Flighline Friday: Lazy Edition March 24, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology, Victory.
Consider yourself lucky, I’m at home. This may be a lazy Flightline Friday, but it’s better than nothing.
Two videos showing some very early Tomcat footage. Some of the earliest Tomcats built are in the first vid, the first 30 or so ships built had only the ALQ-100 ECM antenna under the forward fuselage where later appeared first an IR sensor, then an electro-optical telescopic camera, and finally both. The development of the F-14’s “chin” is shown below:
The first video is a Northrop production hyping their involvement in TOPGUN:
The second is from Grumman and is an obvious – but very early – PR effort for the F-14:
The kids are home, so that’s all you get. Whether it’s better than nothing is wholly debatable, but you get what you pay for………
Flightline Friday: The Best Book on the ATF Program and YF-23, Ever February 24, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, reading, sickness, technology.
I did a Flightline Friday about a year and a half ago discussing, among other things, the YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighter prototype produced by Northrop. The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program was initiated in the 1980s by the USAF to produce not just an F-15 replacement, but a fighter that could finally and decisively sweep the skies over Central Europe during an all-out conflict with the Soviet Union. It was designed to be the most comprehensively advanced and dominant air combat aircraft ever produced.
The program evolved over the course of the 80s. From many disparate concepts from a whole lot of companies – very few of which exist anymore – the program was eventually narrowed down to a competition between a team led by Northrop (with McDonnell Douglas) and Lockheed (with General Dynamics and Boeing). Northrop produced the YF-23 (and this was ALL Northrop, McAir had almost nothing to do except some cockpit layout and providing the landing gear from an F-15), and Lockheed the YF-22 (here the situation was entirely different, GD contributed TONS to the Lockheed design and may have saved their bacon. Lockheed massively redesigned their aircraft proposal in 1987-8, requesting 6 additional months from USAF to do so, because the original concept had so many problems).
At any rate, history shows, for reasons that are still inexplicable to some, that USAF preferred the ugly, block-like YF-22 to the graceful YF-23. Both aircraft had advantages over the other – the YF-23 was faster, in most respects stealthier and had superior supersonic maneuverability, while the YF-22 was better in the close-in, subsonic fight and carried substantially more missiles internally.
Even though the aircraft were designed nearly 30 years ago, much data on them has remained classified. Particularly classified has been concrete data on the production aircraft proposed by Northrop for the F-23. The actual production F-23 would have differed significantly from the YF-23, for a variety of reasons, though not nearly so much as the F-22 has wound up differing from the YF-22 (of course, USAF had a great deal to do with that, and details on Lockheed’s original engineering and manufacturing development version of the YF-22 – basically their vision of the production aircraft – have been even harder to find than those of the F-23).
Also somewhat limited has been extensive detail on the numerous other submissions made over the early phase of the ATF program from companies like Grumman, North American (Rockwell), McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, etc.
Well all that has ended, as former Northrop Chief Test Pilot and YF-23 lead pilot Paul Metz has now, in conjunction with Steve Ginter, produced THE seminal book on not only the F-23 but the entire ATF program. And this thing is an absolute gem. I was up way past 1 last night because I could not put the book down.
Just a few of the highlights:
- Loads of never-before seen photos of ATF submittals and YF-23
- Incredibly detailed construction drawings of YF-23
- Extensive sections of the F-23 EMD submittal (upon which the USAF judged the winner of the competition – again, this was the manufacturer’s plan for final production design, maintenance, operations, etc) are repeated
- Incredibly detailed construction drawings of the F-23 EMD design. There has been one of these outted before but Metz adds several more
- Detailed history of YF-23 development including key players involved, like Yu Ping Liu, who designed the aircraft’s stealth characteristics
- Detailed history of Northrop’s internal design progression towards a stealthy air combat fighter over the years 1971-1986. The YF-23 design was basically fixed by late 1985 (!!)
- An unprecedented amount of material on the Naval ATF version. During the late 80s, it was planned that the Navy would buy a navalized version of the ATF winner to replace the F-14. The end of the Cold War killed that idea.
The book is brand new (hit shelves Christmas last year) and a bit high (~$38). It’s not real long but it is jam packed with information. One of the things I have noted from those involved in the YF-23 program is the fact that it was a labor of love, the people working on it really loved each other and the amazing product. That really shows through in this book, even though Metz eventually went to work for Lockheed and became chief test pilot on the rival F-22 team (after Lockheed won the competition), I get the sense from this book that his heart was always with the F-23. As well it should have been. It is still, as of this writing, conceptually the most advanced and capable aircraft ever produced.
