Behold These Awesome Images Of A-10 Warthogs Training With MV-22 Ospreys Over Hawaii

Hogs are running wild over Hawaii! A-10s from the 442nd Fighter Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri have made the long flight to the Pacific island paradise to conduct a wide range of training with other assets forward deployed to the region or that already call the islands home. This has included close air support exercises with B-52H Stratofortress that hopped over from their temporary base on Guam, as well as MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268 (VMM-232) 'The Red Dragons' based out of MCAS Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu. Thankfully, public affairs brought along a photographer for a cooperative sortie with A-10s and MV-22s, with stunning results to show for it.

The MV-22s and A-10s teamed up for a joint escort insertion training mission, in which the A-10s would provide direct cover for MV-22s as they practiced infiltrating into a target area and dropping off forces once there. This type of sortie shares some similarities to the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) mission set—a form of combat search and rescue focused on the recovery of downed aircrew that the Marines and their Ospreys amazing at.

A-10s and MV-22s are quite wonderfully paired. The A-10 offers a heavy-hitting and hardy armed escort and close air support capability that, unlike attack helicopters can, keep up with the tiltrotor Ospreys. It is also far more adept at open operating at very low levels and has superior endurance than other fixed-wing tactical jets. The A-10 crews are masters at employing their airframes in the 'Sandy' role, scouting and clearing landing areas and providing overwatch and fire suppression as the rescue crews go about their business on the ground. See this past article of mine for more info on the A-10 and this unique mission.

Marine Osprey crews have been experimenting with pairing with different fixed-wing platforms for the escort insertion missions, including turboprop light attack planes. You can read more about this in this past piece of ours.

Regardless, here are some gorgeous shots of the Missouri-based A-10s escorting Ospreys during training around Hawaii:

The A-10s presence at MCAS Kaneohe Bay is slated to last into the first week on March. An official advisory reads:

From February 11th to March 2nd, there will be an increase in aircraft activity aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii.  Oahu residents may see and hear increased aircraft activity surrounding the base. Maintenance may occur overnight to ensure the safe operation of all aircraft.  

The increase of aircraft activity is in support of the installation producing readiness for our service members stationed and or visiting the installation. 

The U.S. Air Force’s 442d Fighter Wing will be deployed to the base and supporting U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force unit training aboard the P?HAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawai‘i.We truly appreciate the understanding and continued support of local communities for our service members and their mission.

Oahu has seen a major uptick in military aircraft exercises as of late, some of which are more publicized and others. Most notably, the B-2 Spirit force has started to make Hickam Air Force Base a temporary home as of late. This has resulted in some incredible photos too, but let's hope we get some more pics and maybe even some videos of the 'Hog's visit to paradise!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Photo Gallery: Mercedes-AMG and Cigarette Racing’s New 41’ AMG Carbon Edition

Mercedes-AMG and Cigarette Racing unveiled the "41’ AMG Carbon Edition" at the 2019 Miami International Boat Show on Friday. The larger-than-life speedboat commemorates 12 years of the partnership between the German automaker and Cigarette Racing, the popular boatmaker known for its high-tech and grandiose watercraft.

This year's build is a 41-foot-long behemoth built largely out of carbon fiber, hence the 41' AMG Carbon Edition name, and powered by four Mercury Racing 400R outboard engines that generate a whopping 1,600 horsepower. According to Mercedes-AMG, the hull of the vessel uses an innovative sandwich construction with carbon-fiber structural laminates on both sides of a lightweight core, allowing a more rigid structure that weighs considerably less. The deck, rudder, roof lining, and hardtop are also made out of—you guessed—carbon fiber.

"For twelve years we have been exploring the limits of performance on land and at sea with Cigarette Racing. Inspired by the incredible new Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4- door Coupe, the 41’ AMG Carbon Edition impresses with its extremely high performance and its expressive design," said Tobias Moers, chairman of Mercedes-AMG.

The 41' Carbon Edition weighs about 500 pounds less thanks to its lightweight construction, which Cigarette Racing claims severely improves handling during high-speed maneuvers.

The speedboat's earthly counterpart is the Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4-door coupe, which rocks a hand-built AMG 4.0-litre V-8 biturbo engine that produces 630 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. A customized G3 S was also on display at the Miami Boat show, proudly wearing a livery that matched that of the 41' Carbon Edition.

