Category Archives: Weapons

New Photos Of U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II Refueling During Anti-ISIS Mission Show Interesting Weapons Loadout

Warthogs have started carrying 2,000 lb bombs. You won’t find many photographs of A-10s with GBU-31s.

The photographs in this post were taken from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refueling mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Apr. 19, 2017.

Among that mission’s receivers, there was also a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.

Interestingly, the images of the “Hog” expose some changes in the weapons loadout of the A-10s involved in the fight against Daesh militants. Indeed, the aircraft depicted in the photos carries one GBU-12 Paveway LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs – on station 1 – the outmost one on the left wing), one AGM-65 Maverick missile (on station 3), one LAU-131 rocket launcher (station 2), three GBU-38 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions – station 4, 5 and 9), one GBU-31(V)1/B with MK-84 warhead (station 7) and an AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting pod (station 10).

Station 8 has a GBU-54 laser JDAM whereas the LAU-131 on Station 2 is a LAU-131A/A model used for the new (and very awesome) AGR-20 laser guided rockets.

Among the mix of missiles, guided bombs and rockets, that complement the A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type, the most interesting addition is the GBU-31, a pretty heavy (2,000-lb) general purpose bomb with JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) GPS guidance system intended for mobile and fixed hard (and soft) as well as maritime surface targets.

This A-10’s worn out nose proves the Thunderbolt’s been hit several times by the flying boom during AAR operations (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

Although the GBU-31 is a type of weapon certified for use with the A-10 you won’t find many photographs showing other “Warthogs” carrying a 2,000-lb GBU-31: a sign that the coalition may also rely on Close Air Support platforms to hit targets which require a significant destructive power and blast radius.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 19, 2017. The 340th EARS, part of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, is responsible for delivering fuel for U.S. and coalition forces, enabling a persistent 24/7 presence in the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

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Can The U.S. Actively Disrupt North Korean Missile Tests?

North Korean Missile Test Failure Raises Theories, But Expert Disagrees.

The recent failure of the Sunday, April 17 North Korean submarine launched ballistic missile test raises an interesting question: Could the United States be responsible for the failure of North Korean missile tests? While the theory is alluring and some political sources are quoted as it being possible, one noted expert says he has seen nothing to suggest the U.S. intervened in the North Korean test failure.

Reports from the US Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith in Aiea, Hawaii under Chief of Staff Major General Kevin B. Schneider, USAF, say the U.S. detected a North Korean missile launch at 5:21 p.m. Eastern U.S. time zone on Saturday. The launches were seen at 11:21 AM Hawaiian time (21:21 GMT) said US Navy Commander Dave Benham, spokesman for United States Pacific Command.

Surveillance indicated the missile failed almost immediately.

A similar North Korean missile test was conducted earlier on April 5, 2017 and also failed along with another Mar. 5 North Korean missile test failure. All of the missiles encountered terminal problems in flight. These conspicuous failures follow a powerful U.S. initiative to develop clandestine anti-missile capabilities under the Obama administration beginning in 2014.

While there is no published evidence to support the theory that the United States directly interfered with the North Korean missile test, network media including CNN and the BBC have published speculative reports about whether the capability to remotely interdict a missile launch exists and was used.

“There is a very strong belief that the US, through cyber methods, has been successful on several occasions in interrupting these sorts of tests and making them fail,” former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind told the BBC World News.

The Aviationist.com spoke to Dr. Bruce Emerson Bechtol Jr., Professor at the Department of Security Studies at Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas in the United States.

In addition to his Ph.D. in National Security Studies from The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio Dr. Bechtol was the Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College where he earned his pre-doctorate Masters Degree in Military Studies in 2001. Bechtol also owns a Master of Arts in International Affairs from Catholic University in Washington D.C. He is a noted authority on North Korean military capabilities. We asked Dr. Bechtol about the possibilities that the U.S. could have actively disrupted North Korean missile tests.

