Today, when we talk about a dominant plane in air-to-air combat, the conversation starts and ends with the F-22 Raptor. But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s, the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle were contenders for the title of biggest air-to-air badass. So, between these two planes, which would come out on top in a head-to-head duel?
The F-14 was capable of reaching speeds above Mach 2 and could carry a variety of air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Ramon Preciado.)
First, a little background. Both the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle were modeled after lessons learned from the Vietnam War about the realities of air-to-air combat. Previously, the F-4 Phantom had been used as a multi-role fighter, and to do so, it had to give up some air-to-air capability. In the 1980s, both planes were dedicated exclusively to air-to-air missions — in fact, “not a pound air-to-ground” was the design mantra.
The F-15 Eagle entered service in 1976 and still serves today. In that sense, it has beaten the F-14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young)
The F-14 Tomcat has a crew of two, a top speed of 1,544 miles per hour, a maximum unrefueled range of 1,864 miles, and is equipped with the AWG-9 radar. It carries a 20mm M61 cannon and can carry eight air-to-air missiles, often operating with a mix of AIM-54 Phoenixes, AIM-7 Sparrows, and AIM-9 Sidewinders. The plane first joined the Navy in 1974. The only export customer was Iran. The Tomcat was primarily designed to counter Soviet bombers trying to sink carriers, but it was intended to also fight for air superiority.
The one clear advantage the F-14 has over the F-15 is reach — the AIM-54 Phoenix has much longer range than the AIM-7 Sparrow, but the Phoenix isn’t good at killing fighters. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Dana Potts)
The Air Force selected the single-seat F-15 Eagle for its air-superiority needs. This plane, which entered service in 1976, is equipped with the APG-63 radar, a 20mm M61 cannon, and also could carry eight air-to-air missiles. However, it could only carry the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. It had a top speed of 1,875 miles per hour and a maximum unrefueled range of 2,402 miles. It got far more export orders than the F-14 and was purchased by Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.
Which of these planes would come out on top? Well, much depends on which gets to play to their own strengths. The F-14’s best chance against the Eagle is to initially fight at a distance – using the Phoenix missile. This may not be much help as the Phoenix isn’t designed to engage fighters, but there’s always a chance. Even then, this advantage is offset by the fact that the Phoenix could displace as many as six AIM-7 Sparrows, which perform better. That said, the Eagle needs to manage to get close and to use its performance and endurance to win a dogfight.
When it was first designed, the AGM-114 Hellfire missile was intended to give the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter a way to kill the Soviet tanks of World War II, replacing a combination of the AH-1 Cobra and the BGM-71 TOW missile. But the Hellfire has proven to be far more versatile.
Don’t get us wrong, the Hellfire was indeed a very capable tank killer. As many as 4,000 missiles were fired during Operation Desert Storm and as many as 90% of those hit their targets, which ranged from tanks to bunkers to radar sites.
After Desert Storm, the missile was improved. One of the biggest improvements was the addition of a new means of guidance: the Longbow radar system. The Longbow radar is able to automatically search, detect, locate, classify, and prioritize targets in the air, on land, and at sea.
The Hellfire has been added to numerous other helicopters, notably Navy MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawks. It also has been added to the Navy’s littoral combat ships, and it has been tested for launch from a variety of ground vehicles, from the M113 to the High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle. The missile is so versatile, in fact, that they’re used for coastal defense by Norway and Sweden, and they’re also used on the Combat Boat 90, a Swedish coastal boat.
But the missile’s true versatility emerged in the War on Terror.
The United States and Israel have used the Hellfire to take out a number of high-ranking terrorists. This includes Hamas leader Ahmed Yasin, Anwar al-Awlaki, and ISIS propagandist, “Jihadi John.” The Hellfire has been exported to over two dozen countries and it will likely be in service for a long time to come, including as an option for the Stryker Mobile Short-range Air Defense vehicle.
Learn more about the highly-versatile Hellfire in the video below.
The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is looking to upgrade its fleet of AH/MH-6 Little Bird helicopters.
Operated by the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), also known as the “Night Stalkers,” the AH-6 (attack) and MH-6 (assault/transport) Little Bird helicopters have been a staple special operations rotary-winged platform since the 1980s. Working closely with the special mission units of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the Night Stalkers have flown Little Birds into combat in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, among other places.
