Источник
The National Interest online seeks to provide a space for vigorous debate and exchange not only among Americans but between U.S. and overseas interlocutors. This is the new home for informed analysis and frank but reasoned exchanges on foreign policy and international affairs.
Выбор редакции
12 июля, 02:00

Tac-50: This Sniper Rifle Can Kill You From Over 2 Miles Away

Mark Episkopos Security, The Tac-50 impressed militaries around the world with its startling accuracy, leading to its adoption by the U.S Navy SEALs under the “MK 15” designation, branches of the French Navy, Turkey, Israel and others.  Here's What You Need to Remember: By offering the operator an unprecedented degree of target versatility between infrastructure, light armour, and high-value personnel, the Tac-50 gave the AMR platform a newfound lease on life.  Anti-materiel rifles (AMR) have long been thought to have little practical use, except against a dwindling niche of light vehicles vulnerable to .50 BMG rounds. Then came the McMillan Tac-50, a revolutionary military firearm that combines the reach and stopping power of an AMR with the accuracy of a typical military-grade sniper rifle. The AMR was conceived as an anti-tank weapon during World War I. Seeking a weapon that could penetrate the reinforced hull of the British Mark IV tank, the German Empire produced the first AMR rifle: the 1918 Mauser T-Gewehr. The AMR platform went on to see its heyday during the Second World War, as the British Boys Anti-Tank Rifle and Soviet Degtyarev PTRD-41 proved effective against Nazi Germany’s Panzer I,II, and III tanks. But over the next several decades, advancements in main battle tank (MBT) defenses would rapidly outpace the penetrating power of the .50 round. By the end of the Cold War, AMR’s were only relevant against light armor and, in a pinch, certain types of infrastructure. In 1996, firearms manufacturer McMillan sought to breathe new life into an AMR platform that was increasingly verging on obsolescence. Released seven years after the powerful but relatively inaccurate M107, the Tac-50 was designed as an AMR that could double as a long-range sniper rifle. Deceptively light for its class at 26 pounds, the Tac-50 is a .50 caliber rotating bolt-action rifle boasting a 29-inch, high-quality Lilja barrel and McMillan’s signature fiber-glass stock. In keeping with similar AMR’s, the Tac-50 comes without any factory-installed sights and is compatible with a wide range of telescopic mounts. An absolute requirement at this distance of shooting, the Tac-50 comes with a proprietary muzzle brake to increase accuracy and mitigate the immense recoil generated by the .50 caliber. The Tac-50 impressed militaries around the world with its startling accuracy, leading to its adoption by the U.S Navy SEALs under the “MK 15” designation, branches of the French Navy, Turkey, Israel and others. There is little question, however, that the Canadian special forces group JTF2 (Joint Task Force 2) remains by far the most prolific Tac-50 operator. In a  2017 mission against ISIS targets, a JTF2 sniper recorded the world’s longest sniper kill at a staggering 3,871 yards or 2.19 miles. It bears noting that the Canadian armed forces currently occupy three of the five longest recorded sniper kills in the world, all performed with the Tac-50. Seeking to build on this breakaway success, McMillan released two Tac-50 successors in 2012: the Tac-50 A1, and Tac-50 A1-R2. The A1 boasts a host of practical design improvements, including a longer take-down fiberglass stock, a lighter-but-sturdier bipod, redesigned buttstock, and self-locking magazine latch. The A1-R2 features all the design improvements of the A1, along with a proprietary hydraulic recoil mitigation system that McMillan claims will reduce peak recoil by 90 percent. Rated at a guaranteed half-MOA (minute of angle) with the proper ammunition, the Tac-50 is one of the few AMR’s accurate enough to double as a long-distance sniper rifle. By offering the operator an unprecedented degree of target versatility between infrastructure, light armour, and high-value personnel, the Tac-50 gave the AMR platform a newfound lease on life. Firearms manufacturers have since attempted to further develop this concept, including McMillan itself with its TAC-416 chambered in .416 Barrett, but the Tac-50 remains one of the best and only rifles of its kind. Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest. Image: Wikimedia

Выбор редакции
12 июля, 01:30

The SB2C Helldiver Was A Terrible Aircraft, But The Navy Flew It Into War Anyways

