Humans feel the need for speed — without a doubt. From the first time we sit behind the wheel to choosing which roller coasters we prioritize at Magic Mountain, speed is always a primary factor.
But where most of us have to stop our fiending for a speed rush when the “Escape from Krypton” ride ends, others get to go out and design objects and vehicles that go far faster than we can imagine.
Remember as you read this list, an M4 carbine fires a round at 2,025 miles per hour.
8. NASA X-43 – 7,000 mph
The X-43 A is the fastest aircraft ever made. Unmanned, it was designed to test air-breathing engine technology at speeds above Mach 5, though the aircraft could reach speeds up to Mach 10. NASA wanted to use the information collected from its 3 X-43s to design airframes with larger payloads and, eventually, reusable rockets.
7. Space Shuttles, 17,500 mph
In order for anything in low-earth orbit to stay in low-earth orbit, it has to be traveling at least 17,500 mph. The shuttles’ external tank carries more than 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which are mixed and burned as fuel for the three main engines.
6. Apollo 10 Capsule – 24,791 mph
The Apollo 10 mission of May 1969 saw the fastest manned craft ever. Apollo 10 was the moon landing’s dry run, simulating all the events required for a lunar landing. The men on board were all Air Force, Marines, and Navy astronauts.
From here on out, the vehicles are unmanned.
5. Stardust – 28,856 mph
Anything designed to collect samples of a comet has to be designed for speed. Stardust was designed to catch up to a comet, collect a sample, and then return to that sample to Earth — which it did in 2006. The capsule achieved the fastest speed of any man-made object returning to Earth’s atmosphere — Mach 36.
4. Voyager 1 – 38,610 mph
Voyager also has the distinction of being the most traveled man-made object ever. Launched in 1977, it reached interstellar-goddamn-space in 2013. It covered more than 322 million miles a year.
2. An iron manhole cover – 125,000 mph
During a nuclear bomb test called Operation Plumbbob, Robert Brownlee was tasked with designing a test for limiting nuclear fallout from an underground explosion. A device was placed in a deep pit, capped with a four-inch, iron manhole.
Obviously, the cap popped right off during the explosion, but Brownlee wanted to test the velocity of the expulsed cap. The test was filmed using a camera that captured one image per millisecond and only one frame captured the iron cap.
Brownlee calculated its velocity at 125,000 mph — and that it likely reached space, but no one knows for sure. They never found it.
1. Helios Satellites – 157,078 mph
The first of two satellites designed to study the sun. Also designed in the 1970s, the two Helios satellites broke all spacecraft speed records and flew closer to the sun than even the planet Mercury. It only took the probes two years to get to the sun and they transmitted information about the heliosphere until 1985.
As the United States reenters the realm of great power competition, America needs to maintain its technological edge in stealth, but would benefit from a renewed emphasis on speed in combat aviation… even at the expense of observability in some platforms.
For some, the above sentence will read like a ham-fisted oxymoron coming from a chump who doesn’t understand how air power works in the modern era. After all, the most potent threats on the horizon come from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia–both nations with advanced air defense capabilities that would make even the most capable fourth-generation fighters like the new F-15EX a pretty easy target.
The F-15EX is, quite literally, the fastest aircraft in Uncle Sam’s operational inventory, so one could argue that speed just isn’t what combat aviation is about anymore. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from most fighter pilots today. The F-35, for all its faults, is widely touted as perhaps the most capable tactical aircraft in history, despite being almost slow compared to Cold War powerhouses like the F-14 Tomcat. The F-35A can achieve speeds as high as Mach 1.6, while the F-35B and C are both limited to Mach 1.3–a speed they can only maintain for less than one minute. The long-retired Tomcat, on the other hand, could pass Mach 2.3 without breaking much of a sweat.
The truth of the matter is, in a high-end fight with a nation like China, the United States would be better off flying a fleet of slower F-35s than faster (and more easily targeted) F-14s… but that line of thinking isn’t accurate to the reality of America’s simmering conflict with China. Open and conventional war with China is extremely unlikely any time in the relative future, and while America needs to invest in the technology and a force structure that can deter such a fight even further, the Sino-American conflict is more likely to play out like a new Cold War in the decades to come. That means competing in the developing world, rather than in China’s backyard.
Finally, if a large-scale war were to break out, American pilots will need speed to effectively manage individual engagements as the conflict presses on. Sometimes, the best tactical decision a pilot can make is to “bug out,” or escape the area and an opponent’s advantage. That’s where speed, once again, becomes vital to survival.
Competition with China and Russia will take place in the developing world
Immediately after World War II, the United States and Soviet Union found themselves in a decades-long staring match that prompted huge investments in military capability across both nations. The goal was simple: build the platforms you’d need to win the third World War, and that alone may be enough deterrence to prevent it from starting. Both nations built fighters and bombers that could fly ever higher, ever faster, hoping to defeat burgeoning air defenses like the SR-71 could… by simply outrunning any missile you could shoot at it.
Let there be no doubt that this method of deterrence was effective, and in truth, the most potent weapon systems are those you never have to actually employ in order to achieve your geopolitical goals. But the unintentional side effect of developing more powerful nuclear weapons and more capable airpower platforms was an inability for American and Soviet forces to actually engage one another without bringing about the nuclear apocalypse.
In order to avoid that possibility, the United States and Soviet Union turned to partner nations and proxy forces, expanding influence and strategic leverage around the globe through overt diplomacy and covert military action and assistance. In some cases, partner or proxy forces supported by each respective nation would clash, leading to America’s involvement in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Terrible as these conflicts were, they were considered a tolerable alternative to nuclear winter as the world’s two superpowers tip-toed on the line of global conflict.
China, a nation that wields not only nuclear weapons but a vast amount of economic leverage and the largest naval force on the planet, is similarly positioned for a long and drawn-out staring contest with the United States. Not only would such a fight cripple both national militaries, but it would also neuter China’s ongoing plans for expanding its global influence, as well as create chaos throughout the global economy for decades to come.
China isn’t going to declare war on the United States any time soon… But China and the United States are going to continue to compete in practically every appreciable way, which includes establishing relationships in developing countries for the purposes of gaining access to strategic resources and ports. As luck (perhaps bad luck) would have it, the regions of the world that are most likely to have those very sorts of commodities on the market throughout the 21st century are often exactly where American and allied forces are already conducting counter violent extremists operations (Counter VEO): Africa and the Middle East.
But while America and its allies have been accumulating operational experience in these theaters, China hasn’t been sleeping. Despite China largely staying out of the Global War on Terror, it has been expanding its influence in these same regions via economic and infrastructure programs, including providing massive loans to developing nations that many suspect won’t be able to pay China back. China, it seems, would prefer they didn’t anyway–as the leverage defaulted loans would offer is more strategically valuable than paying interest on a loan could be.
“Right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometers are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” explained Daan Rogeveen, an author and expert on urbanization in China and Africa.
As a result, there’s an extremely high likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in places like Africa and the Middle East. In fact, America already does. These forces will likely find themselves in direct competition with proxy or partner forces receiving support from China and Russia. The quagmire that is the ongoing conflict in Syria serves as a contemporary example of just how diverse foreign interests within a single nation can be, and just how dangerous operations in one can get.
