You may think that the last Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon will be flying its last in 2048. That is, of course, what the Air Force is saying, but you’d be very, very wrong to believe it. The last Air Force F-16 will be flying for decades after its supposed retirement.
Don’t just take my word for it: Look at what happened with the F-4 Phantom. The real last flight of the F-4 for the United States Air Force was in 2016, not the mid-1990s when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were sent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base to be laid to rest in the boneyard. Instead, those F-4s were converted into QF-4 Phantom target drones.
Over 5,200 QF-4 Phantoms were built and gave the United States over two decades of service as target drones. With so many F-16s built, it was a natural fit to transition these ‘retiring’ airframes from front-line combat to serving as target drones. These unmanned aircraft help keep pilots current and provide a way to test the performance of air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
So, how can we be so sure the same fate awaits the Fighting Falcons? Well, it’s already happening. The QF-16 first flew in 2013, an unmanned craft created by converting an A-model Falcon. The plan calls for at least 200 of these drones to be created through modifications by Boeing. Like the F-4s, the QF-16s will still be able to be flown by pilots. They will have weapons and radars removed, though. They will also be rigged with a self-destruct system, in case they go wild.
Moments before a QF-16 fulfills its purpose — in the sights of another plane. (Boeing photo)
Other planes that have served as target drones include the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 Delta Dagger, QF-104 Starfighter, and QF-106 Delta Dart. The QF-4 Phantom was the most recent full-scale aerial target.
Learn more about how the F-16 will fly for decades after its so-called ‘retirement’ in the video below.
Remember that scene in Top Gun when Maverick tells Goose that he’ll “hit the brakes” and the instructor pursuing him in an A-4 Skyhawk will just fly right by? Braking sharply, while in-flight, is indeed a tactic that can be utilized by fighter pilots in air-to-air combat, but no aircraft could ever do it quite as well as the venerable Harrier jumpjet. The technique was known as “VIFF”.
The Harrier, originally developed by Hawker Siddeley, and later, British Aerospace Systems (BAe), could achieve vertical flight by vectoring four large nozzles straight down towards the ground. The nozzles would vent exhaust at full thrust from the Harrier’s powerful main Pegasus engine, allowing the aircraft to hover, lift off the ground and land like a helicopter.
This carved out a brand new niche for the Harrier that wasn’t really challenged at all until the recent F-35B Lightning II: it could literally fly and land anywhere and everywhere. The Harrier could be launched from highways and unimproved fields and grass strips, or could be deployed to sea aboard small aircraft carriers, or even re-purposed cargo vessels.
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, which operated the navalized version of the jumpjet – the Sea Harrier – was enthusiastic about using the aircraft on deployments aboard light aircraft carriers, especially the HMS Invincible (R05). The problem with the Harrier/Sea Harrier was the fact that the aircraft was almost entirely geared towards the strike mission (i.e. flying air-to-ground attacks) while the air-to-air role was more of an afterthought that wasn’t really accounted for. The Royal Air Force’s land-based Harrier, the GR.3, would typically require a flight of more capable air superiority fighters to fly top cover, or to clear the airspace ahead of them, lest they be engaged and taken out of the fight. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, took a different approach.
The Sea Harrier, more commonly known as the “Shar”, was revamped to allow for it to assume both the ground attack, reconnaissance and fighter roles, giving the air wings assigned to the Invincible (and later, the HMS Hermes) a more diverse spread of available capabilities while in-theater (i.e. in the area of operation). The Shar could fly with AIM-9 Sidewiders short-range air-to-air missiles on under-wing pylons, and was equipped with ADEN 30mm cannons to be used for strafing land-based targets or attacking enemy fighters in the air. The Fleet Air Arm’s pilots needed to first develop the tactics required to help the Shar’s future pilots fight and win against enemy fighters that were likely more suited towards aerial combat than the high-wing strike jumpjet.
On the other side of the pond, the United States Marine Corps was busy beefing up its air-to-ground capabilities with the AV-8A Harrier. This new strike jet would give them a versatile fast attack option that could potentially be deployed really anywhere around the world, especially aboard aircraft carriers which would serve as forward-operating staging platforms. In 1976, Marines began taking the Harrier to sea, first aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Midway-class aircraft carrier. On the FDR, the Marine contingent would test out the Harrier’s ability to operate in adverse weather conditions, as well as pit it in air-to-air mock dogfights against the ship’s complement of F-4 Phantom IIs. Marine pilots quickly came to the conclusion that in a close-in fight, they could actually use the aircraft’s thrust vectoring to their advantage.
The Marine Corps put in a request with Rolls Royce, the designer and builder of the Harrier’s Pegasus engine, as to whether or not this technique would put unnecessary and unwanted stresses on the engine, or if it would outright spoil the engine’s functionality. They still carried on with testing before Rolls Royce got back to them with the “all-clear”! Thrust vectoring while in flight could prove to be the key maneuver they needed for closer air-to-air combat. Ultimately, what resulted was known as Vectoring in Forward Flight (VIFF for short).
