Category Archives: modern military conflict

What could have been…

Below we see the Kidd-class destroyer USS Scott (DDG-995)— what the Spruances should have been– seen with four vessels of the Spanish Navy: the fleet tanker Marques de la Ensenada (A-11), the 16,700-ton aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias (R11), the Baleares-class frigate Asturias (F-74) and the Santa Maria-class frigate Reina Sofía (F84), 1 February 1992 on the lead up to Dragon Hammer ’92. If you note, the Iberian flattop has six Harriers on her deck along with an SH-3 and a UH-1.

U.S. Navy photo VIRIN: DN-ST-92-09810 by PH2 Jerry M. Ireland

All except the oiler were 1970s U.S. Navy designs, so you could characterize the task force as American by proxy. The Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate lines of Asturias are as evident as are the Oliver Hazard Perry-class FFG format of Reina Sofía.

As for Principe de Asturias, she sprung from the Zumwalt-era idea of the Sea Control Ship, a simple light carrier/through deck cruiser that could carry a composite squadron (ala the “Jeep Carriers” of WWII) of Marine AV-8A Harriers and Navy SH-3 Sea Kings to escort convoys, protect underway replenishment groups, and bust Soviet subs.

Sea control ship outline, Janes ’73

The entry of Guam as an “interim sea control ship” in the 1973-74 Jane’s

Zumwalt’s idea was to have as many as a dozen SCSs on hand to form hunter-killer groups to ensure, well, sea control, in the event of a big blowup leading to a Red Storm Rising style Battle of the Atlantic redux.

Come to think of it, we could use a dozen of the above groups today, just saying.

Falklands in their own words

As you probably are already aware, we are in the midst of the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.

British soldier aboard the passenger line SS Canberra waiting for an Argentine air attack with his FN MAG. Falklands War, 1982 IWM

Forces News has a good, new, 25-minute mini-doc on the British effort, with recent interviews from many involved in the liberation, including Maj. Gen Julian Thompson (3 Commando), Ivar Hellberg (CO RM Logistics) Lt. Robert Lawrence (Scots Guards, Tumbledown) and others.

For another take, the Royal Navy has a three-part series with a trio of enlisted RN vets from the conflict– Steve Tinney (MM, HMS Brilliant, aged 31 at the time), Mark Eve (SK, HMS Heckler, 23 years at the time) and John Strachan (GM, HMS Broadsword, age 23) speaking with current recruits. It is a really good take.

 

Danish Shepherds

If you have been under a rock, perhaps you have missed the beautiful Danish frigates of the Absalon and Iver Huitfeldt classes of late. Let us catch up on that.

The two 449-foot/6600-ton Absalons (Absalon F341 and Esbern Snare F342) are more of an FF design, carrying a 100~ man crew but fairly well-armed for the type, carrying typically a long-barreled 5″/62 MK 45 (tell me again why the USN’s LCS and FFG classes do not have these?) 36 Enhanced Sea Sparrows in a MK 48/56 VLS, 16 Harpoons, 2 35mm CIWS, 4 Mk 32 ASW torpedo tubes, and two large EH-101/MH60 helicopters. They also have the capability to carry a company-sized light infantry unit for short periods. Using a diesel suite, they are kinda slow (24 knots) but have long legs, ideal for overseas expeditionary work such as in counter-piracy, blockades, and disaster response.

Speaking of which, Esbern Snare has been busy in exercises with the Finnish Navy in the Baltic…

Danish frigate Esbern Snare exercises with the patrol vessel Tornio of the Finnish fleet

…And escorting commercial vessels carrying material, vehicles, and armor from Denmark to Latvia to beef up NATO’s Baltic flank.

Importantly, this comes as the Russians warn that NATO transports found in Ukraine will be a target of war.

NATO’s vehicles transporting weapons for the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Ukraine’s territory will be destroyed, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at a video conference meeting on Wednesday.

“The United States and NATO allies continue to flood Ukraine with weapons. I would like to point out that we view all NATO vehicles that arrive in the country carrying weapons and supplies for the Ukrainian Armed Forces as legitimate military targets,” he pointed out.

