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 … Continue reading “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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

F-35C stealth fighter undertakes first operational tests at sea

The Navy’s first-of-its-kind carrier-launched F-35C has been conducting aerial maneuvers, weapons integration, “cyclical” flight take-off missions and other war operations from the flight deck of a Nimitz-Class carrier recently, marking the first operational tests of the stealth fighter slated to deploy in 2021.

“This was the first-ever operational F-35C integration,” Rear Adm. Matt Winter, F-35 Joint Program Executive Officer told reporters a few months ago when referring to the exercises.

The combat exercises, which have involved F-35C joint missions with F-18 Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeye surveillance planes and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, were designed to help the Navy prepare for how the introduction of the F-35C will change combat, impact war strategy and drive new concepts of operation.

Missions have included “defensive counter air” and “anti-submarine” warfare, among others, Capt. Matt Norris, from the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team said in a Navy statement earlier this year during Carrier Air Wing assessments on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Formal Operational Testing has continued into the Fall to ensure the emerging aircraft can fully perform the full range of war operations.

The emergence of a carrier-launched stealth fighter is intended to give the Navy more combat attack flexibility and an improved ability to fight sophisticated enemy air defenses from a sea-based carrier. Such an ability can allow a maneuvering carrier to hold targets at risk from closer proximity if land-bases are far from the combat vicinity. Perhaps of greatest significance, the F-35C brings stealth attack technology to the carrier flight deck for the first time, a circumstance which further enables sea-based attack operations to attack advanced enemy air defenses and function in extremely high-threat environments.

The combat ops, some of which took place off the Eastern shore of the US, heavily emphasized weapons exercises with the F-35C arsenal, which include GBU-32 and GBU-12 air-dropped bombs, AIM-120 and AIM-9x air-to-air missiles and a 25mm cannon. Several tests and assessments have also ensured pilots could properly use night-combat enabled Helmet Mounted Displays designed to provide more fidelity in “low-light” conditions such as those with little or no moonlight.

Assessments of the F-35C have also included efforts to refine a precision-landing technology called Joint Precision Approach & Landing Systems, or JPALs.

JPALS, slated to be operational by 2019, works with the GPS satellite navigation system to provide accurate, reliable and high-integrity guidance for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, Navy statements said.

Navy information has described JPALS as a system featuring anti-jam protection to ensure mission continuity in hostile environments.

“JPALS is a differential GPS that will provide an adverse weather precision approach and landing capability,” a Navy statement said.

With a broad wingspan, reinforced landing gear, ruggedized structures and durable coatings, the Navy's F-35C is engineered for harsh shipboard conditions. Its avionics equip the pilot with real-time, spherical access to battlespace information.

Being engineered for a carrier, the F-35C's 51-foot wingspan is larger than the Air Force's F-35A and Marine Corps' F-35B short-take-off-and-landing variants. It can fire two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and two 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The F-35C can reach speeds up to Mach 1.6 and travel more than 1,200 nautical miles, according to Navy information.

In the future, the F-35C will have an ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb II – a high-tech weapon now in development able to track and destroy moving targets from great distances using a tri-mode seeker.

The SDB II uses millimeter wave, laser and infrared guidance technology and has now been tested on an F-35, Raytheon developers have explained.

Over the next five years, the Navy plans to acquire as many as 60 or more of the new fighters, Navy officials have told Warrior Maven.

The F-35C is engineered with a new technology called Delta Flight Path which helps pilot land on a carrier deck more easily, Pentagon F-35 developers say.

Test pilots and engineers credited the F-35C's Delta Flight Path technology with significantly reducing pilot workload during the approach to the carrier, increasing safety margins during carrier approaches and reducing touchdown dispersion.

Carrier landing is never easy as pilots must account for the wind-speed, atmospheric conditions and speed of the ship. Navy pilots have explained to Warrior Maven in previous interviews that pilots follow a yellow light on the flight deck of the ship called the Fresnel Lens to help the trajectory of the approach, called their glide slope.

In a previously released document described as the "Naval Aviation Vision," the F-35C is described as being engineered with reinforced landing gear and durable coatings to allow the F-35C to withstand harsh shipboard conditions while delivering a lethal combination of fighter capabilities to the fleet.

Prior to this Operational Testing, the aircraft has gone through several rounds of testing to advance what’s called carrier integration and carrier qualification – an effort to seamlessly integrate the new aircraft into the carrier platform and carrier air wing, service officials have explained.

By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft such as the Navy Osprey tiltrotor aircraft variant.

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We don’t have enough air and missile defense weapons, Pentagon says

Pentagon weapons developers and military war commanders are expressing concern that deployed forces simply do not have enough Air and Missile defense assets to meet a fast-changing threat environment involving high volumes of dangerous new enemy weapons.