America’s only dogfight in more than 20 years was in uncontested airspace against a 50-year-old jet
It’s worth noting that it was, in fact, over Syria that the United States scored its only air-to-air kill in literal decades in 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was forced to engage a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter that was attacking partner forces on the ground.
This short fight also offered an important lesson about bridging the gap between longstanding airpower and the cutting-edge systems employed by the United States. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, the pilot in the Super Hornet, first locked onto the Soviet-era Su-22 with the one of the Navy’s latest and most advanced air-to-air weapons, the AIM-9X, but when he fired, the Fitter deployed flares and managed to fool what was previously considered to be the most capable air combat missile in service.
“It came off the rails quick,” Tremel said. “I lost the smoke trail and I had no idea what happened to the missile after that.”
Tremel then locked on once again with an older AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired, this time finding his target and turning the Su-22 into a fireball. While the Pentagon hasn’t offered an explanation as to why their newest missile failed to discern a real fighter from a bucket of flares, some experts have postulated that it may have been a result of the AIM-9X being too well-tuned to distinguish jets from the latest and most advanced flares employed by top-of-the-line 4th and 5th generation platforms. The Su-22 has been flying since 1966, and its dirty old flares weren’t something the AIM-9X expected to run into.
Sometimes, winning a fight isn’t about who fields the latest or most expensive technology. It’s about who fields the right technology for the right situation.
Detection isn’t a threat over the developing world. Distance is.
On October 4, 2017, a group of U.S. Army Green Berets and Nigerian soldiers was ambushed by fighters from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Niger. The tragic firefight ended with four dead U.S. troops, five dead Nigerian soldiers, and some difficult questions about how the most highly trained warfighters in the world with support from the most powerful military in the world found themselves fighting through a tactical disadvantage without any air support close enough to make a difference.
In 2012, a coordinated attack against two separate U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya came with similarly painful lessons. When the dust settled, four Americans were dead, including two CIA contractors and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Like the ambush in Niger, air support for Americans in Libya was too far away to provide any meaningful assistance throughout the majority of the fight.
These two instances were outliers stretched across two decades worth of counter-extremist operations, but they both perfectly demonstrate the very real limitations of American airpower when it comes to distance. Public perception of American airpower is not always congruous with the realities of combat, an issue that extends all the way to partner forces. The assumption among most is that America has all-seeing aircraft flying overhead at all times… but that simply isn’t true.
“Unfortunately, public perception is driven sometimes by news coverage, but also by modern movies,” Dr. James Kiras explained about partner forces in a recent episode of The Irregular Warfare Podcast.
“And the idea that somehow we can’t maintain persistent coverage, that a cloud-for example-moving between you and a target could allow you to lose coverage for a critical period just seems completely inconceivable to them.”
The American people also tend to think that the United States has MQ-9 Reapers or armed F-15E Strike Eagles standing by within firing distance of every military operation–something that has been true to a large extent throughout the past two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a “stack” of air support platforms are often standing by to engage the enemy. Now, however, as the U.S. repositions assets to better deter Chinese aggression, there will be fewer air platforms to go around in these regions.
At the same time, American special operations forces tasked with fighting or training proxy fighters for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East will be spread out further and operating with less support than ever before in the modern era. Without a new approach to air support, it’s a recipe for Niger or Benghazi-style disasters.
In order to provide real airpower where it’s needed, the United States doesn’t need a fleet of slow and stealthy F-35s standing by on airstrips across friendly African nations–it needs fast air platforms with great fuel range and loitering capabilities that can reach operators in need, provide air support as necessary, and still make it back to an airstrip.
America will also need less advanced platforms that can fly from austere airstrips and travel alongside special operations teams (the Armed Overwatch Program). There are no advanced air defenses to defeat or sneak past in places like Africa. The greatest challenge to overcome then is what’s commonly referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”
When isolated elements of American troops are caught at a disadvantage, waiting four hours or more to get an F-16 on station may require a miracle, but waiting more than twice that long for a slow-moving MQ-9 Reaper may be impossible. Worse still, once the fast-moving F-16 does reach the embattled troops, they usually only have about 30 minutes of fuel to burn before having to head back–once again leaving these isolated troops without air support.
Speed has already proven handy in combat in the uncontested airspaces of the Middle East. Two years ago, I interviewed Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, for Popular Mechanics. He told me a story about one air support mission he flew in which the supersonic bomber’s speed made all the difference.
“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.
“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”
Of course, the B-1B Lancer is now slated for retirement, with the sub-sonic and stealthy B-21 Raider slated to replace it.
We need stealth to deter China, but we need speed and volume to counter them
We have a bad habit of treating these sorts of discussions like they’re all-or-nothing debates. When the Air Force requests funding for new F-15s, lawmakers and the public together cry foul at the idea of spending money on old jets that lack the stealth they’d need to survive a fight against China or Russia. Then, when the Air Force uses stealthy F-22s to conduct airstrikes against targets in uncontested airspace over places like Afghanistan, lawmakers and the public again cry foul over the high cost of using a stealth fighter for such a simple job. We can’t have it both ways, but we do need both jets.
America needs platforms like the F-35 and forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to win the wars of tomorrow, and importantly, to deter them today, but we can’t let our American preference for only the newest and best platforms unduly influence the composition of our military forces. In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t need any fighter jets. In an almost perfect world, the U.S. could afford to operate massive fleets of stealth fighters for each and every job. But in the decidedly imperfect world we live in, we’re often stuck choosing between capability and capacity. Do we want the best jets we can build or enough jets to meet our mission requirements?
While not exactly like the last Cold War, this new Sino-American Cold War possesses a similar capacity for proxy conflicts, and because these conflicts are likely to play out over the massive landmass of Africa as well as the Middle East, finding a way to get air support to far-flung troops quickly will undoubtedly save American lives.
But it won’t just be enough to field fast aircraft. They’ll also have to be cheap enough to be built in the sort of volume that would be required to overcome that tyranny of distance. With enough fast and cheap air support platforms spread throughout the continent, getting air support to special operations troops in Africa could shift from practically impossible to just another day at the office, or as close to that as one can come in combat.
Re-learning that dogfighting isn’t dead
While there’s a much higher likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in the developing world with interests that run counter to China’s or Russia’s, there remains the possibility that this new “Cold War” could boil over into a hot one. The implications of such a conflict would be massive, and even attempting an analysis of just the air war that would unfold would take a book in itself–but as this discussion pertains to tactical aircraft and speed, this is another place the U.S. needs more power under the hood.
If you talk to most modern fighter pilots, they’ll tell you that the days of dogfighting are over, thanks to the development of over-the-horizon weapons and advanced sensor suites that will allow pilots in America’s most advanced jets to target inbound fighters before their pilots even know there’s trouble brewing.
Ward Carroll, famed journalist, author, and former U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) has heard the contemporary arguments about dogfights being a thing of the past and warns about making assumptions amid a decades-long era of uncontested flight operations, especially in aircraft that aren’t fast enough to escape a pursuing fighter.
“We get too liquored up on the technology and we start to forget what happens when it gets messy. You can run out of a squadron of F-35s in short order,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“I get F-35 guys who are like, ‘you just don’t get modern battles anymore.’ No, I think I do. I think you’re not remembering the lessons of serious roll your sleeves up, get your nose bloodied warfare.”