VIFF basically involved pilots rotating the nozzles forward from the usual in-flight horizontal position. In doing so, pilots could quickly deplete their airspeed and bleed energy, causing their surprised pursuer(s) to overshoot, suddenly finding their windscreen devoid of any prey they might have previously been chasing. After dropping altitude as a result of VIFFing, the Harrier would now be free to turn the tables on the predator, making the hunter the hunted. In a turning fight, this was an immense advantage for the Harrier’s pilot. But as soon as the pilot VIFFed his opponent, he had to have had a plan for dealing with the bandit, or else he would be in for a world of hurt; that wasn’t a trick any combat pilot would fall for twice.
Among VIFF’s disadvantages was the fact that it could only really be used effectively in turning fights. If the pursuing aircraft was flying with a wingman, or as part of a larger attack flight, the odds would be stacked fairly high against the Harrier. Additionally, after VIFFing, any other enemy fighters that weren’t engaged in the melee between the Harrier and the first jet were placed in a prime position to take a shot at the jumpjet, which took time to rebuild energy from the very-taxing VIFF maneuver (i.e. regain airspeed).
During the Falklands War, in the early 1980s, British Harrier pilots might have attempted putting VIFFing to use against Argentinian Mirage fighters, which were decidedly more suited towards the air-to-air role than the Harrier. In fact, no conclusive evidence exists to prove that VIFFing was indeed the deciding factor in any engagement involving the Harrier. However, even with the Mirage being built for air combat, it still proved to be ineffective against the superior training of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots and technology (i.e. the AIM-9L Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile), who did not lose a single Harrier or Sea Harrier in air-to-air combat during the entire conflict, while inflicting losses on the Argentinian air force. RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots were able to employ the tactics they developed like never before, proving that a Harrier, in the right hands, is truly a deadly and highly capable machine.
Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin was promoting what they call the “DDG DE Laser Enhancement” at the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C. In essence, it would add at least two lasers to the five-inch gun, Mk 41 vertical-launch-systems (one with 32 cells, the other with 64 cells), a Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system, and 324mm torpedo tubes. In addition to the Standard and Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, the Mk 41 vertical-launch systems can also carry RUM-139 ASROC launchers and BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Lockheed has been testing laser weapon systems for a while. Last month, WATM reported on a test of the ATHENA laser, in which five MQM-170C Outlaw drones were shot down by the 30-kilowatt system. The test was conducted in conjunction with Army Space and Missile Defense Command. ATHENA was described as “ground mobile” in a Lockheed release about the tests.
The deployment of lasers could improve capabilities against enemy unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles, and even aircraft. The need for counter-drone weapons became very acute when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria deployed UAVs against Coalition forces.
It’s often said that if you want to know what equipment your car will have in 10 to 20 years, just look at the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; and it’s true. Every car today has a pretensioner seatbelt that preemptively tightens to prevent you from jerking forward in the event of a crash. The S-Class was the first car to include this feature in 1981. Today, many cars have active safety systems that use radar and cameras to detect if you’re about to have a collision and apply the brakes to bring you to a stop. While adaptive cruise control was first introduced by Mitusbishi, Mercedes introduced the first system that could bring the car to a complete halt on the S-Class back in 2005. The same principle applies to the military too. If you want to know what the regular line soldier will be equipped with in a few decades, look no further than special forces. Here are a few pieces of gear that have trickled their way down from tier one.
1. Rifle Optics
In modern infantry units, just about every soldier gets some sort of optic on their rifle. Whether it’s a magnified ACOG or red dot CCO, having some sort of optic is a huge help when you’re on the shooting range (both one-way and two-way). The Army has even adopted a new variable-power rifle optic to equip all of its line soldiers across the force. However, before optics were commonplace in infantry units, they were first seen in special forces. One of the first red dots fielded by special forces was the Aimpoint 2000. “This was a game changer to me,” said former Delta operator Larry Vickers. “I went through OTC with iron sights…went to A Squadron, saw guys using red dot, I tried it, and at that point I realized the advantage that something like an Aimpoint red dot sight brings to the table…The way that red dot rights are used today kinda started back in the Delta Force late 1980s era with the Aimpoint 2000.”
Yes, they’re called silencers. Hiram Percy Maxim received the patent for his design in 1909 and marketed them as “Maxim Silencers”. The DoJ and ATF also use the term silencer. However, silencers are a bit of a misnomer. Depending on variables like caliber, bullet weight, powder, and barrel length, a silencer generally suppresses the sound of a gunshot. Very few firearms can actually be silenced to Hollywood levels of quiet. Still, the devices are effective at masking or modifying the noise created by a gunshot. Special forces units have used silencers since at least WWII with specialized weapons like the Welrod. In 1993, the Special Operations Peculiar Modification kit was introduced. The SOPMOD accessory system allowed special forces operators to adapt their weapons to different missions with attachments like optics, lights, and a silencer. At the end of 2020, the Marine Corps announced that it had begun widespread fielding of suppressors. The Corps’ goal is to field 30,000 suppressors by FY2023. The Army is also considering widespread use of suppressors with its Next Generation Squad Weapon program.
