Category Archives: weapons

Once upon a time: Marine AV-8A Harriers Testing Sea Control Ship Concept

We’ve covered the trials and deployment of a Marine Hawker Siddeley AV-8A Harrier squadron, the Aces of VMA-231, on the Iwo Jima-class phib USS Guam (LPH-9) in 1976 on numerous occasions.

Part of CNO Elmo Zumwalt’s “Sea Control Ship” concept that would provide a Cold War-era evolution to the escort carrier concept for convoy protection and ASW hunter-killer teams, the basic idea was to turn these small (18,000-tons, 592-feet oal) flattops into economical CVEs overnight through the fly-on of a Harrier det for air defense/surface strike and a Sea King SH-3 ASW/SAR element.

Of course, Zumwalt wanted some dedicated SCS hulls, but, barring the shipbuilding dollars, the Iwo Jimas could work in a pinch.

Planned Sea Control Ship concept, art

Planned Sea Control Ship concept, model

Sea control ship outline, Janes ’73

The entry for Iwo Jima-class LPH USS Guam as an interim sea control ship in the 1973-74 Jane’s

Well, prior to VMA-231 shipping out on Guam, the Marines ran an extensive evaluation trial in March 1971 on her sister, USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7). I recently came across about 30 minutes of color footage from those trials, involving the “Flying Nightmares” of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 513, from MACS Beaufort– the first American Harrier squadron– in the National Archives.

Check out this screengrab:

Now that’s a beautiful aircraft. Dig those full-color roundels and the Marine crest. The British-made AV-8A was essentially the same as the RAF’s Harrier GR.1 with very few changes. Keep in mind the first Marine Harrier arrived in the USA on 21 January 1971, just two months before this trial, and the last was delivered in November 1976. 

The videos show ordnance in play, lots of short take-offs and vertical landings of camouflaged early British-built AV-8As, and even some night operations.

Enjoy!

 

Guns of the Air Force at 75

While Ben Franklin theorized using airships to deliver troops to battle behind enemy lines as early as 1783 and the Union Army fielded a balloon service in the Civil War, today’s Air Force traces its origin to the heavier-than-air machines of the U.S. Army’s Aeronautical Division, founded in 1907– just four years after the Wright brothers first flew. After service in Army green during both World Wars, the Air Force became an independent branch of the military in 1947 with the first Secretary of the Air Force named on Sept. 18 and its first Chief of Staff named on Sept. 26. 

To salute the 75th birthday of the USAF this week, I took a deep dive into the small arms of the organization over the years, including some rares.

Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype
A Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype on display at the USAF Armament Museum (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Remington XP-100 survival gun
The Remington XP-100 survival gun concept. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm
The Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm was another planned Air Force survival gun that made it about as high as a lead balloon. Bushmaster did, however, put it in limited commercial production. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com.

 

Guppy foursome

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966.

USS Clamagore (SS-343) is in front, with USS Corporal (SS-346) on Clamagore’s port side, USS Cobbler (SS-344) on Clamagore’s starboard side, and USS Blenny (SS-324) bringing up the rear. All four submarines were part of the Balao-class, and all were commissioned into the U.S. Navy in the final two years of WWII although only Blenny arrived in time to make war patrols that earned battle stars (four) prior to VJ-Day.

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Of the quartet, Clamagore survived the longest, retired in 1980, and was scrapped earlier this year after four decades of slowly wasting away as a museum ship in Charleston.

Blenny, the WWII combat vet, decommissioned in 1973, was scuttled off Ocean City, Maryland, on 7 June 1989.

Cobbler, who transferred to Turkey in 1973, was renamed TCG Çanakkale (S 341) and somehow served until 1998.

Corporal also transferred to Turkey although in 1974 and, commissioned TCG Ikinci İnönü (S333), served until 1996.

Bears growling

The Coast Guard’s 1,780-ton, 270-foot medium endurance cutters, the “Famous” or Bear-class are getting around in the news this week as two of them have just wrapped up lengthy patrols.

Built in the 1980s and akin to a patrol frigate/destroyer escort of old, these 13 cutters are downright elderly by modern surface warfare escort comparisons. While they are of the same vintage as the remaining Ticonderoga class cruisers (which the Navy is shedding as quickly as Congress will allow), their contemporaries in terms of “little boys” in naval service, the FFG-7 class, have long ago faded away.

