Category Archives: helicopters

Cutaway Thursday: Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion

Since xbradtc blogged about this earlier in the week, I’m thowing up a cutaway for the latest incarnation of the western world’s (i.e. non-Russian) largest helicopter (that’d be helo to the NAVY/USMC team and “chopper” to the Army). This done is taken from the King Stallion’s website at Sikorsky:


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Filed under Around the web, helicopters, navy

A US-Japan Littoral Combat Ship Design?

The Diplomat has the story.  The possibility is certainly intriguing.  One can assume rather confidently that Japanese naval engineers are somewhat less enamored of “revolutionary”, “transformational”, and “game-changing” as we seem to be here at NAVSEA.  Japanese ship designs, particularly in smaller units, have always been excellent.  Fast, sturdy, powerful units for their size.

…analysts contend that the trimaran would likely be a lighter variant of the U.S. Navy’s 3,000-tonne littoral combat ship (LCS), a platform designed primarily for missions in shallow coastal waters.

According to reports in Japanese media, the high-speed J-LCS would give the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) the ability to quickly intervene during incursions by Chinese vessels near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and other contested areas of the East China Sea. Chinese analysts speculate that the J-LCS could be intended as a counter to the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) Type 056 corvettes and Type 022 fast-attack boats, two types of vessels that could be deployed to the region should relations continue to deteriorate. Furthermore, early reports indicate that the slightly enlarged hull of the 1,000-tonne-plus vessels could accommodate SH-60K anti-submarine helicopters and MCH-101 airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) helicopters.

If Chinese analysts are correct, and I hope they are, it is possible we will see a smaller, better-armed, more lethal, less fragile, and significantly less expensive warship which will be suitable for combat in the littorals.  Our lack of “low-end” capability to handle missions ill-suited for AEGIS cruisers and destroyers, such as mixing it up with ASCM-armed frigates and fast-attack craft, is nothing short of alarming.  It would be of benefit to the US Navy to scrutinize the results of such a design, which at first blush sounds much closer to the “Streetfighter” concept than either current LCS design, and that of the Cyclone-class Patrol Cutters.

It sure as hell would be an improvement over current designs.  Especially if the “joint” US-Japanese LCS actually shipped the weapons systems and capabilities required and didn’t stake success on as-yet undeveloped “modules” whose feasibility has come increasingly into question.


Filed under armor, Around the web, budget, China, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, marines, navy, Uncategorized, war

Disastrously Delusional- Kerry on “Meet the Press”


The events of this week in the Ukraine, particularly Russia’s de facto occupation of the Crimea, have highlighted the shambles that is US foreign policy.  Aside from revealing the complete impotence of NATO, the situation which has evolved in the last 72 hours has brought to the fore the contrast between the Machiavellian power-broker realism of Putin/Lavrov and the naive and feckless bumbling of Obama and SecState John Kerry.

To the list of foreign policy disasters that include the Cairo speech, the West Point speech, cut and run in Iraq, a stunted “surge” in AFG, the “Arab Spring” debacle, leading “from behind” in Libya, the Benghazi attack and cover-up, supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, being caught bluffing with the “red line” nonsense in Syria, selling out our Israeli allies to make a deal virtually guaranteeing a nuclear Iran, we have the crowning fiasco, and likely the most dangerous in long-term impact for the United States and the world.

Kerry’s appearance on “Meet the Press” today reveals just how misguided and dangerously naive the arrogant amateur buffoons are who are careening our ship of state onto the shoals at flank speed.

This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century, and there’s no way to start with that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to reassemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But there’s much more than that.

Is he kidding?  Power politics was centuries old when Machiavelli defined it in his works in the 1530s.  Power politics has dominated every century since, including the 20th.  In fact, there is virtually no reason to suddenly embrace some notion of “21st Century” statecraft that is any different from that of the previous five centuries, since the emergence of modern nation-states.  That Kerry and Obama think otherwise, and think the rest of the world behaves accordingly, is the height of hubris.  Treating the world as you wish it to be rather than how it exists is simply bankrupt intellectual foolishness.  But there’s more.

And we hope, President Obama hopes that President Putin will turn in the direction that is available to him to work with all of us in a way that creates stability in Ukraine. This does not have to be, and should not be, an East/West struggle.

There is no excuse whatever, other than a willful ignorance of history, to utter such a decidedly stupid and ill-informed comment publicly.  The central theme to the existence of European Russia is an eight-century long existential struggle between East and West.  The tragicomic foolishness of Hillary Clinton’s “reset button”, so contemptuously ridiculed by Foreign Minister Lavrov, was indicative of just how amateurish and incompetent the Obama Administration’s foreign policy and national security players were, and just how precious little they understood the art of statecraft.  Statements like the above reveal how little those players know about the history of the nations and peoples with which that statecraft requires them to interact.

There is worse to come later in the interview with David Gregory.   These two positively head-scratching pronouncements can rightfully make one wonder how tenuous this Administration’s grip on reality truly is:

David, the last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations.

President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here. Yanukovych was his supported president… President Putin is using force in a completely inappropriate manner that will invite the opprobrium of the world.

Such a bizarre pair of assertions is difficult to explain.  The several thousand Russian forces, which include mechanized infantry, attack aviation, and self-propelled artillery certainly seem to point to the notion that Vladimir Putin believed some semblance of a military solution was desired to ensure Russia maintained a friendly buffer between what Putin believes is a hostile West.   A buffer that incidentally includes the strategically vital naval base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and has a population demographic of approximately 60% ethnic Russians.

As for understanding a position of strength, one might also wonder just how Kerry would go about defining strength.  There is virtually nothing NATO can do militarily, should they even be willing; the United States, with shrinking defense budgets, is in the midst of gutting its military to pre-World War II levels.   The leverage the EU has over Russia is limited, despite Russia’s very significant economic problems.   Any “opprobrium”, or threats by the US, France, Canada, and the UK to suspend the G-8 Summit, is positively pittance to the Russians in comparison to the security of their strategically essential western neighbors, regions that have countless times stood between Russia and destruction at the hands of a conquering West. Russia has acted virtually unchallenged, presenting a fait accompli to the West that, despite assertions to the contrary, will not be undone.  If ever there was a position of power, Russia holds it right now in the Crimea, and will be asserting it anywhere and everywhere in the “near abroad” that Putin has long promised to secure.

