operational performance advantage over the previous FLIR sensor systems. With 3rd Gen FLIR, the Army moved away from a single band (which uses only a portion of the light spectrum) to a multiband infrared imaging system, which is able to select the optimal portion of the light spectrum for identifying a variety of different targets.
U.S. Soldiers as seen through night vision.
The Army integrated this new sensor with computer software (signal processing) to automatically enhance these FLIR images and video in real time with no complicated setup or training required (similar to how the iPhone automatically adjusts for various lighting conditions to create the best image possible). 3rd Gen FLIR combines all of these features along with multiple fields of view (similar to having multiple camera lenses that change on demand) to provide significantly improved detection ranges and a reduction in false alarms when compared with previous FLIR sensor systems.
Using its wider fields of view and increased resolution, 3rd Gen FLIR allows the military to conduct rapid area search. This capability has proven to be invaluable in distinguishing combatants from noncombatants and reducing collateral damage. Having all of these elements within a single sensor allows warfighters to optimize their equipment for the prevailing battlefield conditions, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and survivability. Current and future air and ground-based systems alike benefit from the new FLIR sensors, by enabling the military to purchase a single sensor that can be used across multiple platforms and for a variety of missions. This provides significant cost savings for the military by reducing the number of different systems it has to buy, maintain and sustain.
The Navy has now issued at least one-fourth of the design work and begun further advancing work on systems such as a stealthy “electric drive” propulsion system for the emerging nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines by 2021.
“Of the required design disclosures (drawings), 26-percent have been issued, and the program is on a path to have 83-percent issued by construction start,” Bill Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.
The Columbia class is to be equipped with an electric-drive propulsion train, as opposed to the mechanical-drive propulsion train used on other Navy submarines.
In today’s Ohio-class submarines, a reactor plant generates heat which creates steam, Navy officials explained. The steam then turns turbines which produce electricity and also propel the ship forward through “reduction gears” which are able to translate the high-speed energy from a turbine into the shaft RPMs needed to move a boat propeller.
“The electric-drive system is expected to be quieter (i.e., stealthier) than a mechanical-drive system,” a Congressional Research Service report on Columbia-Class submarines from earlier this year states.
Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will use a quieting X-shaped stern configuration.
The “X”-shaped stern will restore maneuverability to submarines; as submarine designs progressed from using a propeller to using a propulsor to improve quieting, submarines lost some surface maneuverability, Navy officials explained.
Navy developers explain that electric-drive propulsion technology still relies on a nuclear reactor to generate heat and create steam to power turbines. However, the electricity produced is transferred to an electric motor rather than so-called reduction gears to spin the boat’s propellers.
The use of an electric motor brings other advantages as well, according to an MIT essay written years ago when electric drive was being evaluated for submarine propulsion.
Using an electric motor optimizes use of installed reactor power in a more efficient way compared with mechanical drive submarines, making more on-board power available for other uses, according to an essay called “Evaluation and Comparison of Electric Propulsion Motors for Submarines,” author Joel Harbour says that on mechanical drive submarine, 80-percent of the total reactor power is used exclusively for propulsion.
“With an electric drive submarine, the installed reactor power of the submarine is first converted into electrical power and then delivered to an electric propulsion motor. The now available electrical potential not being used for propulsion could easily be tapped into for other uses,” he writes.
Research, science and technology work and initial missile tube construction has been underway for several years. One key exercise, called tube-and-hull forging, involves building four-packs of missile tubes to assess welding and construction methods. These structures are intended to load into the boat’s modules as construction advances.
“Early procurement of missile tubes and prototyping of the first assembly of four missile tubes are supporting the proving out of production planning,” Couch said.
While the Columbia-Class is intended to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines, the new boats include a number of not-yet-seen technologies as well as different configurations when compared with the Ohio-Class. The Columbia-Class will have 16 launch tubes rather than the 20 tubes current on Ohio boats, yet the Columbias will also be about 2-tons larger, according to Navy information.
The Columbia-Class, to be operational by the 2028, is a new generation of technically advanced submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world to ensure second-strike ability should the US be hit with a catastrophic nuclear attack.