Then we have the newer Iver Huitfeldt FFGs (Iver Huitfeldt F361, Peter Willemoes F362, and Niels Juel F363) which use the same hull as the Absalons, but with a CODAD suite able to hit 30-knots. With better sensors (Thales/ SMART-L and APAR) they need larger crews (165) but have the ability to pack 32 SM-2s in a MK 41 VLS system, 24 ESSMs in a MK 56 VLS, 16 Harpoons, two (yes two) 76mm OTOs (still bigger than the single 57mm carried by USN FFGs and LCSs), a 35mm CIWS, and twin sets of ASW torpedo tubes. With all this extra kit, they have a reduced amount of real estate for aviation, only being able to accommodate a single MH-60-sized helicopter. Likewise, they can’t schlep an infantry company around, at least not for more than a couple of hours.

This week, Niels Juel installed her first SM-2s-– the first time such a missile has been on a Danish ship– and last night fired a couple of SM-2 Block IIIAs in first of class testing.

As noted by the Danish Admiralty:

It is a very important milestone to have the missiles tested on our frigates of Iver Huitfeldt class. When we subsequently get the missiles installed on the three frigates in the class, one can seriously utilize these units for what they were originally purchased and designed for, namely area air defense. The frigates already have radars and other sensors and a well-trained crew, which together enable the frigates to monitor an airspace closely and accurately and quickly detect enemy aircraft or missiles. With the SM-2 missiles, the frigates will be able to shoot down these possibly enemy aircraft and missiles at a longer distance, and they will thus make a significant contribution to e.g. the air force of Denmark. It simply makes the frigates better for air defense, which is important in relation to the defense of Denmark and supports the demand from NATO.

Army Spends $1B on Sci-Fi Weapon Sights

Massachusetts-based FLIR Systems Inc. and Leonardo DRS of Melbourne, Florida last week pulled down a shared $1 billion Pentagon contract for advanced weapon sights.

Terme the Family of Weapons Sights-Individual, when coupled with the new ENVG-B night-vision goggles, the FWS-I gives the user the ability to accurately engage targets via offset shooting without shouldering the weapon. This includes shooting in daylight or no-light, through smoke, and under adverse weather such as rain and fog.

“The ENVG III/FWS-I integrated solution uses a wireless connection that transmits the weapon sight’s aim point and surrounding imagery directly into the soldier’s goggle,” notes the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier.

Yup, around corners, under obstacles such as cars, etc., all while giving you thermal “Predator vision”

Weight on the FWS-I is under two pounds, giving an 18-degree field of view and a range of almost 1,000 meters. The runtime on a trio of AA Lithium batteries is seven hours, which means you really need to carry some spares, but hey, these things allow you to fire from cover and concealment, and ignore the night, weather, and smoke grenades.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Coast Guard Updates: Islands fading, SLEP’ing Bears, and OPC gains steam

From the DHS/USCGC FY2023 Budget book are a few gems including the drawdown of the once-mighty 49-ship strong Island-class 110-foot patrol boats— built between 1985-1992– the fact that at least one of the circa 1960s 210-foot Reliance-class cutters will decommission soon, and one of the 13 crews of the circa 1980s 270-foot Bear-class cutters will be disbanded as the class undergoes a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) process to continue service for another decade (or two) as the Offshore Patrol Cutter comes onboard.

Islands

We’ve talked a bunch about the Islands in past years, and they deserve it, as they are great boats. The planned drawdown leaves just five Island-class cutters in domestic waters, three in New England and two in the Pacific Northwest, areas where smaller 87-foot boats have a tougher go of it:

USCGC Key Largo (WPB-1324) is based in Gloucester, Mass 


USCGC Sitkinak (WPB-1329) is based in Portland, Maine 


USCGC Tybee (WPB-1330) is based in Woods Hole, Mass


USCGC Cuttyhunk (WPB-13) is based in Port Angeles, Washington


USCGC Anacapa (WPB-1335) is based in Petersburg, Alaska

The cutter Anacapa tied up at the Coast Guard’s mooring in Petersburg in April 2022 Joe Viechnicki KFSK

Of note, Anacapa is somewhat famous, having sunk by NGF a Japanese “zombie trawler” a few years back.