Warfare History Network History, Europe U.S. Navy dive-bomber crews flew the unpopular and flawed Curtiss SB2C Helldiver late in World War II. It sent Japanese warships to the bottom of the ocean. It pulverized fortifications on Japan’s home islands. The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber left a trail of wreckage in its wake, the debris and detritus of a devastated foe. Yet, the Helldiver is remembered today mostly as an unpopular latecomer to the war, a less than stellar performer built by an aircraft company in decline. A round, blue tube squatting on a tiny tailwheel carrying a pilot and radioman-gunner in tandem behind a 1,900-horsepower Wright R-2600 radial engine, the Helldiver with its 49-foot, 9-inch wing span, was dubbed the “Son of a Bitch Second Class,” the “Beast,” and worse by many a pilot who paid more heed to the rumor mill in the ready room than to the performance gauges on his instrument panel. In fact, the plane was neither as bad as its critics said or as good as its manufacturer hoped. Design Problems of the Helldiver The engineer running the Helldiver design team was not plane-maker Curtiss-Wright’s iconic Don R. Berlin, who designed the P-40 Warhawk, but the company’s Raymond C. Blaylock. The Helldiver’s career began with problems. The prototype XSB2C-1 made its maiden flight on December 18, 1940, but the prototype was destroyed just days later.  Curtiss rebuilt the aircraft, and it flew again in October 1941 but crashed a second time after a month. After production moved to Columbus, Ohio, from Buffalo, New York, the first production Helldiver flew in June 1942. From the start, the blue warplane garnered a reputation for poor stability, structural flaws, and poor handling. Britain rejected the Helldiver after receiving 26 examples. Lengthening the fuselage by one foot and redesigning the fin fixed the aerodynamic problems, and the stability and structural issues were exaggerated—yet more than one Helldiver broke in half when making a hard tailhook landing on a wooden carrier deck. After several variations in armament appeared with early Helldivers, the Navy settled on two forward-firing, 20mm cannons in the wing (introduced on the SB2C-1C model) plus the enlisted crew-member’s swivel-mounted twin .30-caliber machine guns. The radioman-gunner could deploy his firepower only by lowering the rear deck of the fuselage immediately ahead of the vertical stabilizer. The Helldiver offered an internal bomb bay that could accommodate a 1,000-pound bomb and be closed by hydraulically operated doors. Hardpoints under the wings accommodated additional ordnance. Perhaps the most important change came with an improved propeller. After a 12-foot Curtiss Electric three-blade prop proved inadequate, a four-blade propeller from the same manufacturer with the same diameter and with root cuffs was introduced with the SB2C-3 model—the point at which nearly all imperfections in the design had been smoothed out. The SB2C-4 followed, introducing “cheese grate” upper and lower wing flaps that were perforated like a sieve; they enhanced stability. A Weak Combat Debut Helldivers flew their first combat mission when Squadron Bombing 17, or VB-17, joined a strike force assaulting the redoubt at Rabaul, New Britain, on November 11, 1943, as part of a larger strike force. In Target Rabaul, Bruce Gamble tells of the first American to lose his life on a Helldiver combat mission. “One SB2C bellied in off the carrier’s bow [of USS Bunker Hill]. A plane guard destroyer dashed in, but only the rear gunner was recovered. Lieutenant (j.g.) Ralph L. Gunville drowned because his pockets were stuffed with extra rations for the plane’s life raft in the event of a ditching.” Chuck Downey read a newspaper account of the Helldiver’s combat debut in the New Jersey beach resort town of Wildwood where, in late 1943 and early 1944, the Navy was forming squadron VB-80, or Bombing 80. Some of the pilots in the new squadron (officially formed February 1, 1944) picked up SB2C-1C Helldivers at the Curtiss-Wright factory in Columbus and delivered them to Wildwood. “We knew this aircraft was meant as a replacement for the SBD Dauntless, which won glory at Midway,” Downey said. “Some of the men thought the Dauntless performed better over all, even though the Helldiver was bigger and more powerful.” George Walsh, another Helldiver pilot in VB-80, initially questioned replacing a proven warplane with a new one. “Early production models of the Helldiver had a lot of defects,” said Walsh. “It was rushed into production at a new factory in Columbus while engineering specifications were constantly being revised.” Continued Walsh, “The plane weighed eight tons and was a jungle of wires and hydraulic tubes. The latter operated the flaps, folding wings and landing gear. It proved difficult to land on a carrier because of the long nose. This created so many accidents that Admiral ‘Jocko’ Clark rejected the first Helldivers for his squadron on the [carrier] Yorktown and had the SBDs brought back. The ‘Helldiver’ designation was soon replaced. Pilots began referring to the plane as ‘The Beast’ and that pejorative stayed with the plane even after later models proved to be sturdy and reliable.” When radioman-gunner Jim Samar learned that he would be occupying the back seat of a Helldiver rather than a Dauntless, his initial reaction was disappointment. “Worse than that. I was crestfallen,” Samar said. He, too, was a plank-owner of VB-80, which left Wildwood to go aboard the carrier USS Ticonderoga, made the Panama Canal transit, and stopped briefly in San Diego, where actress Maureen O’Hara, married to a VB-80 officer’s brother, visited the ship. By early summer 1944, VB-80 and Ticonderoga were rehearsing war off the coast of Hawaii and ready to fight. “Bombed Shipping in Manila Bay” Ticonderoga joined the Allied invasion of the Philippines. For Helldiver radioman-gunner Samar, the squadron’s first combat mission on November 5, 1944, proved to be the most dramatic. The target was Japanese-held Clark Field near Manila. It was the only time Samar fired at a Japanese warplane—something gunners did rarely in the final year of the war. A Nakajima Ki-44 Hayabusa fighter, known to the Allies as an Oscar, ambushed the SB2C carrying pilot Lieutenant (j.g.) James W. Newquist and Samar. “I gave him a burst and he left,” Samar said. “I saw my tracers go into his engine. I saw smoke erupt from his engine.” The Oscar fell from view. No one saw whether it went down. Samar did not receive credit for an aerial victory but believes he shot the Oscar down. Between November 5, 1944, and January 21, 1945, VB-80 launched 26 missions, 11 of which Samar flew, against Japanese targets on Luzon, Formosa (Taiwan), and French Indochina. Samar still has a logbook with cryptic entries such as “bombed shipping in Manila Bay.” Pilot Chuck Downey remembers this as the period when the front-seater in the SB2C Helldiver mastered the fine art of dive-bombing.  “You pulled the handle to open the bomb bay doors,” Downey said. “You watched the Japanese ship slide under the left center section leading edge of your wing. You slowed to dive-brake deployment speed of 125 knots. You performed a split-S to the left [a half-roll, inverted, going into a descending half loop], using rudder and aileron to put into a vertical dive with a maximum speed of 350 knots.” All of this, of course, was simply the mechanics for dive-bombing. The purpose was to end up near vertical in position to drop bombs into the stack of a Japanese warship. The maneuvers were significantly more uncomfortable for rearward facing radioman-gunners like Samar and were often undertaken while antiaircraft shells were exploding nearby. Sinking Kiso On November 13, 1944, pilots of VB-80 attacked the 5,100-ton Kuma-class light cruiser Kiso in Manila Bay. Said Walsh, “We launched before dawn and each plane rose to slide into squadron formation by the light of a rose colored rising sun, which became visible over the horizon as we gained altitude. We throttled back to a slow climbing speed to conserve fuel and gain altitude. Flying west toward Manila we had to reach 14,000 feet flying over the snow capped mountains of eastern Luzon. Our flight included 24 SB2Cs, two divisions of 12 each. The divisions included sections of three planes in ‘V’ formation, and I led the last section of three planes. We were loaded with 1,000-pound bombs.” Kiso was the flagship of the Japanese 5th Fleet, Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima commanding. Dozens of carrier planes from several squadrons had some role in the attack, but Helldiver pilots Downey, Walsh, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Leslie B. Case were the ones who made direct hits with 1,000-pound bombs. Said Walsh, “At 300 knots the thirty seconds of the two mile dive passed in what seemed to be slow motion speed as black puffs of exploding antiaircraft shells floated by, punctuated by red tracers from machine guns. The dive brakes hold the speed of the plane from approaching high velocity as it would in a free fall or power dive. The pilot is pressed forward against his shoulder straps because the aircraft is held back as if suspended from a rope. There is time to adjust the aiming point by using the elevators and ailerons as the ship grows bigger and bigger in the windscreen. That day there was no wind factor to be compensated.” “A cruiser is a narrow target,” Walsh continued. “I stayed in my dive until I was confident of scoring a hit, and released the bomb. At that speed another two seconds would have made me a suicide pilot. I pulled out hard; probably 13 Gs, low over the water, and taking evasive action while I retracted the dive brakes, adjusted the throttle, blower and pitch, closed the bomb bay, and raced south toward the rendezvous. Gordon [Virgil Gordon, Walsh’s radioman-gunner] reported a direct hit but I did not look back. I often wonder why. I guess my instinct was to get the hell out of there, and back to the protection of the group. We were also so low over the water