The U.S. defense secretary has again accused Russia of violating a key Cold War arms control treaty, calling the unresolved and increasingly tense dispute with Moscow “untenable.”
Jim Mattis’s remarks on Oct. 4, 2018 after a meeting of NATO military leaders were the latest in a series of increasingly blunt statements by U.S. officials regarding the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Russia has repeatedly denied U.S. assertions, first made publicly in 2014, that a ground-launched cruise missile Moscow has developed, and reportedly deployed, is in violation of the agreement, known as the INF treaty.
After years of public criticism of Moscow, U.S. officials in 2017 started becoming more aggressive in their approach. And Russia acknowledged the existence of a missile identified by Washington, but denied that it had violated the treaty.
In early October 2018, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said U.S. forces might have to “take out” the Russian missiles if the dispute continues. She later clarified that she wasn’t referring to an actual U.S. military attack.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 14, 2018.
“Russia must return to compliance with the INF treaty or the U.S. will need to respond to its cavalier disregard for the treaty’s specific limits,” Mattis said in Brussels.
“The current situation with Russia in blatant violation of this treaty is untenable,” he said.
Congress has backed funding for a new missile program to counter the Russian weapon, and Mattis said in early 2018 that defense planners were working on new low-yield nuclear weapons to force Russia back into compliance.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Mattis’s comments, saying Russia was imperiling the treaty, which is widely considered a “cornerstone” of European security.
US, Japanese, and Indian warships converged in Guam for the 22nd iteration of Exercise Malabar, an annual exercise focused on developing coordination and training to counter maritime threats.
2018’s version of the exercise, which is the first to take place around Guam, runs from June 7 to June 16, 2018, but as the ships involved gathered beforehand, the Chinese navy was keeping an eye on the proceedings.
Indian ships sailing to Guam were shadowed by Chinese warships in the South China Sea, breaking off only when the Indian ships entered the Philippine Sea.
“We had good, polite conversation. They were there for some time, and then broke off,” Rear Adm. Dinesh K. Tripathi, commander of India’s Eastern Fleet and head of India’s delegation to Malabar 2018, told The Economic Times. “The moment we entered the Pacific across the Philippines Sea, they went back. It was interesting.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Stephen W. Rowe)
Surveillance by Chinese ships, which Tripathi said was “not surprising,” comes a few weeks after Indian warships spotted a Chinese ship “tailing them at a safe distance” as they left Vietnam, following the first joint exercise between those two countries.
“We knew we were being tailed, but we were on international waters or global commons, and therefore took evasive measures,” sources told India Today of the incident.
That exercise, which ran from May 21 to May 25, 2018, attracted Chinese ire, with a Global Times op-ed calling it “a futile attempt to flex muscle.”
‘Distance actually does not matter’
Malabar started in 1992 as a US-India bilateral exercise. It has been done annually since then — with the exception of 1998 through 2002, after India’s 1998 nuclear tests — expanding to a trilateral exercise with Japan’s addition in 2015.
Other countries have participated in the past, though Indian has declined Australia’s request to take part for the past two years. (Observers suspect Chinese pressure is behind Canberra’s exclusion.)
(Indian Navy / Twitter)
Malabar 2018 consists of on-shore and at-sea portions. The former ran from June 7 to June 10, 2018, involving expert and professional exchanges on carrier strike group, maritime patrol, and reconnaissance operations as well as on surface and anti-submarine warfare. The latter portion lasts from June 11 to June 16, 2018, in the Philippine Sea, and will include military-to-military coordination, air-defense and surface-warfare exercises, and replenishment while underway.
The US Navy has sent the USS Ronald Reagan, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, and a P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
India’s participants include stealth frigate INS Sahyadri and the first-in-class antisubmarine-warfare corvette INS Kamorta, which was trailed by a Chinese ship while leaving Vietnam May 2018. India’s fleet tanker INS Shakti and a P-8I Neptune, the Indian variant of the P-8A Poseidon, are also taking part.
Japan sent its Hyunga-class helicopter carrier JS Ise as well as two destroyers, JS Suzunami and JS Fuyuzuki.
2018’s version of the exercise is also the first since the US Defense Department renamed US Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command— a shift that has been interpreted as both a rhetorical swipe at China and an adjustment to the growing interconnectedness of the Pacific and Indian ocean regions.
For India, basing the exercise in Guam reflects the country’s willingness and ability to project power.
“Distance actually does not matter. Wherever Indian maritime interests are, that is our area of operation,” Tripathi told The Economic Times. “Wherever national interest takes us, we will deploy if needed.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With its unmatched precision, Lockheed Martin’s THAAD can equalize tensions around the world with its mobility and strategic battery-unit placement.
In order to deter North Korean provocations and further defend the Pacific region, the Pentagon deployed a THAAD battery toGuam in April 2013.
However, after the rogue regime’s most recent launch, the US has reportedly agreed to deploy the THAAD to South Korea — which would counter almost all incoming missiles from the North.
