27 October 2019

Military Technology Quick Hits

(Meta: This is combined post number 9,705 for this blog and its sister blog combined.)


* The Marines has started commissioning ships of "Expeditionary Sea Base" designation in 2015. The revised design, which uses adapted oil tankers, is quite inexpensive and makes it possible to deploy many Marines quickly in places that don't have U.S. bases nearby. 

Even more so than most surface combatants in the U.S. Navy, it isn't very fast and a sitting duck against any near peer with submarines, anti-surface ship missiles, warships, or warplanes that can deploy anti-ship missiles or bombs. It is armed only with 0.50 machine guns and has significant civilian component as its crew. 

But, against countries that lack those capabilities, it a a citadel from which a significant ground force with supporting helicopters and Osprey aircraft can be launched (its deck can't withstand the heat from the exhaust of an F-35B). As Wikipedia explains:
An Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD), formerly the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), and a sub-class variant; the Expeditionary Mobile Base (ESB), formerly the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), are designed to be a semi-submersible, flexible, modular platform providing the US Navy with the capability to perform large-scale logistics movements such as the transfer of vehicles and equipment from sea to shore. These ships significantly reduce the dependency on foreign ports and provide support in the absence of port availability. 
The ESD and ESB (Expeditionary Mobile Base) and are part of a new ship class added in 2015 with an E as a new designator, similar to the L-class amphibious ships, S-class submarines, A-class auxiliaries and more. These three E-class ships were previously listed as seabasing ships in the Naval Vessel Register. 
In May 2011, General Dynamics NASSCO received a $744 million contract modification to fully fund the construction of the first two ships of the class, USNS Montford Point (ESD-1) and USNS John Glenn (ESD-2). Additional funding of $115 million for long lead time material and advanced design was awarded in August 2011. 
The first ship of the ESD program, USNS Montford Point (ESD-1) was delivered in May 2013, and the second ship, USNS John Glenn (ESD-2), was delivered May 20, 2013. 
In 2012, a third MLP, USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), was added to the contract and reconfigured as an Expeditionary Mobile Base (ESB), or formerly known as an MLP Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB). All three ships have been delivered to the U.S. Navy. 
In September 2015, the Navy decided to redesignate the MLP as the Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) and the AFSB as the Expeditionary Mobile Base (ESB). 
The Navy plans to procure six Expeditionary Mobile Bases (ESBs) in total, with a fourth (ESB-6) ordered in FY2018, a fifth (ESB-7) ordered in FY2019, the sixth and final ship, (ESB-8) with an order date yet to be determined. . . . 
The Expeditionary Transfer Dock concept is a large auxiliary support ship to facilitate the 'seabasing' of an amphibious landing force by acting as a floating base or transfer station that can be prepositioned off the target area. Troops, equipment, and cargo would be transferred to the MLP by large-draft ships, from where it can be moved ashore by shallower-draft vessels, landing craft like the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), or helicopters. In order to transfer vehicles from the larger ships to the ESD, the vessels were originally to be fitted with a Vehicle Transfer System; a ramp connecting the two ships alongside, and able to compensate for the movements of both vessels while underway. 
USNS John Glenn (T-ESD-2) naming, Feb 2014 
A preliminary design by General Dynamics envisioned a ship that carried six LCACs, with the ability to turn around (dock, unload or load, then launch) two landing craft simultaneously from the stern. The ESDs were to host a brigade-size force, sail at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), and have a maximum range of 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km; 10,000 mi). Each ship was to cost US$1.5 billion to build, but cutbacks to defense spending planned for the fiscal year 2011 budget forced the downscaling of the design in mid-2009. 
General Dynamics identified the civilian Alaska-class oil tanker (built by the subsidiary National Steel and Shipbuilding Company) as a suitable basis for an "ESD 'Lite'", with the design modified into a float-on/float-off vessel that could be built for US$500 million per ship. As part of the cost trade-off, the Vehicle Transfer System was scrapped in favor of skin-to-skin mooring of a host ship alongside the ESD, and the LCAC complement was reduced to three. The new design is 785 feet (239 m) long, with a beam of 164 feet (50 m), a top speed of over 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), and a maximum range of 9,500 nautical miles (17,600 km; 10,900 mi). Converteam supply an integrated power system and vessel automation system for the ESD.
* The U.S. Marines are experimenting with U.S. the light aircraft carriers that used to be called "Harrier Carriers" and made up most of the rest of the world's aircraft carrier fleet, to launch squadrons of F-35B short takeoff, vertical landing steal fighters that are the next generation successor to the Harrier aircraft of the same type. Previously, the U.S. Marines had used their ships of the LHA class primarily as helicopter and Osprey carriers.


