US unable to defend against Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, report warns

The U.S. lacks the defenses needed to protect against a new breed of highly sophisticated hypersonic weapons from China and Russia, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. “China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range … Continue reading “US unable to defend against Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, report warns”

The U.S. lacks the defenses needed to protect against a new breed of highly sophisticated hypersonic weapons from China and Russia, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities,” the report said. “There are no existing countermeasures.”

Earlier this year, the Russian military said it ran a successful test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile capable of sneaking through enemy defenses.

US AIR FORCE: WE'RE IN ‘DANGER’ OF FALLING BEHIND CHINA AND RUSSIA BY 2025

A video posted by the Defense Ministry Sunday showed a MiG-31 fighter jet launching a Kinzhal (Dagger) missile during a training flight. The ministry said the missile, which carried a conventional warhead, hit a practice target at a firing range in southern Russia.

The video screen shows the Kinzhal missile system as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers an annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, at Moscow’s Manezh Central Exhibition Hall. (Mikhail MetzelTASS via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Kinzhal flies 10 times faster than the speed of sound, has a range of more than 1,250 miles and can carry a nuclear or a conventional warhead. The military said it's capable of hitting both land targets and navy ships.

The U.S. military has been busily ramping up its hypersonic weapons capabilities.

AIR FORCE SETS SIGHTS ON HIGH-TECH LASER WEAPONS

In April, the Pentagon announced a deal with Lockheed Martin to develop a “hypersonic conventional strike weapon” for the U.S. Air Force. The deal for the air-launched Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) is worth up to $928 million.

Russia’s MiG-31 supersonic interceptor jets carrying hypersonic Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles fly over Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2018. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Four months later, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract of up to $480 million to design a second hypersonic prototype, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

“The ARRW and HCSW efforts are developing unique capabilities for the warfighter and each has different technical approaches,” explained the Air Force, in a statement. “The ARRW effort is ‘pushing the art-of-the-possible’ by leveraging the technical base established by the Air Force/DARPA partnership. The HCSW effort is using mature technologies that have not been integrated for an air-launched delivery system.”

In its response to the GAO, the Department of Defense described the report as "an accurate although sobering macro picture of how the US stands in the world against emerging threats."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Trump plans to create unified US Space Command

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order before the end of the year creating a U.S. Space Command as a major military command.

Vice President Mike Pence will make the announcement Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, two U.S. officials said, and Trump could sign the order as soon as Tuesday.

The move is separate from Trump's goal of creating a "Space Force" as an independent armed service branch, but could be a step in that direction.

The U.S. Air Force's existing Space Command would be a key component of the new joint entity, raising space to the same status as U.S. Cyber Command.

According to U.S. officials, Pence will be at the Pentagon on Tuesday and will meet with the Joint Chiefs. Space Command is expected to be among the issues discussed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

The move would actually recreate a U.S. Space Command, which existed from 1985 to 2002. It was disbanded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks so that U.S. Northern Command could be established, focusing on defense of the homeland.

Although Space Command went away, its functions did not. They were absorbed by U.S. Strategic Command, and the Air Force retained its lead role in space through Air Force Space Command.

New ‘no escape’ Meteor missiles boost fighter jets’ firepower

There is no escape for enemy aircraft when up against fighter jets armed with the incredibly fast, powerful and extremely destructive Meteor missiles.

The Meteors are made to excel at hunting and destroying enemy threats at long ranges no matter the environment or weather conditions.

To ensure maximum destruction, the Meteor’s fragmentation warhead detonates on impact or at the optimum point of intercept.

Powered by air-breathing ramjets, these new missiles can reach ultra-fast speeds exceeding the speed of sound. Further boosting the destructive power, the ramjets provide the missile with thrust all the way through to the strike.

The goal is for Meteors to provide the largest “No Escape Zone” of any air-to-air missile – and for this zone to be on a scale of several times larger than current MRAAMs (Medium Range Air to Air Missiles).

In order to be effective in today’s combat, the missiles need to withstand electronic warfare threats from the enemy. The Meteors are engineered to remain effective in the face of dense electronic warfare attempts to stop them.

SUBTERRANEAN TERROR: CAN TECH DEFEAT HIDDEN UNDERGROUND THREATS?

The fighter jets of six key allies will be armed with Meteor weapons. The US-born, breakthrough fifth-generation F-35 Lightning IIs Joint Strike Fighters are set to become armed with the powerful Meteors as well.

Meteor on German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon (MBDA)

Developed by a six-nation European team with MBDA and the U.K. Ministry of Defence taking the lead, the new missiles are now in full production.

And these powerful missiles just made their debut with the United States key ally, the United Kingdom. Carried by British Typhoon fighter jets, the new missiles sent a clear signal of military might when ‘eyeballing’ Russian bomber aircraft this week.