The United States never has had all that much leverage to prevent Russia and a talented autocrat like Putin from leaning on their western border states, despite the fitful attempts by the US to draw some of those states into the Western sphere.  The invasions of Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 proved that beyond a doubt.  But what is most disturbing about the current crisis is watching the US Secretary of State and the US President misread, misstep, and attempt to bluster their way through another confrontation with a geopolitical rival that is acting without restraint and without regard for the empty rhetoric from the Obama Administration.   The most fundamental lesson of statecraft is that of understanding power.  To that end, we have another object lesson in the use of that power.  There is no such thing as hard power, soft power, or “smart” power.  There is just power.  As it has since antiquity, power consists of the capability to enforce one’s will upon an adversary mixed with the willingness to use that capability.

Putin and Lavrov know that lesson well.  They are hard-bitten professionals who act as they believe necessary to promote Russian interests and improve economic and physical security.  Obama and Kerry are rank amateurs, blinded by an ideology that begets a naive and woefully unrealistic understanding of how the world works.  They have been outfoxed and outplayed yet again, seemingly willingly forfeiting US influence and credibility in pursuit of a badly-flawed world view in which influence is based upon hollow threats and ill-conceived public statements.  Any doubts regarding that assertion should be erased when one listens to the cognitive dissonance emanating from our Secretary of State as he describes the Crimean crisis in terms which have little to do with reality.   It is to weep.


Filed under armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, budget, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, Iran, iraq, israel, Lybia, obama, ossettia, planes, Politics, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Ten Years Ago Today


We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

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Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?


Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.


Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, Artillery, budget, China, Defense, girls, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, iraq, logistics, marines, navy, planes, Politics, SIR!, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Aeroflot Postcards

English Russia recently posted some postcards from the former Soviet state-owned airline, Aeroflot. Click the picture for the airplane’s wikipedia page.



A model of the Tupelov TU-204


Yakovlov Yak-42 “Clobber”


Yakovlev Yak-40 “Codling”


Ilyushin IL-62 “Classic”


Ilyushin IL-76 “Candid”


Ilyushin IL-86 “Camber.”


Another view of the IL-86.


Kamov Ka-26 Hoodlum.


Kamov Ka-32 “Helix”


Let L410 Turbolet


Mil Mi-6 “Hook”


Mil Mi-8 “Hip.”


Antonov An-28


Mil Mi-10 “Harke.”


Tupelov Tu-134


Tupelov Tu-154


Filed under helicopters, history, planes

The Company Landing Team

The USMC has been mulling this around for a while.  Here is an article from the Marine Gazette from Vince Goulding in 2009.   Note that the CoLT concept includes a platoon of M777 155mm howitzers, and a very robust ISR capability.   And lots of comms for calling in supporting fires should it come to that.

CoLT pg 1

CoLT pg 2

CoLT pg 3

The pages are JPEGs, so you can click on them to make them a bit easier to read.   I think we will be working with this concept for Expeditionary Warrior coming up in February.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Artillery, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, iraq, logistics, marines, navy, Politics, war

Rarely-seen Photographs from the Korean War

These were published in the Denver Post back in 2010, but are worth a look.   Many are incredibly poignant, and show the misery and hardship of what war was like in Korea, and what it would be like today.   It is important to note the conditions, the terrain, and the utter exhaustion of the men in many of the photographs, especially as we decide to debate the physical demands of combat arms.

Unforgotten War

Korean War

Korean War

Korean War

There are more than a hundred of them.  Worth a cup of coffee and half an hour to look at all of them.


Miss Robin

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Filed under Air Force, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, Artillery, China, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, marines, navy, planes, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Cutaway Thursday: Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior

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Filed under helicopters

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing RAH-66 Comanche


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Filed under army, helicopters, planes

(K)V-22 Osprey tanker tests.

Aviation Week has an article on the recent tanker trails of the V-22 Osprey. Boeing wants to push the Osprey as a truly multi-role platform.

Here are some pictures from the trails with an accompanying F/A-18 Hornet:


The refueling system makes use of onboard tanks as well as a roll-on/roll-off bladder, Sparks says. The hose extends 90 ft., about 80 ft. from the end of the ramp of the MV-22. The operator must open the ramp to extend the refueling hose; once extended, the ramp is then raised back up with the top ramp door left open, Sparks says.

Depending on mission profile, the system can offload up to 12,000 lb. of fuel, Karika says.


The F/A-18 Hornet was used to test behavior at that distance below and behind the V-22. More testing with fixed and rotary winged aircraft are slated for the future.

After all, no one kicks ass without tanker gas.


Filed under helicopters, marines, planes

Last TOW Missile Fired In USMC Inventory

Apologizes if this makes some feel more age-ed.

Looks like HMLA-367 fired the last TOW in USMC inventory.



Filed under armor, helicopters, history, marines

Kiowa Warrior Pr0n

The Brigade has quite a few high-Rez pics of the Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
The things crews did with this helo in OEF and OIF is legendary.
Here’s some samples of what you’ll find:





Go ahead, go look. You know you want to. I’ll be here when you get back…promise :)

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, helicopters, war

VXX and the Hazards of Procurement

VXX reborn….

The original VXX program to replace the Presidential helicopter fleet became such a boondoggle, and object lesson on gold-plating and a failure to reign in requirements that a simple order of a relative handful of helicopters bloomed to a potential $13 billion program. That’s roughly on a par with the entire Navy shipbuilding budget for one year (though VXX would have been spread over several years) and as such was completely unrealistic. The basic “green” helicopter airframe wasn’t so bad. There were extensive costs involved in adapting a European airframe to US standards, but nothing insurmountable. The real problem came because the buyer, the US Navy, also had to represent the end user, the White House, and between them, they failed to properly define exactly what communications systems the aircraft needed.  It’s one thing to require secure Video Tele Conferencing on the Air Force One, when the President may be airborne for hours. But does he really need that on his helicopter? And a full galley for hot meals?  I think the President can get by with a thermos and a sammich for half an hour.

AW101/VH-71 Kestrel

In the reborn VXX program, the Navy has written a much more tightly defined set of requirements. But the method by which they’ve written them, and the scoring method set, has, as a practical matter, excluded all but one contender. The point of a competition is supposedly to avoid the issues of a monopoly supplier. But now there are concerns that Sikorsky will simply walk away with the program.

The U.S. Navy program to find a replacement for the “Marine One” Presidential helicopter is looking set to become a one-horse race following the withdrawal of AgustaWestland and Northrop Grumman.

The two companies had partnered to offer the AW101 three-engined helicopter for the VXX requirement to replace the aging fleet of Sikorsky VH-60 Whitehawks and VH-3 Sea Kings, but have decided to withdraw after analyzing the request for proposal documents.

In statement to Aviation Week, an AgustaWestland spokesman said: “After a comprehensive analysis of the final RFP, dated May 3, 2013, we determined that we were unable to compete effectively given the current requirements and the evaluation methodology defined in the RFP.

