Marine Corps Systems Command recently collaborated with fleet Marines and other organizations to review the successful performance of several 3D-printed impellers used on M1A1 Abrams tanks at Twentynine Palms, California.
The Corps plans to use 3D-printed impellers when the original part wears or becomes inoperable and a new part cannot be received in a timely fashion.
“Call it a spare tire or a stop-gap solution,” said Joseph Burns, technical lead for MCSC’s Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell. “This can get you through a mission, through your training exercise or whatever may be critical at the time.”
An impeller expels dust from the tank engine to keep the filters clean. When an impeller experiences wear and tear, the part may not pull enough air to function properly, which could degrade mission effectiveness.
A few years ago, the Marine Corps and the Army ordered a large batch of impellers. As a result, the Defense Logistics Agency — the agency responsible for providing parts for military vehicles — did not have enough parts to satisfy all orders.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Charles Matte, a machinist with 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, mills an impeller fan on a computer numerically controlled lathe machine aboard Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 17, 2017.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Sorci)
“At certain times, logistical issues can occur,” said Tony Delgado, research and development program manager for additive manufacturing at DLA. “Sometimes the part is not available right away or something happens with a vendor and a part cannot be provided immediately. This was one of those times where the part wasn’t available.”
DLA can award a contract to a company, let that manufacturer set up a production line and then order a large sum of parts. However, it can take from six to 10 months for the Marines to receive a part. Waiting months for an order can reduce readiness or effectiveness on the battlefield.
Consequentially, MCSC had to find an alternative solution.
“Around that time, the Marine Corps had been provided with 3D printing additive manufacturing tools,” said Burns. “And Marines were being encouraged to be innovative and develop prototype solutions to real-world problems. A young Marine identified the impeller and began exploring ways to 3D print this part.”
Building on this early success, MCSC collaborated with Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory and DLA to formally qualify the performance of the 3D printed impeller and document the design in a technical data package.
The exercise conducted at Twentynine Palms in December and January was the culmination of formal qualification testing and was intended to confirm the performance of a 3D-printed version of an impeller in an operationally relevant environment.
MCSC is in the process of creating a 100-page technical data package for the 3D-printed impeller. The AMOC has reviewed two drafts of the TDP and plans to finalize the first version by the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2019.
Once the TDP is finalized, the 3D-printed impeller will be fully qualified, tested and certified by the Marine Corps for use in the Abrams tank.
Although a more expensive alternative, a 3D-printed impeller can be produced and ready for use in less than a week, said Burns. Once the TDP is certified, a manufacturer, depot or Marine unit with the right equipment can 3D print an impeller for use. The expedited delivery can improve readiness on the battlefield.
“The 3D-printed impeller also gives the tank commander another option,” said Delgado. “It’s important to have an alternative option.”
The organizations and agencies that helped develop the 3D-impeller and its TDP include DLA, Johns Hopkins University-Applied Physics Laboratory, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 1st Tank Battalion, and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Delgado emphasized the importance of all parties involved in the creation of the 3D-printed impeller.
“We’ve involved engineers from Marine Corps Systems Command and the Army, and we’ve even had lawyers in some meetings to ensure there’s no intellectual property infringement,” explained Delgado. “In terms of collaboration, this has been a great project.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
Soviet military weapons have an odd tendency to stay both dangerous and relevant decades after they’re issued. They might lack the creature comforts and modularity of modern firearm designs, but whether a bullet finds its mark from a World War I Mosin Nagant rifle, or a next generation Russian bullpup SVD sniper rifle, the result is the same.
The largest example of this, is the infamous AKM/AK-47. Every tin-pot dictatorship or ex-Soviet satellite nation has churned out terrifying numbers of these reliable automatic rifles. While the AKM is a deadly adversary at close and medium range, it is handily outclassed (both in accuracy, and effective range) by modern Western-made military rifles like the M4A3 and M16A4.
That said, there is one Soviet firearm that continues to confound and frustrate American military forces in the Middle East: the PKM.
The PKM or Modernizirovanniy Pulemyot Kalashnikova (PK Machinegun Modernized) is a belt-fed, open-bolt, long-stroke light machine gun chambered in the hard-hitting 7.62x54R cartridge — the same round used by Russian infantry in World War I, Vietcong snipers in Indochina, and modern Russian Federation snipers wielding the infamous Dragunov.
The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment. This robust construction combined with its powerful cartridge, make for an extraordinarily dangerous weapon against Western militaries — especially since the PKM has an effective range of 1,000-1,500 meters, putting it on par or surpassing most DMR rifles, and light machine guns in service.
Personally, after firing less than 100 rounds through a stateside PKM at an ordnance-testing facility in Nevada, I was able to successfully engage human-sized steel targets with iron sights at 600 yards with frightening regularity. This was with 60-year-old ammunition out of a PKM built in the 1970s with more than a half-million rounds fired through it.
The threat posed by this LMG to American and NATO forces is not lost on military thinkers or modern weapon-makers. In fact, the PKM is the impetus behind the latest evolution of the medium machine gun – the lightweight, medium machine gun, or LWMMG.
Historically, machine guns are grouped into three categories: light, medium and heavy (and occasionally general purpose). The last two, medium and heavy, are crew-served weapons, normally fired from either a tripod or vehicle mount. These are generally not considered man-portable, but are designed to provide constant fire on an area.
The light machine gun, or LMG generally fires a smaller caliber round than the medium or heavy machine gun, and is designed to be used and transported by a single soldier. These weapons are fired from a bipod, but are light enough to be quickly repositioned in the field.
