US Effort to Find Those Behind the Benghazi Attack Nets a Second Suspect

A team of Navy SEALs and FBI agents has quietly captured a second suspect, Mustafa Al Imam, in connection with the infamous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. While little is known about the raid so far, it could have been part of a little known group of counter-terrorism operations across Africa and it was undoubtedly the result of persistent surveillance from a shadowy collection of intelligence gathering aircraft that have been flying over the country for years now.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the U.S. government confirmed that it had launched a mission in an undisclosed location in Libya to apprehend Mustafa Al Imam in connection with the Benghazi incident. At that time, the U.S. Justice Department said that American authorities were transporting Al Imam, a Libyan national who it said was approximately 46 years old, back to the United States to stand trial.

“To the families of these fallen heroes: I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten, and they will never be forgotten,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement on Oct. 30, 2017. “Our memory is deep and our reach is long, and we will not rest in our efforts to find and bring the perpetrators of the heinous attacks in Benghazi to justice.”

There is little information available about Al Imam, who U.S. officials have so far charged with killing an individual with a firearm or other deadly weapon during an attack on a federal government facility or conspiring to do the same, providing or otherwise attempted to providing material support to terrorists, and “discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.”

US Army Special Forces soldiers detain a mock high-value individual during at training exercise.

According to the Justice Department, those charges have been on file since May 19, 2015, but have been under seal since then. It is likely that the charges could change and that the total number will grow before Al Imam finally appears in a courtroom.

The Libyan is the second person the U.S. government has acknowledged detaining in relation to the Benghazi attack. On the night of June 14-15, 2014, another raid led to the capture of Abu Khattala, who American authorities have accused of masterminding the attack.

His trial began on Oct. 2, 2017 in Washington, D.C. It is possible Al Imam’s name and connection to the attack came up during pre-trial questioning or was found among materials special operators seized when they detained Khattala.

A special operator drives an all terrain out of a USAF MC-130J Commando II special operations transport during a training exercise.

The attack on the consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, which led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, as well as three CIA contractors – Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods – continues to provoke emotional reactions. Both the State Department and the Pentagon did a significant amount of soul searching afterwards, leading to major changes in security protocols and the establishment of numerous rapid reaction forces around the world.

An ambush of American special operations forces in Niger earlier in October 2017 has drawn comparisons to the incident, but the circumstances are almost entirely different. We have already written detailed explainers about the U.S. military presence in North and West Africa, which you can find here, as well as the circumstances that contributed to that particular event, here.

There are also few details about the mission to capture Al Imam itself, such as how the American force infiltrated into Libya, or how it subsequently extracted the suspect. President Trump’s statement spoke to the involvement of the U.S. military, the Intelligence Community, law enforcement officials, and federal prosecutors in the effort.

Members of the elite U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six, along with individuals from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team, conducted the actual raid, according to The New York Times. The secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) oversaw the overall operation, which had been in the works for months. A similar inter-agency effort was responsible for bringing Khattala to justice.

A US Air Force CV-22B tilt-rotor, a type of aircraft American special operators have used during raids in the past.

On the campaign trail, then candidate Trump had pledged to fill the controversial U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with “bad dudes.” By all accounts, however, like Khattala, Al Imam looks set to face a civilian jury.

Before and after his election victory, though, he also made it clear that he favored increased military action against terrorists worldwide. Since formally taking office in January 2017, the president has approved controversial special operations raids in Yemen and Somalia.

However, JSOC is widely understood to have been coordinating the hunt for so-called high-value targets all over the world, including in various parts of Africa, for years already. A team assigned to the shadowy command was reportedly nearby when the ambush in Niger occurred, as part of operation nicknamed Obsidian Nomad, a separate report from The Times noted.

The U.S. military as a whole often groups together similar operations using nicknames with common so-called first and second words. As of February 2015, U.S. Special Operations Command was conducting four “Obsidian” missions – Obsidian Cobra, Obsidian Lotus, Obsidian Mosaic, and Obsidian Tower – according to a statement the author previously obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

Two of these missions, Obsidian Cobra and Obsidian Tower appeared in Pentagon accounting documentation starting in 2014. The latest version of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) manual says those two accounts are still active, but now lists them as linked to Special Operations Command Africa, which oversees U.S. military special operations activities across the continent.