Russian Intercept

This week, British Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons launched to intercept Russian aircraft approaching U.K. airspace.

Armed for the first time with the Meteor, they escorted the Russian aircraft that many believe to be the Russian long-range Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" strategic bombers.

Before approaching U.K. airspace, the Russian military aircraft were intercepted and escorted by Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s.

ARMY SETS SIGHTS ON NEW SNIPER CAMOUFLAGE

The Tu-160s flew on to Venezuela where they joined other Russian military aircraft in a high-profile show military force.  Russian officials announced the bombers were participating in combined operational flights with the Venezuelan Air Force and that they were preparing to defend Venezuela when it is needed.

(MBDA)

This is the latest in a pattern of increased Russian military aircraft activity prompting RAF Typhoon fighter jets to intercept.

PODCAST: INSIDE AN INSPIRING MEDAL OF HONOR MISSION WITH USAF SOF

What is a ramjet?

Rather than the typical rocket motor, Meteors rely on ramjets for propulsion. A ramjet engine provides a simple, light propulsion system for high-speed flight.

The Meteor uses a solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket approach giving it a significant boost in power, increase in range and supporting precision at long ranges.

Ramjets are air-breathing engines that are known for delivering remarkable speeds exceeding Mach 3 and even beyond Mach 6 in some cases.

EXCITING NEW MEDICAL 'SILVER BULLETS' WILL SAVE MILITARY LIVES

Rockets burn onboard fuel whereas ramjets breathe air. This makes ramjet missiles suitable for firing in the atmosphere, but near or through space like rockets.

(MBDA)

Ramjets need to hit high speeds, say at about three times the speed of sound, to harness “ram pressure.” They use the air compression and shock waves yielded by the missile’s high speed.

Smart missiles

Each Meteor packs enormously destructive power into 418 pounds. The missiles are over 12 feet long and about 7 inches in diameter.

Meteors are Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missiles or BVRAAMs.

The target does not need to be within the pilot’s visual range to be within range of a precise strike because Meteors are smart enough to locate their targets and conduct the attack on their own.

A highly advanced active radar seeker guides each missile against a range of targets. They do not need the pilot and advanced aircraft to guide them.

ARMY SETS SIGHTS ON BIGGER, BOLDER, HARDER HITTING BULLETS

However, pilots can communicate with the Meteor weapons. The pilot can intervene and re-direct the missile mid-flight or stop the mission if need be.

With the Meteor’s two-way data link capability, the pilot can receive data from the missile throughout its flight. This helps the pilot verify that the missile is correctly on course. It is also useful for the pilot to decide whether firing another missile is necessary.

PODCAST: FIND OUT THE SECRETS TO THE “TOP GUN” FIGHTER PILOT MIND-SET 

When will Meteors hit the skies?

A missile this advanced does not happen overnight. The Meteor program began back in the 1990s.

In 2016, Sweden’s Saab Gripen was the first to declare operational capability with the Meteors and now British Typhoons are armed with the missiles as well.

The French Dassault Rafale, most probably the latest iteration, is expected to be armed next. Three more key U.S. allies – Germany, Italy and Spain – will also have their fighter jets upgraded with this fierce missile.

F-35 joint strike fighter jets may potentially also become armed with Meteors.

Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.

US Air Force: We’re in ‘danger’ of falling behind China and Russia by 2025

The U.S. Air Force will fall behind Russia and China by 2025 unless the service quickly embarks upon a sizeable expansion of its fighting technologies, weapons arsenal and major attack platforms – to include new bombers, fighters, drones, rescue helicopters and more, senior service leaders suggest.

Following a detailed analysis, which likely included a close examination of threats, mission requirements and dangerous emerging technologies, the service has laid out a detailed request to grow the service from 312 operational squadrons up to 386. The largest needed increases, according to the Air Force plan, include 22 new ISR Command and Control squadrons, 7 more fighter squadrons and 5 more bomber squadrons.

“The National Defense strategy tells us tells us we need to be able to defend the homeland, provide nuclear deterrence and win wars against major powers while countering rogue nations,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said recently at an Air Force Association convention. “We need to create dilemmas for our adversary."

By stating that the Air Force “needs” 386 squadrons to meet the expected threat by 2025 to 2030, Wilson did appear to be indicating, if in an indirect way, that the U.S. Air Force is in serious danger of falling behind Russia and China – should the service not expand.

An Air Force report cites Wilson explaining it this way – the analysis supporting the 386 squadrons needed to support the National Defense Strategy is based on estimates of the expected threat by 2025 to 2030. At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 operational squadrons. By any cursory estimation, it does not take much to notice an uptick in mission demands for the Air Force, coming on the heels of more than 15-years of counterinsurgency air support missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has sent F-35-armed Theater Security Packages to the Pacific and moved F-22s closer to the Russian border. Meanwhile, the F-35 has launched its first attacks in history and there is an incessant, ubiquitous refrain that there is consistently just not enough ISR to meet current mission demands.