* The U.S. Navy is testing a new "Naval Strike Missile" with a 100 mile range, which would be deployed on its ships to replace some existing anti-warship missiles which have inferior capabilities to it.

* The Tomahawk Cruise Missile designed for sea to land strikes is being updated to make it more capable.
The Tomahawk cruise missile, carried on 145 U.S. warships . . . first joined the fleet in 1983 and figured prominently in both Persian Gulf wars, but today’s Tomahawk is very different from the cruise missiles used in those conflicts, and tomorrow’s Tomahawks will be something else again. . . . All of the Tomahawks in the fleet will retain their land-attack capability, which enables precise destruction of high-value targets deep in defended territory with minimal collateral damage. Whether they are launched from a surface warship or a submarine, Tomahawks typically hit within ten yards of intended targets using a variety of guidance methods including GPS, inertial navigation, and terrain contour matching. 
What makes Block V different is that contractor Raytheon (a contributor to my think tank) is adding an anti-ship capability and a hard-target kill capability to specific lots of the missile. The “maritime strike” variant will have a new seeker capable of precisely identifying and targeting moving warships at sea. The hard-target kill version will carry an advanced warhead capable of destroying densely-constructed enemy assets previously requiring more specialized munitions. . . . Block V Tomahawk thus presents itself as the most affordable option for bolstering the Navy’s arsenal of long-range precision strike munitions without having to introduce a new weapon into the fleet. The basic footprint of the missile will not change—it will still fit into vertical launchers on surface warships, torpedo tubes on submarines, and other launch systems already extant that the joint force may elect to deploy in the future. (A land-based version of Tomahawk was successfully flight-tested in August.) 
The Navy has taken delivery of over 4,000 Block IV Tomahawks since 2004, about a tenth of which have been used in combat and testing. Naval Air Systems Command intends to update the arsenal to the Block V configuration by purchasing a mix of new missiles and existing missiles that have been enhanced via recertification. Some of the Block Vs will be maritime-strike variants, some will be hard-target killers, and some will be “basic” Block V Tomahawks delivering targeting flexibility and lethality similar to Block IVs. . . . Block V Tomahawks are likely to cost about a million dollars each, which arguably is a bargain for a munition that can reliably take out diverse targets over a thousand miles away worth many times that amount without causing major collateral damage.
* The latest purchases of Virginia class nuclear powered attack submarines will include more submarine to surface missile capabilities to make up for the capacity being lost of converted Ohio class submarines originally designed to carry nuclear missiles and converted to carry conventional ground attack missiles are going out of service.
BAE Systems is providing the Navy with missile payload tubes that would help new Virginia-class submarines carry more Tomahawks or next-generation guided cruise missiles. 
The service will be retiring its fleet of four Ohio-class guided missile submarines in the coming decade and “with that, they lose [a] significant amount of Tomahawk strike capability,” said Jason Warnke, director of launching systems and submarine programs at BAE. 
However, increasing the capabilities of the Virginia-class fast attack submarines in the Navy’s Block V buy will help make up for the loss, he said. BAE’s mission payload tubes are part of the Virginia payload module, which has an 84-foot mid-body section and includes four vertical launch tubes each. 
“It allows the Virginia-class to increase from 12 Tomahawks per submarine to 40,” Warnke said. “It increases the strike capabilities significantly.”

With the purchase of Block V boats, the Navy hopes to integrate significant changes and upgrades, according to a June Congressional Research Service report titled, “Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.” Nine out of 10 subs in the block buy will contain the Virginia payload modules.

* The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are investigating using cargo drone aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and land vehicles to deliver supplies to troops. The size and nature of the vehicles remains a subject of ongoing deliberation. Early tests of this with converted transport helicopters have been very successful so far.

* The U.S. military is looking into converting UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters into helicopters that can operate as drones or have partial autopilot functions.