Well, ATVs and four-wheelers anyway. A specialized dune buggy called the Desert Patrol Vehicle was used extensively by special forces during Operation Desert Storm. In fact, the first U.S. forces to enter Kuwait City were Navy SEALs in DPVs. During the early years of the War on Terror, light utility vehicles were purchased off-the-shelf and employed by special forces. They proved invaluable for navigating the mountainous terrain and rough trails of Afghanistan. Motorcycles, quad bikes, and four-wheelers all helped tier one operators hunt down and destroy Taliban fighters throughout Operation Enduring Freedom. Seeing the potential of off-the-shelf vehicles like these, the Army adopted Polaris vehicles like the MRZR Diesel and the Sportsman MV850. These vehicles are often employed by light infantry units as scouts to quickly transit rough terrain. Their small size means that they can also be driven into a CH-47 Chinook and airlifted onto the battlefield.
While pistols are not new to line units, they are less common. The Beretta M9 was generally issued to officers and senior non-comissioned officers, but not to leaders at the squad and fireteam levels. On the special forces side, all members are dual-armed with both a rifle or their assigned weapon and a pistol. However, with the adoption of the Sig Sauer M17/M18 pistol, the Army plans to issue sidearms down to squad and fireteam leaders. This new policy gives junior leaders in regular line units more options in close quarter battle situations. Moving in this direction, it’s likely that all line soldiers will eventually be dual-armed just like special forces.
It’s no secret that the United States military is working tirelessly to develop new hypersonic weapon systems to close the gap presented by Chinese and Russian platforms that have recently entered into service. Hypersonic weapons, for those unfamiliar, are missile platforms that are capable of maintaining extremely high speeds (in excess of Mach 5). That kind of speed means these weapons impact their targets with a huge amount of kinetic force, and perhaps most important of all, there are currently no existing missile defense systems that can stop a hypersonic projectile.
Sources inside China and Russia have both indicated that these nations already have hypersonic weapons in service, which means the United States is lagging behind the competition in this rapidly expanding field, despite testing hypersonic platforms as far back as the early 2000s. In order to close that gap, the Pentagon has acknowledged at least six different hypersonic programs currently in development, including the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike weapon, the U.S. Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), and the U.S. Air Force’s AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW, pronounced “arrow”).
However, it’s now clear that Uncle Sam isn’t acknowledging all of the hypersonic programs currently under development, thanks to an unintentional gaff made by U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the recent Association of the U.S. Army convention. In a photo that was uploaded to McCarthy’s own Flickr account (it’s still there), a document can be seen on a table in front of him titled, “Vintage Racer – Loitering Weapon System (LWS) Overview.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dana Clarke)
McCarthy likely didn’t anticipate that anyone would be able to make out what was written on the sheet of paper in front of him, and to his credit, most probably couldn’t. Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble, however, isn’t most people–and he not only managed to make out a fair portion of what the sheet says, but also has the technical knowledge behind him to make a few assertions about just what “Vintage Racer” may really be.
“The Vintage Racer concept, as revealed so far, suggests it may be possible to launch a hypersonic projectile into a general area without knowing the specific location of the target,” Trimble wrote in his analysis you can find in full here. “As it reaches the target area, the projectile may be able to dispense a loitering air system, which is then uses its own sensors to find and identify the target.”
If Trimble’s assertions are right (and they do appear to be based on the document), then “Vintage Racer” could potentially be the most advanced and capable hypersonic weapon anywhere in the world. Most hypersonic weapons currently employ one of two methodologies: they either follow a long arc flight path similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles, gaining extreme speed with a reentry glide vehicle that has to literally re-enter the atmosphere, or they utilize a combination of traditional and scramjet propulsion systems to achieve similar speeds along a linear flight path.
A DARPA diagram of a hypersonic glide vehicle reentering the atmosphere to engage a target. (DARPA)
In either case, the hypersonic body is, in itself, the weapon: using a combination of warhead and the sheer force of transferred kinetic energy at such high speeds to destroy a target.
“Vintage Racer” on the other hand seems to leverage high speed propulsion to reach hypersonic velocities, but then rather than using all of the energy amassed from moving at that speed, the weapon would instead deploy a “loitering” system that could identify targets in the area and engage them independently with ordnance.