But the consecutive deployments of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have taken a toll on the AH/MH-6 Little Bird fleet. And now SOCOM wants to polish it.
According to a government’s acquisition site, SOCOM is looking for offers to replace the special operations helicopters’ Light Weight Plank Systems (LWPS). The contract will fall under the indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity category—meaning that the number of LWPS is up in the air—and can last to up to eight years.
This is the latest update for the Little Bird fleet. A couple of years ago, SOCOM awarded a contract to Boeing for an indefinite number of Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) kits for both versions of the Little Bird. The MELB kits include an improved six-blade main rotor and four-blade tail rotor, enhanced tail boom and rotor drive system, upgraded tail stinger, chambered vertical fin, landing gear, and doors.
The 160th SOAR is comprised of four battalions and operates three rotary-wing platforms, for a total of around 140 aircraft.
The AH/MH-6 Little Birds provide attack, assault, and transport options. These are the helicopters that will drop a Delta Force team on top of a target building or provide close air support on target to a SEAL Team 6 group.
The MH-60 Black Hawk offers medium-lift capabilities. These are the helicopters that will carry. An updated stealth version of the MH-60 Black Hawk participated in Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Night Stalkers also fly the MH-60 Direct Attack Penetration (DAP) Black Hawk, a gun platform that packs some serious firepower and can take heavily fortified targets on its own.
Finally, the MH-47 Chinook presents heavy-life capabilities. This special operations version of the venerable Chinook is the workhorse of the Night Stalkers. It’s mainly used for long-range insertions of special operations elements, such as a Ranger platoon or a Special Forces operational detachment and its partner force.
For ground troops, the improvised explosive device threat is considered one of the deadliest defensive components ever to hit the battlefield. Enemy forces have placed countless IEDs anywhere, including alleyways, open terrain landscapes, and along transportation routes.
With all the different mine-defeating technologies allied forces have available, many homemade explosives still manage to still go undetected at times.
Enter the Assault Breacher Vehicle.
Crammed with 7,000 pounds of explosives, this mode of transportation can destroy nearly any hazard the enemy might plant.
The ABV uses its weaponry to destroy a preselected area of enemy terrain within seconds — much faster than foot patrol.
“The ABV can clear a route faster than dismounted patrols because it doesn’t actually have to find the IED,” Lance Cpl. Jonathan Murray stated.
The vehicle is tailor-made to find and destroy IEDs that protect the enemy’s stronghold. Along with its superior armor, the ABV fires a mine-clearing line charge known as an MICLIC.
The MICLIC is as a 350-foot-long “sausage link” that contains nearly one-ton of C-4 explosives that can clear a surface area of a football field in a single blast. Once a MICLIC is fired off by the operator, they will send out an electrical charge that will completely detonate the line and everything in its path.
The massive explosion that follows will set off any IED with the surrounding sector 45-feet wide, making it safer for troops and local nationals to walk. As the ABV maneuvers through the enemies’ backyard, the vehicle can also detonate the IEDs with a plow system mounted in the front.
The plow has the ability to dig up the lethal mines before our brave service members have a chance to step on it — saving lives.
Check out American Heroes Channel‘s video below to watch this beast of a vehicle clear a massive area of IED threats.
The Russian navy is apparently outfitting its warships with a new naval weapon designed to blind and confuse enemies and, sometimes, make them want to hurl, Russian media said early February 2019.
Filin 5P-42, a non-lethal visual-optical inference device, has been deployed aboard Russian navy frigates Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Kasatonov, state-run RIA Novosti reported, citing a press statement from Ruselectronics, the company that built the device.
Each frigate, both part of Russia’s Northern Sea Fleet, has been outfitted with two Filin stations. Two additional frigates currently under construction are expected to also carry the blinding weapon.
The new device is a dazzler-type weapon that works like a strobe light, emitting an oscillating beam of high-intensity light that negatively affects an enemy’s ability to aim at night.
A Russian Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate.
(Russian Defense Ministry)
Russia claims that the new naval weapon is capable of “effectively suppressing” sensors and night-vision technology, as well as range finders for anti-tank missiles, Russian media said.
The dazzling weapon was tested against volunteers firing assault weapons, sniper rifles, and machine guns at targets protected by Filin from two kilometers away. All of the participants experienced difficulties aiming, and 45% had complaints of dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. Twenty percent of volunteers experienced what Russian media has characterized as hallucinations. Participants described seeing floating balls of light.
