Marines Want Contractor-Flown Russian Mi-24 Hind Helicopter Gunships At More Exercises

The U.S. Marine Corps is looking into whether a contractor might be able to supply Mi-24 Hind gunship or Mi-17 Hip armed transport helicopters to add extra realism to various exercises. Outside companies routinely provide these types of helicopters to play mock enemies at a number of U.S. military training events, but this kind of “adversary” support could become even more relevant as American forces across the services refocus on preparing for high-end conflicts against “great power” opponents, such as Russia.

On April 26, 2018, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, or MAGTFTC, posted a draft set of requirements on the U.S. government’s main contracting website, FedBizOpps, with the goal of determining whether there were any vendors who might be able to provide the desired training support. The draft documents call for two Mi-24 or Mi-17 helicopters to be available for at least five Integrated Training Exercises (ITX) annually at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, or MCAGCC, in Twentynine Palms, California.

The proposed contract would include an option for the Marines to send those aircraft to five Mountain Training Exercises (MTX) at the Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, California, as well as two Talon Exercises (TALONEX), one each at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona and Twentynine Palms. The TALONEXs occur concurrently with Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course capstone exercises.

The Russian-made Mi-24 and Mi-17 are extremely popular among military and paramilitary forces around the world, large and small, and are among the most likely hostile helicopters Marines might face in any real-world conflict. The massive Hind also has an often overlooked secondary troop-carrying capability in addition to its array of forward-firing machine guns, automatic cannons, rockets, and anti-tank missiles, making it a potentially more complex threat. There is an additional potential option for the contractor to provide a single An-2 Colt biplane – an obsolete, but still potentially dangerous platform you can read about more in depth here – for the pair of TALONEXs, as well.

The business end of a contractor-operated Mi-24 Hind at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma during WTI Course 1-16 in 2016.

“The attack helicopter will act as an aggressor to interfere with the exercises forces conducting offensive, defensive and stability operations,” the notice said. “This will include potential use during friendly aviation operations in order to force decision making.”

Each ITX is an important part of battalion- and squadron-level activities for units ahead of a deployment as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or MAGTF, such as a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked on board a group of U.S. Navy amphibious ships. The more than four-week long event consists largely of live-fire training exercises that combine both air and ground elements and include scenarios in simulated urban environments, according to the draft contracting documents.

US Air Force Special Operators train with a Mi-17.

MTXs, which are one day shorter than ITXs, are similar in scope, but occur at the Mountain Warfare Training Center under both high altitude and cold weather conditions. The five-week long TALONEXs are part of the seven-week long WTI course, which pushes aviators in specifically to demonstrate their mastery of combat aviation, tactics application, and battle planning.

“In order to capitalize on all the capabilities that [Marine Corps aviation] has, you have to bring everyone together in one location and plan and execute together,” U.S. Marine Corps Major Brett McGregor explained after graduating from WTI Course 2-14 in 2014. “As a student, it is not a test to see how good they are at flying their aircraft, it’s a test to see how well you can fight with the MAGTF as a whole; how well you can fit into the team and be effective from the bigger picture.”

American and Estonia special operators train with an Estonian Air Force An-2 biplane in 2014.

It’s no surprise the Marine Corps wants these exercises to be as realistic as possible in order to both prepare Marines for potential real-world combat situations and to provide an accurate assessment of their skills. The so-called “opposing force,” or OPFOR, is critical to providing this experience.

And private “red air” adversaries have been gaining traction as useful and cost-effective dissimilar opponents for aerial warfare exercises for some time and it makes sense to employ similar aggressors for air-and-ground training, too. Contractor-operated Mi-24s and Mi-17s, such as Hinds from VTS Aviation in Tacoma, Washington, have made regular appearances at WTI Course events, among other training exercises, for more than a decade for exactly this reason. Having this kind of support on call for more routine exercises can only help improve the quality of training across the Corps.

One of VTS Aviation's Hinds, which have already provided adversary support to the US military in the past.

According to the requirements outlined in the draft contract documents, the contractor-flown helicopters would provide a realistic threat, or at least an operational hazard, to friendly fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in flight or at forward operating sites or refueling and rearming points, as well as ground troops and air defense personnel across the simulated battlefield. Specifically, the helicopters would perform close air support for the OPFOR components on the ground and launch independent attacks on friendly forces, as well as scout and otherwise gathering intelligence on their movements.

The adversary aircraft need to be able to carry standard AN/ASQ-T50(V)2 tracking pods so that they can register “hits” on and from friendly forces. The contractors also need to be subject matter experts who can explain the various features of the aircraft in detailing to the exercise participants, as well as providing instructional flights to interested individuals.

Of course, almost any helicopter can act as a surrogate threat to at least some degree and various U.S. military training centers employ existing American types often with minor modifications and new “enemy” paint schemes in the OPFOR role. Much like the stand-ins in a Hollywood movie, some of these are better than others. UH-72A Lakotas fulfill this role at many U.S. Army facilities, such Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, but do little to truly replicate the sight and sound of potential enemy aircraft.

Bulgarian soldiers load a simulated casualty onto a US Army UH-72A Lakota helicopter wearing an unusual at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany.

