X-20 Dyna-Soar: America's hypersonic space bomber - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Decades before America’s Space Shuttle would roar into the sky, the United States already had plans to field a reusable spaceplane. Born out of Germany’s World War II efforts to create a bomber that could attack New York and continue on to the Pacific, Boeing’s X-20 Dyna-Soar was to be a single-seat craft boosted into the sky atop American rockets.

It would soar in the sky in the blurred line between earth’s atmosphere and the vacuum of space, bouncing along the heavens before releasing its payload over Soviet targets miles below. The X-20 was a 1950s science fiction fever dream born of the nuclear age and the earliest days of the Cold War… And according to some experts, it very likely would have worked.

Operation Paperclip and the burgeoning Cold War

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Kurt H. Debus, a former V-2 rocket scientist who became a NASA director, sitting between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. WikiMedia Commons)

As World War II came to a close, the United States and Soviet Union’s relationship with one another was already beginning to sour. Nazi Germany’s war machine had torn through the continent, often on the backs of Germany’s state-of-the-art military technology, but geopolitics is a game of theater and pragmatism in equal measure. While the world ached for justice, defense officials in both America and the Soviet Union already saw the Cold War looming large on the horizon. Justice mattered in the minds of these leaders, but not quite as much as surviving the next great conflict to come.

Nazi technology had given Germany an advantage on multiple military fronts, and both America and the Soviet Union knew the scientists responsible for these technological leaps would soon be looking for a means to escape prosecution for their roles in the conflict. Both nations, recognizing the strategic advantage their knowledge could offer, quickly set about capturing as many Nazi scientists and researchers as they could. In the United States, this effort to leverage Germany’s scientists came to be known as Operation Paperclip.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
V-2 rocket launching, Peenemünde, on the north-east Baltic German coast. (1943)

In all, Operation Paperclip, which was organized by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) and largely executed by the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, brought some 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians to the United States following the war, where they were given roles in America’s ongoing military and technological efforts. NASA’s famed Wernher von Braun, the man who developed the Saturn V rocket that brought America to the moon, was perhaps the most high profile German scientist to come through Paperclip, but among the others were Walter Dornberger and Krafft Ehricke.

In their newfound roles at Bell Aircraft, an American aircraft manufacturing firm, Dornberger and Ehricke first proposed the concept of a sort of vertical-launched bomber and missile in one. In Germany, they had called this theoretical platform the Silbervogel, or Silver Fish. Today, the plan seems quite logical: The vehicle would be sent aloft atop a rocket booster and propelled all the way into a sub-orbital but exoatmospheric altitude where it would briefly enter space, before gliding down toward the atmosphere and being “bounced” back up thanks to the vehicle’s wings.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Diagram of the planned X-20 Dyna-Soar (WikiMedia Commons)

Today, the idea of launching a reusable spaceplane into a suborbital altitude practically sounds run of the mill, thanks to similar concepts being leveraged by everything from nuclear ICBMs to the most advanced, cutting-edge hypersonic weapons, but Dornberger and Ehricke’s proposal was submitted in 1952 — five years before the Soviet Union would launch the world’s first man-made satellite into orbit. Operation Paperclip was devised specifically to leverage Germany’s scientists to help kick-start America’s own exotic military programs, and in hindsight, it’s hard to argue that the effort wasn’t a success, regardless of the ethical implications.

Working in the shadow of Sputnik

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Replica of Sputnik 1 (NASA)

On October 1, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made satellite. It was a small, metal sphere, measuring only about 23 inches in diameter, with four external radio antennas trailing behind it broadcasting signal pulses back to Soviet scientists, as well as the rest of the world. What followed has come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis” in the Western world.

America had been the de facto world leader in terms of both military and economic might following the end of the Second World War, but the success of Sputnik placed America’s supremacy into question. The Soviets had matched America’s nuclear weapons with a test of their own in 1949, and again with the hydrogen bomb in 1953. Now, instead of matching America’s success, the Soviets were starting to take an intimidating lead.

The United States had taken to developing Dornberger and Ehricke’s concept in three separate programs: a rocket bomber (RoBo), a long-range reconnaissance vehicle (Brass Bell), and hypersonic weapons research. Just days after Sputnik 1 launched, the U.S. re-organized their efforts, combing all three programs into the new single Weapons System 464L program, also known as Dyna-Soar.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Artist’s rendering of the X-20 Dyna-Soar (NASA)

The new Dyna-Soar effort was to mature in three stages. Dyna-Soar 1 would be a research vehicle. Dyan-Soar 2 would add reconnaissance, and Dyna-Soar 3 would incorporate bombing capabilities. America intended to work fast, planning to test the first iteration by 1963 in glide trials, with powered trials to follow the next year. By then, the Dyna-Soar 2 was expected to exceed Mach 18 in powered flight. A missile based on the Dyna-Soar program was expected to enter service by 1968, with the spaceplane itself operational by 1974.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
(U.S. Air Force image)

In order to meet these deadlines, proposals were fielded by both Bell Aircraft and Boeing. Despite Bell’s head start, Boeing ultimately secured the contract and set about work on developing what was to be the X-20 Dyna-Soar.

Building a Dyna-Soar

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
(Boeing photo)

By 1960, the spaceplanes overall design was largely settled, leveraging a delta-shape and small winglets for control in place of a traditional tail. In order to manage the incredible heat of reentry, the X-20 would use super alloys like the heat-resistant René 41 in its frame, and molybdenum, graphite, and zirconia rods all used for heat shielding on the underside of the craft.