The 5.56mm caliber M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is a prime example of a light machine gun, while the .50 BMG M2 is a perfect example of a heavy machine gun. The M2 is tremendously more effective at all ranges than the M249, but its tremendous weight and size make it a poor choice for urban environments. The M240B almost splits the difference, but its 7.62 cartridge is still out-ranged by the Soviet PKM.
Thus the idea behind the LWMMG, is to combine the lightweight, portable nature of the the LMG with the extended range, and increased ballistic effectiveness of the MMG.
The engineers at General Dynamics are attempting this by incorporating a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” method of operation coupled with a new modified .338 cartridge. At first glance, this seems like the scribblings of someone with no practical experience behind any of these weapon systems. On paper, a man-portable machine gun with the effective range of a .50 BMG, that weighed at little as the M240B with no more recoil than the 240, seems impossible.
If the footage of the new LWMMG released by General Dynamics is any indication, the new machine gun is more than just a concept. What remains to be seen, is whether or not the Pentagon puts enough importance on infantry combat and their equipment, to justify spending millions on upgrading it.
If nothing else, the likelihood of the General Dynamics LWMMG finding its way into the hands of US Special Forces is all but guaranteed. And while the increased effective range of the new cartridge is very impressive, the .338 round lacks the ballistic effectiveness of the .50 BMG. After all, it isn’t intended to double as an anti-material round, nor does it have the anti-vehicle lineage of the .50 BMG cartridge.
That said, the .338 is designed with an ideal ballistic coefficient in mind — meaning the projectile itself sails through the air with minimal resistance. In effect, this means the rounds travel closer to where the soldier aims them.
In the traditional role of an MMG or HMG, this is sometimes seen as detrimental, as the weapon is supposed to be used to provide a field of fire to an area. If the rounds are too precise, the area might be under less wide-spread fire, and potentially leave some enemy combatants unsuppressed.
However, in this case, precision is key. Since the impetus behind the design is to counter insurgent PKM/PKP light machine guns. Conceptually, this should allow our soldiers to out-range insurgent elements, as well as provide more accurate counter-fire.
As for results, we’ll have to wait and see if the idea gains more traction – and if it does, wait a few months or years for an official reports of its combat effectiveness to surface.
The idea of a “Space Shuttle Door Gunner” has always been a joke around the military. It’s so outlandishly silly that no one would dare think it’s real.
With last year’s proposed Space Corps, the expansion of civilian space programs, and a growing need for a military presence in space to protect American assets, President Trump gave his nod to the idea of a “Space Force.” This joke may soon be reality. But there are still many roadblocks in the way – like physics, for instance.
For obvious reasons, the door would have to be closed during takeoff and landing, otherwise, friction alone would tear the shuttle apart. Tragic examples of what foam shedding and a faulty O-ring can cause means that any fighting a door gunner would see would have to occur beyond a distance from Earth to allow for EVA (extravehicular activity).
Now that the door gunner is properly outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they could begin their watch. A properly tethered door gunner could hold their post for a while. The current record for longest EVA, also known as a “spacewalk,” is held by Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin at 7 hours and 29 minutes. They walked outside of the International Space Station to install power and data cables — but a door gunner could hold that post for longer.
Finally, the nitty-gritty of space combat. A door gunner could easily bring modern weapons into space and, surprisingly, only have a few problems firing it. This is because modern ammunition has its own oxidizer, so no atmospheric oxygen is required. There wouldn’t be any sound (since audible sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum) and the recoil wouldn’t matter in low-Earth orbit because the shuttle would be moving at around 4 miles a second.
Tests on Earth have proven bullets fire in a vacuum. (via GIPHY)
The downsides would be that, without friction to slow down the bullet, it would travel until it hit something — the enemy, Earth, or some distant object forever away. Also, without gravity and oxygen to dissipate the gunpowder smoke, a large cloud would expand from the barrel.
So, yes, being a Space Shuttle Door Gunner is physically possible and may be needed one day.
I used to think the distance run in the Marine Corps PT test was BS, antiquated, and pretty useless. Seriously, how the hell was a 3 mile run in go-fasters supposed to prove that I would be able to operate in combat with a full kit of more than 50 lbs of gear?
What does the distance run even measure, and is that actually relevant to the demands of the job of someone expected to perform in combat? Is aerobic fitness really what we think it is? Should the same standard be expected of all service members?
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joe Boggio)
What the test measures.
The distance run on the military PT tests is “designed” to measure aerobic endurance and by proxy cardiovascular health.
Aerobic endurance is more difficult to measure than you think though. The faster you run, the more energy you need to fuel that running. That means your body needs to be more efficient at using oxygen to create energy, since that’s what aerobic exercise actually is, movement fueled using oxygen.
If your body isn’t used to using oxygen to create fuel to run at a certain intensity, it will begin to switch over to anaerobic respiration. Anaerobic respiration occurs when you’re running so fast that the body can’t adequately use oxygen to make fuel. That’s what the “an” in anaerobic means: ‘without’ oxygen.
You know you are in the aerobic zone if you can still speak in short sentences while running, AKA, the talk test. You’re in the anaerobic zone if you can’t. Pretty simple right?
Using this logic, a PT ‘distance’ run that requires you to run so hard that you can’t speak at all, let alone in short sentences, is not a test of aerobic endurance. It’s a test of anaerobic endurance and lactate threshold.
A true test of aerobic endurance would be something like a run that measures heart rate or administers a talk test periodically to see when someone switches from aerobic to anaerobic. Something similar to what doctors do when testing heart rate variability.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Carlie Lopez)
How does this translate to real life?
The main thing that aerobic endurance tells us is the efficiency of the heart at getting oxygen into the bloodstream so that it can be used to make energy. We find that level of cardiovascular fitness at the aerobic threshold. This is a very important thing to measure, especially in a world where cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death.
