Over the weekend, you may have heard that the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan, and its crew of 44 sailors, has gone missing. This is not unusual. In 1968, the Skipjack-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) went missing – and was declared “overdue and presumed lost.”
Let’s be honest about submariners. They are doing a very dangerous job – even in peacetime. They are taking a ship and deliberately going underwater – where immense forces are acting on the vessel. When submarines sink – either by accident or due to an act of war, the usual outcome is that all hands are lost.
Sometimes, though, the crews beat the odds, like for about half the crew of USS Squalus (SS 192). They survived the sinking of their vessel, and were later rescued. In fact, one device first developed and proven in the rescue of the Squalus survivors, the McCann Rescue Chamber, is still in service today.
According to a release from Southern Command, this chamber can reach a submarine as far as 850 feet below the surface of the ocean. Six sailors can be brought to the surface at a time. While this is a good start, keep in mind, some submarines can have as many as 155 personnel on board.
That said, there are parts of the ocean that are a lot deeper than 850 feet where a submarine could still maintain enough integrity to keep crews alive. For those rescues, the Navy can turn to the Pressurized Rescue Module. This can reach submarines as far down as 2,000 feet, and it can retrieve 16 personnel at a time. These are known as the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System. Both systems have been deployed to render aid to any survivors on the San Juan, assuming the sub can be located in time.
Now, you may be wondering, “Where are the DSRVs?” Well, that’s the bad news. The United States had two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles, named Avalon and Mystic. Those vessels could go as far down as 5,000 feet and could pull up 24 personnel at a time.
The United States sent a NASA P-3 and a Navy P-8 to help look for the San Juan. Hopefully, the sailors can be found and rescued.
The Northrop T-38 Talon is one of the oldest aircraft still serving in the United States Air Force, functioning as an advanced jet trainer for future fighter pilots who’ll eventually make their way to the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, or F-22 Raptor. The Talon gives trainee pilots a feel for what it’s like to fly and fight in a supersonic aircraft that can mimic the handling characteristics of current 4th generation fighters to a fair degree. But with the impending advent of the Air Force’s brand new F-35A Lightning II, and the upcoming F-X Next Generation Tactical Air fighter, which will supersede the F-22 and F-15, it’s time for a new lead-in trainer. One that’s better suited to adapting future fighter pilots to the ultra-modern cockpits of the next level of fighter aviation.
Well, that, and the Talon is just plain old. Having taken to the skies for the first time in early 1959, and with full-rate production ceasing in 1972, the T-38 is due to be retired and replaced in the coming years with an aircraft that’ll be able to serve the needs of the Air Force going into 2020 and beyond. Though the formal program to replace the aging T-38 hasn’t yet started, Lockheed Martin has already taken the initiative to showcase its proposal for a prospective T-X trainer.
Working closely with Korea Aerospace Industries to redevelop their FA-50 Golden Eagle (which Lockheed Martin helped fund back in the 1990s), they came up with the T-50A. The Golden Eagle was actually built from the ground up as a supersonic light fighter, similar to the T-38’s fighter variant, the F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger II. Modifications that’ll meet T-X specifications include a new dorsal refueling receptacle, designed to mate with the typical boom/probe setup used by Air Force fighters, and a state-of-the-art glass cockpit similar to the one found in the F-35 Lightning II, featuring a large area display (LAD). The T-50A will also be equipped with the FA-50’s integrated EW (electronic warfare) suite, but will likely lack the 20mm .
As the US military is focusing on the Russian and Chinese threat, the Arctic becomes an ever more important region. The bountiful natural resources reportedly existing under the endless ice of the Arctic make the contested region highly desirable for all contestants — and there’s a lot of them.
In addition to the US, the European Union, China, Russia, Canada, and the United Kingdom all present some claim to the Arctic and are claiming sovereignty over portions of the plentiful natural resources that are hidden underneath the ice.
US special operations units, thus, have every interest to prepare for action in an arctic environment since they are at the tip of the spear of the American military.
In September, a Special Forces mountain team from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, participated in exercise Valor United 20. The exercise, which brought together special operations and conventional troops, took place in Seward, Alaska. Its aim was to boost the experience and expertise of the participants in arctic warfare and increase the interoperability between special operations and conventional forces.
A Navy SEAL with a Special Operations Military Working Dog training in arctic conditions (US Navy).
The participants focused on patrolling, arctic, alpine, and glacier movement, crevasse rescue, and long-range communications under the austere conditions of the arctic environment. Regarding the last aspect of the training (long-range communications), the Special Forces team’s communications sergeants were able to send high-frequency messages from their positions to their headquarters in Okinawa, more than 4,400 miles away. In doing so, they tested their ability to securely transmit a message over an extremely long distance without being compromised. It’s important to remember that in a near-peer conflict, the enemy’s capabilities compete with or match those of the US military, unlike what has been happening in the Middle East for the past 20 years where US troops have been fighting a technologically inferior enemy.