The pressure to deploy THAAD is rapidly mounting, as US defense officials have cited North Korean missile developments.
In October, Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, assessed that North Korean has “the capability to reach the [US] homeland with a nuclear weapon from a rocket,” The Guardian reported.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the United States Forces Korea, a sub-unified command of the US Pacific Command, told a forum in 2014 that placing THAAD in the country is a “US initiative.”
Discussions to equip South Korea with THAAD were held during South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the White House last October.
THAAD’s ‘hit to kill’ lethal effects
The THAAD missile does not carry a warhead. Instead, the interceptor missile uses pure kinetic energy to deliver “hit to kill” strikes to incoming ballistic threats inside or outside the atmosphere.
Each launcher carries up to eight missiles and can send multiple kill vehicles at once, depending on the severity of the threat.
Lockheed’s missile launcher is just one element of the antimissile system.
The graphic below, from Raytheon, shows the rest of the equipment needed for each enemy-target interception.
How THAAD works
Five minutes after an enemy missile takes off, a truck-mounted THAAD interceptor missile launches in pursuit of its target.
This is a close shot of what the THAAD missile looks like when launched:
And here’s what the launch looks like from far away:
THAAD’s missile hunts for its target, then obliterates it in the sky.
The following infrared imagery shows THAAD demolishing the target:
By the end of 2016, the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is scheduled to deliver an additional 48 THAAD interceptors to the US military, bringing the total up to 155, according to a statement from MDA director Vice Admiral J.D. Syring before the House Armed Service Committee.
According to the US Missile Defense Agency, there are more than 6,300 ballistic missiles outside of US, NATO, Russian, and Chinese control.
Other US partners around the globe are interested in purchasing THAAD.
The United Arab Emirates has become the first foreign buyer after signing a deal with the Department of Defense for $3.4 billion. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have “expressed interest,” according to Richard McDaniel, vice president of Patriot Advanced Capability programs at Lockheed Martin. “We expect deals,” he added.
The UAE seems like a particularly appropriate buyer: In September, 45 of its troops deployed near Yemen were killed when an enemy missile struck an arms depot, a reminder of the strategic challenge of ballistic missiles falling into the wrong hands.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has told RFE/RL that his country can “commit to joining [NATO] today,” saying that his country has “fulfilled basically every requirement” needed to become a member of the alliance.
Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12, 2018, where the leaders had a first-ever meeting at the level of heads of government with Georgia, Margvelashvili said his country was “ready” to join and added, “We are standing here [ready] to become NATO members so the question [if we can join the alliance] is to [be answered by] the NATO member countries.”
The leaders of the 29-member alliance adopted a declaration at the end of the summit stating, “we reiterate the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest [NATO] summit that Georgia will become a member of the alliance.”
The declaration added, “we recognize the significant progress on reforms which Georgia has made and must continue to make, which are helping Georgia, an aspirant country, progress in its preparations towards membership.”
However, there was no mention of when Georgia can join NATO or when the alliance will offer Tbilisi a Membership Action Plan (MAP).
2018 NATO summit in Brussels.
A MAP is a multistage process of political dialogue and military reform to bring a country in line with NATO standards and to eventual membership. The process can take several years.
Like at previous summits, some European countries were hesitant to open the door to Georgia now, prompting Margvelashvili to note, “we have to reach that consensus because this is not only a security organization but it is a democratic organization and you need the support of each country.
“So we have to convince them that NATO, Europe and the United States will be safer and better when Georgia becomes a NATO member.”
Everyone has their favorite piece of issued gear. It doesn’t matter why you love it, you just do. And chances are good that you loved it so much, it got “lost” during your last deployment.
Military people are good people, so I don’t like to use the word “theft.” We’ll call it the usual, “Strategic Transfer of Equipment to an Alternate Location.”
7. IR patches
Do you know which country’s troops are the toughest in combat? The United States. Now, do you know which country’s troops would be the most lethal for U.S. troops to fight? The United States.
Those backward flags worn U.S. military uniforms keep blue-on-blue accidents from happening at night. While in the field, they’re worn on the chest or arm. When the wearer transitions to veteran status, it goes on their ball cap.
No matter which brand you prefer, Gerber or Leatherman, this is one of the most useful things troops deploy with. The range of use is astonishing. You can use it for one of its many on-label functions, like a screwdriver. Or maybe you need to bend the lower receiver on a .50-cal back into place. Or maybe you need to pull some shrapnel out of your battle buddy. The multi-tool is what you need.
In your post-military life, your Gerber is likely to end up constructing Ikea furniture.
5. Gen-III cold weather fleece
Everyone knows a fleece jacket is both comfortable as hell while making you look 20 pounds heavier. The Army’s extreme cold weather fleece has the same problem with the added benefit of being a part of a bigger cold weather system that actually works.
The old issued M-65 field jackets were just like coats, in that you wear them, but they were about as protective as flip-flops.