But there’s immense value in being able to train against a mock opponent flying a representative aircraft with its unique performance capabilities and limitations and electromagnetic, infrared, acoustic, and visual signatures. How certain aircraft show up on various sensors is especially important for improving realism, especially when training air defense teams. Staring down a massive Russian Hind in training might help reduce any anxiety or other "buck fever" when facing off against the real thing in combat, too.

“The attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible Opposing Force (OPFOR) to stress the joint forces conducting Joint Air and Missile Defense Operations,” the draft contract notice stated.

An Afghan Air Force Mi-35, the export designation for the Mi-24, prepares for a mission in 2011.

As noted, the Mi-24 and Mi-17 are among the most proliferated armed helicopters in the world, which makes it likely that Marines might encounter them in a variety of conflict situations, both as hostile and friendly assets. Training to fight against them, though, is likely to be increasingly important in light of a U.S.-military wide push to reorient training to focus on fighting larger scale conventional opponents after years of the dominant concern being low-intensity conflicts involving terrorists and other militants.

Immediately after the end of the Cold War, the perception was that the threat of enemy airpower to American forces had largely evaporated. This view has steadily reversed in recent years. There is now an increasing view that the U.S. military may not be universally assured to have air superiority in future conflicts.

This has become especially pronounced after multiple air-to-air engagements over Syria against manned and unmanned aircraft that were threatening American forces. The Syrian government and Russian forces in the country also regularly fly Mi-24s and Mi-17s.

Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire a Stinger trainer missile from the deck of the <em data-recalc-dims=Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima" />

The need for U.S. military forces to reemphasize training to employ short-range air defenses against low-flying aircraft and helicopters, and make sure air defense weapons actually exist to perform that function, in particular, has become a major issue. It has similarly become important again to make sure other ground know how to respond to hostile attack helicopters or enemy air assault forces, or even opposing special operators trying to infiltrate behind the front lines in an old An-2. And for a MAGTF's air component, low- and slow-flying helicopters can also present a particularly challenging threat for both fast-moving jets and other helicopters to respond to, making real enemy type helicopters especially valuable targets to have at the various exercises.

Having Mi-24s or Mi-17s at routine ITX, as well as other exercises such as the MTXs and TALONEXs, can only give Marines a better opportunity to train against realistic threats. It’s definitely better for Marines to get as much experience as they can against these potential threats in training than have an enemy catch them completely off guard in an actual conflict.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

No, The Su-57 Isn’t ‘Junk:’ Six Features We like On Russia’s New Fighter

Russia’s 5th generation fighter aircraft, formerly known as the T-50 and now officially named the Su-57, has been in the news a lot lately. India’s decision to finally walk away from the joint program could be a catastrophic blow to the jet’s future, which followed an abortive deployment to war-torn Syria late last February. Russia’s inability to afford decent sized production lots of the new jets and the aircraft’s ongoing engine saga also have taken their toll on the program. And above all else, the aircraft’s degree of low-observability (stealthiness) has long been in question, as it lacked many of the key features that define modern stealth fighters. But none of this conclusively means the Su-57 doesn’t have some redeemable qualities and features that are worth pointing out.

To some degree, the T-50/Su-57 is a misunderstood aircraft. The jet's lack of high-end low-observable design features doesn't mean it is irrelevant or even ineffective. Sukhoi designers have taken a 'balanced' approach to low-observability, whereby the aircraft's reduced radar signature from certain aspects becomes just another feature to be weighed against other design priorities. This very well may have been a necessity due to lack of stealthy materials science, manufacturing, and design expertise, but none-the-less the outcome is the same.

I have discussed how standoff weaponry has come into play in this equation as well, but other features have also been designed into the airframe with an apparent self-awareness of the fact that the aircraft will not be able to compete with U.S or even Chinese counterparts in terms of stealth alone. And considering how Russia's armed forces are organized and the battle doctrine behind that organization, being able to pierce deep into the most sophisticated integrated air defense networks during some sort of expeditionary operation isn't a top priority anyway.

I get asked a lot about the Su-57s level of 'stealth' in comparison to other fighter aircraft. From years of looking into this, and talking with countless people in the defense-aerospace field about their thoughts on the design, I would handicap the Su-57 as something between an International Roadmap Super Hornet or Silent Eagle and China's J-20, with it being closer to the former than the latter. But once again, stealth is just one ingredient of a complex cocktail that makes up an advanced fighter's overall capabilities set and ability to survive in various combat situations.

With all this in mind, here are five features we like on the Su-57, some of which are tailored to help overcome its lack of extreme signature reduction, at least to a certain degree.

Side Facing Cheek-Mounted Radars

The Su-57 has a feature that was long-promised for the F-22 but as of yet, has never been delivered—side-facing radars mounted below the cockpit on aircraft's 'cheeks.' These active electronically scanned array (AESA) X-band radars supplement the aircraft primarily nose-mounted X-band N036 Byelka (Squirrel) AESA radar. Supposedly these secondary radars have roughly a third of the transmit-receive modules as the jet's main radar.

You can clearly see the side radar aperture below the 'chine line' under the aerial refueling probe.