The concept behind “dazzling” weapons has been around for decades in one form or another.
Blinding weapons, particularly lasers, that cause permanent blindness are prohibited by the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. As Russia’s weapon reportedly only causes temporary blindness, there would be no legislative restrictions on its use, not that legal issues may be of any real concern.
US-Russian relations sank to a new low Feb. 1, 2019, when the Trump administration announced US withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Cold War-era nuclear arms pact, citing Russian violations of the agreement.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Officials in charge of equipping America’s top commando units are looking for some high-tech drugs to help boost the performance if their 150 “multi-purpose canines.”
According to news reports, U.S. Special Operations Command wants to find pharmaceutical products or nutritional supplements that will enhance canine hearing, eyesight and other senses.
Think of it as a “Q” for America’s four-legged special operators.
According to an official solicitation for the Performance Enhancing Drugs, SOCOM is looking for a product or combination of products that will do the following:
Improve a dog’s ability to regulate body temperature
Improve acclimatization to acute extremes in temperature, altitude, and/or time zone changes
Increase the speed of recovery from strenuous work
Decrease adverse effects due to blood loss.
SOCOM’s military working dogs have been front and center on several top commando raids — with the most famous being Cairo, a Belgian Malinois who joined SEAL Team 6 in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
SOCOM, though, is also looking to neutralize enemy K9s through what another solicitation calls “canine response inhibitors.”
Now, during the Vietnam War, the preferred “canine response inhibitor” was known as the “Hush Puppy.” But these days SOCOM is looking for some less permanent methods, including:
Inhibit barking, howling, and whining
Induce movement away from the area where the effects are deployed
Like the performance enhancers, the “canine response inhibitors” could also be used outside the military.
So, the company or companies that win the hearts and minds of SOCOM’s puppies could catch a huge break.
Anyone who’s ever shot an AR or M4 with a suppressor knows how much better the experience is. Hence the saying, “Once you go suppressed, you never go back.”
Previously the exclusive domain of special operations troops, the Marine Corps is experimenting with outfitting an entire infantry battalion with suppressors to fire with their M16 and M4 rifles — and even with their light, medium and heavy machine guns, like the M2 .50cal.
“What we’ve found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight,” a top Marine Corps official told Military.com recently. “It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn’t really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.”
Industry and military experts agree, saying suppressors deliver tremendous advantages to troops in battle. But there’s a reason why the technology has been primarily in the kit bag of special operations troops and highly trained snipers — they’re not always “grunt proof” and can sometimes cause more problems than they solve if used improperly, experts say.
So first, let’s look at three reasons why firearm sound suppressors awesome. Then we’ll show you three reasons why they’re a potential bigtime problem.
1. Signature mitigation
One of the main benefits to suppressor use by infantry troops, military experts say, is that the suppressor helps eliminate the flash of the powder burn from a fired round from emerging from the end of the barrel. Sound suppressors are like a vehicle muffler and use a series of baffles to progressively disperse the gas and flash from a shot.
The flash from a shot is a dead giveaway of a trooper’s position to the enemy — especially at night. (DoD photo)
When a trooper fires his rifle equipped with a suppressor — which can add another 4-6 inches to the end of the barrel (more on that in our “disadvantages list”) — that’s a lot of extra room for the flash to dissipate, making it hard for a bad guy to see a Marine’s position in the dark.
“This reduces or eliminates attention drawn to the shooter, making him virtually invisible,” said one Marine infantry expert. “We like to fight at night because it helps us reduce the enemy’s ability to see us or identify us as quickly — add a suppressor and it will help increase tempo.”
2. Recoil reduction
One of the things that a lot of shooters don’t realize is that a suppressor drastically reduces a firearm’s felt recoil, one industry expert said. Trapping the gasses within the suppressor negates the need for muzzle breaks or other devices to help keep the barrel level shot after shot.
As anyone who’s had to fire a shot in anger would know, accuracy is the key to survival, and suppressors help a lot in this area.
“Suppressors reduce firing recoil significantly … reducing the speed and quantity of the gas expelled and reducing the total momentum of the matter leaving the barrel, transferring to the gun as recoil,” the Marine infantry expert told WATM. “Suppressors also increase the speed of the bullet to the target, and this will cause an increase in accuracy and the shooter’s ability to track the target longer — and if needed calmly fire another carefully aimed shot.”