“There is nothing to support that.” Dr. Bechtol told us when we asked him about the plausibility of direct U.S. interdiction of the North Korean missile test. “I mean, it is certainly possible, but I have seen nothing to support that. All I have heard is conjecture. The media likes to talk about that.”

Noted expert on North Korean defense technology and doctrine Dr. Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. (credit: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea)

Dr. Bechtel told us that ballistic missile programs are inherently dependent on numbers. “It’s like the SCUD missile. Typically, of 600 of those fired, you get 150-200 duds. That’s normal, but the intention is to shower a target with missiles. And remember, if you are attacking Hawaii with a nuclear warhead, you don’t have to be that accurate, you just have to get one through.”

Another change in newer North Korean missiles noted by Dr. Bechtel was newer guidance fins. When asked what the guidance capabilities of the North Korean’s ballistic missiles are, Bechtel told us, “Well, I wish we knew. But one thing is for sure; the North Koreans are not noted for accuracy in their ballistic missiles. They don’t have to be.”

The failure may also have been a part of a historically difficult development program for North Korea’s missiles. But just as North Korea has had somewhat sporadic successes in their missile launch tests, the U.S. has also had at least sporadic success in testing systems to actively counter ballistic missiles. Even with Dr. Bechtel’s pragmatism there remains a remote chance that Sunday’s failure could have been a fortunate intersection of capabilities for the U.S. It also may have been continued North Korean bad luck. Among U.S. defense officials, the silence is deafening.

While Dr. Bechtel’s remarks suggest otherwise, a North Korean submarine launched missile test could theoretically be disrupted several ways. “I guess, you mean, something like Stuxnet is theoretically possible, but I haven’t seen any proof.” Stuxnet was a 2010 computer worm that disrupted Iran’s nuclear program. It is attributed to American-Israeli origin.

The least exotic method of passive missile interdiction is sabotage. This could occur at the missile assembly site or during transport of the missile or its components. Since North Korean missile programs are dependent on foreign technology they are highly vulnerable to sabotage throughout their development.

Current North Korean missile technology is derived from a combination of Chinese, Russian and Iranian technologies. Each of these foreign technology origins is “porous” to foreign espionage not only from the United States but also from Israel and the United Kingdom. It took China about 15 years to achieve its current level of development in ballistic missiles. North Korea has achieved a similar level of technology in only 123 days of advanced development, reinforcing the theory that most of the technology is imported, not indigenous. Given a seemingly new era of détente between the U.S. and China, including recent meetings between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, it is possible that a two-way sharing of technology between the U.S. and China has been brokered. This may further facilitate U.S. efforts to sabotage North Korean missile capabilities.

Interestingly, an Iranian ballistic missile test on Jan. 25, 2017 also failed shortly after launch. According to a US official speaking on condition of anonymity, the Iranian medium-range ballistic missile exploded in flight. But Dr. Bechtel continued to temper speculation with fact, “There were four SCUDs recently tested by North Korea that were successful. These recent failures don’t’ lesson the threat.”

The failed North Korean missile test on Sunday was possibly a version of the Pukguksong-1 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). This missile is boosted to the ocean surface from a submerged launch platform using either compressed air or a booster motor. Once it clears the surface the missile’s solid fuel motor ignites and it begins its flight.

North Korea has launched SLBM’s from both submerged test barges and from submarines. Part of the reason some tests were conducted from submerged barges is that launching missiles from a submerged vehicle is inherently dangerous. Reports indicate at least one North Korean submarine was seriously damaged during a missile launch test, suggesting a reason for why early tests were launched from a submerged barge instead of a submarine.

North Korea displayed new versions of the Pukguksong-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles this week but their most recent test launched failed. (credit: Official North Korean News Agency)

A more exotic theory about how the U.S. could disrupt a North Korean ballistic missile in flight is some type of active intervention during the test, as opposed to sabotage prior to the test.