all my attention was occupied in flying the plane, looking where I was headed and watching out for other possible planes in the area, including Japanese fighters.” Downey’s bomb went straight down the No. 1 stack to the boiler room, detonated, and separated the stack from Kiso’s main hull in a messy clatter of debris. It is unclear whether Shima was aboard, but he survived the war. Some 715 Japanese sailors did not survive the attack that sent the Kiso to the bottom in just 13 feet of water. Poor Workmanship Until the End of the War Squadron VB-80 continued bombing in the Philippines and on Formosa until January 21, 1945, when Ticonderoga was put out of action by kamikaze attacks. No one in the Helldiver squadron was among the 144 men killed when two Japanese suicide planes slammed into the carrier, but several were severely burned. Instead of going home with their wounded carrier, VB-80’s Helldiver men transferred to the carrier USS Hancock. From 1943 to 1945, some 30 Navy bombing squadrons put to sea with Helldivers. Many of the squadrons made only one combat cruise. VB-80 was typical except that it changed ships midway through the final year of the war. By early 1945, most Helldivers in the Western Pacific were SB2C-4 models. This was the mature Helldiver lacking the poor factory workmanship and many of the minor flaws that plagued earlier versions. Aboard Hancock, VB-80 began flying missions against the Japanese home islands on February 21, 1945. Now, in addition to a 1,000-pound bomb in its bay and a 500-pound bomb under each wing, many SB2C-4 Helldivers flying against targets in Japan were retrofitted to carry eight 5-inch high-velocity aircraft rockets under their wings. These were rocket-propelled unguided projectiles with explosive warheads. When attacking airfields and industrial sites in Japan, instead of going into their vertical dive-bombing mode, Helldiver crews strafed and fired rockets. Thanks largely to the superb training of U.S. flyers, the Helldiver racked up a solid record of achievement in the final months of the war. None of this was attributable to Curtiss-Wright, a plane-maker that was in constant trouble with the government. Unlike Grumman and Vought, which were responsible for most of the warplanes on the decks of the Navy’s 102 aircraft carriers on VJ-Day, Curtiss seemed unable to improve aircraft assembly methods or to innovate. 18,808 Sorties Long after an investigative committee led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri uncovered major problems at Curtiss plants, Navy leaders were acknowledging that the Helldiver was far from perfect. “When we needed the SB2C Helldiver neither we nor it was ready,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air Artemus L. Gates. Pilots and radioman-gunners felt great affection for their Helldivers, but they were never as accurate in a dive as the Dauntlesses they were intended to replace and never achieved their full potential.  The Helldiver was the last combat aircraft manufactured in significant numbers by Curtiss, which went out of the plane-making business in 1948. Official records credit the Helldiver with 18,808 combat sorties in the Pacific War. Helldivers are credited with sinking or helping to sink some 301 Japanese ships of all types. Radioman-gunners are credited with shooting down 41 Japanese aircraft, a figure that is almost certainly exaggerated. Some 271 Helldivers were lost to antiaircraft fire and 18 to Japanese fighters. It might be said of the Helldiver that it only reached full maturity, and was only fully finding its way, when the war ended. Helldivers were among the hundreds of warplanes that overflew the surrender ceremony on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Industry turned out 7,141 Helldivers, including SBF versions assembled by Fairchild and SBWs from Canadian Car & Foundry. The versions built in the largest numbers were the SB2C-1 (978), SB2C-2 (1,112), SB2C-4 (2,045), and SB2C-5 (970). The SB2C-5 model did not see combat. Originally Published December 21, 2016 This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network. Image: Wikipedia.

Выбор редакции
12 июля, 01:00

What If the Air Force's New F-15EX Could Attack with Hypersonic Missiles?

David Axe Security, Americas It just might happen. Key Point: These new planes would be a higher-tech version of the F-15. If they carried hypersonic missiles, they could hit targets from a distance which would be vital since they would not be steathly. The U.S. Air Force could arm new F-15 Eagles with a hypersonic missile. That is, assuming Congress lets the flying branch buy the upgraded fighters. This first appeared in 2020 and is being reposted due to reader interest. New Eagles could be launch platforms for "stand-off weapons, hypersonics," Air Force major general David Krumm, the service's director of strategic plans and requirements, told Air Force magazine reporters John Tirpak and Brian Everstine. "They can go a long ways to assist the penetrating forces," Krumm said of the new F-15s. It remains to be seen whether Krumm's argument will sway skeptics. The latest F-15EX variant of the five-decade-old Eagle design has been the subject of simmering controversy in the media and in Washington, D.C when in mid-2018 news first leaked that the Pentagon planned to buy from Boeing as many as 144 of the twin-engine planes. Critics in the media pointed out that the Air Force didn't actually want the new F-15s. Instead, the U.S. Defense Department's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, one of the military's many analytical organizations, convinced the office of acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan to add eight F-15EXs to the department's 2020 budget proposal. Shanahan is a former Boeing executive. Shanahan's spokesperson Joe Buccino said Shanahan has recused himself from any procurement decisions involving Boeing, but at least one ethics group has filed a formal complaint accusing Shanahan of favoring the Chicago plane-maker. The Defense Department compelled the Air Force to request eight F-15EXs as part of the flying branch's 2020 budget request. The eight planes would cost $1.2 billion. The Air Force reportedly would buy another 136 F-15EXs through the mid-2020s. The new Eagles would replace 1980s-vintage F-15Cs in some or all of the nine squadrons that fly the older type -- three in the active force and six in the Air National Guard. The F-15EX boasts better sensors and avionics than the F-15C has and can carry more weapons than the older Eagle can do. Owing to worsening metal fatigue, the old F-15Cs "won't make it to 2030," Krumm said. Critics of the F-15EX include lawmakers in districts that heavily depend on Boeing-rival Lockheed Martin. The Air Force for 2020 has asked to purchase 48 stealthy F-35s from Lockheed. That's far short of the 80 to 100 F-35s the Air Force wants, but can't afford, to buy every year. Other Eagle skeptics include retired Air Force generals who prefer for the flying branch to buy only radar-evading warplanes. The blocky F-15 lacks stealth features. "No amount of capacity can overcome an inability to penetrate modern defenses and destroy high-value targets — severe limitations of the F-15X," wrote John Michael Loh, a retired general who served as the U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff and the commander of Air Combat Command. Now that the Pentagon has required the Air Force to request F-15s, service officials have defended the upgraded Eagle as being cheaper than the F-35 is to integrate into the force. The F-15EX and older F-15C are 80- to 90-percent common, Krumm told Tirpak and Everstine. A new Eagle can use existing bases and support equipment. F-15C pilots can convert to the F-15EX in just six months. By comparison, it takes an active-duty fighter squadron up to 18 months to convert to the F-35. A reserve or Guard unit needs three years to convert to the stealth fighter. Buying F-15EXs could keep the Air Force nine F-15 squadrons on the front line for decades to come, with only short breaks to add new airframes. Krumm conceded that the F-15 isn't stealthy. But armed with a super-fast hypersonic missile, the new-old fighter still could be useful in a major war with a high-tech foe. "The F-15 design is technically capable of exceeding Mach three, and so could accelerate a hypersonic missile close to its Mach five-plus operating regime," Everstine and Tirpak noted. "That in turn would permit smaller booster rockets for the rest of the acceleration to Mach five for weapons such as the Tactical Boost Glide hypersonic concept. The F-35, which was not designed to be USAF’s high-end dogfighter, has a top speed of Mach 1.6, and the first generation of hypersonic missiles is unlikely to fit inside its weapons bay." The F-15EXs armed with hypersonic missiles would fight alongside older fighters such as A-10s and F-16s and newer, stealthy planes including F-22s and F-35s. "The way to use these things is to collaborate on a network," Krumm said. The Air Force already has developed tactics for mixing F-15Cs and F-22 Raptors. The Eagles with their more-powerful radars and heavier missile loads would fly behind the radar-evading F-22s, helping to spot targets for the Raptors and lob missiles at targets the F-22s miss. An F-15EX with a hypersonic missile could improve on that same concept. And it's worth pointing out that the big, powerful F-15 long has been the Air Force's fighter of choice for carrying large, experimental payloads. In the mid-1980s the flying branch armed an F-15A with an 18-feet-long, 2,700-pound anti-satellite rocket. During a test in September 1985, the F-15 accelerated to Mach 1.22 while climbing at a 65-degree angle. The anti-satellite rocket automatically launched at an altitude of 38,100 feet and, minutes later, pulverized an obsolete U.S. satellite orbiting 345 miles over the Pacific Ocean. David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared in 2020 and is being reposted due to reader interest. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
12 июля, 00:30

