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30 Aug 18. How Boeing’s Low-Cost Smart Bomb Revolutionized Strike Warfare. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the day in 1998 when Boeing delivered the first production model of the satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition to the U.S. Air Force. JDAM (“j-dam”) was destined to transform the way in which the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps conducted air strikes against ground targets, because it delivered pinpoint accuracy regardless of weather conditions. Precision bombing had been a dream of aviators since the first bombers were built. If pilots could accurately attack key bottlenecks in an enemy’s military apparatus and war economy, the adversary would be crippled and likely defeated. Unintended damage of civilian targets would be minimized. Precision bombing thus had the potential to be decisive, efficient and even humane compared to previous ways of waging war. But hitting targets accurately turned out to be much harder in the early days than planners had expected. In one particularly disappointing episode during World War Two, 835 bomber sorties against a single Japanese factory produced only 4% damage while sacrificing 40 bombers. The inability to hit point targets in Europe and Japan led the Air Force, which was then part of the Army, to turn to indiscriminate area bombing of cities.
The advent of nuclear weapons made the newly independent Air Force first among equals in military councils after the war, but its leaders never gave up their dream of pinpoint accuracy that could minimize “collateral damage” in wartime. During the 1970s and 1980s, the necessary technology finally became available in the form of missile seekers that enabled munitions to home in on the image of a target or laser light reflected from an illuminator. The first generation of precision-guided munitions, popularly known as smart bombs, were highly accurate — if atmospheric conditions permitted them to be. However, as the Air Force and Navy discovered in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when there was rain or dust or smoke around a target, seekers had trouble finding it. A smart bomb that could work regardless of weather conditions or local obscurants like smoke was needed.
That was the genesis of JDAM. Designers at Boeing devised an inexpensive way of providing free-fall gravity bombs with guidance from Global Positioning System satellites. Employing simple control surfaces and “strakes” along the side of the bombs that permitted them to glide, the Boeing technology converted “dumb” weapons into smart munitions. As long as the location of a target was known, JDAM could hit within a few yards of it even in a sandstorm. The new system debuted in the Balkan air war of 1999, with stealthy B-2 bombers delivering 650 JDAMs against targets in Serbia during long flights from their home base in Missouri — as chance would have it, the same state where Boeing manufactures the JDAM guidance package. Having already trained for years on a precursor to JDAM, Air Force pilots were able to hit 87% of intended targets in that initial air campaign.
That’s remarkable performance in a place where poor weather conditions can degrade the performance of other types of smart weapons. JDAM quickly became the weapon of choice for U.S. pilots, and warfighters in two dozen allied countries. Boeing would go on to produce hundreds of thousands of JDAM guidance packages for 500-pound, 1000-pound and 2000-pound bombs. Its plant in St. Charles, MO currently produces over a hundred per day in two shifts.
Today, all of the heavy bombers and strike fighters in America’s joint force are equipped to deliver JDAMs, including the tri-service F-35. It’s a safe bet the next-generation B-21 bomber will be too. Expectations for what strike warfare can accomplish have been genuinely transformed. Rather than sending half a dozen fighters to destroy one target, the military services can dispatch one fighter to destroy half a dozen targets — in a single sortie, and at low cost.
Even with the price of the bomb itself included, a JDAM guidance system costs barely $30,000, whereas the value of the target it destroys with pinpoint accuracy may be over a hundred times that amount (or more). JDAM thus delivers an unusually favorable “cost-exchange” ratio to U.S. warfighters, compared with weapons like cruise missiles that might cost the better part of a million dollars. And because glide weapons can be released miles from their targets, pilots are safer. Smart weapons have been in the news lately, and not in a good way. Dozens of civilians in Yemen may have been killed by forces using a different type of American-supplied smart bomb. However, neither the makers of smart bombs nor their products are responsible for this tragedy. Precision-guided munitions enable pilots to tailor their strike tactics in order to minimize unnecessary damage, so in principle they can greatly reduce the number of innocent deaths in wartime. It is up to the militaries employing them to use the technology in a responsible manner. War will never be a humane undertaking, but thousands of noncombatants are alive today in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia who might have been sacrificed if war had been waged the old way. Weapons like Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition have opened a new chapter in the history of strike warfare — a chapter in which warring nations have fewer excuses for being inhumane. (Source: ASD Network/Forbes)
29 Aug 18. Retractable gun gives French special forces’ Caracal greater punch. The French special forces’ 1/67 Pyrénées Helicopter Squadron has been training with the Nexter SH20 system, which uses the M621 cannon firing NATO-standard 20 x 102mm ammunition. The new cannon, which was delivered to the squadron in May, provides the multimission Caracal with an air-to-ground fire-support capability. The unit expects to reach an operational capability in the coming weeks. Unlike the Puma, the Caracal’s door-mounted weapon can be retracted entirely into the cabin, allowing access during loading/unloading operations and a higher cruising speed. It also allows the helicopter to fly at its maximum speed necessary for in-flight refuelling, which is not possible with open doors. (Source: News Now/IHS Jane’s)
29 Aug 18. IDF to get more surface-to-surface missiles. The Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) has signed a contract worth hundreds of millions of shekels with Israel Military Industries (IMI) for surface-to-surface missiles, it was announced on 27 August. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the acquisition would support the establishment of a new missile force within the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) ground forces. “[This is] the first acquisition deal for the missile force, which will enable coverage within seconds of any spot at various ranges,” he said.