Formal production is scheduled for 2021 as a key step toward fielding of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines to serve all the way into and beyond the 2080s.The Columbia-Class, to be operational by the 2028, is a new generation of technically advanced submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world to ensure second-strike ability should the US be hit with a catastrophic nuclear attack.
General Dynamics Electric Boat has begun acquiring long-lead items in anticipation of beginning construction; the process involves acquiring metals, electronics, sonar arrays and other key components necessary to build the submarines.
Both the Pentagon and the Navy are approaching this program with a sense of urgency, given the escalation of the current global threat environment. Many senior DoD officials have called the Columbia-Class program as a number one priority across all the services.
“The Columbia-Class submarine program is leveraging enhanced acquisition authorities provided by Congress such as advanced procurement, advanced construction and multi-year continuous production of missile tubes,” Couch added.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The top weapons buyer for U.S. Special Operations Command said Wednesday that the so-called Iron Man suit being developed for elite commandos may not end up being the exoskeleton armored ensemble popular in adventure movies.
It’s been four years since SOCOM leaders challenged the defense industry to come up with ideas for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS — an ensemble that would provide operators with “more-efficient, full-body ballistics protection and beyond-optimal human performance” as well as embedded sensors and communications tech for heightened situational awareness.
Program officials are about “a year and a half” away from having a TALOS prototype that’s ready to put in the hands of operators for testing, James “Hondo” Geurts, acquisition executive and director for SOF ATl at USSOCOM, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium.
When the program began, it captured the public’s imagination and conjured images of high-tech ensembles worn in movies such as “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Starship Troopers.”
“We are on our fifth prototype,” Geurts said. “Will we get everything we want? Probably not. That was never the intent.”
SOCOM officials envisioned TALOS would feature integrated heaters and coolers to regulate the temperature inside the suit. Embedded sensors would monitor the operator’s core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels. In the event that the operator is wounded, the suit could feasibly start administering the first life-saving oxygen or hemorrhage controls.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has embarked on an effort to perfect smart-soldier technology. The Army is now equipping combat units with a secure, smartphone-based kit — known as Nett Warrior — that allows a leader to track subordinates’ locations in relation to his own position via icons on a digital map. The unit leaders can view satellite imagery and send text messages.
The technology has seen combat and given leaders a precise view of their tactical environment, empowering units to operate more decisively than ever before.
But the program’s success did not come easily. Land Warrior, the first generation of this computerized command-and-control ensemble, was plagued by failure. From its launch in 1996, the Army spent $500 million on three major contract awards before the system’s reliability problems were solved in 2006.
When TALOS began, SOCOM said it planned to funnel $80 million into research and development over a four-year timeline. Geurts did not say how much money SOCOM has spent so far on TALOS.
One of the biggest challenges is powering the suit, but also a type of control theory and deep learning, Geurts said.
In just walking, “we take for granted that when we put our arm out, that our foot is behind us to balance it,” he said.
Geurts said the program has had “tremendous hurdles” working with these technologies, but said the effort will likely result in spin-off technologies that can be fielded to operators before TALOS is operationally ready.
“So in TALOS, don’t just think exoskeleton and armor — think of the whole equation,” he said. “Survivability is part of what armor you are carrying, but it’s also a big part of whatever information you have, what is your situational awareness, how do you communicate. So as we are going down all those paths, we can leverage quickly some of the stuff that is ready to go right now.”
The Navy wants a drone tanker that can launch from ships. And Boeing Co. has thrown its hat in the ring with a futuristic design.
On Dec. 19, Boeing offered a public peek at its design for what the Navy is calling the MQ-25 Stingray: an unmanned aircraft system that can offer in-air refueling to the service’s fighters, including the F-35C.
General Atomics revealed concept art of its proposal for the MQ-25 earlier this year, publishing photos of an aircraft with wide wings, almost fighter-like in silhouette. The prototype aircraft Boeing revealed today has a domed top and thicker body.
In all, four companies were expected to compete for the MQ-25 contract, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. However, Northrop, expected to compete with its X-47B blended-wing-body UAS, dropped out of consideration in October.