Revealed: 3 Strangest Tanks in Military History

  • 0

Charlie Gao History, A lot of weirdness happened before the modern main battle tank. Key Point: Some of these were just too expensive or impractical to ever see battle. The United States fielded a pretty standard lineup of tanks during the Cold War. First came the Patton line, which evolved in a pretty straightforward fashion from the M47 to the M60 with a few deviations such as the M60A2 Starship. Then came the Abrams, which serves on to this day. But American designers made plenty of weird prototypes in attempts to improve on these designs. Some of them used groundbreaking features that could have given them significant edges compared to their Soviet counterparts, others had features that were ahead of their time in some ways. Here are some of the best and most interesting: 1. T95 Medium Tank: The T95 was a very high-tech tank. It featured one of the first real attempts to make an electronic rangefinder. Tanks prior to the laser rangefinder had to rely on stadiametric rangefinding, where an enemy tank was bracketed between markings on the sight to estimate the distance, or stereoscopic rangefinding, where the commander rotated two mirrors to combine an images from a left and right viewing port, with the range being determined from the angle of the prisms relative to each other when the images merged. The T95 had an optoelectronic system called OPTAR that emitted bright infrared pulses, the return time of which was used to determine the distance to enemy tanks. However, being the 1950s, laser technology was not yet mature, so the regular light used in OPTAR was scattered easily with range and moisture in the air. The tank also mounted a smoothbore gun for increased velocity with APFSDS projectiles. The T-62 featured a similar gun when it came out later, but if the T95 was adopted and entered service, the United States would have been the first military to field such a tank gun in numbers. 2. M8 Buford Armored Gun System: The M551 Sheridan light tank was an interesting side note in American armor development. It was meant to provide airborne forces with a light tank that couldn’t really take hits, but could really dish them out with a 152mm gun-launcher that could fire massive HEAT projectiles, canister rounds and even anti-tank guided missiles. It had a mixed reception, suffering losses during the Vietnam War due to the thin armor, but the tactical and strategic mobility that they could bring was prized during later conflicts like Operation Just Cause in which they supported special operations. The M8 was supposed to have built on everything the M551 lacked to provide serious punch for the Army’s airborne divisions. Gone was the wacky 152mm gun-launcher, it was replaced by a 105mm rifled gun that could use the same ammunition as the M60 Patton. Drawing a page from Soviet designs, the gun was fitted with an autoloader to reduce the vehicle’s profile and crew size. The armor was modular, allowing for kits to be added onto the vehicle if it was meant to be deployed conventionally, or even brought along by follow up forces to reinforce airdropped vehicles. Unfortunately for the airborne, the M8 Buford was canceled in the 1990s as part of the peace dividend that came with the ending of the Cold War. 3. The MBT-70: The MBT-70 was a collaborative American-German development program that aimed to develop a common main battle tank for the two nations. It featured a ton of radical design ideas, some of which stuck, others of which were thrown out. Notably, all three crew members were placed in the rotating turret, a setup that could cause disorientation for the driver, which is normally placed in the hull. The driver was placed in a capsule that would counterrotate opposite the turret’s rotation so that he would remain facing forwards. His view outside would be through a TV camera. The same concept of putting all three crew in one heavily armored compartment with views to the outside handled with cameras is seen today on the T-14 Armata. The gun would be a longer version of the 152mm gun-launcher used on the M551 Sheridan and M60A2 Starship tanks. The Germans didn’t like this concept and opted for a 120mm smoothbore gun instead. However, a 120mm gun-launched laser homing guided missile was pitched as an option for the German gun to maintain parity of capability. The gun would have an autoloader to cut the crew size down to three men. It also featured a rotating panoramic sight for the commander, an innovation ahead of its time. This would only appear again as standard equipment on the M1A2 Abrams with the CITV and on the Leopard 2A5. The tank also had the ability to dynamically adjust its suspension, tilting the tank forwards or backward on the tracks to gain more elevation or depression. This was not seen again until Korea’s K2 Black Panther. Finally, the tank had a 20mm autocannon so that it could fight off attack helicopters. Of course, all of these features made the MBT-70 extremely expensive and prolonged its development. The project was canceled, but the innovations lived on. The 120mm smoothbore cannon the Germans wanted for their version of the tank ended up on the Leopard 2 and eventually the M1A1 Abrams. Note: Information on the T95 and MBT70 came from R. P. Hunnicutt’s Abrams: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Volume 2. Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This article first appeared in November 2018. It is being republished due to reader interest. Image: American prototype MBT-70 at Aberdeen Proving Ground speed tests. U.S. Army.

Выбор редакции
12 июля, 00:00

Russia's Navy Dream: To Become an Aircraft Carrier Superpower (It Won't Happen)

  • 0

Robert Farley History, Europe And although many of the problems that wracked the naval aviation projects of the Soviet Union remain today, the Russian navy nevertheless sports one of the more active aircraft carriers in the world. Here's What You Need To Remember: Aircraft carriers are expensive, and for the Soviet Union, it just wasn't worth it Historically a land power, the Soviet Union grappled with the idea of a large naval aviation arm for most of its history, eventually settling on a series of hybrid aircraft carriers. Big plans for additional ships died with the Soviet collapse, but Russia inherited one large aircraft carrier at the end of the Cold War—that remains in service today. Although many of the problems that wracked the naval aviation projects of the Soviet Union remain today, the Russian navy nevertheless sports one of the more active aircraft carriers in the world. History of Russian Naval Aviation The Soviet Union made several efforts at developing aircraft carriers early in its history, but a lack of resources, combined with a geography that emphasized the importance of land power, made serious investment impossible. During the Cold War, the first naval aviation success were Moskva and Leningrad, a pair of helicopter carriers designed primarily for antisubmarine warfare. These ships, ungainly in appearance, displaced 17,000 tons, could make about thirty knots, and each carried eighteen helicopters. Moskva entered service in 1967, Leningrad in 1969. The Moskvas were succeeded by the Kiev class, much closer to true aircraft carriers. Displacing 45,000 tons, the four Kievs (each built to a slightly different design) could make thirty-two knots and carry a combination of about thirty helicopters and Yak-38 VSTOL fighters. All of these ships left service at the end of the Cold War; the Moskvas and one of the Kievs were scrapped, two Kievs ended up as museums in China, and one was eventually reconstructed and sold to India as INS Vikramaditya. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union laid down its first two true carriers, although only one was completed before the collapse of the country. Current State of Russia’s Carrier Force At the moment, Russia’s only aircraft carrier is the troubled Admiral Kuznetsov. A ski jump carrier, the Kuznetsov displaces some 60,000 tons, can theoretically make thirty knots, and carry a combination of forty-or-so helicopters and jet fighters. Kuzentsov was commissioned in 1990; a sister remained an incomplete hulk for many years until it was purchased by China and eventually finished as Liaoning. In addition to helicopters, Kuznetsov operates MiG-29K and Su-33 fighter bombers. Like previous Russian carriers, Kuznetsov sports a heavier missile armament than most Western ships. Unfortunately, hiccups with Kuznetsov have also made it difficult for Russia’s naval aviators to remain practiced and effective. The ship has suffered multiple breakdowns over its career, including significant issues with its engines and recovering aircraft. Many of these difficulties came as consequence of the dramatic decline of maintenance funding at the end of the Cold War, but some was the inevitable result of inexperience with the platform type. Admiral Kuznetsov has engaged in several prestige cruises, but its most notable service came in 2016 off of Syria. After a much publicized journey to the Mediterranean, Kuznetsov conducted combat operations for two months. The operations had more of a publicity impact than a real military effect, and Kuznetsov lost two aircraft (one MiG-29K and one Su-33) to accidents. The carrier is currently in refit. To support Kuznetsov, Russia attempted to purchase a pair of French assault carriers, but the conquest and annexation of Crimea forced France to cancel the sale. These ships would have served as amphibious platforms with antisubmarine (ASW) capabilities, but also would have given the Russian navy experience with relatively large, technologically advanced vessels. Indeed, part of the deal would have allowed Russia to construct two Mistrals to French specifications in its own yards, which would have provided a major boon to Russian shipbuilding. Strategic Rationale Russia has a unique maritime geography, with four fleets operating from four coasts practically incapable of offering mutual support. During the Soviet period, carriers supported the fleet of nuclear ballistic missile submarines, offering air and ASW protection for the bastions in which these subs patrolled. This mission allowed the carriers to de-emphasize strike capabilities in favor of more defensive weaponry. More recently, the Russian navy has used Admiral Kuznetsov primarily as a vehicle for influence and prestige. Along with the nuclear battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy and a few other ships, Kuznetsov is a visible manifestation of Russian naval power, forcing other nations to take note of Russian interests. As the Syria mission suggests, in the future Russia may focus more on developing strike capabilities in order to project power further. The Future Russia has cancelled more carriers than most countries have contemplated. In the 1970s the Soviet Union considered the 72,000-ton Orel-class nuclear aircraft carrier, but opted instead for the Kievs and the ships that would eventually become Kuznetsov and Liaoning. The Soviets laid down an 80,000-ton carrier named Ulyanovsk in 1988, but scrapped the incomplete ship when the Cold War ended. Russian defense planners often announce projects as a means of gaining resources and prestige, rather than as part of a plan to build anything in particular. At one point, President Dmitri Medvedev suggested that Russia would build and operate six aircraft carriers by 2025; obviously, that’s not going to happen. But there is an existing plan for the Project 23000E Shtorm carrier, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered supercarrier employing EMALS catapults and a variety of other modern technologies. The carrier would presumably fly MiG-29K fighters, although the age of that aircraft would suggest the need for a replacement. The ability of Russia to build this ship under current circumstances is in deep question, however. Conclusion The aviation capability of the Russian navy is dangling by a thread. Kuznetsov is old and in poor condition, and no carrier is even close to be laid down. The Russian surface fleet has not received a great deal of attention in the latest military modernization plans, and the Russian shipbuilding industry has not constructed a warship the size and sophistication of Kuzentsov since… well, Kuznetsov. That said, the Kremlin seems to view aircraft carriers as an important contributor to national prestige. The Russian navy took great pains to get Kuznetsov into position to support operations in Syria, and despite the embarrassment associated with that, has now pushed the carrier into a major refit. If the Kremlin determines that it needs a carrier to keep pace with France, Britain, China and India, it will need to begin seriously considering how to build or acquire such a ship. It is not inconceivable that Moscow may consider ordering a carrier from Chinese yards in the future, however profound a reversal that might seem. Otherwise, Russia needs to start solidifying its construction timelines soon. Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to the National Interest, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat. This article first appeared in 2018. Image: Admiral Kuznetsov, Russian Aircraft Carrier. 27 June 2015. Flickr/Chrisopher Michel. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 23:30

