The Navy's going to test a 'happy switch' on its heavy hitting railgun - We Are The Mighty
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The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

The promise of this seemingly futuristic weapon system is no longer a thing of mystery, speculation, or sci-fi movies, but rather something nearing operational use in combat. The weapon brings such force, power, and range that it can hold enemies at risk from greater distances and attack targets with a fire and kinetic energy force equivalent to a multi-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, developers have said.


The Office of Naval Research is now bringing the electromagnetic railgun out of the laboratory and into field demonstrations at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s new railgun Rep-Rate Test Site at Terminal Range.

“Initial rep-rate fires of multi-shot salvos already have been successfully conducted at low muzzle energy. The next test sequence calls for safely increasing launch energy, firing rates, and salvo size,” a statement from ONR says.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
One of the two electromagnetic railgun prototypes on display aboard the joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop.

Railgun rep-rate testing will be at 20 megajoules by the end of the summer and at 32 megajoules by next year. To put this in perspective; one megajoule is the equivalent of a one-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, ONR information states.

Railguns and other directed-energy weapons are the future of maritime superiority,” Dr. Thomas Beutner, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, said in a statement.  “The US Navy must be the first to field this leap-ahead technology and maintain the advantage over our adversaries.”

The weapon works when electrical power charges up a pulse-forming network. That pulse-forming network is made up of capacitors able to release very large amounts of energy in a very short period of time.

The weapon releases a current on the order of 3 to 5 million amps — that’s 1,200 volts released in a ten millisecond timeframe, experts have said. That is enough to accelerate a mass of approximately 45 pounds from zero to five thousand miles per hour in one one-hundredth of a second, Navy officials said.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
The ONR-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. DoD photo by John Williams.

Due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary. The hyper velocity projectile can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The rate of fire is 10-rounds per minute, developers explained.

A kinetic energy hypervelocity warhead also lowers the cost and the logistics burden of the weapon, they explained.

Although it has the ability to intercept cruise missiles, the hypervelocity projectile can be stored in large numbers on ships. Unlike other larger missile systems designed for similar missions, the hypervelocity projectile costs only $25,000 per round.

The railgun can draw its power from an on-board electrical system or large battery, Navy officials said. The system consists of five parts, including a launcher, energy storage system, a pulse-forming network, hypervelocity projectile, and gun mount.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
US Navy photo

While the weapon is currently configured to guide the projectile against fixed or static targets using GPS technology, it is possible that in the future the railgun could be configured to destroy moving targets as well, Navy officials have explained over the years.

The Navy, DoD and even the Army are also experimenting with integrating the railgun hypervelocity projectile with existing weapons platforms such as the Navy’s 5-inch guns or Army Howitzer.

Possible Railgun Deployment on Navy Destroyers

Also, the Navy is evaluating whether to mount its new electromagnetic railgun weapon to the high-tech DDG 1000 destroyer by the mid-2020s, service officials said.

The DDG 1000’s Integrated Power System provides a large amount of on-board electricity sufficient to accommodate the weapon, Navy developers have explained.

Navy leaders believe the DDG 1000 is the right ship to house the railgun, but that additional study was necessary to examine the risks.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) during first at-sea tests and trials in the Atlantic. (U.S. Navy)

Also, with a displacement of 15,482 tons, the DDG 1000 is 65-percent larger than existing 9,500-ton Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

The DDG 1,000 integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate more than 70 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to the possibility of firing a railgun.

It is also possible that the weapon could someday be configured to fire from DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.  Something of that size is necessary, given the technological requirements of the weapon.

For example, the electromagnetic gun would most likely not work as a weapon for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The military superpower veterans have but sometimes fail to use


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Tim, O.V., and Blake speak with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about all the A-level training our service members receive but don’t capitalize on it when they get out.

Every veteran’s journey after the military is different.

While some of us pursue the career along the lines in which the military trained us for, others take a different path and sometimes fall short of their full potential.

“They [veterans] have a set of skills, they have leadership abilities, and there is so much more we can do,” Blake passionately states. “Granted, I’m a writer, and I have five degrees, and none of them have to do with writing.”

A veteran finding his or her purpose is essential to life outside of the military.

Related: How an aspiring sergeant major became a stand-up comedian

So when did TMR decide to become a rapper after serving the Corps?

“When I started getting better at it,” TMR jokingly admits. “In the Corps, I wasn’t at the level I am now.

If you’ve ever surfed the internet looking for military rap songs, chances are you’ve come across the unique sound of “The Marine Rapper.”

