Today is our 4,251st day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,224
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,088
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 442, 840, 800, 000 .00
Let's talk about drones today. Not the geopolitical stuff, but rather the technical aspects. We rarely speak about equipment, this being a veteran's column after all, but me being the aviation geek, I've found some of these stories to be interesting and you might, too.
We'll start aboard a US Navy carrier. Long the world of manned aircraft, and generally considered a very dangerous place to be, the crew of the USS George HW Bush has recently made room for a remote counterpart.
It's one thing to fly these from a stationary land base, but quite another to get it off the pitching deck of a ship at sea.
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH — The Navy for the first time Tuesday launched an unmanned aircraft the size of a fighter jet from a warship in the Atlantic Ocean, as it wades deeper into America’s drone program amid growing concerns over the legality of its escalating surveillance and lethal strikes.
Called the X-47B, the drone is considered particularly valuable because it’s the first that is designed specifically to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, allowing it to be used around the world without needing the permission of other countries to serve as a home base.
There has been increasing pushback against the use of drones from some nations that say the strikes cause widespread civilian deaths and operate with only limited oversight, eroding the U.S. image overseas. Navy officials say the drone will provide around-the-clock intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities.
The X-47B took off successfully Tuesday morning and made two low approaches to the ship before heading back toward land. The test aircraft isn’t intended for operational use; instead, the military is using the information it gathers during these demonstrations to develop the drone program. The Navy already operates two other unmanned aircraft, the small, low cost ScanEagle, which does not carry weapons, and the armed Fire Scout, which is built more like a helicopter.
Both the military and the CIA use armed Predator and Reaper drones in surveillance and strike operations around the world. The military uses them routinely in Afghanistan and other warzones, while the CIA has conducted frequent strikes in the border region of Pakistan — most often secret opertaions that trigger sharp criticism from the government there.
The X-47B can reach an altitude of more than 40,000 feet, has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles and can reach high subsonic speeds, according to the Navy. It is also fully autonomous in flight. It relies on computer programs to tell it where to go unless a mission operator needs to step in. That differs from other drones used by the military, which are more often piloted from remote locations.
Ah, but then again maybe we will veer into the controversy a wee bit. The sequester has hit the airshow circuit hard this year. Rhode Island cancelled theirs, and New York's Fleet Week was also just cancelled. But curiously, a media event took place in Pendleton, OR a few weeks back. They were showing off their drones....the ones that are currently "practicing" over civilian airspace.
PENDLETON, ORE. — The Oregon National Guard will be showing off four new drones that are based at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton.
The guard is holding a press conference at the airport Tuesday, where it will fly the unmanned aircraft for the first time in civilian airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently gave approval to fly drones over a 100-square-mile area of mostly wheat fields north of the airport. The guard has previously flown the drones in military airspace at the nearby Boardman Bombing Range.
The RQ 7B Shadow 200 drones have a wingspan of 14 feet and are equipped with two cameras — one infrared and one video.
Spokesman Pat Caldwell says Bravo Company of the 41 Brigade Special Troops Battalion will be training with the drones.
Next, we'll take a look at flight simulation. Ground-based trainers have long been a part of the long process to become a fighter pilot. They're not as new as you might think, as the Link Trainer
was developed in the 1930s, and virtually every WWII pilot spent some time in one, but I digress.
You all know my feelings about the F-35 Lightning
. A few weeks back, Lockheed opened their plant at Linthicum, MD as part of a massive "Show and Tell" effort to showcase that the plane wasn't actually a piece of crap. But was the public invited? Well, of course not.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards slipped into the F-35 cockpit — a stationary demonstration model — and gave the jet a simulated spin, trying out the controls, shooting down enemy aircraft over the Chesapeake Bay, and executing a celebratory roll.
“This feels so cool,” said Edwards, a Maryland Democrat. “OK, let’s land this thing — give somebody else a chance.”
This hands-on version of show and tell, held last week in Linthicum, Md., is part of a public-relations campaign for the most expensive weapons program in the nation’s history. Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its partners want elected officials and the media to see what the new jet can do — a counter to years of stories and congressional hearings about delays, technical problems and massive cost overruns.
“The program has kind of hit its stride,” said Daniel P. Conroy, director of the Air Force F-35 program for Lockheed’s Washington operations. “We’re delivering aircraft; flight test is on a tremendous pace.”
The F-35 Lightning II is designed to replace many older tactical jets used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Its variants will perform both air-to-air combat and ground attack, taking the place of the Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter and A-10 Warthog close-air-support aircraft, and the Navy’s and Marines’ F/A-18 Hornet fighter/attack jet. A variant capable of very short takeoffs and landings will replace the Marines’ A/V-8B Harrier. Most of those aircraft were developed in the 1970s.
Estimated acquisition costs for the F-35 have ballooned from $233 billion nearly a dozen years ago — when Lockheed won the competition for the contract — to nearly $400 billion, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in April.
And that’s for about 400 fewer planes than originally anticipated.
The Pentagon originally expected that the jets would be in full production by last year, rather than still in testing. Now the estimate is 2019, the GAO said.
The agency said program performance is improving in some areas, but problems remain. Contractors, for instance, still are working to fix deficiencies in the helmet-mounted display that are so significant, they’re also developing a second helmet design in case the first can’t be used, the GAO said.
And a Pentagon memo, written in February and acquired by the Project on Government Oversight, identified a list of “serious” problems found in testing, including a potential fire risk in the fuel system and lack of lightning protection.
So of course this flying turd is the "plane of the future". Only time will tell.
Finally this morning, I'll leave you with a couple of bonus clicks, also equipment related. Did you ever think about soldier's uniforms? This is obviously a multi-million dollar industry. There have been some curious developments
on that front recently.
And although it's no longer in the news locally....the mysterious aircraft
that's been flying over Quincy, MA remains a mystery.