Part of a DFAS manual showing active Pentagon budget accounts as of March, 10, 2015. Part of a DFAS manual showing active Pentagon budget accounts as of Oct. 17, 2017.

“Lotus” is also second word associated with operations in Libya, including the conventional military response to the Benghazi incident, Operation Jukebox Lotus, and a mission to aid the State Department in evacuating its embassy in Tripoli in 2014, Operation Oaken Lotus. Of course, it is just as likely that these four operations are entirely unrelated to the capture of either Khattala or Al Imam.

What does seem clear is that a shadowy armada of U.S. military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft and drones, and contractors flying missions on America's behalf, has been zipping around Libya since 2012, likely searching for individuals related to the Benghazi attack. In the run up to the capture of Khattala, four MQ-8B Fire Scout drone helicopters flying from the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Elrod, flew more than 500 hours over an undisclosed portion of Africa, according to an official history the author previously received via FOIA.

A MQ-8B Fire Scout drone helicopter.

During 2014, the aircraft from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light Six Zero's Detachment Two, were officially flying missions in support of Operations Jukebox Lotus, Oaken Lotus, and Junction Serpent, yet another intelligence gathering effort in and around Libya. The goal of at least some of these flights was to help in “developing pattern of life for U.S. Africa Command's number one target,” the history said. In 2016, U.S. Africa Command refused to confirm or deny whether this "target" was Khattala.

The Pentagon uses “patterns of life” to refer to intelligence collection activities to build up information about the routines of certain individuals or groups of individuals, to either help identify them or monitor their movements. With that information in hand, special operators can launch raids like the one to grab Al Imam when there is less of chance of them escaping or danger to nearby civilians.

Since at least 2016, though, terrorists and civilians in Libya have both posted pictures of mysterious de Havilland Canada DHC-7s flying over the country. These apparently contractor-operated aircraft were observed flying operations from Malta, which has served as a base for various foreign intelligence gathering flights over North Africa.

Spotters caught one of the DHC-7s flying over the Libyan city of Derna, just more than 150 miles northeast of Benghazi, in January 2017. By August 2017, the two known discreet “Dash-7” spy planes were in storage at the U.S. military’s main bone yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

These aircraft appeared to some combination of wide-angle visual or infrared cameras, or a multi-optic wide-area aerial surveillance system. The latter can capture still imagery or record full motion video of large areas to track targets and help establish their routine movements, making them particularly useful for “pattern of life” type missions.

Plane spotters have also tracked smaller surveillance aircraft based on the ubiquitous Beechcraft King Air flying over various locations in North Africa from a secretive base on the Italian island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean. In May 2016, CNN reported that these aircraft were supporting special operations forces in Libya aid that country’s government and militias aligned with it to fight ISIS elements in and around the city of Misrata.

However, at least one of the aircraft, with the U.S. civil aviation registration code N351DY had also been seen, via online flight tracking software, flying over Tunisia, suggesting it might have been conducting more targeted surveillance. Aerial surveillance and other intelligence gathering efforts have become increasing more essential to American counter-terrorism efforts around the world, something we at The War Zone have discussed in detail many times in the past.

“I am grateful to the FBI, our partners in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense who made this apprehension possible,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in his own statement regarding Al Imam. “The United States will continue to investigate and identify all those who were involved in the attack – and we will hold them accountable for their crimes.”

It’s very possible that American special operations forces, along with their intelligence and law enforcement partners, are already watching the next Benghazi attack suspect.

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Volvo Builds Unique V90 Cross Country to Fight for the Environment

The triennial Volvo Ocean Race is happening this year, and this year's theme is monitoring and reducing plastics and other damaging waste in our oceans. To help fund this environmental effort, Volvo will build 3,000 special V90 Cross Country luxury wagons and donate some of the proceeds to this wholesome endeavor.

For each of these V90s purchased, Volvo will donate $117 dollars to the Volvo Ocean Race Science Program, totaling nearly $350,000 dollars in funds. The 2018 V90 Cross Country Ocean Race Edition will be sold to 30 global markets, available Spring 2018.

For $61,495 dollars this luxurious station wagon features special wheels and a Crystal White exterior finish with bright orange and matte grey accents. The interior gets new stitching, and the carpet is made from recycled nylon and fishing nets. It also includes more standard features and ocean-themed goodies for the environmental-loving enthusiast.