3. Sound suppression
Of course, as the name implies, suppressors are primarily designed to reduce the report of a firearm. They are not “silencers” like the Hollywood image would imply. A suppressor typically reduces the sound of a rifle from 160 dB to 135 dB — just enough to make it hearing safe, but by no means deadly quiet.
But that sound reduction is enough to provide a major advantage in fighting indoors and helping small unit leaders communicate better on the battlefield. Particularly when used with a machine gun, the suppressor can expand the area a unit can communicate and operate, industry and military experts say.
“Especially in [close quarters battle] suppressors are particularly useful in enclosed spaces where the sound, flash and pressure effects of a weapon being fired are amplified,” the infantry expert said. “Such effects may disorient the shooter, affecting situational awareness, concentration and accuracy. This could also reduce the noise in the battlefield thus aiding leaders in maintaining command and control.”
And the affect on a trooper’s hearing isn’t anything to shake a stick at either, industry experts say.
“The VA spends about $10 million per year on helping veterans who’re suffering from hearing loss,” the silencer industry source said. “That’s a big concern for service members who’re being exposed to gunfire throughout their career.”
While it’s clear most agree suppressors deliver major advantages to the war fighter, it’s not all ninja moves and .5 MOA shots every time.
Look, it’s physics folks. That gas and flash from a shot has to go somewhere.
Trapped in the suppressor, the hot gas and flash of a magazine dump, for example, can heat the accessory up to as much as 500 degrees. That’s enough to melt handguards and deliver severe burns if a trooper absentmindedly handles one.
That means if grunts are using suppressors as a matter of course, they have to add yet another element to look out for when they’re manipulating their weapons.
2. Length and Weight
Adding a “can” to the end of a rifle adds extra weight and length to the firearm. That changes how the trooper operates, particularly in close quarters battle scenarios.
The whole point of equipping infantry Marines with 14.5-inch barreled M4s is the make them more maneuverable. Adding another 6 inches to their rifle puts them right back in M16 A4 land, the Marine infantry expert said.
The added weight to the end of the barrel also affects accuracy and manipulation, industry sources say. A suppressor can make a rifle “front heavy,” changing the way a shooter has to mount the rifle and balance it for an accurate shot.
Great care has to be taken in mounting a suppressor to a rifle, the industry expert told us. Marines are probably using suppressors that attach to the rifle using a quick-attach mount so that a trooper can take the suppressor off quickly if needed (the other type of attachment is to just thread it directly to the barrel).
If this attachment isn’t done right and the suppressor is just a tiny bit off from the line of the barrel, it can result in the fired bullet impacting the baffles inside the suppressor, causing it to rupture. This is known as a “baffle strike,” and while it doesn’t usually cause severe injury, it can take a gun out of a fight, the industry source said.
Additionally, on direct (gas) impingement guns like the M4 (but not like the piston-driven M27), the suppressor can force a lot of gas back into the rifle breach.
“A suppressor scenario is going to result in a much filthier gun,” the industry source said. “That could cause more malfunctions if it’s not cleaned immediately.”
Modern suppressors are awesome and make shooting a firearm more controllable, accurate and safe. Most believe outfitting service members with this technology increases their effectiveness on the battlefield. But its important to remember they do come with some drawbacks that take training and practice to avoid.
DARPA wants “gremlins” to fly out of the bellies of C-130s or other large planes, assist jets in bombing missions, and then return to their motherships for the flight home in order to be ready for another mission within 24 hours.
The gremlins are semi-autonomous drones that would hunt targets and find air defenses ahead of an attack by a piloted fighter or bomber. In some cases, the gremlins could even find and identify targets that their motherships would engage with low-cost cruise missiles.
Some of the drones could be configured as electronic warfare platforms, hiding themselves and the other aircraft from enemy air defenses or jamming the enemy radar altogether.
A typical mission would play out like this: A stealth jet would approach unfriendly airspace ahead of the gremlins’ mothership. The drones would launch and proceed ahead of the jet into hostile territory, seeking out enemy air defenses and mission objectives on the ground.
The jet pilots would then use the intelligence from the gremlins to decide how to engage the target, either with weapons on the jet or with cruise missiles from the mission truck that is still flying just outside of the enemy air defenses. Once the bombs or missiles take out the radar, other aircraft can now force their way into the country while the drones fly back into the mothership.