“The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us,” Wilson said.

Other details of the Air Force requested expansion plan include:

— 5 More Bomber squadrons

— 9 More Combat Search and Rescue squadrons—

22 More Command and Control – ISR squadrons

— 14 More Tanker squadrons

7 More Fighter Squadrons

— 7 More Space Squadrons

Interestingly, the Air Force request, according to Wilson, does not ask specifically for a numerical increase in cyber squadrons, although Wilson did say much more would be asked of the current cyber force. The Air Force is also not requesting an increase in ICBMs, in part because the service is already well underway with a program to build 400 new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrence ground-launched nuclear missiles.

Meanwhile, statements from former senior Air Force leaders, Congressional analysts, observers and critics may go even further when it comes to voicing serious concerns about the service’s ability to meet anticipated threats — calling the current situation “dangerous.” “The USAF is a geriatric force—it has bombers, tankers, and trainer aircraft over 50 years old; helicopters over 40; and fighters over 30—it has a 2000+ pilot shortage,” Ret. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Warrior in an interview.

To underscore his point, Deptula cited a recent independent bipartisan Commission on the National Defense Strategy as stating: “America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree.”

Going back as far as the Gulf War, Kosovo and of course Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Air Force had few challenges when it comes to achieving and maintaining “air supremacy.” This kind of supremacy, however, is no longer assured, a scenario which continues to inspire the Air Force to prepare for a major, “high-end” fight involving air-to-air combat and attacks against modern air defenses.

F-15, B-2 and Reaper Upgrades

In response to this self-identified massive force deficiency, the Air Force is trying to move quickly to upgrade its current fleet to keep pace with emerging threats. The F-15, Reaper drone and B-2 upgrades are all visible examples of how the service is attempting to modernize decades-old weapons systems. These initiatives, which upon examination do appear both substantial and impactful, may nonetheless have limitations and ultimately fall short of addressing all the expected challenges posed by technologically sophisticated enemies.

The Air Force, for instance, is immersed in an aggressive program to upgrade its F-15 such that it can fly into the 2040s. This includes new weapons integration, exponential jumps forward in computer processing speed and new Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar.

While these changes will massively increase the 1980s aircraft’s detection range, attack envelope and sensor processing, a Congressional Commission (U.S.-China Economic & Security Review) from several years ago found that the much more recently built Chinese J-10 has closed the gap with the F-15 and appears to present a substantial, if not equivalent threat. This, Air Force and Boeing weapons developers say, is an unambiguous driver of current F-15 modernization. Just how much it can sustain a superiority gap, it seems apparent, is an open question.

Alongside aggressive modernization, the Air Force is concurrently pursuing “Full Scale Fatigue Tests” to see how much longer F-15 airframes, avionics and weapons systems can extend service life, former Air Force spokeswoman Emily Grabowski told Warrior Maven last year. As for new F-15 weapons integration, Air Force weapons engineers are planning to add the AIM-9X air-to-air missile and emerging Small Diameter Bomb II, she added.

The SDB II, now nearing operational readiness, is a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said. While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in a wider range of combat conditions. The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants – and plans to keep the aircraft flying into the 2040s. (For Full Warrior F-15 modernization story –CLICK HERE)

The Chinese 5th-generation J-20 and J-31 aircraft are, by many estimations, a serious threat to the F-35. Of course, while some exact details of the Chinese aircraft are not available in open-source research, it is widely known that the design is an unmistakable F-35 “rip off.”

In fact, a Congressional U.S.-China review as far back as 2014 made specific reference to a U.S. Defense Science Board report citing Chinese cyber-espionage as being responsible for stealing a number of U.S. weapons specs – to include the F-35.

All of this being known, many experts and U.S. military weapons developers, are not hesitant to say they are confident that the F-35 is the most superior 5th-gen fighter in the world, alongside the F-22. Also, many experts, observers and weapons developers are clear that China’s attempts to replicate, match or steal U.S. 5th Gen technical sophistication, may not be at all successful. The current and future threat posed by Chinese aircraft, however, is said to be extremely serious by any estimation.