A Special Forces communication sergeant (18E) with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) sets up an antenna for high-frequency transmission during Valor United 20, an arctic warfare training exercise in Seward, Alaska (1st SFG).
While they were in the area, the 12-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) had the chance to work alongside the 212th Rescue Squadron and assist the Air Commandos in wilderness search and rescue missions.
“This was a great opportunity to refine previous Small Unit Tactics training and expand our proficiency to conduct arctic operations in an austere mountain environment,” said the ODA’s team sergeant in a press release.
Training offers units the opportunity to test tactics, techniques, and procedures, the utility of gear, and the rationale of established concepts in different environments. For example, a soldier moving and fighting in the arduous arctic environment needs significantly more calories than a soldier who sits on a forward operations base most of the day and goes out on a direct action mission at night or from a troop who is training a partner force. Thus, exercises like Valor United 20 are a great opportunity to answer the “what” and “how” questions units might have about operating in different geographical environments.
Rangers undergoing the Cold Weather Operations Course (US Army).
Army Special Forces soldiers aren’t the only ones who are getting additional arctic warfare training. The 75th Ranger Regiment, arguably the world’s premier light infantry special operations unit, has been sending troops to the Cold Weather Operations Course (CWOC) with increased frequency.
The Army has recognized the increased importance of and emphasis on arctic warfare by introducing the Arctic Tab. Since January, soldiers who successfully complete the Northern Warfare Training Center’s Cold Weather Leaders Course (CWLC) are awarded the Arctic Tab. This decision sparked some controversy since many feel that another tab would diminish the value of the preexisting ones, such as the Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Honor Guard Tab, or Sapper Tab.
Los Angeles residents got a surprise this week when helicopters, ostensibly filled with Special Forces operators, began flying around the Los Angeles and Long Beach skylines, disgorging their fully armed passengers into parking lots while simulated gunfire and explosions rang out.
If you’re surprised to hear that the military instituted martial law in Los Angeles last night, well, obviously, it was an exercise.
As surprised residents began contacting journalists and taking to social media, the Army answered questions from journalists and told them that Los Angeles had been selected as a training location because its urban terrain is similar to that which soldiers might be deployed to in future conflicts.
Military exercises rattling nerves around LA | ABC7
“The local terrain and training facilities in Los Angeles provide the Army with unique locations and simulates urban environments the service members may encounter when deployed overseas,” the Army told CBS. “There is no replacement for realistic training. Each location selected enables special operations teams and flight crews to maintain maximum readiness and proficiency, validate equipment and exercise standard safety procedures.“
The Army said that it had alerted local residents to the training, but it’s hard to get the word out to everyone in such a densely populated area. Apparently, some people missed the memo or were simply driving through the exercise area and didn’t know about the drills until they saw what appeared to be a raid happening in front of their eyes.
Some property owners had given permission for the military to use their land and buildings, so the operators had a lot of options in their work. The training is scheduled to go through Saturday, February 9.
This isn’t the first time that local residents have gotten surprised by military training. For instance, in 2015, Texas residents had gotten plenty of warning that Jade Helm 15, a massive exercise including vehicles, special operators, and aircraft, would be taking place.
Texans protested the training and pressured the governor to assign member of the Texas State Guard, separate from the National Guard, to monitor the training and ensure the federal troops didn’t take any illegal actions during the exercise. It grew into a massive conspiracy theory before the event took off, but the actual exercise took place with little drama.
Update: An earlier version of this story said that Jade Helm included tanks, something that caused the author to slap himself in the face the next morning when he realized that he had said that. Jade Helm did not include tanks. It did include some vehicles, but mostly just HMMWVs.
The Army is massively revving up its fleet of Bradley Fighting Vehicles through a recent deal to add up to 473 of the new infantry carriers, service officials said.
The move represents a key portion of a broader Army push to prepare its arsenal of armored combat vehicles for major power land war — and further pave the way toward a new generation of combat platforms for the 2030s and beyond.
While the Army of course has thousands of Bradleys in its inventory, the size of this buy is extremely significant because, among other things, it it acquires the newest generation of Bradley vehicles — something designed to lay key groundwork for longer-term high-priority ground vehicle modernization plans.
The service acquisition plan, advanced through a large-scale Army deal with BAE Systems, calls for the most modern Bradley M2A4 and M7A4 vehicles. These newest Bradleys are part of a strategic push to bring the Bradley platform into a new era with advanced computing, digital processors, long-range sensors, and a range of new weapons applications.
“After a decade of modifications in response to threats in Iraq, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is at or exceeds Space, Weight, and Power-Cooling limitations,” Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for Program Executive Office, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven.
Space, Weight, and Power considerations, as Army developers describe it, are an indispensable element of the calculus informing Bradley modernization; this means managing things like weight, mobility, on board electrical power, ammunition storage space, and electromagnetic signatures as they pertain to vehicle protection and firepower.