At first glance, the utility of these radars is clear—they provide a far greater sensor field of view and thus enhance situational awareness for the Su-57's pilot. But beyond this the most basic of advantages, they allow the Su-57 pilot to execute a key tactic better than nearly any other fighter around. This tactic is usually referred to as "beaming."

Beaming is when a fighter turns 90 degrees away (perpendicular) to an enemy’s pulse doppler radar array. Because these types of radars use doppler shift to gauge a target’s relative velocity, and as such, they filter low relative velocity objects, like ground clutter, the beaming fighter, which is not moving towards or away from the enemy radar much, can enter the enemy radar’s 'doppler notch.'

This blind spot is where the radar’s velocity gate, which acts like a filter, sees a target at low enough relative motion from its perspective that it discounts it. So even though the enemy fighter may be moving at 500 mph, the right angle to the radar makes it only detect small amounts of closure. As a result, it throws this information out as it would a mountaintop. This is an especially useful tactic when the radar is positioned at a higher altitude than the beaming aircraft, and trying to lock up its target in a look-down-shoot-down scenario where ground clutter is prevalent.

The issue is that with a typically fixed AESA radar or mechanically scanned array, pulling off a beaming maneuver means the fighter doing so will lose its radar picture of the enemy it is trying to evade. Without third-party sensors feeding this data to the beaming fighter via data-link, its pilot will become blind to the tactical situation when it matters most. But what's worse is that any radar-guided missiles that have been fired from the now beaming fighter will not be able to receive mid-course updates, and thus those missiles' probability of kill will plummet, especially if fired off initially at long-range.

So fighters without cheek arrays, or novel swashplate like designs like those found on SAAB's JAS-39E/F Gripen and eventually on the Typhoon, and absence of engagement quality tracks provided by third-party sensors via data-link, the launching fighter will either have to take a more acute and less effective beaming angle in order to continue to update their missiles with their radar, or they will have to forget about updating them altogether.

Advanced AESA radars that are highly sensitive and run complex software have lessened the impact of beaming as a tactic to a limited degree. But it is still considered relevant, especially against opponents without high-end networking and surveillance support capabilities.

Considering the Su-57s lack of advanced stealth, you can see why having dedicated cheek arrays can be very useful as it can lower its detectability using extreme beaming tactics, especially at long ranges, while still actively guiding its missiles to its target.

Once again, advanced networking capabilities, especially those used by the U.S. and its allies, can lessen the effectiveness of beaming and notching in a densely surveilled battlespace that includes the presence of airborne early warning aircraft, surface and ground-based radars, and other fighter aircraft all feeding their information into a common picture that is distributed via data-link. But Russia doesn't benefit from this level of dynamic connectivity, nor do many of its potential adversaries. So including cheek mounted arrays on the Su-57 so that it can maintain situational awareness and targeting capabilities while beaming without external help makes a lot of sense.

The Su-57 is also said to incorporate L-band radar arrays blended inside its large maneuvering leading edge extensions. These radars are more for target discrimination and identification than anything else. The aircraft also has another X-band radar array in its 'stinger' tail for enhanced situational awareness, and possibly for future targeting with extremely agile 'lock-on after launch' missiles as well.

Su-57's tail-mounted radar. Also notice the sizeable weapons bay gap.

It's also worth noting that AESA arrays can also be used to execute pinpoint electronic attacks. Theoretically, a fighter's radar system could employ these electronic warfare tactics while attacking another aircraft, or while under attack. Being able to do so even at oblique angles without changing nose position, could be beneficial as well. With that in mind, the Su-57 could be a powerful electronic warfare tool, if not today, then possibly the future.

It's worth noting that even while beaming, putting out any radar energy could potentially give away your position. But the Su-57 has a solution for that as well.

Infrared Search and Track

The Su-57 sports an advanced 101KS 'Atoll' infrared search and track sensor in the traditional position on Russian fighters—installed atop the aircraft's nose, near its windscreen. Although this placement clearly hurts the Su-57s radar signature where it matters most—in the forward hemisphere—an IRST is among the best technologies available for detecting and engaging stealth targets from afar. I recommend you read all about IRSTs and how they are used in air combat in this past feature of mine to get a healthier understanding of the unique capabilities they bring to an aerial fight.

An IRST can also be used to provide targeting information to a fighter's missiles in-flight, even while that jet is beaming. Above all else it allows the Su-57 to operate and persecute targets while staying electromagnetically silent (giving off no radio emissions), which is just as big of a deal these days as being hard to detect on radar. It also is immune to the effects of electronic warfare.

Modern combat aircraft have the ability to detect, classifying, and even geolocate enemy emissions. Low probability of intercept (LPI) radar modes can drastically help with remaining untrackable while still giving off some emissions, but LPI is a broad term and not all aircraft with LPI radars have the same abilities to stay undetected while also actively using those radars in combat situations.

The Su-57's 101KS-V IRST is mounted where it is found traditionally on Russia fighters and not the best spot for low observability. The ball does rotate rearwards in when not in use.