Now THAT’S Homeland Security! ( USCG D17 photo)

Cuttyhunk is set to decommission this week– on Thursday 5 May– after 33 years of service and will be replaced at Port Angeles by Anacapa who just shipped down there from Alaska, where she has, in turn, been based for the past 32 years.

A snippet of Cuttyhunk’s long and distinguished career: 

Over the past 34 years of service, Cuttyhunk’s crew conducted a wide range of operations. The cutter’s crews completed over 1,000 operations ranging from law enforcement boardings to search and rescue responses throughout the Pacific Northwest. Cuttyhunk assisted U.S. Naval Base Kitsap Bangor in several submarine escorts before Coast Guard Maritime Force Protection Unit Bangor was established to ensure the safe transport of Ship Submersible Ballistic Submarines.

Nicknamed “The Pest of the West”, Cuttyhunk assisted in one of the largest maritime drug seizures in the Pacific Northwest, near Cape Flattery, Washington, in December of 1997. More than 3,500 pounds of marijuana, estimated at a street value of $15 million, was recovered from the OK Jedi, a 60-foot sailboat with three people onboard.

And then there were four.

Bears in hibernation

The Coast Guard has a habit of doing most of their repair, modernization, and SLEP work in-house, at the Government-owned CGY in Maryland. If only the Navy had such a program, right?

Anyway, USCGC Seneca (WMEC-906), commissioned in 1987, is the sixth of the 270-foot Bear-class cutters completed but is the first to complete its nine-month SLEP. Besides hull work in drydock, this included replacing generators and updating systems throughout the ship.

Incidentally, the Coast Guard Yard has been the DOD’s primary supporter of the MK 75 76mm gun, as everything that carried the old OTO Melera Super Rapid in the U.S. Navy (FFG-7, PHM, etc) has been decommissioned.

Bear-class cutter USCGC Thetis with her new (to her) MK 75

Changeout of CGC THETIS’ MK75 using a previously-overhauled MK75 this month at the CG Yard

Offshore Patrol Cutter

Fast facts:
• Class: Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Heritage-class (WMSM)
• Weight: 4,320 tons
• Length: 360 feet
• Beam: 54 feet
• Speed: 22.5 knots
• Armory: Mark 110 57mm Bofors rapid-fire gun, Mark 38 MOD 3 25mm autocannon with 7.62mm chaingun over the helicopter hangar, remote and crew-served .50 caliber M2HB heavy machine gun mounts
• Crew: up to 126

Panama City’s Eastern Shipbuilding Group is celebrating the award of the fourth Heritage Class offshore patrol cutter (OPC), the future USCGC Rush (WMSM 918), as Hull# 309A last week. The Coast Guard plans to field as many as 25 of the new 360-footers to replace both the 210-foot Reliance and 270-foot Bear-class cutters.

The three other OPCs under contract to ESG, all in various states of construction:

Hull# 302A: WMSM-915: USCGC Argus
Hull# 305A: WMSM-916: USCGC Chase
Hull# 307A: WMSM-917: USCGC Ingham

Army & Air Force Sniper Rifle Updates

The Army’s Picatinny Arsenal earlier this month announced it has ordered an additional 485 of the service’s newest bolt-action sniper rifles, the MK22, from Barrett Firearms in Tennessee. Also known as the Advanced Sniper Rifle and the Precision Sniper Rifle, the MK22 is based on Barrett’s Multi-role Adaptive Design, or MRAD, platform. It is part of a program to replace the service’s existing Remington-made M2010 bolt guns, as well as the M107 .50 cal.