The S-92 was probably the leading contender anyway. Boeing’s two possible entries, the H-47 and the V-22, were really non-starters from Day One. And it’s hard to see how the AW101/VH-71 could be a realistic contender after the debacle of buying several green airframes, only to cancel the program, and sell them to Canada for spare parts at pennies on the dollar.

S-92 as Marine One

Separate from, but simultaneous with the VXX program has been the Air Force’s CSAR-X program to replace its Combat Search and Rescue helicopters. The Air Force fleet of HH-60G’s is old, has limited capabilities, and has shorter range than the Air Force needs. For over a decade, the Air Force has sought to buy up to 121 helicopters to renew their fleet. And while the answer to the Air Force prayers is, to most disinterested observers, a no brainer, politics and the maze of procurement regulations have hampered the Air Force from actually buying any aircraft.

The obvious answer for the Air Force was to piggyback on  the Army’s MH-47G special operations helicopter program, which would have given them a very modern, very long range, very capable aircraft, with the added benefit that the Army had already paid most of the bills for development. And let’s not forget the economies of scale of having hundreds of Chinooks already in service, in terms of training, spare parts, and a robust depot level maintenance system.

And that’s pretty much what the first CSAR-X contract did, awarding the buy to Boeing and the HH-47.

But the complexities of the procurement laws, and strong congressional support for constituent companies, meant that protests in court and the GAO led to the cancellation of the contract, and having to restart the entire program from scratch. Basically, we’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions, down the drain. And the program requirements have been rewritten so that in effect, the only possible winner is the Sikorsky S-92. The other companies won’t even bother to compete.

Now, the S-92 isn’t a bad helicopter, really. It’s been something of a disappointment in terms of sales, and not without its problems, but it isn’t exactly a disaster.  But we’ve gone from a procurement system that provides the services with the best aircraft for the mission, with rules in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse, to a system that protects the contractors over the customer. It’s insane.

As an added bonus for Sikorsky, the Air Force also desperately wants to replace its fleet of ancient UH-1N Hueys that provide support to ballistic missile sites. Their first plan, to simply buy UH-60s directly from the Army (rather than from Sikorsky) was shot down. Now, the S-92 is on the fast track to securing that mission as well, boosting the numbers bought.

There was a time in the not very distant past when the Air Force bought pretty much whatever aircraft the Chief of Staff said to buy. That’s something of an oversimplification, but not by much.

Today, we’ve reached a point where the concern for “fairness” has led to the Air Force, and Navy, being almost unable to buy any aircraft unless it’s a part of a Joint-Multinational program that involves every defense contractor and damn near every congressional district.


Filed under Air Force, army, helicopters, history, planes

The Future Vertical Lift Program is already making me cry.

Forbes has a pretty interesting look at one of the few bright spots in the American military aviation industry, helicopters, and sees clouds on the horizon in terms of procurement numbers. It is a pretty interesting article, and you might enjoy it.

But the part that caught my eye was this:

Meantime, the next generation of rotorcraft will take time to develop.  In June, the US Army selected three designs for its Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program.  JMR-TD is the precursor to the Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, and it should produce three medium size class technology demonstrators to be built by 2017.

There’s a lot of promise with FVL, which, for a start, is intended to replace 2,000-4,000 UH-60 medium lift models and AH-64 attack helicopters.  It will also be used to provide replacements for scout and heavy lift models through a modular design approach that will allow the airframe to be scaled.  In all, it could be worth over $100 billion.  However, FVL procurement will not begin until 2030, at the earliest.

That’s the part that scares me.  Actually, the first paragraph isn’t so bad. A technology demonstrator (TD) program isn’t, per se, bad. In fact, it is probably a pretty good idea. The problem is, a TD in effect becomes a prototype competition (much as happened in the JSF program) and the rules that determine the winner for a TD program are different from the rules that would be used in a genuine prototype fly-off for a production aircraft.

No, what really concerns me is the program looks structured to provide a “one airframe fits all” approach.

Which, it won’t. The reason we have different airframes is simply because one airframe simply cannot adequately perform all the mission sets required.

Now, a good deal of commonality among different airframes isn’t bad. For instance, the cockpit of the Boeing 757 and 767 are virtually identical. If you can fly one, you can pretty much fly the other. And using the same parts gives economies of scale in procurement and maintenance.  The same holds true with most Airbus single aisle airliners.

Should the FVL program lead to new technologies in engine, rotors,avionics,  noise and infrared suppression and other improvements, by all means, those developments should, where feasible, be shared across future programs.

But the bit about scalability is scaring me. I strongly suspect that rather than developing separate airframes with common components, the services will try to develop a common airframe with divergent missions. And that will be doomed to failure.

After all, it isn’t like this hasn’t happened before. The cancelled RAH-66 Comanche was the sole fruit of what was, until then, the most ambitious procurement program the Army ever undertook- the LHX. The Light Helicopter Experimental program was started in the early 1980s to replace the first generation of turbine powered helicopters of the Army. It was intended to replace the UH-1, the AH-1, the OH-6 and the OH-58, and eventually even replace the UH-60 and AH-64 that were just beginning to enter service as the LHX program was begun.

Trying to make one program fulfill several different roles meant a leap in technology was needed. Which meant the program was high risk. And a high risk program means a drawn out development schedule, which means high costs. And high costs per unit demand a more and more capable unit, which drives up the need for a technological leap, which makes a program high risk, which….

Eventually, the lift helicopter portions of the program were shed, and the focus was on a light armed scout. And that scout was burdened with ever greater requirements to be far more advanced than any previous helicopter. No doubt, a fair amount of the gold-plating of the program was a result of the contractor coming up with innovative ideas of what they could do- given the time and money to try, of course.

But so much time was spent developing the resulting RAH-66 helicopter that its mission, to slip far behind the lines of any Soviet armored assault on Western Europe, and locate valuable targets for other Army assets, was overtaken by other technologies, not to mention the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

After a quarter century of development and untold billions of dollars in development, the Army ended up with nothing.

Where the Army (and the other services) have had great success in aviation procurement is in tightly defining a mission and more importantly, tightly defining the requirements to fulfill that mission. When the services have ruthlessly resisted the call to add more capabilities beyond the immediate level needed to accomplish a mission, and have steadfastly avoided mission creep, they’ve had good success in buying aircraft. But without that discipline, they’ve suffered setback after embarrassing setback and ballooning costs and development timelines.

Let’s hope the FVL program manager can read a little history.


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, helicopters

Operation End Sweep (part 2)

3-1-2010 11-51-59 PM

A map of North Vietnam with the shaded areas representing mined areas.