He added that some of the missiles are already in production and some are completing research and development. “We are purchasing and developing accurate firepower systems, which will enable the IDF to focus and magnify its attack systems.”
IMI said in a statement that the missiles will give the IDF an immediate response capability at a lower price “compared to other weapons systems” that it did not identify.
Neither the MoD nor IMI specified which missiles are covered under the new contract, but IMI reposted on its website a Yedioth Ahronoth article that reported that one is an improved version of the Accular that is already in service with the IDF’s Artillery Corps. The Accular system is currently available with 122mm or 160mm projectiles that are guided by the global navigation satellite system (GNSS). IMI says they have a range of 40km and an accuracy of less than 10 m circular error probable (CEP). Contrary to what Yedioth Ahronoth reported, the Accular is not known to be in service with the Artillery Corps, which has used IMI’s slightly shorter-range 155mm Romach (or Romah) with its M270 multiple rocket launchers since 2016. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
29 Aug 18. USN plans externally mounted gun system fit for MH-60S. The US Navy is looking to fast-track the integration of an externally mounted gun on MH-60S combat support helicopters, with in-flight live trials planned for later this year.
MH-60S helicopters are currently configured for either search-and-rescue (SAR) or surface warfare (SUW) defensive air patrol missions, reflecting the limitations imposed by crew-served weapons – either the GAU-17 M134 Minigun or the GAU-21 .50 calibre heavy machine gun – being mounted in the cabin. However, the navy now wants the MH-60S to be capable of persistent SUW defensive air patrols while maintaining SAR capability. In a solicitation notice published on 21 August, the Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR’s) H-60 programme office (PMA-299) said that an externally mounted gun system (EMGS) had been identified as a potential material solution to meet the demand, adding that the intention was to perform a demonstration with an EMGS “that will interface with both the port and starboard sides of non-Active Vibration Control System-equipped MH-60S aircraft”. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
28 Aug 18. Indonesia develops gunship variant of CN-235 aircraft. Key Points:
- PT Dirgantara has confirmed plans to market a gunship variant of the CN-235 turboprop aircraft
- Work on a demonstrator platform is currently under way, and the company aims for its first flight in 2019
Indonesian state-owned aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara (PTDI) has begun work on a gunship variant of the CN-235 twin-engine multipurpose aircraft, the company has confirmed to Jane’s. The aircraft, which is based on the company’s CN-235-220 airframe, is being developed as a demonstrator platform, and will be marketed to potential customers in the Middle Eastern, African, and Central and Southeast Asian regions, said the company. The aircraft is being modified to carry one single-barrelled 30 mm DEFA 553 aircraft cannon on the portside aft of its fuselage. The weapon has been salvaged from a retired Douglas A-4H Skyhawk that was formerly in service with the Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – Angkatan Udara: TNI-AU). The DEFA 553 cannon has a muzzle velocity of 810 m/s, and can fire up to 1,200 rds/min at both air and surface targets. There are also plans to complement this weapon with electro-optical targeting systems and a laser designator. However, the company has yet to decide on systems that will be selected for these roles on the demonstrator. Other differences that the gunship demonstrator will feature over earlier versions of PTDI’s CN-235 include using General Electric (GE) CT7-9 turboprop engines, instead of the older CT7-7. The aircraft has also been built with wingtip devices to improve the aircraft’s overall fuel efficiency. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
28 Aug 18. Russia to Speed Up Delivery of S-400 to Turkey Amid US Sanctions Threat. The developments come as the US State Department made it clear that Washington would sanction any country that decides to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems. The first S-400 surface-to-air missile systems will be delivered to Turkey in 2019, Viktor Kladov, a spokesman for Russian state corporation Rostec, told the Turkish news agency Anadolu. He referred to requests made by Rostec’s Turkish partners to speed up the production and delivery of the S-400 systems to Turkey, something that he said prompted Rostec, which makes these systems, to meet its partners’ expectations. Kladov stressed that “a decision to acquire our S-400 systems by Turkey, which is a NATO country, has become a significant event.” When asked about the possibility of jointly producing S-400 systems between Russia and Turkey, he said that it’s necessary to “bear in mind that this is a very serious technology.”
