Tag Archives: militariana


There are two consistent complaints about the Bradley. One is that it doesn’t carry enough dismounts. The other is that it’s not well protected enough. The US Army has made several attempts to rectify both of these issues. Today, we’re going to look at an alternative design to fix the latter problem: the Special Armor IFV, which dates to around 1978. Continue reading

The 1920s Screening Force

Having finished Shelby Foote’s excellent three-volume Civil War set, I’ve switched over to some more recent naval history: A History of U.S. Cruisers, by Norman Friedman. One of the cool bits of naval history in it is a breakdown of expected US Navy fleet screening requirements, circa 1920. This posited a main body consisting of seventeen battleships and six battlecruisers. These were considered separate elements, and as such, each had its own screen. There were separate screens for dealing with submarines and dealing with torpedo-armed light assets (the so-called “attack” screen). Each force also had its own scouting assets. Let’s look at the breakdown of what they expected to need to screen the main body in a future war at sea.

TypeBattleship ScreenBattlecruiser Screen
Light Cruisers10
Destroyer Leaders21
Attack Screen
Light Cruisers11
Destroyer Leaders318
Scouting Forces
Light Cruisers11
Destroyer Leaders32

Quite the force. The large number of destroyers is fascinating, as is the relatively small number of cruisers employed in the screen. Cruisers were called for elsewhere, of course. Also of note is that while the term ‘light cruisers’ appears in the plans, ‘heavy cruisers’ does not. Presumably light cruisers were cruisers that weren’t battle cruisers; questions of guns and tonnage would not be relevant until the various naval treaties of the 20s and 30s.

Cool Hornet Features

The F/A-18 Hornet is a really neat aircraft. While it didn’t win our Retro Light Fighter contest, it’s still an awesome plane with a couple unique options. Let’s take a look.

ATARS, or Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System, combines image capture, datalink and image storage capability in one package. It’s got both visible-spectrum and thermal cameras, two data storage units, an interface with the APG-73 radar to save synthetic aperture radar imagery, and a datalink. That datalink can transmit to any Common Imaging Ground/Surface Station compatible system. The coolest part about ATARS is that the package fits in the gun bay of a F/A-18D, so it doesn’t require a big, heavy, draggy pod.

Night Attack Variant
The Guy in the Back isn’t a very popular feature amongst fighter pilots. The regular -D model Hornet has the usual second set of flight controls there. But under the Night Attack program, these were replaced with a dual-sidestick layout of the back seat cockpit of the Strike Eagle. Also, the center Multipurpose Color Display and Upfront Controller were transposed. This gave a position optimized for using the targeting pod and guiding weapons. I’m surprised Fishbreath hasn’t gone for this more, being a carrier-capable, smaller, cheaper strike fighter. The Night Attack layot could be swapped back to a conventional trainer rear cockpit, with center stick and throttles. This was not common practice though.

M1 Abrams Fuel Capacities

Another short fluid capacity post, this time for the M1 Abrams. All versions of the M1 use the Honeywell AGT-1500 gas turbine engine and the Allison X1100-3B transmission.

Fuel System
Internal Tanks: 505 gal. (1,911.6 L)
Internal Tanks if UAAPU is mounted: 450 gal. (1,703.4 L)

The Under Armor APU (UAAPU) is fitted standard on the M1A2C1. Previous versions may have an APU mounted in the bustle rack as a retrofit, the UAAPU as a retrofit, or no APU at all.

The Abrams makes no provision for external fuel. Suck it up, buttercup.

Engine Oil Capacity: 25 qt. (23.7 L)

Transmission Oil Capacity: 40 gal. (151.4 L)

  1. Formerly known as the M1A2 SEP v.3 

Griffin III: OMFV Frontrunner?

At AUSA 2018, we saw three possible candidate vehicles for the OMFV Bradley Replacement: BAE’s CV90 Mk. IV, Rheinmetall/Raytheon’s Lynx, and General Dynamics’ Griffin III. Of these, the Griffin III looks to be the frontrunner right now, in so far as it very closely matches what the US Army says it wants. Let’s take a look.

