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Archive for January, 2010

Bayonets Hit the Mark

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I wasn’t sure my post from yesterday would garner such a reaction, but I’d say the pros outweigh the cons 10:1.

Many of you mentioned that the last known bayonet charge might have been executed by a squad of Brit troops in Basra back in ’04.

Well, a little Googleing and low and behold it turns out that bunch of maniac Scots from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders got ambushed by about 100 Mahdi militiamen near Basra, fought it out, and when they ran low on ammunition, fixed bayonets and went to town.

Based on an after-action report found at this link, the intimidation factor of the bayonet and the surprise such a charge caused among the enemy used to engagements at a distance were pivotal.

The bayonet charge by British troops in Basra achieved tactical success primarily because of psychological and cultural factors. It also shows that superior firepower does not guarantee success by either side. In this case, the value of surprise, countering enemy expectations, and strict troop discipline were three deciding characteristics of the bayonet charge.

And, reading the report, you can’t help but come away from it thinking that while the insurgent is courageous in a sense that he’s willing to commit suicide in an attack on his enemy, and that he’s cunning in his building and implementation of weaponry, and that he’s agile in his ability to move quickly in tight spaces and mingle with the population — in the end their internal propoganda that the coalition are wusses just doesn’t make sense.

Propaganda by Sunni and Shiite jihadists regularly advertised the perception that American and British soldiers were cowards. Similar rhetoric increased after the battles of Fallujah in April2004, perhaps to steady the resolve of militia fighters in the face of aggressive coalition attacks.

In addition, British convoys did not engage significantly during previous ambushes, which probably validated the narrative for many Mahdi militiamen. Because many of the Mahdi fighters were teenagers, it is also likely that the Mahdi army used these ambushes for training and recruiting. The attacks were an opportunity for young fighters to use weapons in combat with little risk of serious reprisal.

Who would you pick in a hand-to-hand standoff — in a eyeball to eyeball fistfight? A Scot highlander or a pencil-necked Mahdi bomb clacker?

I pick the guy who eats haggis. Like this dude…

“I wanted to put the fear of God into the enemy. I could see some dead bodies and eight blokes, some scrambling for their weapons. I’ve never seen such a look of fear in anyone’s eyes before. I’m over six feet; I was covered in sweat, angry, red in the face, charging in with a bayonet and screaming my head off. You would be scared, too.”

Corporal Brian Wood
Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment

In the end, the Brit counterassault killed 35 bad guys and left three UK troops lightly wounded.

Keep the bayonets brother!

PS — And here’s another young Brit who had to resort to his rifle blade when the chips were really down:

– Christian

Russian F-22 (PAK-FA) First Test Flight Revealed

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Thanks to several tipsters who alerted me to the public release of a test flight of the Russian 5th-generation fighter prototype: the so-called PAK-FA, or in English, “Future Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces.” Some observers also show it dubbed the T-50.

It looks as if the Russians are trying their hand at an F-22 knock off, with a v-tail, large monolithic wing surface and centerboard intakes. The thing literally looks like a Mig-29 cockpit bolted onto a hacked F-22 stern.

According to Global Security​.org, the Sukhoi-built PAK-FA sports two giant AL-41F engines and has a crub weight of about 40,000 pounds — a bit less than the F-22.

Given the budgetary hassles surrounding the American F-22 program and the trajectory that tactical aviation is taking into the UAV world, it stands to reason that Russia slash Sukhoi may run into the same sticker shock LockMart is encountering with American taxpayers. I hear that India is playing some role in the development of the PAK-FA, so that may help defray the costs and justify continued development.

But wasn’t it Russia that developed the simple, reliable, cost-efficient Kalashnikov? Why are they always trying to play on the wiz-bang high-tech turf America has dominated for the last 50 years in high-end military hardware? I guess it’s more a question of what the big-money buyers want (China, India), rather than what’s worked best in the past.

– Christian

A Blood Transfusion in a Pill

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Well, not quite, but close.

Got a tip from a reader about a potentially revolutionary new drug that could prolong the life of a human who’s bleeding out from a severe wound.

According to an article in the New Scientist, medical professionals are experimenting on a pill that can trick the body into thinking it’s not in shock when it really is. In other words, the drug can prevent certain mechanisms within the proteins and DNA from permanently breaking down and causing long-term damage when the victim is resuscitated.

When the body loses a lot of blood, it tries to compensate by going into shock. This is a set of emergency measures to raise blood pressure and conserve energy, such as increasing heart rate and shutting down expression of some proteins. However, if the body stays in shock for more than a short time, it can lead to organ failure, and death soon follows.

Recent studies have suggested that around 6 or 7 per cent of genes change their expression in response to shock, via the removal of “epigenetic”, chemical additions to the genome called acetylations. As histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors can prevent the removal of such acetylations, Alam wondered if these drugs might improve survival after blood loss.

His team previously showed that valproic acid, an HDAC inhibitor already used to treat epilepsy, increased survival rates in rats that had lost a lot of blood. It seemed to be doing this by preventing acetylation, causing certain “survival pathways” to remain switched on.