4. Angle-head flashlights
In the event of nuclear war, two things will survive: cockroaches and your old, angle-head flashlight. These old things are beloved by veterans of many eras. Sure, they update the issued lights, they switched to surefire flashlights, and they even updated the angled heads on some models, but there’s a reason these are so iconic.
You may not have a daily use for a signal light, but chances are good this is in your home or car emergency kit — or even your bug-out bag.
3. The KA-BAR
This one only applies to Marines, but the KA-BAR is pretty much the utility knife. For whatever reason they might need a utility knife, Marines will always say their issued KA-BAR is indispensable. And none of them ever want to give it up at the end of the day.
Not every branch refers to the poncho liner as the “woobie,” but everyone can appreciate how useful this blanket is. It now even has a cult following of troops and veterans who turn their woobies into everything from smoking jackets to snuggies.
If you don’t think the Camelback is an amazing advance in issued military equipment, try to remember what it was like to haul around a canteen on your LBV.
You know what else is great about taking a camelback on a deployment? Or hiking, or boating, or literally anywhere else where you need to carry a lot of water? It doesn’t taste like sh*tty canteen water.
Tensions between the US and Russia and increasing activity in the Arctic have drawn more attention to the countries’ otherwise quiet boundary in the high north.
The Bering Strait, between Alaska and Russia’s Far East, has long been an area of low tension and cooperation on matters like waterway management and fisheries enforcement. But expectations of increased commercial and military activity in the Arctic have raised the strait’s strategic profile.
“The Northwest Passage and the Northern Passage all link through one strategic waterway in the West, and that’s through the Bering Strait,” retired US Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser said at a Wilson Center event in October, referring to sea routes along the northern coasts of Canada and Russia, respectively.
“The issues that we’re facing and talking about in the GIUK Gap, you need to be very cognizant that they could also appear in the Bering Sea,” added Fraser, who led Alaska Command in the mid-2000s.
Fraser is not alone in that assessment. At a Senate hearing in March, the Navy’s top officer, Adm. Michael Gilday, said he expected the Bering Strait to be “strategically as important as the Strait of Malacca or the Strait of Hormuz.”
The US military has been active in those straits for years, but its activity in and around Alaska is increasing.
“I think we ought to pay a lot of attention to the Aleutians,” Fraser said at the October event. “They provide, really, a string across the approaches into the Bering, and as more and more strategic activity happens … through the northern approaches, the Aleutians are going to be a strategic and key terrain.”
The Air Force and Space Force will be “key contributors” to addressing issues that arise in the region, Fraser said.
Other service branches want to increase their training in Alaska, and lawmakers have pushed for more investment there.
The US Army Corps of Engineers recently approved plans to expand the port of Nome, on Alaska’s Bering coast. That “will not only help from a national-security perspective but … help [local communities] to reduce the cost of living,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said at another event in October.
‘Not so much about signaling’
Russia’s Far East and Arctic regions are sparsely populated, and after the Cold War the military infrastructure there deteriorated, but Moscow is refurbishing those facilities.
“The physical proximity to both Canada and Alaska … makes the Far Eastern flank of the Arctic as … important to the Russians as the European flank, or NATO flank, of the Arctic,” Alexey Muraviev, head of the Department of Social Sciences and Security Studies at Australia’s Curtin University, told Insider this summer.
The work includes expanding and upgrading airfields to handle strategic bombers and support all-weather operations, though Russia is “mindful of China” and concerns it may have about such activity near their shared border, Muraviev said.
Russia has renovated Arctic bases to support maritime operations along the Northern Sea Route and added new radars and other installations to detect an airborne attack. The easternmost Arctic radar facility is on Wrangel Island, just 300 miles from Alaska.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet has received a variety of new ships and has increased its exercises. A major naval drill in August led to close encounters between Russian ships and US fishermen near Alaska.
That was Russia’s first significant exercise in the region in some time, but it wasn’t clear if it was a response to US actions, according to Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, a nonprofit research group.
“A lot of big Russian military exercises, it’s not so much about signaling,” Kofman told Insider. “It’s much more about them actually being able to do it … to mass forces, to exercise farther away from the actual naval bases.”
Kofman was skeptical that the Bering Strait would take on the same strategic significance as the GIUK Gap but said the sea lines of communication that run through it mean it would be important if the US pursues a sea-control strategy in a conflict, particularly one with China, which brands itself a “near-Arctic power” and is increasingly active there.
“China’s quite interested in the Arctic,” Kofman said, “and the United States is always interested not just in Russia but anywhere China gets interested.”
US Air Force Pararescue specialists, or PJs, are one of the most elite special operators in the world.
Consisting of about 500 airmen, PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,” according to the Air Force.
These “highly trained experts perform rescues in every type of terrain and partake in every part of the mission, from search and rescue, to combat support to providing emergency medical treatment, in order to ensure that every mission is a successful one.”
“One of the challenges [in Afghanistan] is the altitude and terrain because we are surrounded by mountains,” Maj. Jason Egger, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, said in a Defense Department news release on the training.