Known for sporting a red mohawk and wearing an American flag bandana, TMR served 10 years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Correspondent where he earned a Combat Action Ribbon and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals during his service.

After successful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, TMR left the Marine Corps in February 2014. After entering back into civilian life, TMR began focusing on music as a profession and for cathartic expression.

Also Read: These simple luxuries can make your next deployment tolerable

Check out The Marine Rapper‘s video for his latest song “Instructions.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKbJIbskndk

Hosted by:

MIGHTY TRENDING

Adrenaline on ice: Veterans excel at Para bobsled

Twists and turns, bumps and bruises, the occasional crash. For many Veterans, the sport of bobsled is a metaphor for life.

Army Veteran Will Castillo’s story began on April 27, 2007. Castillo – then a staff sergeant – was riding along with Spc. Eddie Tamez and Pfc. David Kirkpatrick on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, when their Humvee struck an improvised explosive device (IED).

The aftermath was a blur. When Castillo awoke, his sister and mother were by his bedside.


“I could hardly talk I was so heavily medicated,” he said. “I was just trying to survive.”

He was 27 years old, and his injuries had cost him his left leg – but he was alive. Tamez and Kirkpatrick did not survive.

Castillo spent the next two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering and learning to navigate life with one leg. Visitors came by to give him hugs, handshakes and well wishes. The Director of Homeland Security even offered him a job.

In 2009, he was discharged from Walter Reed, and he moved to Orlando to start anew. But life wasn’t good.

“I had survivor’s guilt. I thought about my guys, what had I done wrong. I was depressed. I was suicidal.”

His marriage crumbled, and his mental health deteriorated.

“All the struggles I was going through. I was Baker Acted,” Castillo said, referring to the Florida law that allows for emergency or involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.

He recovered, remarried and again tried to rebuild. But his struggles continued and, in 2015, he divorced for the second time.

In 2017, Castillo returned to Walter Reed for a follow-up operation to his injured leg. His life took an unexpected turn.

“A friend of mine was there and said to me, ‘You should try bobsled.’ I was extremely overweight, but I figured it would be something to keep me busy.”

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

Army Veteran Will Castillo displays his gold medal from the Empire State Winter Games para bobsled competition. Castillo is one of the world’s top ranked sledders in the sport. (Courtesy photo)

That conversation led Castillo to a para-bobsled and para-skeleton camp for Veterans at Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex in upstate New York.

His first attempt was skeleton, a sport where the slider rides face down and head-first on a small sled down an ice track at speeds of more than 80 mph.

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was 260 pounds. I was crashing into the walls. Those little sleds are not made for that weight.”

After a year at skeleton, he switched to monobob, a one-person bobsled that looks like a rocket on ice skates. He knew instantly he’d found his sport.

“Everything just slowed down, I was able to see everything. There was danger, but I did it. There’s no disability on that ice. For that one minute, it’s awesome.”

Veterans like Castillo are dominating the sport in the United States, thanks in large part to camps like the ones at Lake Placid. From 2015 to 2020, VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant had funded 16 camps for Veterans at Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, the only two bobsled track sites in the country.

Thanks to the VA grant, Veterans’ only cost to attend is travel to and from the camp.

“(The grant) is huge for us because it allows us to do the camps,” said Kim Seevers, USA Bobsled and Skeleton Para-Sport Development Committee chair.

Camps are typically five days and allow Veterans to stay on site at the Olympic Training Center. Once there, Veterans receive training from strength and conditioning experts, physical therapists and sports psychologists. After completing initial training, they head to the ice track where they learn the fundamentals of para-bobsled and skeleton.

“With bobsled, things are pretty expensive,” Seevers said. “To get the ice time and the bobsleds is a lot. Each of the bobsleds is ,000. For us to rent the sleds and pay for track time is typically between ,500 and ,000, dependent on the number of Veterans sliding.”

Veterans among world’s elite

At the 2019-2020 Para World Cup competition, all five U.S. team members were Veterans. They finished the season ranked 7th, 16th, 18th, 21st and 24th in the world.

Castillo is the number one ranked para-bobsledder in the U.S. and will pilot USA 1, the name of the monobob designated for Team USA’s top slider, in upcoming competitions. It’s an opportunity he humbly accepts.

“It all starts with VA and those camps,” he said. “Then you really have to put the work in and you start seeing the rewards. You get to put that uniform on again (and) represent the USA with integrity and honor.”

Para bobsled and para skeleton are relatively new sports with the first international competitions having taken place in 2013. Still, neither sport is recognized as Paralympic eligible. But that may soon be changing.