Essentially, some survivability enhancements needed to counter threats in Iraq wound up maxing the Bradley’s weight and on-power capacity. For instance, Army developers explain that equipping the Bradley with new suspension, reactive armor tiles, and APS can increase the vehicle weight by as much as 3,000-pounds.
In order to address this, the Army decided to execute a series of Engineering Change Proposals for the Bradley, specific technical adjustments to the platform designed to bring a host of new capabilities and enable faster and more seamless integration of emerging systems and technologies.
Givens explained that the newest Bradley A4s include upgrades to the engine and transmission, cooling system modification, electrical system upgrades, and introduction of vehicle diagnostics.
“These improvements buy-back lost mobility, as well as create margin to allow future technologies to be hosted on the platform. As an example, none of the Active Protection Systems currently being explored by the Army could be installed on the A3 Bradley due to its shortage of electrical power. The A4 corrects this shortcoming,” she added.
(U.S. Department of Defense photo)
More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks and even electronic warfare technologies.
The A4 configuration also upgrades the Bradley engine and transmission, Alicia Gray, BAE Systems Combat Vehicles spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
The Army is also working on a new future A5 Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.
Designed to be lighter weight, more mobile, and much better protected, emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrades already underway as part of a plan to build upon improvements with the A4.
These improvements include integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections and a new ammunition storage configuration, Army developers tell Warrior.
Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development.
This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.
Land War vs. Russian & Chinese Armored Vehicles
The Army is accelerating these kinds of armored vehicle weapons systems and countermeasures, in part because of an unambiguous recognition that, whoever the US Army fights, it is quite likely to encounter Russian or Chinese-built armored vehicles and advanced weaponry, senior service leaders told Warrior.
As part of this equation, recognizing that Army warfighters are often understandably reluctant to articulate war plans or threat assessments, it is indeed reasonable and relevant to posit that service war planners are looking at the full-range of contingencies — to include ground war with Russian forces in Europe, Iranian armies in the Middle East or even Chinese armored vehicles on the Asian continent.
Citing Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Army senior officials seem acutely aware that the US will likely confront near-peer armored vehicles, weapons systems and technologies.
“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Warrior. “The threat is not just combat vehicles but UAVs (drones), MANPADs and other weapons.”
Bradley upgrades are also serving as a component to early conceptual work on the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, an entirely new platform or fleet of vehicles slated to emerge in the 2030s.
Next Generation vehicles, for the 2030s and beyond, Army developers say, will be necessary because there are limits to how far an existing armored vehicle can be upgraded. This requires a delicate balancing act between the short term operational merits of upgrades vs. a longer-term, multi-year developmental approach. Each has its place, Army acquisition leaders emphasize.
The emergence of these weapons, and the fast-changing threat calculus is also, quite naturally, impacting what Army developers call CONOPS, or Concepts of Operations. Longer range sensors and weaponry, of course, can translate into a more dispersed combat area – thus underscoring the importance of command and control systems and weapons with sufficient reach to outrange attacking forces. The idea of bringing more lethality to the Bradley is not only based upon needing to directly destroy enemy targets but also fundamental to the importance of laying down suppressive fire, enabling forces to maneuver in combat.
As part of these preparations for future ground warfare, Army concept developers and war veterans are quick to point out that armored vehicles, such as a Bradley or even an Abrams tank, have also been impactful in certain counterinsurgency engagements as well. Accordingly, the term “full-spectrum” often receives much attention among Army leaders, given that the service prides itself on “expecting the unexpected” or being properly suited in the event of any combat circumstance. The Army has now evolved to a new Doctrinal “Operations” approach which places an even greater premium upon winning major power land wars.
“We need to be ready to face near-peers or regional actors with nuclear weapons. It is the risk of not being ready that is too great,” a senior Army official said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
These three words are the motto of the 109th Airlift Wing – at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York – and though short, it is an accurate synopsis of the unit’s mission.
“We fly missions to Greenland, which is near the North Pole, and Antarctica, which is the South Pole,” said Maj. Emery Jankford, the wing’s chief of training. “So, we literally fly pole to pole.”
During the spring and summer months, the 109th AW operates out of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and flies scientific researchers with the National Science Foundation and their materiel to remote field camps across the Arctic Ice Cap. In the fall and winter months, the unit conducts similar missions out of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze.
Antarctica and Greenland are among the coldest, windiest, and most inhospitable places on the globe and they provide a challenging opportunity to demonstrate the reach and flexibility of airpower, the capabilities of the joint force, and the integrated support of active-duty, Guard, and Reserve military personnel.
“Basically, we go from cold to really cold,” Jankford said. “The Greenland operating season helps us train and prepare for when we operate in Antarctica.”
Each year, the 109th AW flies more than 800 hours during the Greenland support season and transports 2.1 million pounds of cargo, 49,000 pounds of fuel, and nearly 2,000 passengers.
“If it got there, we brought it,” said Maj. Justin Garren, the wing’s chief of Greenland Operations.
To accomplish this, the unit flies the world’s only ski-equipped LC-130s, called “skibirds,” which allows the planes to land on and take off from ice and compacted snow runways.