The combat medical applications for a drug like this are obvious. The US military has already done an amazing job at lowering the death rate of troopers wounded in hideous explosions and ambushes, including the near ubiquitous fielding and training on the use of tourniquets and lots of combat first aid training. The military medical establishment has also done a lot to speed the process of getting an IED-struck Joe, for example, from route Michigan in Ramadi to Ramstein in literally hours.

But a breakthrough like this could mean the difference between life and death for wounded troopers in more remote locals with fewer medivac options, like Afghanistan. If this proves to work, it could be as revolutionary at Quik Clot and pocket tourniquets.

– Christian

Fix Bayonets!

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I read with sorrow a story this morning on Military​.com that reported the head of Army basic training is moving to do away with bayonet skills.

It’s funny that just a few days ago I was discussing with a colleague why the military has all but abandoned the bayonet. I mean, there is no more intimidating device than said blade protruding from the barrel of a rifle. Think of a squad of Marines storming a house in the battle of Fallujah with bayonets fixed…talk about devil dogs.

There’s military effectiveness in having such a secondary weapon in close quarters battle when the quarters are REAL close. Taking the one and a half to two seconds to draw your combat knife from your armor could mean the difference between life and death. Having the bad boy already deployed for action could buy you those few precious seconds.

Besides, most of the combat knives hanging off Joes’ armor and MOLLE aren’t ever going to be used for anything more than tearing open a packet of country captain chicken.

But more than the tactical use of the bayonet, there’s that strategic objective — the intimidation factor. You have one of those bad boy Ka-Bars attached to your M4/M16, you’re going to get noticed…and in a good way. The enemy is going to focus on that blade coming at them instead of you, when the doors are being kicked — and besides, think of what the bad guys would think when they see that squad of Joes coming toward their compound with knives attached to their guns: they mean business.

Look, I understand Gen. Hurtling’s dilemma: too much training means we gotta shave off some marginal skills. And and sure some of you are going to generate some convincing arguments that knives should be kept off the end of rifles based on today’s longer-range engagements.

But let’s take a step back and maybe get a little medieval on someone for a change. Maybe the intimidation alone will keep the enemy from firing a shot.

Just a thought…

– Christian

FRES Vehicle a Shambles

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Former British Secretary of State for Defense John Hutton says it is “hard to imagine a worse procurement shambles” than the British Army’s Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) armored vehicle program.

Hutton, appearing before the Iraq Inquiry Jan. 25, says the FRES program was a “pretty grim episode,” underscoring the need for a “shake-up” of how the Defense Ministry goes about procuring equipment.

Hutton was referring in particular to the FRES Utility vehicle procurement debacle. The ministry shelved the procurement at the end of 2008 and shifted focus to the so-called specialist vehicles (SV) element of the FRES program, for which it is now nearing a selection. It also has tried to incorporate failings of the utility vehicle project in managing the SV procurement.

The government-commissioned inquiry is being used to identify lessons from British involvement in the Iraq war and its aftermath.

Problems with FRES — meant to produce a family of armored fighting vehicles — included the inability to “settle on the specification,” along with a “lack of clarity” as to what was required, Hutton says.

The ministry is aiming to select a preferred bidder for the specialist vehicles element of the program in the next couple of months, known as “Recce Block 1.” BAE Systems and General Dynamics are competing for the program.

The ministry’s Investment Approval Board was expected to meet to consider the FRES SV recommendation this week, with its choice then being submitted for ministerial approval.

Around 600 vehicles will be purchased in the first phase of the SV program, worth a total of $3.2 billion.

Along with the SV procurement, the ministry also is nearing a decision on the choice of a manufacturer for its Warrior armored vehicle upgrade program. Taken together, the two programs will shape the future of Britain’s land systems sector.

– Aviation Week

Sci Fi Armor a Ways Off

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

If you were hoping that shear thickening fluids, carbon nanotubes and lightweight flexible armor was just around the corner, you’ll need to put those hopes on hold and keep reading your sci-fi books.

Despite the US and allied militaries’ best efforts to lighten one of the biggest culprits of a trooper’s heavy load, armor manufacturers are having a hard time making quantum leaps in increased protection and weight savings.

I spoke with reps from First Choice armor on the floor of SHOT Show in Vegas last week and they described how they’d cracked the nut of shaving some ounces while keeping bullet-stopping ballistic performance by tweaking materials and weaves and developing some hybrids.

First Choice’s new Level IIIA vest comes in just under the one pound per square foot gold standard for protection — at .93 pounds per ft2. They also showed me a pretty sweet 10“x12” Level III+ plate that weighs just 3.8 lbs using what they termed a “unidirectional-ceramic hybrid” — which basically means a boron carbide/spectra-dyneema sandwich.

Basically the rep told me the industry is still struggling with requirements for continuously more resistant armor with no weight penalty. The reality of today’s material science means companies like First Choice get requests from the military that say “I want armor that can stop this exotic round and weigh less than current vests…” a near impossible feat.

I asked the ballistics expert about the fetish with “flexible” armor solutions and he said his company spent some money and about a year looking into it, but they found no easy way around the weight problems and coverage gaps that scaled systems present.