Part 1.

It was never the intention of the Nixon Administration to make sweeping mines in the South China Sea a political issue. Nevertheless, on 16 May 1972, the Washington Evening Star quoted Nixon as saying “the mines will go when the POWs (Prisoners of War) are free.” SECSTATE Kissinger saw that eventually minesweeping could be used to help bring our POWs home because the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) were the one that initially raised the mine sweeping issue in connection with handing over the POWs. By 15 December, 1972 the White House told SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) that the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) should review it’s minesweeping plans for North Vietnam. On 20 December, the JCS responded to the Whitehouse and SECDEF by saying clearing the mines posed an “undue risk to Naval personnel.” However, by that time the peace processes was faltering and Operation Linebacker II commenced, resulting in an increased mining of the waters off North Vietnam. Eventually the DRV did return to the peace table and on 27 January DRV signed a “Mine Clearing Protocol” as part of the so-called Paris Peace Deal.

The most important issues directly related to OES (Operation End Sweep) in the protocol were:

Article 3: consult immediately on relevant factors and agree upon the earliest possible target date for the completion of work.

Article 4: set a meeting between Naval representative from the US and DRV “At a later date. (these meeting actually began before the protocol was signed).” During this time the US Navy gave some rudimentary technical details on how the Destructor mines worked.

Article 5: Specified that DRV should actively participate in clearing/sweeping inland waterways using equipment and training that was given to them by the US.

By 5 February a “Haiphong Clearing Committee” had met to discuss the technical details of minesweeping the Haiphong area. These meetings took place on TF-78 Task Force 78) ships.

On February 6th, MSOs entered and swept the anchorage where the larger ships of TF-78 would stay. USS Impervious swept the area and marked with the path with buoys. Sweeping in the vicinity of the anchorage continued south of Grand Norway Island on the 7th.

Sweeping the northern ports over the southern ports and inland waterways but the problem was the large between in the minefields the DRV had charted and the minefields that the US Navy charted. The sweep plan stated only areas where known mines were and/or had self-destructed or sterilized would be swept. By 7 February the LPH and LPDs arrived at the anchorage while other airborne units continued training at Subic Bay. Another DRV point of contention was the insistence on the Navy giving the DRV towing gear and earth moving equipment to dig-up and move buried mines. However, at the time, the US was unwilling to allow this.

The first merchant ship departed Haiphong around the 7th, before sweeping of area had even begun. These shallow draft ships were empty (having already unloaded military equipment before the mining began) and used US supplied minefield charts to make the run into the South China Sea at high tide. Even before US Navy sweeping operations began, the NVN (North Vietnamese Navy) used Soviet supplied “closed loop” mine sweeping gear to sweep portions of the port of Haiphong.

On 21 February, airborne mine seeping assets arrived on-scene. The first airborne sweep by an HM-12 CH-53D (with a UH-1E in the lead) occurred on  27 February. Meanwhile on 23-25 February, Raydist equipment was installed ashore at Do SonCat Bai and Dinh Vu. These were transported ashore by CH-46s from HMM-165. A fourth Raydist was installed on board the fleet tug, USS Tawasa (ATF-92).

Early in the morning on the 28th, sweeping operations stopped because the POWs were not being returned per agreement. OES was being used as the “carrot” to get the DRV to return the POWs but the DRV wanted mine sweeping equipment for sweeping the inland waterways on their own. Agreement to this was reached on 5th March and operations resumed on the 6th.

Magnetic Orange Pipe 1

Magnetic Orange Pipe

3-1-2010 11-51-38 PMNorthern ports and villages were swept for the next 6 weeks. Airborne unit Alfa swept the Haiphong area using the MK-105 sweeping gear. Unit Bravo, using the MOP swept the Cua Cam area. On a side note, airborne units, Charlie and Delta never trained with the MK-105 gear.

3-1-2010 11-53-25 PMOn 9 March at 1240 local, the first and only mine swept, a MK-52, detonated behind in the vicinity of a MK-105 being towed behind a CH-53D.  Most of the deployed mines by the time of OES had already self-sterilized.


MK-52 mine.

On the 13th, the Soviet merchantman, Zayson transited the Haiphong channel inbound.

On the 17th, the USS Enhance, had an engine room fire. Enhance was anchored in the outer approach to Passe HenrietteUSS Safeguard assisted and brought the Enhance under tow. That same day an HM-12 CH-53D lost it’s tail rotor and crashed. All the crew were recovered.  After this all CH-53s (throughout the US Navy and USMC) were grounded and inspected. On March 25 a MK-105 undertow collided with a “civilian” 12ft wooden skiff. There were no injures but there was some minor damage to the –105.


An HM-12 CH-53D Super Stallion.

Another CH-53S was lost on 2 April due to a tail rotor failure. It splashed down in Haiphong harbor and the crew was recovered. As a result, a more extensive inspection of all OES CH-53s occurred. Pitch change rod end assemblies were replaced and gearbox inspections were increased to every 10 flight hours. Flights resumed on 6 April.


The USS Washtenaw County seen transiting the main channel in Haiphong harbor.

By 14 April the USS Washentaw County transited Haiphong’s main shipping channel to demonstrate is navigability but by the 17, this was cut short again because the DRV failed to meet the agreed to cease-fire in Laos and Cambodia. On the 24th, elements of TF-78 departed the area for Subic Bay.

On 24, April the USS Force had and engine fire and sunk about 770 miles east of Guam, on it’s way to OES. The crew was recovered by a Norwegian merchant ship.

Taking TF-78 off the line allowed for TF-78 to undertake a reassessment of OES.  The Navy estimated that most of the mines had self sterilized by the first week of May. As of the 16 April, in the Haiphong area 3 days each of sweeping at Cua Cam and Lach Tray channels and 2 additional transits by Washtenaw County in the main shipping channel were all that remained to be done. In the Hon Gai and Cam Pha, 6 and 2 days, respectively, of airborne screening remained. Remaining operations would be conducted as a check sweep because all mines completed their self-sterilization period of 6 months. There was also an assessment of equipment that the Navy had given to the DRV.

Operations resumed on 20 June and an agreement was also in place to give the DRV more equipment for sweeping the inland waterways, which, by now, they were going to do on their own. Most of the check sweeping was done around Lach Huyen and on the  26 mine sweeping in the north by Haiphong was finished. On 28 June operations shifted to Vinh. Alfa swept near Hon La and Bravo swept Quang Khe.

On 4 July the fatality of OES occurred when a flight deck crewman on the USS Ogden caught in the closing stern door of a CH-53 that was taking off.