Griffin III is based on the ASCOD hull. This checks our already in service box; the ASCOD is used by Spain and Austria, and was the basis for Britain’s Ajax (and related family of vehicles). It is a newer chassis than the CV90, which is also in service in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and some other places. The Lynx is not in service in any version anywhere, which is points against it, though it is also a contender in Australia’s new IFV competition.

Both the CV90 Mk IV and Lynx have 35mm guns. However, US Army really wants a 50mm. Both BAE and Rheinmetall claim to be able to oblige. General Dynamics, on the other hand, went ahead and mounted the XM913 50mm gun in their AUSA show vehicle. General Dynamics also has a turret design with an incredible +85/-20 elevation range, which looks pretty spectacular on a show floor and is expressly directed at urban warfare scenarios that the US Army worries about. A near-vertical autocannon looks great for anyone who remembers Grozny.

Continuing to hit all the cool future features, General Dynamics has partnered with Aerovision for UAV integration. The Griffin III comes with a nine tube vertical launcher for Aerovision’s Switchblade UAV/Missile, with all the related digital datalink equipment installed. The turret can also accommodate ATGMs, but these weren’t fitted for the show model.

Additional systems fitted for the show model were the Iron Fist (hard kill) APS system, with associated radars and launchers, a gunshot locating system, and Armorworks Tacticam multispectral camouflage. A situational awareness system (i.e. a whole bunch of cameras) was also fitted. I’d guess it’s Leonardo DRS’ system, but this wasn’t stated.

Protection levels are not clear yet. At the show, the Griffin III model as configured weighed about 38 tonnes. With all of the supplemental armor kits mounted, the vehicle would weigh about 50 tonnes.

In terms of capacity, the Griffin III is at a bit of a disadvantage, being designed around no more than six dismounts, where the CV90 can accommodate eight and the Lynx can hold nine. But the US Army has stated that it’s happy enough with a lower capacity vehicle. Their documents indicate that six or even five dismounts is acceptable, and their plans call for a six vehicle platoon with five dismounts in each one.

Let’s also talk about the crewing needs. General Dynamics designed the Griffin III to have space for a three man crew, but automation and crew aids sufficient to enable a two man crew. They’ve done a good job of hedging their bets, being prepared to deliver the future-looking vehicle the Army says it wants, but being prepared for a more conservative design if that ends up winning out.

It’s still really early in the race, and the US Army might change the requirements somewhat. But it’s clear that General Dynamics did their homework when putting the Griffin III together. They seem to have a reasonable idea of what the Army wants, and what tradeoffs they might be willing to accept.

The OMFV Program

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The US Army is looking to replace it’s Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles with…

Okay, yeah. We’ve been down this road a few times. And we at the Soapbox are super skeptical. But let’s look at this “Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle” anyway.

Obviously, it’s supposed to do double duty as a UGV. Not really a surprise there. We do have some ground drone kits, so that might work out okay.

It’s also supposed to be “better” than the Bradley in terms of protection, dash speed, and lethality. Unsurprising. Better can be kind of an annoying word though, because it make you vulnerable to the sort of Lucy-with-the-football stuff we’ve seen before.

Hopefully continuing the trend of this program having some restrictions in it to help it actually go somewhere, the Army is keenly interested in buying something that’s a derivative of someone else’s already-in-service vehicle.

We also see that they’re looking to fit a pair of the new OMFVs in a C-17, giving a maximum weight of about 38.75 tonnes. Or can be stripped down to that weight. Again, this is pretty reasonable given the capacity they want, which we’ll get to in a minute.

The fun begins when we look at the manning numbers. The US Army is specifically requesting a crew of 2 and capacity for 5 dismounts. Let’s look at those in turn.