“We overcome that challenge by working with the Army pilots, which gives us the capability to get to the altitude we need and insert the teams,” Egger added.
Here’s how PJs rescue troops in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
US Air Force PJs on the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off during a PJ training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
After getting a call, the PJs load into an Army CH-47 Chinook, which they often use for transports in rescue missions in Afghanistan.
“Most of the central and northern Afghanistan area is very high altitude, and that’s where the CH-47s can really provide some special capability because of their ability to get to that high altitude area and insert the team,” Eggers said.
PJ operators perform rescues during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A PJ operator helps an service member with a simulated injury during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs provide first aid to wounded service members during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. The wounds were simulated for the training’s realism.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs flying in Chinook helicopters during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs carrying a service member with a simulated wound during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
(US Air Force photo)
But PJs also undergo intense combat arms training as well, which is needed in certain rescue scenarios.
“The PJs and the combat rescue officers have a pretty broad skill set, and it’s pretty difficult to stay sharp on all those skills,” Eggers said. “So continuing to keep them engaged through training, it keeps those skills sharp throughout the entire deployment.”
Watch the full interview with Eggers here, and the PJ training videos here, here and here.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Glock Inc. plans to sell the pistol it developed for the US Army’s Modular Handgun System program on the commercial market, a company official told a German publisher.
In January, Sig Sauer Inc. beat out Glock, FN America, and Beretta USA–the maker of the current M9 9mm pistol–in the service’s high-profile competition to replace the M9.
Glock protested the decision, which was upheld by the Government Accountability Office, and shortly thereafter released photos of its entries for the program: versions of its 9mm Glock 19 and .40 caliber Glock 23 pistols.
Earlier this month, Dr. Stephan Dorler, managing director of European Security and Defense, a publication based in Bonn, Germany, interviewed Richard Flur, head of international sales for Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria.
Glock, Inc’s one-gun entry for the US Army’s Modular Handgun System program. Photo from Glock, Inc.
ESD: Will there be a version of the Glock Modular Handgun System pistol for the commercial market?
Flür: Yes. We think this is a great pistol and would like to give all interested parties the opportunity to try and purchase it. All costs associated with the development of the pistol were financed by Glock, so it is also possible to market the pistol independently. Of course, we will be able to make good use of the experience gained from completing this project. Some aspects will certainly be reflected in future Glock products.
A Glock official in the US said there is no timeline yet for such a plan.
A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. (Wikimedia Commons)
Proposed amendments to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange — measures that, if approved, would provide health care and disability benefits to roughly 22,000 affected veterans.
The House and Senate amendments, proposed by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the VA’s list of 14 conditions considered related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine deemed the three named diseases to be associated with exposure to defoliants used during the war.
But the proposals do not include hypertension, a condition that the Academies also linked to Agent Orange in 2018. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common among the elderly and, if included, could add more than 2 million veterans to VA disability rolls in the next 10 years, at an estimated cost of $11.2 billion to $15.2 billion, according to department estimates.
Thirty veteran and military groups have backed the proposals and asked congressional leaders to do the same.
On Tuesday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America and 27 other groups wrote House and Senate leaders urging them to get behind the provisions.
“We call on you to lead and pass House Amendment 264 into law and end the waiting for many of our nation’s ill veterans so they can receive disability benefits,” stated letters sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“There is more work to be done to care for those who are ill from toxic exposures, including adopting hypertension as a presumptive disease … but with your leadership, tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans will receive their benefits and justice,” they wrote.
A decision on whether to add the three conditions has been delayed since 2017, when then-VA Secretary David Shulkin expressed support for including them but never formally announced his decision.
According to internal VA documents, Shulkin had been on the verge of including the three conditions when the Office of Management and Budget and other White House officials objected, citing what they called “limited scientific evidence” and cost.
Meanwhile, thousands of veterans have waited.
“Vietnam vets have been waiting for this for decades, and it’s a national shame that it’s not fixed yet,” Harder told Military.com. “We have a real chance here to make this right after all this time, and we should seize the opportunity.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers late last year he wants the results of two studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — to be reviewed for publication before announcing a decision on whether to broaden the presumptives list.
But lawmakers and advocacy groups have balked at the delay.
“This is something we are still fighting after how many decades from the Vietnam War?” asked Corey Titus, director of veterans benefits and Guard/reserve affairs at MOAA. “We should be making sure there aren’t any service members with illnesses who aren’t getting the care and benefits they earned.”
In February, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to “take corrective action” and add all four diseases to the list, including hypertension.
“Your administration has the ability to add these conditions to the presumptive list and provide lifesaving benefits to more than 190,000 veterans. Without your action, tens of thousands of sick and aging veterans will continue to go without VA resources and health care in their time of need,” he wrote.
The letter was signed by 77 members, all Democrats.
While hypertension is not included in the proposed amendment, the coalition of veterans and military organizations pledged to continue working on adopting it as a “presumptive disease as linked by the National Academies.”