In fact, the Bears have been living on lots of parts cannibalized from old frigates that were stripped away before being expended in SINKEXs– the class is the last American user of the MK75 OTO Melara 76mm gun system and its associated “boiled egg” MK92 GFCS components.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Northland conducts a live firing of the MK 75 76mm weapons system while underway, September 20, 2020, in the Atlantic Ocean. The cutter returned to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia, Wednesday after a 47-day patrol conducting counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

One of their Cold War selling points was that they could be cheap ASW vessels in time of war, fitted with Light Airborne Multipurpose System III (LAMPS III) integration and the ability to carry a TACTAS towed passive sonar array and a set of Mk32 sub-busting torpedo tubes. It was also planned to fit them with CIWS and Harpoon somehow. Coupled with the cutter’s refueling-at-sea rig, SLQ-32 electronic support measures (the first such fit on a cutter), SRBOC countermeasures, and main battery, they promised a lot of interoperability with the Fleet if Red Storm Rising ever kicked off and were leaps and bounds ahead of the cutters they replaced– the old circa 1930s 327-foot Treasury class of WWII fame and converted fleet tugs.

Bear-class Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba (WMEC-907) leads the formation of International Maritime Forces at UNITAS LVIII in Callao, Peru, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

Well, the Bears never did get their ASW teeth, or Harpoon, or CIWS, but they do still have a Slick 32 and its 75mm gun and the ability to carry a lightly-armed (machine gun and .50 cal anti-material rifle) Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter– and do still practice Convoy Escort missions on occasion!

Class leader USCGC Bear (WMEC 901) returned to her homeport in Portsmouth Tuesday, after a 74-day patrol in the northern regions of the Atlantic Ocean.

During the deployment, Bear “sailed more than 10,000 nautical miles while simultaneously working in tandem with allied and partner nations as a part of the naval convoy in Operation Nanook, a signature military exercise coordinated by the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Included in the image is HMCS Margaret Brooke, Bear, French support ship  Rhone, Her Danish Majesty’s Ship (HDMS) frigate Triton, HMCS Goose Bay, and Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Leonard J. Cowley. Bear is in the top right corner. 

Operation Nanook 22 USCGC Bear (WMEC 901) with RCN French and Danish forces (RCN photo)

For approximately two weeks, American, Canadian, Danish and French forces navigated the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean performing multiple training evolutions that included search-and-rescue, close-quarters maneuvering, fleet steaming and gunnery exercises. Additionally, personnel from Maritime Security Response Team East, a specialized Coast Guard law enforcement unit, embedded with Bear to exercise their capabilities and assist with enhancing the training curriculums for other nations.

Bear also completed a living marine resource enforcement patrol for commercial fishing vessels as part of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, ensuring compliance with federal regulations while safeguarding natural resources.

Meanwhile, her sister, USCGC Legare (WMEC 912), just returned to her homeport Wednesday, after an 11-week counter-narcotics deployment that included key partner nation engagements and search and rescue operations throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Legare patrolled more than 15,000 nautical miles in support of Joint Interagency Task Force South and the Seventh and Eleventh Coast Guard Districts, working in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and federal agents from throughout the U.S., the Royal Netherlands Navy, and partner nation coast guards in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean.

During the patrol, Legare successfully interdicted four smuggling vessels, including one specially designed low-profile craft, and seized more than 7,000 pounds of illicit narcotics, valued at approximately $67 million. The crew also offloaded approximately 24,700 pounds of cocaine and 3,892 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $475 million, at Base Miami Beach Sept. 15, 2022.

Crew members assigned to USCGC Legare (WMEC 912) interdict a low-profile vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in July 2022. Legare’s crew returned to Portsmouth Wednesday, following an 11-week deployment in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea in support of the Coast Guard’s Eleventh and Seventh Districts and Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Andrew Bogdan)

The aging Tornado

On 14 August 1974, the prototype of the Panavia Aircraft GmbH consortium’s Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, as it was called then, made its first flight from Ingolstadt Manching Airport in West Germany.