“We do have some traditional “wheelbirds” in our unit, but the LC-130s give us the unique capability of being able to land in snowy arctic areas,” Garren said.
While the LC-130s are able to operate without a traditional runway, the arctic environment does present challenges the crews must overcome long before the planes’ skis touch down on the ice.
“Our biggest challenges are weather and navigation,” said Capt. Zach McCreary, a C-130 pilot with the 109th AW.
Because most of Greenland is within the Arctic Circle near the North Pole and Antarctica surrounds the South Pole, there is a lot of magnetic interference when flying in these areas. This interference makes GPS navigation difficult, so the aircrews have to resort to old-school tactics.
“Our navigators are some of the only ones in the military who still use celestial navigation,” Jankford said. “We still break out the charts and formulas to determine our positions and headings.”
Weather is another challenge. It can change quickly and it can get nasty, so aircrews try to stay as up to date as possible when flying missions.
“We receive regular weather briefings, before we leave and while we’re in the air,” McCreary said. “But there are times the weather changes quickly and you have to react and adapt to it on the fly.”
In some cases, usually with cloud cover, this means landing with limited to no visibility. At times the land and sky blend together with no visible horizon line.
“It’s like flying inside of a ping pong ball,” McCreary said. “Everything is white and it all looks the same.”Capt. Zach McCreary, C-130 pilot, 109th AW
In these situations, the aircrew uses a spotting technique where the copilot and loadmasters will look for flags lining the runway and help the pilot line up the aircraft during its approach.
“It’s a very unique airlift wing,” Garren said. “We’re landing on snow and ice, we’re using the sun and stars to navigate, and we’re using our eyeballs to land – I’m not sure there’s another unit that flies like this.”
Because the 109th AW operates in such unique environments, utilizing dated techniques, effective training is only possible within the areas of operation.
“We can only train for these missions when we’re in Greenland and Antarctica,” Garren said. “We can’t train at home, so new crewmembers are learning and being signed off on tasks while they’re landing and taking off from the ice.”
The uniqueness of the polar mission is one reason it was given to the 109th AW. Being a guard unit, its members stay in place longer and are able to train, develop, and enhance their skills and experience without having to move or relocate every few years like their active duty counterparts.
“We have guys here who have been flying this mission for 30 years,” Garren said. “That amount of experience is invaluable and the knowledge they pass on to the junior guys is irreplaceable.”
Also irreplaceable are the capabilities of the wing’s unique “skibirds.”
“We can fly into an austere area and land with our skis with no runway somewhere no one has ever been,” Garren said. “That’s why we’re here and that’s what we train to do.”
The US Navy carrier strike group and US Air Force bombers deployed to the Middle East to counter Iran conducted simulated strike drills near Iran as tensions between Washington and Tehran remain high.
The US began deploying numerous troops and military assets to the US Central Command area of responsibility May 2019 in response to intelligence indicating that Iran was plotting attacks on US interests in the region.
The exact nature of the threat posed by Iran and its proxies is unclear, although Vice Adm. Michael Gilday recently told reporters at the Pentagon that the Iranian leadership has repeatedly made threats backed up by changes in their force posture.
Furthermore, there have been a string of attacks in recent weeks — including attacks on tankers in UAE waters, a drone strike on a Saudi pipeline, and a rocket attack in the Green Zone in Iraq — that have reinforced the US military’s view that Iran is involved in or plotting nefarious activities.
A bomber with fighter escorts fly above the USS Abraham Lincoln.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur)
B-52H Stratofortress bomber escorted by F/A-18E Super Hornets.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur)
Bombers and fighters supported by an early warning aircraft fly above the USS Abraham Lincoln.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley)
Fighters and bombers fly over the Arabian Sea during combined arms exercises.
(US Navy photo by Lt. Brad Kerr)
F/A-18E Super Hornet on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matt Herbst)
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There are few “safe” jobs in armed conflict, but certainly one of the toughest and most dangerous is that of a sniper. They must sneak forward in groups of two to spy on the enemy, knowing that an adversary who spots them first may be lethal. Here’s what Army and Marine Corps snipers say it takes to overcome the life-or-death stress of their job.
“As a scout sniper, we are going to be constantly tired, fatigued, dehydrated, probably cold, for sure wet, and always hungry,” Marine scout sniper Sgt. Brandon Choo told the Department of Defense earlier this year.
The missions snipers are tasked with carrying out, be it in the air, at sea, or from a concealed position on land, include gathering intelligence, killing enemy leaders, infiltration and overwatch, hunting other snipers, raid support, ballistic IED interdiction, and the disruption of enemy operations.
Many snipers said they handled their job’s intense pressures by quieting their worries and allowing their training to guide them.
A Marine with Scout Sniper Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, uses a scout sniper periscope.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres)
“There is so much riding on your ability to accomplish the mission, including the lives of other Marines,” a Marine scout sniper told Insider recently. “The best way to deal with [the stress] is to just not think about it.” An Army sniper said the same thing, telling Insider that “you don’t think about that. You are just out there and reacting in the moment. You don’t feel that stress in the situation.”