“This needs to be covered as well. This is not something that we will forget — hypertension,” Titus said.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have both passed their versions of the fiscal 2021 defense bill and forwarded them to their respective chambers for consideration. Currently, committees are weighing the rules for amending and deliberating the bills before they move ahead for debate.
Both Harder and Tester’s proposals must make it through that process before coming up for a vote.
A legislative source said Tester’s amendment has been identified for a vote.
“With a bipartisan team of lawmakers and the support of the entire veterans community, we have a strong chance to finally get this done,” Harder said.
Could there be a lightweight armored attack vehicle able to speed across bridges, deploy quickly from the air, detect enemies at very long ranges, control nearby robots, and fire the most advanced weapons in the world — all while maintaining the unprecedented protection and survivability of an Abrams tank?
Such questions form the principle basis of rigorous Army analysis and exploration of just what, exactly, a future tank should look like? The question is fast taking-on increased urgency as potential adversaries continue to present very serious, technologically advanced weapons and attack platforms.
“I believe that a complete replacement of the Abrams would not make sense, unless we had a breakthrough…with much lighter armor which allows us to re-architect the vehicle,” Col. Jim Schirmer, Program Manager for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
There are currently a range of possibilities being analyzed by the Army, most of which hang in the balance of just how quickly certain technologies can mature.
Newer lightweight armor composites or Active Protection Systems may not evolve fast enough to address the most advanced emerging threats, Schirmer explained.
Soldiers conduct a live-fire exercise with M1A2 Abrams tanks.
(Army photo by Gertrud Zach)
While many Army weapons developers often acknowledge that there are limitations to just how much a 1980s-era Abrams tank can be upgraded, the platform has made quantum leaps in technological sophistication and combat technology.
“Until technology matures we are going to mature the Abrams platform,” Schirmer said. We would need an APS that could defeat long-rod penetrators.(kinetic energy armor penetrating weapons) — that might enable us to go lighter,” Schirmer said.
A 2014 essay from the Institute for Defense Analysis called “M1 Abrams, Today and Tomorrow,” reinforces Schirmer’s point by detailing the rapid evolution of advanced armor-piercing anti-tank weapons. The research points out that, for instance, hybrid forces such as Hezbollah had some success against Israeli Merkava tanks in 2006.
Therefore, GD and Army developers continue to upgrade the Abrams and pursue innovations which will enable the Abrams to address these kinds of evolving threats — such as the long-range kinetic energy penetrator rods Schirmer mentioned; one of the key areas of emphasis for this would be to develop a more expansive Active Protection System able to knock out a much wider range of attack possibilities — beyond RPGs and certain Anti-Tank Guided Missiles.
The essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank bring unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate.
Using computer algorithms, fire control technology, sensors, and an interceptor of some kind, Active Protection Systems are engineered to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds. Many Abrams tanks are already equipped with a system known as “Trophy” which tracks and knocks out incoming enemy fire.
A next-gen APS technology that can take out the most sophisticated enemy threats could enable the Army to engineer a much lighter weight tank, while still maintaining the requisite protection.
For these and other reasons, the combat-tested Abrams weapons, armor and attack technology will be extremely difficult to replicate or match in a new platform. Furthermore, the current Abrams is almost an entirely new platform these days — in light of how much it has been upgraded to address modern combat challenges.
U.S. Soldiers load the .50-caliber machine gun of an M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank during a combined arms live-fire exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
In short, regardless which future path is arrived upon by the Army — the Abrams is not going anywhere for many years to come. In fact, the Army and General Dynamics Land Systems have already engineered and delivered a new, massively improved, M1A2 SEP v3 Abrams. Concurrently, service and industry developers are progressing with an even more advanced v4 model — featuring a massive “lethality upgrade.”
All this being the case, when it comes to a future tank platform — all options are still on the table.
“Abrams will be out there for some time. We are funded from the v3 through the v4, but there is a thought in mind that we may need to shift gears,” David Marck, Program manager for the Main Battle Tank, told a small group of reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium. “I have no requirements for a replacement tank.”
Accordingly, some of the details, technologies, and applications intended for the v4, are still in flux.
“The Army has some decisions to make. Will the v4 be an improved v3 with 3rd-Gen FLIR, or will the Army remove the turret and build in an autoloader — reduce the crew size?” Michael Peck, Director, Enterprise Business Development, GD, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Also, ongoing work on NGCV could, to a large extent, be integrated with Abrams v4 exploration, Peck explained. GD is preparing options to present to the Army for input — such as options using a common lighter-weight chassis with interchangeable elements such as different turrets or an auto-loader, depending upon the threat.
“There are some things that we think we would do to make the current chassis lighter more nimble when it comes to crew size and electronics — eventually it may go on a 55-ton platform. We have a couple different interchangeable turrets, which we could swap as needed,” Peck asked.
