28 November 2010

November Military Updates

* The British Navy has decided to purchase the F-35C, designed for use on American aircraft carriers, rather than the F-35B, intended for use by the Marines on their smaller flat tops. The F-35B which is designed for short takeoff and vertical landings is the most technically ambitious of the joint strike fighter variants and has a result had the most technical problems. Prior to this decision, the F-35C, which has only a reluctant U.S. Navy as a customer and was planned to enter service last seemed like the most likely of the three F-35 variants to be cut.

The trouble with the F-35B is that "It seems unrealistic to expect $120-million, fifth-generation STOVL fighters like the F-35B to operate out of forward bases or austere locations. They may retain the capability to do so, but at the expense of range, useful load and a higher purchase price." Yet, at bases with established airfields, its vertical landing capability doesn't matter as much.

The most plain vanilla of the F-35 variants, the Air Force's F-35A intended mostly to replace the F-16, is meanwhile behind schedule due to software problems and may not enter service by April 2016 as planned.

* North Korea and South Korea were lobbing artillery shells at each other last week, (North Korea fired first) compounding the tensions created when a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean destroyer earlier this year.

* Iraq's Prime Minister says he plans to stick to a treaty with the U.S. that calls for it to withdraw its last 50,000 non-combat troops from the country by the end of 2011.

* President Obama has discussed a 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan, while remaining open to extending the date further.

* The U.S. are about to deploy tanks in Afghanistan for the first time in the nine year plus long war. "Two senior defense officials say 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 115 additional Marines will be deployed next month. While Abrams were used extensively in Iraq, the Afghan fight has often seen troops using lighter, nimbler vehicles capable of scrambling along the mountainous country’s notoriously primitive roads — more like paths — or using helicopters to travel quickly and bypass the danger from IEDs. . . . The officials said Friday this is a first for the U.S. in the 9-year-old war, though Canadians and Danish troops have already used the huge, heavily armored combat vehicles in Afghanistan."

The U.S. is on the verge of having been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were there, and it has or is on the verge of becoming, the longest foreign war in U.S. history surpassing Vietnam.

The limited usefulness of tanks in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as their decidedly secondary role in Iraq, and the vast stockpiles of unused tanks the U.S. has sitting in its boneyards casts doubts on their relevance in modern warfare.

* An F-22 crashed in Alaska. The design has had six to seven Class A mishaps ($1 million+ of damage) every 100,000 flight hours. The latest crash totalled the $143 million plane and may have cost the life of the pilot who has still not been found alive.

* The military is looking at putting a "chimney" in Humvees to reduce the harm of IED blasts below them by diverting explosive force upward, and at creating "capsules" to protect the crew even if the vehicle is lost.

* The New York Times today (print edition) notes the growing importance of remote controlled military robots to Army planning. Many gather intelligence by flying or rolling small vehicles into sensitive areas. Others the size of riding lawn mowers carry machine guns and grenade launchers, while not putting troops in harm's way.

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