These sharpshooters explained that when times are tough, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself because there are people depending on you. Their motivation comes from the soldiers and Marines around them.
Learning to tune out the pressures of the job is a skill developed through training. “This profession as a whole constitutes a difficult lifestyle where we have to get up every day and train harder than the enemy, so that when we meet him in battle we make sure to come out on top,” Choo told DoD.
A sniper attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment takes aim at insurgents from behind cover.
(US Marine Corps photo)
‘You are always going to fall back on your training.’
So, what does that mean in the field, when things get rough?
“You are going to do what you were taught to do or you are going to die,” 1st Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran Army sniper, told Insider. “Someone once told me that in any given situation, you are probably not going to rise to the occasion,” a Marine scout sniper, now an instructor, explained. “You are always going to fall back on your training.”
“So, if I’ve trained myself accordingly, even though I’m stressing out about whatever my mission is, I know that I’ll fall back to my training and be able to get it done,” he said. “Then, before I know it, the challenge has passed, the stress is gone, and I can go home and drink a beer and eat a steak.”
Choo summed it up simply in his answers to DoD, saying, “No matter what adversity we may face, at the end of the day, we aren’t dead, so it’s going to be all right.”
A Marine scout sniper candidate with Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long)
Do the impossible once a week.
Sometimes the pressures of the job can persist even after these guys return home.
In that case, Sipes explained, it is really important to “talk to someone. Talk to your peers. Take a break. Go and do something else and come back to it.” Another Army sniper previously told Insider that it is critical to check your ego at the door, be brutally honest with yourself, and know your limits.
In civilian life, adversity can look very different than it does on the battlefield. Challenges, while perhaps not life-and-death situations, can still be daunting.
“I think the way that people in civilian life can deal with [hardship] is by picking something out, on a weekly basis, that they in their mind think is impossible, and they need to go and do it,” a Marine sniper told Insider. “What you’re going to find is that more often than not, you are going to be able to achieve that seemingly-impossible task, and so everything that you considered at that level or below becomes just another part of your day.”
He added that a lot more people should focus on building their resilience.
“If that is not being provided to you, it is your responsibility to go out and seek that to make yourself better.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
First, for anyone who isn’t up on what railguns are, they’re a type of naval artillery that uses massive amounts of electricity to propel the round instead of a chemical reaction (read: gunpowder). This would be a major improvement in logistics and safety as the Navy would no longer need to ship bags of gunpowder around the world, but the best advantages come in range and lethality.
Railguns can hurl rounds very far. Navy engineers have said they think they can reach 230 miles with current technologies. And when the rounds hit the target, they’re going so fast that the total amount of damage on a target is like it was hit by a missile or a massive, high-explosive warhead but the fast-flying rounds can also pierce most armor and even underground targets and bunkers.
So, railguns can fire up to 10 times as far as conventional artillery with a safer round that does more damage when it hits the target. And this isn’t theoretical — railguns have actually achieved these things in Navy tests. Time to put them on ships before China can, right?
High-speed photograph of Navy prototype railgun firing.
A railgun fires during testing at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2016.
(Monica Wood, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
So, were railguns obsolete before they were launched? No. There are still plenty of niche uses for the railgun, and the Navy has slowed development but is still pursuing the weapon. Accurate railgun fire could intercept enemy missiles and fighter jets for cheap, possibly while plugged into the super capable Aegis combat system.
And while railgun-equipped ships would likely be too vulnerable to missile strikes to be “door-kicking” ships that take out enemy defenses on day one of a conflict, they would still be very valuable for shore bombardment, strike missions, and other tasks after the first week or so of a war, after the worst of the enemy’s missiles are taken out.
An artist’s illustration of a Navy Joint High-Speed Vessel with the prototype railgun installed for testing.
But being the first navy to put a railgun to sea has already granted China a pretty great and relatively easy propaganda victory. The country has worked hard on their technology in recent years in order to be seen as a great naval power, potentially positioning themselves as an arms exporter while deterring conflict.
And the U.S. will have to prepare for the possibility that the railgun is for real. The first pilots to fly within the ship’s range if a war breaks out have to reckon with the possibility that a 20-pound shell might be flying at Mach 7 towards their aircraft at any moment. Missile attacks against a fleet with the ship will have to decide whether to concentrate on the railgun or an aircraft carrier or another combatant.
But, again, this could all be China exploring the tech or bluffing, but with none of the breakthroughs needed to make the weapons viable in combat. If so, they would be wise to concentrate on the many other breakthroughs their military could use for an actual fight.