From the aerobic threshold on the run is showing how much lactate a person can handle. The body’s ability to handle that burning feeling in the muscles that occurs when you’re in an anaerobic state is very important. That’s what the 880m run in the USMC CFT measures as well as the Sprint-Drag-Carry in the Army CFT. Will someone have to move many miles as fast as possible in a combat scenario? Most definitely. Will they ever have to do that same thing in go-fasters and silkies? That’s doubtful.
The mere fact that the PT run isn’t done in boots means that it doesn’t translate very well to job-specific tasks. Especially for troops that are expected to be combat ready.
The expectation is entirely different for those that work in an office all the time and will never be expected to go to combat. For those troops, aerobic endurance is more important since cardiovascular disease is more likely to kill them than incoming mortar fire (that you may need to run away from as anaerobically quickly as possible.)
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Shane Manson)
Use the test to measure what you need to train.
Which category do you fall in? Combat or non-combat?
The answer to that question should dictate how you train for the distance run portion of your PT test.
If you’re training for combat, get great at operating in a high-stress, more anaerobically dominated environment in a full combat kit.
If you’re training to not die from heart disease train to up your aerobic threshold to make your heart better at pumping oxygen.
TO ANSWER THE HEADLINE QUESTION: Yes, your PT run matters; it just depends on how.
Even though all members of the DOD have vowed to protect the country, that doesn’t mean every member will be doing that in the same exact way. For that reason, it’s foolish to expect everyone to train the same way with the same end in sight.
If you’re trying to figure out how to train in order to get better at your job or just get healthier check out the Mighty Fit Plan!
The Royal Marines piled into helicopters and boats and inserted into Estonian territory, hitting positions on the mainland and on an isolated island, doing their best to inflict maximum casualties on the Estonian Volunteer Defence Force during an exercise designed to see whether that countries tiny military can adequately defend itself against a top-tier foe.
And make no mistake about it, the Royal Marines are true commandos and are top-tier. But the local forces defending the island of Saaremaa included many members who had grown up on the island, and they fought the British to what referees called an Estonian victory. The Royal Marines called it a draw, according to an article in the British publication Plymouth Herald.
Also, in the Royal Marines’ defense, the Estonians were backed up by British Apaches and likely would have lost their key position, and maybe the whole ball game, without that crucial air support.
The Marines successfully landed reconnaissance teams unseen, and those teams were able to operate for 24 hours undetected. Then, dummy raids on one side of the island drew off defenders before the Royal Marines launched their main assault on the opposite side, allowing them to reach their main objective with little contact.
So each side did well. The Royal Marines were able to hit their objective almost undetected, and the Estonians were able to defend it anyway, and that’s good for both sides because, realistically, Estonia and Britain would more than likely fight on the same side in a war.
And the people Britain would liberate Saaremaa from would not be Estonian locals, they would be Russian commandos.
Under the surface of all European war games of the last few years sits the certainty that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine only faded because it became too costly. If former Soviet Bloc countries who want to remain democratic and free are to do so, they have to be ready to fend off a Russian “grey-zone” attack at any time.
Grey Zone describes hostilities across cyberspace and physical terrain that fall just short of war. The successful Russian seizure of Crimea and the attacks into the Donbas region were both grey-zone operations.
The Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers is huge – and they are some of the most powerful ships in the world.
These 9,000-ton ships are armed with a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical-launch systems (with 90 to 96 cells), two triple 324mm torpedo tubes, and a 20mm Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Some even carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
But sometimes, the firepower ain’t the solution. Far from it, in some cases. Say the Iranians are up to their usual… antics. That is when the destroyer will need to move.
The ship can go fast – over 30 knots, thanks to her gas turbine propulsion. She also can turn – and for a ship this big, she turns on a dime.
Do those turns matter? You bet they can. The fast turn can help avoid one of those “fast attack craft” the Iranians use. If a torpedo is fired, the turn can also buy time once the ship’s AN/SLQ-25 Nixie goes off.
Torpedo seekers do not have a long range, so the turn at high speed can allow the ship to escape an attack.
You can see the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) make one of these high-speed turns in this video below. Making such a turn does take practice – mostly because if the gear ain’t stowed right, there is likely to be one hell of a mess. But a mess to clean up is much better than a torpedo hit.
Mysterious incidents affecting the health of American diplomats in Cuba continued as recently as August, the United States said Sept. 1, despite earlier US assessments that the attacks had long stopped. The US increased its tally of government personnel affected to 19.
The new US disclosures came the same day that the union representing American diplomats said mild traumatic brain injury was among the diagnoses given to diplomats victimized in the attacks. In the most detailed account of the symptoms to date, the American Foreign Service Association said permanent hearing loss was another diagnosis, and that additional symptoms had included brain swelling, severe headaches, loss of balance, and “cognitive disruption.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was continually revising its assessments of the scope of the attacks as new information was obtained. She said the investigation had not been completed.
“We can confirm another incident which occurred last month and is now part of the investigation,” Nauert said.
US officials had previously said that the attacks, initially believed to be caused by a potential covert sonic device, had started in fall 2016 and continued until spring 2017. Last week, Nauert had said at least 16 Americans associated with the US Embassy in Havana had been affected, but that the “incidents” were no longer occurring.
The evolving US assessment indicated investigators were still far off from any thorough understanding of what transpired in the attacks, described by the US as unprecedented. As the bizarre saga has unfolded, the US has encouraged its diplomats to report any strange physical sensations. So it’s unclear whether some symptoms being attributed to the attacks might actually be unrelated.
Still, the fact there was an incident as recently as August suggested the attacks likely continued long after the US government became aware of them and ostensibly raised the issue with the Cuban government, creating even more uncertainty about the timeline and who was responsible.