A quick addendum: I noted in the post linked in the top some deficiencies with the YF-23 design that may have helped inform USAF’s decision to prefer the F-22 concept. Because we knew so little about the F-23 EMD proposal, it was assumed some of those problematic features would have remained the same. No more. The F-23 EMD corrected both the engine fan blade viewing problem and, for the most part, the shortfall of internal carriage of AMRAAMs compared to the F-22 (still would have been one short, but that’s a pretty small difference). The F-23 EMD was MUCH different from what people thought based on the limited info that was out there. If anything, it made the aircraft even more attractive. If only they could have gotten rid of that canopy brace……
If you have anything more than a passing interest in the F-23 or F-22, get this book.
Flightline Friday: F-35 Debuts at Red Flag February 3, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
Red Flag – the world’s premier and most realistic air combat exercise – 17-1 began last week at Nellis AFB, NV. As usual, participants are many and varied – F-22s from the 1st FW at Langley AFB, VA, B-1s from the 28th Bombardment Wing at Ellsworth AFB, SD, and marking their operational debut, F-35s from the 414th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS), 388th TFW, Hill AFB, UT.
Everyone knows, it’s been a long slog for the F-35. I have certainly never been a big supporter of this badly compromised design. From a standpoint of aerodynamic performance, it will always be a very middling performer. Crippled by the Marine requirement for STOVL capabilities, it will be badly hamstrung in the visual air-to-air arena. In addition – and also because of the Marine requirement – it’s internal storage volume, required to maintain low-observability – is also badly limited. It can only carry two air to air missiles internally when engaged in the high-end fight. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, had Obama and Gates (who also destroyed the Boy Scouts), not crippled US air superiority by capping F-22 production at 187 aircraft. The F-22 has turned out to be all that was promised and more in the air-to-air arena, but there simply are not enough of them. As such, should disaster happen, like a war against a near-peer competitor in China or Russia (God forbid this should happen), the US would be badly underequipped in the air supremacy regime and F-35s would likely be pressed into the fight be default. This is not something it was designed to do.
Having said that, however, in the air-to-ground role for which it was primarily designed, the F-35 is finally starting to come along. The sensors and sensor fusion of the type are simply amazing. Once the real meaty software comes out later this year – Block 3F – the type will have extremely impressive capabilities in finding, fixing, sharing, and prosecuting all manner of ground targets. In addition, the aircraft will have very advanced means to avoid both ground-based and airborne threats, all projected instantaneously on the pilot’s all-important helmet visor., with the threats appearing as 3-D volumes to be avoided. Thus far, capabilities are limited but all reports are that the F-35 will take visual spectrum, infrared, ultraviolet, and radio-frequency sensors, and the fusion of all the above, to the next level.
Whether all this will be enough to overcome its fundamental aerodynamic limitations, the shortfalls in other areas of US airpower, and to deal with the rising Chinese threat remains to be seen. Whether it is worth the (falling but still) astronomical cost is infinitely debatable. But, unfortunately, due to policy decisions of three different presidential administrations, it is now the only game in town (whereas, had the F-22 been kept in production, as it should have been, the types could have been competitively evaluated and the best – the F-22 – chosen) and it would be 10-15 years, minimum, to field a replacement. If it turns out to be a turkey, we’ll be stuck with it. Cancellation really isn’t an option at this point, the Marines and Air Force are nearly utterly dependent on this type.
More than likely, what will happen is that US crews will make it work, and work well, warts and all. It’s just what they do. And hopefully sanity will prevail and the F-35 won’t ever have to come up against a serious competitor.
Now for airplane video pr0n. Check out how much the F-35 resembles the F-22 on approach:
I don’t know what the Air Force was thinking with these new velvetine looking crew sweaters. They look awful.
Taking off. That 43,000 lbst engine makes terrific noise:\
As I said, Red Flag brings a wide variety of participants. There are Navy and Marine F-18s and EF-18s and British Typhoons from a squadron I am hoping someone will identify. Video courtesy 99th ABW PAO:
See what I mean by those velvetine sweaters? WTH? As if people in other branches didn’t make fun of Air Force softness enough, now they have to look like a stuffed animal?
And now for something a bit different – an awesome 360 degree video from inside the cockpit of the Boeing T-X entry’s first flight. External view in the second video. I wish it had come out with more F-23 in it as originally planned. Looks more like a shrunken Super Hornet.
I like Boeing for the win in this large program. The only real competition left is Lockheed since Raytheon has already bailed and it seems Northrop Grumman isn’t real serious about it. Lockheed’s only advantage might be price, but will a Trump administration buy hundreds of new jets largely fabricated in Korea? Doubt it.
That’s it. Enjoy your much belated Flightline Friday.
Flightline Friday: America’s “Hind” December 1, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday.
Real short post- the Soviet/Russian Mil-24 “Hind” has been an effective close air support helicopter for the Russians for years. Different from the American approach with the AH-1 Cobra, failed AH-56 Cheyenne, and AH-64 Apache, which are all two seat helicopters that tried to minimize frontal aspect to improve speed and present less of a target, the Mil-24 is a huge beast that is not only an attack helicopter but can also carry 8 combat loaded soldiers. It’s sort of a combination attack helo and transport, though used predominately in the former role.