Yes, the Allies Had Multiple Chances to Bomb Auschwitz

  • 0

Warfare History Network History, Europe And they knew about the mass murders too. Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, confessed during his trial after World War II that approximately 1.1 million prisoners, mostly Jews, had been killed at Auschwitz by Hitler’s SS over a 41/2-year period. Some historians believe that the death toll may have been much higher. Most of these victims were killed in gas chambers, their bodies burned in crematoria, and their ashes dumped in a nearby marsh. Many historians have wondered ever since, “Why wasn’t Auschwitz bombed by the Allies?” This is one of the most controversial and hotly debated topics among historians who study World War II. Did the Allies know about Auschwitz? If so, could it have been bombed or was it too far away? Would bombing Auschwitz have taken away from the war effort? Lastly, if it was possible, would it have been effective or would it have done more harm than good? In considering the feasibility of bombing Auschwitz, one needs to know if the Western governments knew about the world’s largest killing center. The answer is a definitive yes. As historian Tami Davis Biddle has discovered, the first report about Auschwitz was made as early as January 1941—only six months after it had opened and before the gas chambers were installed. A report from the Polish underground was sent to the Polish government in exile in London, where it was forwarded on to Sir Charles Portal, the chief of the British Royal Air Force. The report said Auschwitz was one of the Nazis’ “worst orgainized (sic) and most inhuman concentration camps.” In November 1942, the Polish underground reported to the Polish government in London that tens of thousands of Jews and Soviet POWs were shipped to Auschwitz “for the sole purpose of their immediate extermination in gas chambers.” The American public was first introduced to the horrors of Auschwitz on November 25, 1942, when the New York Times published an article on page 10 that stated, “Trainloads of adults and children [are] taken to great crematoriums at Oswiencim [Auschwitz], near Cracow.” In March 1943, the Directorate of Civilian Resistance in Poland reported that 3,000 people a day were being burned in a new crematorium at Auschwitz. Another report, from a Polish agent codenamed Wanda, was given to the American military attaché in London in January 1944. She claimed, “Children and women are put into cars and lorries and taken to the gas chamber….  There they are suffocated with the most horrible suffering lasting ten to fifteen minutes…. At present, three large crematoria have been erected in Birkenau-Brzezinka for 10,000 people daily which are ceaselessly cremating bodies.” On March 21, 1944, the Polish Ministry of Information released a report to the Associated Press that “more than 500,000 persons, mostly Jews, had been put to death at a concentration camp” at Auschwitz. The report stated that most had been killed in gas chambers “but since the supply of gas was limited some persons are not dead when they are thrown into the crematorium.” The story was printed in both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. In April 1944, two men, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape from Auschwitz. They in turn gave a detailed report of the camp, including maps and locations of the gas chambers and crematoria, to the Slovakian government. The report was forwarded to British intelligence, and its contents were broadcast over BBC radio in June 1944. It was also discovered after the war that by the time Auschwitz had been liberated the Allies had photographed the camp at least 30 times during the course of the war. The photos, taken by the U.S. Army Air Forces, were stored at the Mediterranean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing in Italy, which was commanded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt. Some photos even showed inmates being marched to the gas chambers. Were the Allies capable of bombing Auschwitz? Once again, the answer is yes. In November 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) created the Fifteenth Air Force based in Foggia, Italy. Auschwitz, which was 625 miles away in southwestern Poland, was finally within range of American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers. By May 1944, the USAAF had begun attacking the Third Reich’s synthetic oil plants located in Germany, Poland, and Romania. The goal was to bring Hitler’s war machine to a halt. On August 8, 1944, a raid numbering 55 bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force flew from airfields in the Soviet Union and dropped more than 100 tons of bombs on an oil refinery at Trzebinia, which was approximately 20 miles northeast of Auschwitz. Two weeks later, on August 20, the Fifteenth Air Force attacked the I.G. Farben synthetic fuel refinery at Auschwitz, which was less than seven miles from the gas chambers. On September 13, a raid numbering 94 B-24 bombers dropped 236 tons of bombs again on the oil refinery at Auschwitz. A photo taken during this raid by an American bomber crew actually shows the gas chambers and crematoria underneath the falling 500-pound bombs. This compelling image was created because bomber crews were required to release their bombloads while accounting for airspeed, windage, and distance to the intended target to achieve maximum accuracy. As historian Rondall Rice has written, “The evidence clearly shows the Fifteenth Air Force’s ability to bomb Auschwitz, in aircraft and in command discretion within the target priorities. By the summer of 1944, the command controlled ample aircraft; those aircraft had sufficient range and payloads necessary for such a mission; and bombing directives allowed commanders flexibility to direct attacks against special targets.” Would bombing Auschwitz have detracted from the war effort? In June 1944, John W. Pehle, the executive director of the War Refugee Board, appealed to the U.S. government to bomb the railways leading into Auschwitz. In July, Johan J. Smertenko, the executive vice chairman of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, sent a letter to President Roosevelt asking him to bomb the extermination camps, especially the “poison gas chambers of [the] Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.” That August, A. Leon Kubowitzki, the head of the rescue department of the World Jewish Congress, asked the U.S. government to destroy the gas chambers “by bombing.” The U.S government rejected all of these requests to bomb Auschwitz. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy replied in letters dated July 4 and August 14, “Such an operation could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations elsewhere.” In other words, with the D-Day invasion having occurred at the beginning of June 1944, the United States could not spare any aircraft to bomb Auschwitz as their main goal was to defeat the German Army in France. The U.S government believed that the best way to save the Jewish people being murdered at Auschwitz was to defeat the German Army and force Hitler to surrender. However, American historian Stuart Erdheim has questioned the validity of McCloy’s assertion. Erdheim believes that the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz could have been destroyed in one strategic strike using 100 planes. Erdheim writes, “Viewed against the backdrop of the Fifteenth AF operations, just how ‘considerable’ would one raid of 80 fighters (half for escort) or 100 bombers (with escort) have been?… With the average number of sorties per day between 500 and 650, one mission of 80 fighter sorties represents one-seventh to one-eighth of one day’s total missions.” As Erdheim concludes, “The scale of such an air attack would not have affected the war effort in any appreciable way.” Historian Richard G. Davis agrees with Erdheim. He states that the destruction of the extermination facilities at Auschwitz, however, would probably have required “a minimum of four missions of approximately seventy-five effective heavy bomber sorties each.” He states that in both July and August 1944, the American Fifteenth Air Force flew approximately 10,700 heavy bomber sorties per month. Davis writes, “Even if one assumes that the three hundred sorties … would all have come at the direct expense of the Fifteenth’s highest-priority target, the German oil supply, the effort expended on Birkenau would have amounted to about seven percent of that effort.” Davis concludes that “three hundred sorties and 900 tons of bombs, or even twice that number, would not have been a substantial diversion of this total effort.” The question then is whether bombing Auschwitz would have taken away from the war effort and thereby prolonged the war. The answer, according to Erdheim and Davis, is an emphatic no. One of the arguments against bombing Auschwitz is that it would have probably killed many inmates in the process. In essence, the Allies would be just as guilty as the Nazis for killing innocent prisoners. However, many historians feel that an attack on the crematoria at Auschwitz would have been successful and should have been attempted. Using precision bombing to attack a concentration camp would have been difficult, but not impossible. In fact a precedent had been set when the U.S. Eighth Air Force attacked the Gustloff ammunition works located beside the German concentration camp at Buchenwald on August 24, 1944. According to the Buchenwald report, the attack “completely destroyed” the armaments factory “in one single, well aimed blow.” Even though prisoners were killed in the attack, this was not because of errant bombs but because the prisoners were working in the factory areas and were not allowed to retreat to the safety of the concentration camp. In fact, one prisoner said, “The Allied pilots in particular did all they could in order not to hit prisoners. The high number of prisoners killed is to be charged exclusively against the debit accounts of the Nazi murderers.” At Auschwitz the Nazis employed four gas chambers underneath four crematoria buildings. Two were located in the northwest corner of the camp, and the other two were in the southwest corner. According to Erdheim, very few inmates, if any at all, would have been killed if the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force had decided to bomb the gas chambers. The prisoners did not live anywhere near the crematoria, but instead their barracks were located east of the gas chambers. Therefore, Erdheim states that any misdropped bombs “would not result in bombs falling in the barracks area, but rather in: (1) open fields north or south of the crematoria; (2) the second crematoria of each group; and (3) the ‘Canada’ loot storehouse area between the two pairs of crematoria.” Erdheim also believes that since many of the prisoners were used as forced labor outside of the camp and far away from the crematoria, the chance of killing innocent prisoners was lessened even more. Rondall Rice writes that if the Fifteenth Air Force had used “a three-bomber front under clear weather, with each bombardier acquiring the target … and in view of the Fifteenth Air Force’s bombing accuracy for August and September 1944, the Allies stood a very good chance of destroying or damaging the Birkenau facilities while limiting the possibility of harm to those their efforts were designed to spare.” Some historians have argued that bombing the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz would not have mattered. The Nazis would have simply killed the prisoners anyway. However, this is mere conjecture. It took the Nazis eight months to build the crematoria and gas chambers in the first place at the height of Nazi power. Erdheim writes that to rebuild the crematoria “would have been difficult, if not impossible” in the summer of 1944 with the demands of the war and a lack of skilled labor. Therefore, without crematoria, the Nazis would have had to revert to shooting the inmates and burning the dead bodies in the open air. However, Erdheim believes that “cremation ditches … were hardly a practical alternative due to the problems posed by the humidity as well as the threat of disease. It was for these very reasons, in fact, that Himmler had ordered the crematoria built in the first place.” Transferring the prisoners to other camps such as Mauthausen and Buchenwald was not feasible as neither of these were extermination camps and they were not “capable of accepting a few hundred thousand inmates on short notice.” Historian Richard Davis writes, “Given the six to eight weeks needed to accomplish the physical destruction of the gas chambers and crematoria … Auschwitz might have ceased to function by 1 September 1944…. Birkenau ceased its mass killing operations in mid-November 1944. For each and every day prior to this cessation, the complete destruction of its crematoria/gas chamber complexes might have saved more than a thousand lives…. The Allies could have bombed and destroyed Auschwitz. The Allies should have bombed and destroyed Auschwitz.” If the Allies knew about Auschwitz and were capable of destroying it, then why didn’t it happen? It seems that when Auschwitz finally was within reach of U.S. air power by the late spring of 1944, the Allies were concentrating all their efforts elsewhere. As Tami Davis Biddle has written, “Military planners were consumed by a plethora of immediate war-fighting demands and problems…. The decision for nonaction [against Auschwitz] in the summer and fall of 1944 was made in the swirling vortex of competing wartime priorities…. Auschwitz was a distant and still poorly understood place that did not seem to have the same overriding claim on Allied resources as the Normandy invasion, the battle of France, the Nazis’ V-weapon launch sites, or the ongoing, costly ground battles in Italy.” In a memo written in late June 1944 after the D-Day invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, listed the targets that the Allied air forces should bomb in order of importance. First were the V-1 and V-2 rocket launch sites and factories. The next priorities were “a. Aircraft industry; b. Oil; c. Ball bearings; d. Vehicular production.” Bombing Auschwitz was not even a consideration. However, the argument that the American air forces were too busy and overtaxed to bomb Auschwitz is not a wholly convincing one. After the Soviet Red Army had driven to within 10 miles of Warsaw in August 1944, the Polish Home Army rose up in the city and tried to overthrow the Nazi oppressors. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged Roosevelt to help the Polish rebels. The next month, as the U.S. Army was struggling to take the port city of Brest, V-2 rockets were slamming into London, and Operation Market-Garden was failing in Holland, the U.S. Eighth Air Force received a new order to fly to Warsaw and drop badly needed supplies to the Home Army, including guns, food, and medicine. Against the wishes of General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, the commander-in-chief of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, 107 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers escorted by 137 North American P-51 Mustang fighters left England on September 18, 1944, and flew over Warsaw. After dropping their supplies the planes landed in Poltava in the Ukraine. This mission shows that, contrary to what Assistant Secretary of War McCloy wrote, considerable air support could be diverted from decisive operations elsewhere and still not hinder the success of Allied forces. Historian Donald L. Miller has asked, “Why were the Warsaw Poles supported, and not the Jews at Auschwitz?” The answer is that the Poles had more influence than the Jews did. As Miller writes, “At the time the Poles had what the Jews did not, a government in London, one with influence with Churchill.” Historian Henry L. Feingold perhaps comes closest to the truth writing, “The destruction of the Jews of Europe was largely ignored … [because] the Jews of Europe were not fully part of the ‘universe of obligation’ that informs the Western world.” In other words, the Allies felt obligated to help Poles in Warsaw; there was no similar obligation to save Jewish women and children dying in gas chambers in Auschwitz. The Allied governments knew about Auschwitz and what was happening there, Auschwitz was within striking distance of the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, bombing Auschwitz would not have diverted substantial resources from the war effort, and the gas chambers more than likely could have been destroyed with minimal casualties. Erdheim concludes, “With the kind of political will and moral courage the Allies exhibited in other missions throughout the war, it is plain that the failure to bomb [Auschwitz] Birkenau, the site of mankind’s greatest abomination, was a missed opportunity of monumental proportions.” Hugo Gryn was 13 years old when he was sent to Auschwitz. He lost both his mother and his younger brother in the gas chambers. After the war he said, “It was not that the Jews didn’t matter; [it was just that] they didn’t matter enough.” Brent Douglas Dyck is a Canadian teacher and historian. His article, “Hitler’s Stolen Children,” appeared in the December 2013 issue of WWII History. This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 23:00