Notably, the US has avoided accusing Cuba’s government of being behind the attacks. The US did expel two Cuban diplomats, but the State Department emphasized that was in protest of the Cubans’ failure to protect the safety of American diplomats while on their soil, not an indication the US felt that Havana masterminded it.
US investigators have been searching to identify a device that could have harmed the health of the diplomats, believed to have been attacked in their homes in Havana, but officials have said no device had been found.
One of the diplomats affected had arrived over the summer of 2017 to work at the US Embassy and was later diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms, said a US official, who declined to specify the symptoms that led the diplomat to report the situation.
And in Canada, a government official said that the Canadian government had first learned in March 2017 that one of its citizens was affected. Ottawa had previously confirmed that at least one Canadian diplomat was involved, but had not revealed any timeline for when it occurred or came to light.
Both the US and Canadian officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly.
It’s unclear whether Canadians were intentionally targeted or whether there could have been collateral damage from an attack aimed at Americans, given that diplomats from various countries often live in the same areas of a foreign capital. US officials have said the Americans were targeted in their homes in Havana, not in the Embassy.
Canadian officials have been actively working with US and Cuban authorities to ascertain the cause. A Cuban attack deliberately targeting Canadians would be even more confounding, given that Canada — unlike the US — has long had friendly ties to Cuba.
The American Foreign Service Association, in describing the damage to diplomats’ health, said it had met with or spoken to 10 diplomats affected, but did not specify how many of the 10 had been diagnosed with hearing loss or with mild traumatic brain injury, commonly called a concussion.
Yet the confirmation that at least some diplomats suffered brain injury suggested the attacks caused more serious damage than the hearing-related complaints that were initially reported.
“We can’t rule out new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community,” Nauert said. She added that the embassy has a medical officer and has been consistently providing care to those who have reported incidents.
Asked for further details about what the US had learned about the cause or culprit in the attacks, the State Department said it had no more information to share.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, typically results from a bump, jolt, or other external force that disrupts normal brain functioning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Short- and long-term effects can include changes to memory and reasoning, sight and balance, language abilities, and emotions.
Not all traumatic brain injuries are the same. Doctors evaluate patients using various clinical metrics such as the Glasgow Coma Scale, in which a numerical score is used to classify TBIs as mild, moderate, or severe.
“AFSA strongly encourages the Department of State and the US Government to do everything possible to provide appropriate care for those affected, and to work to ensure that these incidents cease and are not repeated,” the union said in a statement.
Snipers from Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain attended the International Special Training Centre’s Desert Sniper Course in July 2018 at the Chinchilla Training Area here.
ISTC is a multinational education and training facility for tactical-level, advanced and specialized training of multinational special operations forces and similar units, employing the skills of multinational instructors and subject matter experts.
The Desert Sniper Course is designed to teach experienced sniper teams skills for operating in desert environments.
“The students that come to this course all have prior experience,” said a U.S. Army sniper instructor assigned to ISTC. “We help them build upon what they already know in order to operate in a desert environment. During the course we teach them concealment techniques and stalking in desert terrain. This culminates with students conducting missions where they put their newly learned skills to the test.”
A sniper team from the Netherlands collects ballistic data during a nighttime range session during the International Special Training Centre Desert Sniper Course at Chinchilla Training Area, Spain, July 9, 2018.
(Army photo by 1st Lt. Benjamin Haulenbeek)
Because of the nature of their work, the snipers’ names are not used in this article.
Snipers operating in dry or barren environments must take extra measures to alleviate the effects of heat that can increase the challenges when constructing concealed positions, known as hide sites.
Unique camouflage requirements
“The biggest challenges snipers will encounter during most desert operations are the unique camouflage requirements, the heat and exposure to the harsh environment, and having to engage targets at extreme distances,” the U.S. instructor said.
The first week of the course gave students the opportunity to acclimate to the environment.
“We ease into operations by conducting ranges where they collect data for their rifles and learn about environmental considerations such as heat mirage and strong winds that affect their ability to make long shots,” the instructor said. “From there, they practice building hide sites and stalking to refine the skills they’ll need when conducting missions during week two.”
ISTC’s ability to conduct and train across various countries in Europe provides NATO and partner nations the opportunity to participate in cost effective training close to home.
“Spain is the perfect place to conduct this type of training,” a Spanish sniper instructor. “We have the right kind of climate and terrain to replicate the conditions that a sniper team will encounter when deployed in a desert. We also have the space needed to conduct ranges for long-distance shooting, something that is not easy to find in Europe.”
With snipers from multiple countries, the opportunity to share knowledge helped all those who attended.
“One of the greatest benefits is that our courses bring together knowledge and resources from so many places,” the ISTC operations and plans officer said. “By combining efforts and sharing knowledge, the nations that participate in course like Desert Sniper are able to reinforce alliances and strengthen their capability to work together.”
The Pentagon’s emerging “Arsenal Plane” or “flying bomb truck” is likely to be a modified, high-tech adaptation of the iconic B-52 bomber designed to fire air-to-air weapons, release swarms of mini-drones and provide additional fire-power to 5th generation stealth fighters such as the F-35 and F-22, Pentagon officials and analysts said.
It is also possible that the emerging arsenal plane could be a modified C-130 or combined version of a B-52 and C-130 drawing from elements of each, Pentagon officials said.
Using a B-52, which is already being modernized with new radios and an expanded internal weapons bay, would provide an existing “militarized” platform already engineered with electronic warfare ability and countermeasures designed to thwart enemy air defenses.