It feels like anything you get in your mailbox nowadays are bills, grocery store ads (wow, $3 raspberries. Thanks, Albertsons), and reminders from your dentist (I know I’m late for my cleaning Dr. Cruz, please stop guilting me). But a very special American hero received a whole lot more than that in his mailbox…
Sue Morse and Duane Sherman (96)
(Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register via AP)
Duane Sherman, a World War II veteran from California, recently had quite a big birthday surprise. His daughter, Sue Morse, posted on social media asking for letters to be sent to him for his 96th birthday. She expected maybe a hundred or so cards–but after her social media post went viral, they received over 50,000 hand mailed cards for Duane.
(Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register via AP)
Duane Sherman enlisted in the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He saw combat aboard the U.S.S. Lamson. He was struck by shrapnel from kamikaze pilots aboard the Lamson on December 7th, 1944–exactly 3 years after the Pearl Harbor attacks. The outpouring of support for the WWII veteran came from all walks of life: elementary school kids, prison inmates, Ohio State, and even the Pittsburgh Steelers. Letters were sent from all 50 states, and 10 different countries. The popular forum website “Reddit” reposted the request for letters–and it took the site by storm. Hundreds of thousands of users commented and shared the request, sending in their own handwritten love to the American vet.
Because Duane is legally blind, Sue has taken to reading the cards aloud to him. She’s read over a thousand letters and, according to Fox News, has enlisted the help of friends to complete the task.
In a world wrought with bad news, it’s refreshing to see such a massive gentle act of kindness affect so many people. Perhaps he will get 50,001 on his 97th birthday.
In 1862, the Merrimack and the Monitor fought the famous naval battle at Hampton Roads where ships with iron armor fought each other for the first time. That clash is often cited as one of the moments where warfare changed overnight. Suddenly, it was clear that most cannons couldn’t penetrate iron hulls, and so every navy rushed to armor their hulls.
Just four years later, two fleets of wooden and iron-hulled boats clashed in the waters near Venice, and this first clash of iron fleets got weird, fast.
The Battle of Lissa was fought near an island of the same name in the Adriatic Sea, sometimes known as Vis, its Croatian name. A large Italian fleet of about 26 ships, including 13 ironclads, faced off against about 26 Austrian ships, but only seven Austrian ships were ironclads.
But the ironclad numbers weren’t the end of the Italian advantage. The ships that took part were powered by a mix of sail and steam. Like, each ship used both. Some ships were predominantly steam-powered but had sails to make them more efficient on long voyages, and some were sail-powered with small steam engines and paddles to help them quickly turn in combat. The ships predominantly powered by steam were generally more effective in combat, and Italy had a higher mix of those. And the Italian ships were generally larger, as well.
But most importantly, the Italian ships had larger guns and more rifled pieces. At the time, rifle-fired rounds and exploding rounds were about the only thing that could pierce iron armor. And by larger guns, we mean the largest Austrian guns were 48-pounders, and every piece of Italian naval artillery was larger.
So, the Italian ships were larger, better armed and armored, and technologically advanced. Guess the Italians won. Cool. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
The Austrian wooden battleship Kaiser rams an Italian ironclad in the Battle. The ship left its figurehead behind after the clash.
Except, nope, just wait. Italy sent ships to capture the island of Lissa from an Austrian garrison on July 16, 1866. This assault was repelled, and the Italian ships returned on the night of July 19 to try again. The next morning, July 20, 1866, was rainy and the waters were covered in mist.
But the Italian fleet used the weather as a cover for their coming bombardment and landings right up until a dispatch vessel ran back to elements of the fleet with news that Austrian ships had reached the island. The Italian fleet had been split up to bombard multiple targets and land troops. They were not properly massed for a naval battle.
The Italians were unimpressed, though, and continued to focus on landing troops. With the technological and numerical advantage, it must have seemed that they could bat away any attempts at disturbing the landings.
Ships are designed with long bodies to minimize resistance and to give stability, but artillery works best when it’s deployed side-by-side with all the guns firing in support of one another. So, when one group of ships charges on another, the group firing broadsides can typically fire many more cannons than the group that is charging. So, seemingly, this would work to the Italians’ advantage.
But then the Italian admiral did something completely baffling. He changed flagships as the Austrians bore down on him. He would later claim that he did this so he would be on a faster ship that could more efficiently relay orders, but the Italian ship crews didn’t know about the change and so would look to the wrong ship for direction for most of the battle.
And then the Austrians got a second break. Their headlong charge was obscured as the naval guns opened fire and began to emit those huge clouds of smoke. The Austrian commander, Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, charged through the smoke with most of his ships and suddenly realized that he had unwittingly passed through the Italian line of battle.
So the Italian fleet was receiving no clear orders from what the captains thought was the flagship, was obscured by smoke, and suddenly had an enemy literally sailing through their lines. The battle quickly descended into a tight mass of ships circling and firing on one another with little real coordination. As the smoke filled the air and everyone lost sight of nearly everything, it became tough for combatants to tell who they were supposed to fight.
An illustration shows Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff during the Battle of Lissa.