Sikorsky has two goals in mind for its optionally manned S-70 helicopter: to make the autonomous technology easy to retrofit on existing aircraft for users like the U.S. Army, and to give pilots various modes of autonomy so they can commit more time toward their mission, according to company officials. 
Sikorsky's original S-70 helicopter model would become the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk and spawn a family of helicopters used by multiple military services.
The standard Black Hawk is designed to carry 11 troops and a crew of three and is outfitted with a couple of machine guns as light armament (basically, it is a flying SUV) or as a medivac flying ambulance, although, in upgraded versions, it can be fitted with "up to 16 Hellfire missiles, as well as 2.75" FFAR (folding fin aerial rocket) rocket pods, FIM-92 Stinger anti-air missiles, as well as aerial mine delivery systems, such as the volcano and the M56 mine delivery system" in lieu of extra fuel or cargo.

* The U.S. Army is using drones that crash into enemy drones to protect Patriot anti-missile batteries. A recent attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields highlighted this vulnerability:

The attack on two major Saudi oil plants by low-flying drones in September highlighted an emerging vulnerability of long-range missile defense systems: The attacking systems were able to evade Patriot PAC-2 surface-to-air missile batteries in order to reach their targets.
* The U.S. military is looking into mounting anti-drone lasers and anti-drone microwave beam weapons on a variety of platforms, sometimes also using their own drones to identify targets.

As the Army moves forward with plans to mount anti-drone lasers on Stryker vehicles, the Air Force is preparing to send its own vehicle-borne laser drone-killers overseas in just a few months. 
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems received a $23.8 million contract from the Air Force in August for two prototype high-energy laser weapons systems, designed to take out threatening unmanned aerial systems. The plan, according to contracting documents, is to deploy the systems for a year for testing and experimentation, wrapping up the effort by November 2020. ‘ 
At the same time, the Air Force has contracted with Raytheon for a $16 million prototype Phaser high-powered microwave counter-drone system, to be deployed and tested by service personnel within the same timeframe. 
At the Association of the United States Army [AUSA] annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, Raytheon executives said one of the high-energy laser systems has already been delivered to the Air Force, and the other will follow shortly. Related: 
"Where overseas, I can't disclose, but it is multiple [combatant commands]," said Evan Hunt, director of business development for high-energy lasers at Raytheon. "They have planned them for multiple different [areas of responsibility]." It will represent the first overseas deployment for the system, a milestone as major defense companies scramble to deliver smart solutions to counter a growing and diverse threat from enemy drones. 
At AUSA, the spherical laser multi-spectral targeting system was mounted on a lightweight Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle, a popular transport for special operations troops and small infantry elements. The system uses radar to detect and track unmanned aerial systems as small as commercial quadcopters, delivering data to a targeting screen. A human user can then employ an Xbox controller to lock in on a target and deploy the laser to shoot it down.

* The U.S. Army is trying to develop a howitzer with a 1000 mile range, although why this is a good thing is unclear, when long range cruise missiles and aircraft and drones carrying missiles already do the same thing, in an era when missiles and guided ammunition is replacing all large slug-throwers. I suspect that this is really just a missile launcher cosmetically modified to look like artillery to win in intra-DOD office politics over procurement. But, advocates argue that rounds of this "long range cannon" would be comparatively cheap.
“A lot of that comes down to cost,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told Defense News in a recent interview. “If we are able to develop the strategic, long-range cannon system, the rounds may be only $400,000 or $500,000 compared to multimillion-dollar rounds. Cost does matter, and we are concerned about cost. There are some, definitely, physics challenges in doing these types of things, and that is the trade-off.”
The argument against that is that in modern, guided munition driven "small wars" we haven't used large volumes of ordinance, so "cheap" ordinance with an expensive delivery system may make less sense than it would have when the U.S. was fighting "big wars" with inaccurate munitions.

* The U.S. Army is also looking at options for automating its artillery in several recent request for proposals for proto-type designs:
A new Army research project calls for developing autonomous systems that can perform functions such as loading shells into cannon. It also follows another project that aims to replace forward observers, who call in artillery fire, with robots.

The research solicitation calls for developing “autonomous robotic systems that are capable of semi- and fully autonomous munitions handling inside a weapons system. Its functions would support loading of projectiles into the cannon breech, setting of charges and propellants, and management of excess case materials inside of the weapons system." 
A M109A6 Paladin, a self-propelled 155-millimeter howitzer, is operated by a crew of four: a commander, driver, gunner and loader. It is not clear which crewmen could be replaced by robots should this technology come to fruition, though the gunner and loader would seem to be prime candidates. At the same time, given advances in self-driving vehicles, it is conceivable that the driver could be replaced by a robot, which would leave the commander as the human element of the system.