“You are using a jet that already has a military capability. The B-52 is a military asset, whereas all the alternatives would have to be created. It has already been weaponized and has less of a radar cross-section compared to a large Air Force cargo plane. It is not a penetrating bomber, but it does have some kind of jamming and countermeasures meant to cope with enemy air defenses. It is wired for a combat mission,” said Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultancy.
Flying as a large, non-stealthy bomber airplane, a B-52 would still present a large target to potential adversaries; however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said part of the rationale for the “Arsenal Plane” would be to work closely with stealthy fighter jets such as an F-22 and F-35, with increased networking technology designed to increase their firepower and weapons load.
An “Arsenal Plane” networked to F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters would enable the fighter aircraft to maintain their stealth properties while still having substantial offensive bombing capability. If stealth fighters attach weapons to their external pylons, they change their radar signature and therefore become more vulnerable to enemy air defenses. If networked to a large “flying bomb truck,” they could use stealth capability to defeat enemy air defenses and still have an ability to drop large amounts of bombs on targets.
Such a scenario could also likely rely upon now-in-development manned-unmanned teaming wherein emerging algorithms and computer technology enable fighter jets to control the sensor payload and weapons capability of nearby drones from the cockpit of the aircraft. This would enable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to more quickly relay strategic or targeting information between fighter jets, drones and “Arsenal Planes.”
Aboulafia explained that air fighters being developed by potential adversaries, such as the Chinese J-20 and other fighters, could exist in larger numbers than a US force, underscoring the current US strategy to maintain a technological edge even if their conventional forces are smaller. An “Arsenal Plane” could extend range and lethality for US fighters, in the event they were facing an enemy force with more sheer numbers of assets.
“There is a concern about numbers of potential enemies and range. When you are dealing with a potential adversary with thousands of jets and you’ve got limited assets with limited weapons payloads, you have got to be concerned about the numbers,” he said.
An effort to be more high-tech, if smaller in terms of sheer numbers, than rival militaries is a key part of the current Pentagon force modernization strategy.
“In practice, the “Arsenal Plane” will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities,” Carter told reporters. Aboulafia added that an idea for an “Arsenal Plane” emerged in the 1980s as a Cold War strategy designed to have large jets carry missiles able to attack Soviet targets.
Carter unveiled the “Arsenal Plane” concept during a recent 2017 budget drop discussion at the Pentagon wherein he, for the first time, revealed the existence of a “Strategic Capabilities Office” aimed at connecting and leveraging emerging weapons and technology with existing platforms. This effort is aimed at saving money, increasing the military’s high-tech lethality and bringing new assets to the force faster than the many years it would take to engineer entirely new technologies.
“I created the SCO (Strategic Capabilities Office) in 2012, when I was Deputy Secretary of defense to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs,” he said.
Carter said “Arsenal Plane” development would be funded through a $71 billion research and development 2017 budget request.
While Carter did not specify a B-52 during his public discussion of the new asset now in-development, he did say it would likely be an “older” aircraft designed to function as a “flying launchpad.”
“The last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the “Arsenal Plane,” which takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” Carter added.
The Air Force is already surging forward with a massive, fleet-wide modernization overhaul of the battle-tested, Vietnam-era B-52 bomber, an iconic airborne workhorse for the US military dating back to the 1960s.
Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.
The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons and technologies.
Aboulafia said the new B-52 “Arsenal Plane” could, for the first time, configure a primarily air-to-ground bomber as a platform able to fire air-to-air weapons as well – such as the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM.
The integration of air-to-air weapons on the B-52 does not seem inconceivable given the weapons upgrades already underway with the aircraft. Air Force is also making progress with a technology-inspired effort to increase the weapons payload for the workhorse bomber, Eric Single, Chief of the Global Strike Division, Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing, he explained.
B-52s have previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting edge precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.
“It is about a 66 percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52, which is huge. You can imagine the increased number of targets you can reach, and you can strike the same number of targets with significantly less sorties,” said Single.
Single also added that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.
The first increment of IWBU, slated to be finished by 2017, will integrate an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well, Single said.
IWBU, which uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, is expected to cost roughly $313 million, service officials said.
The B-52 has a massive, 185-foot wingspan, a weight of about 185,000 pounds and an ability to reach high sub-sonic speeds and altitudes of 50,000 feet, Air Force officials said.
Communications, Avionics Upgrades
Two distinct, yet interwoven B-52 modernization efforts will increase the electronics, communications technology, computing and avionics available in the cockpit while simultaneously configuring the aircraft with the ability to carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” precision-guided weapons internally – in addition to carrying six weapons on each wing, Single said.
Eight B-52s have already received a communications (coms systems) upgrade called Combat Network Communication Technology, or CONECT – a radio, electronics and data-link upgrade which, among other things, allows aircraft crews to transfer mission and targeting data directly to aircraft systems while in flight (machine to machine), Single explained.
“It installs a digital architecture in the airplane,” Single explained. “Instead of using data that was captured during the mission planning phase prior to your take off 15 to 20 hours ago – you are getting near real-time intelligence updates in flight.”
Single described it key attribute in terms of “machine-to-machine” data-transfer technology which allows for more efficient, seamless and rapid communication of combat-relevant information.
Using what’s called an ARC 210 Warrior software-programmable voice and data radio, pilots can now send and receive targeting data, mapping information or intelligence with ground stations, command centers and other aircraft.
“The crew gets the ability to communicate digitally outside the airplane which enables you to import not just voice but data for mission changes, threat notifications, targeting….all those different types of things you would need to get,” Single said.
An ability to receive real-time targeting updates is of great relevance to the B-52s close-air-support mission because fluid, fast-moving or dynamic combat situations often mean ground targets appear, change or disappear quickly.