“To organize such a production, one needs to possess the appropriate material and technical base as well as skilled personnel, a task that takes plenty of time to be implemented,” Kladov pointed out.
His remarks came after US State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert warned that Washington was against its allies purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems and that the White House would potentially impose sanctions in the likelihood that such transactions occur. Last week, Alexander Mikheev, chief executive of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, told reporters that his company was preparing to deliver S-400 air defense missile systems to Turkey next year. In July, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cautioned, in turn, that Ankara intended to respond to the US in case Washington decided to impose sanctions due to the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems by Turkey. Earlier, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell warned that Turkey’s S-400 purchase would lead to Washington applying sanctions against Ankara, a qualitative change in bilateral relations and a possible halt to US F-35 fighter jet supplies to Ankara. The contract arrangements on the S-400 deliveries to Turkey were confirmed by Russia on September 12, 2017, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan saying at the time that prepayments had already been made. (Source: ASD Network/Sputnik News)
27 Aug 18. Regiment Set of S-400 Missile Systems Delivered to Russian Troops Ahead of Schedule. Almaz-Antey defense manufacturer has delivered a new regiment set of the most advanced S-400 Triumf air defense missile systems to the troops ahead of schedule, the company reported on Monday.
“Almaz-Antey Group has delivered a new regiment set of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems to the Defense Ministry of Russia ahead of schedule. The official ceremony was held at the Kapustin Yar training range in the Astrakhan Region,” the company said.
In compliance with the Defense Ministry’s requirements, the systems were tested by engaging real air targets during their transfer. The delivery/acceptance tests were performed successfully,” the company’s press office said. Russia’s S-400 Triumf is the latest long-range surface-to-air missile system that went into service in 2007. It is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, and can also be used against ground installations. The S-400 can engage targets at a distance of 400km and at an altitude of up to 30km. Turkey and China have acquired S-400 air defense missile systems, aside from Russia, as of today. A contract on the delivery of S-400 systems to India is expected to be signed. (defense-aerospace.com EDITOR’S NOTE: A S-400 regiment consists of two battalions (also known as divisions), which in turn are split into two batteries. A battery includes up to 12 transporter erector launchers, a target acquisition and engagement (fire control) radar systems and a command post, China’s Xinhua news service reported from Moscow. It added that, according to the State Armaments Program, the Defense Ministry should receive 56 battalion sets of S-400 systems, the ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said in July. Almaz-Antey said on its website that it had supplied the Defense Ministry with four regiment sets of S-400 systems. On Monday, Dmitry Shugaev, director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said Russia may start shipping its S-400 air defense missile systems to India in 2020. In July, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Russia will deliver the first batch of S-400 defense system batteries to Turkey in late 2019, which will make the country the first NATO member to acquire the Russian system. Russia also deployed S-400 systems to protect its air base in Syria. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/TASS)
27 Aug 18. Romania to cut $159m deal for anti-ship missiles to protect Black Sea coast. The Romanian government has approved a decision to spend at least €137m (U.S. $159m), excluding the value-added tax, on the purchase of anti-ship missiles that are to be deployed to the country’s Black Sea coast. The Cabinet approved the planned acquisition along with other programs of strategic importance developed by the Defence Ministry, the government said in a statement.
Romanian Defence Minister Mihai Fifor has said he planned to award the contract by the end of the year. Local news site Hotnews.ro reported that the potential bidders for the contract, which is scheduled to be financed in the years 2018-2023, could comprise one American and three European manufacturers. These include Boeing, offering its Harpoon missiles; MBDA, with the Exocet MM40 Block 3 systems; Kongsberg, offering its Naval Strike Missile; and Saab, with the RBS-15 Mk3 systems, produced in cooperation with Diehl BGT Defence. Last February, Bucharest inked a letter of agreement with the U.S. government to purchase the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. The Romanian Cabinet is also pursuing plans to acquire Patriot air and missile defense systems after it signed an agreement last November. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