But an infrared search and track system can allow for creative tactics to be used as well that can surprise the enemy and exploit holes in their game plans. But once again, above all else, it gives the Su-57 some capability to detect and even engage the stealthiest aircraft around even while they are not giving off any radio emissions. Although getting close enough to do so before getting killed by a long-range air-to-air missile is still a major limiting factor of these systems as they have limited range and are impacted by atmospheric conditions. It's also worth noting that this system could also provide an image of the aircraft beyond-visual-range, which can help with being able to take the first shot under tight rules of engagement.

The Super Hornet's IRST21 is integrated into the forward part of a centerline fuel tank. The system will be fielded before the end of the decade. On F-15Cs it will be flown in a <a href=Legion Pod and the Talon HATE pod. " />

An advanced IRST was also promised for the F-22 as part of the Advanced Tactical Fighter Program but it was axed due to cost-cutting measures as the program moved from prototype to a production configuration. Today, the Navy and the USAF are on the cusp of procuring podded IRST systems for their 4th generation fighters. The F-35 can use its electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) for long-range aircraft identification and some limited IRST-like functions but is not comparable to a dedicated sensor.

Directional Infrared Countermeasures System

Like the F-22, the Su-57 has a number of missile launch detector apertures scattered around the aircraft but the Su-57 also has turrets that fire modulated laser beams at an incoming missile's seeker to blind it and throw it off course. The Russian system used on the Su-57 is part of the larger N101KS electro-optical suite that includes the missile launch detector systems, IRST, and the DIRCM turrets mounted dorsally behind the cockpit and ventrally under the cockpit.

The upper and lower 101KS-O DIRCM bubbles can be seen in this image. Not all T-50s/Su-57s have been equipped with this system yet, but it is a core feature of the design.

This soft-kill system has been seen mounted on a number of Su-57 prototypes, and if it works as advertised, it can go a long way to defending the aircraft against advanced infrared-homing—also referred to as 'heat seeking'—missiles. This includes the shoulder-fired man-portable air defense system (MANDPAD) variety and the air-to-air variety.

DIRCM systems, which have been in use by the U.S. military and its allies for nearly two decades, are largely understood to be more effective against advanced imaging infrared seekers than expendable countermeasures like flares or BOL-IR decoys.

Russia has installed fairly clunky DIRCM systems on some of its helicopters and airlift fleet, but nothing as miniaturized as seen on the Su-57, which rivals U.S. systems in its compactness. But in Syria, in particular, Russia fear of MANPADs is potent, and rightfully so.

Having a DIRCM system on a jet fighter is largely unprecedented. The concept certainly exists, but currently, these self-protection suites are largely installed on transport aircraft and helicopters as defenses against MANPADs, not against air-to-air missiles. And denying attacks by air-to-air missiles is definitely an intent for the Su-57's DIRCM system as, once again, it has a turret on top of the jet as well. So in this sense, the Su-57 is something of a pioneer in this regard and this type of system is also likely a hedge against future long-range infrared-guided and dual-model air-to-air missiles.

Austere Airfields Welcome

Russian fighters, even advanced and stealthy ones apparently, are designed with ruggedness in mind. Beyond featuring heavy-duty landing gear and big tires, along with mudguards over their nose-wheels, MiG-29 derivatives even have intake doors that close off airflow from directly in front of and below the jet during taxiing operations. Some Su-27s had screens that worked in a similar fashion. The Su-57 doesn't have any intake barriers that we have seen, but it does have the robust landing gear, including mudguard, that is reminiscent of its predecessors.

The Su-57 may be the highest technology Russia has to offer, but it retained the hardy landing gear of its predecessors.

If you have ever seen Russian airfields—at least some of them—the need for tough landing gear isn't surprising. But this can also come in really handy when executing dispersed operations to airfields and roadways that don't have the luxury of a small army of sweeper vehicles.

In this regard, many American aircraft fall short, and that's somewhat of an issue considering the Pentagon is becoming ever more focused on austere and highly distributed aircraft operations throughout the Pacific during a crisis. And this initiative includes pushing more fragile jets like the Raptor, and even Reaper drones, in small groups to far-flung island airstrips.

3D Thrust Vectoring:

We have discussed how thrust vectoring has limited utility throughout most of a fighter's flight envelope—with it being most useful at very high altitudes and speeds, or in the near or post-stall regime—but it's still a cool feature to have, especially if other advantages remain out of technological reach.

Considering the tradeoffs in design and capabilities the Su-57 represents, being able to outmaneuver the enemy within visual range is still a positive, especially considering it may not be able to avoid a fight like some of its more stealthy counterparts. 3D thrust vectoring at lower speeds and altitudes allows for some incredible acrobatic feats, but really it has drastically diminishing returns, and can even be dangerous to fully utilize during anything but a one-on-one within visual range fight. Ending up in a totally depleted energy state may get the kill, but if other fighters are nearby, and they usually are, it probably means you get to die too. Nonetheless, it's there on the Su-57 and it's the first time 3D thrust vectoring has integrated included into a stealthy fighter.

Unique Weapons Bay Configuration

The Su-57 has a unique tandem weapons bay. We still don't know much about it conclusively, but it seems as if four to six medium-range air-to-air missiles can be carried at one time internally. Depending on the depth of the bays, it's possible fewer, larger weapons could be carried instead—such as guided bombs or air-to-surface standoff missiles—but we will have to wait for more official information and photo evidence in order to discuss this further with confidence.