I haven’t the time to go into the history much, but after the failure of the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System/AH-56 Cheyenne program, the Army cast about for an improvement on the Cobra to serve as a dedicated anti-armor helo in Europe, to help oppose the massive Soviet superiority in tanks and armored vehicles. Two aircraft were evaluated after the failure of the Cheyenne, the Bell 309 – an improved Cobra – and the Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk (no relation to the Blackhawk of today).
The S-67 was a real departure from American attack helicopter practice in that it was also a very large aircraft that could carry several (some say 6, some 8) fully equipped men into combat, rather like the Hind. It was also for a time the fastest American, if not the world’s, helicopter.
Anyway totes out of time, here she is:
Video shows troop insertion, but poor quality:
Later it was modified with a “fantail” ducted propeller tail rotor:
Weak, but I haven’t done one in ages. Enjoy, I guess. Some pics give an idea of the helicopter’s size:
The Most Famous Communique in US Naval History? The World Wonders November 3, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, Victory.
TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS
Converting to a bit more plain English:
TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM COMMANDER IN CHIEF PACIFIC FLEET ACTION COMMANDER THIRD FLEET INFORM COMMANDER COMBINED TASK FORCE 77 WHERE IS REPEAT WHERE IS TASK FORCE 34 RR THE WORLD WONDERS
Halsey took it as the biggest sleight of his already controversial career. The multi-part Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in history, by any measure. It was fought over hundreds of thousands of square miles. It involved thousands of ships and hundreds of thousands of sailors from the US and Imperial Japanese Navies. Kido Butai, the awesomely capable, experienced, and technically innovative Japanese carrier strike force had been broken. The carriers Halsey went chasing after hundreds of miles to the north of Leyte Gulf off Cape Engano had virtually no aircraft and even fewer pilots. He had left the hundreds of assault ships and landing craft in the Leyte Gulf anchorage dangerously exposed. When Kurita’s Center Force came steaming down the San Bernadino Strait into the very thin covering force of Task Group 77.43 under command of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, it looked as if the dream of every frustrated big gun enthusiast in every navy in the world was about to be realized – finally, absent fleet carriers and their steel harpies armed with armor piercing anti-ship bombs and torpedoes, would the big guns of battleships and cruisers be turned against the painfully thin steel hulls of escort carriers and, even more, assault landing ships.
By this point in the war, Halsey’s Third Fleet, and especially Task Force 38 (VADM Marc A. “Pete” Mitscher), the
Fast Carrier Strike Force, was the most powerful naval unit the world had ever seen. Comprised of 9 fleet carriers and 8 light fleet carriers, the task force embarked over 1100 (!!) combat aircraft and the best trained, most experienced naval aviators in the world. In addition, the task force was screened by 6 fast battleships and nearly two dozen light and heavy cruisers and literally scores of destroyers. The “northern force” of the Japanese, intended to serve as a decoy to Halsey’s massive task force, was pathetic by comparison. While it did lure Halsey north to try to accomplish the final extinction of Japanese naval aviation power in the Pacific (an objective already achieved the previous June in the Battle of the Philippine Sea), it comprised only one fleet carrier and three light carriers. Nevertheless, Halsey chose to steam north at high speed with his entire massive force, leaving the landing beaches
and assault ships off Leyte and Samar protected by a screen of pre-WWII slow battleships to the south (who got revenge for their sufferings at Pearl Harbor by sinking two battleships on the night of Oct 24/5 in the Battle of the Surigao Strait) and the escort carriers and small destroyers of Task Group 77.4 to the north. It was from the north that the main Japanese threat would come.
By this day, October 25, 1944, the Japanese Center Force under Admiral Takeo Kurita had already had a long battle. Starting two days before, his powerful force consisting of 5 battleships (including the two largest battleships ever built, Yamato and Musashi) had been under constant attack. His command ship had been sunk out from under him with the torpedoing and sinking of the heavy cruiser Maya by the submarine Dace. The next day, the super-battleship Musashi was sunk under the weight of at least TWENTY torpedo hits, SEVENTEEN bomb hits, and eighteen near misses. Kurita’s force turned around and looked to be headed for home, but not for long.
Early in the morning of October 25, Kurita’s force, which had resumed its original heading hours before, was spotted by terrified lookouts aboard the ships of “Taffy 3,” the part of Task Group 77.43 on the northern end of US forces covering the Samar and Leyte beachheads. As they saw the instantly identifiable “pagoda” masts of the Japanese battlewagons, they realized that not only was their goose just about cooked, but the entire Pacific War could take a radically different direction.
None of the American vessels carried anything larger than a 5″ gun, whereas the Japanese had everything up to 18.1″ weapons. Furthermore, the top speed of the American CVEs was appreciably lower than that of even the Japanese battlewagons. All in all, things did not look promising for Old Glory.