The idea that dogfighting is dead has been informed not only by two decades worth of counter-terror operations against enemy forces with no airpower, but it also carries an uncomfortable similarity to the line of thinking that dominated air war conversations leading into Vietnam. The U.S. believed the days of dogfighting in close quarters were over, so they fielded fast-moving F-4s armed with air-to-air missiles that weren’t nearly as effective as they were intended… and no guns for fighting in close quarters.
As a result, American aviators took a serious pounding from dated Soviet aircraft with tighter turn radiuses and guns.
“That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam, told Air & Space Magazine.
“Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”
Winning a dogfight might take speed. Escaping one almost always does.
While American F-86 Sabre fighter pilots racked up a kill-to-loss ratio of 10:1 in the Korean war, American dogfighting performance, due largely to assumptions about how combat had changed, diminished dramatically in Vietnam. In the first half of the Vietnam war, American pilots could manage an average of only 2 kills for every U.S. fighter downed. Those losses directly led to the formation of the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program that most of us know today as Top Gun, where a renewed emphasis was placed on dogfighting tactics.
Now, after another multi-decade lull in air combat, America’s aviation corps is once again certain about the future of the fight, but history begs that we hedge those bets. Ward Carroll recently published a YouTube video called “Dogfighting 101” wherein he argues that dogfighting may be absent in today’s combat environment, but it’ll come back in a hurry if a near-peer conflict were to unfold. I’ll set the video to start at that portion, but it’s really worth watching Carroll’s analysis in full.
If you aren’t able to give the video a watch, here’s what Carroll had to say about dogfighting being dead:
“I’m going to submit that dogfighting is not dead, because if you’ve ever been in a major exercise, not to mention, an air-to-air war like Desert Storm, then you know that, in the heat of battle, there’s confusion, there’s all kinds of chaos, and ultimately a bandit is going to sneak through and you’ll find yourself basically engaged one-on-one with the bad guys in an old school kind of way.”
Carroll doesn’t argue that American fighters are going to go looking for a chance to get up close and personal with China’s thrust-vectoring, stealth J-20B like some imagine when they picture dogfights. Instead, he reasonably expects that in a large force-on-force situation, the chaos of warfare is going to create the circumstances for these kinds of one-on-one engagements to occur.
Carroll’s argument seems to hold true when you look at the breakdown of the early days of the air war of Desert Storm. The Coalition Forces brought a massive amount of airpower to bear over Iraq in those first days of the conflict, but despite the sheer volume of airframes in the fight, a number of small dogfights broke out and, had there not been plenty of support in the area, many more could have.
You can see exactly what Carroll predicts in this breakdown from The Operations Room. The value of speed and maneuverability when within visual range is also evident in the video. Once again, I’ll start the video at the pertinent point, but it’s worth watching this in its entirety:
What does all this have to do with speed? It’s certainly of use in a dogfight, but speed is also extremely important when it comes to getting out of a dogfight. Even the most advanced stealth platforms aren’t invisible, and if an F-35 found itself squaring off with a J-20B in a one-on-one situation, it’s feasible that the Chinese fighter could have the advantage through surprise or the roll of the combat dice.
In either regard, it would be in the F-35 pilot’s best interest to bug out and get away from that fight, or at least, to create enough separation to gain an advantage he or she could then press in turn. Unfortunately, the F-35 wouldn’t be fast enough to escape a J-20 if a pilot tried, so he or she would just be giving the Chinese jet a perfect opportunity. What’s worse is that, at this range, the F-35’s opponent wouldn’t even have to be a stealth aircraft itself.
“Stealth doesn’t work against bullets,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“We have multi-axis missiles now where I can shoot you behind my three-nine line [behind my aircraft]. Okay, but once you Winchester, meaning run out of those weapons, and you’re now in the visual arena, then none of your [stealth] defensives are working. And now you have an airplane that can barely go supersonic. So, welcome to getting shot down.”
When we’re talking about fighters squaring off with one another, stealth is extremely valuable, but in a large-scale fight with hundreds of jets in the area, speed clearly counts too.
How do you build a force that balances cost, speed, and technology?
The Air Force purchasing new F-15EXs isn’t going to solve this problem. Not only do these new fighters cost around as much as an F-35 to build (despite offering significantly more service life), the new (old) fighters the Air Force receives are already slated to replace existing F-15s that are aging out of service. While they do offer greater capability than their predecessors, each jet can still only be in one place at a time.
“We’ve got to refresh the F-15C fleet because I can’t afford to not have that capacity to do the job and the missions,” now-retired General David Goldfein said in 2019.
“That’s what this is all about. If we’re refreshing the F-15C fleet, as we’re building up the F-35 fleet, this is not about any kind of a trade.”
SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program promises to alleviate some of this need by fielding a small and inexpensive aircraft that can provide ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and direct air support to special operators. These planes are expected to operate from austere airfields with support from a very small group of maintainers. Effectively, SOCOM wants a simple aircraft that can live with the troops in the vein of the OV-10 Bronco of Vietnam fame, but with advanced ISR capabilities usually only found in technological marvels that need airstrips and facilities to operate. It’s a tall order, but fielding such an aircraft would make the sorts of special operations skirmishes that are sure to litter the coming decades far more survivable.
Despite America’s massive military budget, resource and asset scarcity remains an ongoing challenge. The MQ-9 Reaper, for instance, is the most highly requested air asset among ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with only 280 of these remotely piloted aircraft to go around, the Air Force will have to choose between continuing to support the full breadth of combat operations in the Middle East or transitioning platforms to the Pacific where a more potent deterrent maritime force is increasingly necessary.
The truth is, even after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, the U.S. military can’t completely withdraw from the Middle East and will likely need to place a larger emphasis on Africa moving forward. There are only so many air platforms to go around, especially at modern fighter jet prices of around $100 million per aircraft. In effect, America is going to be stuck fighting its old wars for some time, while adding new conflicts and new tensions elsewhere around the globe. In order to do it all, America needs more platforms without increasing defense spending in a massive way.
That may be feasible through attritable programs like Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie is a low-observable UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) capable of carrying two small diameter bombs and covering more than 2,000 miles before refueling. What makes the Valkyrie special isn’t its payload or range capabilities though, it’s the cost. At just $2-3 million per airframe, the XQ-58 costs only slightly more than a single Tomahawk cruise missile.
The Valkyrie lacks the speed that would be necessary to cover the vast distances between units that we can expect in Africa and the Middle East in the coming years, with a top end of around 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.85), but the attritable premise coupled with more power could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Valkyries have already been launched from stationary platforms using rockets, which would mean that these types of drones could be deployed from places that don’t even have airstrips, and they’re cheap enough that losing a few in a fight won’t give a commander pause.
As for the high-end fight, America’s forthcoming NGAD program, under development with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, is expected to produce a family of systems that can effectively counter the most advanced fighters on the planet like the J-20B or SU-57 without breaking a sweat. This platform will hopefully incorporate a return to emphasizing speed as well as stealth, with fuel range serving as yet another essential facet of military aviation America needs to address.
It’s going to take new platforms to counter the full spectrum of threats nations like China pose in the 21st century, and these planes can’t take decades to go from the drawing board to production as the F-35 has. In many places, they won’t need to be stealth, nor is there a requirement for a human on board, but one thing they will need to overcome the tyranny of distance and protect American lives is speed.