Yet another pressing dilemma often recognized by threat assessment analysts and senior Air Force developers is, simply put, that emerging high-tech air defenses will challenge the ability for stealth platforms to operate over enemy territory. This reality, scholars and service experts say, forms the principal basis for both the need for a new B-21 stealth bomber (which reportedly contains undisclosed, massive leaps forward in stealth technologies) and the current massive overhaul of the B-2. (For Warrior's full report on the B-21 and future stealth CLICK HERE)

A quick look at B-2 modernization includes the integration of a new sensor called the Defensive Management System, which can reportedly help the decades-old bomber identify the locations of enemy air defenses. Other B-2 adjustments, believed to enable the B-2 to function very successfully for decades to come, include a new, 1,000-times faster computer processor and new weapons such as much more capable B-61 mod 12 nuclear bomb and Long Range Standoff weapon nuclear-armed cruise missile. At the same time, despite these advances, there is a clear consensus that the service needs a larger number of new B-21 bombers. (For Full Warrior B-2 B-61 mod 12 earth-penetrating nuclear weapon CLICK HERE)

Future drones will both incorporate stealth technologies, longer-range miniaturized sensors and higher levels of autonomy – given that current platforms like the Reaper will expectedly have trouble operating above advanced air defenses, Deptula and others have said. Nonetheless, the Air Force does anticipate the Reaper to be of critical mission value well into future decades, particularly in light of the Predator retirement. The Reaper is currently getting a universal weapons interface to expand its weapons envelope as well as new fuel tanks to lengthen mission time.

Deployment length is also a major factor when it comes to maxing out the Air Force’s current ability to meet global demands from Combatant Commanders, according to a RAND study, called “Is the U.S. Flying Force Large Enough.” The study, as reported on by Warrior Maven writer Dave Majumdar, examines four potential scenarios; two Cold War scenarios with Russia or China, a peace enforcement scenario and a counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency type scenario. “In each of the four possible futures examined, the 2017 USAF force was unable to meet the demands for all types of aircraft,” the study summary states.

“No class of aircraft performed well in all four of the examined futures. Fighter aircraft came closest, and C3ISR/BM (command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance/battle management) platforms had the biggest shortfalls, reflecting their small fleets and high demand…..” The RAND STUDY

Based on this assessment, it appears no accident that the largest needed increase in the air fleet size, according to the Air Force numbers, is for ISR technology. The RAND report’s findings also include a wide area of conclusions, percentages and analytical results. One of great significance, it seems clear, is that deployments beyond one-year appear to massively over-extend the Air Force.

“When contingencies were not capped, there were only 14 cases in which the FY17 force met 80 percent or more of demands and only one case in which 100 percent of demands were met. The other 18 cases had significant, and at times extreme, deficiencies,” the findings state.

The extent to which the Air Force requests will be met remains uncertain, especially given that both the Army and the Navy also say they are dangerously under-resourced. At the same time, there is no shortage of very serious concern among Pentagon war planners that the U.S. may increasingly be insufficiently prepared in the event of future great power war.

“Unfortunately, the Air Force has been consistently under-resourced for over 20 years. As a result, the U.S. Air Force is the oldest, smallest, and least ready in the entire history of its existence,” Deptula said. “We are no longer facing near-peers, but peers given the advancements in the Chinese and Russian military.”

****More Weapons and Technology -WARRIORMAVEN (CLICK HERE)

US returns 3 disputed bells taken from Philippines in 1901

MANILA, Philippines – For over a century, the Bells of Balangiga have not rung in the Philippines, a silence that the president last year called "painful." Now, the revered bells will once again be heard in the country.

Hundreds of Filipino villagers in 1901, armed with bolos and disguised as women, used one of Balangiga town's church bells to signal the start of a massive attack that wrought one of the bloodiest single-battle losses of American occupation forces in the Philippines. The U.S. Army brutally retaliated, reportedly killing thousands of villagers, as the Philippine-American War raged.

After the violence, the Americans took three church bells as spoils of war that Filipinos would demand for decades to be handed back.

On Tuesday, a giant U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft brought the Bells of Balangiga back to the Philippine capital in a poignant ceremony that saw U.S. defense officials and the American ambassador to Manila return the war relics 117 years after they were seized. A military brass band played the Philippine national anthem, followed by "The Star Spangled Banner."

The treaty allies then swept aside a dark episode in their long relationship with joint photographs and handshakes.

"It is my great honor to be here at this closing of a painful chapter in our history," U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said. "Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today."

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the handover is an important gesture of friendship and is in America's national security interest. Some U.S. veterans and officials had opposed the return of the bells, calling them memorials to American war dead.

At Tuesday's handover ceremony at a Philippine air force base, the bronze bells stood atop a red platform like silent symbols of a bygone era of hostilities, as American and Philippine flags flapped in the wind. Officials from both sides called for a minute of silence for the war dead.

The bells are revered by Filipinos as symbols of national pride, and their arrival on a U.S. C-130 plane and the ceremony were shown live on national TV. Two of the bells had been displayed for decades at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third was with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

After being colonized by Spain for more than three centuries, the Philippines became a U.S. possession in 1898 in a new colonial era that began with the outbreak of the Philippine-American War.