“It was a hot-temperature structure using a nickel super alloy,” said Dr. Richard Hallion, former Air Force chief historian.

“The leading edges of the wing would be made of an even more exotic alloy. There was provision for active cooling.”

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
(Air Force artist rendering of the X-20 Dyna-Soar)

That same year, astronauts were chosen to fly America’s new space bomber. Among them was a thirty-year-old Navy test pilot and aeronautical engineer named Neil Armstrong, who would go on to leave the program in 1962.

By the end of that same year, the program was given the designation X-20 and it was unveiled to the public in a ceremony held in Las Vegas. America’s mighty B-52 Stratofortress was chosen to air-drop the X-20 for in-atmosphere flight tests, and the first firing of the rocket booster intended for higher altitude drop-tests was also a success. The project was incredibly ahead of its time, while somehow also being entirely feasible with the technology of the day. In the early 1960s, it seemed all but assured that America would soon be flying space bombers.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Once built, the X-20 Dyna-Soar’s first mock-up measured 35 and a half feet long with a 20.4-foot wingspan. It used three retractable struts for landing. Although it would have its own A-4 or A-9 rocket engine to help it reach an exoatmospheric trajectory, it would effectively glide throughout most of its mission, dipping down into the atmosphere just far enough to create lift, which it would use to bounce back up, skipping across the air enveloping the earth like a stone over a pond. It would continue to skip until it had lost enough velocity to prevent another bounce back up, at which point the pilot would glide the craft back down to earth just like the Space Shuttle.

The X-20 Dyna-Soar goes extinct

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
(U.S. Air Force)

Although the X-20 concept was quite literally out of this world, it was still technically feasible, and early tests suggested that the Dyna-Soar may indeed work as advertised. However, the program was also incredibly expensive, and with the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration moving forward with its Gemini program, America’s civilian leaders were becoming more interested in fielding an actual spacecraft they could use to compete with the Soviets, rather than a weapon that offered little in the way of international prestige.

“If we had pursued it as a black-world program like the U-2, it might have gone ahead,” explained Hallion. “I never saw any technical issue that would have been a show stopper.”

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Artist’s rendering of an X-20 during a glide (WikiMedia Commons)

On December 10, 1963, the X-20 program was canceled. The United States had invested $410 million in its development, or more than $3.5 billion in 2021 dollars, but the Dyna-Soar was still a long way off from being the space bomber it was intended to become. Even per Hallion’s positive recollection of the effort, the X-20 was still at least two-and-a-half years away from working and would have required at least another $370 million to complete. A space bomber would indeed offer global range, but in 1957, the U.S. Air Force had demonstrated that the B-52, the same bomber tasked with helping test the X-20, could circle the globe all on its own, without any need for pricey rockets.

Upon canceling the X-20 program, the U.S. government diverted its remaining funding to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory effort that used Gemini spacecraft to demonstrate the value of a crewed military presence in Earth’s orbit.

But the X-20 was not completely swallowed up by history. Elements of the program could be found in NASA’s Space Shuttle, and of course, the Space Force’s secretive X-37B bears more than a passing resemblance to the X-20. The X-37B is not touted as a space bomber and almost certainly isn’t, but the reusable spaceplane may, in fact, be one of America’s most capable reconnaissance assets.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy designed this lethal one-man turret in World War II

When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.


Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
This version of the Elco Thunderbolt had four 20mm Oerlikon cannon and two M2 heavy machine guns. (U.S. Navy photo)

PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
This early Thunderbolt had six M2 heavy machine guns and two 20mm Oerlikon cannon. (Photo from National Archives)

The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
A PT boat off New Guinea. Operations in the Solomons lead to a push for more firepower. (U.S. Navy photo)

One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Brian Norman defends the ship with a Mark 38 .25mm machine gun supported by the phone talker, Torpedoeman’s Mate 2nd Class Edwin Holland during a small boat training exercise aboard the guided missile frigate USS Ingraham (FFG 61). (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jeremie Kerns.)

By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.

Articles

Israeli jet downs Hamas drone

An unmanned aerial vehicle being used by the terrorist group Hamas was shot down by an Israeli fighter today.


According to a report from ynetnews.com, the Israeli fighter shot down the drone as it was departing airspace over the Gaza Strip. Such actions are standard policy for the Israeli Defense Forces. A spokesman for the IDF told ynetnews.com that “the IDF will not allow any airspace violation and will act resolutely against any such attempt.”

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
An Israeli F-15 I fighter jet launches anti-missile flares during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots at the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, on December 27, 2012. (AFP photo by Jack Guez)

Six months ago, an IDF F-16 Fighting Falcon was scrambled to intercept a similar drone, and shot it down off the coast of Gaza.

The use of drones to deliver explosives has already been seen in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. One attack on Oct. 2, 2016, killed two Kurdish troops and wounded French special operations personnel.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
A captured ISIS drone on the battlefield. (Photo from Iraq Ministry of Defense)

The halftime show of Super Bowl LI, in which pop superstar Lady Gaga used 300 drones for a light show, also has drawn attention from the deputy commander of United States Special Operations Command, according to a report by WeAreTheMighty.com from earlier this month. WATM’s report on those concerns also noted that ISIS was using small drones to drop hand grenades on Coalition forces.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 15, 2007, following over a week of violent fighting with Fatah. The charter of the terrorist group, known as the Hamas Covenant, calls for the absolute destruction of Israel.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Look like an operator with this Marine Raider’s proven beard oil

‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.