In August, the International Paralympic Committee is voting on whether to include it into the Paralympic Games in 2026.

Competition is gender neutral

Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is hoping her success can help the sport and other Veterans advance to the pinnacle of international competition.


The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is one of the United States’ top para bobsledders. Athletes are hoping the sport will become one of the newest Paralympic competitions. (Courtesy photo)

“I always liked winter sports, even though I don’t like the cold,” she said. “I’d watch the Olympics on TV and bobsled and skeleton were sports I always loved.”

In 1995, Frazier-Kim was injured in a training accident in the Marine Corps. In January 2019, after years of complications, pain and suffering, doctors at Ft. Sam Houston amputated her right leg above the knee.

“(My doctor) asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I want to make Team USA. And he said, ‘We’ll get you there.'”

In November 2018, in anticipation of her surgery, she was sent for physical therapy to get her into shape.

“I changed from a mom body to an athletic body.”

After the surgery, she continued physical therapy with her therapist, an ex-football player.

“He worked me out like I was on the football team. I was working out like a beast, doing balancing exercises, strength training, and someone there knew Kim Seevers.”

Like Castillo, Frazier-Kim says she was invited to one of the camps at Lake Placid. She completed her first camp in October 2019.

In less than a year, Frazier-Kim has become one of the top female sliders in the sport. Para bobsled is gender neutral with men and women competing together.

“There’s nothing like it. It’s the most exhilarating feeling. The excitement, the adrenaline rush, you’re going so fast. It’s crazy,” she said.

But her rapid success did not come without bumps and bruises along the way.

“Your legs and shoulders are hitting the sides of the bobsled. It’s not for everyone,” she said. “You have to think about every curve while you’re being slapped back and forth.”

Despite the challenges, she says her goal now is simple – to be the best.

“I plan on doing it for as long as I can – as long as my body can take it. And being a Marine, I don’t know any other way.”

For a list of recipient organizations and more information about VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant, visit www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/grant-program/.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


Articles

This is how Israeli pilots saw the Six-Day War

Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.


On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.

You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.

During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on air fields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.

The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.

You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.

The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why a simple fence is perfect armor on today’s battlefield

The M1126 Stryker is a beautifully designed vehicle. It’s packed with 16.5 tons of high-hardness steel to shield the passengers from direct attacks and a unique underbelly design to help defend against IEDs. Many are outfitted with remote weapon systems, allowing troops to engage the enemy without fear of snipers. It even has one of the most state-of-the-art fire-extinguishing systems in the world in case the worst happens.


With all that protection, it seems strange that someone decided a bunch of steel bars around it would make great armor…

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
It also works great for extra storage space for things you don’t mind losing.  (Photo from U.S. Army)

Though it might look flimsy, the simple fence design is an excellent counter considering how explosives blow up. Having thick, reactive armor works wonders against conventional fragmentation rounds, but HEAT (High explosive, anti-tank) rounds are designed specifically to burst through it.

Take a standard RPG-7 single-stage HEAT round for instance: The explosion isn’t what makes it deadly. By forcing the explosion into a narrow cone, it’s used to blow a hole through whatever it hits. It’s the molten copper follows and uses the pathway cleared by the explosion that’s truly deadly.

Not pleasant, to say the least. (Image via GIPHY)

In comes what we’ve been calling “fence armor.” This type of armor is actually called “slat armor” and has been used since the World War II on German panzers. The Germans needed an extra layer of defense from Russian anti-tank rifles and low velocity, high explosive rounds. They added steel plates. set a few inches away from the actual shell of the vehicle, so when it’s hit, the cheaper plates would be hit and the copper would have time to cool, causing minimal damage.

This method of stopping common HEAT rounds is still used today by armies going against enemies with RPGs. While slat armor isn’t 100% effective (no armor is, truly), it does have up to 70% effectiveness, which is remarkable for a solution that costs nearly nothing, is an addition to existing armor, and doesn’t negatively affect the mission.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
And hell, for years, troops used to just put sandbags under their seats and called it good enough. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Edwards)

Though nowhere near as effective, even ISIS tried to Mad Max their vehicles. Note, for this to work, slat armor needs to be a few inches away from the vehicle, it should cover vital spots, and shouldn’t be welded on (since the point of it is to be destroyed and swapped out).

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
B- for effort. F for forgetting that missiles drop down — not across — at three feet above ground. (Image via Reddit)

Articles

Things you need to know about al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban

Everyone wants to throat-punch ISIS, right? Right!


But what is ISIS…really? And who attacked the World Trade Center? And what’s the deal with Syria?