The jet also supposedly features a pair of short-range air-to-air missile bays located under its wing-roots. These triangular, canoe-like structures are said to open like a clamshell to expose the missile inside during combat. Once again, to our knowledge, there are no actual photos of this system being used, and it's a little puzzling trying to figure out how a missile like the R-73 could fit in there. Maybe a specialized missile with a smaller diameter profile is intended for those bays sometime in the future.

In the end, it's clear Russia has done the best it can when it comes to making up for limitations low-observable know-how by adding other capabilities that would help the Su-57 survive in a fight. And as we always like to stress, stealth is just one part of an array of measures that can collectively mean the difference between life and death in the air combat arena. Electronic warfare especially, when combined with low observability, is becoming more of a factor than ever in modern a combat.

And remember, when we talk about stealth, even on just the radio frequency spectrum, we are talking about how far away a target can be detected and how far it can be engaged using a particular radar operating on a particular band while viewing a target from a particular aspect.

Given the same X-band pulse doppler radar set, maybe (just for hypothetical example) a Su-27 can be detected head-on at 90 miles, while an Su-57 can be detected head-on at 35 miles while the F-22 can be detected at under ten miles. Sure that's a big disparity in performance, but that's just one aspect of a very complex air combat equation. Once again, this includes networking, the sensitivity of onboard passive sensors, standoff weapon performance, degrees of low-observability from various aspects, electronic warfare, tactics, speed, range, the persistent support aircraft like airborne early warning and control aircraft, and so much more. The cost of the aircraft itself and the quantitative advantage that may go along with it can't also be overlooked.

We don't know the exact quality and level of integration of the Su-57's sensors and mission systems, but on paper at least, no, the Su-57 isn't 'junk' at all. It represents a rather clever mix of capabilities that are tailored to Russia's more austere, less networked, air-battle doctrine, and it's more than capable of taking on enemies it's more likely to fight than some Armageddon war with the United States. That being said, with tight rules of engagement, like those over Syria, many of even its most capable opponent's abilities are rendered neutral anyway. So if Russia can continue to finance it, the Su-57 is set to become a capable highly valued fighter that is better than anything else in the Russian Air Force's inventory.

But is it an F-22? No, it isn't.

And that's the problem—clearly it isn't meant to be. Yet it seems Russian officials and the Russian press constantly make claims otherwise. That's like claiming a Super Hornet is as capable in certain respects as an F-35, it simply isn't accurate and it's not really a fair comparison to make in the first place.

Above all else, you have to give the Russians some credit for taking new risks with their design and incorporating innovative concepts into it, even if doing so came as a result of lacking critical low observable design knowledge and manufacturing capabilities.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Confederate Motorcycles Lives on Under New Ownership

Last year, Confederate Motorcycles announced it was changing its name in the midst of controversy surrounding flags and statues commemorating the Confederate States of America. The new name is Curtiss in honor of Glens Curtiss who famously set an unofficial motorcycle speed record of 136.36 mph in 1907 on a V-8-powered motorcycle of his own design.

The original Confederate Motorcycles has rebranded, but that doesn’t mean the old brand is dead. Venture capital fund Ernest Lee Capital has bought the intellectual property for Confederate Motors and will continue producing bespoke, high-end motorcycles under the name Confederate Motorcycles LLC as a new company. Curtiss is no longer affiliated with the "Confederate" name and the new Confederate Motorcycles is under new ownership.

“We are currently designing the next run of bikes that will each be available with a number of customer-selectable options,” said Lee in an email to The Drive. “We personally did not want to see the Confederate brand disappear into the ether.”

Lee was very open about discussing the potential controversy involved with keeping the Confederate name alive. Lee believes the Confederate name is “no more synonymous with racism than is ‘Rebel’ or the Confederate Flag itself. We acknowledge that there are some that disagree with our viewpoint but felt that allowing individuals to discuss their differences of opinion is paramount to the democracy in which we all live.”

“We felt that it was sad that recent politics resulted in the death of a twenty-five-year-old brand,” continued Lee. Lee is the proud owner of a Confederate motorcycle himself which is part of the reason it was so important to him to keep the brand going in its original form. “I have personally taken my Confederate P51 Combat Fighter to shows and rides and feel that the brand, although sometimes met with skepticism, is overwhelmingly accepted by admirers of my own bike,” said Lee.

In other words, Lee believes people care more about the bikes themselves than the name they carry. That being said, the name still carries weight, but Lee sees that as a positive thing. “The Confederate brand has everything to do with innovation and originality,” said Lee. “We want to continue that tradition at Confederate; building innovative and original bikes that draw crowds everywhere they ride.”

Love or hate the name, Confederate has made some incredible bikes in its 25-year history. While we’re excited to see what Curtiss has in store with a future in electric bikes, we’ll be watching the new Confederate closely to see what it comes up with.