“On top of [its capability] it includes a range of specially developed standard features such as an integrated, detachable torchlight, additional power outlets and smart dirt—and water—resistant materials," said Dan Olsson, Volvo's Vice President of Special Equipment & Accessories.

This all-wheel-drive wagon proves you can still have fun while saving the environment, featuring a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine making 316 horsepower.

The Volvo Ocean Race yacht race happens only once every three years, but Volvo uses this race around the world to measure ocean health and help accurately predict weather forecasts. Each racing yacht is equipped with an arsenal of sensors to measure factors like dissolved carbon dioxide levels, salinity, and algae population to determine the impact of plastic waste on aquatic life.

The first leg of the race started in the Spanish port city of Alicante last week, and Leg 11 will end at The Hague next year.

Enjoy This Hypnotic Porsche 911 GT2 RS Drawing Video

You might not be able to afford a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, but artist Roman Miah can offer you something almost as good. Miah makes stunning drawings of exotic cars and sells them online. Not satisfied with just selling his completed work, he also shows you how it came to be on his YouTube channel.

The latest example of Miah’s brilliant work is his drawing of a Porsche 911 GT2 RS. The fastest production 911 of all time, the 700-horsepower GT2 RS holds the Nurburgring production car record with a blistering 6:47.3 lap time with Lars Kern behind the wheel, making this 911 faster than the Porsche 918 hybrid hypercar. The 911 GT2 RS rockets from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds and has a top speed of 211 mph.

The video below of Roman Miah’s drawing begins with a blank sheet. He begins his outline with a pencil before moving on to markers and colored pencils to fill in the car starting in the back and gradually moving to the front. He uses mostly varying degrees of black and gray, with some color used for the lights, reflectors, and brake calipers.

When you start watching the sped-up footage of the drawing, it’s hard to take your eyes off of it. Maybe the music has something to do with it, but there’s something hypnotic about watching the car pop out from what was a blank white sheet minutes earlier.

Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) the original print of Miah’s piece has already sold, but prints are available for sale. You can also buy prints of his drawing of a Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series or his “Hypercar Collection” of the Ferrari LaFerrari, Porsche 918, and McLaren P1. According to his website, a Bugatti Chiron is coming soon. Until then, enjoy the Porsche.

Uber Drivers In Brazil Protest Proposed Ride-Sharing Regulations

Taxi drivers have protested Uber because they view the ride-sharing service as unfair competition. But this time it's the Uber drivers who are up in arms.

Hundreds of Uber drivers took to the streets in Brazil Monday to protest proposed new regulations they view as too restrictive, reports Reuters. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also went to Brazil to personally lobby against the regulations, which are being proposed in a bill that Brazil's Senate is set to vote on Tuesday.

Uber and its drivers are concerned that the legislation would force ride-hailing drivers to follow the same stricter rules as taxi drivers. About 800 Uber drivers reportedly turned out to protest the measure in Brazil's capital Brasilia, and similar protests were staged in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Uber said it did not organize the protests, but did alert authorities to them.

The bill has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress. It would classify ride-sharing services as public transit, subjecting them to additional taxes and regulations, including requirements that drivers get special government permits, and that cars carry taxi license plates.

Increased regulations and licensing requirements would run counter to Uber's business model, which uses part-time drivers who view the service as a side gig. But many current Uber drivers work for the service more or less full time, eroding the distinction between drivers for ride-hailing services and traditional taxi drivers. The popularity of ride-hailing services has also led regulators around the world to consider stricter rules.

Uber lost its London operator license at the end of September due to regulatory concerns ranging from background check policies to the way Uber reported crimes committed by its drivers. The Philippines temporarily suspended Uber for accepting applications for new drivers during a government-mandated hiring freeze. Stricter driver training rules in the Canadian province of Quebec led to complaints from Uber.

Brazil is Uber's third largest market, with 17 million users and 500,000 drivers. Sao Paulo accounts for more trips than any other city in the world, according to the company.