Alongside moving much of the avionics from analogue to digital technology, CONECT also integrates new servers, modems, colored display screens in place of old green monochrome and provides pilots with digital moving-map displays which can be populated with real-time threat and mission data, Single said.
The new digital screens also show colored graphics highlighting the aircraft’s flight path, he added.
Single explained that being able to update key combat-relevant information while in transit will substantially help the aircraft more effectively travel longer distances for missions, as needed.
“The key to this is that this is part of the long-range strike family of systems — so if you take off out of Barksdale Air Force Base and you go to your target area, it could take 15 or 16 hours to get there. By the time you get there, all the threat information has changed,” said Single. “Things move, pop up or go away and the targeting data may be different.”
The upgrades will also improve the ability of the airplane to receive key intelligence information through a data link called the Intelligence Broadcast Receiver. In addition, the B-52s will be able to receive information through a LINK-16-like high-speed digital data link able to transmit targeting and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR information.
The CONECT effort, slated to cost $1.1 billion overall, will continue to unfold over the next several years, Single explained.
Twelve B-52 will be operational with CONECT by the end of this year and the entire fleet will be ready by 2021, Single said.
Known for massive bombing missions during the Vietnam War, the 159-foot long B-52s have in recent years been operating over Afghanistan in support of military actions there from a base in Guam.
The B-52 also served in Operation Desert Storm, Air Force statements said. “B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard,” an Air Force statement said.
In 2001, the B-52 provided close-air support to forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, service officials said. The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 21, 2003, B-52Hs launched approximately 100 CALCMs (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles) during a night mission.
Given the B-52s historic role in precision-bombing and close air support, next-generation avionics and technologies are expected to greatly increase potential missions for the platform in coming years, service officials said.
New documents released by the White House July 15 show both the FBI and CIA found substantial evidence that several of the 9/11 hijackers received assistance from officers with the Saudi Arabian intelligence service while preparing for their attacks on Washington and New York.
While the intelligence described in the documents leaves some doubt on how strong the link between the 19 terrorists and the Saudi government was, it is the first time since 2003 that information on any ties between al Qaida and Saudi Arabian intelligence connected to the 9/11 attacks has been made public.
“While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with and received support or assistance from individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” the report says. “There is information … that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
The newly-released documents are 28 pages from the so-called “9/11 Report” ordered by Congress in the wake of the terrorist attacks that were removed from the final draft in an effort that some say was intended to shield one of America’s most important Middle East allies from embarrassment.
But pressure has been mounting on the Obama Administration to release the formerly classified pages by some in Congress and by attorneys for the families of 9/11 victims who are suing the Saudi government for its alleged role in the attacks.
The documents describe tactical help several of the attackers received from suspected Saudi intelligence operatives here in the U.S., including housing assistance, meetings with local imams and even one case where officials believed a Saudi operative was testing airline security during a flight to Washington, D.C.
“According to an FBI agent in Phoenix, the FBI suspects Mohammed al-Qudhaeen of being [REDACTED],” the report says. “Al-Qudhaeen was involved in a 1999 incident aboard an America West flight, which the FBI’s Phoenix office now suspects may have been a ‘dry run’ to test airline security.”
While the newly-released pages paint a detailed picture of how some suspected Saudi government officials and intelligence agents had ties to the al Qaida attackers and may have helped them plan and execute the attack, it’s unclear whether the effort was officially sanctioned by the Saudi royal family.
Congressional investigators “confirmed that the intelligence community also has information … indicating that individuals associated with the Saudi government in the United States may have other ties to al Qaida and other terrorist groups,” the report says. “Neither CIA nor FBI witnesses were able to identify definitively the extent of Saudi support for terrorist activity globally or within the United States and the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature.”
While not necessarily a “smoking gun,” the most damning evidence in the pages deals with Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, alleged Saudi intelligence officers who provided direct assistance to “hijackers-to-be” Kahlid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi after they arrived in San Diego in 2000. Both men were financed by a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and they used those funds to secure housing and other incidentals for the future hijackers.
Along with illustrating how protracted the terrorists’ 9/11 planning was — taking place over several years — this newly-released section of the report also shows that the FBI dropped the ball on several occasions, failing to share intelligence between headquarters and the San Diego field office and summarily ending an investigation into the suspicious funding of a mosque construction — an investigation that — in hindsight — may have allowed the FBI to stymie the chain of events that eventually led to the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Editor-in-chief Ward Carroll contributed to this report.
The Russian sub fleet is growing and growing more active, and the US and its NATO partners are more concerned about what those boats and rest of the Russian navy are up to around Europe.
For the US Navy, that means more focus on the Atlantic, especially the North Atlantic, closer to the home base of Russia’s Northern Fleet on the Barents Sea.
At the end of September 2019, the Navy reestablished Submarine Group 2 in Norfolk, Virginia, five years after the unit was deactivated. The reactivation comes just over a year after the Navy reestablished its Second Fleet, which oversees the western half of the Atlantic up into the high north.
Sonar Technician (Submarines) 3rd Class Christopher T. Woods stands lookout on the Navy sub Colorado in the Atlantic Ocean prior to its commissioning, January 11, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)
The reestablishment of Submarine Group 2 is likewise “aimed at enhancing the Navy’s capacity to command and control its undersea warfare forces seamlessly across the entire Atlantic area, from the eastern seaboard of the United States to the Barents Sea, and even into the Southern Atlantic, if the need arises,” the Navy said in a release.
Echoing the comments of the Navy’s top officer upon the reestablishment of Second Fleet, Vice Adm. Charles Richard, commander of US submarine forces in the Atlantic, cited the “more challenging and complex” security situation as the reason for the return of Group 2.