In effect, instead of thinking of “Vintage Racer” as a missile, it might be more apt to think of it as a hypersonic drone not all that unlike the SR-72 program we’ve written about on Sandboxx News before. The platform would enter contested airspace at speeds too high for intercept, deploy its loitering weapon system, and engage one or multiple targets that are identified once the weapon is already in the area. This capability is especially important when it comes to defending against long range ballistic missile launches like nuclear ICBMs employed by a number of America’s opponents, including Russia, China, and North Korea. These missiles are often launched via mobile platforms that move regularly in order to make it difficult to know where or when a nuclear missile launch may come from.
By the time a mobile launcher is identified by satellite or other forms of reconnaissance, there may not be enough time to deploy fighters, bombers, or other weapons to that site in order to stop a missile launch. However, a platform like “Vintage Racer” could feasible cruise into the general area of a launcher at speeds that most air defenses couldn’t stop. From there, it could deploy its loitering asset to locate and identify mobile missile launchers in the area–and then destroy those launchers with its included ordnance.
To further substantiate that possibility, Trimble points to a Russian defense technology expert who recently warned of just such an American platform.
“The fear is that [this] hypersonic ‘something’ might reach the patrol area of road-mobile ICBM launchers [after] penetrating any possible air and missile defense, and then dispense loitering submunitions that will find launchers in the forests,” said Dmitry Stefanovitch, an expert at the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council.
This weapon system was also briefly mentioned in Defense Department budget documents released this past February, but aside from calling the effort a success, few other details were included.
Theoretically, a platform like “Vintage Racer” could be used in a number of military operations other than preventing nuclear missile launches. By combining the extreme speed of a hypersonic missile with the loitering and air strike capabilities currently found in armed drones or UAVs, this new weapon could shift the tides of many a battle in America’s favor; from Iranian armed boat swarms, to Russian mobile missile launchers, and even as a form of rapid-delivery close-air-support for Special Operations troops. The potential implications of what may effectively be a Mach 5-capable unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) are far reaching.
In warfare, speed often dictates the outcome of an engagement–and “Vintage Racer” sounds like it has that in spades.
Whenever it comes time for troops to head out to the field, their leaders should always issue a mandated packing list. These lists cover the necessities, like three sets of uniforms, sleeping gear, personal hygiene kits, an e-tool, and a poncho. Occasionally, it includes weather gear, despite the fact that it’s the off-season (think winter thermals in July), or a gas mask so the lieutenant can say they did “familiarization training.” But what you really need is useful gear. We’ve got the list for you.
Most younger troops will just follow that list to a T — exactly what the packing list requires and not a single ounce more. So, you want to earn the bragging rights of “enduring the field like a grunt?” If so, snivel gear and junk food are nice — but not useful.
These items, however, aren’t on the list, and you’re going to get laughed at for not having them.
1. Extra under-layer clothing
Three days in the field? One pair of socks per day sounds logical — and then you step in a puddle and have to wear tomorrow’s socks. Suddenly, you’re out of socks for the last day.
If the list says bring three, bring five. If it says bring ten, bring fifteen.
2. Sewing kit
If you split open the crotch on your uniform, you’ll need to toss them — unless you have a sewing kit and know how to use it.
Rips don’t even need to be fixed perfectly — just enough to get you through the field.
3. Some way to mark your stuff
One downside of issuing a standard uniform to an entire unit is that, if you lose track of your green duffle bag, you’ll need to open each one to find yours. When you’re hiking through the backwoods of your installation, remembering which bag in a sea of green duffle bags is yours is non-trivial.
Make it easier for yourself and mark your stuff. You don’t need to make it fancy or elaborate. Many units spray paint the bottoms of their bags with troop’s information on it. Even a simple piece of cloth tied to a handle will make your stuff stand out.
4. Your own toilet paper
There’s an old joke in the Army about military-issued toilet paper. We call it, “Sergeant Major’s toilet paper.” It’s rough as hell and takes sh*t from no man.
If you’re in the forests of Fort Benning, fine — pretend like you’re a badass and use some leaves. If you’re in the deserts of Fort Irwin, well — you’ll need it.
5. A watch
It might seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll still need to be able to tell time in the field. Super useful gear. Unless you’re in a super POG unit that has power outlets available in-tent, your cell phone won’t have enough charge to constantly tell you the time.
Grab a cheapo watch before you head out — nothing fancy, nothing special and preferably with a cloth wristband.
6. Waterproofing bags
It doesn’t matter what time of the year you go to Fort Irwin’s NTC. Whenever you get there, it’ll pour the entirety of its five inches of yearly average rain the moment you arrive.
Grab a few plastic storage bags for socks and toilet paper and maybe a trash bag to cover your uniforms. If you need it, awesome. If it doesn’t rain, it’s not like the weight of a trash bag and knowing you have useful gear is going to burden you.
*Bonus* If you smoke, extra cigarettes
If you are a smoker, you should know how many you go through in an average day. Multiply that by how many days you’ll be in the field — then double it.
Don’t be that guy who bugs the same person for a cigarette time and time again. You only get like two or three tops before you owe that dude another pack when you’re out of the field. If you’re the only one to remember this rule, everyone will owe you big time.