Keeping track of terrorist groups can be confusing, so here’s the quick and dirty on three hard-hitting groups the U.S. is currently fighting:

1. Al Qaeda

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Osama bin Laden created al Qaeda, executed the 9/11 attacks, and was killed by U.S. Navy Seals on May 2, 2011.

Al Qaeda is a Sunni Islamic militant organization founded by Osama bin Laden circa 1988 and is responsible for the attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Originally organized to fight the Soviet Union during the Afghan War, al Qaeda continues to resist entities considered corrupt to its leaders, including differing Islamic interpretations and foreign (read: U.S.) occupation of their lands.

Al Qaeda operates under the belief that it is their duty to kill non-believers, including civilians.

After 9/11, a U.S.-led coalition launched an attack in Afghanistan to target al Qaeda, which had been operating under the protection of the Taliban government in the country. Operation Enduring Freedom successfully toppled the Taliban and dispersed al Qaeda throughout the region, but U.S. forces remain unable to fully eradicate the group.

Today, al Qaeda is still a significant threat across the Middle East and North Africa. Though forced to operate underground, the organization cooperates with other terrorist groups and continues to engage in attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

2. The Taliban

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Two Taliban religious police beating a woman in public because she dared to remove her burqa in public. (Hidden camera footage courtesy of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan)

Let’s go back to the Afghan War.

From 1979-1989, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Afghan fighters known as the mujahedeen resisted, finally forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw from the country.  In the aftermath, there was a power vacuum, with fighting among the mujahedeen until the Taliban was established in 1994.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan and imposed strict Islamic laws on the Afghan people. A Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement, the Taliban harbored al Qaeda operations, including bin Laden’s stronghold, which led to the U.S. invasion Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

During OEF, the Taliban lost governing control of Afghanistan and went into hiding along its borders and Pakistan, but it continues to wage its war against the West and the current Afghan government.

Today, largely funded by opium production, the Taliban fights to regain control of Afghanistan, engaging with military forces in-country and claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in the region.

3. ISIS

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
ISIS continues to defend territory in Iraq and Syria, but inspires or takes credit for global attacks, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France, and the May 2017 attacks in Manchester, England.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or just the Islamic State, is a Salafi jihadist Sunni Islamic militant group established in 1999 with the intention of establishing their God’s rule on earth and destroying those who threaten it.

They are known for being exceptionally brutal, utilizing publicity and the social media to broadcast mass executions, beheadings, and crucifixions.

They once pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, but separated from it in 2014 and concentrated their attention on Syria and Iraq.

In January 2014, ISIS captured the city of Raqqa, Syria. For the next six months, the group overtook major Iraqi cities like Mosul and Tikrit before self-declaring a caliphate, an Islamic State with authority over the global Muslim population.

In August 2014, President Barack Obama approved airstrikes against ISIS.

Today, the United States works with Syrian and Iraqi forces to purge ISIS control from Syria and Iraq.

Articles

How Russia plans to imitate US naval power with its aircraft carrier deployment to Syria

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the US should be flattered that Russia plans to deploy their only aircraft carrier, the 26 year-old Admiral Kuznetsov, off Syria’s coast for its first combat deployment.


A successful deployment of a full-blown aircraft carrier represents the kind of sophisticated military task only a first-rate world power can pull off, and that seems to be exactly what Russia hopes for.

Also read: Russia’s only aircraft carrier is a floating hell for the crew

Much like their 2015 salvo of cruise missiles fired from the Caspian sea into Syria, the event will likely serve as a commercial for Russian military exports — one of the few bright spots in Russia’s ailing economy.

The deployment will seek to present the best and brightest of Russia’s resurgent military. The Kuznetsov, which has suffered from a litany of mechanical failures and often requires tow boats, will stay tight to Syria’s shores due to the limited range of the carrier’s air wing.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in dry dock | Public Domain photo by Christopher Michel

The air wing, comprised of only 15 or so Su-33s and MiG-29s and a handful of helicopters, does not even have half of the US Nimitz class carrier’s 60 plus planes.

Furthermore, the carrier lacks plane launching catapults. Instead, the carrier relies on a ski-jump platform that limits how much fuel and ordnance the Russian jets can carry.

Even so, the Russian jets aboard will be some of the latest models in Russia’s entire inventory, according to Russian state-run media. The bombs they carry will be guided, a sharp departure from Russia’s usual indiscriminate use of “dumb” or unguided munitions which can drift unpredictably when dropped from altitude.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
An Su-33 on the deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov. | Public Domain photo by Todd Summerlin

Russian media quotes a military source as saying that with the new X-38 guided bombs, “we reinforce our aviation group and bring in completely new means of destruction to the region.”  The same report states the bombs are accurate to within a few meters, which isn’t ideal, but an improvement.