Finally, Operation End Sweep, wound down by 20 July 1973. The closing dispute between the Navy and the DRV was over bulldozers. The DRV wouldn’t accept the condition of the TD-6 bulldozers. The TD-6s were thought, by the DRV, to be in poor material condition. There was a final meeting on 18 July 1973 to resolve this issue but nothing ever came of it.

Elements of TF-78 left the DRV for Subic Bay and on 27 July 1973 TF-78 was dissolved 6 months to the day it was formed.

In total, the Haiphong area accounted for 70% of the tow hours. The 3 northern port areas required 87% of the tow hours. Generally the sweeping was carried out to a 95% certainty that no live mines remained.

Here’s a summary of End Sweep units:

CH-53Ds: 37 aircraft

13 USN HM-12

24 USMC HMM-463 and HMM-165

Ocean Minesweepers (MSOs): 10

Mine Flotilla 1 Western Pacific

  Engage (MSO-433)

  Force (MSO-445

  Fortify (MSO-446)

  Impervious (MSO-449)

  Inflict (MSO-456)

West Coast

  Enhance (MSO-437)

  Leader (MSO-490)

  Illusive (MSO-448)

Naval Reserve Training Force ships, based in Hawaii

  Conquest (MSO-480)

  Esteem (MSO-438)

  Washtenaw County (MSS-2)


I was trying to find out exactly who the only fatality was. I was unable to find out. If anyone does know, please let me know.  I’d like to dedicate these posts to his sacrifice.

For more information on the different elements of OES see the following:

The Naval Historical Society’s page on OES.

Wikipedia’s page. has a few more pics of the vessel involved.

102 Minesweepers has some good stuff.

Eagle One has some good info on the history of airborne minesweeping.

Finally, some more history of airborne mine countermeasures here.

2 books provide context and further information:

Hartman’s “Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the US Navy” and the Naval Historical Society’s “Operation End Sweep: A History of Minesweeping Operations in North Vietnam.”


Filed under helicopters, history, navy, war

Operation End Sweep (part 1)

CH-53 MK-105 Sled

AN HM-12 CH-53D tows a MK 105 sled during Operation End Sweep

On 8 May 1972, as part of Operation Pocket Money (itself a part of Operation Rolling Thunder), 3 A-6 Intruders (from VMA(AW)-224) and 6 A-7 Corsairs (from VA-22 and VA-94) launched from the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) to deploy mines within the vicinity of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam.


An illustration of the Southeast Asia are of Operations.

The A-6 flight led by the CAG (Commander, Carrier Air Wing), Commander Roger Sheets, was composed of USMC aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Commander Len Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Captain William Carr, USMC, the bombardier navigator in the lead plane established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H.


A-6A Intruder from VMA(AW)-224.

Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment. All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President’s public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy’s ability to continue receiving war supplies.

Operation Rolling Thunder itself served as a way to get the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table in Paris. Prior to Operation Pocket Money, the US Navy planning offices had studied minesweeping operations off Haiphong but the assets to conduct minesweeping were not properly maintained.  However some sweeping had taken place off Saigon in preparation for a non-combatant evacuation. Most of the minesweeping assets in theatre were devoted to Operation Market Time in South Vietnam. Most of the minesweeping equipment dated from the Korean War era. In 1970 the US Navy had made a decision to place more emphasis of minesweeping from helicopters due to the increasing cost of MSO (ocean-going minesweepers).

There were about 8 months between the time that CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief Pacific) had received orders to begin minesweeping and the time the task force remained on-station to conduct sweeping operations. This allowed time for development of equipment, tactics and training.

Between the dates of May 9-11 of 1972, as assessment of problems was conducted. There were no oceanographic charts of the operational area off Haiphong, there was no data to give accurate predictions of equipment losses that could occur during operations, there was a lack of specialized personnel and training (both in the officer and enlisted ranks).

In 1972 mine countermeasures for both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were combined was under one type commander – Commander Mine Warfare Force, based in Charleston, South Carolina. What follows is a list of operational resources that were in this organization:

-One Mobile Mine Countermeasures Command (MOMCOM). This was the command structure to provide worldwide airborne and other support of minesweeping operations.

-Three Mine Flotillas. Each Flotilla was composed of a number of MSOs.

-One Helicopter minesweeping squadron. Helicopter Minesweeping Squadron 12 (HM-12) was the airborne component to the task force.

-One squadron of minesweeping boats (MSB and MSL).

-One Mine Force Support Group. They were responsible for training and equipping personnel for minesweeping operations.

HM-12 was equipped with 12 CH-53Ds. 2 of the helos were in use at the Naval Coastal Systems Laboratory. The CH-53Ds were on loan from the USMC and were configured with towing strong points required for mine countermeasures towing.


HM-12 patch

These helos towed the MK-103 gear for sweeping moored mines, the MK-104 gear for acoustic mines and MK-105 hydrofoil for sweeping magnetic mines.

mk-105 minesweeping sled

Schematic drawing of the MK-105 minesweeping sled, showing the major components of the device.

Other airborne assets that didn’t necessarily belong to MOMCOM but were tasked to them were USAF C-5A Galaxies that were used to airlift the CH-53Ds to the theatre.


An example of an MSO used during Operation End Sweep, the USS Constant (MSO-427).

Most of the surface born mine sweeping assets were the 172 ocean minesweeper (MSOs). By 1972 most of these ships were 13 to 19 years of age with 5 in the Western Pacific, 17 on the west coast and 11 on the east coast another 17 were in the Naval Reserve Forces and 13 were in an inactive status.  14 of these MSOs had received new engines to improve their useful lives and decrease the maintenance necessary for effective operation. Other vessels were the eleven 144 foot coastal minesweepers and nineteen 57-foot minesweeping boats.

The minefields off Haiphong were too shallow for sweeping operations by any of these types of vessels. However sensors towed by these vessels like the AN\SQO-14 sonar gave these vessels the ability to map the bottom of the ocean at sufficient resolution to detect mines. The only capability these vessels had to dispose of the mines were EOD divers.

The Naval Scientific Assistance Program (NASP), provided solutions to problems of immediate concern. For example, the NASP developed simulators for use in training and automated minesweeping planning software. As a side note, the NASP expressed a concern of solar flare activity in August of 1972. NASP thought these flares caused a large number of mine detonations of Destructor mines in US minefields off North Vietnam.

There were other problems concerning preparation for Operation End Sweep. Among them being a general lack of funds for training and equipment (which admittedly was a problem throughout all US forces at the time. Problems specific to minesweeping forces detailed to Operation End Sweep were reliability problems for degaussing, sonar (AN/SQO-14), and engines on the MSOs. There was no equipment for precision navigation and mapping of minefields. There was no oceanographic data for sea floor in the vicinity of Haiphong. The was no protection for the CH-53Ds that were involved in minesweeping.