For the Most Interesting Man in the World or your beard-curious buddy:

~the brand of whisker oils created and prefered by Special Ops ~

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Beard Oil, made by and for h-to-G* operators. (*honest-to-God — was that clear or unclear? Just wanna know for future use…)

Nicholas Karnaze is a man-lotion mixologist. A master craftsman of oils for beards. With his company, stubble ‘stache, he works to single-handedly elevate grooming standards for the bewhiskered gentlemen of the civilized world. How did this happen? How did Karnaze come to be your chin-wig’s Furry Godfather?

In 2012, Karnaze was  a retired Marine Special Operator adjusting to civilian life, when he got the call that everybody fears. His close friend and fellow Raider, Sgt. Justin Hansen, had been killed in combat in Northwest Afghanistan.

Five stages of grief notwithstanding, everybody deals with the death of a comrade differently. For Karnaze, honoring Justin meant, among other things, forsaking the razor and letting his facial hair fly free and easy until the funeral. Justin was, himself, the proud owner of a truly mighty war beard. Karnaze’s gesture would prove to be both fitting tribute and an unexpected path forward.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Karnaze found that civilian #beardlife suited him. But the growth process was no picnic and there didn’t seem to be anything available to help him curb the itchiness or tame the unruliness of his rapidly maturing man-mane. So he improvised.

“I have fond memories of standing in my kitchen watching AMC’s Breaking Bad. Walt was making meth and I was making beard lotion.”

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

And when his Special Ops buddies caught wind of his efforts and started bugging him for samples, the cycle was complete and Heisen-beard was off to the entrepreneurial races.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Itchy facial hair is just one thing too many.

These days, stubble ‘stache isn’t so much tending to individual beards as it is grooming a movement. Nobody’s saying you have to man-sprout a thick, bushy jowl-pelt in order to be awesome, much less masculine. The military has grooming standards for a reason and the squared-away men and women of the United States Armed Forces have been holding it down on Planet Earth for years now.

But if you are going to forge a path through the rich, peety byways of beardlife, all Karnaze is saying is, let him teach you how to show that mug-rug the respect it deserves. But most important of all–and this is evident in his company’s ardent financial support of organizations like the Marsoc Foundation – Karnaze wants warriors suffering from combat trauma of any kind to understand that a crucial aspect of masculinity–of awesomeness in general–is the willingness to ask for help.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
Karneze, with cheeky marmot, in the field.

The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company  dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.

Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pepper Spray? There’s an app for that

Time brings continued improvement to the world of CCW handguns. Smaller, lighter, new cartridges, new projectile designs, innovative sighting systems.

On the other hand, you don’t see that sort of innovation in the pepper spray market. Pretty much since its inception, an OC dispenser has been an aerosol can that squirts oleoresin capsaicin. Your choices have been pretty much limited to the size and color of the dispenser, and whether it dispenses the spicy treats in stream, spray, or gel form.


But it’s 2019, and if you want innovation in OC dispensers, it turns out there’s an app for that. More than one, actually.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Sabre is releasing a new Smart Pepper Spray in 2019, which will communicate with your phone via Bluetooth. The app on your phone will alert designated contacts or first responders, marking your position on a map.

Additionally, the app can be used independently of the spray, since the map will show where and when pepper spray has been deployed previously. This function could prove useful if the user is in an unfamiliar town. “Probably don’t want to go jogging there; fifteen OC uses in the last month.”

Also new from Sabre is a combination OC dispenser and auto rescue tool, with a seatbelt cutter and glass breaker. The position of the glass breaker, on the bottom of the canister, opposite the dispensing button, doesn’t seem ideal. Giving yourself a faceful of OC spray while trying to escape a rollover would make an already bad day worse.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Another manufacturer was showing off their own Bluetooth-enhanced Smart Pepper Spray. Plegium, based out of Sweden, packs even more functions into theirs. In addition to the automatic alert function, there’s an audible 130dB alarm. Next to the OC nozzle are a trio of bright LED emitters that strobe 19 times a second to disorient your attacker and make it easier to aim the spray in low light conditions.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane USAF flying saucer-shaped missile

The wizards who brought you the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank have been serving the U.S. military’s needs for more than a century. In that time, General Dynamics, the multi-billion dollar defense contractor responsible for many amazing technological advances, has made history many times over, from developing the Navy’s first submarines to the Air Force’s first ICBM.

They may have even develop the flying saucer UFO.


In the late 1950s, the Air Force was looking to replace the B-52 Bomber with a nuclear-capable hypersonic upgrade. For this mission, the air service wanted the experimental XB-70 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie could fly at speeds of Mach 3 while dropping nuclear bombs on the unsuspecting or unprepared Soviet Union.

But how can the Air Force protect its bombers while they’re flying at three times the speed of sound in an unfriendly territory? The answer was to give it a defensive missile system, code named Pye Wacket, after a local Massachusetts urban legend involving a witch’s familiar who protected her master.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

The XB-70.

(U.S. Air Force)

The Valkyrie didn’t actually need defensive missiles. The Soviets didn’t have anything that could actually threaten the XB-70, but the airframe was considered a long-term solution and the Air Force wanted to ensure it had defenses should the need materialize. The missiles wouldn’t just need to hit interceptor aircraft, it would need to be capable of hitting SAM batteries and surface-to-air missiles themselves.

It also needed to be able to fly at seven times the speed of sound. So, General Dynamics engineers developed a wedge missile, in the shape of a lens – a kind of flying saucer – that could be fired from the aircraft in any direction and was capable of deft maneuvering.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Pye Wacket at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, in Tennessee.