Bottom Gun: 5 Worst Submarines to Ever Submerge

  • 0

James Holmes Technology, World They didn't serve very well. Key Point: These submarines aren't the finest ever to sail the seven seas. What went wrong with them? What a drag. Top Gun was about the best of the best flitting around the skies, kept aloft by a lonely impulse of delight. This list of History's Worst 5 Submarines catalogues the worst of the worst lumbering around in the briny deep. Such a vessel is a millstone dragging down the fortunes of its navy, its parent military, or the society that puts it to sea. Call it Bottom Gun. Now, it's possible to rank hardware, including submersibles and their armament, purely by technical characteristics. The crummiest piece of kit -- condemned by shoddy design, faulty construction work, or premature obsolescence -- is the bottom-feeder on such a list. In the case of submarines, then, tallying up speed, submerged endurance, acoustic properties, and kindred statistics offers a reputable way to proceed. But it tells only part of the story. Carl von Clausewitz, that doughty purveyor of strategic wisdom, helps reveal the rest. Clausewitz defines strength as a product of force and resolve, affirming that people -- not machines -- compete for supremacy. The weapon or platform is just an implement. Both material and human factors, consequently, are crucial to success in strategic competition or war. You can't judge the best of the best or the worst of the worst by widgets alone. Depicting strength as a multiple rather than a sum makes intuitive sense, doesn't it? If either variable is zero -- if hardware or seafarers are worthless -- a boat supplies zero strength to its parent fleet. The finest crewmen in the world stand little chance if their boat is hopelessly outclassed technologically, if its weaponry malfunctions, or if the navy skimps on maintenance, overhauls, or logistical support. "Damn the torpedoes!" exclaimed Lieutenant Commander Dudley "Mush" Morton, one of history's greatest undersea marksmen, after his Wahoo discharged a volley of nine Mark XIV torpedoes against a Japanese convoy -- only to see every "fish" miss or malfunction. (You Might Also Like: The Five Most Powerful Chinese Weapons of War in the Sky) Skill and élan go only so far toward overcoming a material deficit. Or, conversely, a submarine boasting the latest in technological wizardry accomplishes little if handled by an incompetent or apathetic crew. There's a good reason  a ship, its crew, and its commander are all known by the ship's name. The relationship between man and materiel is symbiotic. The hull provides a home and sustains life, while the mariners manning the hull provide seamanship and upkeep and fight the ship when need be. Senior leadership is crucial to the silent service, even more than in surface fleets. Subs operate largely independently, free of micromanagement from on high. In effect a boat takes on the personality of its skipper. A boat blessed with a skilled, aggressive commander like Mush Morton or Eugene Fluckey is an effective boat. A sub not so blessed is apt to run afoul of hard luck--or worse. (You Might Also Like: Five Chinese Weapons of War India Should Fear) Despite submariners' penchant for independence, though, higher-ups can handicap their performance indirectly. Navies are bureaucracies, and they shape minds. Officialdom rewards officers who comply with established practices while punishing those who flout routine. If top leaders embrace methods that defy tactical reality, they can negate much of a submarine's potential. Its combat power misapplied, it degenerates into a wasting asset. Either inert materiel or inert people, it seems, reduce a boat's real-life combat power--regardless of how impressive its technical specifications look in Jane's Fighting Ships. Worse still, an ineffective submarine can actually subtract from its navy's strategic efficacy. Henry Kissinger observes that deterrence is a product not just of Clausewitzian strength but of an adversary's belief in that strength. In all likelihood, that is, an adversary who doubts another's physical capacity or resolve to follow through on a threat will not be deterred. The same goes for coercion. No one does an antagonist's bidding at gunpoint if the gunman's sidearm appears rusty or his hand quavers. A sad-sack boat's performance, then, can detract from a navy's renown for prowess beneath the waves--undermining national leaders' efforts to deter or compel rivals. And lastly, building submarines, of the nuclear-powered variety in particular, imposes heavy opportunity costs on a navy. Money spent on nuclear-powered attack or ballistic-missile subs (SSNs and SSBNs, respectively) is money that can't be spent on surface combatants, amphibious-assault ships, and other workhorse platforms. Overall fleet numbers may suffer for the sake of undersea warfare. And indeed, at present the U.S. and Royal navies are struggling with the cost of fielding replacements to their Trident SSBNs. SSBN programs could crowd out other shipbuilding priorities, leaving behind boutique navies comprising too few assets for commanders or statesmen to risk in battle. Here again, the credibility of a nation's bareknuckles diplomacy could turn on innate features of submarines. Too expensive a boat is a bad boat. Factoring in all of this, here's how to rate history's worst submarines. One, did a sub's basic design, the quality of its construction, or its expense cancel out whatever tactical or operational promise it held? Two, did its crew egregiously fail to execute assigned duties, whether out of incompetence, carelessness, or faulty doctrine or tactics? And three, was its performance so deficient that it set back national power or purposes? A boat -- or group thereof -- that meets these standards warrants membership in an undersea hall of shame. Herewith, History's Worst 5 Submarines, listed from least bad to worst of the worst: 5. Thresher, Scorpion, and Kursk Why the hodgepodge? These are boats that sank under puzzling circumstances, damaging a great-power navy's reputation for excellence at a time when reputation truly mattered. Because it's hard to say for sure what happened -- whether equipment or human failure was more blameworthy -- these disparate boats belong in a class of their own. Thresher, the lead boat in a new class of American SSNs, suffered catastrophic flooding in April 1963 while operating near its maximum operating depth. Deep water means intense pressure. Even a small leak in a piping system can quickly outstrip damage-control teams' efforts to patch it. Speculation has it that a weld sprung a leak, shorting out electrical equipment and causing a reactor scram. Cascading failures kept the boat from surfacing. But as Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the godfather of U.S. naval nuclear propulsion, told Congress, "the known facts" about the disaster "are so meager it is almost impossible to tell what was happening aboard Thresher." What we do know is that the accident sent the U.S. Navy scurrying for answers -- and trying to mend the silent service's esteem -- at a critical juncture in the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a recent memory, while Admiral Sergei Gorshkov's Soviet Navy was embarking on a crash buildup. Clausewitz portrays military competition as a "trial of moral and physical forces" -- of strength, on other words -- "through the medium of the latter." The death of Thresher worked against the idea of U.S. undersea mastery -- heartening Moscow for the zero-sum contest between East and West. Another American boat, the Skipjack-class SSN Scorpion, went down in May 1968. Again, courts of inquiry were unable to determine for sure what had happened. The Naval History and Heritage Command, however, reports that "the most probable event was the inadvertent activation of a Mark 37 torpedo during an inspection." The fish either commenced running within its tube, or was released, circled around, and targeted Scorpion. Either way, the cataclysm applied another sharp blow to the submarine force's prestige. The balance of moral forces again tilted Moscow's way. Built after the Cold War, Kursk, an Oscar II-class sub, became a metaphor for the economic and political woes that ailed post-Soviet Russia. Many Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, bewailed the downfall of the Soviet Union. They longed for the days when their country was a superpower. That the Russian Navy still operated a potent undersea fleet was a token of past dignity and hopes for a restoration. Those hopes took a hit in 2000, when a torpedo malfunctioned -- setting off a chain reaction of explosions that left the pride of the Northern Fleet at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The lesson from these sinkings and similar debacles--think last year's explosion on board the Indian diesel boat Sindhurakshak--is sobering for navies. When a ship becomes a symbol, its death has outsized political and even cultural ramifications. Failures in seamanship or everyday routine, then, can reverberate far beyond a boat's hull. 4. Type 092 Xia You can say one good thing about the next boat on the list: it hasn't sunk. On the other hand, China's first SSBN has done little to advance its chief mission, nuclear deterrence. The lone Xia entered service in 1983. Its crew finally managed to test-fire an intermediate-range JL-1 ballistic missile in 1988, overcoming debilitating fire-control problems. Yet the boat has never made a deterrent patrol and seldom leaves the pier. Retired submarine commander William Murray describes the Xia -- and the Han SSNs from which its design derives -- as "aging, noisy, and obsolete." American submariners joke that some foreign subs are as noisy as two skeletons making love inside a metal trash can. When a boat becomes an object of fun, its parent navy has problems. Small wonder China's naval leadership skipped on to a more modern design, the Type 094 -- leaving the Xia a ship class of one. 3. K-class submarines When new technologies appear, navies habitually deploy them as fleet auxiliaries -- that is, to help the existing fleet do what it's already doing, except better. Undersea craft were no exception a century ago, when navies were still experimenting with them. The Royal Navy's World War I-era K-class boat was a failed experiment, as the nicknames affixed to it--Kalamity, or Katastrophe--attest. Designed in 1913, these boats were meant to range ahead of the surface fleet, screening the fleet's battlewagons and battlecruisers against enemy torpedo craft. Or they could seize the offensive, softening up the enemy battle line before the decisive fleet encounter. A solid concept. But to keep up with surface men-of-war, such a boat would need to travel at around 21 knots on the surface, faster than any British sub yet built. Diesel engines were incapable of driving a boat through the water at such velocity. The Admiralty's speed requirement, therefore, demanded steam propulsion. However sound the tactics behind the K-class, outfitting subs with steam plants was a bad idea. Ask any marine engineer. Boilers gulp in air, they generate prodigious amounts of heat, and they emit exhaust gases in large quantities. Trying to submerge a steamship, consequently, means trying to submerge a hull with lots of intakes and smokestacks. Unsurprisingly, the K-class leaked. The heat was torrid while underwater. It wallowed in rough seas, and displayed a troublesome reluctance to pull out of a dive. Of 18 K-class boats, none was lost to enemy action. But six -- a full third of the class -- were lost to accidents. The most gallant, astute crew can achieve little with hardware that is backward. Never again did the Royal Navy establishment foist a conventional steam-powered boat on British tars. 2. K-219. This Yankee-class Soviet SSBN suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube in 1986, while cruising some 600 miles east of Bermuda. It occupies an ignominious place on this list because of the repercussions of losing a ballistic-missile boat -- a vessel stuffed with nuclear firepower -- and because by most accounts the mishap was needless. Here, as with the travails of the K-class boats, blame lies at the feet of obtuse senior leaders. Such failings annul even capable platforms. Two expert commentators, Igor Kurdin and Wayne Grasdock, explain why. First, the Soviet leadership had set the SSBN force on a helter-skelter patrol schedule to reciprocate as the Reagan administration deployed the Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. Crew training and periodic overhauls slipped as Soviet SSBNs made two or three deterrent patrols each year, well beyond their usual clip. Massive turnover within K-219's crew helped little. Performance suffered as the boat prowled patrol grounds far from Soviet bases and shipyards. Kurdin and Grasdock observe, second, that the Soviet Navy was lackadaisical about safety by comparison with the U.S. Navy. (To its credit, the U.S. silent service got religion in the wake of the Thresher and Scorpion incidents, instituting its SUBSAFE program.) Evidently, they write, the explosion and fire may not have occurred "if one more person had checked the last maintenance performed on missile tube No. 6." In short, to keep up appearances in the late Cold War, Moscow and the naval establishment imposed an operational tempo on the SSBN force that prompted submariners to cut corners on basic standards. The result: a black eye for the Soviet Union, a superpower in retreat. Here again, neglect of the fundamentals had major political import. 1. Imperial Japanese Navy submarine force. Granted, it seems unfair to indict an entire silent service on this list. But what did IJN submarines accomplish against the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II, when the American war effort depended on long, distended sea lanes vulnerable to undersea assault? Not much. Subpar performance resulted not from a shortage of capable boats or skillful, resolute sailors -- by most accounts Japanese fleet boats were the equals of the Gato-class boats that spearheaded the U.S. submarine campaign--but from a shortage of flexibility and imagination among top commanders. As noted before, navies tend to use unfamiliar technologies as auxiliaries. So it was with Japan. But whereas some services innovate over time, the IJN leadership proved stubbornly shortsighted. For decades, commanders had marinated themselves in a bowdlerized version of Alfred Thayer Mahan's works. In particular, they made a fetish of Mahan's advocacy of duels between big-gun warships. Having donned doctrinal blinkers, they could conceive of few ways to employ subs beyond supporting the battle fleet. Rather than inflict mayhem on U.S. logistics--much as the German Navy did in the Atlantic, and much as the U.S. Navy did against Japanese sea lanes in the Western Pacific--the IJN allowed transports, tankers, and other vital but unsexy shipping to pass to and fro unmolested. Vast quantities of American war materiel traversed the broad Pacific--letting American forces surmount the tyranny of distance. Inaction added up to a colossal missed opportunity for Imperial Japan. The IJN had largely mastered the aerial dimension of naval warfare, putting to sea impressive aircraft-carrier task forces. Pearl Harbor bore witness to Japanese carrier aviators' prowess. Why its backward approach to submarine warfare? For one thing, there was no Isoroku Yamamoto of undersea combat. Admiral Yamamoto threw his immense personal prestige behind the strike on Oahu, threatening to resign if top commanders rebuffed the aviation-centric strategy he proposed in favor of battleship engagements. The submarine force had no such champion to challenge orthodoxy. The IJN, accordingly, clung to its quasi-Mahanian dogma throughout the Pacific War. A potent submarine force ended up being a wasting asset, consuming resources for little reason. For which U.S. military veterans everywhere are eternally grateful. When shipping out for oceanic battlegrounds, it's good to face history's worst subs. The Imperial Japanese Navy submarine force is hereby designated Bottom Gun. James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “ Visualize Chinese Sea Power ,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared in 2018 and is being reposted due to reader interest. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 22:30

You're Dead: The U.S. Army's Newest Sniper Can Penetrate Body Armor at Huge Distances