How Autonomous Trucking Will Actually Work

Tesla CEO Elon Musk plans to reveal an all-electric semi-trailer in mid-November. The 18-wheeler would, Musk said last year, be able to deliver between 300 and 600 miles of daily truckin’ to America’s long-haul industry. That claim raised eyebrows—given the cost and weight of battery technology—and now the group of Carnegie Mellon researchers who initially shot holes into Musk’s admittedly light-on-details early musings have produced another study arguing the concept’s best hope for economic feasibility might be large packs of trucks rolling bumper-to-bumper down the highway.

The idea, called platooning, isn’t remotely far-fetched. The U.S. Army and Auburn University demonstrated the concept over the summer with a computer-controlled platoon of conventional diesel vehicles driving down I-69 in Michigan, citing the benefits to fuel efficiency, congestion, and overall safety. Meanwhile, in Europe, Dutch consortium EcoTwin is developing the communication technology to commercialize the strategy for commercial transport.

According to the CMU investigators, such robo-convoy thinking just might make Tesla’s proposed rig—which they estimate would be able to carry 22 tons no more than 300 miles in one day, at best, and it would still be prohibitively expensive—a reasonable proposition. Their study, published in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Energy Letters, found that seven vehicles platooning together—that is, driving just 8-feet apart, either manually or under autonomous control—on trips shorter than 300 miles would reduce aerodynamic drag by 50 percent. This, in turn, would permit a 15 percent reduction in the size of the lithium-ion battery packs required for similar distances driving solo, and therefor a reduction in vehicle costs in order to get the same kind of daily range out of the trucks. It could be done with an 880 kWh battery instead of a 1,100 kWh battery in a solo rig, with a payload boost from 16 to to 25.5 tons, as well. The battery for this would cost $158,000 instead of $200,000.

The key part of the equation is that reduction in drag. “A single semi truck, due to its large cross-sectional area, will have a lot of air to ‘push’ through in order to move forward,” notes Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, who studied the problem with graduate students Shashank Sripad and Matthew Guttenberg. “When the air travels around the back of the trailer it becomes turbulent, which has a negative impact on the drag force impacting the truck. When trucks platoon, the lead truck ‘paves the way’ for the trucks behind it while the trailing trucks break up the turbulent air stream for the truck in front of it.”

These two effects generate a net benefit of the air traveling more smoothly around the truck platoon, lowering the overall drag coefficient, Viswanathan adds. Hence the reduced amount of energy required to travel a given distance. He says the platooning also adds to battery life by reducing strain on the system—so much that it could add 120,000 miles of use to each battery pack, or a year’s worth of driving.

Of course, the concept still has other challenges, including the viability of deploying platooning with enough frequency and consistency to generate the potential benefits, the need for digital communication and autonomous driving capability in the trucks, and the likely need for truckers or their employers to be willing to buddy up with the packs. Even with platooning, the CMU team still contends that electric semis have an uphill battle in an industry that wrings as much efficiency as possible out of its hardware. “We still maintain our position that current Li-ion batteries will fall short of rendering electric semi trucks competitive with diesel counterparts when operated in a conventional setup,” Viswanathan says. “The scale of these systems and the required energy is such that the cost per kilowatt-hour and specific energy of Li-ion batteries make it very difficult to enable long-range and high payload capacity,"

So the best-case scenario is that platooning will help grease the skids with the trucking industry, but it will take major improvements in battery technology for electric semis to actually replace diesels. But if one this is certain, Musk and his team will keep on truckin’ until they get it right.

Force India Proud of Fourth Place Finish in Championship Despite Major Budget Deficit

Force India's consistency has allowed the team to secure a fourth-place finish in the Constructors' Championship for the second year in a row. Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer applauded the crew's efforts in 2017 to finish as best of the rest outside the F1 trinity of Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, and Red Bull, especially considering the spending gap amongst them. This, he told, made the accomplishment all the more rewarding, and the Force India looks to maintain that victorious trait come next season.

“We have the smallest budget of anybody in Formula 1, and that forces us to do some things differently and maybe look at things differently to some of the others,” said Szafnauer after Sunday's Mexico Grand Prix.

The Silverstone-based team was one of several teams to speak up recently on the major budget deficit that exists within Formula 1. Along with outfits like Sauber, Williams, and Haas, Force India has far less spending power than that of manufacturer-backed teams such as Ferrari who reportedly spend over $400 million on an annual basis. Major changes in 2018, including the Halo cockpit safety device, were enough to cause problems within the team's operation according to Szafnauer, and he admits that this will make next year even tougher.