The Air Force tested the new weapon between 1957 and 1961. The weapon was based on a saucer propulsion design from NASA’s Alan Kahlet, who wanted to use it for manned spacecraft. For the missile, designers wanted to include a small nuclear warhead, one that would neutralize the target but also be able to prevent an enemy nuclear warhead from exploding, a process called “dudding.”

Unfortunately for the future of the Pye Wacket missile, the Air Force ultimately decided that the best way to hit the Soviets with a barrage of nuclear devices was a series of rockets that used extremely unstable fuel and could be fired by any fool who knew the key combination was “000000000.”

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This was the Air Force’s super fighter that never flew

The 1950s was a game-changing decade for the world of military aviation, especially with the rise of jet propulsion in place of propeller engines. It was in this decade that the U.S. Air Force came close to fielding one of the most advanced (for its time) “super fighters” ever conceived.


Known as the XF-108 Rapier, and designed by North American – also known for producing the widely successful P-51 Mustang – it was equipped to fly at more than three times the speed of sound for long distances, hunting down and destroying marauding Soviet bombers out to drop nuclear weapons on the US and its allies during the Cold War.

The XF-108 would also be able to complement its larger sibling, the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, which itself was capable of achieving speeds in the Mach 3 range. Though the Valkyrie’s insane speed would be too much for Soviet air defense systems to handle, it wouldn’t hurt having a smaller fighter escort nearby that could keep up with the bomber, just in case enemy fighters made it too close for comfort.

 

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
An XB-70 Valkyrie prototype before its first flight (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

North American sought to make its newest fighter extremely deadly, adding a Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar that was coupled to an infrared search and tracking system. Together, this sensor suite would be able to lock onto and track targets at long ranges with solid accuracy.

The XF-108’s primary weapon was the GAR-9 missile, which had a range of over 100 miles, and could fly at more than six times the speed of sound on its way to its target. The Rapier would carry three of these on an internal rotary launcher in its belly.

To give it speed, the XF-108 would use two General Electric afterburning turbojets that could pump out over 29,300 pounds of force apiece with the afterburners lit. In comparison, an F/A-18 Super Hornet’s two GE F414 turbofan engines can put out only 22,000 pounds of force apiece in burner!

 

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
An AIM-47 Falcon waiting to be loaded into a YF-12 interceptor prototype. The Falcon was the direct successor to the GAR-9 (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

However, the Rapier lost its mission rapidly with the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles and guided cruise missiles — the latter of which could be launched from surface warships and submarines floating off the coast of the United States. Instead of sending swarms of bombers, all of which could hypothetically be shot down if responded to quickly enough, the USSR could mail nuclear weapons to the US with ICBMs, which were much more difficult to destroy.

Sadly, the Rapier never had a chance to even fly.

In late 1959, by the end of the decade, the program was shelved altogether, having only made it to the mockup stage. In a matter of months, the XF-108 was no more. Its sister plane, the XB-70 would meet a somewhat similar fate in the next decade, and would be retired from flight testing after a fatal and highly publicized accident.

 

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber
An A-5A Vigilante prototype (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Some of the technology and lessons learned in designing the XF-108 were put to use with a later North American product – the A-5/RA-5 Vigilante, which bears a considerable resemblance to its predecessor. The GAR-9 was also developed further into the AIM-47 Falcon missile, which would later be matured into the AIM-54 Phoenix, deployed with the F-14 Tomcat.

Mach 3-capable fighter jets have long since been relegated to the history books as an unnecessary hope of the past, but with improvements in propulsion technology, it’s very possible that future fighters fielded by the US military might be blessed with such incredible speed.


Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY TACTICAL

America’s air-to-air nuke would’ve taken out entire bomber fleets

During the Cold War, America developed a single air-to-air nuke that could devastate entire bomber fleets in mid-air. Thankfully, it was only ever fired in testing.

In today’s world, nuclear weapons are seen primarily as strategic weapons, rather than tactical, as the second and third order effects of a nuclear detonation are quite possibly further reaching than the first. Even the use of a low-yield nuclear weapon is now seen as perhaps the most egregious violation of international norms a nation can undertake, as leveraging a single weapon could bring about a cascade of nuclear attacks that could end life as we know it. But then, it wasn’t always this way.


There was a time when nuclear weapons were held in a similar regard to other conventional ordnance — when the tactical applications of nuclear weapon systems were the primary consideration for development. Long before the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, the United States and its Soviet competitors established a variety of nuclear weapons that, in hindsight, seem more like the musings of a Bond villain than a defense program.

Some of these weapons, like the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition, were little more than miniaturized nuclear bombs that could be smuggled into a target zone via Special Operations troops in a backpack. Others, like the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie Rocket, were designed for even more dramatic uses: Namely, destroying an entire fleet of Soviet bombers in mid-air with a single weapon.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

DAYTON, Ohio – McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie Rocket on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The threat of Soviet nuclear bombers

In 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first successful nuclear weapons test, codenamed RDS-1. The 22-kiloton test was more powerful than the 15-kiloton weapon the United States had dropped just a few years prior on Hiroshima, and in an instant, America’s concerns about the Soviet Union were significantly amplified. Almost immediately, President Truman announced the development of a new, even more powerful atom bomb — a “super bomb” as it was called at the time, which is now commonly known as a hydrogen bomb. Of course, Soviet efforts to develop their own super bomb mirrored America’s, raising the stakes on the burgeoning Cold War ever higher.