The MK22 is a version of Barrett’s popular MRAD bolt gun, which can be swapped between three different calibers on the fly, hence the “Multi Role Adaptive Rifle” abbreviation. The MK22 is part of the Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle Program, which also includes the Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 optic – complete with a flat dark earth coating and the Army’s patented Mil-Grid reticle – on a Badger Ordnance mount, along with a suppressor and a sniper accessory kit. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Meanwhile, the Air Force is almost done fielding 1,500 new M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifles. The SDMR is a variant of HK’s 7.62 NATO G28/HK417 rifle that includes offset backup sights, a Geissele mount, OSS suppressor, Harris bipod, and Sig Sauer’s 1-6x24mm Tango6 optic.

A sergeant with the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team fires the M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDMR) at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (Photo: Spc. Michael Schwenk/New Jersey National Guard)

Why does the Air Force need 1,500 SDMRs?

More in my column at Guns.com.

How time flies when you don’t need ADA

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade fire an FIM-92 Stinger during an air defense live-fire exercise alongside soldiers with the Croatian Air Defense Regiment. This training is part of Exercise Shield 22 at Kamenjak near Medulin, Croatia on April 8, 2022 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. John Yountz)

Air Defense Artillery has been a facet of the modern battlefield since at least 1911 when 2LT Giulio Gavotti of the Italian Air Flotilla, lobbed four small Cipelli grenades over an Ottoman camp in Libya, from his Taube monoplane during the Italo-Turkish War. In the U.S. Army, this meant the birth of AAA, moving from early 3-inch M1916/M1917 “balloon guns” in the Great War to the .50 cal in various mounts (M2, M16, M45), 37mm (M1), 40mm Chrysler Bofors (and its later M19 and M42 SPAAGs), and the 3-inch M3 in WWII.

By the Cold War, we had the radar-directed 120mm M1 Stratosphere, the 90mm M1/M2/M3, the 75mm M51 Skysweeper, and the 20mm M163/M167 VADS, with all but the latter replaced by missile systems evolving from the Nike family to Hawk (augmented by Redeye) and, finally, the Patriot.

The only late Cold War-era SPAAG on the chart was the disastrous Sgt. York system which was never fielded, and it was left to the M48 Chaparral, a stripped-down M113 APC chassis carrying four modified Sidewinders, to provide an umbrella over the immediate battlefield in what was termed Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) until it was withdrawn in the 1990s.

Since full-capability Patriot batteries are not small things that can be shlepped around easily, and are typically a division or corps-level asset except under special circumstances, this left brigades to make due in the SHORAD mission with light ADA battalions consisting of man-carried Stingers MANPADS or, in the case of mechanized units, the Avenger system which was just a Hummv with a few Stingers and a .50 cal M3P. The typical TOE for an ADA battalion since Chaparral was retired in the early 1990s was for 36 Avengers or 24 MANPADS teams to defend a brigade or about one system per 150 or so Joes.

The thing is, once the Cold War ended, the wheels fell off ADA in the U.S. Army.

Facing no realistic and immediate air threat since the IFOR/SFOR mission ended in 2004 and Saddam’s air power had been destroyed the year prior, ADA at least at the brigade level and below got the same treatment that the CBW guys have always had. Chaparral and Hawk had long been retired, even from the National Guard. VADS was gone as well. Of the more than 1,100 Avengers delivered, fewer than 400 remained in inventory by 2017, and a lot of these were dry rotting in Guard armories.

After all, South Korea can largely take care of its own air defense needs in the event of an all-out war with the stuck-in-the-1960s Norks, and if China went for Taiwan, that was clearly going to be a problem for the Navy, so why bother? I mean, the Air Force says there will always be air superiority, right? 

In a more staggering bit of news, it was just detailed by Raytheon that the Army’s stockpile of Stingers is at least 18 years old for the newest models and, with a potential need to replace “over 1,400” Stingers sent to Ukraine courtesy of a drawdown from U.S. war reserves, the pipeline could take months if not years to reopen.

“We’re going to have to go out and redesign some of the electronics in the missile and the seeker head,” Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes told investment analysts Tuesday during the company’s quarterly earnings call. “That’s going to take us a little bit of time.”

Because time is always the thing you have the most of when suddenly needing air defense.