Panavia Tornado Prototype P03 (XX947)

The tri-national joint development by the BAC in Britain, MBB in West Germany, and Aeritalia in Italy– the front fuselage and tail assembly were assigned to BAC, the center fuselage to MBB, and the wings to Aeritalia– was intended to replace lots of planes in the RAF (BAE Lightning, Canberra, and Vulcan), Luftwaffe/Marineflieger (F-104G), and the Aeronautica Militare (Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter). The Royal Saudi Air Force even picked up 72 airframes in two variants, the type’s only overseas sale.

Entering service as Tornado in July 1980, just under 1,000 were built in all variants for all users. As the RAF and Marineflieger have retired theirs in 2019 and 1995, respectively, and the Saudis, Luftwaffe, and Aeronautica Militare are down to about 350 flyable examples– all slated for imminent replacement by F-35s, F-18E/Fs, and F-15SAs– the likely final swing-wing Western tactical aircraft (the F-111 and F-14 being long gone from the U.S. and Australian service while the last 45 B-1Bs are planned to phase out in the 2031-2033 timeframe) is not long for the air.

The Italians recently saluted the type for 40 years of solid operational service, having arrived in squadron strength in September 1982. 

The celebration included a flyover by 10 Tornadoes, led by a bird in a special livery.

Ghost of the Schutztruppe

Media outlets in Namibia are reporting that last week, a cache of old firearms was found buried on the sports field at Tsumeb Gymnasium in the Otjikoto region. The guns were unearthed by telecom workers while digging trenches to lay cable. 

While the first thing you would think is that they are holdovers from the South African border wars that spanned much of the Cold War.

However, there are no SKSs, AKs, PPShs, or Mosins– you know, all the stuff you would expect to see in a SWAPO arms cache as supplied by the MPLA via Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s.

It turns out, the pile included a bunch of old Mausers including 98s and Gewehr 88/05s, as well as at least one sword, some double-barrel shotguns and drilling style rifles, and an M1879 Reichsrevolver.

Turns out, it looks like they belonged to at least a company-sized unit of German Schutztruppe made up of local Askari and Ruga Ruga militia along with possibly some groups of Afrikaner volunteers dating to June-July 1915 back when Namibia was the colony of Deutsch-Südwestafrika.

These guys:

Askari

The force apparently stashed their arms before either surrendering or melting back to the veldt as the South African/Portuguese forces under Jan Smuts poured in and captured the colony.

Anecdotally, besides the old arms cache, there is still a very large German presence in Namibia even after a century. Some 30,000 pensioners live there from Germany proper and many descendants of old Askaris– and those brutalized by the Kaiser’s administrators in what is known today as the Herero and Namaqua genocide– still receive payouts while in many areas German is still spoken conversationally. About half the population that is Christian is Lutheran. 

Kinda like the whole Quebec thing.

This brings me to the footnote, attributed to circa 1964, that saw West German veteran affairs folks head to South African-administered Suidwes-Afrika to set up such payments. As former Askari often had no means to prove their service to Berlin, they were asked to drill with a broomstick and, as the story goes, those who had learned their manual of arms from strict Prussian NCOs never forgot it.

SIG goes lighter, and more 7.62×39, for the MCX Spear LT

SIG Sauer developed the MCX series back around 2014 with a “particular customer in mind” and then transitioned it to fill both the demands of the military– the Army’s new 6.8mm Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle or NGSW-AR, adopted earlier this year as the XM5, is based on the MCX Spear, while SOCOM went with the shorty Rattler variant in 5.56/.300BLK — and the consumer market, namely with the MCV Virtus line. With a decade of success in the rearview, the company decided to, rather than sit on its laurels, to instead push the platform to the next level.

Meet the new MCX Spear LT, which brings back compatibility with standard AR trigger packs– opening a world of modularity lost with the Virtus– slimming the rifle down by about a pound, and delivering better ergonomics. Also, the new gun will be offered in eight different models, including carbines, pistols, and SBRs available in 5.56 NATO, .300 Blackout, and 7.62×39– the latter new for the platform and a caliber unusual altogether for SIG.

I got to play around with these in New Hampshire last month and was really impressed.

