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The latest Hornet buzz

The McDonnell Douglas/Northrop and now currently Boeing-produced F/A-18 Hornet series have been around since 1974, making it a 46-year-old platform.

The Northrop YF-17/pre-production F-18. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archive 428-GX-K-118818. Photographed by PH2 James C. Brown

Originally pitched to the Air Force to replace their fleet of F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsairs, a job that went to the F-16, the Navy chose the YF-17 runner-up as the fast mover to replace their own A-4 Skyhawk and remaining F-4s (as well as the A-6 Intruder and A-7 once the A-12 program tanked in the 1980s). Entering preproduction in 1978 and gaining IOC in the early 1980s, the zippy F-18A/B single-seat and C/D twin-seaters held down the last days of the Cold War for the Navy and Marine Corps then went on to see combat in the original Gulf War, over Bosnia, and in the post-9/11 sandbox excursions.

Likewise, Northrop dropped its export F-20 Tigershark, an updated F-5E with new avionics and combat systems, in favor of selling the F-18 overseas and found success with Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland– pretty successful for a carrier aircraft!

The 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Aircraft unveiled at a ceremony held at 3 Wing Bagotville in Saguenay, Québec on 27 March 2015. Image: LS Alex Roy, Atelier d’imagerie Bagotville BN01-2015-0186-005

With the U.S. Navy (and someday the Marines) shedding the F-18C/D model in favor of the altogether larger and more capable F-18E/F Super Hornet and putting the EA-6B Prowler in the boneyard in favor of the EA-18G Growler variant, other countries that have Baby Hornet experience have been looking at the Super Hornet to upgrade as well. For instance, Kuwait ordered 22 F/A-18Es and 6 F/A-18Fs to replace their older F-18C/Ds while Australia has picked up 24 F/A-18Fs for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to replace their aging F-111s, while F-35s will be replacing the F-18Cs.

Retired Ozzy F-18s coming home

Speaking of Australia, it was just announced that workers at RAAF Base Williamtown will service and prepare up to 46 retired F/A-18 Classic Hornet aircraft that will be sold to air combat training company Air USA.

Caption: Flying Officer Chris Baker from RAAF No. 3 Squadron, prepares his F/A-18C jet for takeoff at the start of a night mission out of RAAF Base Darwin. NATO Exercise Pitch Black 2008 (PB08)  

The Classic Hornet aircraft will be used to provide training services to the United States Air Force and will be prepared over the next three to four years.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Melissa Price MP, said the work will provide employment certainty for workers in the NSW Hunter region.

“The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs while Air Force transitions from the Classic Hornet to the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter,” Minister Price said.

Meanwhile in Germany…

The West German Luftwaffe in the 1970s was one of a quartet of forces to include the West German Navy’s Marineflieger, the British Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare to go all in for a variant of the Panavia Tornado swing-wing strike fighter. While the Marineflieger is now helicopter-only, the RAF has retired their Tornados and the Italians are in the process of doing the same, Berlin is still fielding the old bird, which left production more than 20 years ago.

Note German Great War ace Max Immelmann on the tail.

This amounts to some 85 Tornado IDS strike planes and 28 Tornado ECR SEAD/EW aircraft. While perhaps the most logical replacement would be more Eurofighter Typhoons, of which the Luftwaffe is already fielding 140, it now looks like the Tornados will be replaced with a mix of 78 to 90 Tranche 3 Typhoons, 30 FA-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers.

As noted by Forbes, the Hornets and Growlers will be acquired because Eurofighter does not currently have B-61 nuclear bomb-certified (drawn from NATO stocks) Typhoons or a SEAD variant of the same available any time soon.

Social Distancing: Scots Guards Edition

Using the standard British Army pace stick–the 30-inch measure introduced by Sandhurst Sgt. Maj. Arthur Brand in 1928– WO2 Drill Sergeant Rae, 1/Scots Guards explains and demonstrates the correct distance individuals should keep apart, during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Scots Guards have been following such rules for PT, which, unlike many U.S. units and branches, still remains standard in the British Army, even in garrison.

Speaking of the Guards, the ceremonial changing of the guards at Buckingham and elsewhere this week changed to a more understated “Administrative Guard Mount” where the Old Guard hands over duties to the New Guard without music or ceremony. It is not a new drill as it is standard for situations, for instance, during heavy rainfall.

Looks like rain.

Surface warfare work never really changes

USS DeKalb, officer firing a 1-pounder (37mm) Hotchkiss gun while a Sailor observes, 18 May 1918.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41702

Fast forward 102 years:

PHILIPPINE SEA (March 10, 2020) Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Shelby Wilkes fires a Mark 38 25mm machine gun during a live-fire exercise aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89).

(U.S. Navy photo 200310-N-AJ005-1173 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cody Beam/Released) 

After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

And the beat goes on…

Ford marks 1K trap, cat

Looks like the Ford is actually getting the kinks worked out of its new-fangled electromagnetic cats and upgraded arresting gear.