Von Tegetthoff, though, had issued an order that worked perfectly in this insanity. Remember, Austria’s largest guns in the battle were nearly useless for firing at armor plating. The 48-pound shells that were his most powerful projectile would still need a lucky shot to seriously damage an Italian ironclad. So, von Tegetthoff had ordered his ships to ram Italian vessels whenever the opportunity arose.
And so the spinning, chaotic, smoke-filled brawl that morning was perfect for them. It softened the impact of the Italian artillery advantage, and Austrian crews began ramming everything that looked vaguely Italian.
Yeah, the first clash of iron fleets descended into a battle of naval ramming, a tactic that had lost favor in the decades prior because rammings were hard to pull off as the ships required a lot of time and space to build up speed, but easy to avoid as the targeted vessel could pull out of the way or turn so that an otherwise lethal blow would be a glancing hit instead.
In the melee of Lissa, ships of both sides rammed each other, and gun crews fired on ships that they were locked into combat with. An Austrian battleship rammed an Italian vessel and left its figurehead, a statue of the emperor, in the enemy’s iron armor. The Austrian ship even caught fire when one of its masts broke, landed on its own smokestack, and then became overheated by the exhaust.
The Italian ship Re d’Italia sinks at the end of the Battle of Lissa.
(Carl Frederik Sørensen)
When the ships were exchanging shells, the Italians generally got the better of the exchanges as they could lob 300-pound shells from some guns. But the Austrian proficiency at ramming claimed a greater toll.
The heavy Italian ship rolled away, rolled back, and then sank in less than two minutes as sailors and marines struggled to escape the suction of the quickly sinking iron.
The fleets disentangled themselves. The Austrian forces had lost no ships, had only one badly damaged, and had suffered almost 200 casualties including 38 killed. The Italians had lost a prized ironclad and hundreds killed. Worse, a fire was spreading on another ironclad, the Palestro. Despite heroic efforts by the crew to save the ship, including flooding its powder magazines, a separate store of shells and powder was ignited.
The ship blew up like a massive bomb, sending parts of its plating and hull high in the air. Hundreds more Italian sailors died, and the wreckage sank within minutes. Italy had lost a second ironclad, and its death toll for the battle rose to 620. Not to mention, the shores of Lissa were now safe from the threatened Italian amphibious assault.
The aftereffect of Lissa was even weirder than the battle, though. The success of rams led to new ship designs that emphasized the weapon for decades, so even in World War I modern-ish battleships and many smaller vessels still carried iron rams at the waterline. And, maybe even more surprising, the Austrian success at Lissa had become moot before it was even fought.
The Austrian Empire had been decisively defeated on land at the Battle of Königgrätz by Prussian forces on July 3. Prussian forces on the continent kept pressure on Austria for the rest of July, and the war came to an end with Prussian victory.
Germanic tribes, and their Italian allies, were allowed to consolidate their peoples into new nations separate from the Austrian Empire. That empire renamed itself the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and, 48 years later, one of its archdukes was killed while riding in a car in the town of Sarajevo, less than 130 miles northeast of Lissa.
(Today, the island is part of Croatia and is known by its name in the Croatian language, Vis.)
With a deafening roar that rattled windows, SpaceX — the rocket company founded by Elon Musk — fired up its new Mars rocket-ship prototype for the first time April 3, 2019.
The roughly 60-foot-tall stainless-steel rocket ship, called the “Starhopper” (previously the “Test Hopper”), is a basic prototype of a much larger vehicle called Starship. When completed, perhaps in the early 2020s, the two-stage launcher may stand perhaps 400 feet tall and be capable of landing its nearly 200-foot-tall spaceship on Mars.
The Starhopper prototype gave a full-throated yet brief one-second roar of its sole Raptor engine at 7:57 p.m. CDT on April 3, 2019, based on Business Insider’s eyewitness account.
“Starhopper completed tethered hop. All systems green,” Musk tweeted shortly after the brief firing here on Brazos Island. SpaceX had planned to test the rocket ship earlier this month but had issues with ice-crystal formation in the engine.
A camera on South Padre Island, which is located about 5 1/2 miles from SpaceX’s launch site, recorded the first fiery “hop” test through the haze:
FIRST STARSHIP RAPTOR STATIC FIRE TEST AT SPACEX BOCA CHICA TEXAS
The sound here on Brazos Island was deafening — so loud that part of a resident’s window blinds was knocked off its frame.
“I was cooking collard greens and my house started rattling. It was like a couple of jet airplanes taking off in your living room,” said Maria Pointer, a retired deck officer who lives with her husband, Ray, about 1.8 miles from SpaceX’s new launchpad.
She said previous tests by SpaceX were loud — comparable to the noise of a jet engine — but “this was magnified to about 10 jet-engine roars,” she said.
First Raptor Static Fire test on StarHopper – April 3, 2019
“It reminds you of when the Blue Angels fly over real low,” she added. “That’s the sound. It rattled everything. This was the full Raptor with all the juice going to it. This was the real thing.”
The lone road to SpaceX
SpaceX has been coordinating with Cameron County law enforcement to close access to Highway 4 — the only road into and out of the remote beach community, which about two dozen people share with SpaceX.