With the first operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) still years away, the understanding at the time was that any hydrogen bomb attack would have to come by way of heavy bomber — with development already underway for what would become the Soviet Tu-95. This new heavy payload bomber was designed by upscaling the previous Soviet Tu-4, which had been based largely on America’s B-29 Superfortress; widely considered the most advanced bomber of World War II.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

The Tupolev Tu-95 Bear first flew in 1952 and remains in service to this day. (WikiMedia Commons)

Aware that the Soviet Union’s atomic arsenal could eventually be brought to bear with heavy payload bombers prompted the United States to invest heavily in aircraft and weapons systems that could intercept inbound bombers before they could reach American shores. The driving need to monitor, deter, and potentially intercept Soviet nuclear bombers led to the development of a number of weapons and aircraft in the United States, but few were quite so far-reaching as the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie program.

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

AIR-2A Genie 2 (USAF Photo)

The world’s first nuclear air-to-air weapon

The U.S. Air Force had its sights set squarely on neutering the Soviet Union’s nuclear bomber threat, but the vast majority of air-to-air weapon systems at the time were based on machine guns and cannons. America knew that stopping a fleet of Soviet bombers before they reached the United States would require far more effective weapons systems than were readily available at the time, and the first air-to-air missiles were still in their relative infancy. As a result, rockets became an area of increasing focus.

In 1954, one such rocket program, under the banner of Douglas Aircraft, began playing with the idea of a rocket that was armed with a nuclear weapon. In theory, the premise was rather straightforward: Rockets had proven to be an effective weapon for intercept aircraft to leverage, and in fact, a nuclear tipped air-to-air weapon could be developed as a fairly simple package, as the massive blast radius would eliminate the need for any sort of guidance system.

By 1955, development was officially underway on what would come to be called the McDonnell Douglas Air-2A Genie. This new nuclear rocket carried a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead and was propelled through the air by a solid-fuel Thiokol SR49-TC-1 rocket engine. The engine would fire for just two seconds, propelling the rocket up to Mach 3.3. The fuse mechanism did not begin until the engine itself had burned out, giving the weapon a total of about 12 second of flight time prior to detonation — giving the launching aircraft just enough time to turn tail and get out of dodge before the massive 1,000 foot blast radius erupted from the warhead.

Because of the Genie’s short flight time and massive blast radius, it would be nearly impossible for a bomber to get out of the way fast enough to avoid utter destruction, and in fact, a single Genie could be used to engage and destroy an entire fleet of Soviet bombers approaching the United States in a formation.

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A Convair F-106 of the California Air National Guard fires an inert version of the Genie (USAF Photo)

Production on the Genie, which was dubbed the MB-1 Genie in service, continued until 1963, with a total of around 3,150 built. A fleet of 268 U.S. Air Force F-89 Scorpion interceptors were modified to be able to carry the nuclear rocket on hard points, and over time, the weapons were even modified to include longer burning rocket engines to give the F-89 more time to escape the fury of the rocket’s detonation.

Testing the Genie over American troops

Although the Genie would remain in service until the decidedly recently past of 1985, only one Genie was ever actually fired and detonated.

Operation Plumbbob (yes, that’s really how it’s spelled) was a series of nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site between May 28 and October 7 of 1957, and would go on to be considered by many to be the most controversial series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States. A total of 27 nuclear detonations and 29 total explosions were carried out under the supervision of twenty-one different laboratories and government agencies — one them being the test fire and detonation of a Genie nuclear rocket.

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An F-89 Scorpion firing the live Genie used in the Plumbbob John test. (USAF photo)

Firing a live Genie from beneath an F-89J was a dangerous undertaking to begin with. In order to escape the blast radius of the weapon, the F-89’s pilot, Captain Eric William Hutchison, would have to immediately execute a high-G turn, placing the rocket behind the aircraft. While Hutchison and his radar operator, Captain Alfred C. Barbee, would need nerves of steel to complete the test, they wouldn’t be the only people putting their lives on the line for the Genie’s only test detonation. Five U.S. Air Force officers also volunteered to stand at ground level, directly beneath where the nuclear weapon would detonate in the skies, to prove that the Genie could be utilized without causing any harm to those on the ground below.

Estimates of the altitude in which the Genie detonated vary from source to source, with some claiming an attitude as low as 10,000 feet and others claiming an altitude as high as 20,000. The five volunteer officers stood below utterly unprotected, wearing only their summer uniforms.

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The only live test ever of a Genie rocket, on 19 July 1957. Fired from a US Air Force F-89J over Yucca Flats, Nevada Test Site (USAF Photo)

“I was busy behind the camera. Then I could see the flash go off out of the corner of my eye. There was this huge, doughnut-shaped cloud in the sky where the blast went off.”
-George Yoshitake, U. S. army cameraman

The five men were exposed to negligible amounts of radiation, and seemed to prove that the Genie could be used above ground troops with little risk.

You can actually watch footage of that very test below:

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Putting the Genie back in the bottle

The Genie remained in service until the mid-1980s, though by then, American concerns about Soviet bombers dropping hydrogen bombs on American soil had given way to the ICBM age. By 1974, the Soviet Union had their R-36 series of nuclear missiles in service, each of which could cover nearly ten thousand miles and carry a positively massive 25 megaton –or 25,000 kiloton– nuclear warhead.