More in my column at Guns.com

165,000 tons of Rock & Roll, Ready for Their Close-up

30 Years Ago Today: A port beam view of Forrestal-class supercarriers, San Diego-homeported USS Ranger (CV-61) with Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2) aboard, and her sister, the Japan-based USS Independence (CV-62) with CVW-5 embarked, underway in the Perian Gulf during Operation Southern Watch, a multinational effort establishing a no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft south of the 32nd parallel in Saddam-era Iraq. Taken on 16 September 1992.

U.S. Navy photo DN-ST-93-00101by PH2 Andrew C. Heuer, via the National Archives.

Note the mix of F-14As (VF-154, VF-21), F-18Cs (VFA-192, VFA-195,), A-6Es (VA-115), SH-3Hs (HS-12), EA-6B Prowlers (VAQ-136), and S-3Bs (VS-21) aboard Indy and the similar complement of aircraft (sans Hornets) of VF-1, VF-2, VA-145, VA-155, VAQ-131, HS-14, and VS-38 on Ranger. These were some of the final deployments for the Tomcat, Intruder, Sea King, and Viking, who would be withdrawn within the next decade.

Indy, commissioned in 1959, had just finished filming Flight of the Intruder aboard prior to her deployment to the Gulf War and was decommissioned only six years after this image. Stricken in 2004, she has since been scrapped.

Ranger, commissioned in 1957, earned 13 battle stars for service during the Vietnam War, and like her sister, was a movie star, having been used to film scenes for Top Gun. She was decommissioned just a year after the above image was snapped, stricken the same day as Indy, and similarly scrapped.

CVW-5 endures, still based in Japan in association with the forward-deployed carrier named after a movie star– USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

Meanwhile, CVW-2 is attached to San Diego’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1 and the flagship USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)– which due to her record of West Coast homeports has been a filming location for JAG, Crimson Tide, Behind Enemy Lines, and her own documentary series, 1995’s excellent Fortress at Sea.

The Cost vs the Cost

Western-supplied Ukraine Stinger MANPADS, M141 BDM (SMAW-D), the NLAW, and the Javelin ATGM, are seen with transit cases.

As seen in this Wednesday’s DOD contract announcements:

Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin JV, Tucson, Arizona, was awarded a $311,171,700 modification (P00074) to contract W31P4Q-19-C-0076 for full-rate production of Javelins. Work will be performed in Tucson, Arizona, with an estimated completion date of Nov. 30, 2026. Fiscal 2022 Foreign Military Sales (Jordan and Lithuania) funds and Army procurement appropriations funds in the amount of $311,171,700 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

Now, $311 million sounds like a lot, right? Well, according to the Pentagon, that only buys around 1,800 Javelins, putting the cost per missile in the $172K range.

The release on Thursday from the Pentagon on what they are billing as the “Javelin Replacement Contract” stressed this would be for replenishing U.S. stocks (some 8,100 have already been withdrawn to fight to Russians, a four-year stockpile at current annual production rates, and about one-sixth of the total ever made), as well as new missiles for Kyiv/Kiev and “international partner missiles”:

The Army awarded a production contract for $311 million on Sep. 13 to the Javelin Joint Venture (JJV) between Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Lockheed Martin for delivery of more than 1,800 Javelins that will serve as replenishment for those rounds from DoD stocks sent to Ukraine in support of their military and security forces.

“This award is a great example of our continued commitment to strengthening our domestic industrial base while supporting our allies and partners,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William A. LaPlante said. “As we use various authorities to replenish our own stocks, industry can expect a strong, persistent demand signal.”

This procurement is part of the Ukraine Supplemental appropriation. The contract includes Army Ukraine replenishment, Army FY22 procurement, and international partner missiles.

“This award demonstrates the Army’s ability to use the new authorities given to us by Congress to acquire critical capabilities for our Soldiers, allies, and partners rapidly and responsibly,” said Douglas R. Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology.

To date, the Javelin Joint Venture has produced more than 50,000 Javelin missiles and more than 12,000 reusable Command Launch Units. Javelin is expected to remain in the U.S. weapon arsenal until 2050 and is subject to continual upgrades to support evolving operational needs.

Current open source data leads to the realization that the Russians have lost some 1,122 tanks in Ukraine since February, with about 670 of those being destroyed. Most of these are T-72 variants. As the Ukrainians have few tanks of their own, these likely kills came from advanced anti-tank weapons such as Javelin mixed in with drone attacks, heavy mines, and lucky hits from 105/122/155mm artillery.