27 Aug 18. Pentagon preparing to test MQ-9 Reaper for missile defense missions. The Missile Defense Agency awarded General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems a $134m dollar contract Aug. 21 for the development, integration, and flight testing of an advanced sensor in an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle. The agency will test the MQ-9 with the advanced sensor “in realistic test scenarios” at locations inside and outside the continental United States, according to a Department of Defense statement. The MQ-9, which is designed for both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and ordnance delivery, is currently fitted with Raytheon’s multi-spectral targeting system, which combines electro-optical infrared sensors with laser designation and laser illumination capabilities to form one holistic precision targeting system. In June 2016, two MQ-9′s tracked a ballistic missile target during the Pacific Dragon missile defense drill, which included the United States, Japan and South Korea. But the agency has envisioned an even greater role for the Reaper in missile defense missions than tracking targets. According to the Arms Control Association, the Department of Defense has planned to spend $563.5m dollars in FY19 as the MDA works towards its goal of deploying a laser-armed high-altitude, long-endurance drone by 2023. The Defense Department said the contract was competitively run under MDA’s broad agency announcement for advanced technology innovation, which solicited submissions for white papers on 11 topics ranging from sensors and communications to international ballistic missile defense system cooperation to advanced kill vehicle technology and architecture. Work on the contract will be performed in San Diego, California, and run from August 2018 through October 2021. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
24 Aug 18. Russian Helicopters pitches new Mi-24 upgrade. Rostec’s Russian Helicopters holding has developed a common standard for Mi-24 modernisation, a company representative told Jane’s at the Army 2018 defence exhibition being held in Kubinka near Moscow on 21–26 August. “In an effort to reduce the large number of Mi-24 upgrades, we have developed a common standard designated the Mi-35P. It is in fact a less expensive variant of the Mi-35M combat helicopter,” the representative said. The Mi-35P has received the OPS-24N-1L with a third generation long-wave matrix thermal imager, TV camera, and laser rangefinder. The upgraded gunship’s cockpit has the KNEI-24E-1 flight navigation system with multifunctional displays. The PKV-8-35 digital flight system increases the helicopter’s manoeuvrability and steadiness. “The modernised gunship is also fitted with the updated PrVK-24-2 targeting system, which allows the use of 9M127-1 Ataka-VM anti-tank guided missiles [ATGMs],” the representative added. The helicopter has also received a chin-mounted NPPU-23 turret with a twin-barrel GSh-23L automatic cannon. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
24 Aug 18. Russian MoD receives new 2B25 82mm silenced mortars. The Russian armed forces are receiving the new 2B25 82mm silenced mortars developed by the Burevestnik institute of Rostec`s Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) corporation, a military source told Jane’s at the Army 2018 defence show being held in Kubinka near Moscow from 21-26 August.
“The Ministry of Defence [MoD] is acquiring new towed and man-portable mortars for the land troops. In particular, the special forces are slated for receiving several dozen 2B25 silenced mortars,” the source said. “The 2B25’s noise level does not exceed that of a Kalashnikov AKMB assault rifle fitted with the PBS-1 silencer. The mortar produces almost no muzzle flash or smoke.”
The 2B25 weighs approximately 13kg and can be transported in a single backpack by the operator. The mortar’s baseline ammunition comprises four 3VO35 82 mm high-explosive fragmentation (HE-Frag) mortar shells that are carried in another backpack by the loader. The 2B25 has a maximum rate of fire of 15 rounds per minute and a combat readiness time of no more than 30 seconds. Its elevation angle varies between 45° and 85°.
“Owing to the use of steel balls as fragments, the effectiveness of the 3VO35 is almost equal to that of the 3VO26 HE-Frag 82mm mortar shell, which is used by the 2B24 towed mortar,” the source said. The 3V035 round weighs 3.3kg, including a 1.9kg warhead, and has a muzzle velocity of 122m/s. In the baseline configuration, the 2B25 is fitted with the MPM-44M panoramic mortar sight. Burevestnik is also developing new silenced mortars with an extended firing range. “Two variants are being considered: an extended-range 60mm mortar with a range of up to 4km and a combat weight of approximately 18kg, and a lighter 60mm mortar with a 2.5-3km range and a weight of no more than 12kg,” the source said. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
24 Aug 18. Roketsan begins serial production of OMTAS ATGM. Roketsan has finalised development of a new 160mm-calibre manportable/vehicle-mounted medium-range anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) weapon system for the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). The new missile – designated OMTAS – is intended in the first instance to meet a Turkish Land Forces Command requirement for an indigenously-developed medium-range ATGM to replace its current 152 mm BGM-71 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) and 103mm Milan wire-guided command to line-of-sight ATGM capabilities. OMTAS is a day/night all-weather weapon system featuring both direct attack and top attack modes, and lock-on before launch, lock-on after launch, fire-and-forget, and fire-and-update operating modes. The missile is 1,800mm in length (including the launch tube and forward and aft shock cushions) and weighs 35 kg (including the launch tube). Designed to engage stationary and moving armoured targets at ranges in excess of 4,000 m (with a minimum engagement range of 200 m), the new missile features a dual thrust (boost and sustain) rocket motor, an uncooled imaging infrared (IIR) seeker assembly, a two-way radio-frequency datalink, and a high-explosive tandem charge warhead designed and delivered by TDW in Germany, and now being developed and produced by Roketsan in-house.