Regardless of medium, whenever there’s a futuristic, science-fiction war going on, there are lasers. Laser guns, laser swords, laser cannons — laser everything. Now, this isn’t to say that lasers are an impossibility in the real world. In fact, the U.S. military has kept an eye on developing high-powered, laser-based weaponry since the 1960s. Even today, the U.S. military is using lasers to heat up objects, like missiles, to take them down with speed, accuracy, and ease.
But here’s why the sci-fi staple, as we know it, would suck in the real world.
6. The shot itself
The problem with lasers as seen in popular films like Star Wars is that they don’t obey the laws of physics. A laser gun used in combat would feel more like the pen you use to play with cats than any kind of real rifle. Applying actual science to the pop culture weaponry shines a light on how terrible they’d actually be.
There are many works of fiction that employ laser weaponry, so it’s hard to pinpoint all of the problems. If you want to be precise, just know that if the blast moves at a rate slower than 299,792,458 meters per second, then it’s not a laser. Since you can actually see them move in films, they’re plasma — so we’re going to assume this discussion is actually about plasma weaponry from here on out.
5. The cost to produce the weapon
This may not be too much of an issue given that futuristic civilizations often have an entire planet’s or galaxy’s GDP at their disposal, but it’s still worth mentioning. The parts needed aren’t the problem — it’s the power supply that creates the laser and directs it into a single blast.
The power supply would need to be powerful enough to create a blast that deals significant damage. So, you’re looking for elements higher on the periodic table. Even if a fictional, galactic empire had the money, based purely on how unstable radioactive elements above uranium are, you can assume that the means of mining or synthetically creating the power supply needed would be insanely expensive.
4. The weight of the power supply
Unless the power supply is explicitly described as some impossible, fictional element, it’s safe to use uranium as a scientific starting point for theorizing because it’s naturally occurring, stable enough to last more than a few seconds, and, presumably, findable anywhere in the known universe.
A peanut-sized lump of uranium can produce roughly the same amount of energy as 600 pounds of coal. That same peanut-sized lump would approximately be 10cm cubed. That lump alone would weigh 20 kilograms (or around 44 lbs).
Sound heavy? That’s only the beginning. Shielding the wielder from radioactive exposure so that they don’t immediately get cancer would also be a serious concern. Coincidentally, one of the few effective shields against uranium is depleted uranium — which weighs nearly just as much.
3. The heat after each shot
Now that we’ve explained the fuels and costs involved, let’s break down what a plasma blaster is actually doing. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter; a substance that is superheated past the point of being a solid, liquid, or gas. If all the kinks were worked out and a power supply could heat up whatever projectile is being fired, it would also need a barrel and firing chamber durable enough to withstand the heat.
A good candidate for the round being fired is cesium because it has the lowest ionization energy and turns to plasma somewhere between 1100 and 1900 degrees Kelvin. The most common element with a higher melting point that would be suitable for weapons manufacturing is boron. Using these elements could ensure the weapon doesn’t liquefy upon pulling the trigger, but the person actually firing the weapon would be undoubtedly toasted.
2. The speed of the shot
“Laser” weapons used in most sci-fi films are slow, roughly 78 mph according to Wired. Keep in mind, the muzzle velocity of an M4 carbine is 2970 feet per second — or 2025 mph. Projecting a round by igniting gunpowder simply wouldn’t work with plasma weaponry. Logically speaking, the best way to quickly send plasma down range would be with something like a magnetic rail gun.
The high-energy output needed to superheat cesium would also need to electromagnetize the boron barrel to fire the round. That being said, heat has a demagnetizing effect on all metals. So, even if some futuristic civilization figured out how to heat a cesium round to near 1100 degrees Kelvin without losing magnetism, it’d be damn hard to get the round going 78 mph. In reality, given the length of a typical rifle’s barrel, by the time the round emerged, it’d move at roughly the same speed of a slow-pitched baseball.
1. Sustained fire
Now let’s summarize all of this into what it’d mean for a futuristic door-kicker.
The weapon would be far too front-heavy to accurately raise into a firing position. The uranium-powered battery would need to be swapped out on a very regular basis (which are also heavy). The time it would take to superheat a cesium round to the point of becoming plasma would be far too long. The slow-moving round fired out of implausible railgun would be far too inaccurate to be used reliably.
All of this brings us to our final point: the second shot. On the bright side, there would be little backward recoil, much like with conventional firearms. The second round would also require much less charging time. But the heat generated from the first round would brittle the barrel and make holding the weapon impossible any — let alone fire like a machine gun.
So maybe cut stormtroopers a little slack. It’s not them — their weapons just suck. (Disney)
With the Department of Defense reorienting itself toward the Pacific, the Army is requesting to purchase more than triple the number of Precision Strike Missiles (PrSMs) in the fiscal year 2022 compared with 2021. The service is requesting 110 of the new long-range attack weapons. Seeking to solidify both a stronger operational capacity in the Pacific and to deter China, the Army hopes for more than $1 billion to fund 2022 research and development of long-range missiles, such as the PrSM, for targeting ships at sea.
According to the Army, the Precision Strike Missiles will not be fully operational until 2023. However, in May, the Army successfully hit a target with the missile at 400 kilometers, or roughly 250 miles. During this test, which produced the longest distance yet that the Army has fired the projectile, the missile was fired from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
“PrSM accomplished all of the Army’s test objectives again today in its longest flight yet,” Gaylia Campbell, vice president of precision fires at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in a press release.
Later this year, the Army plans to test the Precision Strike Missile out to distances of at least 1,000 kilometers, Defense Newsreported. To do so, the Army is requesting $5 million in the 2022 budget to develop this capability, describing it as one of its “critical technologies.” Additionally, the Army has made Precision Strike Missile development a priority program in order to replace the older Army Tactical Missile System and solidify the service’s role in the Pacific.
While working to extend the range of the Precision Strike Missile, the Army is also enhancing the missile’s guidance system and requested $188.5 million in 2022 funding to do so. Currently, the missile is guided by GPS, which has proven accurate in testing. However, Defense News reported that the Army would add “seekers” to the missiles as it refines the weapons platform. The added guidance will enable the missile to precisely engage smaller targets, such as ships.
“The early capability is against long-range artillery and integrated air defense systems,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires cross-functional team director, toldDefense News. “As you integrate the seeker technology, it gives you the ability to go after the mini-targets. Those mini-targets can be maritime in the Pacific; those mini-targets can be fire control radars [and airfields] in the European scenario.”
The focus on long-range strike capabilities, particularly against naval vessels, comes as the Office of Naval Intelligence estimates that the Chinese navy is on pace to have 400 ships by the end of the fiscal year 2025. In a May essay inWar on the Rocks, Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn and Lt. Gen. Laura Potter wrote that an Army presence supporting naval operations through Long Range Precision Fires would be vital to deterring China and, if necessary, fighting a war.
Flynn is the US Army chief of staff for operations, strategy, and planning, and Potter is the US Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence.