“The requirements exceed the capacity we have today. When it comes to combatant commander needs for missile defense, we find out we simply do not have enough,” Brig. Gen. Clement Coward, Commander, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, told an audience at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

These threats, posed increasingly by major power competitors, include newly emerging weapons such as guided enemy cruise missiles, attack drones, ballistic missiles with maneuvering re-entry vehicles and even “boost-glide” hypersonic weapons.

“We don’t like to say we don’t have air superiority anymore, but there may be forces in locations where we do not have air superiority. We are working on an all-inclusive culture change,” Coward said.

The air and missile defense push supports rapid development of more counter-drone weapons and Short-Range-Air-Defense (SHORAD) technologies – some of which are already being engineered into Army Stryker vehicles. A key goal is to design systems, at their inception, with technologies equipped to meet drone and short-range air defense threats.

“We have to bake in requirements for counter UAS (Drones) as part of this. We cannot allow that to be a segmented problem. We are trying to get Short Range Air Defense back in the units,” said Brig. Gen. Sean Gainey, Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization Director and Deputy Director, Force Protection.

A National Defense University study, called “Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense, “Simplifying an Increasingly Complex Problem,” details further specifics regarding new threat concerns, including the aforementioned weapons such as hypersonic threats and missiles with multiple “re-entry vehicles.”

“These threats demand a multi-layered defense to eliminate exploitable gaps between traditional IAMD (Integrated Air and Missile Defense) categories,” the paper writes.

Other concerns cited in the essay include “lethal, one-way UAS (drones as attack weapons) and long-range, large-caliber rockets equipped with terminal guidance.”

In response, both Coward and Gainey mentioned ongoing collaborative work to revamp weapons networking and integrated fire control technology.

“We are prioritizing upgrades to planned integrative fire control. We are doing a revision of joint integrated fire control across the joint force,” Gainey said.

As a way to further advance this goal, Coward and Gainey cited the example of better networking fire control systems for the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense interceptor missiles. While both of these systems are air and missile defense weapons, THAAD is a longer range system. Connecting radar, targeting and sensor information between these systems brings the US military services closer to the stated objective of having a multi-layered approach.

Integrated Battle Command System

This scenario, involving a specific effort to connect sensors, fire control and targeting information between “nodes” on a dispersed combat area, is what the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System is engineered to do.

IBCS uses a netted-group of integrated sensors and networking technologies to connect radar systems — such as the Sentinel — with fire-control for large interceptors such as PATRIOT and THAAD.

Synergy between nodes, using radio, LINK 16 data networks and GPS can greatly expedite multi-service coordination by passing along fast-developing threat information. IBCS, an Army program of record, uses computer-generated digital mapping to present an integrated combat picture showing threat trajectories, sensors, weapons and intercepts, senior Northrop developers told Warrior in previous interviews.

Coward cited IBCS as an example of how emerging technology is moving the military services closer to its intended objectives.

“Gives us flexibility instead of waiting on a shelter attached to a vehicle. It allows us to bring three Combatant Command needs statements together, as opposed to being stove piped,” Coward said.

In an interview with Warrior Maven, IBCS weapons developers with Northrop Grumman says that now, a Patriot missile does not have to be fired with a PATRIOT radar.

“By integrating sensors together, we can have an environment where any weapon can be used with a common sensor picture. It used to be that you could only fire a PATRIOT with a PATRIOT radar…now you do not have to have that,” Rob Jassey, Air and Missile Defense Program Manager, Northrop Grumman, told Warrior Maven.

Jassey added that, in a prior exercise, Northrop was able to use Sentinel radar maneuver sensors to provide guidance source data for a PATRIOT missile, enabling it to destroy a cruise missile target on the other side of a mountain.

“Because the low altitude trajectory of the target obscured it from the PATRIOT radar field of view, the IBCS used Sentinel composite tracking data to calculate and present the necessary engagement solution,” a Northrop statement said.

F-35 and Ballistic Missile Defense

Northrop Grumman and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency recently analyzed information from a previous demonstration wherein an airborne F-35 helped perform Ballistic Missile Defense missions.

The demonstration used a ground-based F-35 sensor called the Distributed Aperture System, a 360-degree camera-sensor offering F-35 pilots a real-time view surrounding the aircraft. Using a DAS-configured gateway aerial node to locate a ballistic missile launch and flight path, the technical system was able to send target-tracking information using advanced data links from the air to ground-based command and control location.