If everything comes together, the gremlins will be part of DARPA’s “System of Systems” project. The idea is a new weapons system that would work with different aircraft as time went on. So, the gremlins could fly from C-130s in support of F-22s and F-35s now, then support new aircraft as they’re added to the U.S. military arsenal.
When you think of goblins, the mythical creatures portrayed in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films might come to mind. Traditionally, the goblin has been a mischievous, sneaky monster. So, in one sense, it’s fitting that this cunning creature found its way into the nickname of the first operational stealth aircraft.
The F-117 Nighthawk was nicknamed the “Wobblin’ Goblin,” mostly due to its handling characteristics — after all, it didn’t look like a conventional plane and it required computer assistance to remain in controlled flight. It might not sound ideal, but those were some of the realities of flying the first operational stealth fighter. Well, more accurately, it was a light bomber that usually carried two GBU-10 laser-guided bombs or four GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
While most planes using laser-guided bombs on high-value targets often faced greater risk, the F-117 was perfectly suited for the task.
The reason? It was extremely hard to detect on radar. It was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to enemy forces on the ground, effectively negating many surface-to-air missiles of the time. With that, the F-117 was able to operate at the best possible altitude and fly the best possible profiles for covertly deploying laser-guided bombs.
F-117s en route to Saudi Arabia.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the F-117 was initially in service in 1983, a “black project” that operated in the Nevada desert for five years until the Air Force officially acknowledged it. The plane made its combat debut in Panama, where the planes achieved their objective. In Desert Storm, they hit many heavily-defended targets, flying 1,200 sorties with no losses. Often, the only warning that a F-117 was attacking was when its target blew up.
A F-117 gets fuel from a KC-10 Extender.
The F-117 also saw combat over the Balkans, where one was shot down, and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the introduction of the F-22 Raptor, the F-117 was eventually retired and taken back to the Nevada desert, where these high-tech Goblins lurk in case they’re needed again.
Learn more about this sneaky plane in the video below!
While the Russian Navy has been a basket case both on the surface and down below since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago, in recent years, we’ve seen an attempted comeback. There are plans to build few ships to fill out the fleet.
However, the budget has been a problem. Russia just simply hasn’t been able to build ships in the same quantity or as quickly as the Soviet Union used to. The Soviet Union built 17 Sovremennyy-class guided-missile destroyers. When production was in full swing, it took about four years from laying down the ship to commissioning. Today, a smaller Steregushchiy-class frigate takes as many as eleven years to build.
So, Russia sought to cut down on its RD time and expenses. After the Cold War, Russia started building some ships for other countries. China, for example, acquired four Sovremenny-class destroyers (two incomplete at the time the Soviet Union fell, two newly-built from Russia). But Russia’s biggest naval customer is India, who got a modified version of the Krivak called the Talwar-class guided-missile frigate. Six of those vessels were built for India, but it didn’t take long for Russia to want a few of their own.
In Russian service, the vessel is called the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate. It is equipped with a single launcher for the SA-N-7 surface-to-air missile, an eight-cell launcher for the SS-N-27 Sizzler surface-to-surface missile, a single 100mm gun, two CADS-N-1 point-defense systems, and two twin-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes. These frigates can also operate a Ka-27 Helix helicopter, giving them additional anti-submarine weaponry.
The production of these vessels, however, has come to a screeching halt. This is because Russia sourced the propulsion plants from Ukraine, which halted deliveries after the Russian takeover of Crimea.
What’s old is new again. So it is with rye whiskey. In the 17-and-1800s, Bourbon’s spicier, dryer sibling was once the pre-eminent whiskey on this continent. But after prohibition, American’s taste for the stuff waned. Thankfully for the whiskey drinkers of today, times have changed. Our golden age of whiskey has turned back the clock and rye is resurgent. Whiskey, drinkers of all stripes cant seem to get enough of the brown stuff and as their pallets are becoming increasingly adventurous, rye’s spice is becoming more and more a called shot. Not only is it great on the rocks but, rye is killer in a summer cocktail. Whether you like your whiskey neat, on the rocks or in a mixed drink, here are five rye whiskeys to try.
1. Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye
New for this year, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye was recently named the best in class at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition. Bottled at 119.6 proof, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye is quite capable of kicking you in the teeth if you’re not careful, but all that undiluted flavor will also waltz beautifully along your tastebuds. It’s a thick, rich mouthful with spicy, peppery notes playing off a deeply satisfying caramel sweetness.