Indeed, the Kuznetsov’s entire flight deck will function as somewhat of a showroom for Russian military goods. China operates a Soviet-designed carrier, as does India. Both of those nations have purchased Russian planes in the past. A solid performance from the jets in Syria would bode well for their prospects as exports, even as India struggles to get its current crop of Russian-made jets up to grade.

“Despite its resemblance to the land-based version of the MiG-29, this is a completely different aircraft,” Russian media quotes a defense official as saying of the MiG-29K carrier-based variant.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
MiG-29K of INAS 303 prepares to catch the wire aboard the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya in 2014 | Indian Navy

“This applies to its stealth technologies, a new system of in-flight refueling, folding wings and mechanisms by which the aircraft has the ability to perform short take-offs and land at low speeds.”

But the Russian jets practice on land bases that simulate the Kuznetsov, and any US Navy pilot will tell you that landing on a bobbing airstrip sailing along at sea is an entirely different beast.

One thing Russia’s upcoming carrier deployment does have going for it will be having the world’s premier naval and carrier power, the US, at least nominally aligned with them in a recently brokered cease-fire.

Articles

Here’s how NORAD will be tracking Santa’s Christmas trip this week

A joint command between the U.S. and Canada, NORAD’s primary mission is to detect and respond to threats in and around North American Airspace. But once a year, NORAD uses its sensors to track Santa’s progress. Interested parties can keep track of where he is by checking social media, calling the hotline, checking email, or visiting the special website.


Here’s the tech that makes the Christmas Eve operation possible:

Santa’s departure

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Photo: flickr/Josua

NORAD coordinates with Santa’s elves to get real time intel on Santa’s departure time. This ensures that when Santa’s sleigh enters monitored airspace, NORAD isn’t surprised. The North Warning System is made up of 47 radar stations strung across northern Canada and Alaska that are designed to find and identify objects entering NORAD airspace. The NWS only covers the northern most part of the continent, so the radar operators quickly hand off tracking to teams watching satellite coverage.

Santa’s flight

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Santa, the world’s most experienced pilot, usually flies his sleigh but rode in a jet to festivities with the US Air Force on Dec. 5, 2015. Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st First Class Ashleigh S. Pavelek

After radar operators confirm Santa has entered NORAD airspace, a group of satellites known as the Defense Support Program begin tracking the flight. DSP was launched to detect the infrared signatures emitted by ballistic missiles so the missiles could be intercepted before striking North American cities.

DSP satellites are so sensitive, they can actually see the unique infrared signature of Rudolph’s nose. According to NASA and NORAD, Rudolph’s nose gives off about the same amount of heat as a small missile launch, which explains how the reindeer stay warm in the arctic atmosphere.

Santa’s honor guard

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
Painting: Creative Commons Gene W. Ritchhart

Once NORAD began tracking Santa, they realized that jet pilots could be given the unique experience of getting to fly with their hero. Every year, select Canadian and U.S. pilots are granted the chance to escort Santa. Canada launches CF-18 pilots to greet Santa while the U.S. hangs out in F-15s, F-16s, and F-22s.

Santa slows to run with the fighter jets, allowing the pilots to wave to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

Santa Cams

Of course, NORAD doesn’t want just pilots to get a glimpse of the world’s jolliest elf, so they installed a number of high-speed cameras around the world to track Santa’s progress and feed live video to children through the NORAD Santa website. The camera’s provide much of the tracking information for Santa’s journey outside of North America.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
This teddy bear covered down on a phone station during the NORAD tracks Santa mission 2013. Photo: US Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh

To track Santa this Christmas Eve, check out the website or download the phone app, “NORAD Tracks Santa.” You can also keep tabs through Twitter, Facebook, or by calling volunteers at 1-877-HI-NORAD.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Marines will get a new rifle and a bunch of other gear

More than a year after announcing it was experimenting with a rifle for infantrymen, the Marine Corps has said it will distribute the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to more Marines, including those outside of the infantry squad.


The M27 is currently carried by just one member of the fire team, the automatic rifleman. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in December that the service plans to field the rifle more widely.

Each member of the rifle squad will receive the $3,000 rifle, as will others outside the squad, though the exact number has not been finalized.