A crew of two means some faith in your sensors and computer systems for observation and fire control. In practice, this means distributing the gunner’s work between the computers, the driver, and the commander. There have been tests of two-man armored fighting vehicle crews in Germany, the United States, and Israel going back to the 90s. The conclusion has been that it works if you had quality situational awareness aids (i.e. electronic sensors with some computer systems for ‘sensor fusion’), and faith that those aids would actually work. The Israelis have been working on a next gen combat vehicle called the Camel, which also has a crew of two. So it’s very possible, but it requires some forward thinking. Big Army is not usually fond of being forward thinking, so good on them.

Five dismounts is a bit more than half of the old GCV’s goals. It’s nice to see the Army realizing what gave them so much trouble last time and trying something else. Five dismounts reduces the size of the armored volume. It also is smaller than the standard six-man dismount capability that seems to be the common standard. The army is not changing the number of dismounts per platoon though; they’re planning to have six OMFVs in each platoon.

I’m coming around to the idea of smaller, well-protected vehicles with fewer dismounts. I’m a little skeptical of a platoon of six vehicles with thirty dismounts though. That seems a lot for one platoon commander (probably some Lt.) to manage. Maybe modern technology makes it easier. Maybe they plan to give platoon command to some other rank. Or maybe they know something I don’t.

EAPS: The US Army’s New 50mm Cannon?

Over at AUSA 2018, General Dynamics showed off their Griffin III demonstrator vehicle, which was armed with, among other things, a new 50mm cannon. At first, I thought this was simply someone actually executing on the old 50mm Supershot idea, but this is only half true.

What’s carried over from the Supershot program is the basic cartridge shape1, i.e. that of a 35x228mm cartridge ‘necked out’ into a straight-walled case. The gun, which is basically a Bushmaster III with a new barrel and slightly revised feed system, is still externally driven. Nothing super new there. What is new is the goal.

50mm Supershot was designed to have a way to get a more powerful APFSDS round out of the 35mm cannon. A quick barrel change, add new rounds, and you could smash up a tougher Soviet IFV, since 50mm Supershot got you about as much propellant as a 40mm Bofors round, but in a smaller package. Of course, the Soviet Union is no more, and now they have much smaller armored forces. What they do have are precision guided munitions, UAVs, and the traditional giant artillery park.

The new Extended Area Protection System (EAPS–yeah, it’s a stupid name) worked to adapt modern technology and the capacious 50mm round to attack the problem of C-RAM (Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars) as well as countering larger UAVs. What they’ve settled on is a Course Corrected Projectile, fired out of the 50mm gun, equipped with command guidance and a fragmentation warhead.

EAPS and its guided projectiles have passed some basic proof-of-concept testing. It remains to be seen how well the system will shake out. I kinda like the idea, and it’s a better reason than most to increase the autocannon caliber. I’m skeptical that it will work all that well in practice, but it’s at least a new idea.

As for the gun, we can extrapolate a little from the Bushmaster III. Still no word on the capacity of a mounted one yet.

  1. Though the devil lurks in the details. I have no idea if the old rounds would also fit in the chamber for the new gun. 

Looking for STARS

No, this doesn’t involve a trip to the Arklay mountains. Today, we’re looking into aerial systems for monitoring ground combat and enemy forces, also known as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). This is an often-overlooked capability, and while such systems are not foolproof, not having them can lead to a lot of embarrassment. The notion was a key part of late-Cold War Airland Battle tactics, where ISR platforms could provide targeting data for long range weapons to atrit Soviet forces before they made contact with friendly ground troops.

In terms of current capabilities, the United States has the only serious capability worth writing home about, using the E-8C JSTARS. These put a powerful, GMTI/SAR capable radar on a Boeing 707 airframe. They have proven to be extremely effective when deployed, and were sorely missed by the Europeans during their recent Libya “intervention.”1 Of course, we can’t just buy these, because the 707 is long since out of production. Also, the USAF hasn’t really decided how it wants to proceed to replace or recondition the E-8Cs. We’ll look at other people’s ISR platforms as well as things that were proposed to replace the JSTARS.