Best Enjoyed: With a couple of cubes.
2. Willet Family Estate Single Barrel Rye
Well-balanced and richly complex, Willet rye never fails to impress. It’s peppery spice is enhanced with deep rich dark fruit flavors. It can be a bit tough to find, so if you come across it a retail, stock up… and give us a shout, so we can replenish our bar.
Best Enjoyed: In a Manhattan. While great on the rocks, the Willet’s thick, cherry richness can elevate an ordinary Manhattan to the level of craft cocktail.
3. Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond
If you’re totally unfamiliar with rye, Rittenhouse is the place to start. Long a bartender favorite, Rittenhouse is not quite a spicy as some but still has tons of flavors to discover, citrus, vanilla and chocolate to name a few.Bottled at 100 proof, Rittenhouse easily stands out in a substantially iced cocktail.
Best Enjoyed: You can sip this one, but where it really shines is in a cocktail like an Old Pal. At under $30, this is a great rye for experimenting.
4. High West Double Rye
For the last several years, High West has been concocting some of the tastiest and most creative blends on the market. But until recently, they weren’t making their own spirit to formulate their creations. Finally the first batch from their new distillery is ready and High West has incorporated it into the latest release of their Double Rye. It’s a spice-forward whiskey with notes of honey, mint a cinnamon.
Best Enjoyed: We love the Double Rye in cocktails. It makes a great Old Fashioned but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous and up for pounding a few ice into pellets, try it in a rye mint julep.
5. Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye
Made from a mash of 100% rye, Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye is big, bold and intense. A glass of this rye is so chalked full of flavor, you can get lost in it’s amber waves and before your know it you’re three drinks deep. It’s a pricey indulgence, but it’s one of the best bottles you’re likely to try, if you can find it.
Best Enjoyed: Sip it… Slowly.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Helmets worn by troops in the U.S. military are getting lighter and stronger every year. Since the 1980s when the Pentagon ditched the old steel pot designs in favor of hardened Kevlar laminate lids, service members have been getting a major boost to the protection of their noggin’.
In the last few years, armor makers have been working with new materials that are even lighter and stronger and can be shaped in a variety of ways to fit certain missions. The technology has evolved enough that now the Army is set to field an entirely new head protection system that’s a lot more than just a helmet.
Dubbed the Integrated Head Protection System, the new helmet has a variety of components that can be tailored for different operations. Whether you’re a door-kicker or a tank driver, the new IHPS has armor that can keep the frags at bay.
“It’s about giving commanders on the battlefield the ability to use the modularity capability of the equipment to fit their particular mission profile or protective posture level,” said Lt. Col. Kathy Brown, the product manager for Personal Protective Equipment at PEO Soldier, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
From face-protecting “mandibles” to integrated radio headset attachments to NVG bases, the IHPS is way higher tech than the K-pots of old.
The helmet system even has additional “applique” armor for when the sht really hits the fan.
Recently the Army has been testing the IHPS in a variety of operations, including infantry maneuver and airborne drops.
The new IHPS is due to be deployed with Army troops starting in 2018.
When the Department of Defense first started buying AR-15s, they were clean, fast-firing, and accurate weapons popular with the airmen and Special Forces soldiers who carried them. But as the Army prepared to purchase them en masse, a hatred of the weapon by bureaucrats and red tape resulted in weapon changes that made the M16s less effective for thousands of troops in Vietnam.
During a lull in the fighting in the Citadel, a Marine takes time out to clean his M16 rifle.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
(A note on measurements in this article: Most of the historical data in this article came from when the Army still used inches when discussing weapon calibers. The most common measurements are .22-caliber, roughly equal to 5.56mm ammo used in M4s today and .30-caliber, which is basically 7.62mm, like that used by some U.S. sniper rifles. There is also a reference to a proposed .27-caliber, which would have been 6.86mm).
The AR-15 was a derivative of the AR-10, an infantry rifle designed by Eugene Stoner for an Army competition. The AR-10 lost to what would become the M14. But a top Army officer was interested in smaller caliber weapons, like the AR-10, and he met with Stoner.