“I don’t think mortars and javelin guys need the M27,” Neller told Military.com, but artillery forward observers, fire-support team members, and engineers might get them. “I’m going to wait and see,” Neller said. “It’s not that much [money].”

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment fire the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a live-fire weapons exercise at range F-18 on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 8, 2017. The M27 has been introduced to different units throughout the Marine Corps within the last six months. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)

The M27 was introduced in 2010, initially meant to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines carried out pre-deployment exercises with the M27 in late 2016 to evaluate it for wider use in infantry units.

Neller — who has said he thinks a “big-ass fight” is on the horizon — suggested in April he was considering providing all riflemen with M27s, which have a slightly longer effective range than the M4 used by other members of the squad.

M27s also have a free-floating barrel, which reduces the effects of rifle movement during firing on accuracy, as well as a proprietary gas-piston system that makes it more reliable and reduces wear. The rifle’s cost and the possibility its higher rate of fire could lead to more ammunition use were two potential drawbacks Marine Corps officials examined in late 2016.

A request for information issued by the Marines in February asked for 11,000 M27s, which would be sufficient to equip every squad. A pre-solicitation issued in August requested up to 50,800 of the rifle — a move by the Marines to make sure that gunmaker Heckler Koch was able to supply an order that big, according to Military.com.

‘I’m ready to say yes’

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the weapons officer for 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com that competition and larger orders had helped bring down the price the service would pay for new M27s, making it comparable to what the Corps paid for M4s.

Also Read: The Marine Corps is looking for suppressed weapons, flexible body armor and all these other goodies

Marines may be getting a plethora of new gear in the near future. A 13-man infantry squad that Wade called the “Über Squad” was outfitted this summer with a range of equipment for an 18- to 20-month experiment, with plans for the squad to take their new kit on a full training and deployment cycle in Europe.

Squad members were given an M27 with a suppressor and Ops-Core helmets with built-in hearing protection systems to muffle loud noises while enhancing other sounds a Marine may need to hear in combat. The squad was also outfitted with 60-round Magpul polymer drum magazines as well as light body armor used by Marine Special Operations Command and advanced night-vision goggles.

Late last year, Marines were spotted doing live-fire drills with the M38 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, which carried a more advanced scope than the M27 as well as a suppressor. The Corps plans to designate one infantry squad member as “marksman” and equip them with the M38, allowing them to engage targets at 300 to 600 meters.

The Marines have tested new ammo for the M27, looking to switch from M855 5.56 mm rounds to the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round used by the Army.

Marine officials have said the M855A1 round causes reliability and durability issues with the M27, but lawmakers have complained that maintaining two types of rifle round leads to waste.

The Marine Corps has also been looking at outfitting entire infantry battalions — from M4s to .50-caliber machine guns — with suppressors.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment fire the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a live-fire weapons exercise at range F-18 on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 8, 2017. The M27 has been introduced to different units throughout the Marine Corps within the last six months. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)

Wade said in late 2016 that three companies were using suppressors on all their rifles, including their M27s. Bravo company of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines was the first of those units to deploy, arriving in Norway in May 2017. That unit’s members heralded the new ease of communications allowed by the suppressors.

The Corps is also considering testing a new kind of optic. Wade told Military.com he hopes to test different scopes with different infantry squads to build a case for more powerful gear. The Marines are planning to outfit infantry squads with new rifle-mounted laser range-finders, allowing squad leaders to call in airstrikes and artillery.

All the gear being tested may not end up with Marine units, and more equipment may be rolled out in the future. And Neller downplayed the expense, indicating he could sign off on new gear soon.

“The money to buy all that other stuff, the suppressors, the ear protection enhancement, the different helmets, it’s not a lot of money in the aggregate,” he told Military.com. “So I’m just waiting for them to come back, and I’m ready to say yes.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 animals who serve in militaries around the world

From the horses of Chinggis Khan’s army, to Hannibal’s famed elephants, to World War I carrier pigeons, animals have played a crucial role in military operations for centuries.

But despite the technological achievements since Hannibal marched his elephants over the Alps in 218 BCE, militaries still use animals, whether for parades, transport, or weapons detection.

In September 2019, as Hurricane Dorian pummeled parts of the southeastern United States, the team of marine mammals from Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic in Kings Bay, Georgia, where they patrol the waters for enemy crafts or other intruders, were evacuated to Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division in Panama City, Florida, to ride out the storm.


“At NSWC PCD, we personally understand the trials and tribulations that come with the devastation of a hurricane, especially after Hurricane Michael severely impacted our area in 2018,” Nicole Waters, the Machine Shops Project Manager in Panama City told Navy Times.