Active interdiction of missile tests may include somewhat plausible methods such as electronic disruption of the missile’s guidance systems causing it to fly out of control and disintegrate, or more exotically, some type of focused energy weapon. Both of these technologies have been tested to greater and lesser degrees of published success. A key thing to consider when evaluating any of these theories is that advanced active jamming and destructive methods remain most effective when they are still secret. As long as these technologies remain covert it is more difficult- or impossible- for North Korea to engineer around them.

Some media outlets have suggested that North Korean systems are vulnerable to “hacking” or a cyber attack. While possible, cyber attacks depend on a “delivery vehicle” to implant malicious programming code into microchips or insertion via a virus. The Stuxnet weaponized code was inserted via a USB flashdrive.

China has devoted significant military and intelligence resources to cyber warfare but has little motive to employ those resources against neighboring North Korea- except to build leverage with the United States.

The U.S. also has highly developed cyber combat resources in addition to the early Stuxnet. These may include what is referred to as “left of launch” attacks. Some of these may even be interdiction of a ballistic missile while it is still underwater. One published technical report about electromagnetic propagation mentions the “Wireless, through-hull transfer of power and data”. This transfer is “highly focused” and ranges in excess of 1 km are discussed in unclassified reports dating as long ago as 2008 from submarine industry news source Hydro International. It is reasonable to suggest significant advances have been made in all of these technologies during the past 9 years, especially given the focus during the previous U.S. President’s adminstration.

Regardless of theories about possible test interdiction from the U.S., the North Korean weapons tests and their accelerated preparation have become increasingly ominous. Both media and political rhetoric has shifted from “if” there will be a military confrontation with North Korea, to “when” it will actually begin.

Top image: (computer generated) image of a North Korean SLBM (Rodong Sinmun via NK News)

 

In other news, a U.S. F-16 has dropped an inert B61-12 nuclear bomb over Nevada last month

B-61 inert nuclear gravity bomb has passed first F-16 flight test.

On Mar. 14, an F-16 from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada, dropped a B61-12 over the Nellis Test and Training Range Complex in the first test use of the upgraded B61 with the F-16 aircraft.

The B61-12 represent the latest LEP (Life-Extention Program) upgrade to the B61 line of nuclear weapons that has already been extensively tested with the F-15E Strike Eagles of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, back in 2015.

The Life Extension Program or LEP, will replace the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10 mods, with the -12 that, along with the B83, will become the only remaining gravity delivered nukes in the inventory.

“The B61-12 gravity bomb ensures the current capability for the air-delivered leg of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad well into the future for both bombers and dual-capable aircraft supporting NATO,” said Paul Waugh, AFNWC’s Air-Delivered Capabilities director in a U.S. Air Force release dated Apr. 13 (more or less when the world learned about the first use of the famous MOAB in Afghanistan). The B61-12 will be compatible with the B-2A, B-21, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, F-35 and PA-200 aircraft.

The LEP increases the B61’s accuracy so much that it will have the same capability against hardened targets as the much more powerful weapons it is replacing.

U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Has Just Dropped Largest U.S. Conventional Bomb on ISIS Cave Complex in Afghanistan

First Ever Operational Use of the GBU-43B MOAB Suggests Target Was of Strategic Value.

A U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II has dropped the first operational GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) on a cave complex target in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated members of the so-called Islamic State were using the cave complex. Both personnel and equipment were targeted in the strike that occurred at approximately 1800 hr.s local.

The massive, 11-ton, parachute deployed GBU-43B is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military. The “MOAB” produces shock, overpressure and blast effects equal to tactical nuclear weapons without residual radioactive fallout or the political ramifications associated with nuclear weapons.