“We gave up on the effort for now,” he said.

Perhaps that’s why only one company,Pinnacle, played in the Army’s F-SAPI search last year. No one else could make a solution that didn’t weigh a ton (or cost a fortune, as Alan Bain admitted to us).

Sor for now, it looks like the military is going to have to shave armor weight at the margins — that is until science can find ways to manufacture nanostructures in quantities and costs that enable a Level IV vest at t-shirt weights.

– Christian

Integrated Cyber Operations

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

The modern military has a broad spectrum of operations. We have the ability to wage war on land, sea, air, in space and now via the Internet. The weaponry and strategies accompanying this spectrum was expanded with the introduction of cyber weapons into the modern day arsenal. From humanitarian assistance and peace keeping operations to unlimited warfare using nuclear weapons, cyber attacks span the entire operational spectrum. The utility of offensive cyber weapons provides conflict commanders with options that are unavailable with conventional and nuclear weapons. 

That being said, they do have a significant drawback: reliability. Given the unique capabilities of cyber weapons, current doctrinal development must depart from thinking of warfare in purely linear terms in order to incorporate cyber capabilities into current military strategies.

State and non-state actors increasingly have access to advanced cyber weapons technology that makes them more dangerous by giving them global reach. Cyber weapons are easily acquired, inexpensive and strike at the speed of light with little warning. This new class of weapons provide somewhat of a leveling effect across state and non-state adversaries as well as activist and terrorist groups, organized crime and even lone actors. Current detection capabilities can only be described as limited to moderate given several attacks have gone undetected for years. However, cyber weapons are not the panacea that many believe.  There are shortcomings to this new class of weapons. When launching a cyber weapon (other than DDoS) it is difficult to calculate just when the cyber attack will be effective, if it is effective at all. It is equally as difficult to control the spread of some forms of cyber attack techniques as well.

The status quo is acceptable. The military institution has received a fair amount of criticism for their thinking that has be characterized as preparing to fight the last war. Today’s strategic threat environment is unpredictable. Our threat environment can be accurately characterized as highly complex, rapidly developing and initiated at a moment’s notice. The mindset, doctrines and training programs that were primarily designed to address conflict with Warsaw Pact forces must be radically changed. Therefore, our defense forces and strategies must be able to provide a broad range of viable military capabilities available globally at short notice. The position of the United States and how we achieve broad spectrum influence requires significant examination done within the context of acts of cyber aggression. The U.S. must rapidly develop integrated operational strategies that leverage our digital advantages that will provide support to virtually all aspects of our offensive, defensive and intelligence collection capabilities. The scale and sophistication of the recent cyber attacks on Google (and others) was a watershed event and should be seen as a wake-up call. Measuring the effective integration of cyber operations into virtually every aspect of modern military doctrine and continuous updating our doctrine and strategy as cyber weapons rapidly evolve, must become a routine part of senior command activities. Failure to do so could have disastrous consequences.

Kevin Coleman

LockMart Exoskeleton Update

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Looks like the LockMart HULC exoskeleton platform is going to get some play coming up this month at the Association of the US Army’s winter conference down in Florida.

In anticipation, the company sent me a video of the HULC in its latest configuration.

As Rube Goldberg as these things seem, I’m sure this is the direction we’re heading to augment the power of the individual Soldier so he can carry an ever-increasing load. I mean, you saw Avatar, right?

– Christian

Schwartz: Tanker Fixed Price May Change

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

This article first appeared in AviationWeek​.com.

The U.S. Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, says that changes to the much-awaited request for proposals (RFP) for the next-generation aerial refueler will “lessen the financial risk” for bidders.

Boeing and a Northrop Grumman/EADS North America are expected to bid for the work, which could total about $35 billion for the purchase of 179 KC-135 replacements. However, Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush has threatened not to offer his team’s Airbus A330-based option in part because the fixed-price development contract included in the draft RFP issued last fall exposed the company to too much risk. Northrop Grumman officials say that if the draft RFP stands, about 20 percent of the items needed would be developmental and thus more difficult to price.

Boeing officials have expressed dissatisfaction at the fixed-price approach as well, though the team has not publicly threatened to walk away from the competition. Boeing is expected to propose a tanker based on a 767 platform.

Read the rest of this story, wait around for the A400M, see how the JSF got bit hard and ponder where the German tigers might be from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Bushmaster Adaptive Combat Rifle

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Bushmaster has recently released its civilian version of the Adaptive Combat Rifle and displayed both the Civvie model and the so-called “Enhanced” version of the ACR intended for military customers.

Bushmaster rep Ryan Smith went through the features of the gun formerly known as the Magpul Masada and explained the Bushmaster was working the state national guard and law enforcement customers, while Remington was working the military deal.

As you well know, the Army is in the middle of an internal look at whether to replace the M4 as the standard issue carbine, and the ACR would be a strong candidate for the job. The ACR is the only rifle in the running that can undergo a quick and easy caliber change. A source with Bushmaster who declined to be quoted on the record said that Remington plans to offer the ACR in both 5.56mm and 6.8mm.

The Army could buy the Improved Carbine and Personal Defense Weapon all in one package…?

– Christian