“You know it’s not easy, and I think next year will be even more difficult. I’m grateful to everybody [in the factory] at Silverstone – that’s where most of the work happens. What the world sees is what we do here [at the track] but I’ve got to thank the entire team," said Szafnauer.

“The guys and girls at Silverstone have done a fabulous job this year, especially to keep on developing the car like we have until the end.”

Force India had also faced problems earlier in the year with its drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. A slew of on-track incidents involving the two teammates caused issues in the clubhouse and even led to a race ban for the two which has since been resolved.

"Now they can race freely,” Szafnauer said. “If they do happen to come into contact it’s less detrimental. But you know car parts aren’t free, so there’s still risk.”

The team could soon join the efforts of others to narrow the spending gap between big-budget teams and themselves. F1 owners, Liberty Media, have even spoken up on the situation by saying that they could standardize some car components to level the playing field, though no official decision has been made. Regardless, Force India hopes that adjustments for 2018 will still keep it in contention next year, even with a much small monetary cap.

The Army Rushes a 1,000 Recoilless Rifles to Troops, But What’s a “Carl Gustaf” Anyway?

As the U.S. military works to implement a new strategy in Afghanistan and counter resurgent Taliban insurgents and various terrorist groups, much of the focus has been on a surge of American air power into the fight and talk of thousands more troops heading to the region. In the latter case, any newly arrived U.S. Army personnel, as well as those already in the country, along with U.S. soldiers elsewhere in the world, such as those holding the line in Europe, will likely be making use of something of a forgotten weapon in the service, the recoilless rifle.

In September 2017, the Army revealed it was in the process of signing a deal with Swedish defense contractor Saab Bofors Dynamics for more than 1,100 M3E1 recoilless rifles, also known as the Carl Gustaf. In addition, the service was working on making sure that the weapons would get to units as quickly as possible thereafter.

"The current system that the Army uses is the AT4, which only allows soldiers to fire one shot, and then they have to throw the system away,” Randy Everett, the project manager for Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said at the time. “With the M3E1, soldiers can use different types of ammunition which gives them an increased capability on the battlefield.”

An M3E1 recoilless rifle with a computerized sighting system.

The M3E1 is an 84mm recoilless rifle, meaning that the weapon allows some of the propelling gasses to escape out of the rear as it fires. These counteracting forces reduce recoil normally associated with bigger guns, though these weapons aren't truly “recoilless.” They also have a significant and dangerous back-blast, which means troops can't fire them indoors without specialized ammunition. At present, there is only one special "confined space" round available for the weapon, which is an anti-tank type.

The weapon, which Saab also calls the M4, uses titanium and other lightweight materials to keep its overall weight at just more than 15 pounds. It’s approximately 6 pounds lighter than the old M3 model. It’s also more compact than the previous version at nearly 3.3 feet in length.

The Army’s M3E1 will use a standard telescopic sight, but could accommodate a computerized sighting system in the future. Existing units, which incorporate laser range finders and ballistic calculators, could help troops engage the enemy faster and more accurately, especially when unit different ammunition with different flight characteristics.

The forward grip is wired up so troops can change the settings on certain ammunition, such as changing between an impact and delay fuze, before deciding to fire. Most importantly, the launcher is reloadable and Saab offers a wide variety of different ammunition types so that troops can quickly take on various targets with the weapon.

There are anti-tank rounds with shaped-charge warheads, as well as standard high explosive projectiles, white phosphorus smoke shells, and illuminating flares. The Swedish company also makes a round specifically for busting through concrete walls and other hardened structures, as well as a “close in protection” type that fires 1,100 small metal darts, called flechettes. There's even a thermobaric round that can be especially deadly against enemies in tight spaces, such as caves, with its large over-pressure blast.

Some rounds have programmable settings, allowing certain types to explode above enemy personnel, showering them with deadly shrapnel, or delay their detonation until after the projectile has broken through a wall or other obstacle. Saab Bofors Dynamics, in cooperation with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is also looking at the possibility of developing a precision-guided round.

Various types of 84mm ammunition for the Carl Gustaf underneath a cut-away display model of the AT4.

