Tag Archives: america

American Tax Dollars at War

25 Oct

Taken from Wandering American

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New US Humvee Burns 70% Less Fuel

24 Oct

The new vehicle, dubbed FED Alpha, will be on display this week in the Pentagon’s courtyard for an Energy and Sustainability Technology Fair. The vehicle has a solar panel on its back hatch to recharge its electrical systems, a custom engine and transmission along with several new features that will drastically increase its range and reliability over other models of Humvees. The new vehicle has all the toughness and survivability of the standard up-armored Humvee but burns 70% less fuel.

While the FED may not ever be mass-produced, it’s a valuable platform for testing the practical uses of environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies. The vehicle features a 200 horse-power 4 cylinder engine, a six speed automatic transmission and low-rolling resistance tires. The tires provide a 7% fuel reduction all by themselves. The savings from the tires alone are expected to save about $45 million annually if applied to the entire Humvee fleet. Their are several computer systems on board, such as one that informs the driver when they exceed the optimum fuel efficiency speed by causing the gas peddle to vibrate and giving resistance against more speed. However, if speed is essential to the mission, the driver just needs to push through the feedback.

Some other features of the FED are its high efficiency 28 volt integrated starter-generator that allows for extensive electronics to be installed, a light-weight aluminum structure except for the armored cab and v-shaped blast protection on the undercarriage. And finally, the FED has a much improved driveline specially designed to reduce friction.It’s been undergoing testing since July and another prototype design is under construction.

Interesting timeline of the vehicle in a PDF file here.

The End of the Aircraft Carrier

17 Oct

Since WW2, aircraft carriers have been the premier method of projecting power away from friendly shores. Bristling with weapons and boasting more planes than some countries have in their entire air forces, aircraft carriers can cost up to $15 billion to build and operate and are essentially massive floating fortresses. For decades the carrier has reigned as the undisputed master of the seas but now there are many factors that threaten it’s supremacy.

The first issue is the global financial crisis. Even though it seems like the worst is over, there is still a long recovery ahead before the world’s economic growth picks up. With austerity measures being put into place in several countries, defense spending is often the first expenditure on the chopping block. Carrier construction is a massive undertaking that is enough to bankrupt most countries and developed nations like the US, France, and the UK may soon have to decide between operating an expensive capital ship or paying bills.

The second issue is that no one country rules the seas anymore. The days of post-Cold War American dominance of the seas are almost at an end and new challengers are appearing. China, India, Russia, Brazil and others are in the process of constructing capable blue water navies, often employing advanced submarine fleets and missile ships, that may pose a serious danger to a lumbering carrier.

Another problem is that more effective counter-measures are being developed for the express purpose of limiting the effectiveness of carriers. The most notable counter-measure being China’s DF-21 missiles that can travel at low altitudes at supersonic speeds and can strike targets up to 900 miles away. This weapon was designed specifically for the purpose of checkmating American carrier groups in and around the East and South China Seas. As of now, there has yet be an effective way of combating the DF-21 and the US is check-mated for the time being. A $15 billion ship can be crippled or possibly even sunk by a missile that costs maybe $10 million at most.

What alternatives are there to hulking carriers? Simple. Less expensive helicopter carriers if you expect  a need for amphibious operations. A small carrier loaded up with cheaper helicopter gunships could prove devastating in engagements that allow short range aircraft. Combat drones have also proven their effectiveness on the battlefield. Mid-sized mother ships that dispense endless waves of attack drones seem much more frightening and practical than a carrier loaded with  a few dozen $120 million fighters. Sometimes sea-based aircraft aren’t even necessary. Look at Libya. Much of the naval force deployed was in the form of cruise missiles fired by submarines while sorties were flown from regional airbases with no real need for a carrier to be involved.

One could argue that the time of the carrier is not yet passed and that the numerous threats arising are just little bumps in the road. I agree that there will always be a need for a mobile platform that is able to provide an effective moving base of operations for aircraft but the risks of deploying these huge ships to unfriendly waters may soon outweigh the benefits. Unless counter-measures are found and implemented quickly and reliably as the new threats emerge then the fate of these titans of the sea remains murky.

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle

14 Oct

The F-15 is a twin engine tactical fighter capable of operating in any kind of weather conditions and was designed by the renowned McDonnell Douglas. Their design was selected in 1967 to give the US military a dominant air-superiority fighter, which would become one of the most successful fighters in modern times with over 100 aerial combat victories and no air-to-air losses. The F-15’s first flight was in July 1972. It went through rigorous trials and entered service in 1976 and is expected to remain in service with the US military until 2025. Since it’s production, the Eagle has also entered service with the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Japan and Israel. Originally envisioned as a pure dogfighter, the F-15 has been further developed into 2 upgraded models. The F-15E Strike Eagle which is equipped with more advanced avionics and electronic warfare capabilities. The F-15SE is a stealthy version, complete with internal weapons bays and radar-absorbent materials.

The F-15 was developed in the F-X program of the late 1960’s in response to fears that the Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat could outclass current American fighters. McDonnell Douglas beat out heavy hitters like General Dynamics, Fairchild Republic and North American Rockwell to snatch up the lucrative fighter contract. The Eagle’s design incorporated the best aspects of older combat jet aircraft like the F-4 Phantom and combined it with the best in new technology and advanced designs like the “look down/shoot down” radar that could distinguish low-flying targets from ground clutter, a new canopy that provided unparalleled visibility, and all-new avionics and computer information systems.

Being the first strictly air-superiority fighter developed by the US since the F-86 Sabre from the late 1940’s, the production of the F-15 also required an overhaul in the design of advanced air-t0-air weaponry. The revolutionary canopy and heads up display allowed the single pilot to conduct air combat and fly the plane as safely and effectively as possible. It can be outfitted with several types of missiles including the Sparrow, AMRAAM, or Sidewinder. It also features an internal M61A1 20 mm Gatling gun under the right wing.

The Eagle has seen extensive combat use, mostly by Middle-Eastern militaries in regional conflicts. The first air-to-air kill was scored by an Israeli Air Force ace in 1979 and during Israeli raids into Lebanon in 1979-81, F-15As shot down 13 Syrian MiG-21 Fishbeds and 2 Syrian MiG-25 Foxbats. F-15s served in the 1982 Lebanon War where they shot down 40 enemy planes, 23 Syrian MiG-21 Fishbeds, 17 MiG-23 Floggers and 1 Syrian SA.342L Gazelle helicopter. In 1984, Saudi F-15C pilots shot down 2 Iranian F-4E Phantoms. In 1985, F-15s were used in a ground attack role to bomb a PLO headquarters in Tunisia. Saudi pilots shot down 2 Iraqi Mirage F1s during the Gulf War. The Eagle is also capable of being equipped with a satellite killer missile and has performed numerous successful tests. The USAF deployed F-15C, D, and E models to participate in the First Gulf War where they accounted for 36 of the 39 aerial victories. As of 2008, the aerial combat record for the F-15 from all operators stands at 104 kills and 0 air combat losses.

Number built: 1,198

Unit Cost: F-15A/B: $27,900,000. F-15C/D: $29,900,000

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1: pilot
  • Length: 63 ft 9 in (19.43 m)
  • Wingspan: 42 ft 10 in (13.05 m)
  • Height: 18 ft 6 in (5.63 m)
  • Wing area: 608 ft² (56.5 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 64A006.6 root, NACA 64A203 tip
  • Empty weight: 28,000 lb (12,700 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 44,500 lb (20,200 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 68,000 lb (30,845 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney F100-100 or −220 afterburning turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 17,450 lbf (77.62 kN) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 25,000 lbf for −220 (111.2 kN for −220) each
  • Fuel capacity: 13,455 lb (6,100 kg) internal

Performance

  • Maximum speed:
    • High altitude: Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph, 2,660+ km/h)
    • Low altitude: Mach 1.2 (900 mph, 1,450 km/h)
  • Combat radius: 1,061 nmi (1,222 mi, 1,967 km) for interdiction mission
  • Ferry range: 3,450 mi (3,000 nmi, 5,550 km) with conformal fuel tanks and three external fuel tanks
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: >50,000 ft/min (254 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 73.1 lb/ft² (358 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 1.12 (−220)

Reduction of the US Military

4 Oct

In March of 2012, the army is beginning a 5 year program in which it plans to cut at least 50,000 soldiers through the use of accession cuts, buyouts, retirements, fewer promotions and voluntary and, as a last resort, involuntary separation. 22,000 short-term positions that were created as part of the troop surge in Afghanistan will be the first on the chopping block, followed by 27,000 positions that were part of the Grow the Army campaign. These cuts will bring the number of active duty members of the army down to 520, 400 by Sept. 30 2016 if everything remains on schedule. However, as the military budget gets squeezed more and more, further manpower reductions will be increasingly necessary. Despite the reductions, army officials have stressed the need to retain as many experienced soldiers as possible to maintain acceptable levels of combat effectiveness.

The Marine Corps’ manpower will also be reduced from 200,000 down to approximately 186,000 and their much anticipated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, plagued by missed deadlines and cost overruns, is likely to be canceled. Some cuts will likely face tough opposition in Congress. Among them include proposals to increase health-care premiums for military retirees, reduction in the use of contractors, cutting and consolidation of bloated intelligence networks with overlapping responsibilities, freezing of salaries of civilian Defense Department employees and reduction of 100 general officer positions. If cuts are deeper than expected then the number of F-35s on order may also need to be reduced and older Cold War era fighters like the F-15 and F-16 will have to remain in service longer, decreasing the effectiveness of American air power in future conflicts.

After the financial crisis hit, Robert Gates correctly assumed that the time of endless money for defense spending was over and encouraged the military to find cuts before they were imposed by the government. Even though the projected military budget for the 2012 fiscal year is $13 billion less than they anticipated, it’s still a 3% increase from the previous year and growth of the budget is not expected to flatten out until 2015. The 2012 budget is currently estimated to be $553 billion, not counting the hundreds of billions of dollars required for operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Pentagon has identified nearly $180 billion worth of cuts to be made over the next 5 years but only about $78 billion will go towards paying off the deficit while the rest will be “reinvested” into the services.

In my opinion, despite all its bluster, the military still doesn’t understand how dire the economic situation is. If the US defense budget returns to 2001 or 2002 levels, it will not be a death blow to the military like all these officials say it will. They are addicted to cash, whether they are willing to admit it or not. The government needs to get tough and make honest cuts in spending. Every dollar spent on the military is a dollar not being spent to pay the national debt, which is far more sinister and dangerous for the US than any jihadist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Military Industrial Complex

30 Sep

Arguably the last truly great American president, Eisenhower was a military man through and through. But he understood what was happening and witnessed the militarization of the US in the years after WW2. He knew what kind of influence such large industries could have on the American people and its government and cautioned against it but was fought every step of the way by politicians who had an overriding fear of the Red Menace, some of whom became very rich by putting forth the weapons manufacturers interests in Congress. What Eisenhower said decades ago still rings true in the new millennium and it’s an important message to share. Here’s the excerpt from his farewell address in 1961:

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peace time, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system-ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.”

View the whole speech here. There’s a fantastic documentary out called “Why We Fight” and you can find the trailer for it and a little more information on the MIC here.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

29 Sep

The Reaper  is an American built, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Air Force, Navy, CIA, US Customs and Border Protection, Royal Air Force, and Italian Air force. Where as the Reaper’s predecessor, the Predator, was mostly built for surveillance with some combat capabilities, the Reaper is widely recognized as the first true hunter-killer UAV and is superbly designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance. The Reaper has a much more powerful engine than the Predator, 950 horse power, allowing the Reaper to carry up to 15 times more ordinance and cruise at three times the speed of the older model. While the MQ-9 is able to fly pre-programmed routes autonomously, it is constantly monitored by an aircrew in a ground control station and the use of weapons is always controlled by human crew members. The New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing was the first military unit in the world to begin converting it’s entire combat fleet from F-16 fighters to UAVs, picking the heavy-hitting Reaper as their replacement aircraft.

Capable of carrying up to 14 Hellfire missiles and remaining airborne for up to 14 hours fully loaded, the Reaper has been indispensable in putting pressure on insurgents in it’s main theater of combat operations, Afghanistan. Weapon load-out can be switched up to arm the Reaper with laser and precision guided bombs. Since UAV aircraft’s primary functions are still surveillance and ground attack, air-to-air capabilities are negligible and the assortment of weapons currently available for their use is limited.

The average MQ-9 system is composed of elements from several of the best aircraft, ground-control stations, satellites, and flight and maintenance crews currently available. The aircraft has a 66 foot wingspan and a maximum payload weight of 3,800 lbs. The Reaper is equipped with the best sensor technology its designers could cram into the airframe which includes the AN/APY-8 Lnyx II Radar, a state-of-the-art advanced high-resolution imaging system, and efforts are currently underway to develop the ability to control several UAVs from one ground control station, increasing combat effectiveness and Reaper fleet cohesion over the battlefield. The aircraft has little to no armor and relies on it’s maximum altitude of 50,000 feet to stay out of range of most anti-aircraft missiles.

Reapers have been flying over Iraq since July 2008 and have likely launched several thousand strikes in Afghanistan. Concrete numbers are difficult to come by for it’s service record since the hundreds of drone attacks against targets in Pakistan have not been officially acknowledged. However, it is known that there were 33,000 close air support missions in 2010 involving Reapers and Predators. The Reaper is also seeing service with NASA to test new equipment and assists in numerous missions like when they were used to map California wildfires in 2007. The US Department of Homeland Security acquired some Reapers for use in border patrol and drug interdiction. As of now, several countries are trying to acquire their own MQ-9s including the UK, Australia, Germany and Italy.

Number Built: 57 as of September 2011

Unit Cost: $154,400,000 for 4 aircraft

General Characteristics
  • Crew: None onboard (controlled remotely by pilot and sensor operator)
  • Landing Type: runway
  • Launch Type: runway
  • Length: 36 ft (11 m)
  • Wingspan: 66 ft (20 m)
  • Height: 12.5 ft (3.6 m)
  • Empty weight: 4,900 lb (2,223 kg)
  • Fuel Capacity: 4,000 lb (1,800 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 10,500 lb (4,760 kg)
  • Power Plant: Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine, 900 shp (671 kW), with Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC)
Performance
  • Maximum speed: 260 knots (482 km/h, 300 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 150–170 knots (276–313 km/h, 172–195 mph)
  • Range: 3,200 nmi (5,926 km, 3,682 mi)
  • Endurance: 14–28 hours (14 hours fully loaded)
  • Payload: 3,800 lb (1,700 kg)
    • Internal: 800 lb (360 kg)
    • External: 3,000 lb (1,400 kg)
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15 km)
  • Operational altitude: 25,000 ft (7.5 km)