“To maintain America’s undersea superiority, we must increase naval power and our readiness for high-end blue water warfare. How we’re organized to command that employment will be a driving factor in our success — that’s why we’re re-establishing Sub Group 2 today,” Richard said in the release.
A submarine group, composed of squadrons, handles the organization, training, and equipping of those boats while they’re state-side. Individual subs are attached to that squadron and group until they’re assigned to a combatant command, six of which are responsible for operations in specific areas of the globe.
A US Navy chief petty officer of the boat aboard pre-commissioned unit (PCU) South Dakota, directs his team while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Nov. 27, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jared Bunn)
“Until [a submarine] makes that transition, it’s part of Group 2,” which owns it and operates it and tells it what to do, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Reestablishing Submarine Group 2 doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more subs prowling the Atlantic, but its return is important because the “group is in charge of the movement and the command and control of the ship” before it transitions over to combatant command, Clark said.
Without Group 2, the attention of command elements in the Atlantic was spread thin over a larger number of subs. Bringing back Group 2, Clark said, “allows you to put more attention on the North Atlantic submarines.”
“Along with the second fleet … it’s a way of putting more command and control and leadership attention on that part of the ocean,” Clark added.
Russian Black Sea Fleet’s B-265 Krasnodar Improved Kilo-class submarine.
Reestablishing Second Fleet and Submarine Group 2 are “visible representations of the US commitment to the security in the Atlantic in an era of great power competition,” Lt. Marycate Walsh, a spokesperson for Second Fleet, said in an email.
“Increased challenges and threats required a commensurate increase in capacity to address possible contingencies,” Walsh said, adding that Group 2’s operations in the region will add to and integrate with those of Second Fleet.
Submarine Group 2 also oversees anti-submarine warfare for US Fleet Forces Command and, when assigned, for Fourth Fleet. Fleet Forces Command organizes, trains, and equips naval forces for assignment to combatant commands, and Fourth Fleet is responsible for ships, subs, and aircraft operating around Central and South America.
In that role, Submarine Group 2 will “employ combat-ready forces in [anti-submarine warfare] and undersea warfare operations across mission-essential sea-service functions,” Cmdr. Jodie Cornell, a spokesperson for Submarine Forces Atlantic, said in an email.
The USS Rhode Island returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia after three months at sea.
(US Navy photo)
Group 2 will also “ensure assigned staffs and submarines achieve and maintain a level of training, personnel and material readiness necessary to carry out their assigned missions” and “advocate for resources and requirements that enable advancements in [anti-submarine warfare] and undersea warfare operations,” Cornell said.
The Navy generally does not comment on operations, and neither Cornell or Walsh would comment on potential future operations for subs assigned to Submarine Group 2.
But Richard’s mention of the Barents Sea, adjacent to the home of Russia’s Northern Fleet and its strategic nuclear forces on the Kola Peninsula, hints an increasing concern among US and NATO forces about Russian subs being able to reach into Europe with their relatively new sub-launched missile capability.
“The Kalibr-class cruise missile, for example, has been launched from coastal-defense systems, long-range aircraft, and submarines off the coast of Syria,” Adm. James Foggo, head of US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, said in late 2018. “They’ve shown the capability to be able to reach pretty much all the capitals in Europe from any of the bodies of water that surround Europe.”
Ranges of Russia’s Kalibr missiles when fired from seas around Europe. Light red circles are the land-attack version. Dark red circles indicate the anti-ship version.
The threat of sub-launched cruise missiles is “certainly … part of what this is intended to address,” Clark said of Submarine Group 2. “This gives better coordination and better command and control of those submarines.”
More frequent deployments of more sophisticated Russian subs are driving more US naval activity in the Atlantic, which includes more deployments US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to Iceland, where they have a higher operational tempo.
Those aircraft are in part managed by Group 2, Clark said. It helps “having people at Group 2 being able to focus on that problem.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria hit record levels in August, dropping 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations.
That was the highest monthly total recorded during Operation Inherent Resolve, the three-year campaign against ISIS.
The amount of bombs dropped in each of the first eight months of 2017 exceeded the total of any other month during the campaign.
The 32,801 weapons deployed by coalition aircraft through August 2017 is more than the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for Operation Inherent Resolve.
The sustained uptick in bombing during the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration seems to fulfill his campaign promise to “bomb the s— out of” ISIS. But the increase in bombings is also likely driven by intense operations in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’ last major urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, respectively.
Close-quarters fighting against determined ISIS militants in reinforced positions often necessitates close air support from Iraqi and coalition aircraft. (Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under US control, so the total number of weapons used is likely higher.)
Calls for airstrikes “would come from forces on the ground that an enemy’s been identified, say, in this house,” US Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center in Baghdad, told Business Insider earlier this month. CJOC, as it’s called, liaises with Iraqi security forces and government officials and is one of two strike cells in Iraq that manage such engagements, Sofge said.
“The enemy’s been in a house, and that enemy’s firing from this structure,” Sofge said, describing a potential strike scenario. “So the first thing we do in a strike like that, we become aware of it, and we know where it is with great precision, 10-digit grids, down to the meter.”
Coalition personnel and their local partners have a database of “category-one structures” that they will avoid targeting because they have infrastructural or historic value, including religious centers or hospitals. ISIS fighters are known to make use of those structures for that reason, Sofge said.
“If it’s not that, it’s still a [category two] structure that we would have to go through a rigorous process to say, ‘Hey, this structure can be removed from its inherent protected status because of what’s going there on now. There’s fighters in there shooting at the Iraqi security forces.’ So first we establish that we can go engage with this thing,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“Then we apply a some fairly strict criteria of positive identification: How do we know who that is and what they’re doing, and we have multiple intelligence requirements — it can’t just be one thing; we have multiple indications that that is in fact what’s going on from that place,” he said, adding:
“And then we have a legal review that says that engaging this target comports with the laws of armed conflict and that engaging in these circumstances is permissible according to those laws, and once we’ve established all of those things we go to the government of Iraq and ask them for permission to strike that building, and they’ll say yes or no, and they do say both, depending on the structure. They do a pretty thorough review themselves.”