"The new Cigarette Racing boat underlines the current brand aesthetics of Mercedes- AMG, which makes the passion for aesthetics and power noticeable. The strong brand graphics become symbolic for this experience,” said Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Daimler AG. "Thus, the Performance Luxury by AMG can also be experienced at sea.”

Uber Lost $1.8 Billion in 2018 Despite Record Ride-Hailing, Food-Delivery Gains

Uber posted $50 billion in bookings for its ride-hailing and food-delivery services in 2018. However, the company still failed to turn a profit and its revenue growth slowed toward the end of last year, reports Reuters. That's bad news for Uber as the company looks to charm investors into an initial public offering (IPO) later this year.

Annual bookings were up 45 percent over 2017, according to Uber. Even then, the company's losses before taxes, depreciation, and other expenses still totaled $1.8 billion, down from the $2.2 billion loss the company posted in 2017. Uber's full-year revenue for 2018 was $11.3 billion, an increase of 43 percent from 2017.

Uber also said that gross bookings for the fourth quarter of 2018 reached a record $14.2 billion. That represents an increase of 11 percent over the previous quarter, and a major improvement from the single-digit increases posted over much of last year, noted Reuters. But Uber's reported fourth-quarter revenue of $3 billion was just two percent higher than the previous quarter, albeit also a 24-percent increase over the same period in 2017.

Uber has made a practice of publishing selected financial figures for the past several quarters rather than full financial results as it anticipates going public. The company filed for an IPO in December, shortly after Lyft made its own filing. The two rivals are now racing to become the first ride-hailing company to launch an IPO. The results of that first IPO will be a referendum on the ride-hailing industry.

Ride-hailing has been touted as the future of transportation, and Uber's reliance on freelance drivers eliminates many of the costs associated with more traditional transportation services. But despite not having to pay running costs for a fleet of cars or benefits for drivers, Uber is still losing money. The company also faces increased competition from Lyft and international rivals like China's Didi Chuxing and India's Ola, and is still working to rebuild its self-driving car program after a fatal crash.

Uber was the first ride-hailing company, and it remains the largest. That prominence, as well as past scandals, have made Uber a target for criticism. That being said, many of the issues related to Uber, such as driver wages and its services' contribution to traffic congestion, also apply to other ride-hailing companies. Uber's success or failure in going public could set a precedent for the entire industry.

Man Sleeps Through His Car Getting Stolen and Crashed While in the Back Seat

Delaware musician Justin Koerner might just win an award for the world's soundest sleeper.

Koerner left a jam session early in Newark to nap in his Ford Escape as he had things to do early the next morning, reports the Delaware News Journal. His buddies kept playing inside, and Koerner left his Escape turned on as he crawled into the back seat to snooze.

His dreams were anything but sweet, as Koerner told the News Journal, "I had a weird dream that somebody sat on my head and that somebody jumped into the front seat of my car. It was all very surreal."

Turns out, that part wasn't a dream. Two men hopped into Koerner's Escape—one in the driver's seat, and one in the back with Koerner—to steal the car.

Koerner even woke up briefly to make some corrections behind the wheel and then fell back asleep, not waking up until the Ford had crashed into someone's lawn.

The video of his play-by-play description is sadly non-embeddable on our side, but is worth the watch at the News Journal's page here. I thought I was a heavy sleeper for that one time I fell asleep standing up in math class, but Koerner's description of waking up mid-carjack but not being fully awake enough to stop them from crashing it is surreal.

Worse yet, he wasn't quite sure what had happened when he woke up to people pointing at him as if he had been the one who crashed the car. Koerner connected the scene he woke up to with his "dream" when he saw one of his tires was down, a bush that had been driven into, and the skidmarks into the home's yard.

At first, not even the police were buying his story because there were (naturally) a lot of holes in Koerner's recollection. He passed a sobriety test, but was still looking at an indefinite detention until a neighbor's camera footage showed the real carjackers hopping into Koerner's car from a grey Chevrolet Suburban.

"It was a ridiculous situation," Koerner told the News-Journal. "It was like the Shawshank Redemption of GTA."