In service with dozens of countries already, including many NATO members such as the United Kingdom, it will also make it easier for Army units to train together with allies and partners. American forces may even be able to better share logistical resources if necessary.

But despite the clear utility of such a weapon, especially for troops in Afghanistan where insurgents have long been employing marksman rifles, mortars, and their own recoilless rifles to out-range American and other coalition forces, the Army has dragged its feet on the idea of buying the M3E1 in any substantial numbers for years. Much of the rest of the world, including various American allies, would probably find the idea of calling the weapon “new” almost absurd.

The M3E1 is one of the latest versions of a design that dates back to the late 1940s. A Swedish state-run arsenal, Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori – literally “Rifle Factory of Carl Gustaf's town” – made the first versions, leading many to nickname the weapon the Carl Gustaf or Carl G, a moniker that persists to this day. In 1991, Bofors bought and privatized the national company, which had existed in one form or another since 1812. In 1999, Saab bought Bofors’ parent company Celsius Group and renamed the firm Saab Bofors Dynamics, which continued to build and improve on the recoilless rifles.

A Carl Gustaf M2, which entered production in 1964.

There are a number of good reasons why the Carl G has stood the test of time, mainly its durability, reliability, and versatility. Though the Swedish developed the man-portable weapon initially to take out tanks, it quickly became apparent that it could blast bunkers, buildings, and enemy forces hunkered down behind other hard cover. A standard high explosive round was effective against light vehicle and troops in the open, too.

And while inspired in part by the appearance of the American M1 and M9 Bazookas and the German Panzerschreck shoulder-fired rocket launchers during World War II, the Carl Gustaf used the older recoilless principle. This meant that the weapon could send relatively large projectiles flying at far faster speeds than a rocket launcher, but still be safe for an individual to shoot, even standing up. The Korean War and Vietnam-era U.S. military M20 Super Bazooka fired rockets that had a top speed of approximately 340 feet per second. By comparison, depending on the type of ammunition, the Swedish weapon can fire rounds that travel at over 800 feet per second.

Unfortunately, this power came at the price of weight. The Super Bazooka weighed approximately 15 pounds, less than a contemporary M60 light machine gun. The M3 Carl G, which entered production in 1991, was still 22 pounds after decades of work to trim down its weight. American troops had also recognized the relative benefits and many infantry units began using a recoilless rifle, the 90mm M67, in the early 1960s. This weapon tipped the scales at more than 37 pounds.

Man portable guided anti-tank missiles were supposed to settle the argument once and for all and by the early 1990s, most U.S. Army units had finally retired the M67. The service’s infantry units also had single-shot M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW) rocket launchers, until the 1980s, when the aforementioned AT4 entered service. The AT4, also known as the M136, is a recoilless rifle and is essentially a single-shot Carl G.

A US Army soldier holds an AT4 single-shot recoilless rifle.

The Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment had kept its M67s, understanding their value as an alternative to disposable anti-tank weapons and missiles. In 1988, the Rangers had finally decided to replace these bulky weapons with the lighter weight Carl Gustav M3, dubbing it the Ranger Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System, or RAAWS. Other special operations forces saw how useful the recoilless rifles could be and it spread rapidly to Army Special Forces and U.S. Navy SEAL elements, ending up known as the Multi-Role Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System, or MAAWS.

In conventional units, though, the combination of missiles and AT4s continued for more than a decade. It’s what Army soldiers had when they deployed to Afghanistan for the first decade of that seemingly never ending conflict. Most American troops also had 5.56mm M16 rifles, M4 carbines, and M249 squad automatic weapons.

The 5.56mm’s limited range and stopping power at long distance is something we at The War Zone have discussed in depth before. In May 2017, I wrote:

“In Afghanistan more so than Iraq, insurgents employed Soviet-era 7.62x54mm SVD rifles, RPGs, recoilless rifles, and mortars and seemed to routinely out-range American squads armed primarily first with M16s and then the shorter M4 carbine. Though handier for close-quarters combat and when getting in and out of vehicles, the M4’s 14.5-inch barrel only reduced the terminal impact and effective range of the 5.56mm bullet.

“Things were bad enough that troops had taken to firing expensive Javelin anti-tank missiles at enemy fighters in order to hit them from a safe distance and get at them behind hard cover, such as rock outcroppings and earthen barriers.”