In truth, it was the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction that would come to replace the Genie as a nuclear deterrent. America now knew they had no hope of intercepting the full breadth of Soviet nuclear missiles as they careened toward the United States, so the nation opted to leverage a good offense as the best form of defense; developing America’s nuclear triad to ensure its ability to respond. In other words, Mutually Assured Destruction promised exactly what the name suggested: If the Soviets launched a nuclear attack, America would as well. There would be no winners in such an apocalyptic exhchange, and that alone has served as a powerful deterrent for nuclear aggression ever since.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The survivalist’s guide to fashioning a blade from scraps

As far as useful tools in a jam go, it’s tough to beat the general practicality of a knife. Whether it’s marking a trail, field dressing an animal, or defending yourself, a sharp piece of steel on your hip can solve a number of problems you may face in a survival situation; which is exactly why so many people maintain a good quality knife in their EDC (Everyday Carry) loadout. But what if you find yourself stuck in a long-term survival situation without ready access to a knife?


You could go on without one, or you could make one, using nothing but a few common hand tools and some scrap metal.


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I found this scrap carbon steel in a metal recycling bin behind my neighbors shop.

Scrap metal

The first thing you need to do is find yourself a suitable piece of metal. While you can usually get a sense of the sort of metal you’re working with with a visual inspection (stainless steel holds a shine while carbon steel will brown or rust, for instance), your top priority is finding a sturdy piece of metal that’s somewhat close to the size and shape of a knife. The closer it starts in size, the easier a day you’ll have. For a good survival knife that fits well in my hand, I usually prefer a piece of metal that’s somewhere between 10 and 12 inches long, less than a half inch thick, and 1.5 to 2 inches wide, but it may take some work to cut your piece into those dimensions.

Low carbon scrap steel is soft and doesn’t make for excellent knives, but in a pinch, even a rusting blade that needs sharpening is better than no blade at all.

Tools

There’s no getting around the need to have a hack saw when working with metal. In fact, if the scrap metal you locate is too long, it’s the only tool you can’t do without. Beyond that, all you really need is a metal file or access to plenty of sidewalks or blacktop. Any of the three will do.
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Other tools that could help are a C-clamp or vice, sharpie, clips, and sandpaper.

Cut the steel into the general shape of a blade

Use your hacksaw to cut your scrap steel until it meets your general length and width requirements. The harder the steel (based on carbon levels and if it’s been treated) the harder the cutting will be. Be patient and careful not to hurt yourself. If you need to make this knife, chances are good no ambulances will be coming if you suffer a nasty gash.

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If you don’t have a clamp, you can step on the handle and saw near your feet for leverage.

Once you’ve got it cut somewhat to shape, saw off a corner to create what will become the point of the blade. If the steel is too wide to fit into your hand comfortably, you can keep on hacking to narrow down the handle portion as well. This is a lot more work, but can also provide a ridge if you’d like to add a handguard down the road.

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The ridge between the handle and blade creates a stop on one side for a handguard when you’re making more elaborate knives.

Grind, grind, grind

If you have a metal file, hold the knife in one hand while carefully using the file to shape the profile of the blade. Be careful, if you have access to a vice, put the blade in it while you work. If not, finding a pair of work gloves can help keep the skin on your fingers.

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By using the width of the metal to dictate the size of the blade, you only need to shape one corner.

Once the rough profile of the blade has been shaped, re-orient how you hold the knife to work on the blade’s edge. This will take a long time, and if you’re so inclined, you could spend a whole day or more making one very pretty, even edge. If you’re in a hurry, however, file it down until you have a reasonably fine point and a good sharp edge and leave looking pretty for the guys that aren’t making their own knives out of garbage.

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If you don’t have a metal file, you’re not out of luck. Sidewalks and black top are very abrasive surfaces, and you can whittle away at the metal edge of your blade using either with enough patience and care. This is a great way to shave your knuckles, and you will ruin your driveway, but I’ve managed to fashion a workable blade or two using this method.

Making a handle

Depending on the tools you have on hand, there are probably rough metal splinters hanging off the edges of your knife and once your hand gets sweaty (or bloody) keeping a grip will be impossible. Fortunately, there are lots of materials that make for decent handles.

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You can put some real time in to weave a leather strap, or just tightly wrap 550 cord around the handle.

Lots of military guys are familiar with making things out of paracord, and knife handles are no exception. Leather belts, rope, and duct tape are all excellent knife handle materials. Wrap the material around the handle of the knife as tightly as you can, overlapping it by however many layers as necessary to make the handle a comfortable girth.

Then get your ass out of dodge with your new prison-shank in hand.

Articles

4 things you may not know about USS Constitution

The sailing frigate USS Constitution (ex-IX 21) was re-floated on July 23 in an event overshadowed by the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).


The ship has been around for 220 years. But here are a few things you may not have known about this ship.

1. Paul Revere provided some crucial materials for the ship’s construction

According to the Copper Development Association, Paul Revere, best known for his midnight ride prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, provided a number of copper bolts and a copper bell for USS Constitution.

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2. The Constitution had a hull number

In 1941, the Constitution was given the hull number IX 21, along with a number of other vessels. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the list included the prize USS Reina Mercedes (IX 25), the sloop USS Constellation (IX 20), the cruiser USS Olympia (IX 40), and the training carriers USS Wolverine (IX 64) and USS Sable (IX 81).

The hull number was rescinded in 1975 at the suggestion of the ship’s commanding officer, Tyrone G. Martin, who instituted a number of traditions that carry on to this day.

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3. She is the only survivor of her class

Of the first six frigates, the Constitution is the only survivor. Sister ship USS Constellation was thought to have been converted to a sloop and preserved in Baltimore, but later research determined the Navy had scrapped the original vessel. The frigates USS Chesapeake and USS President were captured by the British. USS United States was captured by the Confederates, but eventually scuttled and scrapped.