“The TAF requirement specified an effective armour penetration, so we’ve migrated the new warhead we designed with TDW for on our longer-range UMTAS helicopter-launched ATGM to the new OMTAS missile,” a Roketsan spokesperson told Jane’s. OMTAS uses other subsystems in common with UMTAS – for example the IIR seeker assembly – however the rocket motor and aerodynamics/geometries of the airframe have been redesigned. The spokesperson noted that Roketsan is also considering the addition of a semi-active laser seeker terminal guidance option for OMTAS, but this will be at a later date and as per customer demand. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
24 Aug 18. Kalashnikov unveils latest AK assault rifle. On 21 August, the first day of the Army 2018 defence show being held in Kubinka near Moscow until 26 August, a new Kalashnikov assault rifle chambered for the 7.62×51 mm NATO round was unveiled to the public. This most recent addition to the latest generation of the Kalashnikov family of rifles has been designated as the AK-308. The military 7.62×51 mm round has been derived from the commercial .308 cartridge for .308 Winchester chambered AK-pattern semi-automatic rifles of the Saiga series, designated as the Saiga-308, which have been available on the civilian market for over a decade. On 20 August, the eve of the AK-308’s official launch at Army-2018, the Kalashnikov Concern website showed a promotional video accompanied by an article on the AK-308. The AK-308 rifle featured in the video was of the AK-200 series pattern which was most likely an earlier prototype. The AK-200 series was originally designated as the AK-100M series until earlier in 2018, when it was rebranded. The AK-308 prototype unveiled at Army 2018 is of the latest AK-12/15 family pattern, with a number of distinct features related to the heavier and more powerful 7.62×51 mm NATO cartridge it is chambered for. Unlike the AK-12 and AK-15 assault rifles, chambered for 5.45×39 mm and 7.62×39 mm rounds, respectively, the front portion of the AK-308’s receiver was modified to accommodate the heavier front barrel trunnion as per Kalashnikov’s RPK, RPK-74, and RPK-16 light machine gun series. Furthermore, the exhibited AK-308 prototype had a distinctive combined compensator and flash-hider attached to its muzzle. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
22 Aug 18. US Army Warhead Is Key To Joint Hypersonics. While officials as senior as Chief of Staff Mark Milley have previously talked about Army hypersonics in general terms, today’s statements by both the Army’s Russell and OSD’s Miller were unequivocal: The Army wants a ground-launched hypersonic weapon. The Army is quietly playing a crucial role in the Pentagon’s quest for hypersonic weapons. The service’s modestly named Alternate Re-Entry System is in fact a maneuverable warhead that could end up on Mach 5-plus missiles fired from Air Force bombers and Navy vessels, as well as Army launchers on land — sort of a new non-nuclear triad. It’s all part of Pentagon R&D chief Mike Griffin‘s all-out push to catch up with Russia and China. Both powers are testing hypersonic weapons that could zip through traditional air and missile defenses.
“We need to do something dramatic,” said Griffin’s No. 2, Mary Miller (who joined his staff after years with the Army). “We have the services all in on working hypersonics. We have land-, sea- and air-based prototyping that will be done,” she told the National Defense Industrial Association conference here.
Now, the Army hasn’t awarded any $500m to $900m contracts like those recently announced by the Air Force. But its Alternate Re-Entry System — funded at $197m in 2018 — is in fact the primary warhead being used by the Air Force.
“We each have pieces of programs,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told a Washington Post forum last month. “The Army’s warhead had worked much better than the Air Force’s….So we’re going to take the Army warhead, put it on an Air Force booster, launch it off of a B-52, while the Army is developing on the ground and the Navy wants to put it on the deck of a ship.”
“We came up with a memorandum of understanding. We’ve got all of our people working together,” Wilson said. “This kind of collaboration will accelerate testing and deployment by several years…so we’re talking 2021, 2020 possibly, to test.” Miller, similarly, said the goal was fielding weapons in the “early 2020s.”
Why Army Hypersonics?
“We’re doing this jointly with the other services; most of the testing right now is done tri-service,” the Army’s chief scientist, Thomas Russell, told me here. “We have some test capabilities that the other services use for hypersonics, (and) a lot of this is right now in our foundational work, just doing propulsion and other areas.”
But while the underlying technology would be similar for all the services, “we would have different operational requirements in a ground-based system than we would actually have from a sea or an air-launched system,” Russell told the NDIA conference. The Army, he said, is now “working through what ground-based requirements are (and) how to develop those technologies for a ground-based weapons system.”
Why is the ground force working on such a long-range flying weapon? For the Army, hypersonics is simply the logical extension of current precision-guided artillery missiles like GMLRS and ATACMS. The service’s No. 1 modernization priority is so-called Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF), which covers everything from upgrading self-propelled howitzers to precision rockets to long-range missiles. “We’re interested in very deep fires,” Russell said.