Let’s face it. Enemy troops behind cover can be a real pain. In fact, someone was gonna have to root them out. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, thanks to new ammunition coming from Nammo.
According to a report by Soldier Systems, this programmable ammo is available for a variety of weapon systems, including 40mm grenades from rifle-mounted grenade launchers or automatic grenade launchers like the Mk 19, the 66mm rockets used in the M72 Light Antitank Weapon, the 120mm guns used on the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, and the 30mm chain gun used on some U.S. Navy ships and the M1296 Dragoon infantry fighting vehicle.
However, Nammo has also reported that the programmable ammo may also be able to deal with enemy drones. This is a huge development, given that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria made use of drones as a means to deliver improvised explosive devices. As a result, friendly troops could be that much safer (if not completely safe) on the battlefield.
Nammo is displaying some of the programmable ammo at the Defence and Security Equipment International show in London this week. In a release, Nammo claimed that its 40mm grenade has been combat proven. Nammo also stated that the use of programmable ammunition against drones would reduce collateral damage or damage from stray rounds.
Programmable ammo was used as part of the XM25 Punisher weapon system, a semi-automatic 25mm grenade launcher which proved itself in Afghanistan before being placed on hold. ModernFirearms.net notes that the XM25 had a range of up to 700 meters against area targets, and had a six-shot magazine.
A team of Delta Force operators provide close protection to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Shield, 1990. (Wikimedia Commons).
The idea of wearing two watches today seems like an unnecessary bit of showing off. In fact, with the prominence of smartphones and smartwatches, the idea of wearing a traditional time-keeping device on your wrist sounds entirely antiquated. For General “Stormin’ Norman” Scharzkopf, however, the 1991 Gulf War necessitated the wearing of two wristwatches.
“I always wore two watches during the [Gulf] war. The one on my left arm was set on Saudi Arabian time and the Seiko on my right arm was set on Eastern Standard Time. That way I could quickly glance at my watches and instantly know the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C. Sincerely, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, General, U.S. Army, Retired.” General Schwarzkopf penned these words in a letter to the Antiquorum auction house in the late 1990s when he donated one of his personal wristwatches to a charity auction.
Listed as “Seiko ‘Desert Storm, Diver’s watch,’ No. 469576 Stainless steel, centre second, water-resistant to 150m. gentleman’s quartz wristwatch with day and date, rubber strap and stainless steel buckle”, the donated watch was most likely a Seiko Quartz reference 7549-700F. While the watch is commonly believed to be the venerable Seiko SKX009 made famous by Robert Redford in All is Lost, the detail of the quartz movement rules out the SKX and its iconic automatic movement.
General Schwarzkopf’s second wristwatch is a bit more of a mystery. Though his letter to the auction house described the watch on his right wrist as a Seiko, the General is pictured wearing both watches on opposite wrists at different times. This makes it unclear if the Seiko in the letter refers to the dive watch sold at auction or this mystery second watch.
At first glance, the two-tone gold and stainless steel construction gives the impression of a Rolex Datejust which was extremely popular during that time. However, upon closer inspection, the bracelet appears to be a 3-piece link design like the Rolex President rather than the 5-piece design of the Datejust’s Jubilee bracelet. The links are also too small to be a Rolex Oyster bracelet. However, the Rolex President has only ever been made in solid gold or platinum. Being that the General’s watch sports a two-tone bracelet and case, this rules out the Rolex President. Instead, it’s more likely that the watch in question is another Seiko like the model 3E23-0A60. Although it’s billed as a ladies watch, the Seiko fits the bill of having a two-tone gold and stainless steel construction and a matching President-style bracelet.
While it’s not terribly popular across society as a whole, the act of wearing a wristwatch on both wrists has become a practice known as “Schwarzkopfing” by the internet watch community. That said, even amongst watch enthusiasts, the “Schwarzkopf” is not a common sight.
It is also worth noting that Fidel Castro employed a similar practice. The Cuban dictator famously wore two Rolexes on the same wrist. Like with General Schwarzkopf, the practice is attributed to Castro’s need to track multiple time zones. However, one of Castro’s watches was a Rolex GMT-Master which is famous for being able to track up to three time zones. Perhaps the dictator needed to keep track of the time in Cuba, Nicaragua, Moscow and Angola. It’s also worth noting that, at the time, Rolex was a utilitarian brand that made reliable tool watches rather than the luxury status symbol that it is today.
In a way, General Schwarzkopf’s practice of wearing two watches has returned to the military. Front line troops will often wear a G-Shock watch on one wrist to keep time and a Garmin GPS watch on the other to track their grid. Very few service members will reach the rank of four-star General, but if you ever want to imitate one, pull a Schwarzkopf and throw on two watches. Just be sure to put them on different wrists. No one wants to imitate Castro.