Despite the speed, mobility and transportable power challenges known to encumber the current Abrams, the vehicle continues to be impactful in combat circumstances — and developers have sought to retain the technical sophistication designed to outmatch or counter adversaries.
“Today’s tank is so different than the tanks that took Baghdad. They were not digitized, did not have 1st-Gen FLIR and did not have commander’s independent viewers,” Marck said.
Next-Generation Combat Vehicle
The massive acceleration of the Army future armored platform — the Next Generation Combat Vehicle — is also informing the fast-moving calculus regarding future tank possibilities.
Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat, told Warrior Maven in an interview the Army developers are working on both near-term and longer term plans; he said it was entirely possible that a future tank or tank-like combat vehicle could emerge out of the NGCV program.
“We want to get as much capability as quickly as we can, to stay above parity with our adversaries,” Cummings said.
The program, which has now been moved forward by nearly a decade, could likely evolve into a family of vehicles and will definitely have unmanned technology.
“Right now we are trying to get the replacement for the Bradley to be the first optionally manned fighting vehicle. As we get that capability we may look at technology that we are getting in the future and insert them into current platforms,” Cummings said.
Any new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people, and ammunition. Also, as computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control
Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions.
General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin III.
However, while clearly emphasizing the importance of unmanned technology, Schirmer did say there was still room for growth and technological advanced necessary to replicate or come close to many human functions.
“It is not impossible — but it is a long way away,” Schirmer said.
The most advanced algorithms enabling autonomy are, certain in the nearer term, are likely to succeed in performing procedural functions able to ease the “cognitive burden” of manned crews who would then be freed up to focus on more pressing combat-oriented tasks. Essentially, the ability of human cognition to make dynamic decisions amid fast-changing variable, and make more subjective determinations less calculable by computer technology. Nonetheless, autonomy, particularly when enabled by AI, can condense and organize combat-essential data such as sensor information, targeting technology or certain crucial maintenance functions.
“Typically a vehicle commander is still looking through multiple soda straws. If no one has their screen turned to that view, that information is not of use to the crew, AI can process all those streams of ones and zeroes and bring the crews’ attention to threats they may not otherwise see,” Schirmer said.
Abrams v3 and v4 upgrades
Meanwhile, the Army is now building the next versions of the Abrams tank — an effort which advances on-board power, electronics, computing, sensors, weapons, and protection to address the prospect of massive, mechanized, force-on-force great power land war in coming decades, officials with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems told Warrior Maven.
The first MIA2 SEP v3 tank, which includes a massive electronics, mobility and sensor upgrades, was delivered by General Dynamics Land Systems in 2017.
“The Army’s ultimate intent is to upgrade the entire fleet of M1A2 vehicles — at this time, over 1,500 tanks,” an Army official told Warrior.
The first v3 pilot vehicles will feature technological advancements in communications, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency and upgraded armor.
This current mobility and power upgrade, among other things, adds an auxiliary power unit for fuel efficiency and on-board electrical systems, improved armor materials, upgraded engines and transmission and a 28-volt upgraded drive system, GDLS developers said.
In addition to receiving a common high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations, some of the current electronics, called Line Replaceable Units, were replaced with new Line Replaceable Modules. This includes a commander’s display unit, driver’s control panel, gunner’s control panel, turret control unit and a common high-resolution display, developers from General Dynamics Land Systems say.
Facilitating continued upgrades, innovations and modernization efforts for the Abrams in years to come is the principle rationale upon which the Line Replacement Modules is based. It encompasses the much-discussed “open architecture” approach wherein computing standards, electronics, hardware, and software systems can efficiently be integrated with new technologies as they emerge.
This M1A2 SEP v3 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare devices such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device – Electronic Warfare – CREW. An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together.
The Abrams is also expected to get an advanced force-tracking system which uses GPS technology to rapidly update digital moving map displays with icons showing friendly and enemy force positions.
The system, called Joint Battle Command Platform, uses an extremely fast Blue Force Tracker 2 Satcom network able to reduce latency and massively shorten refresh time. Having rapid force-position updates in a fast-moving combat circumstance, quite naturally, could bring decisive advantages in both mechanized and counterinsurgency warfare.
Using a moving digital map display, JBCP shows blue and red icons, indicating where friendly and enemy forces are operating in relation to the surrounding battle space and terrain. JBCP also include an intelligence database, called TIGR, which contains essential information about threats and prior incidents in specific combat ares.
Current GD development deals also advances a commensurate effort to design and construct and even more advanced M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond.
The v4 is designed to be more lethal, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said.
SEPv4 upgrades include the Commander’s Primary Sight, an improved Gunner’s Primary Sight and enhancements to sensors, lethality and survivability.
Advanced networking technology with next-generation sights, sensors, targeting systems and digital networking technology — are all key elements of an ongoing upgrade to position the platform to successfully engage in combat against rapidly emerging threats, such as the prospect of confronting a Russian T-14 Armata or Chinese 3rd generation Type 99 tank.
A Russian T-14 Armata.