Fortunately, the Americans were aided by two factors. First, they did have airplanes on those jeep carriers, albeit airplanes without much in the way of anti-ship ordnance other than torpedos. By 0615, the Americans had launched several hundred aircraft, who proceeded to do everything short of throwing stones to harass the Japanese attackers. Second, the screening DDs and DEs for Taffy 3 were maniacally brave. In one of the great feats of sheer guts in naval history, seven American DDs and DEs charged the entire Japanese squadron, which outgunned them so utterly it beggars the imagination.
Throughout this battle, which raged for most of the day, first the commander of Taffy 3, Clifton Sprague, then his boss over Task Group 77.4, and finally 7th Fleet Commander Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, had been screaming for help. The messages eventually devolved into plain voice, uncoded HF broadcasts that were picked up by Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nimitz, quite rightly a bit perplexed, wanted to know where in the heck the battleships of Third Fleet – the fast battleships, the modern ones, the ones commanded by that great old sea dog Willis Augustus Lee, commander Task Force 34, the ones that could easily stand with the Japanese and fight – were at. So, Nimitz sent a message to Halsey asking:
WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE 34
And that it all. The “turkey trots to water” and, especially, “the world wonders” were just filler, things added to
throw off potential Japanese code breakers. This should have been made abundantly clear by the two consonants joined together, “GG” and “RR,” but the decoder on Halsey’s flagship – Battleship New Jersey – was the only one in the entire fleet to decode it fallaciously, leaving “the world wonders” attached to the message. Halsey thought Nimitz was deliberately insulting him, and basically went ballistic and then sulked in his stateroom for about an hour, before finally detaching TF34 under Lee to try to intercept the Japanese dreadnoughts, which by that time were already retiring with a severely bloody nose.
The Battle off Samar, as the fight between Kurita’s Center Force and Taffy 3 was called, ended, miraculously, in American victory. As noted above, the 3 destroyers and 4 destroyer escorts (primarily designed for ASW work, and even more lightly armed that regular destroyers) fought maniacally, actually severely damaging at least one cruiser among several other ships. The cost to the Americans was actually slight, considering the scale of forces ranged against them: one CVE sunk, and three damaged, two DDs sunk, and 1 DE sunk, with several of the escorts also damaged. When the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts was sunk, the Japanese saluted her. That’s how well she fought. That, combined with incessant air attacks and harassment from about 450 escort-carrier based planes helped convince the already rattled Kurita that he was facing not a small covering force but the main American carrier strike group. He expected battlewagons like the Iowa and New Jersey to fall on his already
severely scattered and disrupted force any moment. So even though he was sacked after returning to Japan somewhat in disgrace for his failure to disrupt the landing forces, many historians have found his lack of vigor somewhat understandable. In the end, however, what Kurita feared did happen, as Halsey also directed airstrikes from TF38 to pummel the Japanese stragglers, resulting in the sinking of 3 heavy cruisers and with three more being badly damaged.
As for Halsey, the judgment of history has often been harsh, not only for his conduct at Leyte Gulf, when he rather needlessly failed to split off TF34 to cover the northern approaches to the landing beaches as Nimitz had expected, but also for his later actions such as losing multiple ships while driving his fleet through a typhoon. But Halsey had
always believed in concentration of forces, and didn’t know quite what to expect from the Japanese carrier force to the north. Lee’s battleship screen had been instrumental in preventing Japanese carrier-based aircraft from even reaching the US carriers during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He probably felt he would have need of the awesome firepower of the massed 5″ and 40 mm guns of the battlewagons. That it turned out he did not is something only those with hindsight can really scold him with.
Later on the 25th, the error the decoder had made was revealed to Halsey, indicating that Nimitz was just plainly asking where the battleships were, and not giving him a verbal smackdown in front of the entire fleet. Still, relations were apparently a bit awkward between Nimitz and Halsey
through the end of the war.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf makes for awesome study. Submarine attacks, massive air battles, the introduction of the kamikaze, nighttime battleship vs. battleship battles, one of the most lopsided surface battles in history (where the underdog won!) among much, much more.
The great naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison probably summed up the Battle Off Samar the best:
In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.
Late n’ Rare Flightline Friday: The World’s Worst Carrier, Kuznetsov October 24, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, asshatery, disaster, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, non squitur, pr stunts, silliness, Society, technology.
A lot of folks apparently got excited last week when, for the 7th time in its nearly 30 year history the broken down, way too small, horribly designed (and only) Russian carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov put to sea to ostensibly conduct combat operations off of Syria. If the carrier makes it to the Eastern Med – which is by no means certain, given its deplorable history – Kuznetsov will take party in combat operations for the first time with its tiny fixed wing fleet of 16 Su-33 aircraft.
But first she (or, as the Russians say, he) has to get there. And that’s been the problem in the past. Even when Kuznetsov made it to Eastern Med, she was generally in too poor condition to actually do anything remotely military. Her freshwater condensers constantly crap out, meaning they can’t run the turbines, meaning the ship has to be towed back to port. Why else do you think the Russians never let Kuznetsov put to sea without the world’s largest tug as escort? Does the US Navy do this, with their carriers? The Japanese? Italians? Spanish? Even the Brazilians? No, no they do not.