HM-12 conducted training from May to November 1972 off of Charleston, South Carolina. The CH-53Ds operated from an LPD (Landing Platform Dock) and crews learned how to rig the minesweeping equipment to the helo. LCVPs (Land Craft Vehicle and Personnel or “Higgins Boat”) carried the MK-105 sleds to the waiting hovering helos. The sleds were then attached to the towing strong points on the aircraft.

Training of both surface and air forces for Operation End Sweep as done off of Panama City, Florida. Most of these tests were to test the accuracy of the Raydist. EOD teams also conducted training with surface minesweeping forces.

On 6 November 1972, Task Force 78 deployed to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Forces kept a low profile on base because TF-78 was being used as a bargaining chip in the Paris peace talks. The CH-53Ds were deployed to Subic via USAF C-5 Galaxy.

In January 1973 the Paris Peace Treaty was about to be signed and TF-78 forces ramped up training. Crews from HMM-165 trained with HM-12 aboard the USS Ogden and USS Dubuque. MSOs USS FortifyUSS ForceUSS Impervious and USS Engage began sweeping the anchorage for the TF, some approaches to Haiphong. Operations were being monitored by the Soviet Intelligence Collection Ship, Protractor.

By 26 February, airborne units from HM-12 were ready to be deployed aboard ships. HM-12 was divided into 4 detachments, each aboard 4 ships in the task group. Dets Alpha and Bravo embarked aboard the USS Ogden, USS Dubuque, and USS New Orleans. Dets Charlie and Delta embarked aboard the USS Inchon (LPD-12) and USS Cleveland (LPH-7).

General planning for sweeping operations in Haiphong actually started in 1972 as part of general contigency planning on the part of JCS. By mid-1972 however clearing the mines in Haiphong become a diplomatic issue at the Paris Peace Talks. The initial planning for End Sweep were known as Formation Sentry I and Formation Sentry II. These plans differed from End Sweep through the numbers and assets to be used. The Sentry plans were completed by 1972 but held ready by CINCPACFLT (Commander-In-Chief Pacific Fleet).

Imputes to expand Formation Sentry I into Formation II occurred because of what became known as the Warrington incident in June and July 1972. While conducting naval bombardment 10 to 20 miles northeast of Dong Hoi, the USS Warrington was damaged by an underwater explosion that was determined to have been possibly caused by a Destructor mine laid as a result of an aircraft navigation error.

This incident led the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) to determine that MSOs were particularly suited to ocean-sweeping operations in this area and prompted a danger zone to be established in the area. The area was never swept because a Naval Oceanographic team was trying to survey the area and was fired on by shore batteries. The area was never cleared (except for the self-destruction of the mine). The Warrington incident did bring increased interest of Minesweeping to the JCS and the appropriate planning offices were notified.


Ships of Task Force 78 at anchor in the Gulf of Tonkin.

By 24 November 1972 Task Force 78 (TF-78) was activated. TF-78 consisted of the following:

-Surface Support Group (Task Group 78.0) consisting of LPH and LPD types to serve as helicopter platforms and supporting ships such as the fleet ocean tug and salvage ship. Five helicopter platforms were available plus a flagship-maintenance platform. An amphibious squadron commander led the Surface Support Group.

-Mobile Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.1) the airborne group, contained the 4 airborne units (A,B,C,D), the special minesweeper Washtenaw County and various other units. Commander TG-78.1 was in overall command of sweeping in coastal and port areas.

-Surface Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.2) consisted of the 10 MSOs assigned to End Sweep. TG-78.2 acted as control ships for the helo minesweeping operations.

-Advanced Base Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.3) was stationed at Subic Bay. This group provided maintenance, repair and supply to the entire task group; trained Marines in MCM and coordinated installation of sweeping kits and the Swept Mine Locator Camera System on the helicopters. Civilian technical representative from the various contractors were also part of this group.

-Contingency Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.4) was activated later and primarily responsible for sweeping the inland waterways in North Vietnam. They were also primarily responsible for supervising North Vietnamese sweep personnel.

-Salvage Group (Task Group 78.5) was responsible for finding and disposing buried mines in the Haiphong Channel.

On 27 January, MSOs began sweeping the anchorages of Haiphong where the main ship in TF-78 would be operating. On the 29th, the Paris Peace Agreement was formally signed by representatives from the United States, The Republic of Vietnam, The Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front.

By May of 1972, the largest mine countermeasures force the world had ever seen, up to that time, had assembled and was ready for action.

In the next part of this series we’ll get into the minesweeping equipment used in Operation End Sweep and the operation itself.

This was my first attempt to tell some “non-aviation” history that I felt needed to be told.  If I’ve missed something or said something in error as usual you feedback is more than welcome.



Filed under helicopters, history, navy

2000th Apache?


The Dew Line does some math on exactly how many Boeing (initially Hughes, then McDonnell Douglas) AH-64 Apaches have been produced.

Turns out maybe the they’re counting the number they’ve rebuilt too?

Anyone wanna run the numbers or know how Boeing came up with the 2000? According to the Wikipedia page as of February 2010 the number world-wide is 1,070 aircraft.

Anyway Boeing recently released a video in commemoration.

There’s also a video from a Boeing retired test pilot of the Apache.

Btw, they’re up to the E model, called the Apache Guardian.

1 Comment

Filed under army, Around the web, helicopters

First Attack!

The 1st Battalion, 227 Aviation Regiment has a long proud history.  Former member, and long time friend of the blog, Outlaw 13 collaborated with several others, and international film and television star Nick Searcy, to produce a great tribute to the unit.  It’s well worth your time.


Filed under army, helicopters, history

Is the Supercarrier Dead?

So, is the supercarrier dead? Jerry Hendrix wrote a thought provoking piece titled “At What Cost A Carrier?” Normally, we think Hendrix is pretty sharp, but this piece was not up to his usual standards. First, comparing the roughly $7bn cost of the last in class CVN-77, to the first in class CVN-78 (roughly $14 bn) is a bit misleading. The last in class benefits from the entire learning curve of a production run. The first in class always suffers cost issues because of the same learning curve issues. Further, as much as $5bn of the cost of the new class is in non-recurring research and development costs. So while the cost of the next-gen carrier is still rather appalling, it’s not terribly out of line with recent trends in comparable shipbuilding.

So let’s take a look at some of the alternatives the Wired article I linked explores.