While Russell wasn’t explicit today, it’s clear from other sources that the Army is looking seriously at longer ranges than the current 500 kilometer (312.5 mile) maximum set by the INF Treaty, which China never signed and which Russia is allegedly violating. The Army’s aware that such “strategic deep fires” would mean land-based artillery would strike targets now reserved for airstrikes and cruise missiles — but they see that as synergy, not redundancy. Defensively, a land-based launcher can hide in forests, cities, or caves in a way an airbase or warship cannot, making it harder for the enemy to destroy all the US missiles before they launch. Offensively, if enemy air and missile defenses can block the Air Force or Navy strikes, maybe the Army’s will get through. In fact, being able to threaten the enemy from multiple directions at once — from the land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace — is the central concept of the emerging concept of future combat, championed by the Army, called multi-domain operations. But before the US military can execute these futuristic concepts, it needs to get the tech to work.
As its name implies, the Army’s Alternate Re-Entry System evolved from what was the Pentagon’s backup plan. The original idea, Prompt Global Strike, called for simply putting conventional warheads instead of the usual nuclear payload on Air Force or Navy ballistic missiles. But an adversary would have no way of telling whether the incoming warhead was a nuke or not until it hit, potentially scaring them into launching their own nuclear weapons. A “boost-glide” weapon, by contrast, uses an ICBM-style booster to reach hypersonic speeds but then detaches and flies through the atmosphere. Unlike a true hypersonic cruise missile, which has engines that thrust continuously throughout its flight, a boost-glide weapon uses the immense momentum, or “boost,” of the initial launch to “glide” — albeit at over 3,800mph. Hypersonic boost-glide has three advantages:
- The radar and heat signature are easily distinguished from those of any ICBM, reducing the chance the target will panic and launch nukes.
- The “glider” warhead travels through the air, or at least bounces like a skipping stone across the upper atmosphere. That makes it a very hard target for current ballistic missile defense systems designed to hit warheads in empty space.
- The warhead’s also “gliding” at more than five times the speed of sound and can maneuver like an aircraft, rather than following a predictable ballistic course like an ICBM or Scud. That makes it a very tough target for current cruise missile defenses designed to hit missiles moving at a mere Mach 2.
The same physics that make a hypersonic warhead hard to shoot down, however, also make it hard to build. Moving at Mach 5-plus in the atmosphere creates tremendous friction, requiring special materials just to resist melting from the heat. (ICBM warheads also heat up immensely, but only during final reentry, since they spend most of their time in airless space). Actually changing course at Mach 5-plus in atmosphere creates even more stresses, potentially causing the warhead to break up. It was the Army that made key advances in maneuvering a hypersonic warhead in atmosphere. Back in 2011, the service conducted a successful flight test of a boost-glide system it then called the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. “Once it’s gliding, it’s able to fly cross-range, left or right in its flight path,” Army Space & Missile Defense Command’s hypersonics chief, Bob Strider, told an internal publication. As the authoritative Congressional Research Service reports, the Army’s AHW had been originally seen as a backup “Alternative Payload Delivery Vehicle” for the Conventional Prompt Global Strike Program (CPGS), with the Air Force’s longer-ranged Falcon HTV-2 as the primary system, but HTV-2 struggled in its tests, pushing the Army system to the forefront. AHW failed its high-stakes second test in 2014, blowing up the booster with no data collected. But the Army succeeded in October 2017 with a downscaled version — sized for launch from a Navy submarine.
At this point the Pentagon planned to transfer the technology from the Army the Navy. The Army’s own efforts seemed to go into limbo. As recently as August 15, an official Army website published a story saying “whether the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon or any land-based hypersonic vehicle will be fielded is still an open question. (The Army) does not plan further tests of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon….until Army leadership makes policy and budgeting decisions. The ball is in the court of the cross-functional team dedicated to long-range precision fires, headed by Brig. Gen. Stephen J. Maranian.” Now, it looks like Army leadership has made those decisions. While officials as senior as Chief of Staff Mark Milley have previously talked about Army hypersonics in general terms, today’s statements by both the Army’s Russell and OSD’s Miller were unequivocal: The Army wants a ground-launched hypersonic weapon.
Why Hypersonics Are No. 1
Why has Undersecretary Griffin made hypersonics his absolute top priority for all the services? “Because right now China and Russia have been expending a lot of their resources to get hypersonics,” his No. 2, Miller, told us this morning. “They are projected to field capability in the early 2020s….They can hold us at risk, they can keep us off their borders, and they can certainly threaten our carrier groups.”
Hypersonics are fundamentally an offensive weapon, though the US is researching defenses against hypersonics as well, which Miller said is actually an even harder problem. The US wants hypersonics in its offensive arsenal because potential adversaries have built up advanced multi-layered air and missile defenses — sometimes called Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) — that could block US airpower and cruise missile strikes.