Since 1969 the C-5 Galaxy has dwarfed all other airframes in the Air Force inventory. The C-5 Galaxy has provided the U.S. Air Force with heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability capable of carrying oversized loads and all air-certifiable cargo, including the M-1 Abrams Tank.
Development and design
During the Vietnam War, the USAF saw the necessity of moving large amounts of troops and equipment overseas quickly. Lockheed was able to meet the ambitious design requirements of a maximum takeoff weight twice that of the USAF current airlifter, the C-141 Starlifter.
“We started to build the C-5 and wanted to build the biggest thing we could… Quite frankly, the C-5 program was a great contribution to commercial aviation. We’ll never get credit for it, but we incentivized that industry by developing [the TF39] engine,” said Gen. Duane H. Cassidy, former Military Airlift Command commander in chief.
The C-5 is a high-wing cargo aircraft with a 65-foot tall T-tail vertical stabilizer. Above the plane-length cargo deck is an upper deck for flight operations and seating for 75 passengers. With a rear cargo door and a nose that swings up loadmasters can drive through the entire aircraft when loading and offloading cargo. The landing gear system is capable of lowering, allowing the aircraft to kneel, making it easier to load tall cargo.
The C-5A Galaxy undergoing flight testing in the late 1960s.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The rear main landing gear can be made to caster enabling a smaller turning radius, and rotates 90 degrees after takeoff before being retracted.
The C-5 Galaxy is capable of airlifting almost every type of military equipment including the Army’s armored vehicle launched bridge or six Apache helicopters.
In the early 2000s, the Air Force began a modernization program on the C-5 upgrading the avionics with flat panel displays, improving the navigation and safety equipment and installing a new auto-pilot system. In 2006, the C-5 was refitted with GE CF6 Engines, pylons and auxiliary power units. The aircraft skin, frame, landing gear, cockpit and pressurization systems were also upgraded. Each CF6 engine produces 22 percent more thrust, reducing the C-5’s take off length, increasing its climb rate, cargo load and range. The new upgraded C-5s are designated as the C-5M Super Galaxy.
A 433rd Airlift Wing C-5 Galaxy begins to turn over the runway before landing Nov. 14 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.. The reserve aircrew of the “heavy” aircraft brought Army 7th Special Forces Group personnel and equipment to the base for delivery.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
In the past four decades, the C-5 has supported military operations in all major conflicts, including Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. It has also supported our allies, such as Israel, during the Yom Kippur War and operations in the Gulf War, and the War on Terror. The Galaxy has also been used to distribute humanitarian aid and supported the U.S. Space shuttle program.
On Oct. 24, 1974, the Space and Missile Systems Organization successfully conducted an Air Mobile Feasibility Test where a C-5 air dropped a Minuteman ICBM 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The missile descended to 8,000 feet before its rocket engine fired. The test proved the possibility of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from the air.
The C-5 was used during the development of the stealth fighter, the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, as Galaxies carried partly disassembled aircraft, leaving no exterior signs as to their cargo and keeping the program secret.
An air-to-air right side view of a 22nd Military Airlift Squadron C-5A Galaxy aircraft returning to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., after being painted in the European camouflage pattern at the San Antonio Air Logistics Center, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Bill Thompson)
Did you know?
The cargo hold of the C-5 is one foot longer than the entire length of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
On Sept. 13, 2009, a C-5M set 41 new records and flight data was submitted to the National Aeronautic Association for formal recognition. The C-5M had carried a payload of 176,610 lbs. to over 41,100 feet in 23 minutes, 59 seconds. Additionally, the world record for greatest payload to 6,562 feet (2,000m) was broken.
A load team from the 352nd Maintenance Squadron, along with the crew of a C-5 Galaxy from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., loads a 21st Special Operations Squadron MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter to be transported to the ‘Boneyard,’ or the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Ariz., Oct. 5, 2007.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Tracy L. Demarco)
Primary Function: Outsize cargo transport
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin-Georgia Co.
Power Plant: Four F-138-GE100 General Electric engines
Thrust: 51,250 pounds per engine
Wingspan: 222 feet 9 inches (67.89 meters)
Length: 247 feet 10 inches (75.3 meters)
Height: 65 feet 1 inch (19.84 meters)
The C-5 Galaxy has been the largest aircraft in the Air Force inventory since 1969.
(Graphic by Travis Burcham)
Height: 13 feet 6 inches (4.11 meters)
Width: 19 feet (5.79 meters)
Length: 143 feet, 9 inches (43.8 meters)
Pallet Positions: 36
Maximum Cargo: 281,001 pounds (127,460 Kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 840,000 pounds (381,024 kilograms)
Speed: 518 mph
Unrefueled Range of C-5M: Approximately 5,524 statute miles (4,800 nautical miles) with 120,000 pounds of cargo; approximately 7,000 nautical miles with no cargo on board.