The use of Javelin in particular had become so pronounced by 2012, that Jerry Schlabach, who performed operations research, modeling, simulation, and analysis for the manufacturer Raytheon, briefed the National Defense Industry Association’s annual Joint Armaments Conference on the topic. The powerpoint slides included quotes from troops who had fought in Afghanistan lauding the missile’s ability to break up ambushes, get at insurgents hiding in caves and behind hard cover, and even perform a limited surveillance function thanks to the launch control unit’s infrared optic.

One of the slides from Schlabach's 2012 briefing showing the ranges of various US Army weapon systems and how Javelin was

“They [the Taliban] got an 82 [mm recoilless rifle], and they like using it because they can be like, a frickin’ thousand meters away and hit almost every time, what they’re aiming at,” one individual said according to the presentation “It’s a very simple point, click heavy weapon that we have no answer to, except for the Javelin. You know what I mean?”

“Once you get them backed into a cave, … you can drop 120s [120mm mortar rounds] right on top of these things, … but these dudes will come out of that just fine, later on,” another explained. “So we found out that the Javelins, you could fire straight into the mouth of a cave, …it would just blast out the inside of that cave. … and it was perfect.”

Part of one of Schlabach's slides examining Javelin's utility against various non-traditional targets.

It wasn’t perfect, though. Far from it. There was no question that the Javelin could take out insurgents behind cover or inside caves, but every shot was costing the Army $80,000. The most expensive 84mm rounds for the Carl Gustaf cost approximately $3,000 each.

The service was well aware of the situation, the need for a cost-effective solution, and its readily available options. In 2011, someone managed to dig out a number of old M67s and 90mm ammunition from storage somewhere and send it all to Afghanistan along with members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

In what should have been a surprise to no one, troops were thrilled even with the dated weapons. They offered small infantry unit both added range and flexibility against a wide variety of targets thanks to an array of different rounds and that they weren’t single use like the AT4. Soldiers were particularly impressed with M67’s own flechette anti-personnel round.

A rare, grainy photo of troops from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Infantry Division using M67 recoilless rifles in Afghanistan in 2011.

Conflicting budget priorities and cuts, thanks to a process known as sequestration that came into effect after Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011, continued to slow the process of picking the most obvious solution, the Carl Gustav. The steady drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan, the main theater where there was an identified and immediate need for such weapons, didn’t help matters any.

To give a sense of how long the Army has been considering fielding the weapon on a broad scale, in December 2011, it piggy-backed on a U.S. Special Operations Command contract to buy less than 60 of the recoilless rifles for field tests. What’s changed actually has more to do with events halfway around the world from Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division in Afghanistan, along with contractors, show off their M3 Carl Gustafs in 2011.

In 2014, Russian troops seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea region and began lending direct support to separatists in that country’s eastern regions. The Kremlin began to adopt a more revanchist foreign policy in general and NATO responded by increasing its posture along the alliance’s borders with Russia.

Since then, the Army has become increasingly concerned about its ability, or potential lack thereof, to fight a so-called near-peer opponent with a large conventional military. Modernizing the service’s anti-armor capabilities in particular, something almost entirely unnecessary for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, soon became a priority.

By 2016, the Army had made clear it was finally moving ahead with the plans to field the Carl Gustav to conventional forces. But at the same time, the conflict in Afghanistan had gone in a new and worrisome direction and needs of American troops there gained renewed attention.

"Our original investment of $3 million has led to an approximate $40 million procurement for the Army, which is a great return on investment,” Everett, the FCT project manager, explained in September 2017. “But, most importantly, the M3E1 can be reused so it gives Soldiers increased flexibility and capability on the battlefield.”

The Army isn't the only service that is seeing potential in the weapon, either. The U.S. Marine Corps, which has employed a reloaded rocket launcher, the Mk 153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW), since 1984, is looking to replace some or all of those weapons with the M3E1, too. Earlier in October 2017, Marines trained in Japan on the weapon system.

Now the weapon finally appears to be gaining traction within the U.S. military, especially with the large, urgent Army purchase, it seems that the Carl Gustaf is set to become an increasingly important part of American infantry operations for years to come.