Sig’s $4.5 Billion Army Rifle, Machine Gun Contract: By the Numbers

Here are some interesting data, dates, and figures to keep in mind on the NGSW contracts:

XM5 – Designation of the Sig Sauer NGSW-Rifle as adopted. The rifle, Sig’s MCX-Spear design, is intended to replace the M4 Carbine in use with “close combat forces.” Once it has been fully adopted and released, the “X” will fall off, making it the M5.

 

Sig Sauer NGSW XM5 rifle
The XM5 is based on Sig Sauer’s MCX-Spear rifle system (Photo: Sig Sauer)
Sig Sauer NGSW XM5 rifle
Chambered in a new 6.8-caliber round, it is suppressor-ready and uses 20-round magazines (Photo: Sig Sauer)

 

XM250 – Designation of the Sig Sauer NGSW-Automatic Rifle as adopted. The weapon, Sig’s Lightweight Machine Gun design, is intended to replace the M249 SAW Carbine in use with “close combat forces.”

 

Sig Sauer XM250 NGSW machine gun
The XM250 is Sig Sauer’s LMG, and is belt-fed, using the same suppressor and cartridge as the XM5 (Photo: Sig Sauer)
Sig Sauer XM250 NGSW machine gun
It is reportedly four pounds lighter than the M249, while using a more powerful round with a greater effective range. (Photo: Sig Sauer)

 

XM157 – Designation of the Fire Control system, a separate contract awarded earlier this year to Vortex, to provide an integrated optic to be used on both the XM5 and XM250.

 

 

6.8x51mm – The Common Cartridge family of ammunition to be used by both the XM5 and XM250. The first types will be general-purpose, blank, drill/dummy inert, a reduced range training cartridge to allow the Army’s current ranges to be used, and high-pressure test rounds.

$4,500,000,000 – The total contract value if all options are taken for Sig Sauer to manufacture and deliver the XM5 Next Generation Squad Weapon Rifle, the XM250 NGSW Automatic Rifle, and the 6.8 Common Cartridge Family of Ammunition, as well as accessories, spares, and contractor support, over the next 10 years.

$20.4 million – Funds authorized for now to Sig covering weapons and ammunition that will undergo further testing.

$20 million – Amount of the contract awarded to Winchester earlier this year to plan the production of new NGSW ammo types at the contractor-run Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri. Lake City has already been providing projectiles for Sig Sauer and the other competitors to use on their cartridges during the prototyping phase.

$2.7 billion – Maximum amount of the 10-year contract to Vortex to provide the XM157 Fire Control optics system for the NGSW firearms. The Army said this week the weapons will be fielded as a system, with both the rifles and machine guns carrying the same optics and suppressors.

140 – The number of rounds carried by the average XM5 user. The XM5 ammo loadout is seven 20-round mags for a weight of 9.8 pounds, compared to the current M4 loadout of seven 30-round mags (210 rounds total) for 7.4 pounds, meaning XM5 shooters will give up 70 rounds and carry another 5 pounds in a total weapon, optic and ammo load compared to the M4.

400 – The number of rounds carried by the average XM250 user. The XM250 ammo load per automatic rifleman is four 100-round pouches weighing 27.1 pounds. Compare this to the current SAW gunner who carries three 200-round pouches (600 rounds total) for 20.8 pounds. In other words, XM250 light machine gunners will lose 200 rounds and add 3.6 pounds compared with the M249 SAW load. While the XM250 is lighter overall, the ammo is heavier and the new optic adds 2.6 pounds to the system.

16,348 – The number of XM5 rifles planned to be purchased by the Army in Fiscal Year 23.

1,704 – The number of XM250 machine guns planned to buy in FY23.

17,164 – The number of NGSW fire control modules planned to be purchased by the Army in FY23.

27 Months – The length of the Army’s rigorous testing and evaluation process prior to down-selecting Sig this week.

500 – Number of Soldiers, Marines, and special operations personnel involved in 18 touchpoints and more than 100 technical sub-tests during the past 27-month evaluation.