“If naval and air forces are out of position, the Army can still access and employ its greater intelligence network with integrated protection and long-range fires to enable the military to deliver multi-domain effects,” the pair wrote. “Without landpower, the commander is reliant on the positioning of naval and air forces to deter and respond. With it, he can assure, deter, and respond at any time and in a manner of his choosing.”
The development of this anti-ship capability by the Army, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force indicates what Pentagon leadership envisions will happen in a future fight. Speaking before the Hudson Institute, Gen. John Hyten, 11th vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described how there would be no “lines” on a future battlefield. Each service, therefore, will have overlapping capabilities.
“In the future, those lines are eliminated, which means an army capability can have on its own platform, the ability to defend itself or the ability to strike deep into an adversary area of operations,” Hyten said. “We create such a huge advantage for the future joint combined force that it will create huge challenges for our competitors around the world.”
Our James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex space science observatory ever built. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.
In order to carry out such a daring mission, many innovative and powerful new technologies were developed specifically to enable Webb to achieve its primary mission.
Here are 5 technologies that were developed to help Webb push the boundaries of space exploration and discovery:
Microshutters are basically tiny windows with shutters that each measure 100 by 200 microns, or about the size of a bundle of only a few human hairs.
The microshutter device will record the spectra of light from distant objects (spectroscopy is simply the science of measuring the intensity of light at different wavelengths. The graphical representations of these measurements are called spectra.)
Other spectroscopic instruments have flown in space before but none have had the capability to enable high-resolution observation of up to 100 objects simultaneously, which means much more scientific investigating can get done in less time.
Webb’s backplane is the large structure that holds and supports the big hexagonal mirrors of the telescope, you can think of it as the telescope’s “spine”. The backplane has an important job as it must carry not only the 6.5 m (over 21 foot) diameter primary mirror plus other telescope optics, but also the entire module of scientific instruments. It also needs to be essentially motionless while the mirrors move to see far into deep space. All told, the backplane carries more than 2400kg (2.5 tons) of hardware.
This structure is also designed to provide unprecedented thermal stability performance at temperatures colder than -400°F (-240°C). At these temperatures, the backplane was engineered to be steady down to 32 nanometers, which is 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair!
One of the Webb Space Telescope’s science goals is to look back through time to when galaxies were first forming. Webb will do this by observing galaxies that are very distant, at over 13 billion light years away from us. To see such far-off and faint objects, Webb needs a large mirror.
Webb’s scientists and engineers determined that a primary mirror 6.5 meters across is what was needed to measure the light from these distant galaxies. Building a mirror this large is challenging, even for use on the ground. Plus, a mirror this large has never been launched into space before!
If the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4-meter mirror were scaled to be large enough for Webb, it would be too heavy to launch into orbit. The Webb team had to find new ways to build the mirror so that it would be light enough – only 1/10 of the mass of Hubble’s mirror per unit area – yet very strong.
Read more about how we designed and created Webb’s unique mirrors HERE.
4. Wavefront Sensing and Control
Wavefront sensing and control is a technical term used to describe the subsystem that was required to sense and correct any errors in the telescope’s optics. This is especially necessary because all 18 segments have to work together as a single giant mirror.
The work performed on the telescope optics resulted in a NASA tech spinoff for diagnosing eye conditions and accurate mapping of the eye. This spinoff supports research in cataracts, keratoconus (an eye condition that causes reduced vision), and eye movement – and improvements in the LASIK procedure.
Webb’s primary science comes from infrared light, which is essentially heat energy. To detect the extremely faint heat signals of astronomical objects that are incredibly far away, the telescope itself has to be very cold and stable. This means we not only have to protect Webb from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun and the Earth), but we also have to make all the telescope elements very cold so they don’t emit their own heat energy that could swamp the sensitive instruments. The temperature also must be kept constant so that materials aren’t shrinking and expanding, which would throw off the precise alignment of the optics.
Each of the five layers of the sunshield is incredibly thin. Despite the thin layers, they will keep the cold side of the telescope at around -400°F (-240°C), while the Sun-facing side will be 185°F (85°C). This means you could actually freeze nitrogen on the cold side (not just liquify it), and almost boil water on the hot side. The sunshield gives the telescope the equivalent protection of a sunscreen with SPF 1 million!
In August of 2018, Iran’s HESA Kowsar fighter plane took its first flight. The Islamic Republic was particularly happy to highlight this achievement because this jet, it said, was “100% percent indigenously made.”
Except that it really wasn’t indigenously made. While the HESA Kowsar might have been 100% made in Iran, the design for the fighter is actually based on the Northrop F-5, a plane that has been continuously in use somewhere in the world since 1962.
The F-5, like the Kowsar, is a supersonic light fighter. It is designed for air superiority but is also capable of close-air support roles. The F-5 served the United States Air Force well and even played the role of aggressor aircraft in training exercises. It served in the Air Force until 1990, and the U.S. Navy still flies them as aggressor aircraft in training.
In a way, this is bad news for the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, because U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy pilots have been training to kill the F-5 and its Kowsar variant for decades. But that idea either didn’t occur to Iran, it wasn’t enough to deter Iran or the Kowsar has a trick or two up its sleeve – which could be the case.
At the same time it launched the first Kowsar fighter, Iran also happily announced the platform carried advanced, fourth-generation avionics and an advanced fire control system, completely designed in Iran.
Iran’s longtime enemy, Israel, had no compunction about criticizing the Islamic Republic’s fighter. A spokesman for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement about Iran’s Kowsar:
“The Iranian regime unveils the Kowsar plane and claims that it is ‘the first 100% locally-manufactured Iranian fighter jet,’” the statement read. “It boasts about its offensive capabilities. But I immediately noticed that this is a very old American warplane.”
The Israelis are likely right to be unconcerned about the Kowsar. The light attack aircraft is primarily used for close-air support and as a training plane. If the Iranians ever really fielded the plane against an Israeli attack, the Israel Defence Forces is flying the latest F-35 Lightning II — the match wouldn’t last long.
In short, the Kowsar would be much better suited to air shows than to actual air-to-air combat with the latest generation of fighter aircraft. If they are used in combat, there’s a much better chance of them being used to support Iranian-backed militias in Iraq or Syria than launching an attack outside of Iran’s sphere of influence.
The Islamic Republic actually could end up acknowledging that its design was based on the F-5. Whatever it is, Iran actually has buyers lined up for it. Russia, China and Indonesia have all reportedly ordered the aircraft.
What the Kowsar could mean for Iran (outside of combat aircraft) is a chance to rebuild the Iranian Air Force into a formidable fighting force. The Iranians were once some of the deadliest pilots in the air. A new generation of pilots learning to fly a reasonably advanced supersonic attack aircraft could bring back some of its glory days.
Iran may not be under the weight of crushing sanctions forever, and when it could finally get its hands on fifth-generation or even more advanced aircraft (depending on when those sanctions might end), technology alone won’t do the job. Those advanced planes will still need skilled pilots to fly them.
DARPA, BAE Systems, and the Air Force Research Lab are working to pioneer new computer simulations, algorithms, and advanced software to provide military decision makers with organized, near real-time information on causes of war and conflict in operational scenarios.
Drawing upon a range of otherwise disconnected sources of raw data, the new software program is designed to use reasoning algorithms and simulations to analyze intelligence reports, academic theories, environmental factors, and details from operational scenarios and other kinds of user input.