From the NAVY:

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) — An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, landed aboard USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck marking the 1,000th recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using Ford’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) March 19, 2020, at 5:13 p.m.

Minutes later, the crew celebrated a second milestone launching an F/A18 E Super Hornet attached to “Warhawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97 from Ford’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults for the 1,000th time.

This significant milestone in the ships’ history began on July 28, 2017, with Ford’s first fixed-wing recovery and launch using its first-in-class AAG and EMALS technologies.

Capt. J.J. “Yank” Cummings, Ford’s commanding officer, explained how the entire Ford crew has worked together over the last few years to reach this achievement.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew, their motivation is amazing,” said Cummings. “We’ve been working extremely hard to get here today, and to see this 1,000th trap completely validates their efforts and the technology on this warship.”

Boasting the Navy’s first major design investment in aircraft carriers since the 1960s, Ford’s AAG and EMALs support greater launch and recovery energy requirements of future air wings, increasing the safety margin over legacy launch and arresting gear found on Nimitz-class carriers.

Lt. Scott Gallagher, assigned to VFA 34, has landed on five other carriers but became a part of Ford’s history with his, and the ship’s 1,000, recovery.

“There are a lot of people who are working night and day to make sure that this ship is ready to go be a warship out in the world,” said Gallagher. “To be a part of that, and this deck certification is super cool. Also getting the 1,000th trap helps the ship get one step closer to being the warship that it needs to be.”

Capt. Joshua Sager, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, explained why his squadron’s integration with the ship’s personnel is important and how their relationship impacts operations.

“It’s great to share this moment in history with Ford. Integration between the air wing and ship’s company is crucial to the everyday success of carrier operations,” said Sager. “Completion of the 1,000th catapult and arrestment shows that the ship and her crew have tested and proven the newest technology the Navy has, and together we are ready to meet the operational requirements of our nation.”

With 1,000 launches and recoveries complete, Ford will continue its flight deck and combat air traffic control certifications in preparation to deliver to the fleet regular flight operations in support of East Coast carrier qualifications.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 19, 2020) Lt. Scott “Gameday” Gallagher lands an F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, for the 1,000th trap on USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Prill)

India goes Negev for GPMG

Israeli-based IWI last week was named as the winner for a contract to supply the second largest army in the world with machine guns.

The Indian Ministry of Defence announced that IWI would supply 16,479 Negev NG7 light machine guns to the force at a cost of Rs 880 crore, or about $117 million.

Developed and designed with the Israeli Defense Forces in mind, the select-fire IWI Negev NG7 light machine gun was introduced in 2012. It has a weight of 17.41-pounds, providing a 7.62 NATO-caliber gun in a SAW-sized platform with either 16.5- or 20-inch barrel lengths.

Very nice

More in my column at Guns.com. 

LCS to get Laser Zapper

Artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS system. The company picked up a $150 million contract to develop it for the Navy in 2018 to include a high-energy laser system for use against drones and small boats, a long-range ISR capability, and a counter-UAS dazzler capability. The version company’s LLD for use on the LCS is undoubtedly smaller but likely with the same attributes. Credit: Lockheed Martin

From DoD:

Lockheed Martin Corp., Baltimore, Maryland, is awarded a $22,436,852 letter contract for the integration, demonstration, testing and operation of the Layered Laser Defense (LLD) weapon system prototype onboard a Navy littoral combat ship while that vessel is underway. Work will be performed in Moorestown, New Jersey (30%); Baltimore, Maryland (25%); Sunnyvale, California (12%); Woodinville, Washington (10%); Manassas, Virginia (5%); Dallas, Texas (15%); San Diego, California (2%); and Santa Cruz, California (1%). Key areas of work to be performed include development of a prototype structure and enclosure to protect the LLD from ships motion and maritime environment in a mission module format; system integration and test with government-furnished equipment; platform integration and system operational verification and test; systems engineering; test planning; data collection and analysis support; and operational demonstration. Work is expected to be complete by July 2021.

The total cumulative value of this contract is $22,436,852. The base period is $22,436,852 and no options are proposed. The action will be incrementally funded with an initial obligation of $11,218,426 utilizing fiscal 2019 research, development, and test and evaluation (Defense-wide) funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured under N00014-20-S-B001, “Long Range Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Navy and Marine Corps Science & Technology.” Since proposals are received throughout the year under the long-range BAA, the number of proposals received in response to the solicitation is unknown. The Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity (N00014-20-C-1003).

A more LCS-like laser system from Lockheed-Martin is their Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) device recently tested by the Air Force to splash drones at Fort Sill.

The radar track was provided to airmen who operated ATHENA via cues from the C2, then ATHENA’s beam director slewed, acquired, tracked and defeated the drone with a high-energy laser.

The ATHENA system shown here destroyed multiple drones in a real-world demonstration for the Air Force. Could it be coming to an LCS near you?

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