Train Hauling 5,000 Tons of Poop Cleared for Movement After Three Months

Earlier this month, news outlets across the nation scooped up a story of a train transporting 10 million pounds of human waste, stopped in Parrish, Alabama. The train's journey was obstructed by the nearby town of West Jefferson, which passed an injunction preventing the train from unloading the cargo in its limits, claiming that it would violate zoning laws. Parrish, lacking such a law, suffered from having the responsibility for storing the train dumped in its boarders.

The jam occurred in January, and the train didn't budge for more than two months, despite the town's best efforts to push it out to its destination, the nearby Big Sky Environmental landfill. As one would expect, the trainload of turds stunk up the two-square-mile community something fierce, to the detriment of the locals' quality of living.

"Can't come out here and barbecue like I used to," said one of the residents to an NBC affiliate. "I know the flies were getting in my house."

On April 18, the mayor of Parrish, Heather Hall, announced that the town's train yard had been flushed of the fecal material, ending the town's consternation about the length of the constipation. On the Tuesday prior to her statement via social media, the final container had been hauled off to the dump, the unloading expedited by pressure from the Norfolk Southern railroad, the line hired to carry the waste.

Parrish also discovered in the process of turning to every state government agency for help that no such department existed to help rid her town of the problem and associated smell.

"There is no entity regulating this part of [the] process," stated Mayor Hall. "And that needs to change. That change can only come through legislative action. If there had been even a small amount of oversight this might never have happened."

Watch the 1,035 HP Hennessey Dodge Demon Punish the Drag Strip

If you didn’t think 840 horsepower in the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon was quite enough, Hennessey has you covered. Hennessey offers what it calls the HPE1000 upgrade for the Demon which cranks the engine up to 1,035 hp and 948 pount-feet of torque resulting in 880 hp and 806 pound-feet at the wheels.

These insane numbers are achieved by upgrades like stainless steel long tube headers with high-flow catalytic converters, upgrades to the supercharger and crankshaft pulleys, and a Hennessey Performance Engineering engine management upgrade with chassis dyno calibration. The upgrades don’t stop with just performance. You also get Hennessey badging inside and out, a before and after dyno graph, and a one year, 12,000-mile limited warranty.

To show off what the upgrades can do, Hennessey took an HPE1000 Demon to its natural habitat: a drag strip. Along with some obligatory burnouts, we see the bright yellow muscle car do a few runs down the quarter mile while the supercharger and the exhaust play in perfect harmony.

The best run Hennessey could put down was a quarter mile time of 9.38 seconds at 146 mph. That’s impressive by any standards, but the numbers for a stock Demon ate a 9.65 second quarter mile at 140 mph.

The Hennessey upgrades are cool, but I think the whole point of the Demon is that it’s all done straight from the factory. There’s almost nothing else you can do to it to make it better at what it was made to do, which is go really fast in a straight line. Hennessey’s quarter mile has proven that by just barely beating the numbers for the stock version of the car in the quarter mile. Are all of those upgrades really worth it to shave a quarter-second off the quarter-mile time?

You Can Get an Amazing Deal on a 2018 Ram 1500 Pickup Right Now

Whenever there’s a big changeover from one model year to the next, it’s usually bad news for the older model. A great example of that phenomenon is in the Ram 1500 which is all new for 2019. Once the word got out that there was a long-overdue revision to the truck coming for the 2019 model year, pretty much everyone stopped buying the 2018 model in anticipation of the new one.

However, that can be good news if you’re in the market for a new truck, but don’t mind the outgoing Ram. In order to clear out inventory of the still-current 2018 Ram 1500, Ram is offering bonus cash up to $12,356 on select models as part of its spring sales event. The real-world result? Several brand new full-size pickup trucks for well under $20,000.

If you do want to pay less than $20,000 for a new Ram, you won’t be getting fancy leather seats and you might even have a hard time finding one with four-wheel drive at that price, but if you just need a work truck or if you don’t care about fancy features, you can get quite a steal on a new Ram.

These discounts don’t only apply to the low-end models. This is a good chance to get a deal on most of the many trims of the Ram 1500 including a Ram Rebel for less than $40,000 or a super luxurious Laramie Limited for $42,000. Finally, a luxury pickup truck that’s priced like a similarly appointed luxury sedan.

We wouldn’t blame you for holding out for the all-new 2019 Ram 1500, but if you aren't picky, this is a great opportunity to get a good deal on a new truck.

Watch the Dodge Demon Bully Its 707-HP Brother on the Drag Strip

The difference between the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and SRT Demon is purely a number's game. The former costs $64,000 and makes 707 horsepower, while the latter goes for about $85,000 and puts down 808 horsepower, or 840 horses with the power module installed from the optional $1 Demon Crate. The roughly $20,000 price and 101-horsepower gap between the two is a solid disparity on paper, but how do these differences translate into the real world?

YouTube channel Wheels uploaded a video of a quarter-mile drag race between the Challenger Hellcat and Demon brothers, an environment which both of these hot Dodges call home. The Hellcat appears to perform a better launch, but the Demon is out in front in no time. The rest of the race is closer than we expected though, as the Demon maintains only a one or two car-length lead over the 'Cat.