“It is about taking information from disparate sources which would be impossible for a person to consume in a short amount of time,” Jonathan Goldstein, Senior Principal Scientist, Autonomy Controls and Estimation, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The Air Force Research Laboratory recently awarded a $4.2 million deal to BAE Systems to develop CONTEXT; DARPA is sponsoring BAE’s efforts.
The emerging product, called Causal Exploration of Complex Operational Environments (CONTEXT) models different political, territorial, and economic tensions that often cause conflict. These nodes, or variables making up a complex, yet interwoven tapestry of causes, include things like economic tensions, terrorism, tribal or religious conflict and issues about resources or territorial disputes — among other things.
(DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)
“The technology evaluates causal insertions in different forms and innovates them into a model of interwoven causal relationships present in otherwise disconnected sources. We are building a model that can rapidly be used by an expert, so that when a new conflict flares up, decision-makers can understand the underlying issues,” Goldstein said.
While on the surface, organizing and performing some analytics of large pools of data might bring AI to mind, CONTEXT evaluates material input by users and does not necessarily access massive volumes of historical or stored data. Nonetheless, it does appear to perform some measure of automation and AI like functions, in so far as it organizes and integrates different sources for a human decision maker.
“This shortens the decision cycle. People are not good at maintaining a causal model with complexity in their head. The software creates a large graph of causes, evaluates approaches and examines the potential consequences of a given approach,” Goldstein explained.
Automation and AI, which are of course progressing at near lighting speed these days, are often described in terms of easing the “cognitive burden,” meaning they can quickly perform analytics and a range of procedural functions to present to a human operating in a command control capacity.
At the same time, causes of conflict are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined variables – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances, and larger sociological phenomena. This naturally raises the question as to how much even the most advanced computer programs could account for these and other somewhat less “tangible” factors.
Leading AI and cybersecurity experts often say that advanced computer algorithms can analyze data and quickly perform procedural functions far more quickly than human cognition – yet there are nonetheless still many things which are known to be unique to human cognition. Humans solve problems, interpret emotions and at times respond to certain variables in a way that the best computer technology cannot.
“War causation is always over determined. Even with advanced statistical regressions on extremely large data sets, it is unlikely that what causes conflict can be determined with accuracy,” Ross Rustici, Senior Director, Intelligence Services, Cybereason – and former DoD Cyber Lead Intrusion Analyst and Technical Lead for DoD, East Asia, told Warrior Maven.
At the same time, despite natural limitations, using software and simulation to analyze data in this fashion is of course by no means useless, Rustici added.
Calling CONTEXT a “step in the right direction,” Rustici said “any effort to update war prosecution and war cessation planning will go a long way towards updating a military that has learned hard lessons in counterterrorism and regime building. Gaining a finer understanding of how populations and defeated military groups will respond to tactics for winning the war and securing the peace is something that is long overdue.”
Rustici further elaborated that human understanding of some elements of causality can without question have a beneficial impact in many respects. However, there are of course substantial limitations, and few would disagree that there are many concepts, feelings, variables and subjective factors informing causality — underscoring the widespread recognition that, despite the pace of technological computer advances, there are still many things which machines cannot do.
“This program is unlikely to have a significant impact beyond understanding how to conduct further modelling in the future,” Rustici said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Joint Base Charleston serves two factions of the US military: the Air Force and the Navy. Before 2010, the Charleston Air Force Base and the Navy Naval Support Activity Charleston had separate facilities. This Joint Base is the result of their merging. However, jurisdiction for the base lies with the Air Force. Located near Charleston, South Carolina, Joint Base Charleston also shares runways with Charleston International Airport.
All Hail the 437th Airlift Wing
The 437th Airlift Wing controls the premier active-duty flying wing at the base, flying and maintaining a large fleet of C-17 aircraft, one of the largest in the entire Air Force. That gives Joint Base Charleston a pretty important role, as the fleet provides a significant chunk of Air Mobility Command’s Global Reach airlift capability. They are tasked with providing safe, reliable, and precise airlift to anywhere in the world.
C-17s Are Out There Making the World Better
Their C-17 fleet contains roughly 41 aircraft. The fleet’s value rings in at about $9.2 billion. Each aircraft is with $212 million alone. Every three minutes day or night, one of the aircraft from the 437th Airlift Wing is either taking off or landing somewhere around the globe. These aircraft typically carry humanitarian supplies, war supplies, troops, or medical personnel. If there is trouble or conflict, Charleston’s planes are often the ones called upon to go and help out in some way.
An Aircraft to Write Home About
The C-17 fleet is so capable that it can carry many types of bulk cargo. It can fit two big buses, one large Army tank, or three helicopters, for reference. That means these aircraft are simply enormous, so big it’s hard to truly imagine without seeing it with your own eyes. The tail of one of these planes is more than 55 feet tall, the cockpit is around 20 feet tall, and its wingspan reaches nearly 170 feet.
At full capacity, a C-17 can hold about 600,000 pounds on the ground with a maximum load of 170,900 pounds. It can land in precarious spots as well, on runways as short as 3,000 feet, even with a full load. Now that is one impressive machine. Operating these the 437th Airlift Wing is a workforce of 1,300 personnel, some military and some civilian. They all support the Department of Defense tactical airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, and worldwide airlift.
An FBI agent has mapped out the nation states that pose the biggest cyber threat to the US.
Business Insider spoke to Aristedes Mahairas, a special agent in charge of the New York FBI’s Special Operations/Cyber Division, about the cybersecurity landscape in America.
He said the US is always alive to threats from cyber criminals, cyber terrorists, and renegade hacktivists, but nation states are at the “very top” of the threat list.
Mahairas said there has been a “significant increase in state-sponsored computer intrusions” over the past 12 years as it has become a potent way of unsettling an adversary alongside traditional espionage.
“Cyber operations can be a relatively cheap and deniable means to a worrisome end,” he said, talking to Business Insider at the Digital Business World Congress in Madrid, Spain.
Mahairas marked out the four countries most capable of launching a crippling attack on America. They are captured in the map above and comprise Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
Here’s a breakdown of the four nations, and the different threats they pose to the US:
“Russia remains the most sophisticated and technically capable. They are really good at hiding the digital breadcrumbs that lead back to them,” Mahairas said.
“Cyber is a vector and some of the nation states have realised that this vector can be used as a capability to weaponise the information that has been stolen as a result of hacks,” Mahairas said.
“The goal is to erode the population’s confidence, not only in its institutions, its values, its leaders, and most importantly in its ability to find the truth. The objective is to undermine the target by magnifying any number of existing issues that currently divide people in order to create discord and aggravate tensions.”
“These influence operations are not new, but there is an observed increase in their scalability due to… modern social media.”
The FBI agent added that the best way to flush out influence operations is through transparency on platforms like Facebook. “We have to make the targeted audience less vulnerable by educating them about the threat and providing context to allow critical judgement,” he said.
Up until recently, China launched extremely noisy cyber attacks. “China used to be loud in and around your network, almost like the drunk burglar who’s banging on your door and breaking windows to get in,” Mahairas said.
A notable attack the former counterterrorism agent pointed to was the one on Lockheed Martin, when Chinese military officers stole US state secrets on fighter planes, including the F-35 jet.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
In a series of attacks codenamed “Byzantine Hades”, they carried out the attack and the economic impact was estimated to be around $100 million (£75 million). It was a “very significant matter,” according to Mahairas.