Kuznetsov was a product of two disastrous characteristics: inexperienced, frankly incompetent design, and late-Soviet-era build standards. Coupled together, and you have one of the most poorly designed and built ships ever to slide down the ways. Her horrific design and shoddy workmanship are legendary. The phased array antennas on the island? – they’re concrete ballast, as the real radar was never made functional. The plumbing is worthlessly rusted out in half or more of the ship. Basically half of the ship is unlivable. The ship is only marginally large enough to handle the huge Su-33 tactical aircraft, and can only carry a handful of them, really barely enough to protect the carrier (if that), let alone project power anywhere. And her power plant…….a large steam unit……….has always been her most pronounced weak point.
It appears to have gotten even worse. While passing through the English Channel, Kuznetsov belched forth such hideous, thick plumes of smoke from her oil fired engines that I seriously doubt she could conduct flight operations under such conditions. See, carriers, when they do flight ops, always turn into the wind. Pilots trying to land on Kuznetsov would be rendered almost totally blind by these clouds of incredibly dense smoke emanating from the ship and flowing straight into their approach path to land. And this was while cruising at a leisurely 7-8 knots, not the 25+ generally required for flight operations. I would wager she can’t come close to that speed with engines in such dire shape*. If she can, her pilots will probably be splattered all over the round down trying to land.
Wow. They are either using incredibly dirty, unrefined oil, or those engines have unbelievable problems. Likely a bit of both.
This is not made up stuff. How to deal with carrier smokestack emissions prior to the advent of gas turbines and nukes was a huge issue. That’s one reason US carriers wound up with their islands so far back, which generally prevented the gasses from spreading so much they seriously affected visibility. On earlier Essex class carriers, with islands roughly midship, this was much more of a problem. The Japanese, on their WWII carriers, actually vented the boiler gasses downward, below the level of the flight deck, to try to deal with this.
Of course, US and allied pilots go through the training hell of learning to make night traps using only mirror, ball, and the screams of the LSO. Those landings are dang near blind, so it was generally less of a problem for US naval aviators even when we still had oil-fired carriers (which, we don’t. The last were retired nearly 10 years ago).
So don’t get too worked up over Putin’s latest bluster. This one is much more show than go. That’s all any combat operations conducted from Kuznetsov will be, if there are any – show. And it will be another hellish cruise for her crew, which despises the ship to the extent they mutinied a short while back. This is a ship that has spent over 95% of her 30 year career tied up pierside or in drydock. She’s a floating disaster, and the Chinese were probably suckers to gain most of their carrier knowledge, and their currently only operational carrier, from the incompleted hulk of Kuznetsov’s sister, now finished and called Laioning by the Red Chinese. She has all the same engines and other design flaws of the original, and to date hasn’t put to sea very often at all, by Western standards.
I loved the jokes on Ace: the world’s first wood-, or possibly peat-, burning aircraft carrier. I don’t think Lexington put out that much smoke after taking multiple Jap torpedoes at Coral Sea.
*- In fact, Kuznetsov has apparently never come close to her design speed of 29 kts
Frightline Friday: Lockheed to Develop Mach 20 Strike System September 23, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, technology.
DARPA has been working on this for over a decade, with not exactly stellar success. Called originally Prompt Global Strike, as people began to wrap their heads around the “Global War on Terror” in the early 00s, they began to comprehend how useful a weapon system that could be launched from CONUS and hit a target anywhere in the world within 30-40 minutes.
Some bright folks at the Air Staff exclaimed: “Why, we have ICBMs that can do that! We just need to put a conventional warhead (or not) on an ICBM and, voila!, capability created!” Someone then said……how would the Russians or Chinese feel about an ICBM launch from the US, even if told about it in advance? How would they feel about ICBM warheads sailing overhead in route to a target in Afghanistan or Yemen? Back to the drawing board……..
So began what has turned into a long-term effort to develop what amounts to a sort of hypersonic cruise missile, launched from a bomber or perhaps a sub and carried aloft to a high, but nowhere near orbital, altitude, and flying to the target at speeds between Mach 5 (3500 mph) and Mach 20 (14,000 mph).
There have been a number of programs – Hypersonic Test Vehicles HTV-1, HTV-2, X-43, X-51, and the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. Their success rate has been around 50% so far. HTV really never quite worked and seems to have been cancelled. AHW seem to be ongoing. All of these follow a “depressed,” atmospheric trajectory deliberately, to prevent other nuclear armed powers from believing they are being attacked with ballistic missiles. How excited they will become at a Mach 20 scramjet coming in their general direction remains to be seen.
The US is hardly the only country pursuing this technology. China and Russia both are, and the Chinese program may be more advanced than the US at this time.