Gen. Willard G. Wyman was commanding the Continental Army Command when he brought an old Army report to Stoner. The report from the 1928 Caliber Board had recommended that the Army switch from heavy rifle rounds, like the popular .30-cal, to something like .27-caliber. The pre-World War II Army even experimented with .276-caliber rifles, but troops carried Browning Automatic Rifles and M1 Garands into battle in 1941, both chambered for .30-caliber.
These heavier rounds are great for marksmen and long-distance engagements because they stay stable in flight for long distances, but they have a lethality problem. Rounds that are .30-caliber and larger remain stable through flight, but they often also remain stable when hitting water, which was often used as a stand-in during testing for human flesh.
If a round stays stable through human flesh, it has a decent chance of passing through the target. This gives the target a wound similar to being stabbed with a rapier. But if the round tumbles when it hits human flesh, it will impart its energy into the surrounding flesh, making a stab-like wound in addition to bursting cells and tissue for many inches (or even feet) in all directions.
That’s where the extreme internal bleeding and tissue damage from some gunshot wounds comes from. Wyman wanted Stoner to make a new version of the AR-10 that would use .22-caliber ammunition and maximize these effects. Ammunition of this size would also weigh less, allowing troops to carry more.
Stoner and his team got to work and developed the AR-15, redesigning the weapon around a commercially available .22-caliber round filled with a propellant known as IMR 4475 produced by Du Pont and used by Remington. The resulting early AR-15s were tested by the Army and reviewed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The weapons did great in testing, and both services purchased limited quantities for troops headed to Vietnam.
Pvt. 1st Class Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA.) fires is M16 rifle into a suspected Viet Cong occupied area.
(U.S. Army Spec. 5 Robert C. Lafoon)
Approximately 104,000 rifles were shipped to Vietnam for use with the Air Force, airborne, and Special Forces units starting in 1963. They were so popular that infantrymen arriving in 1965 with other weapons began sending money home to get AR-15s for themselves. The Secretary of the Army forced the Army to take another look at it for worldwide deployment.
As the Army reviewed the weapon for general use once again, they demanded that the rifle be “militarized,” creating the M16. And the resulting rifle was held to performance metrics deliberately designed to benefit the M14 over the M16/AR-15.
These performance metrics demanded, among other things, that the rifle maintain the same level of high performance in all environments it may be used in, from Vietnam to the Arctic to the Sahara Desert; that it stay below certain chamber pressures; and that it maintain a consistent muzzle velocity of 3,250 fps.
A soldier with an M-14 watches as supplies are airdropped into Vietnam.
(Department of Defense)
It was these last two requirements that made Stoner’s original design suddenly problematic. The weapon, as designed, achieved 3,150 fps. To hit 3,250 fps required an increase in the amount of propellant, but increasing the propellant made the weapon exceed its allowed chamber pressures. Exceeding the pressure created serious, including mechanical failure.
But Remington had told civilian customers that the IMR 4475-equipped ammo did fire at 3,250 fps as is. The Army tests proved that was a lie.
There was a way around the problem: Changing the propellant. IMR 4475 burned extremely quickly. While all rifles require an explosion to propel the round out of the chamber, not all powders create that explosion at the same rate. Other propellants burned less quickly, allowing them to release enough energy for 3,250 fps over a longer time, staying below the required pressure limits and preventing mechanical failure.
The other change, seemingly never considered by the M14 lovers, was simply lowering the required muzzle velocity. After all, troops in Vietnam loved their 3,150-fps-capable AR-15s.
A first lieutenant stands with his M-16 in Vietnam.
The new powders increased the cyclic rate of the weapon from 750 rounds per minute to about 1,000 while also increasing the span of time during each cycle where powder was burning. So, unlike with IMR 4475, the weapon’s gas port would open while the powder was still burning, allowing dirty, still-burning powder to enter the weapon’s gas tube.
This change, combined with an increase in the number of barrel twists from 12 to 14 and the addition of mechanical bolt closure devices, angered the Air Force. But the Army was in charge of the program by that point, and all new M16s would be manufactured to Army specifications and would use ball powder ammunition.
Pvt. 1st Class John Henson cleans his XM16E1 rifle while on an operation 30 miles west of Kontum, Vietnam.
Rifle jams and failures skyrocketed, tripling in some tests. And rumors that M16s didn’t need to be cleaned, based on AR-15s firing cleaner propellants, created a catastrophe for infantrymen whose rifles jammed under fire, sometimes resulting in their deaths.