Mahairas said there has been a “noticeable uptick in activity” from Iranian hackers in recent years, as they become more sophisticated and targeted in their attacks on the US.
Mahairas’ FBI division led the investigation into Mesri and an indictment was unsealed against the hacker in November 2017. He is now on America’s most wanted list and risks being arrested if he leaves Iran.
Although Mesri appeared to be acting alone, Mahairas said the FBI is increasingly concerned about the “blended threat” from some countries. This is when they work with criminal contract hackers to “do their dirty work.”
North Korea remains a significant cyber threat to the US, despite a thawing in diplomatic relations in recent months. Mahairas said the health of diplomacy between two common enemies has very little to do with how nation states conduct cyber activity.
“Diplomacy isn’t going to impact their ability or desire to continue in this activity,” the FBI agent explained. “What they’re looking for is information, access, and advantage. Whether it’s in the cyber universe or not, those are the objectives.”
Ultimately, Mahairas said cybercriminals are not fussy about their targets: “These nation state actors, they’re not targeting just the US. Anyone is fair game. What they do is generally the same, I don’t think any one nation state brings more specific threat.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
This new Navy tech aims to use lasers to fool air defense systems and missiles into thinking they see multiple aircraft or even a UAP for that matter–but the plan wasn’t to trick the world into thinking they were being visited by aliens.
America uses stealth technology not just to avoid detection, but to avoid being shot down after they’ve been detected. A recent patent filed by the U.S. Navy meant to increase the survivability of stealth aircraft might do just that, but if the system works the way it’s supposed to, it could just as easily be used to project images into the sky that would look and act a whole lot like the strange crafts depicted in UAP footage released by the U.S. military in recent years.
How can Navy tech be responsible for UAP sightings?
When talking military aviation, it’s not uncommon for many to think of “stealth” as a singular technology utilized to help advanced aircraft defeat detection. The truth, of course, is a lot more complicated than that. Stealth might be more accurately described as an approach to warfare, rather than a specific piece of gear. In order to leverage a stealth aircraft effectively, pains must be taken to limit the platform’s radar cross-section (from multiple angles), its infrared detectability (the amount of heat it releases), and to create a mission flight plan that keeps the aircraft operating to its advantage, rather than its detriment.
The truth is, many of America’s most advanced stealth aircraft aren’t actually invisible to radar detection at all. The intent behind stealth isn’t truly to go entirely unnoticed in many instances, but instead, to prevent an opponent from being able to effectively engage and shoot down your aircraft. To that end, even “stealth” platforms like the F-22 Raptor can actually be spotted on radar using lower frequency bands. Radar systems leveraged in this way can spot sneaky intruders, but they’re not good for establishing a weapon’s grade lock on anything. In other words, lower-frequency radar bands can be used to see stealth planes coming, but can’t be used to shoot them down.
However, coupling these sorts of radar systems with other forms of air defenses can make for a real threat for stealth aircraft. “Heat-seeking” missiles, which have been around since the 1950s and don’t rely on radar to engage targets effectively sniff out encroaching aircraft by following the infrared signature of the super-heated exhaust exiting the back of the jet. While design elements have been incorporated into stealth aircraft aimed at mitigating these infrared signatures, only so much can be done to hide the heat released by the chemical explosions we use to propel our combat aircraft.
So, even if America’s stealth planes were completely invisible to radar (which they aren’t), they still need to worry about infrared-driven missiles fired in their general direction either as a result of visual detection or low-band radar systems. Pilots go to great lengths to plan out their sorties prior to getting airborne to leverage their stealth aircraft most effectively. Limiting exposure to advanced air defense systems, operating at night to avoid visual detection, and employing strategies regarding altitude and angle of attack all play a role in maintaining a “stealth” profile.
In the event a “heat-seeking” missile does find its way onto the trail of a stealth fighter like the F-22, the aircraft has the ability to deploy flares in an attempt to confuse the infrared-led ordnance. But flares offer an extremely limited form of protection in heavily contested airspace. Because of this, the general rule of thumb on combat sorties is simple: try to avoid situations where the enemy can lob missiles at you, and your chances of success increase dramatically.
However, in a large scale conflict against a technologically capable foe like China or (to a lesser extent) Russia, America’s stealth aircraft would face challenges unlike any they have in modern warfare, as our fleets of sneaky fighters and bombers came up against some of the most advanced air defense systems currently employed anywhere on the planet. In such a war, losses would be all but certain, and while America may employ more stealth aircraft than any other nation, our total numbers remain in the hundreds. So each stealth aircraft lost would truly be felt.
But new technology under patent by the U.S. Navy could shift the odds even further into the favor of stealth aircraft: leveraging lasers to produce plasma bursts that could trick inbound missiles into thinking they’ve found a jet to chase that would actually be little more than a hologram.
This technology has already been used to create laser-plasma balls that can transmit human speech. I’m going to be honest with you here, that sentence is as hard to wrap my head around as the writer as it probably is for you to grasp as a reader. Talking plasma balls?
Here’s a video from our friends at Military Times running down this cutting edge plasma technology:
Other applications for this laser system include use as a non-lethal weapon and even as a continuous flashbang grenade that could keep opponents in an area disoriented and unable to respond.
So, how does the Navy intend to leverage this sort of technology to make stealth aircraft even harder to hit? According to their patent, the laser system could be installed on the tail of an aircraft, and upon detection of an inbound missile, could literally project an infrared signature that would be comparable to a moving fighter jet’s exhaust out away from the fighter itself. Multiple systems could literally project multiple aircraft, leaving inbound missiles to go after the decoy plasma “fighters” instead of the actual aircraft itself.
These “laser-induced plasma filaments,” as researchers call them, can be projected up to hundreds of meters, depending on the laser system employed, and (here’s the part that’ll really blow your mind) can be used to emit any wavelength of light. That means these systems could effectively display infrared to fool inbound heat-seeking missiles, ultraviolet, or even visible light. Of course, it’s unlikely that the system could be used to mimic the visual cues of an actual aircraft, but it is possible to produce visible barriers between the weapon operator and the stealth aircraft emitting the laser.
This system could be deployed instantly, reused throughout a mission, and can stay at a desired altitude or location in mid-air; all things flares can’t do. With enough aircraft equipped with these systems (or enough systems equipped on a single aircraft) this method could be used to do far more than just protect jets. In the future, this approach could become a part of a missile defense system employed by Navy ships, carrier strike groups, or even entire cities.
“If you have a very short pulse you can generate a filament, and in the air that can propagate for hundreds of meters, and maybe with the next generation of lasers you could produce a filament of even a mile,” Alexandru Hening, a lead researcher on the patent, told IT magazine in 2017.
It’s likely that we won’t see this technology lighting up the airspace over combat zones any time soon, as there may well be years of research and development left before it finds its way into operational use. However, some have already begun scratching their heads regarding what it appears these laser-induced plasma filaments can do, and how that could explain the unusual behavior recorded in recently acknowledged Navy footage of unidentified aircraft being tracked on FLIR cameras by F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots.