  • 0

Kyle Mizokami Security, At 1,968 feet, to be exact. Key Point: The M110A1 will deliver for trained marksmen, resulting in a more lethal infantry squad than ever before.  The U.S. Army is preparing to issue thousands of new rifles to infantry squads across the service. The M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDMR) is designed to extend the reach of infantry units largely equipped with short-barreled carbines. The SDMR will give one in nine infantrymen the ability to not only penetrate existing body armor but engage point targets at ranges of 600 meters (1968 feet). The standard nine-person U.S. Army infantry squad consists of two fire teams led by a squad leader. Each fireteam consists of two riflemen with M4 carbines, one grenadier with an M4 carbine and grenade launcher, and an M249 squad automatic weapon. A squad can produce a tremendous amount of firepower, with the M4 effective out to 500 meters and the heavier, faster-firing M249 effective out to 1,000 meters. The current organization has its drawbacks. While the M4 is accurate, it often lacks a magnified optic to make accurate shots at medium to long ranges, and the 5.56 round drops sharply after 400 meters. The M68 red dot sight is durable and “soldier proof,” but it lacks the ability to zoom in on, evaluate, and engage prospective targets at ranges greater than those feasible with the naked eye. The M249 fires at up to 850 rounds per minute but it is relatively inaccurate and meant to deliver suppressive fire against the enemy, keeping their heads down while the rest of the squad maneuvers against them. During the Iraq War, the U.S. Army recognized the need for a rifle-type weapon with a magnified optic that had the range to discern and engage targets at extended distances. The Army sent thousands of M14 battle rifles, placed in storage before the Vietnam War, to armorers for an update. The result, the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR), was a 7.62-millimeter caliber rifle (as opposed to the M4’s 5.56-millimeter) with a Leupold 3.5-10x variable power scope. This combination of a rifle scope and heavier caliber round allowed a trained soldier to engage distant targets beyond that of the M4 carbine. Alternately, a designated marksman could provide security for his unit, overwatching their position or area of operations from a clear vantage point. Unfortunately, the M14 EBR was a mixed bag. Although the EBR reintroduced the powerful 7.62 round to the squad and gave the squad leader a magnified optic, the M14’s operating system is old and the M14 series of weapons are notoriously difficult to maintain accuracy in the field. The system was also heavy, weighing fourteen pounds with a loaded twenty-round magazine. The gas piston system and new handguard also made it front heavy and more difficult to quickly aim. Still, the designated marksman rifle concept was a sound one. Even as the Army shifts from guerrilla conflicts back to big power wars against rival mechanized armies, the requirement for a designated marksman rifle still stands. In particular, a focus on countering modern armies brings with it the prospect of engaging enemy soldiers wearing body armor. On July 12th, German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch announced it would produce between 5,000 and 6,000 new M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifles for the U.S. Army. Heckler and Koch will manufacture the rifles in Oberndorf, Germany, then ship to an H&K facility in Georgia. Once there, they will be fitted with rifle scopes, scope mounts, and at least ten other accessories specified by the U.S. Army. The M110A1 is based on the Heckler and Koch G28 rifle, which is in turn based on the company’s HK417 rifle. The M110A1 bears some resemblance to the M4 carbine and is similar in layout, with the magazine release, safety, charging handle, all in the same locations. Loading, shooting, and jam clearing procedures methods are very similar or or identical to the M4. A significant difference under the hood is the M110A1 uses a piston operating system instead of the M4/M16’s direct impingement system. The use of a gas piston system results in a weapon that avoids the risk of overheating while requiring less cleaning in the field. The M110A1 is an accurate weapon, with the company claiming a guaranteed accuracy of 1.5 minutes of angle (MOA) at 100 meters. Generally speaking, that means a trained shooter should be able to place all of his or her shots within a 1.57-inch circle at 100 meters. At longer distances, however, that circle opens up proportionally, with the same rifle and shooter placing shots within a 9.42-inch circle at 600 meters. Given that the average combatant is about eighteen inches wide at the shoulders, that still gives a high probability of hit if aiming center of mass. The U.S. Army is fitting the M110A1 with the Sig Sauer Tango 6 optic. The Tango 6 is a variable power optic capable of swinging from 1x unpowered view all the way up to 6x magnification. Six power magnification allows for a good amount of zoom while maintaining an excellent field of view. The reticle is calibrated for the 7.62-millimeter round, allowing a marksman to quickly compensate for bullet drop at longer ranges. It also features a ACOG-style red dot horseshoe for fast target acquisition in low light and daylight, allowing the marksman to use his rifle like any rifleman. According to Sig Sauer, the Army is buying 6,069 Tango 6 scopes, giving a clue that the total number of rifles ordered is likely to be on the high end of Heckler and Koch’s sales estimate. The M110A1 promises to give the Army a weapon capable of hitting targets with a high degree of first-round accuracy at up to 600 meters. It will be essential to train soldiers to properly employ the weapon—even a 7.62-millimeter round will drop 99 inches at 600 meters and experience a horizontal shift of 33 inches in a light breeze. That having been said, the M110A1 will deliver for trained marksmen, resulting in a more lethal infantry squad than ever before.  Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. This article first appeared in 2019 and is reprinted here due to reader's interest.  Image: U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 22:00

Best on Earth? Here's What the Israeli IWI DAN .388 Sniper Can Do

  • 0

Mark Episkopos Security,  IWI is confident in their ability to carve out a niche in the sniper rifle market. Here's What You Need to Remember: The DAN strives for the kind of attention to small detail that separates good from great design. Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) is best known as the creator of the Uzi, a compact submachine gun that went on to become a global export hit in the 1960’s. IWI’s other notable products include the Galil and Tavor, both of which have become formidable export contenders in their own right. Following its privatization in 2005, IWI has sought to diversify beyond its current crop of submachine guns, pistols, and assault rifles. Most recently, IWI has staked a claim on the increasingly lucrative military sniper rifle market with the IWI DAN .338, a precision tactical rifle designed in conjunction with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)-- here is what it can do. The DAN checks all the basic features boxes expected of modern sniper rifles: sub-MOA accuracy, collapsible stock, adjustable bipod and monopod, and chambering in the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. Though relatively new, the .338 has rapidly gained in popularity as an anti-personnel round that sacrifices the sheer stopping power and anti-materiel potential of the competing .50 BMG in favor of more manageable recoil and potentially better handling depending on the rifle in question Nevertheless, IWI has a few design tricks up its sleeve to help its first sniper rifle stand out from the competition. First, the DAN is relatively modular for a rifle in its performance class. Its fluted, 28-inch cold hammer-forged barrel is advertised as being rapidly interchangeable without the use of special tools, and the included MIL-STD 1913 picatinny rail can be mounted in a variety of forms to accommodate a wide range of optics setups. The DAN strives for the kind of attention to small detail that separates good from great design. A bolt lock signals when the 10-round, drop-free magazine is empty. The stock is adjustable as well as collapsible and sports a skeletonized frame to help the DAN maintain its competitive weight of 15.2 pounds. An ambidextrous safety is conveniently located near the two-stage adjustable trigger, which gives the operator a degree of control over pull weight distribution; as with many of the components on the DAN’s aluminum alloy chassis, the trigger is removable. The DAN comes with an included bipod and monopod. But how does the DAN perform? IWI claims “incomparable” accuracy at an effective firing range of 1200 meters. Having only been introduced in 2014, the DAN has yet to be widely procured by militaries and law enforcement agencies around the world. Although designed in collaboration with special forces units of the IDF, it is unclear as of the time of writing if the DAN is being used by any branch of the IDF or Israeli law enforcement. However, the DAN can claim at least one high-profile operator: the British Special Air Service (SAS), which is on record as having used the Israeli rifle during the Syrian Civil War to kill an ISIS commander in 2016. It remains to be seen if the DAN can replicate even a fraction of the massive export success of the Galil and Tavor, but IWI is confident in their ability to carve out a niche in the sniper rifle market; in fact, they’re just getting started. According to IWI Director Uri Amit, the DAN is only the “first of a family of sniper rifles that are currently in various stages of development." Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest. Image: Wikimedia

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 21:45

Turkey's New TF-X Stealth Fighter Is Coming (Or Not)