As Vin Diesel would tell you though, it doesn't matter how close the two were, the 808-plus-horsepower (there's no mention as to whether the 840 horsepower module is installed) Challenger was still plenty faster. The victorious Demon crossed the finish line at 133.84 mph in 10.07 seconds, with the Hellcat hot on its heels at 124.22 mph in 11.09 seconds, a huge gap in the world of drag racing.

Was this test really needed to show that the more expensive and more powerful car was faster? Probably not, but real-world horsepower demonstrations are fun, and we'll never tire of watching the Demon tear up a drag strip. Skip to 1:50 in the video below if you only want to see the actual Hellcat vs. Demon shootout.

Off-Roading Do’s and Don’ts According to a Jeep Jamboree Expert

Off-roading in a street-legal or purpose-built vehicle is nothing new. In fact, it's been around for decades and it's grown in popularity in recent times largely because of the rise in SUV sales and because drivetrain technology has made driving off the beaten path easier, and therefore more fun. However, if you've never gone off the beaten path, how do you know what or what not to do?

I recently had the opportunity to hop the behind the wheel of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler at an off-road facility located a few hours outside of Chicago. The primary goal of the Jeep-organized event was to show folks the capabilities of the new Rubicon- and Sahara-trimmed JL-Jeep in its natural habitat, but in reality, it showed me much more than that. See, the automaker brought several of its Jeep Jamboree all-star guides who quite literally spend most of their lives sharpening their off-roading skills (or developing new ones) in muddy, sandy, or rocky venues across the nation.

Greg Ketchmark is one of Jeep Jamboree's lead instructors, and he took the time to share with me the most important dos and don'ts of off-roading. Call it "Off-road 101" if you will. Remember, your vehicle might be capable of many things and has lots of cool off-roading gadgets, but your tools are only as good as your knowledge of how to use them.

At the wheel of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in rural Illinois. The gunky, slippery conditions were challenging, but ultimately no match for the purpose-built off-roader. #jeepmidwest18

A post shared by The Drive (@thedrive) on Apr 20, 2018 at 4:10pm PDT

Do's

Bring a Buddy: According to Ketchmark, sometimes things go wrong on the trail, but they can go extra wrong if you're on your own. "You never want to off-road alone, not only because it's not fun, but because you're at the mercy of the elements," said Ketchmark. "You can get a flat, you can get stuck, or you can get bit by a snake. Having someone who can lend a helping hand, offer an extra set of eyes, or simply reach out in the case of an emergency is vital."

Bring the Right Tools: You wouldn't go camping without a knife or bug spray, so don't go off-roading without the proper tools. "First, bring plenty of water," said Ketchmark. "Even if nothing goes wrong, you need to be hydrated. It's easy for an off-road adventure that you thought would last four hours to actually last eight due to the unexpected. The other must-have tool is a tow strap, it's the most basic tool to bring along, but keep in mind that you will need another vehicle in order for it to work. If you and your co-pilot typically off-road in one vehicle, get a winch. Depending on the terrain, bring tools like a pulley strap, tracks, and a jack."

Have a plan and be prepared: Know the terrain that you'll be exploring. "If it's an off-road park, get a map and talk to the park staff about the must-see spots and the areas to avoid," he said. "Communication is also key, so find out if there will be cell phone reception where you're headed, or if you will need a CV radio."

Oh, and don't forget about your tires. "Tire pressure, it has a huge impact," said Ketchmark. "Depending on the vehicle and the type of terrain, lowering tire pressure to a certain extent could severely affect traction and lower your odds of getting stuck."

The more street- and mpg-friendly tires of the Wrangler Sahara struggled where the Rubicon breezed right through.

Don'ts

Don't just "wing it": Take your time and do things right. "When on the trail, step out of your car to analyze the piece of trail in front of you before driving it," explained Ketchmark. "You might see that you need to move one way or another in order to avoid a rock or root that will slash your tire. If you get stuck, get out to analyze your situation before flooring it and making things worse."

Check Your Ride: "The same applies to the condition of your Jeep or off-road vehicle of choice," said Ketchmark. "Check your vital fluids like oil, coolant, and transmission fluid, this will help you avoid a breakdown mid-trail.

Avoid Standing Water: Don't drive through puddles without knowing what's underneath. "Puddles can be deceiving, and sometimes they appear to be a foot deep when in reality they can swallow your entire vehicle," he said. "Sometimes, at the bottom of puddles, there's silt, which is stickier than mud. Use common sense and don't drive your vehicle into the water," Ketcham added.

Tesla Could Use SpaceX Starlink Network to Manage Data Uplinks

Though cars and space travel are very different industries, there may be more benefits to Tesla and SpaceX sharing a CEO than shooting Elon Musk's Roadster into space. Tesla's earthbound cars could benefit from a satellite broadband network that SpaceX is working hard to launch into orbit.

CNBC reports that autonomous cars, such as Tesla hope to achieve one day ("Autopilot" is absolutely not full autonomy, contrary to popular belief), will generate and consume a massive amount of data. Today's autonomous test vehicles, which admittedly are not yet optimized, transfer about 500 times more data than the average smartphone contract. It wouldn't take very many autonomous cars on the road, sending and receiving data at that rate, to overload the current system.