It seems feasible that this technology could be used to fake just such a UFO or UAP sighting… but then, the earliest of these videos was produced in 2004, which would suggest far more advanced laser systems than the United States currently maintains were already in use some 17 years ago.
Could lasers have been used to fake UAP sightings? It seems feasible, but for now, the military’s focus seems set squarely on defensive applications for the patent.
Want to read more about groundbreaking patents filed by the U.S. Navy in recent years?
The Luftwaffe terrorized Europe during WWII. Blitzkrieg attacks by panzers and motorized infantry were supported by German fighters and bombers. Bearing the names of their designers, Junkers, Heinkel, and Messerschmitt became infamous among the Allied nations. Messerschmitt was best known for its fighter planes including the Luftwaffe’s primary fighter, the Bf 109, and the jet-powered Me 262. Although the company survived the war, it was barred from producing aircraft for ten years.
The war left Germany in a poor state. Its economy was in shambles, infrastructure was badly damaged, and manufacturing was nearly nonexistent. As the country and the continent rebuilt, fears of roadway congestion weighed heavy on people’s minds. Coupled with the scarcity and high cost of resources, European engineers turned to a radical new automobile design: the micro car.
Fritz Fend was a former Luftwaffe aeronautical engineer and technical officer. In 1948, he began building invalid carriages for disabled people. He noticed that his most popular model, the gasoline-powered Fend Fitzler tricycle, was also being purchased by able-bodied people for personal transport. Fend concluded that a two-seater model would be even more popular and adapted his design. He struck a deal with Messerschmitt to produce his new micro car at their Regensburg factory.
In 1953, Messerschmitt introduced the Kabinenroller, or “Cabin Scooter.” Based on the Flitzer, the Kabinenroller featured a monocoque chassis and a bubble canopy. Contrary to popular belief and despite their design similarities, the Kabinenroller canopies were not surplus Messerschmitt fighter canopies. The Kabinenroller platform was used to make the Messerschmitt KR175, the more powerful KR200, and the KR201 roadster. In 1956, another German company named FMR took over Kabinenroller production from Messerschmitt. Although the KR series micro cars still bore the Messerschmitt name and logo, Fend later adapted the platform into a sports car that was badged FMR.
Introduced in 1958, the Tg500 featured the same monocoque chassis, tandem seating, and bubble canopy as the Kabinenroller tricycles. However, it was fitted with a larger engine for increased speed and four wheels for improved performance. Unofficially, the “Tg” stood for Tiger, a name that stuck with the car. Confusingly, the name “Tiger” was not only the name of the most feared German tank of WWII, but also the name of a post-war truck produced by former tank maker Krupp. Despite being manufactured by FMR, the micro car Tiger is sometimes referred to as the Messerschmitt Tiger, a name that can confuse even the most ardent of WWII enthusiasts.
Because three-wheeled cars could be driven with a more affordable motorcycle license, Kabinrollers were extremely popular in Britain where they still maintain a loyal following. Overall though, the Kabinenroller was not a commercial success. Today, Kabinenroller examples are novelties that can fetch tens of thousands of dollars depending on their condition.
The idea of using planes to destroy tanks is not a new one. Although the concept has been perfected with modern aircraft like the popular A-10 Warthog, tank-killing planes flew not long after the invention of both vehicles. In WWII, tank and plane technology advanced rapidly. As tanks became more survivable with thicker armor, planes began carrying heavier and heavier ordnance to kill them. Eventually, armies decided that the best way to kill a tank and other ground targets with a plane was with a tank cannon. Here are four of those planes. Note that planes armed with flak guns like the German BK 3,7 3.7cm gun are not included.
1. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk XVIII — QF 6-pounder (57mm)
The DH Mosquito was one of the most capable planes of WWII. Famously made mostly of wood, the Mosquito was used as a fighter, bomber, pathfinder, and reconnaissance aircraft. It was said that the only problem with the Mosquito is that the RAF never had enough of them. The Mk XVIII fighter-bomber variant was armed with an autoloading quickfire 57mm anti-tank gun, the same gun used on the Churchill and Crusader tanks. It was designed to attack U-boats and other German ships. Despite the Air Ministry’s doubts over arming the Mosquito with a tank gun, the variant proved to be very effective. On March 10, 1944, Mk XVIIIs from 248 Squadron engaged a German convoy of one U-boat and four destroyers protected by 10 Ju 88 Schnellbombers. Though the U-boat was only damaged, three Ju 88s were shot down. Pilot Tony Phillips shot down one Ju 88 with four 57mm shells, one of which tore off the German’s engine. The Mk XVIII went on to sink at least a dozen German U-boats and surface ships. It was so successful that the British toyed with the idea of mounting a 96mm QF 32-pounder to a Mosquito.
2. Junkers Ju 88 P-1 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Like the Mosquito, the Ju 88 was an extremely versatile WWII aircraft. It was used as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and even a flying bomb at the end of the war. In 1942, Germany began experimenting with the idea of mounting the deadly 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Ju 88. Testing was successful and resulted in 40 Ju 88 P-1 variants armed with modified PaK 40s. However, the aircraft proved to be slow and vulnerable on the battlefield because of the gun’s weight. The concept was further developed with the P-2 and P-3 variants. These used the lighter BK 3,7 3.7cm autocannons developed from the 3.7cm Flak 18. Along with the 50mm autocannon-equipped P-4 variant, the higher velocity of the small-caliber guns proved deadly against Soviet armor on the Eastern Front.
3. Henschel Hs 129 B-3 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Following the successful integration of the BK 7,5 on the Ju 88, the gun was further modified and mounted on the Hs 129. As a dedicated ground-attack aircraft, the Hs 129 was a more appropriate choice to carry the gun. It was also equipped with a new hydraulic-dampening system and an aerodynamic muzzle brake. Attacking from above, it was theoretically capable of destroying any tank in the world at the time. Still, the 7.5cm’s heavy weight made the plane difficult to fly. Although only 25 units were delivered to frontline squadrons before production was halted, the aircraft proved highly effective against Soviet armor.
4. North American B-25G/H/PBJ-1H Mitchell — T13E1 75mm cannon
Like the British, the U.S. needed a heavy-hitting aircraft for anti-ship operations. The answer came in the form of a tank cannon on a bomber. Like an early AC-130, the B-25 Mitchell of Doolittle Raid fame was experimentally fitted with the 75mm M4 cannon. Modified from the M3 cannon found on the M4 Sherman tank, it was the largest weapon carried on an American bomber at the time. Modified from a B-25C, the experimental XB-25G proved the flying tank gun concept and led to the development of the B-25G and later H variants. The lighter T13E1 75mm cannon was adapted from the M4 and was loaded by the plane’s navigator. After being signaled that the gun was loaded, the pilot could fire it with a button on his control wheel. An average of four rounds could be fired on a strafing run. The Marine Corps also adopted the 75mm B-25 as the PBJ-1, standing for Patrol (P) Bomber (B) built by North American Aviation (J), not “peanut butter and jelly.” One of the most heavily armed aircraft in the world, it could attack targets with eight forward-firing .50- caliber machine guns, eight 5″ rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs and its 75mm tank cannon.
In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own.
President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology.
Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech.
Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap.
The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.
Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.
The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked.
That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it.
The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.
CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).
With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early.
Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.
They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.