American occupation troops seized the bells from a Catholic church following an attack by machete-wielding Filipino villagers, who killed 48 U.S. soldiers in Balangiga, on central Samar island off Leyte Gulf, according to Filipino historian Rolando Borrinaga.

The Americans retaliated, with a general, Jacob Smith, ordering troops to shoot villagers older than 10 and turn the island into a "howling wilderness," Borrinaga said. Thousands of villagers were reported to have been killed.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had an antagonistic attitude toward the U.S. and has revitalized ties with China and Russia, asked Washington in his state of the nation address last year to "return them to us, this is painful for us."

"Give us back those Balangiga bells. … They are part of our national heritage," Duterte said in the speech, attended by the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at Tuesday's ceremony that with the resolution of the issue, "It's time for healing, it is time for closure, it is time to look ahead as two nations should with a shared history as allies."

Duterte has referred to violence by Americans in Balangiga and on southern Jolo island in the early 1900s in public criticism of the U.S. government after it raised concerns about his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in which thousands have died.

A breakthrough on the bells issue came with an amendment to a U.S. law banning the return of war relics and memorials to foreign countries. That allowed the homecoming of the Balanggiga bells, said Lorenzana, who saw the bells last year in Wyoming, where he was notified by Mattis of the U.S. decision.

Philippine officials led by Duterte are to turn over the bells on Saturday to officials and the church in Balangiga, a small coastal town where villagers, some in tears, applauded while watching troops on TV screens pry open the wooden crates containing the bells.

"The Bells of Balangiga will once again peal, it will still remind the people of Balangiga of what happened in the town square more than a century ago," Lorenzana said. "But we would also look at that history with more understanding and acceptance."

___

Associated Press journalists Bullit Marquez and Cecilia Forbes contributed to this report.

F-35 ‘tech refresh’ enables new attack technology, AI

The Pentagon and Lockheed are pursuing a "Tech Refresh" effort with the F-35 intended to improve the stealth fighter's targeting attack technology, weapons delivery and on-board computing — all as part of an effort to try to keep the F-35's combat effectiveness ahead of great power rival nations.

The refresh, intended to be built into new planes and retrofitted onto older ones, improves memory, storage, processing speed, display video and aircraft parametric data, Vice Adm. Mat Winter, Program Executive Officer for the F-35 program, told reporters earlier this year.

"These are hardware and software modifications to bring an integrated core processor, memory system and display screen," Winter said.

As part of this ongoing effort, Lockheed Martin has been working with Harris Corporation to provide the computing infrastructure for new panoramic cockpit displays, advanced memory systems and navigation technology.

The new hardware and software, to be operational on the F-35 by 2021, includes seven racks per aircraft consisting of 1,500 module components, including new antennas and weapons release systems. Other components include an Advanced Memory System (AMS) engineered to improve data storage and generate higher resolution imagery to help pilots with navigational and targeting information.

Faster processors will improve F-35 delivery of weapons enabled by the latest 3F software drop, such as the AIM-9X air-to-air missile. Improved radar warning receiver technology will more quickly identify enemy aircraft and integrate with the aircraft’s mission data files, or threat library.

The data processing increase is exponential, developers explain, as it enables measurements to take place in terabytes instead of megabits or megabytes. The upgrades include a portable memory device which can quickly be transferred from a ground station to the F-35 cockpit.

As the most recently implemented software upgrade, Block 3f increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, service officials explained.

The Air Force is already working on a 4th drop to be ready by 2020 or 2021. Following this initial drop, the aircraft will incorporate new software drops as quickly as possible. Block IV will include some new partner weapons including British weapons, Turkish weapons and some of the other European country weapons that they want to get on their own plane, service officials explained.

Block IV will also increase the weapons envelope for the U.S. variant of the fighter jet. A big part of the developmental calculus for Block 4 is to work on the kinds of enemy air defense systems and weaponry the aircraft may face from the 2020’s through the 2040’s and beyond.

In terms of weapons, Block IV will eventually enable the F-35 to fire cutting edge weapons systems such as the Small Diameter Bomb II and GBU-54 – both air dropped bombs able to destroy targets on the move.

The Small Diameter Bomb II uses a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker, drawing from infrared, millimeter wave and laser-guidance. The combination of these sensors allows the weapon to track and eliminate moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions.

The emerging 4th software drop will build upon prior iterations of the software for the aircraft.

Block 2B builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop. Block 2B will enable the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU-12 (laser-guided aerial bomb) JSF program officials said.

Following Block 2B, Block 3i increases the combat capability even further and the now operational 3F brings a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.

Mission Data Files

The F-35 is now conducting attacks, surveillance operations and combat missions with an updated on-board “threat library” of Mission Data Files engineered to identify enemy threats in key regions around the globe.

“The AORs (Areas of Responsibility) for current operations where our forces are — currently have adequate Mission Data Files,” Winter said.