The GBU-43B MOAB is deployed from a specially adapted MC-130 Combat Talon II using a system of rollers and a deployment sled. The bomb is attached to the deployment sled then pulled from the rear cargo ramp using a drogue parachute. Once pulled out the back cargo door of the MC-130 the sled falls away from the 30-foot long bomb. The bomb uses guidance wings and a system of stabilizers to maintain consistent ballistic flight trajectory and control its descent rate for more precise guidance. The MOAB uses a satellite guidance system along with internal gyros. GPS target coordinates are initially slaved from the launch aircraft then programmed into the weapon prior to release in close proximity to the target. Once released at medium to high altitude depending on target stand-off requirements the weapon uses its internal GPS for its terminal guidance to the target.

The GBU-43B is primarily intended to produce an “overpressure” or localized barometric shock wave effect to neutralize its target. The 9,500-kilogram bomb uses 18,700 pounds of H6 explosive, a combination of RDX explosive made of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, conventional TNT explosive used in commercial dynamite and aluminum powder. The high-energy H6 explosive is made in Australia according to sources and is also used in concussive weapons such as mines and depth charges to produce a similar overpressure effect.

The shock wave generated by the massive release of energy from the explosion is transmitted through the air and into solid objects such as reinforced bunkers and cave complexes. This often results in their collapse. U.S. military officials also note a significant psychological impact to the employment of the GBU-43B MOAB because of its massive blast and the ability to produce a large mushroom-shaped cloud in certain atmospheric and terrain environments mimicking the appearance of a nuclear strike. There is no radioactive component to the GBU-43B.

According to several sources this was likely the only GBU-43B in the operational theater. Unless production has resumed, there are likely only 15 (14 now) operational GBU-43B MOAB weapons in U.S. inventory. The use of the weapon suggests that the target attacked was of strategic importance to the conflict in the region. Because of the special equipment and planning required to employ the GBU-43B this operation likely took a number of days minimally to plan prior to execution. No bomb damage assessment information has been released about the strike yet.

The MOAB should not be mistaken with the MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) bunker buster bomb.

U.S. B-52 bombers have dropped 3,419 weapons on Daesh targets since April 2016.

The venerable B-52 strategic bombers have been quite busy fighting ISIL in the last months.

Six B-52 Stratofortress bombers are deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIL in Syria and Iraq since April 2016.

The aircraft have replaced the B-1s, that returned stateside for upgrades and are expected to perform a new tour of duty in the Middle East by the end of 2017.

The Buffs launched their first air strike against ISIS on Apr. 18 (targeting a Daesh weapons storage facility in Qayyarah, Iraq).

Since then, the B-52s have carried out the same kind of missions the B-1s flew in theater before they were relieved by the Buffs: mainly Close Air Support and Air Interdiction delivering a wide variety of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): as of Feb. 20, 2017, the strategic bombers have carried out 729 sorties, dropping 3,419 weapons on Daesh targets in Iraq.

Based on the images released by the flying branch so far, the 6o years old aircraft have flown with the underwing pylons loaded with two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress refuels from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. The 340th EARS extended the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists by delivering fuel to U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

One of the most common loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher.

Such “mixed” PGM configuration provide the aircraft the ability to deliver “kinetic” attacks engaging both stationary and moving ground targets with reduced collateral damage (using the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system) as well as concrete shelters and hardened targets by means of the GBU-31s that use the BLU-109 forged steel penetrator warhead.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the B-52 will be constantly upgraded so that it will be able to internally carry eight joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, as well as a variety of miniature air-launched decoys. It will also have the option of carrying up to 12 extended-range JASSM-ERs on the external pylons for a total capacity of 20 of these advanced, stealthy cruise missiles.

Until the venerable B-52 is replaced by the recently announced B-21 Raider, the B-52 is projected to continue operations until at least 2040 thanks to a series of constant upgrades that will facilitate the Stratofortress flying into is 90th year.

The current “H” model is indeed much different from the early B-52 that flew for the first time in 1952. It currently features multi-function digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time communication uplinks with Internet access.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ben, left, and Capt. Justin, right, 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron pilots, takeoff to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Feb. 13, 2017. The B-52 Stratofortress enables vital kinetic capability for the U.S. Air Force and is actively engaged in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

 

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