“We strongly support the ‘One Team, One Fight’ initiative and will always be willing to help protect any Navy personnel and assets.”

Read on to learn more about the roles animals play in today’s militaries.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

1. A beluga whale was found off the coast of Norway in 2018, sparking suspicions that it was trained as a Russian spy.

The whale was initially found by Norwegian fisherman with a harness strapped to it that read Equipment St. Petersburg, The Washington Post reported at the time. The whale was extremely friendly toward humans, an unusual behavior for a beluga raised in the wild. It was speculated at the time that the whale’s harness may have held a camera or weapons of some sort.

More recently, another whale with a GoPro camera base strapped to it made its way to Norway, where locals named it “Whaledimir.”

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

A Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) California sea lion waits for his handler to give the command to search the pier for potential threats during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX). IMCMEX includes navies from 44 countries whose focus is to promote regional security through mine countermeasure operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathleen Gorby)

2. The US Navy uses sea lions to recover objects at depths that swimmers can’t reach.

“Sea lions have excellent low light vision and underwater directional hearing that allow them to detect and track undersea targets, even in dark or murky waters,” the US Navy Marine Mammal program explains. They’re also able to dive much further below the water’s surface than human divers, without getting decompression sickness, or “the bends.”

They’re trained to patrol areas near nuclear-powered submarines and detect the presence of adversaries’ robots, divers, or other submerged threats.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) MK7 Marine Mammal System bottlenose dolphin searches for an exercise sea mine alongside an NMMP trainers. NMMP is conducting simulated mine hunting operations in Southern California during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), exercise, July 22. Twenty-five nations, 46 ships, five submarines, and about 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 27 to Aug. 2 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

(SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific)

3. Dolphins, too, are used by the Navy to sniff out mines.

“Since 1959, the U.S. Navy has trained dolphins and sea lions as teammates for our Sailors and Marines to help guard against similar threats underwater,”according to the US Navy Marine Mammal program.

“Dolphins naturally possess the most sophisticated sonar known to science,” the program’s website says. “Mines and other potentially dangerous objects on the ocean floor that are difficult to detect with electronic sonar, especially in coastal shallows or cluttered harbors, are easily found by the dolphins.”

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

Office of U.S. Quartermaster, Army Camel Corp training.

4. The Indian Army uses camels in its parades.

It also piloted a program in 2017 to introduce camels as load-bearing animals in high-altitude areas, specifically the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir from the part controlled by China.

The camels could carry 180-220kg loads, much more than horses or mules, and could travel faster too, according to the Times of India.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

U.S. Army Special Operations Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) ride horseback on a trail during the Special Operations Forces (SOF) Horsemanship Course at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC), Bridgeport, Calif., June 19, 2019. The purpose of the SOF horsemanship course is to teach SOF personnel the necessary skills to enable them to ride horses, load and maintain pack animals for military applications in austere environments.

(US Marine Corps photo Lance Cpl. William Chockey)

5. US special operators train on horses and mules, in case they’re working in particularly rugged environments where vehicles might now be able to go.

Green Berets from Operational Detachment Alpha 595 rode horses in the mountainous, unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan just after the US invasion, earning them the nickname “horse soldiers.”

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin McMahon, 39th Security Forces Squadron commander, congratulates Autumn, a 39th SFS military working dog, during the latter’s retirement ceremony at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, July 29, 2019. Autumn served seven years at Incirlik and earned the Meritorious Service Medal for her contributions to the mission.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

6. Of course, man’s best friend plays several important roles in the military.


Perhaps the most famous US military dog is Chesty, the English bulldog mascot of the Marine Corps (Chesty XIV retired last year with the rank of Corporal). But Military Working Dogs (MWDs) perform the very serious duties of sniffing out explosives and drugs, and acting as patrols and sentries on military bases.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

(Photo by Doruk Yemenici)

7. The Indian military uses mules and horses for transport in rugged terrains and high altitudes.

As of 2019, the Indian armed forces were using horses and mules to transport supplies in difficult terrain, although plans to replace the four-legged forces with ATVs and drones came up in a 2017 Army Design Bureau report, according to the Hindustan Times.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US calls off search for F-35 that disappeared in the Pacific

The US military announced it is calling off its search for an F-35 stealth fighter that disappeared in the Pacific this time last month.

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35A Joint Strike Fighter piloted by Maj. Akinori Hosomi mysteriously vanished from radar on April 9, 2019, the first time this version of the F-35 has crashed. The US sent the destroyer USS Stethem, P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, and a U-2 spy plane to assist Japan in its search for the fifth-generation fighter and its pilot. Later, a US Navy salvage team joined the hunt.