Perhaps to redress that, DARPA awarded a $150 million contract to Lockheed to develop a new Tactical Boost Glide weapon. $150 is probably chicken feed to develop something so radically advanced, but perhaps that’s just for starters:
Lockheed Martin just won a $147 million contract to build a vehicle capable of flying at speeds of Mach 20. The goal is to create a high-speed delivery system that could bomb targets thousands of miles away in an hour or less. It’s similar to what other countries, including Russia and China, are working on.
Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) will be an air-launched boost glide weapon system. The TBG itself is a aerodynamic, arrowhead-shaped vehicle fitted on the nose of a rocket. The rocket in turn is carried by a large aircraft such as a B-52 bomber, which would carry the rocket to high altitude and then launch it. The rocket boosts TBG to an evenhigher altitude, whereupon a scramjet or ramjet kicks in and quickly accelerates it up to hypersonic speeds. TBG then glides unpowered the rest of the way to the target.
How fast will TBG go? A nearly identical program concluded in 2011 reached speeds of Mach 20. At that speed, a hypersonic vehicle could travel from New York City to Los Angeles in 12 minutes, or London to Sydney in 49 minutes.
Hypersonic is the next frontier in weaponry. The super-fast speeds could make it possible to destroy a faraway but time-critical target—say, a North Korean missile fueling on the launch pad or a terrorist meeting in a remote location. Hypersonic speed also makes interception very difficult—and makes the actual vehicle a weapon when the kinetic energy of an object traveling at Mach 20 is transferred to a target.
Meh. Prompt Global Strike, like unmanned systems, is more of a politician’s dream than what I suspect will become a real military capability. Politicians love unmanned systems for the promise of being able to fight wars without much risk of loss of US life. I pray to God they never become really capable, or we’ll be killing people around the world without end at a far higher rate than we do now. There’d be no end to it.
Don’t get me wrong, hypersonics have great utility and I think they will eventually come along, but I think Mach 20 is quite a reach. The temperatures and pressures at that altitude (~200,000 ft) are fantastic – hundreds if not thousands of PSI, 3500 degrees F. Mach 5-8 seems much more reasonable, and the technology to handle those temps and pressures has been around a long time.
The earlier X-43:
A successful hypersonic weapon, whether an air-breathing scramjet powered vehicle, or one that glides after initial boost to terrific speed, can be much more difficult to intercept than an ICBM RV because they are not on a fixed ballistic profile, and will likely be capable of something like aircraft like maneuvers, albeit, at enormous speeds.
Long ago, the Air Force had a project for a replacement to the venerable B-52. The replacement was called the XB-70. It was killed largely due to McNamara’s inveterate dislike for bombers, which stemmed from several reasons, most of them faulty. The XB-70 was killed because it was designed to fly at Mach 3.2 at 70-80,000 ft. With the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers U-2 in 1960, some felt that high altitude was too dangerous, due to the proliferation of surface-to-air missiles that could reach the same or higher altitudes.
However, one massive bit of the equation McNamara missed was the difference in performance. At 70,000 ft, the U-2 cruised at about 400 mph. That’s all it could do. The B-70 would have been 5 times as fast. While the B-70 had a much larger radar cross section and could thus be detected sooner, 30 years of operation with the SR-71 proved that the high-altitude domain had not been rendered implausible due to surface to air missiles. Flying at the same speeds and altitudes, the SR-71 was targeted and fired upon by SAMs literally hundreds of times, but not one was ever shot down or even damaged.
The reason is that even very large SAMs have very little energy left when they get to that kind of extreme altitude, and the aircraft are often about as maneuverable (if not more) than the SAM way up there in the up there. Also, the enormous speed of the SR-71 (or B-70) means that even a slight change in course results in a displacement of the flight path on the order of miles within a minute or less. So, the SAM, targeted to a particular spot in the sky where the fast, high-altitude aircraft is expected to be, winds up missing by a huge distance when the aircraft turns to avoid. Really no air defense systems of the 60s-90s timeframe could react quickly enough, or had missiles with high enough flight performance, to hit a maneuvering target at those speeds and altitudes.
And that doesn’t even begin to factor in the very advanced electronic countermeasures an aircraft like the B-70 or SR-71 would have or did carry. An ICBM RV is simple to shoot down by comparison, being on a fixed ballistic trajectory – albeit very, very fast – it WILL be at a certain point in the sky at a certain point in time and there is nothing that can be done to change that. Get an interceptor to that same point at the right time, and you have a kill.
The Russians now purport to have “maneuverable” RVs (with attached rockets or lift devices to deviate from the fixed ballistic trajectory) able to defeat missile defense systems, but they a) drastically exaggerate their capabilities, and b) fail to note that they are so heavy and cumbersome that they have a huge negative impact on the ICBM’s limited payload/range capabilities.
The prototype XB-70 #2 reached a peak speed of Mach 3.07 and an altitude of 72,800 ft during it’s test program. The production B-70s would have been equipped with more powerful engines and able to fly faster and quite a bit higher.