Of course, the cost of a Russian T-72, which first entered service in 1973, is a moving price that has varied widely over the years.

Back in 2016, you could buy a 1980s-vintage export model surplus from the Czech Army for just $50K USD

The T-72 has been around for a minute, as detailed by this mid-1980s DOD Graphic (DAST8512646 via the National Archives) however, it isn’t a cheap tank as fielded these days due to 21st-century upgrades.

On the other end of the spectrum, as recently as 2016, Moscow was paying about $1.1 million a pop just to upgrade older models in reserve to the new T-72B3 (Ob’yekt 184-M3) standard including a better powerpack and reactive armor while the Indians embarked on a similarly-priced program to bring their 30-year old T-72s into the 21st Century with new engines and night vision equipment.

When speaking of the near-newest T-90M (Ob’yekt 188) main battle tank, manufactured by Russia’s Uralvagonzavod plant with the new Shtora-1 countermeasures suite, third generation Kontakt-5 ERA, Kalina FCS and 125mm gun, you are in the $4 million range per hull range, at least in 2021 figures. The Russians have reportedly lost at least 23 T-90s in their Ukrainian summer vacation.

The bottom line is, when it comes to dollar-per-ruble, which side is spending more in the tank vs Javelin race, and is the attrition sustainable?

One thing not taken into account, however, is the life of Russian tankers, a thing that Moscow, at least, seems unconcerned with at the moment.

The Torch and the Torpedo Boat

For Liberty’s sake, enlist in the Navy!

Recruiting poster showing the Statue of Liberty beaming brightly over the distinctive bow of a circa 1900s torpedo boat. Issued by the City of Boston Committee on Public Safety. Boston: Smith & Porter Press, [1917]. LOC LC-USZC4-6264

Although some would bemoan the above image of an old torpedo boat running patrols in New York harbor in 1917 to be more artistic license than likely, it happened.

While the U.S. Navy commissioned 35 Torpedo Boats (TB) in 18 evolutionary classes between the 105-ton/140-foot USS Cushing (TB-1) in 1890 and the 165-ton/175-foot USS Wilkes (TB-35) in 1902, the overall poor showing of such types in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, the 1898 Spanish-American War the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and the Italian-Turkish War of 1911– coupled with the entry of larger and much more capable destroyer types– led to these slim green sea dragons to be retired by the Great War.

By 1917 when the U.S. entered the Great War, many of these obsolete boats had been scrapped or disposed of as targets already but a few newer models still swaying quietly in mothballs.

Note the difference between these five boats of the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla in Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, circa 1907. They are (l-r) BAGLEY (TB-24), BIDDLE (TB-26), BARNEY (TB-25), DUPONT (TB-7), PORTER (TB-6). Color-tinted postcard photo, published as a souvenir of the Jamestown Exposition by The American Colortype Company, New York. Courtesy of R.D. Jeska, 1984. NH 100041-KN

These unloved and forgotten vessels were dusted off and used for coastal patrol/harbor defense along the East Coast.

This included USS Bailey (TB-21) and USS Bagley (TB-24), who would head to the Big Apple.

Armed with a quartet of 6-pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns and just two forward-firing 18-inch torpedo tubes, the 205-foot-long Bailey is a giant compared to the later WWII-era PT boats. Capable of only 30 knots with all four Seabury boilers lit and twin screws spinning at maximum revolutions, Bailey required a 59-man crew, versus the 14-man complement of a WWII mosquito boat. NHHC NH 397

Bagley, while smaller than Bailey, only mounted three 1-pounders (37mm guns) but carried a third torpedo tube to make up for it. She made 29.15 knots on her speed trials in 1901, a benchmark likely far away in 1918. NHHC NH 64056

These two boats, assigned to the Harbor Entrance Patrol of the 3d Naval District, operated from Brooklyn on a series of regular patrols and scouting ahead of the convoys leaving the harbor until they were demobilized in 1919 and subsequently discarded.

However, during this wartime service, they suffered the indignity of being stripped of their names in August 1918. Bailey was renamed simply Coast Torpedo Boat No. 8 while Bagley would become CTB10. Their historic names were needed for shiny new four-piper destroyers (DD-269 and DD-185) that would go on to make their own pages in history in the next World War.

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