1. Using the new America class or a derivative as baby carriers.

First, the America class are not baby carriers. They are amphibious warships. Sure, they look a lot like carriers, and have better ability to operate larger numbers of AV-8B or F-35B jets than the existing LHD class big deck amphibs. But they are still amphibious warfare ships, designed to carry and land the hear of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Battalion Landing Team, and host the majority of its Air Combat Element (ACE), a reinforced medium helicopter unit.

The biggest drawback of using an LHD/LHA as a carrier is the fact that it cannot operate either the E-2 Hawkeye, or the EF-18G. One of the key lessons of the Falklands War was that while carrier airpower can be decisive, operating carriers without airborne early warning and electronic warfare in range of shore based air is fraught with risk.

LHD/LHA are also quite a bit slower than carriers. That reduces their mobility quite a bit. One of the key strengths of carriers in the power projection role is their ability to close with a coast, launch strikes, and retire before the enemy can mount a coherent counterstrike. But you have to move pretty quick to do that. Even a relatively modest decrease in speed has a significant negative effect on that ability. That reduced speed also makes an LHD/LHA quite a bit more vulnerable to submarine attack.

Further, all of the vulnerabilities that supposedly make the modern supercarrier obsolete are there in any LHD/LHA, only magnified.

2. The “everything’s a carrier” approach.

Not a bad idea, to some extent.

That is, between helicopters and UAVs, more and more ships are capable of deploying at least some form of their own, organic air support.  UAVs obviously extend the sensor envelope for ships. And helicopters not only extend the sensor envelope, but often give much greater reach to the ships weapons, either by carrying their own, or providing much better targeting for ship launched weapons.

But the fantasy that unmanned combat air vehicles can replace the manned strike aircraft is just that- fantasy. For at least the next generation, manned aircraft will continue to be the only viable option.

As for converting merchant hulls to carrier like roles, that too faces severe handicaps. Virtually every challenge an LHD/LHA faces, so to any converted merchantman. Worse, not being built to warship standards, they are far less capable of withstanding battle damage or fire.

The linked article notes for the cost of a carrier, you could buy several smaller ships, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be buying equal effectiveness for your money, nor does it even mean the results would be cheaper in the long run.  Don’t forget, the big cost in operating a ship isn’t fuel, but manpower. And the manpower for several smaller ships would likely be greater than one supercarrier.

3. Submarine Strike

Yes, the converted Ohio class SSGNs are handy. And adding a few more tubes to later flight Virginia class SSNs is probably a good idea. But that’s hardly a substitute for airpower. First, right now, the only viable weapon is the Tomahawk cruise missile. While it is a good weapon, it is both slow, and only very modestly stealthy. It is quite vulnerable to air defense. It also has a rather paltry 1000lb warhead, far too small to hold at risk any number of critical targets in almost any campaign.

Worse, it has only the most limited utility against any target that isn’t a fixed installation. Latest versions can be retargeted in flight, but requires a data-link with an airborne assets. Which implies you can be flying over enemy territory. Which raises the question, if you can fly over territory long enough and far enough to retarget a Tomahawk, why not just use that aircraft as a strike platform anyway?

Submarine launched cruise missile attacks also suffer from “shallow magazines.”  An Ohio SSGN with full magazines only carries 154 missiles. That sounds like a lot (and at roughly a million dollars a pop, it’s a lot of money) but in terms of warheads on foreheads, that’s a day’s work for a carrier.  And the carrier can launch several days of strikes before having to retire to rearm.  Whereas a carrier can rearm at sea, an SSGN has to return to a friendly port to reload.  Such lack of sustained firepower is why URR refers to the SSGN as able to deliver a “strike”, rather than “fires.”

Since Billy Mitchell first bombed captured German warships in Chesapeake Bay, people have been sounding the death knell of the carrier. And yet, it continues to prove itself again and again as not only a viable weapon of war, but a crucial tool of warfighting and diplomacy.

That’s not to say Naval Aviation doesn’t face challenges. The short striking range of today’s air wing, the astonishing cost of the F-35C program (and limited capabilities it provides) and the short-sighted decision to jettison dedicated tanker, ASW and long range strike (as opposed to strike-fighter) assets have lead to the construction of ever more capable carriers, with arguably ever diminishing capability in the main battery of the carrier, its air wing.

If carriers are such obsolete and vulnerable warships, why are so many other countries striving today to build their own carrier capbability?


Filed under helicopters, navy, Politics

Fire Support In Vietnam

Most of the video is just run of the mill artillery stuff, and thus not terribly interesting, but check out the three-shot grenade launcher at 6:10. What the heck is that thing?


Filed under Artillery, ducks, guns, helicopters

Everything I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned as a Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam

1. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.

2. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It’s just what they do.

3. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.

4. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.

5. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.

6. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.

7. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.

8. Sometimes, being good and lucky is still is not enough.

9. “Chicken Plates” are not something you order in a restaurant

10. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you’re about to be surprised.

11. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.

12. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.

13. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed “To Whom It May Concern”.

14. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.

15. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part.

16. Happiness is a belt-fed weapon.

17. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.

18. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.

19. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.

20. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of These, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.

21. Everybody’s a hero…On the ground…In the club…After the fourth drink.

22. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.

23. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder the strange engine noises become.

24. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.

25. Being shot hurts.

26. “Pucker Factor” is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass . It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height above ground ) + I (interest in staying alive) + T ( # of tracers coming your way)

27.Thus the term ‘SHIT!’ can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.

28. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.

29. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.

30. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the rules.

31. C-4 can make a dull day fun.

32. There is no such thing as a fair fight – only ones where you win or lose.

33. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose you don’t care.

34. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing – NOW – to solve our problem.

35. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that’s a can opener for those of you who aren’t military.

36. Prayer may not help…but it can’t hurt.

37. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medivac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.

38. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.

39. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.

40. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.

41. If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of these.

(h/t Rick Collins, via Scott Ruch)

My personal favorites are #4 and #31.


Filed under helicopters

OpFor Vismods

The National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA originally had a fairly simple purpose. Units tagged to deploy to Germany in case of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe would face an incredibly steep learning curve. By putting them through their paces at NTC, that curve could be flattened somewhat. It was very similar to the Air Force’s paradigm of Red Flag operations that would give squadrons their “first 10 wartime missions.”

At the time, one of the more radical concepts of NTC was the use of a full time Opposing Force* to model the size, tactics, and visual representation of a Soviet Motorized Rifle Regiment. Traditionally, units training in the field would face off against a sister unit. Not surprisingly, those units tended to use American tactics.  Worse, American units were equipped with American equipment, and distinguishing friend from foe on the battlefield was virtually impossible. One of the goals of NTC might be to sow confusion in the unit being trained, but that was taking it a bit far.