USS Congress was scrapped in 1834.

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4. She was the battlecruiser of her era

The Constitution and her sisters were designed to be able to outgun enemy frigates and to out-run enemy ships of the line. She had a mix of 24-pound cannons and 32-pound cannons, compared to the 18-pound cannons used on the British Leda-class frigates, built around the same time as Constitution and her sisters.

In fact, late in the war of 1812, British frigate captains were ordered to avoid combat with the Constitution and her sisters.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is Sig Sauer’s submission for the Army’s new machine gun

The Army’s M249 light machine gun has been in service since 1984. The M240 machine gun has been in service since 1977. Under the Next Generation Squad Weapons program, the Army aims to replace the M4 carbine, the M249 light machine gun, and potentially the M240 machine gun. Requiring a chambering of 6.8mm for both the rifle and automatic rifle systems, SIG Sauer hopes to replace the M249 with their LMG-6.8.

At first glance, the new machine gun looks very similar to most machine guns currently in military use. To be fair, that was part of the design philosophy when SIG Sauer planned the LMG-6.8. Their intent is to maintain the familiarity of infantry weapon systems while increasing the soldier’s lethality with their new machine gun.

Perhaps the most important improvement featured in the LMG-6.8 is the bullet that it fires. The Army only stipulated the bullet’s diameter for the NGSW program. How the manufacturers cased the round was up to them. While Textron opted for a futuristic plastic telescope-cased design, SIG made improvements where they could while retaining proven reliability.

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SIG’s 6.8x51mm hybrid ammo. Note the stainless steel base (SIG Sauer)

SIG’s 6.8x51mm hybrid ammunition uses a traditional brass case that features a stainless steel base. This increases the strength of the case’s primer pocket and allows for a higher pressure loading. Simultaneously, it maintains the tried and tested reliability of brass-cased ammo in sealing the weapon’s chamber. The new round not only exceeds the performance of the M249’s 5.56x45mm NATO round, but also the M240’s 7.62x51mm NATO round.

Following the modern design methodology of modularity, the LMG-6.8 can also be chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO and 6.5 Creedmoor. The former is an especially useful feature for the Army if the SIG Sauer entry is selected. As units acquire the new machine gun, they will also have to acquire the new 6.8x51mm ammo. Designing the NGSW-AR to be configured to fire 7.62x51mm NATO allows soldiers to train with and expend existing stockpiles of ammo while stockpiles of new ammo are built up. It also allows continued interoperability with NATO partners who don’t make the switch to the new round.

Looking to the future, another requirement for the NGSW program is a powered rail. Utilizing a battery box integrated into the top of the stock, the LMG-6.8 powers its 22-inch top rail for the use of enablers like scopes, cameras, and other electronic equipment that the Army may integrate in the future. The machine gun also features an adjustable stock and a familiar M4/M16-style fire selector switch. It’s worth noting that the semi-automatic and automatic positions are switched from the traditional M4/M16 pattern.

Slightly unique for a belt-fed machine gun is the LMG-6.8’s charging handle. To start, it’s a left-side charge. Even more unusual is its folding design. This keeps it out of the way and allows the weapon system to be more streamlined and reduce the chance of snagging. The feed tray is also a side-opening design. Not only does this make it easier to manipulate, but it also allows the end user to mount additional attachments like clip-on thermals with minimal interference.

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The MCX-Spear (left) is SIG’s submission for the NGSW rifle (SIG Sauer)

Another quality of life improvement is the loading process. The LMG-6.8 can be loaded on safe or fire, feed tray open or closed, with or without the loading spoon, and with the bolt forward or back. It also features a mountable magwell for the attachment of its box magazine. This makes reloading on the move a more familiar and much easier task. It also allows the system to be adapted to new mounting methods that might be developed in the future.

A bipod is a necessity for a machine gun and the LMG-6.8 has quite a nice one. Integrated into the front end of the weapon, the bipod can be deployed with just one hand. Moreover, it can be folded and stowed either to the front or back of the weapon depending on the user’s needs.

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The SIG LMG-6.8 offers huge improvements over the M249 (U.S. Army)

Another part of the LMG-6.8 system is the suppressor. Where other firearms generally need an increase in gas pressure to cycle properly with a suppressor, SIG’s design can run just fine with or without a suppressor on its normal gas setting. It does have an adverse gas setting in the event that it is used in a truly trying environment like extreme cold, sandy deserts, or swampy jungles. The suppressor itself also minimizes the amount of gas blowback to the shooter and reduces their exposure to toxins.

SIG Sauer has stated that the NGSW submissions are still working prototypes. “We’re continually evolving them for the program,” said Jason St. John, Director of Government Products at SIG Sauer. Whichever manufacturer the Army selects, the desired end-state is a more adaptable, accurate, and lethal soldier for tomorrow’s fight.

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(SIG Sauer)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 4 most insane military tactics people actually used

There’s an old military saying that goes, “if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.” As enlisted personnel rise through the ranks, they tend to encounter more and more questionable practices that somehow made their way into doctrine. This isn’t anything new. Most of the veterans reading this encountered at least one “WTF Moment” in their military careers. Few of these bizarre scenarios will get a troop wounded or worse.

Then there are the tactics that could mean the difference between life and death – and you have to wonder who decided to do things that way and why do they hate their junior enlisted troops so much? These are those tactics.


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“Walking Fire” with the Browning Automatic Rifle

When introduced in the closing days of World War I, the Browning Automatic Rifle – or “B-A-R” – was introduced as a means to get American troops across the large, deadly gaps called “no man’s land” between the opposing trenches. The theory was that doughboys would use the BAR in a walking fire movement, slowly walking across the ground while firing the weapon from the hip.