“We’re (becoming) unable to strike any adversaries at will in some places,” Miller said. In particular, she said, “the Chinese have done a good job of pushing out of their borders and we worry about that.”
Miller’s being brutally honest here. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has gotten used to being the sole superpower, able to strike anywhere on earth at will. Imagine how this feels for Putin or Xi Jinping, and you can understand why they’ve invested heavily in countermeasures.
Regaining the American ability to strike anywhere on earth — as unnerving as that can be to other nations — will require more than really fast missiles, however.
“We need to make sure we are not just investing in a missile or a launcher but that we have and field a kill chain,” Miller said. That chain runs from detecting the target, to tracking it precisely as it moves, to making the decision to fire, to striking the target, to assessing the damage and deciding whether to fire again. “We will be looking portfolio-wide across the services and agencies to ensure we have the pieces of the kill chain all showing up at about the right timeframe, so when we field to the combatant commands, we give them a holistic capability.”
But the Pentagon can’t afford to buy unique radars, satellites, and command posts exclusively for hypersonic weapons, the way Patriot missile launchers were built to work exclusively with Patriot radars. And they want to pull information from as many sensors as possible. “We typically think of the kill chain as one sensor to one shooter,” Russell said: The goal should be “multi-sensors, multi-shooter, multi-service,” with commanders able to draw on targeting data from across the US military and then launch whatever weapon is best.
That’s a tremendous technological challenge. The Army’s been wrestling for years with integrating its own air and missile defense systems, using a network called ICBS. To coordinate offensive strikes across all the services at hypersonic speeds, Russell said, “those calculations need to be completed in a few milliseconds if you really want to do multi-sensor, multi-shooter across all domains.” (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
25 Aug 18. Who will mass produce the first lethal drone? The AK-47 was a product of massive centralized and state-controlled industry. The iconic assault rifle, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov for the USSR, has roots in earlier weapon designs from World War II. Issued to the Soviet army for trials in 1946, it was built simple, rugged and efficient so that it could be used with minimal training. These traits meant the AK-47 met the needs of the USSR, but they also ensured the gun had a second life away from the tight control of a professional military.
The AK-47 is at least as famous, if not more so, for its role fueling insurgencies and violent nonstate actors across the world. Which leads to the central question at the heart of a new report on the global military drone industry: Who will develop the AK-47 version of the drone?
In “Unmanned Ambitions: Security implications of growing proliferation in emerging military drone markets,” study authors Wim Zwijnenburg and Foeke Postma present a survey of known drones produced and sold by emerging makers. That means no United States or Israel or China, and instead an in-depth look at the drone industry of India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and Ukraine.
The nations of South America are featured together in one longer profile, and there are shorter profiles on nations ranging from Armenia to Venezuela. Drones are sorted into one of five categories, ranging from VTOL quadcopters to the massive High Altitude Long Endurance craft, though the middle category of “military-grade” drones seems a catch-all for everything bigger than a quadcopter and smaller than a Predator.
Parts of the study’s analysis appear somewhat limited. A section on Ukraine’s drone use highlights action against Crimean separatists, while the actual fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatist forces takes place further east on the mainland, near Donetsk. The study also reports that there has been a shift away from quadcopters to fixed-wing drones for use as low-cost loitering munitions. If there is a shift happening, it’s somewhat gradual. A DJI quadcopter was used to drop bombs at least as recently as late April, though fixed-wing drones have also been spotted on the Donetsk front.
None of the country surveys address the manufacture of commercial drones, which are so far the kind of unpeopled flying machine most immediately turned into weapons.
While drones like the DJI Phantom may match the ubiquity of the AK-47, they certainly don’t match the lethality, making them more akin to the Model-T of drones, or perhaps even the Hilux. What the study is looking for is that seamless pairing of ease of use and lethality, and it’s likely the drone that fills this role doesn’t exist yet.
In a section on drone export controls, the study looks at the ways in which nations may collectively prevent such a drone from being sold broadly. The study itself was funded and published by PAX, a nonprofit with the explicit goal of protecting civilians from violence, reducing armed conflict, and building a just peace.
While a far cry from world peace, nations maintaining high barriers to the export of drones is one way to mitigate who ultimately ends up with armed drones. Instead, the study finds that nations are reducing those barriers, making it easier for smaller states, and ones that would have a harder time passing strict betting, to afford and acquire flying machines. Still, these drones remain the purview of states, priced such that nations can buy them, not insurgent groups. For there to truly be a drone version of the AK-47, it would need to be priced low enough that it could equip a cash-strapped force, without the traditional revenue streams of a state. Right now, that need is met mostly by improvisation and craftsmanship.
“Armed nonstate actors have only limited capacities to acquire military-grade drone technology from major producers and often modify drones produced by commercial manufacturers, often taking a creative approach to construct a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) drone from whichever scraps, surplus materials and other parts they are able to acquire on open or black markets,” states the study.