The UK operates four Sentinel R1s, built by adding the appropriate radar systems to a Bombardier Global Express business jet. This is a relatively low-cost airframe, being a business jet, though the usual UK small orders means the net result is still going to be expensive. Also, lots of the analysis and battle management workstations are ground-based, for better and for worse. A Global Express 6000 derivative was one of the proposals for a JSTARS replacement.

Brazil has deployed three R-99s, ERJ-145 conversions with the appropriate SAR capable radar, to monitor illicit narcotics tracking and other illegal activities in the Amazon basin as part of the SIVAM. Unfortunately, I don’t know that much about the radar system deployed, and this one wasn’t proposed for the JSTARS replacement, so it’s not using that particular radar package.

Gulfstream also has an offering to replace the JSTARS that is based on their G550 SEMA variant, though with more radar focus than EW-focus. The SEMA version of the G550 is in use by the Israeli air force and has recently been purchased by Australia. There’s also a significantly reworked G550 variant, originally used with Conformal Early Warning2 arrays by the Israeli air force in the AEW&C role. The CAEW variant has also been purchased by the US Navy for monitoring their missile test ranges, and is to be reworked by L3 with electronic warfare systems in the conformal fairings to replace the EC-130H Compass Call in USAF service.

Boeing has a 737-derivative, which is pretty similar to the P-8, other than having a radar optimized for a different mission. Radar options for the JSTARS replacement proposal were similar to those of the bizjets. Annoyingly, the product page for this is no longer on Boeing’s website. The strangest thing about Boeing’s proposal (sparse as the details are) is that it didn’t do all that much to take advantage of the extra space, weight, and power capabilities of the 737 platform.

At the end of the day, 8-10 analysts doesn’t require a 737, and if you’re not going to load it up with a big radar, you can go with a smaller, more fuel-efficient jet.

Let’s also talk about the Global Hawk. The RQ-4B Block 40/RQ-4D variants come equipped with a small version of the MP-RTIP radar originally intended for the E-10A. That’s a pretty fantastic radar, and the RQ-4D3 is the highest-flying option. It does not operate in adverse weather conditions though.

Alright, let’s get picking. We’re going to want some RQ-4Ds because of that fantastic radar and because it’s a pretty natural fit for a UAV. There’s a big NATO buy at the moment, and we’d like to get in on that model. We’re also going to want a manned option though, which means we’re going to have to sort through the business jet contenders. In terms of radar systems, all of the JSTARS replacement offerings had a similar radar fit, which doesn’t help us much. According to the Business & Commercial Aviation 2018 buyer’s guide, the G550 is a little cheaper than the Global Express 6000, but the difference is probably too small to matter.

What is different is that there are a lot more military G550 variants in service. There’s also the flight tested CAEW airframe, which is useful for a few other purposes besides the AEW&C role it was originally intended for. So we’ll go with that one, since it gives us a few more options for related aircraft down the line. We especially like the idea of an electronic attack version.

  1. Or whatever we’re calling “it’s not a war because shut up” these days. 
  2. If I was going to go with a business jet derivative for AEW&C the G550 CAEW would be it, because it has a pretty nice radar, and the conformal array fit is cool. But the Wedgetail radar is a more powerful one. 
  3. The RQ-4B Block 40 that a bunch of NATO partner nations are buying. Because that totally deserves a new designation. 

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Today we’re talking maritime patrol aircraft. There are two on the market worth looking at: Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon and Kawasaki’s P-1. Let’s look at them both and see what we like.

The Poseidon was designed to replace the P-3 Orion, and the P-8 is based on the Boeing 737-800ERX, which means it has the fuselage from the 737-800 and the wings from the 737-900. So it’s based on a recent model of a very popular airliner, which keeps airframe costs down and ensures a good supply of future spare parts. The Poseidon has a weapons bay located behind the wing, with five weapons hardpoints. An additional six hardpoints are under the wings. This bay might seem a little small, but you can’t actually put the bay between the wings, because that’s where the structure is to support the wings.