Sofge said coalition personnel will then, “within the bounds of proportionality,” do engineering analysis to see what will be damaged in a strike and what effect it would have on nearby structures. That’s followed by the weapon-selection process.
“We have an array of weapons available in support of the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We’ll choose from among those and then use them in order to make sure that we do enough damage to kill the target and kill what it is that’s attracted the Iraqi Security Forces’ attention.”
Sofge, who stressed coalition forces’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties, said the actual process likely takes less time to complete than it does to describe, in part because of the experience they have doing it and because parts of it happen concurrently.
The US-led coalition’s air campaign against ISIS has attracted intense scrutiny for the number of civilian casualties it is believed to have caused.
According to Airwars, a UK-based independent monitoring group, between Trump’s inauguration and mid-July, more than 2,200 civilians appeared to have been killed in coalition airstrikes — almost as many as the 2,300 likely killed by coalition strikes under Obama.
That works out to 80 civilian casualties a month under Obama and 360 a month during the Trump administration.
Civilian deaths under Trump peaked in March, with nearly 700 confirmed or likely casualties. They have declined since June and July, when fighting in Mosul wrapped up.
Concerns about the air campaign were also piqued by reports the coalition had loosened its rules of engagement, allowing US and other coalition personnel on the ground to move closer to the front line and call in strikes and artillery fire directly, rather than going “through a whole bureaucracy and through Baghdad,” one embedded US adviser told the Associated Press at the time.
A coalition spokesman told the AP the rules of engagement had been “adjusted” in December, “empowering” more coalition forces “to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell.”
The Pentagon contested that report, saying in March that overarching guidelines about such strikes had not changed, even as US personnel were being embedded at lower levels within Iraqi Security Forces units and appeared to be closer to direct combat.
Asked if the process to carry out strikes had changed during the fighting in Mosul, Sofge said “not appreciably,” adding that the process did see “refinements” regarding Iraqi permission for airstrikes.
“Some of the processes tend to be centralized, and in effort to decentralize them while still retaining the integrity of an Iraqi permission [it] was tweaked by the Iraqi government, not by the strike cells, as to who’s the Iraqi giving you the thumbs-up that the government has given permission,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“I know in some cases [it] was lowered a level in an effort to streamline the process so it was more effective to the fighters on the ground,” he added, “but there was no change from a coalition perspective in the process — only who was the person saying ‘yes’ to the strike on the Iraqi side.”
Such an adjustment may have given Iraqi commanders on the front line more say in when and where strikes took place.
The Iraqi government declared the liberation of Mosul in early July, though cleaning up munitions left there by the fighting could take a decade or more.
ISIS fighters remain in some pockets of Iraq, mostly in the north-central part of the country and in the far western desert.
Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, have launched assaults on those positions in recent days.
In Syria, the months-long fight in Raqqa has gained ground, according to US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman.
More than 75% of the city is now cleared of ISIS fighters, he said on Thursday, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces, a mainly Kurdish force partnering with the coalition, “have made clear progress and we are seeing ISIS begin to lose its grip on their self-declared capital in Raqqa.”
During the invasion of Iwo Jima and the assault on Mount Suribachi, a Marine Corps Reserve infantryman and paratrooper carried his weapon — an ANM2 aircraft machine gun capable of firing 1200-1500 rounds per minute — onto the beaches and used it to devastate Japanese pillboxes even though it was shot from his hands…twice.
Marine Cpl. Tony Stein’s family later received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.
After the short-lived Marine Parachute Regiment was disbanded, Stein was assigned to the 5th Marine Division and sent to Iwo Jima. Marines in his unit came across a crashed SBD Dauntless dive bomber, a plane known for its slow speed but deadly armament. It’s pilots racked up an impressive 3.2-1 air-to-air kill ratio in the bomber.
The Dauntless’s lethal bite came from its ANM2 aircraft machine guns, .30-caliber weapons based on the M1919 light machine gun. The aircraft version was lighter and fired approximately three times as fast as the standard M1919. A unit armorer enlisted Stein’s help in adding buttstocks, bipods, and sights to the weapon.
The weapons were fitted with 100-round ammo belts carried in aluminum boxes, meaning the weapon could unleash hell for about five seconds at a time.
When the Marines landed at Iwo Jima, Stein pressed forward to where the fighting was hottest and placed carefully aimed bursts into Japanese pillboxes, usually by charging them alone and firing at close ranges against the crews inside.
Of course, with only five seconds or less of fire per ammo belt, he quickly ran dry. He threw off his shoes and helmet for speed and made running trips back and forth to the beach carrying wounded Marines down to aid and bringing ammo belts back. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he made at least eight trips that day.
During the fighting, the Stinger was shot from Stein’s hands twice. But he simply picked the weapon back up each time and kept fighting.
The Marines pushed farther forward than they could hold. When the unit was ordered to withdraw, Stein covered the movement with the Stinger.
As the invasion continued, Stein was wounded on the famous Mount Suribachi and evacuated to a hospital ship. When the regiment took additional casualties, Stein slipped off of the hospital ship and joined his unit once again.
He was with his company when it was pinned down by a Japanese machine gunner on March 1. Stein led the movement to find and destroy it but was shot by a sniper in the attempt. A Medal of Honor for Stein’s actions on the beach of Iwo Jima was presented to his widow in 1946.