The OpFor at NTC went to great lengths to model themselves as the vanguard of the Evil Empire, going so far as to wear uniforms resembling the Soviets.

But equipping an entire Motorized Rifle Regiment (roughly equivalent to a US mechanized brigade) posed a bit of a challenge. When NTC opened in the late 70s, there wasn’t a lot of surplus Soviet equipment available on the market. What there were plenty of was M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles.  Less than satisfactory as light armor or recon vehicles, there were plenty of them available to equip the OpFor. Unfortunately, they didn’t look very Russian.

But by adding various plastic, fiberglass and other panels, a Sheridan could be given the rough visual outline of either a Soviet tank or BMP fighting vehicle.   Not surprisingly, these visual modifications quickly became known as VISMODS.

M551 Sheridan pretending to be a BMP-1 IFV

M551 masquerading as a T-80 tank

Now, even on the best of days, a Sheridan with with plastic wasn’t a dead ringer for any Soviet vehicle. But that’s kind of beside the point. It was sufficient that it was visually distinctive from American vehicles, and that the US unit under training could distinguish between tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and a few other types. That was important because the type and number of vehicles you see on any given spot on the battlefield can tell you a lot about what the enemy intentions.

And it didn’t really matter if the Sheridan’s weapon systems were very different from the vehicles they were portraying. Since the force on force gunnery at NTC was done via the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES), switching out the control box would allow a Sheridan to replicate virtually any direct fire weapon system, from machine guns, to tank guns to guided missiles.

So the Sheridan served the OpFor well through the 80s and into the 1990s.

But, you say, by the early 1990s, there was a ton of surplus Soviet armored vehicles available for dirt cheap. Why didn’t the Army just use those instead of modified American tracks?

We could have easily brought back enough Soviet (and Chinese) armor from Desert Storm to equip the OpFor with real vehicles. The problem would have been spare parts.  As reliable and rugged as Soviet designs were, they still needed a lot of spare parts. Providing a pipeline for those parts, training mechanics to repair  new vehicles, and training drivers and crews for them would have been prohibitively expensive.

By the mid 1990s, the Sheridan fleet was getting pretty tired. The supply of spare parts was pretty close to exhausted as well, and keeping the vehicles running was becoming more and more expensive. A replacement was needed, but there wasn’t a huge budget for one.

What the Army needed was a vehicle that was in plentiful supply, with a large, established spares pipeline. Buying new vehicles was out. What was there in the fleet that would be suitable?

The trusty M113 filled the bill. No longer in front line use as an infantry carrier, thousands of them still serve in various support roles. But having been replaced in mechanized infantry battalions left plenty of them to equip the OpFor.  But the square squat M113 didn’t look much like any Soviet vehicle.

A quick, relatively low cost program actually rebuilt about 120 M113s by adding some visual panels, but more importantly a power driven turret. Known as the M113 OSV (OpFor Surrogate Vehicle) these tracks form the backbone of the OpFor’s armored vehicle fleet.  The basic M113 hull and powerplant were identical to those in service. Most of the components of the turret were from the M2/M3 Bradley, so service, operation and spares were relatively low cost. Changing some outside fiberglass panels allows OSV’s to represent either tanks or the BMP-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

While the OSV isn’t the only presentation of Soviet vehicles the good guys are likely to see.  BRDM recon vehicles are represented by modified Humvees.

The OpFor at NTC isn’t the only OpFor. There are also full time opposing forces at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk, LA (geared primarily to light forces), and the Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hoehenfels, Germany. And while the VisMods form the main body of the OpFor, the Army does have a limited number of captured vehicles either for familiarization or occasionally to act as OpFor.


The top frame of the pic is your humble scribe setting a Dragon missile simulator for the next mission.

Helicopters are also represented by the OpFor.



Often times, the permanent OpFor needs to be augmented by “normal” forces. To differentiate these interim OpFor from the friendly forces, some minimal modifications are usually made.  In my days in Germany, we’d strap a painted 55 gallon drum on the top deck of our M113s. Tanks often carried drums on their rear deck, simulating the common Soviet Practice of carrying spare fuel there.  Since the full time OpFor at NTC has morphed into a real Combat Brigade Team, in addition to its OpFor duties, it also has access to the normal complement of combat vehicles of the Army. These can also be used to simulate a Soviet equipped force, though with considerably less fidelity.

M1 KVT (Krasnovian Variant Tank) Krasnovia is the notional nation the OpFor represents.

In tight budget times, Opposing Forces are an attractive target for budget cutters. From a wide array squadrons, the Air Force, Navy and Marines have had their aggressor strength greatly diminished. But the effect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have actually worked to expand and diversify the Army’s OpFor , and while some cutbacks are inevitable, the Army will fight tooth and nail to maintain the core of its capability to present a realistic threat scenario to maneuver forces under training.

*Technically, now it is the Contemporary Operating Environment Force or COEFOR, but everyone still calls it the OpFor.


Filed under armor, ARMY TRAINING, helicopters, history, infantry

227th @ 50!

Outlaw 13, of Threedonia fame, gave us the heads up on this. The 227th Aviation Regiment will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on the 13th. Now, in an army that’s over 230 years old, that may not seem so old. But aviation units, of course, didn’t get started in earnest until the Vietnam War.  But in that war, and subsequent ones, some units, such as the 227th Aviation Regiment, have accumulated histories any unit would be proud of.

Outlaw13, Nick Searcy*, and film maker  Kenn Christenson have collaborated to produce this film celebrating half  a century of service. Enjoy!

*Yes, that Nick Searcy, my close personal friend, Peabody Award Winner, and International Film and Television Star, and host of Acting School with Nick Searcy.


Filed under guns, helicopters, history


Kaman  Helicopters has a long history of taking an… unconventional approach to solving the challenges of rotary winged flight. A few years ago, they looked at the issue of helicopters with external loads, and decided that what was needed was something smaller than the enormous CH-54 Skycrane. But to maximize the external load, as little helicopter as possible would be used. And rather than the traditional crew of two, it would only use one pilot. Little helicopter, big load.

Taking the idea even further, and teaming up with LockMart, they decided no pilot was an even better option. Pretty soon, they’d paired up with the Marines to test this unmanned helicopter for delivering supplies to remote outposts in Afghanistan. Flying in supplies by helo reduces the number of ground convoys needed, reducing their vulnerability to IEDs. And by using an unmanned helicopter, that reduces the risk to aircrews, and frees up conventional helicopters for troop movements or evac missions or other uses.

I’m not entirely sold that this is an especially cost effective program, but it is pretty interesting to watch.


Filed under Afghanistan, helicopters, marines