During SpaceX’s tests and road closings, renters and longtime residents are permitted to pass through a soft checkpoint about 15 miles east of Boca Chica Village. For safety reasons — the Starhopper is an experimental vehicle that might explode — no one is allowed to pass through a hard checkpoint about 1 1/2 miles west of the launchpad.
Boca Chica Beach, a popular spot with locals from Brownsville and other areas, is also closed during testing operations. Each day of testing has lasted about eight hours.
SpaceX workers taking Starhopper to a launchpad near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, on March 8, 2019.
On April 3, 2019, multiple residents said the road closings had proved increasingly vexing, given their frequency, extended hours, and tightening security meant to ward off gawkers.
When Cameron County, the state, and other authorities gave SpaceX permission to use the site in 2014, the company agreed to close the road about once a month. Ray Pointer said the road had closings more or less every day for the past week.
Despite the tightened security and compounding inconvenience, Maria Pointer said it was fun to hear and see a bit of history taking place.
“This is the good part about it all,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Lt. General Charles “Chuck” Pitman passed away this past Thursday at age 84. His career spanned over 40 years, including three combat tours in Vietnam. He also was involved in Operation Eagle Claw, the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Tehran in 1980. He commanded an Air Wing and was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Marine Corps Aviation. He earned the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. But for all his achievements in uniform, Pitman is better known for ignoring military protocol and breaking a bunch of regulations so he could save lives.
That was the thought process of then, Lieutenant Colonel Pitman. On Jan. 7, 1973, Pitman was the commander of the Marine Air Reserve Training in Louisiana. Pitman had turned on the television to see a horrible scene unfolding. A gunman had taken position on top of a hotel and was shooting and killing police officers. The sniper had a full view of all on comers, and any attempt to enter the hotel was met with murderous gunfire.
Pitman didn’t even think twice about asking permission to help. He grabbed another pilot and two crew members and jumped in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter and headed toward New Orleans.
The incident Pitman was flying into actually started several days earlier on New Year’s Eve. Mark Essex was a Navy vet who had been kicked out due to behavior issues. He had ended up in New Orleans, where he fell in with radical groups. One of those groups was the Black Panthers. Essex had grown angrier over time with what he perceived to be injustices he faced in the Navy and now as a civilian. After learning of a civil rights protest in which two students from Southern University were killed by police, Essex lost it.
He went to New Orleans police headquarters, where he shot and killed an African American cadet; shooting him from behind. He then fled and tried to break into a warehouse. When police arrived, unaware that he was linked to the shooting at HQ, Essex ambushed them, mortally wounding one. By the time backup arrived, he had vanished into the night.
On Jan. 7, Essex reappeared, and entered a Howard Johnson hotel in downtown New Orleans. As he made his way to the roof, he murdered a newlywed couple and the hotel’s manager and assistant manager. He then set fires in several rooms and made his way to the roof.
Essex had set an ambush. The shooting and fires would draw first responders to the scene. Then he would carry out his horrible plan to kill more cops.
As the police and firefighters arrived, they attempted to enter the hotel. Essex killed three police officers and wounded several more. He was able to pin down anyone that attempted to move toward the hotel and was completely concealed from return fire by concrete barriers on the roof.
By this time, the TV cameras had shown up. Broadcasting over the airwaves, they told viewers of the horrible situation unfolding in downtown New Orleans.
One of the viewers was Lt. Colonel Pitman.
Pitman flew the CH-46 toward the hotel without any idea what he was actually going to do. He just knew he had to do something. When he arrived on site, Pitman located an empty parking lot next to the hotel. He landed, headed to the command center, and quickly became apprised of the situation. The cops on the scene sought his advice, and his years of service in Vietnam kicked in. Essex had the high ground, so Pittman would go higher.
He put several New Orleans police officers on the helicopter and took off. He started flying passes over the roof of the hotel, slowing down and turning so that the police could get a good shot. They could not. Essex would take shots at the aircraft from afar but would take cover the minute they closed in. Pitman noticed this and kept making passes to lure Essex into thinking this was his routine. Finally, after one pass, he turned immediately around and caught Essex in the open. The police in the helicopter unloaded on the sniper.
When all was said and done, Essex was found with over 200 rounds in his body.
Pitman was lauded as a hero by the police and citizens of New Orleans and just about everybody…except the United States Marine Corps.
It turns out that Pitman (kind of… sort of) violated a few rules and regulations when he took the helicopter. He wasn’t allowed to use military personnel or aircraft for anything other than a rescue mission (like evacuating flood victims).
You would think that the Marine Corps would look at the badassery that Pitman just pulled off and call it a public relations coup. But, they didn’t (of course) and started the process of a court-martial.
It was only due to the intervention of Democratic Congressman and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Edward Herbert that the issue was dropped.
Pitman would continue his amazing career, retiring in 1990 as a Lt. General.
Lt. General Pitman, rest easy, and Semper Fidelis.