Anyone who’s ever used an automatic weapon has probably figured out by now that slowly sauntering across no man’s land, shooting at anything that moves will run your ammo down before you ever get close to the enemy trench. It’s probably best to stay in your own trench, which is what the Americans ended up doing anyway.

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Soviet Anti-Tank Suicide Dogs

The concept seems sound enough. In the 1930s, the USSR trained dogs to wear explosive vests and run under oncoming tanks. In combat, the dogs would then be detonated while near the tank’s soft underbelly. It seems like a good idea, right? Well, when it came time to use the dogs against Nazi tanks in World War II, the Soviets realized that training the dogs with Soviet tanks might have been a bad idea. The USSR’s tanks ran on diesel while the Wehrmacht’s ran on gasoline.

Soviet tank dogs, attracted to the smell of Soviet diesel fuel, ran under Soviet tanks instead of German tanks when unleashed, creating an explosives hazard for the Red Army tanks crews.

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Flying Aircraft Carriers

In the interwar years, the U.S. military decided that airpower was indeed the wave of the military’s future, and decided to experiment with a way to get aircraft flying as fast as possible. For this, they developed helium airships that housed hangers to hold a number of different airplanes. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but it turns out the air isn’t as hospitable a place as the seas and flying, helium-borne craft aren’t as stable as a solid, steel ship on the waves.

After the two aircraft carriers the Navy built both crashed, and 75 troops were dead, the military decided to go another way with aircraft.

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Prodders

In World War II, there wasn’t always a metal detector around. Sometimes, troops had to get down and dirty, literally. In areas where land mines were suspected, soldiers would get down on the ground, with their heads and bodies close to the ground and – without any kind of warning or hint of where mines might be, if there were any at all – poke into the ground at a 30-degree angle.

The angle helped avoid tripping the mines because the trigger mechanisms were usually located at the top of the mines. If the terrain was a bit looser, the mines could be raked up by the prodders instead.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China’s Drone Force Will Be Faster, Stealthier and Suicidal

The 2021 version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), has recognized China’s rise as a global military and economic power. Resultantly, it includes the Pacific Defense Initiative (PDI) which is hoped to deter China’s rise. 

The Pentagon has recognized that both China and Russia will be the military’s potential near-peer adversaries for the foreseeable future. The Chinese, in particular, have made huge strides in technology, in part by a continuous industrial espionage effort. They now have their first overseas base in their history. 

One area where the United States may have an advantage is in the realm of military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also known as drones. The Chinese watched with some trepidation at what transpired in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

The Azerbaijani military, with the help of Turkish drones, transformed the battlefield. And despite the Armenian’s superiority in tanks, armored vehicles, and radar coverage, the Turkish and Israeli drones tilted the battlefield firmly in the favor of Azerbaijan. 

The Armenian forces were easily picked off. Every time that the Armenians moved forward and tried to maneuver their forces into a better position, the reconnaissance drones would pinpoint their locations. Videos taken from the drones show how one-sided the battlefield was

Nagorno-Karabakh showed that a technologically inferior army can wrest air control by using numerous and very inexpensive UAVs capable of striking exposed troops, especially armored formations.

The Chinese military has recognized that it is lacking in counter-drone capabilities, according to an article published in the latest edition of Naval and Merchant Ships. That publication is published by the state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corporation which is a company that is building its products for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).Read Next: China reveals its new drone warships

“In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the ‘shield’ to counter drones was not used effectively,” the article said. “Although each side hit large numbers of enemy drones, neither had the capabilities to stop incoming drones from inflicting damage.”

“Our military has a large number of drones of various types and is also facing the threat of advanced enemy drones… compared with the drones we saw in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the drone threat confronting us is more technologically advanced, harder to detect and defend [against],” the article added.

“For most grassroots units of the Chinese military, how to counter drones is still a new lesson,” the article said. The article recommends that individual units further study the characteristics of the strengths and weaknesses of all types of drones and the strategies to combat them.

The Chinese military has plenty of drones at its disposal. Most analysts believe that, at least for the time being, China will not utilize its UAV capabilities in the aggressive way that the U.S. has, for example by conducting targeted assassinations like that of MG Qassem Soleimani back in January. Instead, it is believed that the Chinese are more conservative in their approach. 

“Future warfare will involve more technology and fewer humans,” military spokesman Ni Lexiong said earlier this year. “Air superiority is the key to victory, so UAVs will have a very important role to play.”

The PLA is developing new drones with better stealth, speed, endurance, and altitude capabilities including new “suicide drones” that can be launched in a swarm from either helicopters or ground tactical vehicles. 

Simultaneously, to counter drones, the Chinese are trying to develop a multilayer detection network that will consist of specialized radars, radio detection stations, and other means to monitor and target incoming drones. The article stated that the PLA is also looking into other measures such as electronic jamming, the use of LD2000 ground-based anti-aircraft defense weapons, and scattering fake objects.

The U.S. is also working on new UAVs including the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie, an unmanned and experimental combat aerial vehicle. The Valkyrie is difficult for radar to find and could be directly linked to the F-35 through an encrypted data connection to serve as a wingman under the pilot’s control.

These support drones will be able to engage ground targets from fighters and even sacrifice themselves to protect manned aircraft from inbound missiles.

Air defenses will continue to evolve and anti-drone technology will no doubt improve in the near future. However, for now, fighters on today’s battlefield can expect to see waves and waves of drones. 

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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