But I guess that’s a story for another day.
Flightline Friday: Naval Aviation in the Mekong Delta, 1967-1972 September 15, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
One of the relatively little-known aspects of the massive, never-ending air war over Southeast Asia (1964-1973) was the US Navy’s role in it. I do not refer, in this instance, to the numerous carriers and carrier air wings that served throughout the war, involving essentially every attack carrier the Navy had in service in that timeframe, and pretty much every air wing, as well. That’s a separate subject from this post, and, really, one that was so vast it would be impossible to encapsulate in a single blog post.
What I am referring to is something a bit different. These were two land-based squadrons operated in support of the “Brown Water Navy” that patrolled the Mekong Delta and other rivers of Vietnam, seeking to interdict communist supplies flowing down these vast, largely unpoliced waters. The two squadrons in question were Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Three -HA(L)-3 – and Light Attack Squadron Four – VAL-4. The former was equipped with Huey gunships (generally UH-1E) and known as the Sea Wolves, and the latter with OV-10A and -10D Broncos and known as the Black Ponies.
HA(L)-3 served from 1967 through 1972, and VAL-4 from 1969 – 1972. Both were focused on defending US and South Vietnamese Navy riverine craft from communist attack, providing close air support to allied troops conducting operations in the region, and also flying armed reconnaissance missions attacking targets of opportunity. VAL-4 flew from Vung Tau (hometown of a friend of mine, once a sleeping fishing village, now a major resort city) and Binh Tuy. HA(L)-3 was nominally based at Vung Tau and Binh Tuy, as well, but operated numerous detachments from floating logistics bases within the Delta itself, using converted WWII LSTs and other ships for this purpose.
Both squadrons were fairly large in terms of equipment and personnel and hit well above their weight in terms of the impact they had on the war. Both flew outrageous numbers of sorties, as did so many units in Vietnam (but these even more), and dropped an incredible amount of munitions. Both have proud and storied legacies well deserving of more remembrance than they have received. This post may hopefully serve to slightly rectify their relative historical anonymity.
A few videos below on both squadrons. First up, a truly excellent history of VAL-4, which not only details personnel and day-to-day operations, but also the squadron’s place in the larger war effort and the many transitions it underwent as its mission set changed due to the American withdrawal and Vietnamization. There is some really amazing air-to-air footage below of numerous OV-10 strike missions, as well as its just plain silly maneuverability (pulling 7-8G at 180kts makes for an amazingly tight turn):
Short, silent, but excellent footage of two Black Pony OV-10s carrying a load of twelve 5″ Zuni rockets (a few with fuze extenders) each on a mission over South Vietnam. The Zuni really packed a punch and has always been a favorite of the Marine Corps, which continues to use it to this day:
One major use of both VAL-4 and HA(L)-3 was as a quick-reaction force to provide air support for allied units that ran into trouble. Thus the intro to the second video below, “Scramble the Seawolves,” the first of which gives you an idea of the quick reaction missions flown, as well as a little overview of the unit, which is the most decorated Naval flying unit of all time. This first video is pretty danged good, showing a lot of combat footage and with some sound added in so it’s not just silent or with an overbearing 60s soundtrack, though you do start to get that some way in:
You’ll have to forgive the psychedelic soundtrack. Eh, it was a product of the times:
Gun run. I can’t believe those door gunners hit very much but who am I to judge?
Some pretty cool stuff. The aircraft used by both squadrons carried similar armament – the OV-10 had four built-in 7.62 mm M60D machine guns and generally carried 2.75″ and 5″ rockets, while the UH-1 could carry 7.62 mm machine guns and 2.75″ rockets, but occasionally had 12.7 mm (.50 cal) M2 machine guns in the doors.
If you’re a glutton for punishment here’s one more:
Linebacker II was the most intensive period of aerial bombardment of the Vietnam War. It was the culmination of 7+ years of desultory, on-again, off-again bombing campaigns conducted with ludicrous limitations that rendered the United States single largest military advantage – overwhelming air power – almost neutered. Thousands of men died, hundreds more languished for years in hellish North Vietnamese prisons, as politicians in Washington dithered, committing just enough forces to kill numerous North Vietnamese and Americans, but never enough to be decisive. It was the worst aerial campaign in US history.
Linebacker II was, in essence, the final conducting of the air war the Joint Chiefs had been calling for since 1965. In 12 days of bombing, they rendered North Vietnam defenseless, crippled, and ready to end the war on terms the US at that time found acceptable, even if those terms were as false and illusory as the entire war had been. That is to say, it allowed the US to get (most? some?) of the POWs home, to save face, and to more or less abandon the South Vietnamese to a grim fate, especially after a hyper-liberal Congress was elected in 1974 in the wake of Watergate, which cut off almost all US aid to the beleaguered nation. But it was seen as very preferable to simply an out and out surrender, or an even more cold-hearted and open abandonment of a long-proclaimed vital ally.