“A range of eclectic materials have been found in an abandoned drone workshop of so-called Islamic State, including fuselages and Styrofoam wings; cheap commercially-available quad-copters that were gutted for their batteries and cameras and a gyroscope, usually intended for a domestic market, indicating that this might have been used as a make-shift navigation tool.”
These scratch-built drones, ably documented in the field by Conflict Armament Research, depend far more on commercial supply lines, online retailers and parts smuggled across borders. That supply line, the ability of groups like ISIS to gain access to gyroscopes and motors even when embattled and cut off from traditional trade, is fueling the improvised drones actually observed on battlefields. The problem at present is not an AK-47 of drones, but the continued ability of groups to produce essentially the zip-gun of drones. This is a small comfort, but it is a comfort nonetheless. If the AK-47 was the ultimate product of mass-production warfare, then there will be no drone that can match it. The companies interested in producing cheap and durable drones have commercial markets to produce for first, and the nations interested in equipping their armed forces with cheap and durable drones have a wholly different understanding of “cheap,” and are unlikely to want to supply proxies with swarms they themselves can control remotely. Until the production dynamics change, insurgent drones will remain homebrew affairs. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
24 Aug 18. NSPA receives first lot of precision-guided munitions. The Nato Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) has received the first shipment of air-to-ground precision-guided munitions (PGMs) for an initial acquisition value of approximately $20m. Manufactured in the US, the new munitions have been acquired by 11 Nato allies and partner Finland through a cooperation project launched in 2014, which allows the nations to acquire the PGMs in a cost-effective and flexible way. The final deliveries are expected to be carried out for the two remaining allied countries, Belgium and Denmark, over the coming weeks.
“Managed by the NSPA on behalf of the allies, the effort enables the alliance and its member countries to reduce dependence on the US for air missions.”
Nato deputy secretary general Rose Gottemoeller said: “This initiative seeks to address a problem that Nato first encountered during the Libya Operation: when some allies ran out of their stockpiles of munitions, they found it incredibly difficult to use those of other airforces.
“We realised that we needed a new, flexible approach to the provision of air-to-ground precision-guided munitions. I am happy that this approach is now delivering its first results.”
The Nato cooperation initiative enables allies to use each other’s PGM stocks during air operations or in a possible crisis. Managed by the NSPA on behalf of the allies, the effort enables the alliance and its member countries to reduce dependence on the US for air missions. The 11 Nato members involved in the project are Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK. The second and third rounds of acquisition for the new munitions are currently underway. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
24 Aug 18. China Aerospace showcases mini fire-and-forget weapon. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) unveiled a new lightweight shoulder-launched 60 mm guided weapon system during the Army 2018, held in Kubinka, near Moscow, from 21 to 26 August. The FN-M multifunction missile system was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Space Flight Technology, a CASC subsidiary. The weapon is integrated with a small sighting system and features a miniature TV sensor integrated into the nose that is locked onto the target before the trigger is pulled. The sight is powered by a battery behind the trigger grip. The FN-M missile weighs 4kg and is equipped with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead of about 1kg. The missile features four mid-body rectangular pop-out fins and four fins at the aft, and is propelled by a solid-propellant motor to a range of 2km. “The miniature fire-and-forget weapon can engage low-flying UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and light vehicles,” an official from the company told Jane’s. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
23 Aug 18. Rostec demonstrates operative passive exoskeletons for Russian Army. Rostec has demonstrated its new operative passive exoskeletons for the first time to be used for the Russian Army’s new-generation of Ratnik combat suit. The Russian Army has already trialled the exoskeletons in combat environment conditions. Rostec Armament Cluster industrial director Sergey Abramov said: “This prototype has already been tested during real military operations.
“The exoskeleton was tested by special detachments of the Russian Ministry of Defense and Internal Affairs bodies in years 2017-2018. In addition, an active exoskeleton is also being designed, and its working prototype has already been made by Rostec’s enterprise. It is going to be presented at one of the nearest exhibitions. This prototype has already been tested during real military operations.”
Co-developed by the Central Research Institute for Precision Machine Building (TSNIITOCHMASH), a part of Russia’s Rostec State, and GB Engineering, a fully operative passive exoskeleton helps increase physical abilities of a soldier, protects joints and the spine, and can be adjusted to the height of a soldier. Made of lightweight carbon fibre, the exoskeleton is a mechanical device with levers and swivels in the shape of human joints. It helps support the musculoskeletal system when a person carries weights up to 50kg during long marches and assaults. The passive exoskeletons are completely autonomous and require no power sources, servomotors, electronics and sensors. Rostec is presenting the exoskeletons at the International Military-Technical Forum ARMY 2018. (Source: army-technology.com)
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