To date, Lockheed has only published teaser images of what its unmanned tanker prototype would look like.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, the head of the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”
According to the Boeing’s announcement, the prototype aircraft is now completing engine runs and had yet to take its first flight. Deck handling demonstrations are set to begin in early 2018.
The Navy’s unmanned tanker program had been renamed and re-envisioned multiple times as officials juggle requirements and capabilities. The program was formerly called CBARS, Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, before being renamed the MQ-25.
According to Naval Air Systems Command, the MQ-25 will not only deliver “robust organic” refueling capability, but will also interface with existing ship and land-based systems, including those providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
The competing companies have until Jan. 3 to get their full proposals in; Boeing expects to pick a design in the second quarter of 2018.
Less than a week after receiving his new Integrated Head Protective System, or IHPS, the neck mandible saved the soldier’s life in Afghanistan.
The armor crewman was in the turret manning his weapon when a raucous broke out on the street below. Amidst the shouting, a brick came hurdling toward his turret. It struck the soldier’s neck, but luckily he had his maxillofacial protection connected to his helmet.
The first issue of this mandible with the IHPS helmet went to an armored unit in Afghanistan a couple months ago, said Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for soldier protective equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier.
The neck protection was designed specifically for turret gunners to protect them from objects thrown at them, she said. She added most soldiers don’t need and are not issued the mandible that connects to the IHPS Generation I helmet.
A new Gen II helmet is also now being testing by soldiers, said Col. Stephen Thomas, program manager for soldier protection and individual equipment at PEO Soldier.
A new generation of Soldier Protection System equipment is displayed during a media roundtable by Program Executive Office Soldier during the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
About 150 of the Gen II IHPS helmets were recently issued to soldiers of the 2-1 Infantry for testing at Fort Riley, Kansas. The new helmet is lighter while providing a greater level of protection, Whitehead said. The universal helmet mount eliminates the need for drilling holes for straps and thus better preserves the integrity of the carbon fiber.
The new helmet is part of an upgraded Soldier Protection System that provides more agility and maneuver capability, is lighter weight, while still providing a higher level of ballistic protection, Thomas said.
The lighter equipment will “reduce the burden on soldiers” and be a “game-changer” downrange, Thomas said at a PEO Soldier media roundtable Tuesday during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
It will allow soldiers flexibility to scale up or scale down their personal armor protection depending on the threat and the mission, he said.
The new soldier Protection System, or SPS, is “an integrated suite of equipment,” Thomas said, that includes different-sized torso plates for a modular scalable vest that comes in eight sizes and a new ballistic combat shirt that has 12 sizes.
The idea is for the equipment to better fit all sizes of soldiers, he said.
The ballistic combat shirt for women has a V-notch in the back to accommodate a hair bun, Whitehead said, which will make it more comfortable for many female soldiers.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (center) holds the Ballistic Combat Shirt.
The modular scalable vest can be broken down to a sleeveless version with a shortened plate to give an increased range of motion to vehicle drivers and others, she said.
The new SPS also moves away from protective underwear that “soldiers didn’t like at all” because of the heat and chafe, Whitehead said. Instead the new unisex design of outer armor protects the femoral arteries with less discomfort, she said.
PEO Soldier has also come out with a new integrated hot-weather clothing uniform, or IHWCU, made of advanced fibers, Thomas said. It’s quick-drying with a mix of 57% nylon and 43% cotton.
In hot temperatures, the uniform is “no melt, no drip,” he said.
Two sets of the IHWCU are now being issued to infantry and armor soldiers during initial-entry training, he said, along with two sets of the regular combat uniform.
The new hot-weather uniform is also now available at clothing sales stores in Hawaii, along with those on Forts Benning, Hood and Bliss, he said. All clothing sales stores should have the new uniform available by February, he added.
About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.
Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.
Blast from the past
As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.
Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.
This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …
As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.
While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.
Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.
Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.
Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.
Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.
Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.
For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.
Latest and greatest
As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.
The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.
When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.
All the small things
While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.
The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.
Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.
The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.
The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.
Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.