Fortunately, Elon Musk not only has Tesla, who makes cars that are reportedly already equipped with all of the necessary hardware for fully autonomous operation (future software updates would theoretically enable this), he also has SpaceX, a company in the business of launching satellites into space. Ars Technica reports that last month the Federal Communications Commission approved a SpaceX plan to launch a network of 4,425 small satellites called Starlink (not to be confused with Subaru's Starlink infotainment system) into low Earth orbit to provide continuous broadband service worldwide. This could be exactly what Tesla needs to manage its own data without bogging down the ground-based cellular networks.

Unlike sending a Tesla to Mars, this concept is really not far-fetched at all. SpaceX has already launched numerous satellites for the Iridium network, which Zach Bowman tested while living in a truck for nine months and found works quite well. The last SpaceX launch on March 30 released ten new Iridium satellites into orbit to improve network coverage, with more launches planned later this year.

Traditional communication satellites, as well as GPS satellites, orbit the Earth in a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the planet. This is called "geostationary orbit" because it takes exactly one day to orbit the Earth, meaning that the satellite is always over the same point on the Earth's surface.

But it is much more expensive to place a satellite into this higher orbit than low Earth orbit, which is just a few hundred miles above the surface. Additionally, communication with satellites farther away requires larger antennas and more transmitter power than a low Earth orbit satellite. In 1990, as a high school student, I personally made amateur radio contact with cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev aboard the Mir space station in low Earth orbit, using 45 watts of power through an antenna designed for terrestrial communications, not satellite. That's how simple it can be. A couple hundred miles isn't very far for a radio signal to travel, especially when there are no obstructions like mountains or buildings between radio stations.

The biggest problem in communicating directly with low Earth orbit satellites is that they are only in the range of ground stations for a maximum of 10 minutes, and that's only when passing directly overhead. Hence the SpaceX plan to deploy a whopping 4,425 Starlink satellites. That's a lot of satellites, but they can be simple, small, and inexpensive to build and to launch. For one thing, multiple satellites can be launched from a single Falcon 9 rocket, which is already happening with Iridium's satellites. Additionally, SpaceX is already recovering and reusing Falcon 9 rockets more and more reliably, further reducing the cost of launches.

With 4,425 Starlink satellites swarming the Earth, there will be at least one satellite overhead anywhere on the globe at any time, which means uninterrupted access from the ground (or ocean) to the Starlink network. All in all, it seems a neat and tidy solution to the question of autonomous data, all handled within the confines of Elon Musk's corporate empire.

We've reached out to Tesla to see what it has to say about the future of autonomous car communications through the SpaceX Starlink network, and will update if we hear back.

Wool Bomber Motojacket with Cordura Lining by Vaktare M.G.

Exclusively by Vaktare M. G., is the classically-styled Bomber Motojacket that is unlike any other motorcycle jacket in style, comfort, performance, and protection. The Bomber, as well as other Motojackets by Vaktare, was created for serious street use in the real-life motorcycling lifestyle, technically designed with abrasion and impact-resistance, and many comfort features for riding.

As a moto-journalist, I have worn many jackets, but very, very few have drawn the level of positive attention from other seasoned riders as this Bomber jacket. It stands on its own in its combination of material and style. It’s available as shown in the ‘original’ color, a sort of light tan, and in Dark Heather Grey, and Steel Blue. Inside its abrasion-resistant 14-ounce, Melton wool shell is a 1000-denier Cordura lining throughout the entire jacket. For those unfamiliar with the natural and magical performance of wool, it provides a breathing insulation that keeps a person cool in the summer and warm in the winter, way beyond the ability of any leather.

Having worn this Bomber on a hot day while co-riders were overheating, the wool proved itself beyond expectations. The wool outer shell is also water resistant, but not waterproof, though it does dry quickly. Another plus is that it is a stylish jacket for any outing, while motorcycling or not. Since it is not overburdened with motorcycle style, and being made of wool, it doesn’t look out of place when there is no motorcycle in sight.

Creator of Vaktare, Estefan Duarte, said; “Vaktare M. G. is a design studio specifically for the modern motorcycle rider. Our wool blend exhibits qualities perfect for motorcycle use: quick drying, abrasion resistant, and natural insulation to regulate body temperature during the cold of winters and hot of summers. Our mission is to constantly improve the world of two-wheeled transportation through innovative materials and design.”

Four exterior and two interior pockets provide plenty of carrying options, and lambskin trim can be found on the hand pockets, with snap closures. The collar and epilates also feature functioning snaps, for days when a rider needs to turn the collar up against the wind, or where your stars on your shoulders. Inside the cuffs and collar is elastic knit ribbed textile for a comfortable fit against the skin. Nylon stitching with thick, reinforced threading is used for the construction of all seams. For adding armor, there are interior pockets in the back, shoulders, and elbows, and for colder days there is a wind flap behind the front zipper closure.

Vaktare offers a unique form of financial protection with every purchase: If a buyer damages their jacket in a motorcycling incident and require a new one, for sharing your story with Vaktare M. G. it will replace the Bomber jacket for fifty percent off. Vaktare jackets are one hundred percent American made, and have a 45-day return policy without fees.