Described as the brains of the airplane, the "mission data files" are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats– such as enemy fighter jets — in areas where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.

Despite some delays with development, involving software engineering and technical development at Eglin AFB, Fla., the process is now fully on track to finish by 2019, Winter said.

Naturally, Air Force senior weapons developers do not comment on specific threats in specific areas around the globe, developers do acknowledge the threat library will include all known and future threat aircraft — which of course includes advanced Chinese and Russian 5th-generation fighters. For security reasons, Air Force officials do not wish to confirm this or specify any kind of time frame for their inclusion.

Overall, there are 12 geographical regions being identified to comprise the library, service developers say.

“We have not fully verified all Mission Data Files for all of the regions where we will operate, but we are slated to be ready by 2019,” Winter said.

The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft's Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and incoming hostile fire. The concept is to use the F-35s long range sensors to detect threats – and then compare the information against the existing library of enemy threats in real time while in flight. If this can happen at a favorable standoff range for the F-35, it will be able to identify and destroy enemy air-to-air targets before being vulnerable itself to enemy fire. For example, the mission data system may be able to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.

“There is continued collaboration between intelligence and acquisition teams,” Winter said.

The Mission Data Files are intended to support the F-35’s sensor fusion so that information from disparate sensor systems can be combined on a single screen for pilots to lower the cognitive burden and quicken the decision-making process. New modules for mission systems will integrate into the F-35s Distributed Aperture System sensors and Electro-optical Targeting System.

The Pentagon is improving Mission Data File technology, in part, through computer algorithms increasingly supported by AI, Winter said.

“Our fusion engine gets advanced sensors technology to rapidly identify and track targets without the pilot having to do all the work. This fusion is enabled by Mission Data Files,” Winter explained.

This concept regarding integrated threat warnings and the Missile Data Files is further reinforced in a Lockheed Martin engineering paper from early this year called “F-35 Mission Systems Design, Development and Verification.”

The paper provides technical detail on a number of F-35 technologies, including analysis of a system called AN/ASQ-242 Communications, Navigation and Identification system, or CNI. CNI provides beyond-visual-range target identification, anti-jam technology, radio navigation and, of great significance to Mission Data Files — “warning messaging” and “pilot audio alerts.” Part of its function includes “connectivity with off-board sources of information,” a function which bears great relevance to identifying specific enemy aircraft at great distances.

While many developers cite significant challenges when it comes to software development and integration for the F-35, the fighter is regarded by developers as a “flying computer.” The “fusion” or technical integration on board the aircraft is engineered to access and leverage a wide range of data points and condense them for the pilot. In essence, surveillance, computer processing and targeting data are fused, as opposed to being stovepiped or separate sources. As a result, the technology also incorporates Identification Friend Foe (IFF) surveillance systems designed to quickly distinguish friendly from enemy aircraft.

Mission Data Files technology is now supporting the latest F-35 software configuration – called 3f.

"Mission data has been fielded in support of version 2B, 3i, and 3f," Air Force spokeswoman Emily Grabowski told Warrior earlier this year.

More Weapons and Technology – WARRIORMAVEN (CLICK HERE)

US returns 3 disputed bells taken in 1901 to Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Three church bells seized by American troops as war trophies more than a century ago were returned to the Philippines on Tuesday in a move long demanded by Filipino leaders, including the current president, who is critical of Washington and has moved closer to China.

U.S. defense officials and the American ambassador handed back the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippine defense chief in a solemn ceremony at an air force base in the capital, closing a dark episode in the treaty allies' love-hate relationship.

"It is my great honor to be here at this closing of a painful chapter in our history," U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said. "Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today."

Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the handover is an important gesture of friendship and is in the U.S. national security interest. Some U.S. veterans and officials had opposed the return of the bells, calling them memorials to American war dead.

The bells are revered by Filipinos as symbols of national pride, and their arrival on a U.S. military transport plane and the handover ceremony were shown live on national TV. Two of the bells had been displayed for decades at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third was with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

After being colonized by Spain for more than three centuries, the Philippines became a U.S. possession in 1898 in a new colonial era that began with the outbreak of the Philippine-American War.

American occupation troops took the bells from a Catholic church following an attack by machete-wielding Filipino villagers, who killed 48 U.S. soldiers in the town of Balangiga on central Samar island in 1901 in one of the U.S. Army's worst single-battle losses of that era.

One of the bells had been sounded to signal the attack by the villagers, some of whom were disguised as women who hid in the church near an American garrison, historian Rolando Borrinaga said.

The Americans retaliated, reportedly killing thousands of villagers above the age of 10, and a U.S. general, Jacob Smith, ordered Samar to be turned into a "howling wilderness," Borrinaga said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had an antagonistic attitude toward the U.S. and has revitalized ties with China and Russia, asked Washington in his state of the nation address last year to "return them to us, this is painful for us."

