Tag Archives: weapons

Flying the Flag, Arming the World (1994)

19 Oct

This is a documentary by John Pilger that goes into all the dirty little secrets of the British International Arms Trade.

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.

The Tsar Bomba

12 Oct

The Tsar Bomba, officially known as RDS-220 or Big Ivan to its Soviet creators, is the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by man. The first and only one of its kind was tested on October 30, 1961 at 11:32am. It was a 100 megaton bomb design but the uranium fusion stage tamper of the tertiary and secondary stages was replaced with lead, thus reducing the yield by 50% by disposing with the fast fissioning of the uranium tamper by the fusion neutrons. What that means is, the change in materials led to a much smaller explosion than originally planned but also had the added bonus of reducing the expected fallout by 97%. The effect of this bomb at full power would have been catastrophic on the Earth, increasing the world’s total fission fallout since the invention of the atom bomb by 25%. Do you understand? The fallout from one detonation of the Tsar Bomba would have been equivelant to 1/4 of all fallout from hundreds of atomic detonations up until that time.

The bomb was tested at Novaya Zemlya Island in the Russian Arctic Circle. It was airdropped and detonated at around 4,000 meters, being visible from1,000 kilometers away despite overcast weather. Even at the great height at which it exploded, the fireball reached down to the Earth and rose almost to the height at which is was deployed at 10,500 meters. The blast pressure below the burst point was 6 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb at 300 PSI. One cameraman recalled:

The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards…. Having broken through the thick layer of clouds it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.

Shock waves were felt over 700 kilometers away, windows were broken at distances in excess of 900 kilometers, All buildings within 55 kilometers were destroyed and all wooden buildings within hundreds of kilometers were wiped out while stone or concrete buildings sustained massive damage. Radio communications were disrupted for almost an hour and atmospheric disturbance created by the blast orbited the planet an estimated three times. The mushroom cloud rose 64 kilometers into the atmosphere. The explosion shook the entire planet with seismic equipment on the other side of the Earth registering a seismic magnitude of 5.0 to 5.25. Ground zero had been glassed at the center of impact and eye-witnesses described the entire area as looking like a “skating rink” because the ground was swept clean and flat due to the blast wave and ultra high heat. All planes involved in the operation had been coated with a special reflective paint due to the calculation that the 50 megaton blast would be capable of causing 3rd degree burns at distances of 100+ kilometers. The effective damage radius of the weapon extended out to a 1,000 kilometer radius.

The Soviet Union was quickly condemned in the United Nations and the Western allies jumped back into the nuclear arms race. Thankfully, this monster never made it into the production line. The device’s size, weight, as well as it’s frightening destructive capabilities were deemed too extreme for use in a real conflict.

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)

History of US Arms Sales to Taiwan

26 Sep

The US has had close ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan) since their fight against Japan in World War 2. And American support continued despite the ROC’s defeat by the communist forces of the People’s Republic of China in 1950. Taiwan was an important part in the plan to contain the spread of communism in Asia during the Cold War and offered behind the scenes assistance to anti-communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. After the Taiwan Relations Act was passed in 1979, it became US law to supply Taiwan with military hardware and to defend them against outside aggression, specifically China. The US has made good on this promise on 3 separate occasions known as the Taiwan Strait Crises in 1954-55, 1958, and 1995-96 when American naval forces in the region were mobilized to deter Chinese military posturing.

As of now, there have been at least 53 separate arms deals reaching an estimated $60 billion worth, not including inflation which could very well raise the deals to over $100 billion. Most sales are for advanced technology such as surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets and other hi-tech equipment not easily produced indigenously. I’ve tried to compile all available data I could find so let me know if you notice something that I left out.

1979, July- 48 F-5E, $240 million

1979, November- 500 AGM-65 Maverick, $25 million

1980, January- BGM-71 TOW, MIM-23 Hawk, MIM-72 Chaparral, $280 million

1980, July- M110A2, $3.7 million

1982, April- Aircraft parts, $640 thousand

1982, June- Armored personnel carriers, mortar vehicle, command vehicle, $97 million

1982, August- $620 million

1982, November- Vehicles, spare parts and ancillary equipment, $97 million

1983, February- 66 F-104G, no data on dollar value

1984, June- 12 C-130, $325 million

1985, February- 12 F-5, F-100, T-33, T-28 radar and spare parts, $325 million

1985, June- 262 MIM-72 Chaparral, $94 million

1986, August- S-2T, AN/TPQ-37, S-2E/G, Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, $260 million

1989- 88 Standard Missile, $44 million

1990, August- F-5, F-104, C-130 radar, $108 million

1991, September- 110 M60A3, $119 million

1992- 8 C-130, $220 million

1992, July- Rental of 3 Knox class frigates, $230 million

1992, August- 207 Standard Missiles, $126 million

1992, September- 150 F-16s, $6 billion

1993, January- 200 Patriot missiles and related equipment, $10 billion

1993, March- 4 E-2T, $900 million

1993, June- Aircraft parts, radar and navigation equipment, $156 million

1993, November- 150 Mk46  Mod5RC torpedoes and related components, $54 million

1994, February- Rental of 3 Knox class frigates, $230 million

1994, September- 4 MSO ocean minesweepers, no data on dollar value

1994, October- Rental of 2 Newport class tank landing ships, $2.6 million

1995, May- 160 M60A3, $223 million

1996, August- 1299 FIM-92 Stingers and related equipment, $420 million

1996, September- 110 Mk46 Mod5 torpedoes, $69 million

1997, March- AGM-84A, AH-1W, S-70C, $232 million

1997, May- 700+ DMS systems, $58 million

1997, May- 2 Knox class frigates, no data on dollar value

1998- 4 S-70C, $70 million

1998, March- OH-58, AH-1W and related equipment, $452 million

1998, August- unknown material, $350 million

1998, October- unknown material, $440 million

1999, April- Early warning radar defense system, $800 million

1999, May- Hellfire II, ANVRC-92E, SINC-GARS-based radio systems, intelligence electronic warfare systems, high-mobility multipurpose wheeled and additional equipment, $87 million

1997, July- E-2T and F-16s, $550 million

2000, March- Improved Hawk system and related equipment, $202 million

2000, June- F-16s on-board navigation and targeting pods, AN/ALQ-184 electronic countermeasure pods, $356 million

2000, September- AIM-120C medium-range air to air missiles, Harpoon ship-to-ship missiles, 155 mm self proelled artillery and communications eqipment, $1.4 billion

2001, April- incomplete order, $18 billion

2003, November- 200 AIM-120C-5, no data on dollar value

2004, April- 2 Ultra-high frequency early warning radar and remote equipment, $17.8 million

2007, March- 453 AIM-120C-5 missiles, air-to-air missiles, $421 million

2007, 66 F-16 C/D, $3.7 billion

2007, September- P-3C, Standard Missiles-2, $2.23 billion

2007, November- Patriot missile system upgrades, $939 million

2008, October- Patriot anti-missile system, E-2T, Apache helicopters and other weaponry, $6.46 billion

2011, September- Upgrades for F-16s, $5.85 billion

There’s a PDF file on this site with the original details.

The US is required by law to aid Taiwan in developing its military but is loath to sacrifice its increasingly vital relationship with China and the decision to upgrade Taiwan’s older F-16s instead of selling them new ones has shaken the Taiwanese government. They have a few options on the table if they wish to close the ever widening gap between them and the mainland. First, they could see about simply buying the production license for the F-16 if that’s what they really wanted. It’s less diplomatically sensitive and would allow Taiwan to build as many as it needs. Second, they could develop their own fighter program. Such an endeavor is expensive but Taiwan is one of the most developed countries in the region and already has a high technological base from which to work from. How Taiwan handles the situation could very well decide by what terms it eventually rejoins the mainland, of its own free will with special conditions for reunification or by Chinese conquest.