What is presented in the video below is a series of cockpit recordings of internal B-52 intercoms and inter-aircraft radio chatter during the Linebacker II mission of Dec. 26, 1972. The aircraft where the recording was made was B-52D Lilac 2 out of Andersen AFB, Guam. The campaign had begun on December 18, then the Nixon Administration imposed a 36 hour bombing halt for Christmas. This allowed the North Vietnamese to reconstitute their almost depleted defenses a bit, and made the mission of Dec. 26 one of the harriest of them all. By Dec. 30, the lat night of the raids, the North was out of SAMs, most of their radars were destroyed, and they had no effective way to respond. But that was not the case this night, when several aircraft were lost.
The video includes a map which shows the aircraft which are involved, their call signs, and their slow progress over North Vietnam. It is really an impressive piece of work, and a valuable contribution to the historical record.
Wild Weasel Wednesday July 20, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
Instead of a Flightline Friday, I’m doing a Wild Weasel Wednesday this week. May as well, I haven’t done a Flightline Friday in forever.
Wild Weasel is the nickname of the airborne defense suppression mission set. It primarily involves the suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD). The air defenses in question are ground- or sea-based, destruction of enemy aircraft is a different mission (air combat/air superiority).
As far as the United States and the West is concerned, the Wild Weasel mission evolved from the hard and embarrassing lessons of the early days of the Vietnam conflict. US defense policy under Eisenhower (and it was absolutely the right policy) focused almost exclusively on strategic nuclear warfare, rather than the development of a broad range of tactical capabilities and, especially, the retention of a large standing army. Ike did this for several reasons – it was much cheaper, it reduced the manpower drain on the nation, and, most especially, not having a very large army and tactical air force virtually guaranteed the US would not get sucked into another “brushfire conflict” like Korea.
Kennedy, of course, had different ideas, and ran and won in 1960 on the argument that Ike had allowed US defenses to seriously weaken (this was a false statement). Kennedy wanted “flexible response,” that is, a very large strategic nuclear force but also a large army, navy, tactical air force, etc. Ike’s prediction came true within a few years, that a large standing army is an irresistible temptation to politicians. If you have one, it will be used, and we were in Vietnam in force by 1964/5. Unfortunately, the tactical buildup was still in its early stages. A number of weaknesses were quickly revealed, especially with regard to tactical air forces (Air Force, Navy, or Marine).
The biggest of these was in spite of the capabilities of Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) being clearly revealed in the 1960 shootdown of Francis Gary Power’s U-2, no one had thought to provide any of the tactical aircraft in service with defenses against radar-guided missiles. Not only did they have no defenses, they didn’t even have the ability to tell when they were being painted by radar and under threat of attack. Within a few months of the start of the will o’ the wisp, on again, off again air war against North Vietnam, US aircraft were falling to Soviet-installed (and frequently operated) SA-2 missiles.
These growing losses were the genesis of a crash program to equip aircraft with what is called radar homing and warning equipment, or radar warning receivers – which let aircrew know they are being targeted, where that radar is, and what kind it is (search, track, targeting, AAA, etc) – and eventually “anti-radiation” missiles designed to home on emissions from SAM radars and destroy them. These two elements in concert with exceptionally well-trained and brave crews working aboard dedicated defense-suppression aircraft was, in essence, the Wild Weasel concept. They were called Wild Weasels because the mission was judged to be similar in intensity and danger to a weasel taking on a poisonous snake.
That’s a background to the videos below, the first two of which are truly excellent. Produced, I’m sure, in the mid-80s during the height of the Reagan defense buildup, they provide a very loving, very detailed account of the early days of the Wild Weasel program not only from the perspective of the pilots and EWOs who flew the missions, but also the industry teams that provided the life-saving equipment. There is a great deal of commentary from early leaders of the Wild Weasel community, all of which is very good. There are also some very intelligent statements about how defense suppression/electronic warfare tends to be one of those mission sets that is the first to get dumped once the pressure of war is no longer present to force the issue. Sadly, that is exactly what has happened in the Air Force since Desert Storm.
It then turns into sort of an extended commercial on the F-4G Wild Weasel IV or Advanced Wild Weasel, but that oft-ignored aircraft deserves much praise. It was a dark day when the last Weasels were retired without replacement, and Scott O’Grady’s shootdown weeks later sort of proved the point that they were still needed.
After the first two videos are some more recent ones from the early 90s. Then, the F-4Gs were leaving service and being replaced with F-16s with scabbed on targeting pods. Many Wild Weasel professionals gravely doubt the modified F-16CG, as it is called, comes anywhere close to the capabilities of the F-4G. Fortunately or not, we’ve only been fighting wars against third world goat herders for the past 15 years, with no air defenses to speak of, so the matter has never been put to the test. But it will be, eventually.
To the vids (warning the first video especially has a few occasions of foul language):