"Give us back those Balangiga bells. … They are part of our national heritage," Duterte said in the speech, attended by the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said with the resolution of the issue, "It's time for healing, it is time for closure, it is time to look ahead as two nations should with a shared history as allies."

Duterte has referred to violence by Americans in Balangiga and on southern Jolo island in the early 1900s in public criticism of the U.S. government after it raised concerns about his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in which thousands have died.

A breakthrough on the bells issue came with an amendment to a U.S. law banning the return of war relics and memorials to foreign countries. That allowed the homecoming of the Balanggiga bells, said Lorenzana, who saw the bells last year in Wyoming, where he was notified by Mattis of the U.S. decision.

Philippine officials led by Duterte are to turn over the bells on Saturday to officials and the church in Balangiga, a small coastal town where villagers applauded while watching troops on TV screens pry open the wooden crates containing the bells.

"The Bells of Balangiga will once again peal, it will still remind the people of Balangiga of what happened in the town square more than a century ago," Lorenzana said. "But we would also look at that history with more understanding and acceptance."

___

Associated Press journalists Alberto "Bullit" Marquez and Cecilia Forbes contributed to this report.

Trump picks Army chief of staff as next top military adviser

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he wants a battle-hardened commander who oversaw troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be the nation's next top military adviser.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Mark Milley, who has been chief of the Army since August 2015, would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford's term doesn't end until Oct. 1. Trump said the date of transition is "to be determined."

Trump used an early morning tweet to reveal his choice. "I am thankful to both of these incredible men for their service to our Country!" he said. Later Saturday, as the president left the White House for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, he called Milley "a great gentleman and a great patriot."

Dunford is a former commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan. Milley commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dunford's spokesman, Col. Patrick Ryder, said all indications are that Dunford will serve his full term. Ryder referred other questions to the White House. He said Dunford congratulated Milley on his nomination. "He has served with Gen. Milley in peacetime and in combat and has the highest regard for his leadership."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Milley was "a battle-tested commander and Pentagon reformer who will be a worthy successor" to Dunford. That committee would consider a Joint Chiefs nomination.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee praised Milley for his "direct, insightful military assessments based upon his intellect and years of experience." Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, also noted that the Joint Chiefs chairman serves Congress as well as the president and defense secretary.

Trump's decision, announced before leaving Washington for the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, had caught some in the Pentagon by surprise when unofficial word spread Friday after he had tweeted that a succession announcement was coming.

Normally an announcement on a new chairman wouldn't be expected until early next year. Officials had said the Air Force chief, Gen. David Goldfein, was also a strong contender for the job.

Milley is known as a charismatic, outgoing leader who has not been afraid to offer candid and sometimes blunt assessments to Congress. Last year he admonished the House Armed Services Committee for its inability to approve a defense budget, slamming it as "professional malpractice." In 2016, he told lawmakers, in answer to a direct question, that women should also have to register for the draft now that they are allowed to serve in all combat jobs.

As the Army's top leader, he helped shepherd the groundbreaking move of women into front-line infantry and other combat positions, while warning that it would take time to do it right. More recently, he has worked with his senior officers to reverse a shortfall in Army recruiting when the service fell far short of its annual goal this year.

He also played a role in one of the Army's more contentious criminal cases. While serving as head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Milley was assigned to review the case of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

Milley made the early decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was eventually found guilty, reduced in rank to private, dishonorably discharged and fined $10,000, but was spared any additional prison time.

A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, and a fervent supporter of the Boston Red Sox and other city teams, Milley received his Army commission from Princeton University in 1980. An infantry officer by training, he also commanded Special Forces units in a career that included deployments in the invasion of Panama in 1989, the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to implement the Dayton Peace Accords, and the Iraq war.

The Milley move starts a series of military leadership changes in coming months, including successors in 2019 for Adm. John Richardson as the chief of Naval Operations, Gen. Robert Neller as commandant of the Marine Corps, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Trump also will pick a replacement for Milley as Army chief.

Goldfein began his term as Air Force chief of staff in 2016, so wouldn't be expected to step down until the summer of 2020.

Correction: Trump-Joint Chiefs story

WASHINGTON – In a story Dec. 7 about President Donald Trump's selection of his next top military adviser, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Gen. Mark Milley is a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group. He is a former commander of the 10th Mountain Division.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Trump chooses chief of the Army to be top military adviser

U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will tap Gen. Mark Milley as his next top military adviser

By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will tap Gen. Mark Milley as his next top military adviser, choosing a battle-hardened commander who has served as chief of the Army for the last three years, U.S. officials said Friday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Milley would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the pinnacle of a military career. Dunford, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan, is expected to serve out his term as Joint Chiefs chairman, which ends Oct. 1.