Described as multi-function array technology, the DAS system uses automated computer algorithms to organize and integrate target-relevant data from missile warning systems, radar, night vision and other long-range sensors; the array is able to track a BMD target from the air at distances up to 800 nautical miles. Such a technology, quite naturally, enables a wider sensor field with which to identify and track attacking missiles.

An airborne DAS, networked with ground-based Patriot and THAAD weapons, could offer a distinct tactical advantage when it comes to quickly locating incoming missile threats. Air sensors in particular, could be of great value given that, in some envisioned threat scenarios, it is unclear whether there would be enough interceptors to counter a massive enemy ballistic missile barrage into US or allied territories.

Regarding Coward and Gainey’s cited concerns, air based detection and target tracking, it seems, could go a long way toward better fortifying defenses – as they might increase the time envelope during which command and control could cue interceptors to locate and destroy attacking enemy missiles.

Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar

Northrop developers are also assessing new optical sensors, passive sensors and lasers to widen the target envelope for the Army’s Counter Rocket, Artillery Mortar system such that it can destroy enemy drones, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles.

C-RAM uses sensors, radar and fire-control technology alongside a vehicle or ground-mounted 20mm Phalanx Close-in-Weapons-System able to fire 4,500 rounds per minute. The idea is to blanket an area with large numbers of small projectiles to intercept and destroy incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire. As an area weapon, the Phalanx then fires thousands of projectiles in rapid succession to knock the threat out of the sky. Engineers are also looking at new interceptor missiles to compliment the Phalanx, Northrop developers said.

Adding new sensors and weapons to CRAM could bring nearer term improvements by upgrading an existing system currently deployed, therefore circumventing multi-year developmental efforts necessary for many acquisition programs.

CRAM is deployed at numerous Forward Operating Bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan and the system has been credited with saving thousands of soldiers’ lives. It is now being analyzed for upgrades and improvements.

Engineers with Northrop Grumman integrate the Raytheon-built Phalanx into the C-RAM system; C-RAM was first developed and deployed to defend Navy ships at sea, however a fast-emerging need to protect soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan inspired the Army to quickly adapt the technology for use on land; C-RAM has been operational on the ground since 2005.

Ultimately, however, despite the current concerns about the US inventory of air and missile defense systems, both Crawford and Gainey were quite clear on one this – the US is right now ready to fight and defend against any attack.

“There is a lot of effort that goes into getting ready for the fight tonight. We do have capacity for that type of threat. With the joint force, we have alleviated a lot of the threat gaps in the PACOM AOR (Pacific Area of Responsibility),” Gainey said.

-More Weapons and Technology – WARRIOR MAVEN (CLICK HERE)

Navy tests and refines new attack submarine ‘stealth’ technology

The U.S. Navy is arming a new fleet of attack submarines with stealthy “quieting” systems, new weapons, next-gen sonar and additional advanced undersea warfare technologies to enable its future boats to execute massive land-attacks, perform “covert insertions” of forces and conduct reconnaissance missions undetected.

Many of these systems are in the process of being refined on board the recently delivered USS South Dakota Virginia-Class attack submarine. The boat is now poised to begin a vital part of the developmental process known as post-shakedown availability next year – a series of key assessments and final steps necessary to prep the submarine for major ocean combat.

“Design modifications will be made and then subsequently tested. Some of these design modifications are planned to be included in the fifth block of Virginia-class submarines during new construction,” William Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior in a statement.

Many of these innovations, which have been underway and tested as prototypes for many years, are already operational as the USS South Dakota enters service, after being formally delivered to the Navy earlier this year.

The plan, Navy developers say, is to further refine these technical advances before deploying what many call “the stealthiest submarines ever built” in the early 2020s.

While many details of these technical advances are not available for security reasons, service technology developers have, in a general way, told Warrior Maven some of the parameters; the innovations include quieting technologies for the engine room to make the submarine harder to detect, a new large vertical array and additional "quieting" coating materials for the hull.

The USS South Dakota was christened by the Navy Oct. 14 at a General Dynamics Electric Boat facility in Groton, Ct.

The idea with the so-called “acoustic superiority” plan is to engineer a U.S. submarines able to operate undetected in or near enemy waters or coastline, conduct reconnaissance or attack missions and sense any movement or enemy activities at farther ranges than adversaries can. These advances are consistent with more recent undersea combat strategy which, in part due to technological progress, increasingly sees attack submarines as well suited for clandestine undersea surveillance missions.

Interestingly, a substantial increased emphasis in undersea reconnaissance for attack submarines, above and beyond the historically associated “attack” missions, was cited in a 1997 National Research Council essay titled “Vision of Submarine Platforms for 2035.”