20,000 – Hours of user feedback garnered from Soldiers and Marines in the testing process.

120,000 – Soldiers in the Army’s active (COMPO 1) and reserve (COMPO 2) close combat force– identified as infantrymen, cavalry scouts, combat engineers, medics, special operations, and forward observers– who will use the NGSW platforms. Army spokesmen this week said other units and specialties will continue to use legacy small arms. “For example, the company supply sergeant will continue to carry M-4 or another weapon, not the Next-Gen Weapon.”

250,000 – Current ceiling of NGSWs in the contract. With that being said, the Army stated this week the current thinking is to field 107,000 M5 rifles and 13,000 M250 machine guns initially, roughly an 8:1 ratio.

Two pounds — The weight that the XM5 rifle is heavier than the current M4 it is set to replace.

Four pounds – The weight that the XM250 machine gun is lighter than the current M249.

3-to-5 Years – The length of time Sig Sauer will remain as the primary supplier of 6.8 ammunition to the Army as the military ramps up production at its own facilities. After that, it is expected the company will still provide ammo to the Army as a secondary source.

10 Years – Potential length of this week’s contract between Sig and the Army, broken into annual ordering periods.

65 Years – The last time the Army fielded a new weapon system of this nature– a rifle and machine gun along with a new caliber family of ammunition. The previous date was 1957 when the M14 and M60, in 7.62 NATO, replaced the M1 Garand, M1918 BAR, M1 Carbine, and M1919 machine gun.

2023 (3rd quarter) – When the Army expects its IOT&E– Initial Operational Test and Evaluation– a major program milestone that, will be completed on the NGSW, paving the way for full-rate production.

2023 (4th quarter) – The year the Army expects to equip the first unit with production NGSW variants, as detailed in a Pentagon press conference this week.

2026 – Expected start date of 6.8mm ammo production at a new building constructed specifically for the purpose at Lake City.

2029 – The theorized date mentioned by Army spokesmen this week when 6.8 ammo production “perhaps open it up to commercial vendors like we do with the other calibers.”

2032– The year this week’s Army NGSW contract with Sig concludes.

Making like its 1942 Again

While today’s modern nuclear-powered submarines have surveillance, strike, ASW, and AShW as their primary missions, they also can still do well in that most age-old of submarine tasks– inserting small teams of commando types in the littoral, something I’ve always been a huge fan of.

For video reference, check out the below two very recent videos.

The first is of Royal Marines of Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron, 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group, conducting a small boat raid from an “unnamed Royal Navy Astute class submarine” (spoiler alert, it is HMS Ambush, S120, I mean the Brits only have five attack submarines left) during exercise Cold Response 2022, “somewhere along the Norwegian coast.”

The evolution includes the classic submergence under the rubber boat move.

Some stills released of the above: 

As for the Americans

Next up, how about U.S. Marines with Task Force 61/2 (TF-61/2), and Sailors from Task Group 68.1 conducting joint launch and recovery training with Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) aboard the Ohio-class cruise-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729), near Souda Bay, Greece, March 26, 2022. The Marines are working from Georgia’s Dry Dock Shelter and are allowed to run up and launch from the sub’s “hump” in addition to going for a periscope ride.

The Army’s Plan to Replace the M4 and M249 with a 6.8mm Super Gun Family is Underway

In the cumulation of a story I’ve been working on and filing installments on since 2017, in what could be the biggest change in American military small arms in 65 years, the U.S. Army announced a major new contract for Sig Sauer this week.

The Army’s award on Tuesday of a 10-year firm-fixed-price follow-on production contract to New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer covers the manufacture and delivery of the new XM5 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle, as well as the weapons’ fodder– the 6.8 Common Cartridge family of ammunition.

The big prize of the Army’s four-year Next Generation Squad Weapon program, the XM5 is intended to fill the role currently held by the M4 Carbine series while the XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, two 5.56 NATO weapons that have been on the frontlines for decades.

XM250, left, XM5, right

More in my column at Guns.com.

« Older Entries