Milley, who commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has served as the Army's top officer since August 2015. Several officials confirmed the decision on condition of anonymity because it had not been announced.

Trump is expected to announce his decision Saturday at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

The decision caught some in the Pentagon by surprise on Friday. Normally an announcement on a new chairman wouldn't be expected until early next year. The officials said the Air Force chief, Gen. David Goldfein, was also a strong contender for the job, but they indicated that Milley has a very good relationship with the president.

Trump hinted earlier Friday that he would be making an announcement on Saturday, when he attends the game and is expected to perform the coin toss to decide which team gets the ball first. "I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession," he said.

Milley is known as a charismatic, outgoing leader who has not been afraid to offer candid and sometimes blunt assessments to Congress. Last year he admonished the House Armed Services Committee for its inability to approve a defense budget, slamming it as "professional malpractice." And in 2016, he told lawmakers, in answer to a direct question, that women should also have to register for the draft now that they are allowed to serve in all combat jobs.

As the Army's top leader, he helped shepherd the groundbreaking move of women into front-line infantry and other combat positions, while warning that it would take time to do it right. More recently, he has worked with his senior officers to reverse a shortfall in Army recruiting when the service fell far short of its annual goal this year.

He also played a role in one of the Army's more contentious criminal cases. While serving as head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Milley was assigned to review the case of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

Milley made the early decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was eventually found guilty, reduced in rank to private, dishonorably discharged and fined $10,000, but was spared any additional prison time.

A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, and a fervent supporter of the Boston Red Sox and other city teams, Milley received his Army commission from Princeton University in 1980. An infantry officer by training, he also commanded Special Forces units in a career that included deployments in the invasion of Panama in 1989; the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to implement the Dayton Peace Accords; and the Iraq war.

Milley also served as deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

He is a former commander of the 10th Mountain Division.

Dunford was picked as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2015 by former President Barack Obama. Trump nominated him for a second two-year term last year.

The Milley move starts a series of military leadership changes in coming months, including successors in 2019 for Adm. John Richardson as the chief of naval operations, Gen. Robert Neller as commandant of the Marine Corps, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Trump also will pick a replacement for Milley as Army chief.

Goldfein began his term as Air Force chief of staff in 2016, so wouldn't be expected to step down until the summer of 2020.

Trump picks Gen. Mark Milley as next top military adviser

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he's picked a battle-hardened commander who oversaw troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be the nation's next top military adviser.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Mark Milley, who has been chief of the Army since August 2015, would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford's term doesn't end until Oct. 1. Trump said the date of transition is yet to be determined.

Trump tweeted the announcement, saying "I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring. I am thankful to both of these incredible men for their service to our Country!"

Dunford is a former commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan. Milley commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trump's decision, which he announced before leaving Washington to attend the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, caught some in the Pentagon by surprise on Friday. Normally an announcement on a new chairman wouldn't be expected until early next year. The officials said the Air Force chief, Gen. David Goldfein, was also a strong contender for the job, but they indicated that Milley has a very good relationship with the president.

Trump hinted earlier Friday that he would make an announcement on Saturday, when he attends the game and is expected to perform the coin toss to decide which team gets the ball first. "I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession," he said.

Milley is known as a charismatic, outgoing leader who has not been afraid to offer candid and sometimes blunt assessments to Congress. Last year he admonished the House Armed Services Committee for its inability to approve a defense budget, slamming it as "professional malpractice." And in 2016, he told lawmakers, in answer to a direct question, that women should also have to register for the draft now that they are allowed to serve in all combat jobs.

As the Army's top leader, he helped shepherd the groundbreaking move of women into front-line infantry and other combat positions, while warning that it would take time to do it right. More recently, he has worked with his senior officers to reverse a shortfall in Army recruiting when the service fell far short of its annual goal this year.

He also played a role in one of the Army's more contentious criminal cases. While serving as head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Milley was assigned to review the case of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

Milley made the early decision to charge Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was eventually found guilty, reduced in rank to private, dishonorably discharged and fined $10,000, but was spared any additional prison time.

A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, and a fervent supporter of the Boston Red Sox and other city teams, Milley received his Army commission from Princeton University in 1980. An infantry officer by training, he also commanded Special Forces units in a career that included deployments in the invasion of Panama in 1989, the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina to implement the Dayton Peace Accords, and the Iraq war.

The Milley move starts a series of military leadership changes in coming months, including successors in 2019 for Adm. John Richardson as the chief of Naval Operations, Gen. Robert Neller as commandant of the Marine Corps, and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Trump also will pick a replacement for Milley as Army chief.

Goldfein began his term as Air Force chief of staff in 2016, so wouldn't be expected to step down until the summer of 2020.