“Intelligence collection: the capability for tactical and national intelligence collection over an extended period is needed to provide covert surveillance both prior to and after onset of hostilities,” the paper writes. The research seems to suggest that strategic thinking in this area anticipated and preceded the advent of these modern technologies.

“Covert Insertion” is another mission emphasis cited by the paper, a technique heavily reliant upon decreased undersea detectability. Submarines, in these instances, are able to more closely approach enemy coastline to conduct surveillance missions, scout or strike targets and “covertly” insert forces in close proximity to a conflict.

“Deployment of ground forces of various numbers, configurations and capabilities offers the advantage of determining optimum timing by covert and, if necessary, extended on-site observation of the tactical situation,” the essay “Vision of Submarine Platforms for 2035,” writes.

While the specific technical composition of new coating materials for the USS South Dakota are, naturally, not available – many submarine weapons developers and engineers are known to use specially crafted rubber tiles to absorb sonar “pings.” Also, propellers are typically designed to produce thrust at slow speeds, to minimize cavitation and decrease any underwater signature, a research paper from Livingston Research writes.

Acoustic sensor technology works by using underwater submarine sensors to detect sound “pings” to determine the contours, speed and range of an enemy ship, submarine or approaching weapon. Much like radar analyzes the return electromagnetic signal bounced off an object, acoustics works by using “sound” in a similar fashion. Most of the undersea acoustic technology is “passive,” meaning it is engineered to receive pings and “listen” without sending out a signal which might reveal their undersea presence or location to an enemy, Navy technology developers explained to Warrior in previous interviews.

While high-frequency, fast two-way communication is currently difficult to sustain from the undersea domain, submarines are able to use a Very Low Frequency radio to communicate while at various depths beneath the surface, a former senior Navy weapons developer told Warrior in an interview several years ago.

Massive Weapons Increase for Attack Submarines

Navy developers tell Warrior the service is already making substantial progress in building a new 84ft section into Block V Virginia-Class attack submarine for the purpose of massively increasing firepower.

The Virginia Payload Modules, slated to become operational by the 2020s, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines from 12 missiles up to 40, Navy weapons developers explain.

The VPM submarines will have an additional (approximately 84 feet) section with four additional Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, for a ship total of 40 Tomahawks.

While designed primarily to hold Tomahawks, the VPM missile tubes are engineered such that they could accommodate a new payload, new missile or even a large unmanned underwater vehicle, Navy officials said.

The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy officials explained.

From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.”

Overall, these advancements for the future submarine fleet are not only designed for new boats being built – but possibly for those already in service.

“These improvements are evaluated for future ships and potential retro-fitting into older ships,” Couch said.

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Subterranean terror: Can tech defeat hidden underground threats?

Nuclear weapon installations, cross-border smuggling tunnels, subway systems, cave networks … just a few places that adversaries can pose an underground threat to security.

Many of these concealed underground threats are extremely difficult to detect and locate. And frequently, they can be dangerous for U.S. forces – both abroad and on home soil – to investigate and to stop adversaries in these locations.

Underground conditions pose challenges such as poor visibility and communication. Access can be very difficult, the conditions unpredictable and the terrain extremely constrained, sometimes permitting only one man at a time.

Technology could make stopping threats lurking underground and preventing illegal smuggling across U.S. borders much easier and far safer.

But there is a serious shortfall in solutions up to the task thus far.

The solution could be teams of robots – air and ground-based highly intelligent drones – deployed into these dangerous places. They could provide their human teammates with detailed maps and real-time visual feeds. Smart robots who could work together to search for threats and report back.

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For this step change in thwarting underground threats to happen, a new generation of bots must be forged. It will require a number of breakthroughs. Developing motor skills to handle rocky, unpredictable terrain just as easily as climbing a ladder will certainly be a challenge.

File photo ( US Customs & Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Josh Denmark)

Above ground, a solution that rapidly detects tunnels is long overdue. To crack this problem, it will take some serious American ingenuity on the tech front as well.

Here’s a quick look at some subterranean threats, three ways to better equip forces underground and how you could nab more than $3 million in prizes for sharing your bright idea to help keep Americans safe.

So what’s the threat?

Cross-border tunnels are a persistent underground threat for the U.S. While the media has been focusing on images of “caravans” at the U.S. border, tunnels beneath the ground are a longstanding concern for authorities.

There is an unseen underground flow of drugs, humans, currency and other contraband smuggled into the United States. The smugglers provide an entry in Mexico and then direct underground access into places like Texas and Arizona.

Some tunnels are sophisticated with railways, sidewalks or their own power sources. Some co-opt existing American underground structures. The majority are constructed by amateurs so the structural integrity is not reliable – which means the threat of tunnel collapse at any moment for U.S. authorities.

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Without robot support, teams must drop into a dark, uncharted space, without data on the location or weapons status of adversaries – in a place that could collapse. The location of the smugglers is unknown, but they could be heavily armed.

It would be extremely handy to know about factors such as shoddy construction, poor ventilation, vertical shafts, constrained passages, multiple levels and tunnel lengths. Futuristic robot teams could be the solution.

In the military context, tunnels play a role from attack tunnels into Israel through to concerns that if North Korea chose to attack South Korea, tunnels could be an invasion method.

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Underground complexes

For the military, revolutionizing detection of hidden underground sites and the methods to deploy forces inside as effectively, efficiently and safely as possible will be vital and could save lives.

Countries like Iran and North Korea conceal their nuclear and weapons facilities underground. Russia even has multiple nuclear sites that are so gigantic that they are like underground cities.

For homeland security, the potential to deploy a new generation of subterranean bots could lead to saving lives in a disaster. If there was a terrorist attack with an explosion, then a subway system collapse could result in structurally compromised tunnels. Search and mapping robots for aid teams could ensure as rapid a rescue as possible.

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Robots could possess enough smarts to search for humans themselves by hunting for heat signatures and other clues.

Caves

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces would sometimes be tasked to deal with adversaries who were operating out of complex cave networks.

Natural caves may become a terrain again, but next-gen subterranean bots could play key roles in humanitarian disaster rescue and exploration deeper into the planet.

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What sorts of solutions?

Currently, there are some exciting projects underway. Micro drone swarms could deploy in advance of the human teams. They can travel and collect data on a number of adversaries, firepower, explosives and other threats while building a 3-D map for the team.

Ground drones could deploy with the teams providing eyes so that teams can see lurking threats and potential danger around corners.

$3 Million  

DARPA is pioneering and paving the way with their new Subterranean, (aka “SubT”) Challenge. teams will compete for more than $3 million in prizes in the three circuit events and an integrated final course.

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The Systems track winner will receive a $2 million prize, with up to $200,000 in additional prizes available for self-funded teams in each of the Systems track events. Teams will create and demo prototypes that will compete in live competitions in the underground terrain courses. DARPA will be evaluating how they perform in realistic field environments.

Teams in the Virtual track will compete for up to $1.5 million in the Virtual Final event, with additional prizes of up to $500,000 for self-funded teams in each of the Virtual Circuit events. Virtual track teams will develop software and algorithms using virtual models of systems, environments, and terrain. They will compete in simulation-based events with larger-scale runs in the simulated environments facing larger scenario sizes and durations.

DARPA has selected nine teams to compete in the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge – But self-funded teams are still invited to join in to help the United States find solutions to mapping, searching and navigating. Interested teams can learn more and register here.

What’s the competition timeline?

Next fall, the first competition will be the Tunnel Circuit. In 2020, the Urban Circuit and Cave Circuit will be held. The final event is expected to be held in 2021. The teams will compete in courses incorporating challenges from tunnel, cave and urban underground environments.

Subterranean Bots Revolutionizing Above and Below Ground

The competition will yield innovations with potential beyond underground focused tech. This initiative is under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Timothy Chung so there will no doubt be leaps and bounds in robotics including robot perception, autonomous operation and networking.

Not only will these advances help ensure the military and homeland security are equipped with the right sort of tech advantages they deserve – there is endless potential for the innovation in other applications. From drones that can search tunnels, subways and mines when disaster strikes through to accelerating the advancement of robots to take on other dangerous tasks such as Fukushima-type incidents.

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.

Air Force fast-tracks new deep strike bunker buster bomb

The Air Force is taking the next steps to test, develop and produce a new class of “more penetrating” bunker buster weapons to enable aircraft to destroy a new level of fortified underground targets.

Accordingly, the service is now accelerating new 2,000 and 5,000 bunker buster bombs, the A2K and the A5K, configured with a wide range of geometrical and mechanical adjustments to improve penetration and overall attack performance.

“The A2K will bring the next-generation of penetration and use new contours,” Col. Gary Hasse, Air Force Research Laboratory weapons developer, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Some of the new technologies include a more penetrating steel case, improved “fusing” adjustments and a range of additional configuration changes, Air Force documents explain.

“The A2K shall consist of a high strength steel penetrator case and sub-components that include an aft closure plate, a fuze well, multiple fuze retaining rings, a relocated fuze arming generator adapter, and external routing of the fuze charging cable,” service solicitation documents state.

The new weapon has the same “form, fit and function” as its predecessor, the current BLU-109, yet it is engineered with a wide array of new technologies to help destroy more advanced enemy defenses.

"The intent is to use the current BLU‑109 aircraft and weapon guidance kit integration and software with only changes to the hardback, to avoid extensive aircraft or tail kit integration development, testing, and certification," the service states.

Bunkers, command and control facilities or various kinds of protective areas designed to safeguard assets increasingly present significant challenges for even state-of-the-art penetrating bombs to hit. Newer protective materials, targets buried at much deeper depths and various kinds of structural reinforcements are, in a modern threat environment, very difficult to penetrate.

Earlier this year, the Air Force conducted 40-ft test drops of a live A2K penetrator warhead at Eglin AFB, to collect data and assess new configurations, according to a service news report.

Part of improved fusing and configuration designs, according to Hasse, is consistent with a broader Air Force effort to modernize air-dropped bomb technology; the service is evolving a “Dialable Effects Munition” program which draws upon a handful of emerging technologies to enable targets to alter the “yield” or explosive impact of a bomb while in flight.

This involves the use of alternative fusing configurations which can, as programed, detonate a portion of the warhead or create a larger blast, depending upon mission requirements. This kind of newer technology could, of course, integrate into a large penetrator warhead in the even that new intelligence changes the explosive yield needed to destroy a particular target. “Variable Yield,” as it’s called, is now being applied across the service’s bomb inventory. When it comes to penetrators, a fuse could be programmed to detonate at varying depths and with an adjustable explosive blast – depending upon target requirements.

Available Air Force information explains that some of the A2K developments have been refined through the service’s Legacy Warhead Improvement program; this effort includes engineering a "fuze protection ring assembly was developed and implemented into Air Force production. Improvements to the aft-closure plate, fuze well assembly, and small eutectic rings and other sub-components were also developed through these programs.”

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Soldiers get wireless targeting to shoot around corners, hit enemies instantly

As attacking enemies appear and vanish in seconds from around corners, rocks and trees – armed U.S. soldiers in Close Quarter Combat often have little or no time to respond, while their lives often hang in the balance.

As a way to address this, the Army has leveraged wireless networking technology to give soldiers a distinct advantage; a new system connecting night vision goggles with rifle targeting sights will arrive in a matter of months, enabling soldiers to fire around corners and hit enemies instantly, without having to “shoulder” their weapon.

“You see this gray circle in your night vision goggles, with a red dot …. no matter where your weapon is,” Brig. Gen. Tony Potts, Program Executive Officer, PEO Soldier, told Warrior Maven.

A wireless link will show the reticle from thermal weapons sights directly into the night vision goggle display, allowing soldiers to quickly track and destroy targets without needing to actually lift the weapon to their head to see the crosshairs through the thermal sights.

This system, called Rapid Target Acquisition, is slated to arrive in early 2019, Potts said.

Rapid Target Acquisition merges two separate Army developmental efforts which involve integrating Enhanced Night Vision Goggle IIIs, with next-generation thermal weapons sights –called Family of Weapons Sights – Individual, or FWS-I, Army officials said.

File photo – An Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III is mounted on a glass skull, and a Family of Weapons Sights-Individual is mounted on an M4 rifle, at Fort Belvoir, Va. The ENVG III, worn on the head, can be paired wirelessly with a FWS-I, which would be mounted on a weapon, to allow soldiers to see in their eye what the weapon sight is seeing. (Photo Credit: Jalen Brown)

FWS-I is a thermal sight mounted on top of an M-4 rifle. It can also be configured for crew-served weapons such as a .50-cal machine gun or sniper rifle, Army officials said.

ENVG III Night Vision Goggles embody a new generation of longer-range, higher resolution targeting for soldiers, designed to merge with an Army Helmet Mounted Display, according to Army Research, Development, Test & Evaluation documents.

The integrated system “detects enemy snipers using precise target information to mitigate operational risk before sniper fire occurs. This project also integrates high resolution thermal focal plane arrays, integrated ballistic solutions for auto-adjusting reticles,” the Army write up says.

The thermal sights on an FSW-1 give soldiers targeting range past 1,000 meters, nearly twice that of the M4, a report from DoD’s Armed With Science writes.

This expanded range for FWS also extends to M249 Crew-Served Weapons and Sniper rifles as well.

“The FWS program integrates smaller pixel (12 micron) uncooled long-wave infrared focal plane arrays in multiple large format sizes to improve sensitivity, clarity, and range, while simultaneously reducing the size, weight and power consumption of Crew-Served and Sniper weapons,” Army RDT&E planning documents explain.

A shooter fires on a target at a Fort Belvoir, Va., firing range, July 27, 2017, using an Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III on his helmet, and a Family of Weapons Sights-Individual on an M4 rifle. Here, the combined video feed from both the sight and the goggle puts the reticle from the weapon onto the video feed the shooter is seeing in his goggle. (Photo Credit: PEO Soldier)

Another advantage, according to an Army report, is that the new integrated system enables soldiers to see through obscurants, such as smoke or fog.

“Under starlight, targets may blend in with the background. But with the thermal capability overlaid on night vision, targets can't hide in smoke or fog,” the report says.

Despite its tremendous promise, this emerging weapons systems may also face new challenges and threats it will need to address. For instance, it seems likely the Army will work to cyber harden the wireless connection to ensure it does not get hacked, compromised or jammed by high-tech enemies.

Leveraging faster processing speeds and computer technology to exponentially improve combat performance brings unprecedented advantage, yet at the same time, the more networked a weapons system becomes, the more it will need safeguards and protections against increased vulnerability to cyber attack.

This phenomenon holds up across the military services; as weapons systems, networks, fire control technologies and targeting sensors become increasingly networked through computer systems, they can simultaneously become both much more effective – and more vulnerable. More combat-relevant assets can become vulnerable in the event that a single point of entry is located. For this reason, the Army and military services are moving quickly to cyber harden weapons systems and networks.

Also, Potts explained that marksmanship training courses will be necessary for soldiers as they adjust to using Rapid Target Acquisition. The training and technology integration, Potts explained, is a key element of a wide-spanning “soldier lethality Cross-Functional Team” stood up to stay in front of new challenges expected to confront soldiers in coming years.

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Army to control overseas combat drones from US

The U.S. Army is working with industry to implement drone operations that enable high-risk combat missions to be controlled by a U.S.-based pilot, reducing vulnerability to enemy attack and drawing upon advanced satellite networks to improve video feeds.

It’s a technical system called Remote Split Operations (RSO), which has been operational with Air Force from a high-op-tempo command and control station at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Much of the work, going back years to the time when the Air Force first developed the technology, is performed by a U.S.-based ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) firm called MAG Aerospace. Years ago, MAG's Air Force service began with enabling Predator feeds and then migrating to Reapers.

Now, given the massive uptick in combat zone combatant commander requests for ISR and drone operations – MAG is working closely with the Army to bring this technology to the Army’s Grey Eagle drone.

“We support the long haul connectivity where the pilot and the sensor operator are separated. They connect through terrestrial and satellite communications to remote locations forward in theater,” John Belcher, MAG Director of Technical Service, told Warrior in an interview.

The core elements of the technology, which MAG now operates for at least seven Air Force sites, are quickly being transferred to Army command and control centers at both Ft. Stewart, Ga., and Ft. Hood, Texas.

“Eight years ago we first briefed the Army Chief of Staff on RSO to enhance mission capability. Fast forward to now – we are bringing RSO to the Army,” Dan Edwards, Vice President MAG’s Fayetteville business unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Also, the technology continues to evolve, MAG developers say; the ISR system now brings operators and ability to watch 10-points of interest, enabling more than 10 close air patrol missions at one time, Belcher explained.

“We also do maintenance on the aircraft,” he added.

Using the “long-haul” remote connectivity, drones are taken off “line-of-sight” connectivity using “C-band” satellite frequencies. The drones takeoff and land from what is called the “launch and recovery element,” Edwards explained.

Improved resolution and fidelity of video images also represents a significant a significant technical step forward for the ISR operations. Typically, most video appears with a 1080 pixels (dots per square inch) level of resolution – yet MAG is now integrating the most cutting edge commercial resolution. The increased clarity, used in the most modern televisions, goes as high as 4K – or 4,000 pixels. (Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Shoomaker has joined MAG Aerospace Board of Directors).

“This makes it easier for an imaging analyst to differentiate whether a guy is carrying a broom or a weapon,” Belcher said.

Advanced ISR technology, Edwards said, is also increasingly drawing upon artificial intelligence to organize incoming data from video feeds. Advanced AI, for instance, can help identify moments of tactical relevance and free up human operators for more pressing missions.

“AI can help us narrow the search,” Edwards added.

“When we are doing ops and maintaining architecture such as these critical components against threats, we make sure the hardware and software are immune from cyberattack,” Joe Fluet, MAG CEO, told Warrior.

The maturation of this technology, developers explain, has been advancing at near lighting speed.

“When I was on my first military assignment during the Gulf War, I wore a pair of binoculars and night vision. I wrote down what I saw. While there still is a place for rotary wing technology, the U.S. military has obviated the need for low and slow platforms. We can fly higher, faster and collect a much greater level of detail,” Fluet said.

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Newly-released images offer first glimpse of next-generation Marine One prototype

Newly-released images show the prototype of the next-generation Marine One helicopter landing on the White House South Lawn.

A spokesman for the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), which is overseeing development of the new presidential helicopter, told Fox News that the pictures were taken during testing on Sep. 22.

The images show the Sikorsky-built VH-92A helicopter painted in the traditional presidential airlift colors.

TRUMP'S NEW 'BEAST' LIMOUSINE SPOTTED ROAMING NEW YORK CITY

“There isn’t a part of this helicopter that isn’t tested – down to the paint,” explained the NAVAIR spokesman. “We took delivery from Sikorsky in August and began testing.”

The new helicopter is expected to be ready for deployment in late 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Hunter Helis)

The images were first reported by The Drive website.

The aircraft is the first of six test aircraft developed under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the project, according to NAVAIR. This includes the design, certification and testing of a replacement helicopter “to support the presidential world-wide vertical-lift mission.”

ARMY AND AIR FORCE CRAFT NEW JOINT COMBAT ATTACK PLAN

The landing and take-offs were part of a comprehensive test plan designed to ensure the aircraft meets all operational specifications, NAVAIR said.

Citing a GAO report, The Drive notes that the helicopter’s impact on the White House lawn is an important part of the testing process.

The prototype, known as Engineering Design Model (EDM 1) is the result of a years-long effort to build the new Marine One helicopters.

“The whole program is going exceptionally well,” the NAVAIR spokesman told Fox News.

ARMY SETS SIGHTS ON NEW SNIPER CAMOUFLAGE

The new helicopter is expected to be ready for deployment in late 2020. The White House Military Office will make the decision on when it will actually be used by the President, according to NAVAIR.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Army to control overseas combat drones from US

The U.S. Army is working with industry to implement drone operations that enable high-risk combat missions to be controlled by a U.S.-based pilot, reducing vulnerability to enemy attack and drawing upon advanced satellite networks to improve video feeds.

It’s a technical system called Remote Split Operations (RSO), which has been operational with Air Force from a high-op-tempo command and control station at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Much of the work, going back years to the time when the Air Force first developed the technology, is performed by a U.S.-based ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) firm called MAG Aerospace. Years ago, MAG's Air Force service began with enabling Predator feeds and then migrating to Reapers.

Now, given the massive uptick in combat zone combatant commander requests for ISR and drone operations – MAG is working closely with the Army to bring this technology to the Army’s Grey Eagle drone.

“We support the long haul connectivity where the pilot and the sensor operator are separated. They connect through terrestrial and satellite communications to remote locations forward in theater,” John Belcher, MAG Director of Technical Service, told Warrior in an interview.

The core elements of the technology, which MAG now operates for at least seven Air Force sites, are quickly being transferred to Army command and control centers at both Ft. Stewart, Ga., and Ft. Hood, Texas.

“Eight years ago we first briefed the Army Chief of Staff on RSO to enhance mission capability. Fast forward to now – we are bringing RSO to the Army,” Dan Edwards, Vice President MAG’s Fayetteville business unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Also, the technology continues to evolve, MAG developers say; the ISR system now brings operators and ability to watch 10-points of interest, enabling more than 10 close air patrol missions at one time, Belcher explained.

“We also do maintenance on the aircraft,” he added.

Using the “long-haul” remote connectivity, drones are taken off “line-of-sight” connectivity using “C-band” satellite frequencies. The drones takeoff and land from what is called the “launch and recovery element,” Edwards explained.

Improved resolution and fidelity of video images also represents a significant a significant technical step forward for the ISR operations. Typically, most video appears with a 1080 pixels (dots per square inch) level of resolution – yet MAG is now integrating the most cutting edge commercial resolution. The increased clarity, used in the most modern televisions, goes as high as 4K – or 4,000 pixels. (Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Shoomaker has joined MAG Aerospace Board of Directors).

“This makes it easier for an imaging analyst to differentiate whether a guy is carrying a broom or a weapon,” Belcher said.

Advanced ISR technology, Edwards said, is also increasingly drawing upon artificial intelligence to organize incoming data from video feeds. Advanced AI, for instance, can help identify moments of tactical relevance and free up human operators for more pressing missions.

“AI can help us narrow the search,” Edwards added.

“When we are doing ops and maintaining architecture such as these critical components against threats, we make sure the hardware and software are immune from cyberattack,” Joe Fluet, MAG CEO, told Warrior.

The maturation of this technology, developers explain, has been advancing at near lighting speed.

“When I was on my first military assignment during the Gulf War, I wore a pair of binoculars and night vision. I wrote down what I saw. While there still is a place for rotary wing technology, the U.S. military has obviated the need for low and slow platforms. We can fly higher, faster and collect a much greater level of detail,” Fluet said.

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