But even the Army acknowledges there are risks, such as being hacked. “Potential solutions should consider the need for compact form factors, low electronic signatures, cyber security protections, shock and vibration management, and power supply constraints,” said the research solicitation. . . . 
The Army wants exoskeletons to assist its artillery crews with the physically strenuous task of operating the weapons. – and to keep gunners from going deaf. The project aims to develop “passive or active exoskeleton capabilities to assist crew-served artillery systems. Desired capabilities will mitigate injury due to human manipulation of objects weighing greater than 100 pounds as well as repetitive motion injury. Additional needs include solutions to mitigate the effects of exposure to high decibel acoustic transients and continuous acoustic signatures consistent with crew-served weapons system operations. Potential solutions will address harmful environmental exposure without impairing communication or sensing of the local environment, be capable of sustained operations, and not require extensive training.”

The Army is also eager for autonomous vehicles that can haul ammunition to the big guns. Currently, shells have to be crated, loaded and transported to a depot, and then unloaded, uncrated and transferred to a Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle (FAASV). The FAASV then trundles forward to the artillery batteries, where the ammunition is transferred to the guns by hand. . . . 
The Army is looking for “autonomous robotic systems for transport of munitions in a state of storage to accelerate timelines and reduce personnel requirements. Solutions should enable unmanned unloading of crated and palletized items of various sizes from transport vehicles, and the stocking of primer and fuse boxes, propellant canisters, and uncrated projectiles onto the FAASV or alternative system for transport to the gun line. Alternatively, this system could deliver munitions to the gun line itself.” . . . 
The Army wants autonomous ground vehicles or aerial drones “for autonomous delivery of field artillery munitions from the FAASV, alternate vehicle, to the weapons system for tactical last mile resupply. Technologies must autonomously deliver a payload of sensitive items across unimproved terrain with a minimum payload capacity of 150 lbs. over distances of 1 kilometer or under.”

* The U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and United Kingdom's military are working together to replace traditional brass casings for its 5.56mm, 7.62mm and .50 caliber small arms and machine gun rounds with stainless steel or polymer casings that would weigh significantly less. A 6.8 mm round that the military is looking into might also have lighter weight casings.

* Research into body armor for troops is developing new materials by mimicking pearls and legos.
The result, the researchers claim, is an extremely tough outer shell with “a more flexible inner backing that's capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.” This technology could be applied to body armor to benefit humans, a process known as biomimetics. 
The new armor technology takes ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, and adds silica nanoparticles for strength. The result, the Army Research Lab says, is a “lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.” Kevlar, used in many types of armors, is five times stronger than steel
"The material is stiff, strong, and tough," Dr. Shenqiang Ren, project lead and professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University at Buffalo, told the Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs. "It could be applicable to vests, helmets, and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles."

A further benefit is that the armor has high thermal conductivity, allowing it to dissipate heat from kinetic energy faster and absorb transferred energy from bullets and other projectiles.

* The U.S. military is finally developing a militarized Ford Ranger mid-sized pickup truck, presumably (based upon prior reports) for low risk missions on military bases and in domestic settings, because it is much cheaper than a purpose built military vehicle with the same capabilities. But, none of the vehicles have been purchased yet. The Polaris firm that also makes ATVs and the engineering firm Ricardo is handling the military purpose upgrades. What features will the military version have that the civilian one lacks?

Ricardo added a full roll cage equipped with an integrated weapons mount; ballistic glass and floor protection; and heavy-duty bumpers, skid plates and side steps. Ricardo also increased the vehicle’s water fording capability to an unspecified depth; updated the suspension, wheels and brakes to handle the extra weight while improving its overall performance; and installed an electrical system protected against electromagnetic interference. Polaris, which builds several light off-road military vehicles, contributed to the design of the onboard power management and communication systems integration, according to Ricardo.

* A competition is underway to see which of three prototype ground vehicles designed to by airdropped to carry a squad of paratroopers or other forward deployed troops will be purchased. They are uncreatively called Infantry Squad Vehicles. They look a bit like dune buggies. 

The Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV) is essentially a passenger-carrying truck that can drop out the back of an airplane. Once on the ground, a nine man squad of paratroopers will pile themselves and their equipment in the back and then quickly move out toward their objective. The ISV will allow an airborne assault force to choose a drop zone farther from enemy defenses but still quickly converge on a bridge, highway interchange, or enemy airport. The ISV prioritizes speed over armored protection, an easy choice to make since a heavy armored vehicle can’t be airdropped anyway.
One is from Polaris and called the DAGOR:

"Polaris DAGOR is . . . in service and has a strong background in all-terrain vehicles, which the ISV maybe is more than an actual truck."

One is from Oshkosh and called the Flyer-ISV:

"Oshkosh-Flyer can carry the most stuff and is already in service with the military."

One is from General Motors Defense:

"GM’s ISV is actually based on the Chevy Colorado mid-sized pickup truck, complete with ZR2 off-road suspension package. The vehicle is 70 percent of the commercial vehicle, or commercial parts. The ISV can also carry nine occupants or 3,200 pounds of cargo and passengers." It is the dark horse contender.

* The U.S. Army is considering purchasing the first light tanks it has bought since Vietnam a design called the Griffin II is one of two being considered:

A scale model of the Griffin II
In December 2018, the U.S. Army has chosen two companies to compete for the service’s new light tank program. BAE Systems and General Dynamics will each receive up to $376 million to develop and build 12 light tanks in fourteen months. 
In 2017, the US Army has launched a program called Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) that will purchase 504 light armored vehicles. The Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle is a new combat vehicle required to address the capability gap identified within the Armys Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs). This vehicle would be incorporated in the IBCT structure as a weapon system solution to provide a protected, long-range, cyber-resilient, precision, direct fire capability for early/forcible entry operations. 
The MPF capability is one of the most critical needs for the U.S. Army, particularly for its Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT) who lack protected, long-range, cyber resilient precision direct fire capability for early entry operations. IBCTs require this capability to be employed in austere and unpredictable locations allowing them to avoid the enemy's strengths and rapidly transition to offensive operations and exploit the initiative. 
According to the request of the U.S. Army, the MPF will be a light tank in the 30-ton class, armed with one 105 or 120mm main gun, and two tanks should be able to be transported into C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft. 
In December 2018, the U.S. Army has awarded a $335 million Section 804 Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA) Rapid Prototyping contract to General Dynamics Land Systems to deliver 12 prototype vehicles for the Mobile Protected Firepower program.

The final Mobile Protected Firepower light tank could be delivered to US Army in 2025.
The existing M1-A Abrams heavy tank at 70 tons each has proved not very useful in recent conflicts with most sent to the bone yards because they are slow to deploy, overwhelm foreign bridge and road infrastructure, and provide capabilities that can be obtained with other systems. 

It isn't clear to me that a light tank with a slug throwing large main gun, as opposed to something more like a missile tank, makes sense, but the Army is exploring the possibility anyway.

* In contrast, equipping Stryker armored personnel carriers with anti-armor missiles seems to make more sense.
Beginning in 2022, the Army will start turning large numbers of Stryker infantry carriers into tank-killers by equipping them with remote weapons stations armed with Javelin anti-armor missiles.

The fielding of the Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station-Javelin (CROWS-J) is part of a larger effort to give the basic Stryker infantry carrier more firepower. . . .

Currently, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is the only Stryker unit that has vehicles equipped with 30mm cannons or early versions of the CROWS-J. But the Army will begin equipping three more Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT) with both capabilities in 2022, Col. Syd Hills, director of the Stryker Warfighter Forum at I Corps, told Military.com recently. 
"Some will have the CROWS-Javelin, others will have the 30mm cannon," Hills said. "All of the formations will eventually have both. ... We will eventually kit out all nine [Stryker] brigades." 
The CROWS-J is an M153 CROWS II system, made by Kongsberg, that has been modified to launch an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile. In addition to the Javelin, the CROWS II mounts either an M2 .50 caliber machine gun, M240 7.62mm machine gun, or an MK19 40mm grenade launcher. 
A gunner can detect a heavy armor target and destroy it with the CROWS-J out to roughly 3,000 meters from inside the Stryker vehicle, Hills said. 
Aside from infantry carriers, a Stryker brigade also has Anti-Tank Guided Missile Strykers and the Mobile Gun System, which is equipped with a 105mm cannon. 
But the driving force behind this lethality upgrade is that the SBCT is still an infantry-centric force, Hills said. 
"The additional lethality and the additional firepower is a means of force protection; it's meant to provide standoff and firepower so you can get the dismounted troops closer to the objective by using the vehicle to provide a support by fire and protect them so they can go further faster," he said.

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