Interestingly, when asked about specific US Army concerns regarding the much-hyped high-tech Russian T-14 Armata, Schirmer said the Army would pursue its current modernization plan regardless of the existence of the Armata. That being said, it is certainly a safe assumption to recognize that the US Army is acutely aware, to the best of its ability, of the most advanced tanks in existence.
The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round, Army developers told Warrior.
While Army officials explain that many of the details of the next-gen systems for the future tanks are not available for security reasons, Army developers did explain that the lethality upgrade, referred to as an Engineering Change Proposal, or ECP, is centered around the integration of a higher-tech 3rd generation FLIR – Forward Looking Infrared imaging sensor.
The advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Army official said.
Improved FLIR technologies help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander’s independent thermal viewer.
Rear view sensors and laser detection systems are part of these v4 upgrades as well. Also, newly configured meteorological sensors will better enable Abrams tanks to anticipate and adapt to changing weather or combat conditions more quickly, Army officials said.
The emerging M1A2 SEP v4 will also be configured with a new slip-ring leading to the turret and on-board ethernet switch to reduce the number of needed “boxes” by networking sensors to one another in a single vehicle.
Advanced Multi-Purpose Round
The M1A2 SEP v4 will carry Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round able to combine a variety of different rounds into a single tank round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter, Army developers explained. The MPAT round has a two-position fuse, ground and air, that must be manually set, an Army statement said.
The M1028 Canister round is the third tank round being replaced. The Canister round was first introduced in 2005 by the Army to engage and defeat dismounted Infantry, specifically to defeat close-in human-wave assaults. Canister rounds disperse a wide-range of scattering small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality and, for example, destroy groups of individual enemy fighters.
The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.
AMP also provides two additional capabilities: defeat of enemy dismounts, especially enemy anti-tank guided missile, or ATMG, teams at a distance, and breaching walls in support of dismounted Infantry operations
A new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack.
The Institute for Defense Analysis report also makes the case for the continued relevance and combat necessity for a main battle tank. The Abrams tank proven effective both as a deterrent in the Fulda Gap during the Cold War, waged war with great success in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 — but it has also expanded it sphere of operational utility by proving valuable in counterinsurgency operations as well.
The IDA essay goes on to emphasize that the armored main battle tank brings unparalleled advantages to combat, in part by bringing powerful land-attack options in threat environments where advanced air defenses might make it difficult for air assets to operate and conduct attacks.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The P-51 Mustang is best known as a long-range escort fighter that helped the bombers of the Eighth Air Force blast Germany into rubble. But this plane’s first combat experience came in a very different form – as a dive bomber.
The United States Army Air Force didn’t originally buy the Mustang as a fighter, but as a dive bomber, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher. A 1995 Airpower Magazine article reported that the decision to buy a dive-bomber version was made to keep the line open because the Army Air Force had drained its fighter budget for 1942.
The A-36 was officially called the Mustang to keep the Germans from knowing about the dive-bomber variant. Some sources reported the plane was called the Apache or Invader – even though the latter name was taken by the A-26 Invader, a two-engine medium bomber. No matter what this plane’s name was, it could deliver two 500-pound bombs onto its target.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the A-36 was equipped with an Allison engine similar to those used on the P-38 Lightning and P-40 Warhawk fighters as opposed to the Rolls Royce Merlin. This plane had a top speed of 365 miles per hour and a range of 550 miles. It also had same battery of six M2 .50-caliber machine guns that the P-51 had. The guns were in a different arrangement (two in the fuselage, four in the wings) due to the bomb shackles attached to the wings of the A-36.
Only 500 of these planes were built, and 177 were lost to enemy action. This is because, like the P-51, the A-36’s liquid-cooled engine was easier to disable than the air-cooled engine used on the P-47 Thunderbolt and F4U Corsair. However, the A-36 did score 101 air-to-air kills. This was despite being the Mustang with the “bad” Allison engine. One pilot, Michael T. Russo, achieved the coveted status of “ace” in the A-36, scoring five kills according to MustangsMustangs.net.
Ultimately, the A-36 saw some action in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations and in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. It eventually was retired and replaced, but in one ironic twist, eventually, the P-51, intended as a long-range escort, was equipped to carry the same two 500-pound loadouts the A-36 could carry. You can see a World War II-era newsreel on the A-36 below.
While it’s not a bad plane, for ground-attack missions, the P-47 and F4U were probably better planes for the job.
The Air Force is mired in a deepening pilot crisis, with a shortage of approximately 2,000 pilots from the active-duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve at the end of fiscal year 2017 in September.
Now it appears the Air Force is considering a step it has long avoided: training enlisted airmen to be combat aviators.
A new six-month pilot-training program will consist of 15 officers and five enlisted airmen, Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, chief of the Second Air Force, told his commanders in a November 30 email, seen by Air Force Times.
Currently, the only Air Force personnel eligible to be pilots are commissioned officers, and achieving officer status requires a four-year college degree.
