Tag Archives: history

M1 CATTB

The Component Advanced Technology Test Bed was another late 80s American test program to investigate new systems for future tanks. As we’ll see, it looked quite a bit different from the TTB, and where the TTB was testing a very specific change (namely the unmanned, low profile turret) the CATTB tested a variety of new technologies in a more conventional layout.

CATTB

CATTB shared an Abrams hull, but the turret was new, and came with a bustle-mounted autoloader. The autoloader was very similar to the one on the Leclerc or K2. A new gun was tested, the XM291, which came in both 120 mm and 140 mm versions. The 120 mm version provided a lower-risk alternative to the 140 mm. The turret had rather large forward armor arrays, plus reasonably thick side arrays and a decent amount of roof protection. And I have no idea why they decided to mount so many smoke grenade launchers on there, but they did. This was before the advent of soft-kill active protection systems, but might not go amiss on a tank today with the right cueing system.

CATTB Rear view

As you can see from this rear view, the CATTB also came with a new engine: the XAP-1000 diesel. The Cummins/Allison XAP-1000 was based on the advanced Cummins XAV-28 V-12 diesel, a low-heat rejection engine. It used only oil coolant and has no water in the cooling system at all. Higher temperature exhaust gasses were tapped to run the APU. I don’t know a ton about this engine, but the US Army has a history of backing highly advanced diesel engines that end up being problematic. I would suspect similar things with the XAP-1000. Again, the project went nowhere. Later in the 90s, the Abrams was going to get a new engine as an offshoot of the Crusader project, but the proposed engine was not the XAP-1000. Instead, a gas turbine was chosen.

CATTB is a lot more of a conventionally designed tank. I do really like its lines. The project which was supposed to lead to the Block III MBT ended up leading nowhere due to changing priorities. Though, it is not at a museum. It is in the long term storage section of the Sierra Army Depot in Hurlong, CA. Make of that what you wish.

On the 140mm Tank Gun

Let’s talk some more about the 140 mm tank gun, that late cold war weapon that never was. Perfect for killing Soviet Supertanks that never were. And making your new tank way cooler than everyone else’s. The fastest way to get more armor penetration is to just build a bigger gun with more muzzle energy. A lot more.

As you might imagine, a 140 mm round is quite a bit bigger than a 120mm round. Let’s take a look, because these numbers are damned hard to find:

First, a typical 120 mm APFSDS round for the era, the American M829A1. The legendary Silver Bullet that slaughtered the tanks of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Some variations in length and weight are to be expected amongst 120 mm rounds. Newer rounds are a little heavier, but the size is constrained by ammunition storage racks and the existing chambers. The M829A1 is also the round that was in service while the 140 mm was under development.

M829A1 120 mm APFSDS
* Length: 984 mm
* Weight: 20.9 kg (46 lbs)

And now, the round to replace it. Producing 23 MJ at the muzzle, more than double that of the 120mm. The mighty 140. Dimensions were fixed by the NATO countries that were all developing their own versions of the round.

140mm tank round

XM962 140 mm APFSDS
* Length: 1,482 mm
* Weight: approximately 40 kg (88 lbs)

The length and weight of the 140 mm stand out. This round would have been a royal pain to handle. It’s also a bit fatter, so autoloaders could handle fewer rounds. This explains why the K2 Black Panther, otherwise similar to the Leclerc, can only hold 17 rounds in its autoloader compared to 22 in the Leclerc. The K2 is ready for 140 mm, needing only a barrel change. Interestingly, the round count in the Black Panther matches those for the M1-CATTB prototype, which had a similar, belt-style autoloader in its bustle. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the CATTB in a future article.

NATO-standard 120 mm rounds like the M829A1 are unitary rounds. One big piece, like an oversized version of the cartridges you load into your guns at home. Because of the large size of the 140 mm rounds, these were made as two-piece rounds. Unfortunately, while I can find dimensions for the round’s overall length, I don’t have dimensions for the pieces. Until I can find one to measure myself, we’ll have to make do with some pixel counting/scaling, which yields a length of about 1,024 mm for the upper part of the round, and about 461 mm for the lower part. Which is still big and annoying for autoloader development. Length of the upper part of the round is heavily influenced by the length of the APFSDS projectile. This also would affect a design using a carousel autoloader like the TTB, since carousel (and therefore hull) height and turret height are constrained by the requirement to lift and rotate the rounds into position.

Based on the standards of the day, the 140 mm gun made more than twice the energy of the 120 mm at the muzzle. Of those 23 MJ of muzzle energy in the 140 mm, 14 MJ goes to the penetrator. Running the numbers meant that the 140 mm APFSDS could punch through more than 1,000 mm of RHAe at a ‘battle range’ of 2 km. For comparison, we’ll pull some open source estimates for M829A1, which give it a penetration of 700 mm of RHAe1.

Now, those are some really good numbers2. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. Even with the two-piece construction, everyone working with the 140 mm designed with autoloaders. Which meant significantly reworked turrets for the British, the Germans, and the Americans at a minimum. Plus, ammunition capacity would drop.

Upgunning to a 140 mm round was the simplest way to get a lot more armor penetration capability into a tank. At least from a weapon/projectile design standpoint. It would have required some serious reworking of then-extant designs, but such is life. When the Soviet Union imploded, the armored threat of the projected Future Soviet (super)tanks evaporated, and the 140 mm gun projects were quietly shelved. 120 mm rounds are continuing to get more development and the latest are quite a bit more effective than the M829A1. Lower cost, likely lower capabilities, but this decision makes sense given the circumstances.


  1. There’s some variation in this estimation depending on source. Open source disclaimers apply, etc. 
  2. They’re also a trifle disingenuous. Nobody is armoring their tanks with a meter of rolled homogenous steel. Literally nobody. A more advanced penetrator design can exploit effects on the not-steel that people actually armor their tanks with. Similarly, the armor might be designed to radically degrade (read: break up) the penetrator, which can be sort of but not really captured in RHAe estimations. So the RHAe numbers don’t actually tell the whole story on either side of the design puzzle. Oh, and the numbers themselves are the usual open-source estimates3, so they’re probably all wrong. 
  3. If you’d like to try your hand, start running through the Odermatt equation. And then remember that Odermatt wrote for tungsten-based penetrators, and M829A1 is depleted uranium, so you’ll need to tweak it. 

M1 TTB

The M1 Tank Test Bed (TTB) was a late-80s prototype to test unmanned turret design concepts and compare them to a modern, manned-turret design: the then-state-of-the-art M1A1. The TTB was not necessarily intended to be what the next MBT would look like, but it was intended to shake out some design concepts and see if they were worth considering in the future. So let’s take a look.

m1 ttb

Some of you may notice a resemblance to the T-14. Both use similar unmanned turret design concepts. Such designs have been kicked around since the 1950s by many different groups of tank designers, and all for similar reasons of being able to reduce protected volume (and hence reduce design weight for a given standard of protection). The M1A1 weighs about 57 tonnes. The TTB, with a similar protective standard and the same 120mm gun (and a similar ammunition capacity) was reckoned to weigh about 15% less, for an approximate TTB weight of 48.45 tonnes. Interestingly, this is very close to the published weight for the T-14.

TTB also, of course, reduced crew to three men and put in an autoloader for ammunition handling. The design was intended to improve crew safety by completely isolating the crew from the ammunition. The autoloader itself was a large carousel, holding all ammunition below the turret ring. Let’s look at some pictures.

ttb autoloader

It’s sort of like the autoloader on the T-80, though NATO 120mm ammunition is one-piece, and is therefore a little more annoying to design an autoloader for. The autoloader built for the TTB held 44 rounds and this could be expanded to 48 or even 60 rounds with minor design changes. All of the ammo was stored in a ready configuration because the crew would be unable to move ammunition from a reserve magazine to the autoloader’s ready magazine (as on the Leclerc for example). The TTB autoloader was extensively tested, and could manage a rate of fire of one round every 12 seconds. Spent case bases or misfired rounds were ejected out a small hatch the back. The autoloader could be supplied through the rear hatch, and also had an unloading mode where it could slowly present rounds for removal. The autoloader weighed about 1,400 lbs. empty.

Some might question the vulnerability of such a design. However, statistically the vast majority of tank hits occur to the turret. Tanks like the T-72, for example, ran into trouble because of the ignition of their unprotected reserve ammunition stowage in the turret, not hits that set off ammunition in their autoloaders. And again, complete isolation from the ammunition should keep the crew relatively safe.

The TTB program was dialed back with the end of the cold war and was finally cancelled in the mid 90s. The autoloader design was used in the M1128 Mobile Gun System version of the Stryker.

As for the TTB prototype, it’s at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning, and has recently been restored and repainted.

Night Vision Equipment

History is a great thing to learn from. And one of the details that we can look to history for lessons on is the basis of issue: how many of what things a given unit should have. This is often hard to work out without any kind of experience, so let’s look to some troops with experience. The following is based off of notes from Marines in Iraq circa 2003 or so and the related Marine Gunner’s Conference, so some of the equipment may be a little out of date. I’ve noted alternatives where applicable. These marines saw combat and used their equipment heavily. The overall base unit here is a rifle company (182 men), so the numbers for items will be referenced on that basis.

PVS-14 (Night Vision Monocular): These should be issued one per man (182). Monoculars are liked because they allow one eye to remain open for peripheral vision or shooting if another optic is mounted on the weapon. PVS-14s are Gen 3 light amplification devices and are still pretty good. There are alternatives that integrate thermal at present. One other thing noted in the report: helmet mounts are required. The strap mounts aren’t very good, and don’t work well with helmets.

3X Magnifier: None of these were listed on the table, and our veterans differed a little. The 3X magnifier is a useful observational tool, especially in the desert. The panel recommended at least enough magnifiers for stationary gunners and forward observers (40), if not enough to also equip the fire team leaders (67). A handheld magnifier is useful for observing without necessarily orienting one’s weapon toward the target. Note that there are also 6X magnifiers available at present.

PEQ-2 (IR Laser sight): The PEQ-2 is a laser sight to aid in aiming with night vision devices. The findings were that every weapon that could mount a PEQ-2 (i.e. basically everything that wasn’t a pistol) needed a PEQ-2, which works out to 176 units. The PEQ-2 is heavy and bulky. It is outmoded, if not obsolete. Much better choices exist today, including the DBAL, ATPIAL, and the MAWL. The MAWL is best of breed as I write this.

VLI (Visible Light, i.e. flashlight): The standard flashlight, capable of being used in the hand or being mounted on a weapon. The findings were that every rifle needed a light, especially for urban operations. This works out to 134 lights. Additionally, the marines agreed that the VLI itself was too big, too heavy, and needed too many batteries. They requested a smaller, lighter flashlight. The Surefire M600 Scout Light comes to mind as an excellent long gun weaponlight choice today.

If you’re curious about IR illumination for use with night vision devices, there are variants of the M600 (and other flashlights) that can output infrared in addition to white light. Also, many laser sighting units come with a built-in IR illuminator.

PVS-17B (Night Vision Weaponsight): The PVS-17B is a dedicated night vision weaponsight, complete with reticle and 2.5X magnification. This was found to work well on support weapons, including the M-249, AT4, and SMAW. This works out to 39 PVS-17Bs. It was not favored on rifles, because a PVS-14 could be mounted in front of the RCO, giving similar capability for less weight and hassle. The PVS-17B is pretty heavy and bulky. These days, the PVS-22 is often preferred. The PVS-22 is designed to give night vision capability to an existing optical sight rather than replace it like the PVS-17B. However, given that the PVS-17B is also a 3rd Generation light amplification unit, it’s not outmoded.

PAS-13 (Thermal Weapons Sight): The PAS-13 is a thermal imaging weapon sight. The original model was quite heavy and bulky. It was favored by the committee only for machine guns (M-249 and M-240 gunners), which works out to 33 units. The committee did suggest that machine gunners carry both PAS-13 and PVS-17B sights. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, newer versions of the PAS-13 that are significantly lighter and less bulky have come out. The PAS-13G is even reasonably sized to mount on a rifle.

RCO (ACOG): The Marines RCO of choice is the ACOG. They favor the TA31F, which has the red chevron reticle with fiber optic and tritium illumination and fixed 4X magnification. Marines love ACOGs, and the Gunner’s Committee was no exception. The magnification is very useful for target acquisition, identification, and discrimination. They sought one per rifle, or 134 ACOGs for the company.

IR Beacons: This is a little blinking IR light used for identification. While none were on the allocation table at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are very useful for helping identify friendly units and avoid blue-on-blue incidents. The committee figured every fire team and every platoon sergeant should have an IR beacon, which comes to 5 per platoon, or 25 per company.

Laser Boresight System: Not a combat weapon, this is used for boresighting. Duh. It is also useful for boresighting the aforementioned night sights and rocket-type weapons like the SMAW or AT4. Every squad needs to be able to boresight its stuff. They figured 20 boresighters per company would work well.

PEQ-4: This is a powerful IR laser pointer. For pointing while using night sights. It’s powerful and can be distinguished from the PEQ-2 lasers. PEQ-2s aren’t really able to be seen well by vehicles or aircraft if they’re not right on top of the user. The committee recommended 10 per company for platoon leaders, company leaders, and machine gun leaders. The aforementioned laser sights that have replaced the PEQ-2 are also a lot more powerful, and have obviated the need for these.

M-24 Mini Binoculars: Not night vision equipment. These have 7x magnification. Despite having ACOGs on their weapons, squad and team leaders found binoculars to be very flexible and useful. The committee recommended 27 per company.

The committee also realized that the above recommendations are not without their own issues. These devices add quite a bit of weight to the Marine’s rifle. These devices have their own switchology that requires training, require batteries (other than the RCO–ACOGs don’t need batteries), and add maintenance requirements.

The Armored Squad

Like many armchair strategists, I like thinking about questions of organization. And this includes examining some unconventional ideas from history. Today, we have a really neat one: The Armored Squad. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have also dubbed it the “Super Squad” in conversations with Fishbreath.

This squad idea comes out of World War 2, and the question of tank-infantry cooperation. Tanks and infantry are better together, which leads to questions of how this should be organized in order to promote unit cohesion. Some American units organized into Armored squads, where an M4 Sherman tank was paired with an infantry squad in an M3 half track. This gave a tank, with all the armored firepower that entailed, plus ten dismounted infantry who had their own transport to keep up with the tank. On paper the Sherman had a crew of 5, and the M3 half track had a crew of two: one driver and one machine gunner, so this is a total of 17 men.

This wasn’t an ad-hoc formation; particular tanks and particular squads were paired together for training and were kept together. They ate together. They fought together. In the Hurtgen Forest, the tankers took turns in the foxholes with the infantry, and the dismounted infantry got turns in the vehicles to warm up. Training together meant that infantry and tanks were much more intimately familiar with their respective counterparts’ limitations.

Moving up the organization table, we have five armored squads per platoon, and three such platoons per company. There were three of these tank-infantry companies per “Combat Command”, which is another organizational curiosity of the US Army in the Second World War. In brief a Combat Command was basically a brigade sized unit comprised of companies and platoons. There was no battalion-level organizational structure, and this was thought to increase flexibility. So, in the combat commands in question, there would be three tank-infantry companies plus a host of supporting units.

The advantages are the obvious increase in firepower over a regular mechanized squad, and it provides a tank with much more effective close-in protection than it would have otherwise. The disadvantages are on the logistics side. There’s a much larger fuel burden, plus there are two dissimilar vehicles that need maintenance, which increases the burden for maintenance personnel. Where a normal tank or mechanized infantry company would only have one sort of vehicle to maintain, with one set of spare parts to stock, the tank-infantry company has two.

In combat, the armored squad and associated units built from it were very effective. The 5th Armored Division was organized along this model, and it suffered notably fewer casualties than either 6th or 7th Armored Divisions (which were more conventionally organized), all of which were deployed to the European Theater of Operations at about the same time. 6th Armored went in on July 27th, 5th Armored went in on August 2nd, and 7th Armored went in on August 14th. Each division was deployed for the duration. 6th Armored took 5,194 casualties and lost 196 tanks, 5th Armored took 3,043 casualties and lost 116 tanks, and 7th Armored took 4,781 casualties and lost 360 tanks. Combat situations are, of course, not identical, so we should be careful not to read too much into these numbers. But it might suggest some tactical improvements by putting tanks and infantry together for the duration.

We can also see a very similar organization almost 60 years later. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, aggressive divisions driving on and into Baghdad often organized their forces to combine a pair of Abrams tanks with a pair of Bradleys. The force could fit down most streets with the Abramses in the vanguard. The Bradleys and the dismounts provided effective cover for closer threats, or for higher threats the Abramses couldn’t tackle. The Abrams tanks could also use their guns and fronts to breach buildings, which would then be cleared by the dismounts. Plus, putting the Abrams tanks forward meant that they drew the ambushes, and they were much harder to kill with RPG-7s than Bradleys.

In 1944 and again in 2003, the concept has been proven in combat in a variety of environments. To be sure, there is an increased logistics, maintenance, and training burden. But we made it work in 1944 with a conscript army. So we can make it work now with a professional army from a training standpoint. And if the US Army’s long drives with Abrams tanks have taught us anything, it’s that the correct answer to logistics is more trucks. The TO&E should reflect how we fight. And we should train like we fight.

I really like this organizational setup. I’d probably go with three tank-infantry teams per platoon, and three tank-infantry platoons per company. I’m usually a triangular organization kind of guy.

TO&Es for ’44!

Last time, we looked at the result of the German combat testing of the StG-44, and how they thought it compared to the MG-42. Their conclusions were that the StG-44 was very good, but could not completely replace the MG-42.

I’ve chosen to look at the relevant tables for 1944 because at that point (or at least when the tables were written) the situation wasn’t so desperate as to put economy uber alles. Lots of the ’45 tables do just that. Also, keep in mind this is what the planners envisioned, which wasn’t necessarily what was fielded in great numbers.

The difference we’re interested in happens in the infantry platoons. The previous table had squads of nine men: one leader and eight soldiers. It also had one MG-42, and there was a designated gunner and assistant gunner. The gunner and assistant gunner both also carried P-38 pistols for personal defense. The squad leader had an MP-40, and the other six men had Kar 98ks. Moving up the table, each platoon had three squads. It also had a command element consisting of a platoon leader, two message bearers, and a litter bearer.

For the standard rifle squad, total ammunition allotment (i.e ready and reserve rounds) was as follows:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds
Squad Leader1,536
Gunner99
Assistant Gunner993,450
Rifleman 199
Rifleman 299
Rifleman 399
Rifleman 499
Rifleman 599
Rifleman 699

Of course, the assistant gunner’s ammunition was in 50 round belts, often carried in drums, and a good portion of his allotment might be distributed to the rest of the squad or left on any vehicle the platoon might have. The gunner was the one who got to carry the MG-42, of course.

The table of ammunition allotments for the new squad was quite a bit simpler:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds8mm Kurz rounds
Squad Leader720
Gunner720
Assistant Gunner720
Rifleman 1720
Rifleman 2720
Rifleman 3720
Rifleman 4720
Rifleman 5720
Rifleman 6720

(I’ve left the titles as-is from the previous table for comparison’s sake, but they don’t quite fit when everyone has an StG-44.)

Readers who are interested in the soldier’s load will note that this is a savings of about 13 lbs over the previous one in terms of total load carried for the entire squad.

The new assault platoon had two such all-StG-44 squads. The third squad contained all of the long range support weapons, including two MG-42s and three rifle grenadiers. This support squad consisted of eight men altogether, including the squad leader. Snipers were concentrated in the company headquarters squad.

This new organization was pretty easy to command, a bonus for the Wehrmacht Heer as its supply of well-trained veteran squad leaders dwindled.

A few more things stand out to me, looking back seventy-odd years later. First is that we could replicate this platoon pretty readily with three IFVs that each have a six mount capacity, if we used the IFVs themselves as a “support squad”. While this would be a small, easily commanded platoon, it does tie the IFVs closely to their dismounts, and perhaps that is not desirable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment briefly on what the 1944 tables said about the Panzergrenadiers. Panzergrenadier platoons consisted of three identically-equipped squads. Each squad was made up of ten men, including vehicle driver and assistant/gunner. No StG-44s were assigned at this time. Instead, the eight dismounts had two MG-42s, with a third MG-42 remaining in the halftrack.

StG v. LMG

I got the awesome book Sturmgewehr! recently from Collector Grade Publications, and it contains tons of great stuff. It’s got a detailed history of the crazy internal politics and the various iterations of the prototypes that would eventually become the world’s first assault rifle.

All of that is awesome. And that alone would be worth the price of admission. Engineering prototypes are cool, and it’s great to track the evolution of an idea as it intersects with operational realities in testing. Plus, despite (or perhaps because of) being a dictatorship, the Third Reich had some crazy political struggles, with all kinds of subterfuge and pet projects and competing notions. Right there, I had my money’s worth.

But I was hoping for more, and happily Collector Grade (and the Waffenamt’s obsessive documentation) delivered. What I was really interested in was how the Germans figured they would be deploying this new weapon. Clearly, an assault rifle can replace bolt action rifles, semiautomatic-only rifles like the Gewehr 43, and submachine guns like the MP-40. That’s most of the weapons of the squad right there. But what about Hitler’s Buzzsaw? Can the StG-44 plausibly replace the MG-42? Did the Germans figure this was a net gain or a net loss?

Let’s look at the technical considerations for that very comparison, comparisons forged in the hellish engagements of the Eastern Front. I’ll have a follow up where I look at the 1944 organization tables built with the StG-44 in mind. Note that the Germans frequently deployed prototype StG-44s to combat units to gain feedback. One of the questions asked was “Can this weapon replace the MG-42 in an infantry squad?”

Anyway, let’s grab some relevant figures for comparison, so we have them all in one place. The MG-42 weighs 25.51 lbs, is chambered for 7.92x57mm Mauser, is belt fed, and fires at about 1,200 rounds per minute. We’re concerned primarily with the light machine gun use case, so not supported by the excellent tripod. While the MG-42 could be operated by one man, in practice a second man was designated to be the ammunition bearer, and would also help carry spare barrels.

The StG-44 weighs about 10 lbs unloaded, is chambered for 7.92x33mm Kurz, is detachable box magazine fed, and fires at about 500-600 rounds per minute (cyclic). A lot like a modern assault rifle.

When comparing the two options, it should be noted that this was not a one for one replacement. That is, the StG-44 would not be issued one per squad or fireteam in the fashion of the M1918 BAR. Rather, it was a shift to a ‘distributed firepower’ model, something like that of the Soviet submachine gun regiments. Clearly the StG-44 was a lot handier, and could be easily used in a trench or in built-up areas. A squad of StG-44s didn’t provide one obvious target for enemy suppression, and when relocating, did not have a significant drop in effective firepower as the machine gun was moved.

While the firepower of one MG-42 was significantly greater than that of one StG-44, given the different rates of fire and the relative capacities of a belt and a box magazine. Since the StG-44 was to be deployed en masse, this wasn’t a focus of comparison. It may interest the reader to know that Wehrmacht planners figured three StG-44s were roughly equivalent in close-in firepower to one MG-42.

The one big advantage the MG-42 held was at range. The MG-42 was still effective at ranges beyond 500 meters, but the StG-44 was never designed to be effective at these ranges. In the evaluations, units that were stationed in areas of Russia with long sightlines placed a high value on the MG-42 and keeping it available. Units that did not have many long sightlines available at the time of evaluation tended to value the handiness of the StG-44, and reckoned it could completely replace the MG-42.

Next time we’ll look at the units equipped with the StG-44, at least as they were drawn up on the organization tables.

Parvusimperator Reviews the F-22 Raptor

No fighter discussion would be complete without mentioning this one, even if it’s technically not available for the procurement games.

To understand the F-22, we should first look at the ATF, or the state of military aviation in the ’80s. The core of the USAF was the F-15 and the F-16. These were great fighters, but the Soviets had counters, namely the Su-27 and the MiG-29, which were at least the equals of the American fighters. In the maneuverability area, they might even be considered a bit ahead.

American doctrine was heavily invested in air superiority, and the USAF was always looking for the next big thing, so they put out a design concept for the ATF. It was to fly faster and higher than other fighters. Or, more precisely, to cruise higher. Speed is good, since speed is energy that can be converted into maneuvers. Energy is life. But supersonic speed meant afterburners, which burned fuel rapidly. So most fighters couldn’t sustain supersonic speeds for very long. The USAF’s idea was to use new engine technology to push the envelope of cruise speed, not maximum speed. The resulting fighter would not be faster than the Eagle, but it would be able to maintain supersonic speeds without lighting its afterburners (to “supercruise”). These engines would be designed to work at higher altitudes, because altitude can be converted into energy. Energy is life. Energy is winning.

Of course, there were secret projects in the works too, and so the USAF added stealth requirements. Stealth demanded careful shaping, special skin, and internal carriage of weapons. This helped the supercruise, since it reduced drag. A protracted development period due to the end of the cold war, and a competition between the Lockheed and Northrop Grumman entries eventually resulted in the F-22 we know today.

The F-22 is the king of the skies. Full stop. There is no better aircraft at aerial combat. None. Fighting with a Raptor really, really sucks. The Raptor has a massive, powerful, highly advanced, low-probability of intercept radar, and the obvious stealth features. So it’s going to see you first. And because it cruises at mach 1.2-1.4 at a higher altitude than you, the Raptor has the energy to decline any engagement it pleases, or dictate the range as it pleases.

If the Raptor chooses to engage BVR, as we’ve mentioned it’s going to get the first shot. It sees you first. It gets to position favorably. Plus, if you’ll recall, it’s flying higher and faster than you. So its missiles get that much more energy, because they start from a supersonic platform, and get a gravity assist as they dive down. Which is a great recipe for an intensely frustrating exercise. And by ‘exercise’, I mean ‘simulation of being smote by an angry god’.

But that’s BVR. The Raptor owns BVR. What if we force the merge and go to WVR? Probably by stipulating in the exercise rules that it’s a WVR fight, but still. Well, here go some of the advantages, though it’s still a massive pain to acquire a lock on the Raptor. At least you can see it. And you can engage with IR seekers, but not super well. Everybody dies in WVR. The Raptor is no exception. But it has the best aerodynamics of any fighter around, with a very high thrust/weight ratio and very low wing loading. It also has thrust vectoring. So even in WVR engagements, the Raptor is a winner more often than everybody else. It’s kill to death ratio at Red Flag is hilariously lopsided, and that’s against pilots who dogfight for a living.

If you’re thinking this is quite gushy, and excessively positive, you’d be right. I love this thing. But it’s not tops at everything. The internal weapons bays are somewhat limiting. The Raptor was designed around a warload of six AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders internally. This isn’t a bad loadout, though it could be bigger. However, those bays are not very deep. So the F-22 can’t carry much in the way of bombs. And it can’t carry any bombs that are all that big. The F-35 can’t carry many bombs, but it can carry two of just about any air to ground weapon you please. The F-22 is limited to bombs of 1,000 lbs or less, and that size class also rules out most standoff weapons. Plus, it only recently got ground-oriented radar modes. Ground attack is not its thing. Though the USAF is trying, and has made special small GPS-guided glide bombs so the Raptor can bomb more stuff.

Oh, and it’s out of production. Even when it was in production, it was super expensive. You could theoretically restart the production line, but that would cost a whole bunch of money. And the USAF only bought 187, which isn’t a lot. And there are have been issues with the onboard oxygen generating system, which have restricted that flight envelope. Those should be fixed by now.

So it’s an expensive, gold-plated, air-superiority fighter with gimped ground attack in a world of strike operations. Would we buy it?

Well, we can’t. Production lines were closed in 2011. Sorry. Blame Rumsfeld, not me.

Feels like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Okay, fine. Suppose they got their act together and started making them again. Raptors rolling off the production lines. Would we buy them?

Well, we still can’t. Even if the production lines were reopened, there’s a pesky act of Congress in the way. Really. There’s a law in the United States that says Thou Shalt Not Export the F-22. Even to one of America’s favorite and closest allies, like Japan or Australia or Israel. No Raptors for you.

Sigh.

Okay, that’s another cop-out, right? I’m still avoiding the question. Fine, fine. Remove both pesky intrusions of reality. Would. We. Buy. One?

We’d need a price, right? Well, let’s be awful and take the figure from an offhand quote of an Israeli Air Force general of $200 million, rather than the much more favorable wiki flyaway cost of $150 million. So. 200 million dollars a copy. Would we buy?

Hell fucking yeah, we’d buy.

Did you really think I’d say no to the greatest aerial combatant of all time? Are you mad?
We’d be all over this, if the above conditions were met. Even at $200 million. It’s got Wunderwaffe-class awesomeness. It’s also an absolutely beautiful fighter. It looks right. It is right.

Since this is a game, you might be thinking I should try to trade Fishbreath something so we can both skirt our self-imposed rules a little. He’d never go for it though. He doesn’t like spendy wunderwaffe.

Author’s Notes: This review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by Lockheed Martin, the Fighter Mafia, or members of the United States Air Force.

Resurrected Weapons: Douglas F6D Missileer

We looked at the long-range, high performance Eagle missile on Tuesday. Now, let’s look at the plane to carry it.

As ever, the US Navy was concerned about saturation attacks on its carrier battle groups. To counter the new threat of bombers armed with large, long-range antiship missiles, the Navy had two projects under development in the late fifties. One was the Typhon long range SAM, with a projected range of 200 nautical miles. The other was the Eagle/Missileer project.

Missileer was, unusually for the jet age, a subsonic fighter. Given that it had to stay on station more than 200 nautical miles away from the fleet, and that more loiter time was significantly better, the decision was made to keep the design subsonic. Long loiter also conveniently sidestepped delays in interception from launching alert fighters, since the fighters could be orbiting and ready. Subsonic design made mounting a large, advanced radar and large, advanced missiles easy. We’ve already talked about the massive, 1,284 pound Eagle missiles. The Missileer was designed to carry six of them. It was also designed around the large APQ-81 radar.

APQ-81 was an early pulse doppler radar. In an era when a fighter radar with a 24 inch diameter dish was considered large, APQ-81 had a dish 60 inches across. It could detect a standard radar target1 at 120 nautical miles, and track sixteen of them simultaneously at 80 nautical miles. It had a track-while-scan mode. It was designed with innovative anti-jam features from the beginning, including a narrow, 3° beam with a 24 kHz bandwidth, both chosen to avoid most available jamming systems.

Unsurprisingly given that it had to carry such a large load, the F6D was fat and ugly. It was 53 feet long and had a wingspan of 70 feet. It was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney TF-30s, engines that would go on to power the F-111 and the F-14A.

Like the AAM-N-10, he Missileer was cancelled by McNamarra to free up budget space for other things. The aircraft itself would be easy to develop but the radar and systems integration (and the AAM-N-10) would be risky and expensive. Plus, they’re overspecialized for a single mission. The F6D had to be bought in conjunction with another, more conventional fighter, since it could not provide strike escort capability or establish air superiority. It was a project that was somewhat ahead of its time, like Typhon. The US Navy would later get a much more reasonable set of systems with similar capabilities in the 1980s with Aegis and Tomcat/Phoenix.

Verdict: Funding request denied by the Borgundy Aircraft Procurement Board


  1. In the late 1950s, the standard radar target was assumed to have a radar cross section of 5 square meters. This corresponds to the radar cross section of a B-47 bomber. 

Resurrected Weapons: AAM-N-10 Eagle

Let’s continue our look at some vintage projects. The AAM-N-10 Eagle was a US Navy air to air missile program optimized for enemy bomber interception in the fleet air defense role from the last years of the Eisenhower administration.

The problem, evident even by the late 1950s, was that Soviet bombers could mount antiship missiles. So the bombers had to be engaged at long range, because intercepting large numbers of small, high-speed missiles is very difficult. To do so, and to get the fleet defense fighters outside the range of new surface to air missiles under development, the Navy proposed a subsonic, long endurance “fighter” and a high performance missile. This missile was the Eagle.1

The Eagle was developed by Bendix, in conjunction with Westinghouse’s big new APQ-81 radar and the Douglas F6D Missileer fighter. It was a two-stage missile, with a booster stage and a sustainer stage that would fire after a glide period. Both stages were solid-fuel rockets. The booster gave a speed of mach 3.5, and the sustainer could get the missile to peak at mach 4.5. Midcourse guidance updates were to be provided by the APQ-81, and terminal guidance would be an active radar seeker with a home-on-jam mode, much like a modern AMRAAM. AAM-N-10 flew a lofted trajectory, and had a 160 nautical mile (300 km) range.

That’s pretty impressive, but to get that performance in 1959, you needed a big, expensive missile. AAM-N-10 was 16 feet long ready to launch. The booster was 16 inches in diameter, and the second stage was 14 inches in diameter. The booster’s wings folded, and the second stage had a finspan of 34 inches. Weight was 1,284 pounds, with a 110 pound warhead.

The AAM-N-10 and the F6D were cancelled by Robert McNamarra in 1960, to free up money for other urgent programs2 and to establish the authority of him and the new Defense Department over the various services.

So what do I think of all of this?

Well, it’s hard for my opinion to not be colored by my opinion of Robert S. McNamarra, and I hate Robert McNamarra. His decision making process is suspect. And his “commonality” fetish got abused into some mind bogglingly dumb ideas.3 But he did get some good programs to completion/procurement, like the Polaris SLBMs and the M-16 (my favorite rifle). And here, I’m inclined to agree with McNamarra again. The Eagle was very specialized, and very expensive. It was useable from only one platform (Missileer), and for only one mission (engaging non-maneuvering bomber targets at extreme range). Missileer could not do any other mission either. Conceivably the AAM-N-10 could have been launched from the A-6 Intruder, but that would have required a different radar, or depending on an E-2 for all guidance updates. However, the core concept was a good one and we’ll see this become much more refined and sensible in the AIM-54 Phoenix.

Verdict: Funding request denied by the Borgundy Air Ordnance Procurement Board


  1. AAM-N-10 is the old designation system for air to air missiles developed by the Navy. 
  2. viz. the Polaris SLBM program and rebuilding the tiny and useless US Army 
  3. cf. the F-111B.