Sensorwise, the P-8A is equipped with the APY-10 multi-mission surface search radar, plus facilities for a large number of sonobuoys, and an EO/IR ball turret. It even has a sensor to detect emissions from diesel ships and submarines. In its standard, USN model, it does not have a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD). This was per a NAVAIR request to reduce weight and improve range. It also allows for a higher-altitude flight profile that is more fuel efficient, especially for an airliner-derived platform. In turn, the lack of MAD has been frequently criticized. It should be noted that this shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of the platform; regardless of what you think of the US Navy’s decision the P-8 can be equipped with a MAD, and the version for India has been sold with one.

The P-1 was also designed to replace the Orion, and it took a notably different path. It’s about the same size as the Poseidon, but it’s optimized for lower-altitude flying, with less-swept wings. It’s equipped with advanced avionics, including a fly-by-light flight control system, an HPS-106 AESA surveillance radar, and a magnetic anomaly detector standard. It has eight internal and eight external hardpoints for weapons. It does not have provision for midair refueling.

In terms of comparatives, the P-1 has more weapons capacity, and flies the traditional lower altitudes of the P-3 Orion. The P-8 is a higher altitude aircraft, for better and for worse. The P-8 has a big edge in terms of costs, being based on a currently-produced airliner, being in higher-rate production, and having tons of spares readily available. The popularity of the 737 platform will mean that there will be a large supply of future spares too.

And, like everyone else who has looked at these two, we’re going with Poseidon. Which begs the question, to MAD or not to MAD? I’m going to hedge here, because I really want to see some data or some test results, but I don’t have them as an armchair strategist. I’ll tentatively say “With MAD”, understanding that I’m open to data that I don’t have right now showing that it’s really not needed.

Choosing and Buying an AEW&C Platform

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C, often colloquially called AWACS even though that’s a specific system for the role) is what separates the Serious Air Forces from the cut-rate posers. The idea is to take a large airframe, usually a jetliner, put a big radar on it, and then have a bunch of people sitting at computers to coordinate your sorties. All the benefits of GCI in a portable package!

A large part of picking a platform is determining your constraints. We’re looking for a land-based platform that’s relatively low cost to operate and can handle a good number of friendly and enemy aircraft. For this reason, we’re going to look at the larger class of AEW&C platforms.

As a brief aside, the smaller platforms are the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, and a number of business jet derivatives. The Hawkeye is the only decent carrierborne AEW&C platform available, so if we were looking to build a naval air arm, that’s what we’d pick for the purpose.

The obvious large AEW&C platform is the E-3 Sentry. However, it is built on a Boeing 707-derived airframe, and these are no longer in production. No luck there. This problem also presented itself to the Japanese when they were looking for a larger platform to supplement their Hawkeyes in the 1990s.

Boeing obliged with the E-767, which puts the radar and computers from the E-3 onto a 767-200 airframe. The resulting widebody has space for up to 19 controller consoles, though I couldn’t find a great source on how many the JASDF use. It still uses the same radar as on the Sentry, albeit with upgrades. Also, as presently configured, it has no aerial refueling capability.

About a decade later, Boeing responded to an Australian RFP with a new design: the E-7A Wedgetail. This aircraft is based on the 737-700 airframe, and mounts Northrop Grumman’s Multirole Electronically Scanned Array radar. This is an actively scanned array, so it doesn’t need to rotate. It does posses aerial refueling capability, and is capable of mounting up to twelve controller consoles. At present, Australia has fitted ten consoles.

In terms of bigger platforms, these are the contenders. More consoles on the E-767 means it can coordinate more friendly aircraft. The more advanced MESA radar on the Wedgetail lets it refresh scans of regions faster and adjust power to focus on particular sectors with longer-ranged scans. It’s also able to handle simultaneous air and surface search. and the actively scanned array should be better at ECCM.

You can probably see where this is going. We’re opting for the E-7A Wedgetail. It’s even the cheaper option of the two. It’s telling that Wedgetail has had several export successes since being sold to the Australians. It’s also telling that the E-767 is absent from most of Boeing’s current marketing materials.