Crew: Pilot, co-pilot, two flight engineers and three loadmasters
Capt. Grant Bearden (left) and Lt. Col. Timothy Welter, both pilots with the 709th Airlift Squadron, go over their pre-flight checklist in the C-5M Super Galaxy March 28, 2016, at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Reservists from Dover Air Force Base, Del., in the 512th Airlift Wing, conducted an off-station training event to satisfy most deployment requirements in one large exercise.
(U.S. Air Force photo by apt. Bernie Kale)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
China’s most advanced stealth fighter is ready for aerial refueling operations, giving it the ability to pursue targets at greater distances, according to Chinese state media.
The “fifth-generation” Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter entered military service in 2017 and was incorporated into Chinese combat units in February 2018. This aircraft, the pride of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, put on quite a show at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, where it showed off its payload of missiles for the first time publicly while rocking a new paint job.
China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster, revealed recently that the aircraft has been equipped with a retractable refueling probe, which is embedded on the right side of the cockpit. The refueling probe was embedded to help the fighter maintain stealth, something with which the J-20 has struggled. A consistently-exposed probe extending from the fuselage would make the J-20 much more visible to enemy radar systems.
Four of the six onboard missiles are stored internally in a missile bay, a design feature intended to make the J-20 more stealthy, Chinese military experts told China’s Global Times.
The two Chengdu J-20s making their first public appearance.
Although the exact range of the Chinese stealth fighter, nicknamed the “Powerful Dragon,” is unknown, the aircraft has a suspected combat radius of roughly 1,100 kilometers, making it suitable for long-range strikes and intercepts. With aerial refueling capabilities, the J-20 can extend its reach, giving China the ability to better patrol the disputed waterways where it desires to exercise authority.
The J-20 could be refueled by a Chinese HU-6 aerial tanker.
The J-20’s chief designer says the world has yet to see the best that the aircraft has to offer, stressing that certain capabilities were unable to be presented at the recent airshow.
Chinese experts argue that the J-20 as a combat platform superior to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, two elite fighters which have both been tested in combat. The J-20 has only taken part in combat training exercises. Furthermore, while the J-20 was expected to receive a new engine, the technology remains unreliable, the South China Morning Post recently reported.
The J-20 continues to rely on either Russian imports or inferior Chinese engines, which have, according to some observers, prevented China from achieving the kind of all-aspect stealth of which a true fifth-generation fighter should be capable. The J-20 has decent front-end stealth, but it is noticeably less stealthy at different angles.
The J-20 was rushed into production, but as China works some of the kinks out, it could potentially lead to the development of a much more lethal and effective aircraft.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The FN 5.7x28mm cartridge is a bit of an oddity. Developed from the ground up by FN Herstal of Belgium, the round was designed for use in handguns and personal defense weapons. It is a small-caliber bottlenecked cartridge that bridges the gap between round-nosed pistol cartridges like the NATO 9x19mm Parabellum used in the M9 and intermediate rifle cartridges the NATO 5.56x45mm used in the M4. In February 2021, the 5.7x28mm caliber was recognized and standardized as a NATO caliber.
In the late 1980s, body armor was becoming more sophisticated and common. Technological advances in ceramics and synthetic fibers made personal armor more lightweight and concealable. In order to defeat modern armor, FN Herstal began development of a small-caliber round for use in a PDW with better armor penetrating properties than traditional pistol calibers.
In 1990, FN Herstal introduced the 5.7x28mm cartridge along with the P90 personal defense weapon. The compact and sci-fi looking gun (see Stargate and Hunger Games) was designed around the new cartridge. When fired from the P90, the new bullet could pierce the standard NATO body armor at a range of 200m. A slightly shorter version of the round was developed for use in the FN Five-seven pistol which was introduced in 1998, and became the new ball variant standard. Other variants include a frangible round, a tracer round, and a sub-sonic round for use with a suppressor.
In 2002 and 2003, NATO conducted a series of tests to determine if the 5.7x28mm cartridge should be standardized and replace the 9x19mm cartridge. Despite finding that it was undoubtedly superior to the standard 9x19mm and the new Heckler & Koch 4.6x30mm cartridge used in the MP7, the panel rejected the round’s standardization. Although this slowed 5.7x28mm development, the cartridge and its associated weapons are currently used by military and law enforcement agencies in over 40 nations.
Perhaps one of the most notable users of the 5.7x28mm cartridge is the U.S. Secret Service. Both the P90 and the Five-seven are compact enough to be concealed and possess the armor-penetrating capabilities required for the high-profile protection missions that the agency undertakes. Other notable users include the U.S. Federal Protective Service, the Canadian JTF2 special forces group, and the French GIGN counter-terrorism group.
An arguably greater influence for the popularity of the round, at least in civilian circles, is video games and movies. As previously mentioned, the P90’s distinct sci-fi look lends itself to use in film. Its compact size also makes its easy for actors to manipulate on screen and a popular choice for Hollywood armorers. Video games like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty have featured both the P90 and Five-seven leading to increased interest in the real-life guns.