  • 0

David Axe Security, Developing a stealth fighter is expensive. Here's What You Need To Remember: In working on its own radar-evading warplane, Ankara might simply be trying to prove to Washington that it can threaten the F-35’s near-monopoly on stealth-fighter exports, either by building a plane of its own or helping Russia to finish the Su-57. Turkish Aerospace Industries revealed a mockup of a new stealth fighter at the Paris Air Show on June 17, 2019. Don’t get excited. The mockup of the TF-X fighter bears a resemblance to the U.S. Air Force’s own F-22. But whereas the F-22 is a real, front-line warplane with an actual combat record, the TF-X is unlikely to even get built. Developing a stealth fighter is expensive. Just three countries in theory can do it without spending themselves into a crisis: the United States, China and Russia. And just two of them -- America and China -- actually have done it. Russia’s Su-57 program has struggled to reliably produce meaningful numbers of working planes. Turkey, with the world’s 17th-largest economy, is unlikely to join that exclusive club. The War Zone reporter Joseph Trevithick has written the best explainer on the likely-doomed Turkish fighter. The Turkish government first announced the TF-X program, also known as the National Combat Aircraft, which abbreviated MMU in Turkish, in 2010. TAI won the contract to develop the aircraft, in 2015. The Turkish air force plans to eventually replace the bulk of its American-made Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Viper fighter jets with this indigenous design and hoping to have the first examples enter service as early as 2028. Since 2015, TAI has proposed at least three different configurations, including two single-engine variants and a twin-engine type. The mock-up is of the twin-engine concept, which is the one the company had settled on previously. The TF-X looks great. The problem is money. It costs around $100 billion in total to develop, build and operate a fleet of a few dozen stealth fighters, according to an assessment by Japanese air force general Hideyuki Yoshioka, who in 2011 helped to oversee Japan’s own boutique stealth-fighter program. The figure checks out. The United States has spent around $70 billion developing and building 194 F-22s plus billions more operating them since 2005. The Pentagon expects to drop no less than $400 billion on around 2,300 copies of three versions of the F-35, not including operating costs. The F-35 consumes roughly $10 billion of the United States’s $700-billion-a-year defense budget. That’s around 1.5 percent. And just barely affordable. Turkey by contrast spends just $20 billion annually on its armed forces. Try squeezing a $100-billion stealth fighter into that budget. And don’t count on exports to make the TF-X cheaper. The F-35 easily dominates the world market for stealth fighters, and should continue to do so for many years. The TF-X is an example of what Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia calls “national fighter concepts” – that is, advanced combat aircraft tailored to the needs of a single country and lacking strong export potential. “National fighter concepts are almost always a very bad idea,” Aboulafia said. Examples include Israel’s Lavi, an overpriced Czech fighter-bomber called the L-159 and, most catastrophically, India’s Light Combat Aircraft, which spent 30 years in development, consuming billions of dollars before finally producing a rudimentary lightweight fighter in 2011. Of course, it’s possible Turkey doesn’t really plan on fully developing the TF-X. The fighter concept might just be leverage as Ankara squabbles with Washington over the Turkish military’s competing efforts to buy both U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighters and Russian-made S-400 air-defense systems. The Russian system could gather sensitive data on the F-35 and render the type more vulnerable. Washington has suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program unless it cancels the Russian deal. The Turkish government in return has threatened to partner up with Russia on the faltering Su-57 program. In working on its own radar-evading warplane, Ankara might simply be trying to prove to Washington that it can threaten the F-35’s near-monopoly on stealth-fighter exports, either by building a plane of its own or helping Russia to finish the Su-57. Even that strategy seems likely to fail. The F-35 program is big enough to survive without Turkey and to steamroll any competitor. And Turkish investment might not be enough to save Russia’s own stealth fighter. Right now the TF-X is all plywood, paint and bold claims. It’s likely to remain so. TAI CEO Temel Kotil claimed the fighter would fly by 2025. Be skeptical. David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This article is being republished due to reader interest. This article first appeared earlier this year. Image: Reuters.

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 21:30

China's JF-17 Fighter Has One Advantage over the F-35

  • 0

David Axe Technology, Asia Modern and cheap, this is one warplane you don't want to tangle with. Key Point: Beijing's JF-17 is a good plane and is sold to a few other countries. America should be wary of this fighter. In 1989, the Chinese Chengdu Aerospace Corporation unveiled a major upgrade for its locally-made F-7 jet fighter, a licensed copy of the classic Soviet MiG-21 Fishbed. The new F-7 variant moved the engine air intake from the nose tip to the sides of the fuselage, making room in the nose for a more powerful radar. Twenty-one years later, this upgrade—now named JF-17 Thunder—is flying combat missions with the air forces of Pakistan and Myanmar. Nigeria has also ordered the type. Further enhanced with a new wing, a cutting-edge intake design and a new, more powerful engine, the JF-17 is Pakistan’s most important front-line fighter—and a remarkable extension of a basic plane design dating back to the 1950s. In essence, the JF-17 is the ultimate MiG-21. In a sector increasingly dominated by American-made stealth fighters, European “canard” planes and variants of the Russian Su-27, the JF-17 is an outlier—a highly evolutionary plane that doesn’t try to be revolutionary. After all, revolutionary is expensive. The Soviet MiG corporation began work on the MiG-21 in the early 1950s, an era during which most air forces wanted very fast jet fighters, regardless of the design compromises necessary to achieve high speeds. With a theoretical top speed of Mach 2, the MiG-21 meets that expectation—and also boasts a simple, single-engine layout, good climb performance and decent maneuverability. But the basic MiG-21 has its drawbacks. It’s difficult to control and its canopy provides poor visibility. It carries enough gas for barely an hour of combat flying. And its nose intake precludes the carriage of a large radar. Still, MiG made thousands of Fishbeds for the USSR and client states. Several countries including China acquired licenses to build their own copies. Sixty years later, hundreds of MiG-21s remain in front-line use across Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. China’s F-7 is a much-improved MiG-21 with better pilot visibility, a locally-produced engine and some Western-made avionics. But the F-7 still suffers from a lack of space in the nose for a bigger and more powerful radar. Hence the 1989 proposal to move the air intake to the fuselage sides. Pakistan had bought F-7s and, in the 1980s, hired the U.S. plane-maker Grumman to work alongside Chengdu in an effort to improve the fighters. But U.S. and European sanctions following China’s Tiananmen Square massacre ended the American-Chinese collaboration. Pakistan, which also struggled with Western sanctions tied to Islamabad’s nuclear tests, took an interest in the modified F-7. Over a decade of work, the side-intake MiG-21 variant evolved into something much more sophisticated: the JF-17. Chinese, Pakistani and Russian engineers added a better wing—similar to the U.S. F-16’s wing—plus so-called “divertless” intakes that work equally well while the plane is flying fast or slow. Russia provided the modern RD-93 engines for the JF-17. And most importantly, the new jet’s roomier nose is big enough for China’s KLJ-7 radar, able to detect and track targets on the ground and in the air. Production began in China in 2006 and soon moved to a facility in Pakistan owned by the Pakistani air force, making the JF-17 the only jet fighter in the world actually manufactured by an air arm, rather than by a private corporation. Islamabad inaugurated the first Thunder squadron in 2010. And that same year, the new jets flew bombing missions targeting suspected terrorists in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s restive tribal area. Clearly pleased, Islamabad ordered 160 JF-17s to form the backbone of its air force for the next 30 years. Around 100 are already in service. Priced to move at an estimated $25 million per copy, the JF-17 is possibly the cheapest new-build fighter in the world today. By comparison, each of America’s F-35 stealth fighters costs around $200 million apiece at present—although the F-35 could get less expensive as development continues. The JF-17 is not stealthy. But it does have roughly the same agility as an early-model F-16A, according to Pakistani pilots whom Piet Luijken interviewed for Combat Aircraft magazine. That means the JF-17 is probably a much better close-range dogfighter than the F-35 and many other current jets. Plus, the Thunder can carry some shockingly dangerous weaponry. In November 2013, the Pakistanis took the JF-17 on tour in a bid to sell the plane to other air arms. Luijken caught up with the display team during their stopover in Dubai, where he spotted a CM-400AKG anti-ship missile under a JF-17’s wing. The CM-400AKG flies up to 150 miles as fast as Mach 4. China designed the munition specifically to target American aircraft carriers, but it could prove equally devastating to other warships. Pakistan is the first export customer. In addition to the CM-400, the JF-17 can carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. It might be a descendent of the 60-year-old MiG-21, but the JF-17 is a thoroughly modern warplane—and an affordable one. The same can’t always be said of the F-35 and other current fighters. David Axe is defense editor of The National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared in 2018 and is being reposted due to reader interest. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
11 июля, 21:00

Not Science Fiction: The U.S. Navy Wants Railguns (That Can Kill Mountains)

  • 0

TNI Staff Security, The future is here. Key Point: Most of the key technologies behind railguns—which have until now mostly been in the realm of science fiction—have been unlocked. While the U.S. Navy had announced last year that it would take a prototype railgun to sea onboard the expeditionary fast transport USNS Trenton (JHSV-5) in 2016, the service may have to scupper those plans. If the Navy does take the railgun out to sea on a fast transport, it will be in 2017 at the earliest. In lieu of testing the prototype rail gun in an at-sea environment, the Navy might instead proceed directly to developing an operational weapon system. “It’s not definitely off but it’s not definitely going ahead,” Rear Adm. Peter Fanta, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, told Defense News during a Dec. 30 interview. “Primarily because it will slow the engineering work that I have to do to get that power transference that I need to get multiple repeatable shots that I can now install in a ship. And I would frankly rather have an operational unit faster than have to take the nine months to a year it will take to set up the demo and install the systems, take the one operational [railgun] unit I have, put it on a ship, take it to sea, do a dozen shots, turn around, take it off, reinstall it into a test bed.” Fanta said that he believes that an operational railgun is feasible within the next five years. Indeed, the Navy hopes to replace one of the 155mm gun turrets onboard the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002) with a rail gun. “I don’t know if I can get there from the engineering status yet. But that’s what we continue to look at,” Fanta told Defense News. According to Fanta, most of the key technologies behind railguns—which have until now mostly been in the realm of science fiction—have been unlocked. “It’s engineering at this point, it’s no longer science,” Fanta told Defense News. “It’s no longer the deep dark secrets of what can I do with this sort of energy. It’s engineering and how much power density can I get, how much beam quality can I get, what sort of metallurgy do I need to sustain multiple shots over multiple periods of time. The rail gun as well as the laser.” Solving the metallurgy problem might require novel solutions—and it’s possible a solution might not exist. “My old gun barrels used to last me a few thousand rounds. Is that still the way we want to go? Other countries are solving it the other way,” Fanta told Defense News. “Maybe if I carry four barrels and have them easily swapped out with a bunch of bosun’s mates on the [forecastle] and stick [them] in and a half-turn and you go. It’s kind of the way we do it when we overheat machine guns. The new machine guns, you got the old barrel, you stick in a new one and you keep shooting. Maybe that’s the way to go if we can’t solve the metallurgy issues that allow me to do 1,000 rounds out of a barrel.” Eventually, the Navy will have to test a full-up railgun. The trick will be to find a suitable range where the weapon can be fired at maximum range and velocity. But if the test program moves from Dahlgren, Virginia, to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, it won’t be able to conduct the at-sea demo onboard a fast transport. “I need to be able to see how this thing—for both the projectile and the gun—how it shoots at full range, which means I need both elevation and altitude and long range where I can go blow the top off a mountain someplace and not worry about someone fishing around somewhere,” Fanta told Defense News. “The discussion now [is to] move it to a better site that allows me to do full range testing, or do I go do the demo? Because it’s an either/or, it’s not both at this point.” This article first appeared several years ago and is reprinted due to reader interest. Image: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons