It’s no secret that some of the brightest brains in the country are working around the clock to make our military stronger, faster, and safer. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the latest toys these geniuses are working on (the ones we can tell you about, at least).
A female National Guard soldier is set to graduate and don the coveted Green Beret at the end of the month. SOFREP has learned that she passed Robin Sage, a unique Unconventional Warfare exercise and the culminating event in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), earlier this week.
This marks a significant milestone for women across the force. She will be the first woman to have successfully completed a Special Operations pipeline and join and an operational team since President Obama opened all jobs within the military to women.
The graduation at the end of the month definitely will not be typical. Because of this historic milestone, graduation will be held in a closed hangar to conceal her identity. A Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (18C) with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, the female soldier has big hopes of going active duty. However, her warm welcome may not be as welcome as she may like.
Just over five feet tall, her walking into a Special Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team room will not be high fives and handshakes. Culture takes time to adapt to change. There are plenty of older generations still within the Regiment that believe there’s no place for a woman on a team. However, when talking to newer graduates, they accept it, if she can pass the same standards. So did the new graduate pass with the same standards? All reports indicate yes. She did, however, have her fair of challenges, recycling at least one phase.
For personal security reasons, SOFREP is withholding her identity.
While this is an incredible feat, she won’t be the first. Captain Kathleen Wilder became the first woman to be eligible for the Army’s Special Forces in the 1980s (the selection was somewhat different back then). Captain Wilder attended the Officers Special Forces Course at Fort Bragg but was told just before graduation that she had failed a field exercise and could not be a candidate for the military’s premier Unconventional Warfare unit. She filed a complaint of gender discrimination. Brigadier General F. Cecil Adams, who investigated it, determined that she had been wrongly denied graduation. No reports were found on whether or not she ever graduated.
Additionally, in the 1970s, Specialist Katie McBrayer, an intelligence analyst, had served with Blue Light, a Special Forces counterterrorism element before the creation of Delta Force, in an operational role. She hadn’t graduated the Q Course, however.
Delta Force and other units Tier 1 units have been recruiting women for a variety of roles for decades. So what took the SF Regiment so long? Well for one, combat fields were previously closed to females. However at Group, since 2016, women have been working at the Battalion level. So to walk around Battalion these days and see women is now a very normal thing. And these roles could be right beside the operators while deployed as mechanics, SOT-As, intel, and now as actual operators themselves. So watch out Fort Bragg, you soon may see this woman wearing a long tab.
A pleasant drive through a farming community a little south of Phoenix, Arizona, leads to a dirt driveway with a sign that reads, “Wuertz Farm.” As cars file in past the miniature donkeys and horse corrals, a gentleman directs drivers where to park. A cameraman with a pack that appears to be tethered to a 100-ft extension cord works to get a live feed on a large flat screen TV. What may sound like a trip to the state fair is the opening scene to the Wuertz Machine Works 2019 Hammer In.
Travis Wuertz welcomes the crowd at the start of the 2019 Hammer In.
The Hammer In is a gathering of bladesmiths from around the country, who come to share and exchange knowledge of their ancient craft. As one might expect, there is no shortage of beards on site, but not everyone is shrouded in Viking-style facial hair. A quiet young lady with a secret passion for bladesmithing stands alone, trying to warm herself in the morning sun, while a fifteen-year-old bladesmith of two years shows off some of his amazing work to his adult colleagues. Regardless of age, gender, experience, or skill, it is immediately apparent that this is a brotherhood like no other — a brotherhood of steel.
The beautiful work of 15-year-old bladesmith Zander Nichols.
Not so primitive
While the perception of some may be that bladesmithing is a primitive craft, the reality is quite different. There is an old Japanese proverb, “On-ko Chi-shin,” which literally translates, “Study the old, know the new.” The idea is that by studying the old ways, one can better understand the new ways. This very concept can be seen in practice by the astute observer within seconds of setting foot into the Wuertz Hammer In.
A hundred-year-old power hammer that has been retrofitted with an electric motor sits just feet always from a self-regulating, ribbon-burner forge, built by Travis Wuertz himself. As an engineer who is constantly looking to refine his bladesmithing, Travis designed a forge that not only distributes heat consistently throughout using a ribbon burner design, but also automatically adjusts to maintain a consistent temperature, and monitors the gas/oxygen mixture for efficient fueling. The design ensures very precise control during the forging process, where overheating can result in damaged steel.
A not-so-primitive self-regulating, ribbon burner forge in action.
Mareko Maumasi, a Forged in Fire champion from Connecticut, and a wizard of Damascus steel, can be seen splayed over a large white easel pad working out a complex mathematical equation. When asked about it, he explains that it is an equation for predicting Damascus patterning. Apparently, there is more to it that just mixing hard and mild steels.
Old dogs and new tricks
Throughout the two-day gathering, both young and seasoned bladesmiths deliver periods of instruction on topics in which they are highly skilled. Michael Quesenberry, who specializes in daggers, bowies, and forged integrals, kicked off the event with a demonstration of how he forges his integral knives. An integral knife is one in which the blade, bolsters, tang, and pommel are forged from a single steel billet. With finesse and precision, Quesenberry hammers a round billet into an integral knife in less than an hour.
Michael Quesenberry demonstrates how he forges his integral knives.
William Brigham awed attendees with a detailed explanation of Mokume-gane, a Japanese metalworking process used to bond a mixture of metals to produce a distinctive layered pattern, similar to wood grain. Mokume-gane loosely translates to “wood grain metal.” This process was originally used in Japanese sword-making to produce highly aesthetic accoutrements like the Tsuba (guard) and now serves modern bladesmiths in like manner.
A gathering such as this could not take place without plenty of talk about Damascus steel. Mike Tyre and Eric Fleming gave an informative lecture about feather Damascus. This technique involves stacking many layers of steel several inches tall and using a dull wedge to split through and stretch the layers. A feather-like pattern is the result when the sections are rejoined and flattened out. Mareko Maumasi also gave a mathematically-charged lecture on mosaic Damascus, and shared the cold coffee etching recipe that he uses to create the deep color contrast his blades are known for.
Mareko Maumasi lectures the crowd on Mosaic Damascus.
At one point during the second day, one of the ABS Master Bladesmiths attending the event turned to this author and said, “You know, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. There’s not a whole lot I haven’t seen or don’t know how to do when it comes to making knives, but these new guys are taking things to a whole new level.”
Fit & finish
Any bladesmith worth their salt will tell you the clean finish and precise fitting of a blade to the handle and accessories is what truly distinguishes the master craftsman. This requires the ability to work around a grinder to cut, shape, refine, and polish the blade, handle, and fittings. Mike Quesenberry demonstrated his mastery of fit and finish with a handle shaping demonstration and a blade grinding demonstration. There are few blade designs that challenge a bladesmith’s symmetrical grinding ability like a dagger, and Quesenberry showed us why he is one of the best at making daggers.
A well-used TW-90 grinder, the invention of Travis Wuertz himself.
Of course, the Wuertz Hammer In would not be complete without a demo from Travis Wuertz himself. Travis has designed the most coveted knife making grinder on the planet, the TW-90, so he finished up the two-day event with some of his tips and tricks for precise grinding and finishing using his grinder and the myriad of attachments he has designed to make the knife maker’s life a whole lot easier.
At rare events like this, where bladesmiths and knife enthusiasts gather from all over the country, there’s not much desire to go back to the hotel at the end of the day, rather the real fun begins when the day is “over.” The hammers come out, the forges are lit, and sparks begin flying in the darkness of night as the intimate exchange of information takes place and the good times roll.
Perhaps the most attention-grabbing after-hours activity was the knife throwing class taught by Jason Johnson, an expert knife thrower and Forged in Fire: Knife or Death Season 1 finalist. Johnson instructed participants in his instinctive and powerful knife-throwing technique prior to turning them loose on the firing line, so they could try their hands at sticking some knives. It was an impressive sight to see even the young kids sticking knives into the wooden targets at various ranges after only a few minutes of instruction from Johnson.
Knife Throwing expert Jason Johnson schools us on his personal method.
Wrapping it up
At the end of this two-day venture, new friendships have made, old friendships have been rekindled, and this brotherhood of steel is alive evermore. These bladesmiths are bonded by the blood, sweat, and tears that flow through down the anvil and the spirit of fire that burns through the forge. They part ways with the kinds of hugs and handshakes that only those of a kindred spirit can share. Until they meet again.
A coffee-etched kitchen knife created by Don Nguyen of Tucson, AZ.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
Marine veteran James P. Connolly (Sirius/XM Radio, Comics Unleashed) hosted the 6th Annual Veteran’s Day Benefit Comedy Show “Cocktails Camouflage” at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, California in early November.
All funds raised were donated to Veterans in Film Television (VFT), a non-profit networking organization that unites current and former members of the military working in film and television and offers the entertainment industry the opportunity to connect with and hire veterans.
In this episode, US Army vet Katie Robinson riffs on her experience as a theater major serving in Iraq.
The High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, best known as the Humvee, has been a mainstay of the United States Military for three decades, replacing the classic Jeeps. These vehicles are now giving way to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, which has some big shoes to fill.
However, the Humvee is likely going to help its successor along — by being a parts donor.
According to a release from Marine Corps Systems Command, Humvees will be capable of donating their gun turrets to JLTVs. This turret, known as the Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield, or MCTAGS, helps protect the folks manning the machine guns from enemy small-arms fire.
The MCTAGS entered service in 2005, replacing the older Gunner’s Protection Kit. One of the major advantages offered by MCTAGS is increased situational awareness for the gunners, enabling them to better see and more quickly target the enemy.
The Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield has been used since 2005, but will continue on much longer thanks to a procedure that allows it to be transplanted on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
Marines recently proved that the MCTAGS can be transplanted from a Humvee to a JLTV by carrying out a proof-of-principle operation, but it’s not the only piece being donated. The Improved TOW Gunner’s Protection Kit, or IT-GPK, is also fit for transfer, alongside radios and other communications gear.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle will enter service in 2019.
Not only will this second-hand gear enhance the survivability of the JLTV by giving gunners better situational awareness, it’ll also help the Marines save a fair chunk of change. By using existing technology, the Marines will save on development and manufacturing costs. Additionally, many who will operate the JLTV have previous experience with the Humvee’s similar configuration, meaning there’ll be no additional training — another savings.
A Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield being transplanted on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. This will save time and money for the Marine Corps, while increasing the combat capabilities of the JLTV.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kristen Murphy)
Marines are currently carrying out the Operational Test and Evaluation process on the JLTV. The first units to get the JLTV will be the Marine Corps School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California; School of Infantry-East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; and Motor Transport Maintenance Instructional Company at Camp Johnson, North Carolina, which are scheduled to get the vehicles early next year.
For more than forty years, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has served as the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet, but one year before the first F-16 entered service, the team behind its development had already developed a better F-16, in the F-16XL. The fighter was so capable, in fact, that it went from being nothing more than a technology demonstrator to serving as legitimate competition for the venerable F-15E in the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Ultimately, it would lose out to the F-15E based on production cost and redundancy of systems, but many still contend that the F-16XL was actually the better platform.
While that assertion may be subject to debate, there’s little debate as to whether the F-16XL could have been one of the most capable 4th generation fighters on the planet.
SCAMP: The Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype
In 1977, some three years after the first F-16 took to the skies and one year before it would enter service, its designer began work on what would come to be called the F-16 SCAMP, or the Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype. The effort wasn’t about fielding another production fighter–General Dynamics had no intention of trying to sell SCAMP once it was complete. Instead, the entire premise behind the program was to quickly (and cheaply) field a platform they could use to test the concept behind supersonic cruising, or as we’ve come to call it today, “supercruising.”
While that may sound like a capability found only on Transformers or Harleys so expensive only lawyers can buy them, the idea behind supercruising was simple, even if its execution was complex. Modern fighters like the F-16 all come equipped with afterburners they can use to dramatically increase the amount of thrust their engine produces, but it comes at a serious cost. Using the afterburner to break the sound barrier and then sustain that speed depletes an aircraft’s fuel very quickly, but if a jet could kill the afterburner at supersonic speeds and still maintain them, it would mean covering more ground at high speed, while still having enough fuel left over for a fight and the return trip home.
“I remember flying in an F-16 in afterburner while supersonic over the Yellow Sea and looking down to see a fuel-flow rate of over 50,000 lbs per hour,” F-16 and F-35 pilot Justin “Hasard” Lee explained in a piece for Sandboxx News.
“To put that into perspective, that’s similar to a fire-hose operating fully open—and that’s just a single engine. A twin-engine jet such as the F-15 or F-22 can double that. The problem is, topped off, I could only carry 7,000 pounds of fuel which was enough for me to fly at that fuel-setting for less than 10 minutes.”
In order to accomplish their goal, the F-16 design would require a pretty thorough revamp. First, the wings were modified to incorporate a cranked-arrow wing shape, creating 25% more lift while allowing for effective control at both high and low speeds. Working in conjunction with NASA (and using the company’s own funds), engineer Harry Hillaker, the same man responsible for the original F-16 design, experimented repeatedly with slightly different iterations of the wings until they came to a version they referred to as Model 400.
This new wing design, which saw a 50-degree angle near the root of the wing for supersonic performance and a 70-degree angle where the wings extended for subsonic handling, offered more than double the surface area of the F-16’s wings. Incredibly, Hillaker and his team were able to manage that without any increase in drag on the airframe–thanks to more than 3,600 hours of wind tunnel testing.
This new design wasn’t necessarily practical, with all-moving wingtips and an all-moving vertical tail meant for control that performed poorly at low speeds. The wing design also didn’t allow for any hardpoints to mount bombs or missiles.
However, impractical as it may have been for a tactical fighter, the new wing design led to a significant increase in fuel range–and that increase could be further bolstered by leveraging the massive amount of internal space these new wings offered.
The F-16 SCAMP becomes the F-16XL
Citing the promising results of the F-16 SCAMP effort, the U.S. Air Force chose to buy into the idea of an even-more capable version of the F-16. They provided Hillaker with two early F-16 airframes for conversion into a SCAMP-like design they dubbed the F-16XL. Although this new jet would be largely based on the existing F-16, the changes were dramatic, including two fuselage sections added near the front and back of the aircraft, increasing its length by some 56 inches. The cranked-arrow wings that had proven so effective in SCAMP were also added, along with a new form of wing skin made using carbon fiber that saved some 600 pounds in the design.
Those massive wings, now fully realized, gave the F-16XL a nearlydoubled fuel capacity, and the additional lift coupled with 633 square feet of underwing space to leverage allowed for the addition of an astonishing 27 hardpoints for ordnance. Remarkably, the F-16XL seemed to outperform its smaller predecessor in nearly every way, prompting the Air Force to take an interest in the idea of actually building this new iteration fighter.
“To say that Hillaker’s design team achieved its objectives is an understatement,” wrote F. Clifton Berry Jr. in 1983. Berry was an Air Force veteran and the editor-in-chief of Air Force Magazine at the time.
As Berry pointed out, an F-16XL conducting an air-to-surface mission could carry twice the payload of the standard F-16 and still fly as much as 44% further–all without external fuel tanks and while carrying a full suite of air-to-air weapons (four AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders) for the fighter to defend itself. If you were to equip the F-16XL with the exact same payload as an F-16A on such a mission, the F-16XL could fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor.
But it wasn’t just about extended range and added payload. The F-16XL was capable of supersonic speeds at high or low altitudes, all while carrying its mighty payload, and had no trouble climbing quickly with bombs underwing. And even despite the added wing, fuel, and ordnance loads, the aircraft still somehow managed to fly 83 knots faster than the F-16 using military power at sea level, and more than 300 knots faster on afterburner at high altitudes, even while carrying a full bomb load.
“With the heavy bomb load aboard, the F-16XL is cleared for maneuvers up to +7.2 Gs, compared with 5.58 Gs in the F-16A,” Berry wrote. “This demonstrates how the designers were able to increase the aircraft weight while maintaining structural integrity and mission performance.”
All that time in the wind tunnel clearly paid off for the F-16XL design.
The F-16XL takes on the F-15E
General Dynamics ultimately built two prototype F-16XLs for testing, but as testing progressed, it was clear that this new iteration of the F-16 design was worth more than simply demonstrating technology. In search of a useful place to put the new jet’s capabilities, the Air Force decided to enter it into the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) competition, which aimed to field a capable replacement for the F-111 Aardvark.
“The F-16XL flight-test program has conclusively demonstrated that the XL performs as predicted. This performance level represents a significant increase in mission capability for USAF,” D. Randall Kent, Vice President and Program Director for the General Dynamics F-16XL program, said at the time.
“Coupling this with the affordability and low risk of the F-16XL presents USAF with a viable way to increase mission capability while simultaneously growing to a forty-wing TAC force structure.”
Soon, the ETF program changed names to the Dual-Role Fighter program–but despite the shift in titles, the goal was the same: To field an aircraft capable of penetrating deep into enemy airspace for interdiction missions without the need for fighter escorts. The F-16XL, with its significant fuel range, good performance, and hardpoints for 27 weapons, seemed like a perfect fit for the job… But it wasn’t the only aircraft competing for the contract. Standing between the F-16XL and operational service was another highly capable platform: The F-15E Strike Eagle.
Like the F-16XL, the Strike Eagle was a modified version of an existing fighter: The F-15 Eagle. The Eagle represented America’s top-of-the-line air superiority fighter, boasting an undefeated record in dogfights that holds to this very day. Unlike the F-16XL, however, the F-15E shared the vast majority of its design with the two-seater F-15D that was already in production.
There was no doubt that the F-16XL would likely be the more expensive option, thanks to its significant design departure from the F-16 it was based on. But it also offered a great deal of capability. Its massive wings made it more stable than the F-16 it was based on, while its wind-tunnel-tested design made all that wing area serve no detriment to the fighter’s handling.
“We climbed at more than 20,000 feet per minute, leaping from 4,000 to 27,000 feet in sixty-seven seconds. Jim eased the power back while turning into the supersonic corridor and getting cleared by Edwards Control to begin a supersonic run,” F. Clifton Berry wrote after riding in the F-16XL.
“Jim applied afterburner and the aircraft accelerated smoothly from Mach 0.95 through 1.0 and to 1.2 in seconds. Even with the heavy bomb load aboard, the aircraft went supersonic without a tremble. Handling characteristics at mach 1.2 with the heavy ordnance load were remarkably similar to those of the standard F-16 without bombs.”
The F-15E, on the other hand, offered only 15 hardpoints–which it’s important to note, is still a lot. The F-15E also delivered a higher top speed (Mach 2.5 versus 2.05) and a higher service ceiling at 60,000 feet (compared to the F-16XL’s 50,000). Most importantly, however, the F-15E leveraged not one, but two engines. Because these aircraft were intended to fly deep into enemy airspace without much support, the Air Force believed it was likely that these planes would see a great deal of anti-aircraft fire. Having two engines meant one could be damaged by enemy fire, but the aircraft could still limp home on the other.
The F-16XL may have been one of the most capable fighters to never make it into production
It was likely the perceived survivability of two engines, in conjunction with the lower cost of development, that saw the F-15E win the contract. But many within the Air Force saw the F-15E’s win as bittersweet. The Strike Eagle was indeed an incredibly capable platform, but the F-16XL’s fans felt as though the fighter wasn’t meant to compete with the Strike Eagle, so much as support it–much like the F-16 and F-15 support one another today. Like the YF-23 that lost to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the F-16XL has since been remembered as an aircraft that might have been better than the jet we ultimately got… with concerns about dollars and cents making the decision, rather than maximum capability.
Of course, that may not be an entirely fair assessment. The F-16XL was indeed a capable aircraft, but the F-15E has since proven itself in combat time and time again. The Strike Eagle was clearly not a bad choice, but with the F-16XL’s incredible chops in mind, there could be little doubt that the Air Force would have been better off with both of these capable fighters in their stable… if only money truly were no object.
Instead of fighting alongside the Strike Eagle as many hoped, the F-16XL program found its way to NASA, where both prototypes participated in a number of aeronautical research projects. In fact, some of the tests conducted using the F-16XL would go on to play a role in developing the supercruise capability for America’s top-tier air superiority fighter of today, the F-22 Raptor.
The Mi-24 Hind had a reputation as a cinematic bad guy in “Rambo III” and the original 1980s Cold War flick “Red Dawn.”
Helping the Mujahidin kill it was the focus of 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But how much do you really know about this so-called “flying tank?”
Let’s take a good look at this deadly bird. According to GlobalSecurity.org, this helicopter can carry a lot of firepower, including 57mm and 80mm rockets, anti-tank missiles, and deadly machine guns or cannon. But it also can carry a standard Russian infantry section – eight fully-armed troops.
So, it’s really not a flying tank. It’s a flying infantry fighting vehicle.
There really isn’t a similar American – or Western – helicopter. The UH-1 and UH-60s were standard troop carries, but don’t really have the firepower of the Hind. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra have a lot of firepower, but can’t really carry troops (yeah, we know the Brits did that one time – and it was [very] crazy!).
While the Mi-24 got its villainous cinematic reputation thanks to 1984’s “Red Dawn,” and the 1988 movie “Rambo III,” its first action was in the Ogaden War – an obscure conflict that took place from 1977-1978. After the Somali invasion of Ethiopia, the Air Combat Information Group noted that as many as 16 Mi-24s were delivered to the Ethiopians by the Soviets.