The destroyer and maritime patrol aircraft scoured 5,000 square nautical miles of ocean over a period of 182 hours at sea before concluding their search. The Navy salvage team managed to recover the flight recorder and parts of the cockpit canopy.


The US Navy is ending its support in the search for the missing fighter, US 7th Fleet announced May 8, 2019. Japan is, however, planning to continue looking for the aircraft.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)

“We will continue our search and recovery of the pilot and the aircraft that are still missing, while doing utmost to determine the cause,” Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced, according to Japanese media. It is unclear if, or at what point, Japan would abandon the search.

It is highly unusual for a country to continue the search for a missing military pilot longer than a week, with near certainty they are dead and that the ships and planes have more pressing missions than finding a body in thousands of miles of ocean. But this is the first time an F-35 stealth fighter has gone missing and some observers have said the missing plane would be an intelligence windfall to rivals like China.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the most expensive weapon in the world today. It’s secrets are well protected, but currently, one of these fighters is in pieces on the ocean floor. Amid speculation that it might be vulnerable, both US and Japanese defense officials dismissed the possibility of another country, such as Russia or China getting its hands on the crashed fighter.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

One of America’s oldest vets just turned 111

One of the nation’s oldest veterans has been celebrated by his Texas hometown on his 111th birthday.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared Thursday Richard Overton Day in the city and also gave the street he has lived on for the past 45 years the honorary name of Richard Overton Avenue.

While Overton concedes that 111 is “pretty old,” he tells KVUE-TV he still feels good. Overton mentioned that the secret to a long life is smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, two things he continues to indulge in today.

Overton was already in his 30s when he volunteered and served in the Army. He was at Pearl Harbor just after the Japanese attack.

In 2013, he was honored by President Barack Obama at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korean letter threatens missile tests and derails peace talks

North Korea warned the US in a recent letter that talks are “again at stake and may fall apart,” adding that it may resume “nuclear and missile activities” if its demands are not met.

President Donald Trump unexpectedly canceled what was expected to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang due to insufficient progress on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The decision was preceded by a “belligerent” letter that criticized his administration for failing “to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty,” CNN reported Aug. 28, 2018, citing people familiar with the matter.


The receipt of the letter, which was sent by the former head of North Korea’s spy agency, Kim Yong Chol, occurred just hours after Pompeo’s trip was first announced in August 2018, The Washington Post reported Aug. 27, 2018. “The exact contents of the message are unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off Pompeo’s journey,” The Post’s Josh Rogin reported.

Pompeo’s last trip to North Korea ended with a message from the foreign ministry characterizing meetings with the US as “regrettable.” Those negotiations came amid troubling reports from multiple outlets indicating that North Korea had yet to suspend its weapons programs in keeping with its commitment to denuclearize.

In recent months, media reports have indicated that North Korea is making infrastructure improvements at nuclear reactors, research facilities, and missile development sites and increasing the production of fuel for nuclear weapons. The North has also reportedly halted the dismantlement of a key facility Kim promised to destroy as a concession to Trump in Singapore.

Over the past few weeks, North Korean media has railed against US attitudes and actions, especially the sanctions that continue to hobble North Korea’s limited economy.

Speaking to the press at the Pentagon Aug. 28, 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis refused to suggest that North Korea is acting in bad faith, but he left the door open to the possibility of restarting war games should North Korea’s behavior warrant such a step.

The Navy’s going to test a ‘happy switch’ on its heavy hitting railgun

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.

“As you know, we took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good faith measure. We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises,” he said at the briefing. Emphasizing that his team will work closely with the secretary of state, he explained that “at this time, there has been no discussion of further suspensions.”

Mattis added that there are smaller exercises ongoing on the peninsula at all times. “The reason you’ve not heard much about them is [so] North Korea could not in any way misinterpret those as somehow breaking faith with the negotiation,” he told the media.

Pentagon officials told Business Insider that there are numerous exercises happening all the time as South Koreans and US personnel train together to enhance their interoperability.

During the briefing, the secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said they would let diplomacy lead, stressing that they did not want their comments to influence negotiations. “We stay in a supporting role,” Mattis noted.

Mattis said this would be a “long and challenging effort.”

The recent moves and comments from both sides indicate that there is growing frustration between Pyongyang and Washington. For the time being, it appears that North Korea is resistant to denuclearization and the US is hesitant to sign a peace treaty ending the Korean War without those disarmament steps.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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