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McLaren Expands Its U.S. Operations with Denver Showroom

With McLaren Automotive continuing to prosper on the European market, it is now looking to expand operations across the pond as its model lineup continues to grow. The supercar brand announced Tuesday that it has opened up a new showroom in Denver, Colorado.

McLaren Denver joins the growing dealership network in North America, which now boasts 22 locations across the US that feature McLaren's full luxury sports car lineup. This 13,000 square-foot showroom is truly cutting-edge, featuring a massive touchscreen McLaren configurator and amenities like a putting green, kitchen, and cigar lounge.

The dealership will, of course, feature the full range of McLaren models on offer, which currently includes the entry-level 570 series and hypercar-like 720S.

McLaren Denver invites not only prospective buyers but all local car enthusiasts to come visit the showroom and look at the cars. To further get involved with the Denver car community, the dealership will host the Colorado chapter of Supercar Saturday, a public exotic car meet on the third Saturday of every month when McLaren will bring out its best vehicles to show off.

Much like Lamborghini is currently doing in anticipation of the Urus, McLaren is strengthening its dealership network as orders flood in for the 720S and 570 models. This need for additional space will only grow, as the brand plans to unveil its upcoming Ultimate Series hypercar next year. McLaren's Track22 plan also means that the company will have 15 new models vying for a spot at every showroom.

Companies Will Use Cellular Technology to Let Vehicles ‘Talk’ to Each Other

A coalition of companies is preparing to test a new variant of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, technology that allows cars to "talk" to one another with the primary aim of improving safety.

Ford, Qualcomm, AT&T, and Nokia will test a system called Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground. C-V2X uses both a cellular network and direct connectivity as the communications medium, and includes provisions for both V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. The two versions are sometimes collectively referred to as V2X.

The testing, expected to begin before the end of the year, is meant to demonstrate the potential advantages of using a cellular network to support V2X. The system uses a 5.9 GHz band as well as AT&T's cellular network, but Qualcomm claims companies will be able to provide the service without a cell network subscription. Ford vehicles will be used for the tests, but the partners hope to market the system to other automakers.

V2X communication is supposed to provide drivers with information about what is happening beyond their line of sight. The technology could, for example, alert a driver about an oncoming a car at an intersection where visibility is limited, or relay information about a crash or poor weather conditions from one vehicle to others further down the road.

These potential benefits have already attracted the interest of regulators. The U.S. Department of Transportation began testing V2V in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2012. But while some automakers have shown interest, the technology hasn't gone mainstream yet, and it still faces significant obstacles.

Achieving the benefits of V2X requires a critical mass of cars and infrastructure equipped with the technology. Given the slow rate at which cars already on the road are replaced with new models, that could take awhile. V2X will also require a lot of communications bandwidth, which will have to be set aside for the future. So even if the technology works, implementing it will require a lot of long-term planning.

Companies Will Use Cell Networks to Let Vehicles ‘Talk’ to Each Other

A coalition of companies is preparing to test a new variant of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, technology that allows cars to "talk" to one another with the primary aim of improving safety.

Ford, Qualcomm, AT&T, and Nokia will test a system called Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground. The system uses a cellular network as the communications medium, and includes provisions for both V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. The two versions are sometimes collectively referred to as V2X.

The testing, expected to begin before the end of the year, is meant to demonstrate the potential advantages of using a cellular network to support V2X. The system uses a 5.9 GHz band and is part of AT&T's cellular network, but Qualcomm claims companies will be able to provide the service without a cell network subscription. Ford vehicles will be used for the tests, but the partners hope to market the system to other automakers.

V2X is supposed to provide drivers with information about what is happening beyond their line of sight. The technology could, for example, alert a driver about an oncoming a car at an intersection where visibility is limited, or relay information about a crash or poor weather conditions from one vehicle to others further down the road.

These potential benefits have already attracted the interest of regulators. The U.S. Department of Transportation began testing V2V in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2012. But while some automakers have shown interest, the technology hasn't gone mainstream yet, and it still faces significant obstacles.

Achieving the benefits of V2X requires a critical mass of cars and infrastructure equipped with the technology. Given the slow rate at which cars already on the road are replaced with new models, that could take awhile. V2X will also require a lot of communications bandwidth, which will have to be set aside for the future. So even if the technology works, implementing it will require a lot of long-term planning.