“Enlisted volunteers will be pioneers in innovating Air Force aviator recruitment, selection, and training processes by demonstrating the potential of non-college graduates to succeed in a rigorous pilot training environment,” Leahy, whose command is responsible for basic military and tactical training for Air Force personnel, wrote in the email.
Leahy added that the training program would provide data to Air Education and Training Command commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast about “the potential for enlisted members to train to fly modern combat aircraft,” according to Air Force Times. The email was obtained by former airman Steven Mayne, who runs the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page.
The email said there was a December 15 deadline for airmen to volunteer online and that those picked would start training on February 15. Those who succeed would take solo flights in T-6 single-engine turboprop training aircraft.
Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday confirmed the email to Air Force Times and said the command “chose to focus on flying training because of the urgency involved with the enterprise.” She added that the program was meant to examine how airmen learn and would look at technology that could lead to better and faster learning.
However, she also downplayed enlisted airmen’s proximity to the pilot’s seat, telling Task Purpose that, while the training program was started because of the need for pilots, the “study is not looking at changing our pilot force, but rather it is exploring new ways to effectively and efficiently deliver training.”
“The plan for this six-month program is to explore the technology available to produce a student, similarly-skilled to a UPT graduate,” Holliday told Task Purpose, referring to the Air Force’s yearlong basic aviation course, Undergraduate Pilot Training.
Officers who pass the six-month course will get pilot’s wings and move on to specialized training, while enlisted airmen who pass will return to the specialty they were selected for during basic training, Holliday said, adding that they could have their flight hours applied to a civilian pilot’s license.
‘The natural progression’
The Air Force said at the end of 2015 that it would begin training enlisted airmen to fly RQ-4 remotely piloted aircraft — part of an effort to meet demand for unmanned-aircraft pilots. At the end of 2016, two master sergeants became the first enlisted airmen in 60 years to complete solo flights during initial flight training.
The Air Force continued that training this year, with 30 enlisted airmen (chosen from 800 initial applicants) starting training for the RQ-4 Global Hawk in March. Outside of that initiative, however, the force has shown little interest in training enlisted airmen to fly manned aircraft.
Despite that reluctance, Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright told Air Force Timesearlier this year that many enlisted men have pilot’s licenses and that enlisted airmen piloting manned aircraft appeared to be “the natural progression.”
Wright also started a study at the end of the summer to explore what benefit the Air Force would get from bringing back the warrant officer program, which some have said would be a way to properly recognize and compensate enlisted pilots for their expanded duties as fliers.
Air Force officials have pointed to a number of reasons for the force’s pilot shortage including quality-of-life issues, recruitment by private airlines, as well as strain created by three decades of ongoing operations around the world.
The shortage of qualified fliers has also been exacerbated by a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline, caused by a combination of factors like force drawdowns, longer deployments, and budget restrictions.
Air Force leaders have zeroed in on budget woes as a particular problem.
Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said in November that he worried, “if we cannot move past sequester in its current form, we’re going to break this force.”
This month, with the window closing on budget legislation, Goldfein again sounded alarm about the worst-case scenario for the Air Force: A budget deal that doesn’t lift spending limits put in place by the Budget Control Act.
Such an outcome would “devastate” the Air Force, Goldfein told Air Force Times, adding to problems created by the last budget sequester and hindering the service’s ability to keep pilots in their planes and, in turn, in uniform.
“If you’re not preparing for or executing combat operations, then you’ll likely stop flying,” Goldfein said. “Currencies will lapse, qualifications will cease, and we’ll potentially look back on the timeframe of having an only 2,000 pilots short [force] as a dream.”
Capturing images of our home planet from the perspective of faraway spacecraft has become a tradition at NASA, ever since Voyager, 28 years ago, displayed our “pale blue dot” in the vastness of space.
But the view of Earth from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope is quite something else.
This Kepler image of Earth was recently beamed back home. Captured on Dec. 10, 2017, after the spacecraft adjusted its telescope to a new field of view, Earth’s reflection as it slipped past was so extraordinarily bright that it created a saber-like saturation bleed across the instrument’s sensors, obscuring the neighboring Moon.
At 94 million miles away, Kepler’s interpretation of Earth as a bright flashlight in a dark sea of stars demonstrates the capabilities of its highly sensitive photometer, which is designed to pick up the faint dips in brightness of planets crossing distant stars. Some stars in this image are hundreds of light years away.
The scientific community celebrated Earth’s transit across Kepler’s field of view by using #WaveAtKepler on social media. As Kepler only takes pictures in black and white, some in the science community have taken the data and used color to highlight details in grayscale images.
The mission marks its nine-year anniversary in space on March 7, 2018. More than 2,500 planets have been found in the Kepler data so far, as well as many other discoveries about stars, supernovae and other astrophysical phenomena. The mission is in its second extended operating phase and is known to have a limited lifetime. Its scientific success in discovering distant planets has paved the way for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is launching on April 16. TESS will monitor more than 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars outside our solar system for transiting planets.