Because the 5.7x28mm has not been as extensively developed or adopted like the 5.56x45mm or 9x19mm cartridges, its availability and that of the weapons that shoot it on the civilian market remain low. Moreover, the cost of the round and its associated weapons is proportionally high. Still, the PS90 (the civilian version of the P90) and Five-seven can be found and purchased legally by civilians. Additionally, other manufacturers like Kel-Tec and Ruger have released their own guns chambered in the 5.7x28mm cartridge. With the round’s standardization by NATO, its popularity and prevalence is likely to grow in military, police, and civilian use.
After nearly two decades of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Corps is looking to reorient toward its specialty, amphibious operations, while preparing for the next fight against what is likely to a more capable foe.
Peer and near-peer adversaries are deploying increasingly sophisticated weaponry that the Corps believes will make amphibious landings a much more challenging proposition in the future.
The Corps is looking for high-tech weapons to counter those looming threats, but it’s also looking for a sophisticated system to counter a persistent, low-tech, but decidedly dangerous weapon — mines hidden close to shore.
According to a recent post on the US government’s Federal Business Opportunities website, first spotted by Marine Corps Times, the Marine Corps Rapid Capability Office is looking to autonomous and artificial-intelligence technology to “increase Marines’ ability to detect, analyze, and neutralize Explosive Ordnance (EO) in shallow water and the surf zone” — two areas where amphibious ships and landing craft would spend much of their time.
“Initial market research has determined multiple technically mature solutions exist that can assist Marines ability to achieve this capability,” the notice says.
Potential systems envisioned by the Corps’ request for information include autonomous or remotely operated vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles outfitted with sensors and other gear to detect and evaluate explosive devices.
“Some solutions may provide the ability to neutralize detected ordnance, which is desired but not required,” the RFI states.
Marines conduct the first amphibious landing in an Assault Breacher Vehicle with a Modified Full Width Mine Plow prototype during Exercise Steel Knight on the West Coast, Dec. 8, 2017.
(US Marine Corps photo)
The Corps wants contractors to submit up to three prototypes from a single family or multiple families of systems.
Requirements outlined in the RFI for contractor-submitted systems include being able to detect and identify explosive devices in waters ranging the surf zone, where depths are less than 10 feet, to very shallow waters, which range from 10 feet to 40 feet in depth.
The proposed system must also be able to navigate and avoid obstacles in the littoral zone, which includes shorelines out to coastal waters of 200 feet in depth or more.
The system submitted to the Corps must also be able to use geolocation information to “mark” explosive devices to within a meter in environments where communications and GPS are contested or denied.
The Corps is also looking for systems that are man-portable and can be launched and recovered by one- or two-man teams in a small boat, like the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft.
A US Marine Corps medium tactical vehicle replacement drives on shore during exercise Baltic Operations 2018 at Ustka, Poland, June 7, 2018.
(Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Dengrier M. Baez)
While mines have grown more sophisticated in recent decades, even rudimentary ones are still a potent threat.
Mines have become a cornerstone of anti-access/aerial-denial strategies adopted by countries like Iran and China, which have plans to deploy them in important maritime areas like the Strait of Hormuz or the South China Sea.
The Navy has dedicated mine-countermeasures systems, including specially designed and equipped Avenger-class ships that are deployed around the world and rapidly deployable MH-53H Sea Dragon helicopters that often accompany Avenger-class ships.
A US sailor lowers a mine-neutralization vehicle from the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Chief into the water to track mines and simulate delivering an explosive package, Nov. 27, 2017.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Jordan Crouch)
Those systems are aging, however, and the Navy has been working on a slew of remotely operated and unmanned mine-countermeasures systems that would be deployed aboard the service’s littoral combat ships, with the goal of “taking the man out of the minefield.”
While there has been recent progress with LCS-based anti-mine systems, the LCS program and those mine countermeasures have encountered delays, malfunctions, and cost overruns that have hindered the program and its implementation.
The Corps has also made progress with countering mines that Marines would encounter on shore.
In December 2017, Marines conducted the first amphibious landing with a modified full-width mine plow prototype, which was attached to an assault breaching vehicle and sent ashore on during an exercise on the West Coast.
The regular full-width plow was too big to fit aboard the Navy’s landing craft utility boats. The modified version is easier to transport and safer to use, a Marine Corps Systems Command official said earlier this year, and it gave commanders more flexibility with their ABVs.
Once ashore, the plow supplements the ABV’s other mine-countermeasure systems, helping clear a path for Marines to advance off the beach.
“This plow prototype makes the ABV transportable and gives the commander options to accomplish his tasks on the battlefield,” Alvin Barrons, an assault breaching vehicle engineer, said in a release at the time. “The capability makes the force more lethal because it helps keep other combat vehicles intact and saves the lives of Marines.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.