It has taken part in over 30 conflicts since then.
The Hind was to Afghanistan what the Huey was to Vietnam: an icon of the conflict. GlobalSecurity.org reported that as many as 300 Mi-24s were in Afghanistan.
In the Russian war movie “The Ninth Company,” the Mi-24 gets a more heroic turn than it did in Red Dawn or Rambo III.
At least 2,300 have already been built, and versions of the Mi-24 are still in production, according to the Russian Helicopters website. This cinematic aviation bad boy will surely be around for many years to come.
You may think that the last Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon will be flying its last in 2048. That is, of course, what the Air Force is saying, but you’d be very, very wrong to believe it. The last Air Force F-16 will be flying for decades after its supposed retirement.
Don’t just take my word for it: Look at what happened with the F-4 Phantom. The real last flight of the F-4 for the United States Air Force was in 2016, not the mid-1990s when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were sent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base to be laid to rest in the boneyard. Instead, those F-4s were converted into QF-4 Phantom target drones.
Over 5,200 QF-4 Phantoms were built and gave the United States over two decades of service as target drones. With so many F-16s built, it was a natural fit to transition these ‘retiring’ airframes from front-line combat to serving as target drones. These unmanned aircraft help keep pilots current and provide a way to test the performance of air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
So, how can we be so sure the same fate awaits the Fighting Falcons? Well, it’s already happening. The QF-16 first flew in 2013, an unmanned craft created by converting an A-model Falcon. The plan calls for at least 200 of these drones to be created through modifications by Boeing. Like the F-4s, the QF-16s will still be able to be flown by pilots. They will have weapons and radars removed, though. They will also be rigged with a self-destruct system, in case they go wild.
Moments before a QF-16 fulfills its purpose — in the sights of another plane. (Boeing photo)
Other planes that have served as target drones include the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 Delta Dagger, QF-104 Starfighter, and QF-106 Delta Dart. The QF-4 Phantom was the most recent full-scale aerial target.
Learn more about how the F-16 will fly for decades after its so-called ‘retirement’ in the video below.
The US Navy’s latest aircraft carrier deployment began in an unusual way, and it appears to be part of efforts to make the service less predictable.
In a break from the norm, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group deployed immediately after completing a final certification exercise instead of first returning to the carrier’s home port.
Carrier Strike Group 10, a formidable naval force consisting of the Eisenhower, two cruisers, three destroyers and more than 6,000 sailors, set sail on deployment right after completing the Composite Unit Training Exercise, the Navy announced Thursday.
“Upon the successful completion of C2X, strike groups are certified and postured to deploy at any time,” US 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh told Insider.
“IKE’s timeline for departure was demonstrative of the inherent agility of our naval forces,” she continued. “There is no one size fits all policy; operations at sea routinely flex for a variety of reasons.”
But the Eisenhower’s latest deployment, as The Virginian-Pilot notes, appears to be a part of the Navy’s efforts to implement dynamic force employment, which the Navy argues makes the fleet much less predictable and strengthens deterrence against potential adversaries.
The Truman executed the first DFE deployment in 2018, when it sailed into the North Atlantic and Arctic shortly after returning from the Mediterranean.
After that deployment, Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, said: “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that we must be operationally unpredictable to our long-term strategic adversaries, while upholding our commitments to our allies and partners.”
It is unclear where the Eisenhower is currently headed.
“The sailors of IKE Strike Group are trained and ready to execute the full spectrum of maritime operations in any theater,” Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, commander of Carrier Strike Group 10, said in a statement.
“Carrier Strike Groups,” he said, “are visible and powerful symbols of US commitment and resolve to our allies and partners, and possess the flexibility and sustainability to fight major wars and ensure freedom of the seas.”
The US military and NATO have been significantly outgunned by Russia in eastern Europe for some time, but US Army generals recently laid out a plan to close the gap.
As it stands, Russia has more tanks, aircraft, better air defenses, and more long-range weapons systems than the US and NATO have in eastern Europe.
The US has known for some time that its air superiority, something the US has held over enemies for 70 years, has come under serious threat, but now they’re working on an answer.
“Because of the power and the range and the lethality of these Russian air defenses, it’s going to make all forms of air support much more difficult, and the ground forces are going to feel the effects,” Gen. Robert Brown, who commands the US Army in the Pacific, recently said, according to Military.com.
He said the answer was to “push the maximum range of all systems under development for close, deep, and strategic” strikes, and that the US has “got to outgun the enemy.”
Instead of risking US planes and pilots in covering US forces as they fight with Russia, the US should pivot to increasing the range of its rockets, artillery, and missiles, according to Brown. Then, using those systems, the US can knock out Russian defenses and keep its troops at bay, potentially fighting without air support for weeks, he said.
Brown was speaking at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
Russia has “got a range advantage over us in a number of different areas, particularly cannons,” John Gordon IV, a senior policy researcher at Rand Corp, said at the event. “Typically, modern Russian cannons have got 50 percent to 100 percent greater range than the current generation of US cannons.”
Brown also said the US needs to extend the range of its current systems and those in development to meet the threat, specifically by bumping up the range of the Army Tactical Missile System to 499 kilometers, just under the 500 kilometer range limit the US is bound to by an arms-control agreement.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commandant of the Army’s Field Artillery School, said the new missiles would have “the ability to hit a ship at sea, the ability to hit moving targets on the land domain, the ability to have sub-munitions that attack heavy armored targets and have effects … and the ability to use sensors to hone in on targets. Those are all aspects of future spirals of this missile that the base Precision Strike Missile will provide,” Military.com noted.
Additionally, the US is working on a new self-propelled howitzer that would increase the range out to 40 kilometers and increase the rate of fire.
There are two versions of the vehicle. The military version has an open top while the newer one, the Ripsaw EV2 (Extreme Vehicle 2) has a hard top and closely resembles the Batmobile in The Dark Knight. The EV-2 is being touted as a “high-end luxury super tank” and sold to the public. It comes with gull-wing doors, a high-end racing suspension, and a diesel engine that cranks out over 600 hp.
Howe and Howe Technologies makes some of the most extreme vehicles and robotics. Their creations have attracted police departments, the U.S. military, and Hollywood. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a modified version of the vehicle if you saw Mad Max: Fury Road or G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
The company even had a reality show on the Discovery Channel hosted by its founders, twin brothers Michael “Mike” and Geoffrey “Geoff” Howe.
This video shows how the Ripsaw’s speed and handling compares to the M113 armored personnel carrier, which many consider to be the quickest tracked vehicle in the military, and a Baja-style Dodge truck.
The Royal Navy released on Twitter on Oct. 23, 2019 an image of the F-35 in “beast mode,” loaded during the tests of the Highly Automated Weapon Handling System with six (two of which internally) Paveway IV dual mode GPS/INS and laser guided bombs, two AIM-132 ASRAAMs (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) on the wingtips and two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) in the weapons bays.
The Paveway IV, latest iteration of the widely spread GBU-12 Paveway II developed for the UK with added GPS guidance, and the ASRAAM, British replacement for the AIM-9 Sidewinder, were specially integrated on the F-35 for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, since they don’t operate the GBU-12/EGBU-12 and the AIM-9X fielded by the USMC on their F-35Bs. The Meteor BVRAAM is also expected to be integrated on the aircraft, as the Royal Air Force recently declared it operational and will eventually replace the AMRAAM in the next years.
The first takeoff of a UK Lightning from the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
UK’s F-35B Lightning are currently deployed aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier for Operational Testing, while the ship is undergoing the Westlant19 Carrier Strike Group cruise off the East Coast of the United States.
As the Author wrote in a previous article, this deployment is meant to test personnel and aircraft to ensure they are compatible with the carrier. One of the key features of the ship that are being tested is the Highly Automated Weapon Handling System, a system derived from commercial automated warehousing processes that moves palletized munitions from the deep magazine and weapon preparations areas to the hangars and flight deck by using automated tracks and lifts.
One of the big advantages of the HAWHS is the reduction of manpower needed to handle munitions, thus reducing the risks for the crew during one of the most hazardous activities aboard the ship; the crew is now required to handle the weapons only during initial storage and the preparation for use on the aircraft.
The F-35s stored in the hangars of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
During the following days, the F-35s will fly from the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth with various weapon’s loading configurations, including the “Beast mode”, to continue the operational testing. Here’s what our editor David Cenciotti wrote about this configuration in a previous article:
“Beast Mode” is not an official or technical term. At least not within the U.S. Air Force. However is a pretty common way an F-35 configuration involving both internal and external loads is dubbed. Actually, others call any configuration involving external loads “Bomb Truck” or “Third Day of War” configuration. In fact, as opposed to a “First Day of War” loadout, in which the F-35 would carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability, the “Third Day of War” configuration is expected to be used from the third day of an air campaign when, theoretically, enemy air defense assets (including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft) have been degraded by airstrikes (conducted also by F-35s in “Stealth Mode”) and the battlespace has become more permissive: in such a scenario the F-35 no longer relies on Low-Observability for survivability so it can shift to carrying large external loads. These conditions are not always met. For instance, LO was not needed when the F-35A was called to carry out the first air strike in the Middle East, nor when the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B carried out the first air strike in Afghanistan.
On the same day, the ship saw also the arrival of the other two UK F-35s scheduled to deploy for Westlant19. The aircraft currently aboard are now ZM148 (BK-14) modex 014, ZM149 (BK-15) modex 015, ZM151 (BK-17) modex 017 from the mixed 207 Squadron/617 Squadron fleet based at RAF Marham and ZM135 (BK-01) modex 001, ZM136 (BK-02) modex 002 and ZM138 (BK-04) modex 004 from the 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) based at Edwards Air Force Base.
USMC F-35Bs are expected to deploy on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the following days to conduct trials before a joint operational deployment with the RAF/RN F-35s in 2021.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
How do you make a 51-foot-long, 35-foot-wide fighter jet, with an engine that generates 43,000 pounds of thrust, vanish?
You don’t. There’s no black magic that exists to make something that big disappear.
The F-35A Lightning II isn’t invisible, but it does have a “cloak,” which makes it very difficult to detect, track, or target by radar with surface to air missiles or enemy aircraft.
The real term used to describe the cloak is “low observable” technology, and it takes skilled airmen to maintain.
“You can’t hit a target if you can’t get to it. And you can’t get to a target if you get shot down,” said Master Sgt. Francis Annett, 388th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight NCOIC. “Because of the LO technology, the F-35A can fly missions most other aircraft cannot. We make sure our airmen understand how important their job is. We teach the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how.'”
Low-observable-aircraft structural maintenance airmen from the 33rd Maintenance Squadron work on an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Aug. 12, 2015.
(US Air Force/Senior Airman Andrea Posey)
Several things combine to provide the F-35A’s stealth — the lines and contours of the aircraft’s exterior design, the composite panels and parts that make up the body, and the radar absorbent materiel that coats the entire jet.
All of these contribute to deflecting or absorbing enemy radar and, combined with pilots’ tactics, help the F-35A survive in enemy air space.
Tech. Sgt. Edmundo Pena, 388th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight, does low observable restoration on an F-35A wing tip at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Oct. 3, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
During flight, the exterior paint or coating of any aircraft can get worn down from friction caused by weather, dust, bugs, and the normal movement of flight surfaces.
The F-35A also has several panels that are frequently removed or opened on the flight line for routine maintenance, and there are more than 5,000 fasteners that keep body panels in place. All of these, when worn, can potentially limit the jets stealth capabilities.
Tech. Sgt. Edmundo Pena, 388th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight, does low observable restoration on a F-35A wing tip at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Oct. 3, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
The fabrication flight team inspects and evaluates the jets’ coatings, seams and panels after each flight, looking for anything that could lead to an increased radar signature, recording any damage and prioritizing repairs across the wing’s fleet.
At work in their shop, the LO technicians work in a team, hunched intently over a long table full of composite panels and rubber seals. They wear masks and gloves, and look more like sculptors or painters than fabricators.
The old, heavy equipment used for cutting, pounding, bending and joining sheet metal for F-16 skins, lines the walls behind them, mostly unused. The machines a reminder of the difference between fourth- and fifth-generation technology.
US Air Force Airman 1st Class Evan Green, 33rd Maintenance Squadron Low Observable aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, suits up for media blasting operations, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 21, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniella Peña-Pavao)
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jonathan, 33rd Maintenance Squadron Low Observable Corrosion Control Section noncommissioned officer in charge, helps Airman 1st Class Evan Green, 33rd MXS LO aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, dawn a protective helmet, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 21, 2019.
(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Daniella Peña-Pavao)
“I like that its detail oriented,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Ladson, a low observable journeyman. “All the work that you put in really shows. Any mistake you make, every good thing you do, it all shows in the final product.”
The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35 units, working side-by-side, maintaining the jets in a Total Force partnership that utilizes the strengths of both components.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.