Anyone with additional information on the theft of Koerner's car is asked to contact Newark police at 302-366-7100, ext. 3427.

[H/T Autoblog]

Bunker Talk: Let’s Chat About All The Stories We Did And Didn’t Report On This Week

This has been one of the wildest weeks on this site in memory. And frankly, after days of nights bleeding into mornings and mornings bleeding into nights, with random naps thrown in to get where we needed to go, I have nothing left in the tank. So I am going to keep this really short.

The Bunker is open!

This is a weekend open discussion post for the best commenting crew on the net, in which we can chat about all the stuff that went on this week that we didn't get to. In other words, literally an off-topic thread.

You guys know what to do.

Discuss!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

That USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint Caribbean Spy Flight Was Far More Common Than Most Think

For weeks now, Venezuela has been in the grips of a political battle between President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who the United States and dozens of other countries have recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state. The plane spotting community is now among those intently watching the situation for signs of curious air traffic, or a potential U.S. military intervention. So, it certainly turned heads when a U.S. Air Force RC-135V Rivet Joint spy plane made an unusually public appearance recently in the Caribbean Sea. But Rivet Joint missions in the region are more common than many people might know and this sortie may not necessarily have been related to the crisis in Venezuela at all.

Expert military aviation tracker and friend of The War Zone @aircraftspots was first to notice the RC-135V, serial number 63-9792, using the callsign Gismo 84, in the Caribbean on Feb. 14, 2019. The airliner-sized intelligence gathering platform subsequently linked up with a KC-10A Extender tanker, Spur 57. This isn’t uncommon for Rivet Joint flights, which can be many hours long as the planes fly long tracks close to target areas gathering valuable intelligence.

Rivet Joints, which include the RC-135Vs, as well as the functionally equivalent RC-135Ws, are among the most capable aerial intelligence gathering platforms the Air Force has at present. The aircraft fly with crews of more than 26 individuals and can perform a variety of task simultaneously.

The aircraft have powerful signals intelligence suites that allow them to detect and listen in on enemy communications, as well as geolocate those transmitters. Among the Crypto Linguists onboard, there will be individuals who are fluent in various languages relevant to the mission at hand so that they can begin analyzing the content of what the plane’s sensors pick up immediately. Other personnel man stations to categorize the emitters and keep an eye out for anything new or unusual.

An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint.

Lastly, electronic warfare officers can use the same signals intelligence systems to geolocate and categorize radars and other systems associated with integrated air defenses, allowing the Rivet Joints to help build a so-called “Electronic Order of Battle” of enemy or potentially hostile forces in a given area. In the lead up to the U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria in April 2018, Rivet Joints flew regularly off the coast of that country to grab the latest information about the Syrian military’s air defense posture. The information gathered is essential to allied combat mission planning, greatly enhancing the survivability of manned tactical aircraft, cruise missiles, and drones.

A robust array of data links and communications systems allow the RC-135s to send information back to base, to regional command centers, or forces on the ground, in near real time. Altogether, the Rivet Joints have an impressive mix of highly-proven strategic and tactical surveillance capabilities.

An official graphic showing the internal configuration of the RC-135V/W Rivet Joints and the tasks assigned to the various members of the crew. The not at the bottom refers to the plane's ability to perform

So, it is possible that Gismo 84 might have been heading to a station off the Venezuelan coast to monitor the Maduro regime’s recent deployment of various air defense assets. There have been various sightings of Russian-made S-125 medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, among other anti-aircraft artillery, moving toward the country’s shared border with Colombia, a major U.S. ally that has routinely criticized Maduro. Venezuelan forces also recently conducted what appeared to be an exercise with their long-range S-300VM surface-to-air missile systems, which the country also acquired from Russia.

Venezuela’s very public displays of its air defense capabilities can only be seen as a signal to the United States, in particular, that the country’s military remains loyal to Maduro and is prepared to respond to any American intervention. It’s also part of a broader propaganda push to present the embattled leader as firmly in power.

The RC-135 could have been in the area keeping its electronic ears open for relevant communications chatter, too. The Rivet Joint passed near Cuba, which is one of Maduro’s few supporters in the region. While Cuban authorities are almost certainly advising the Venezuelan leader, some members of the U.S. government have accused Cuban authorities of more actively directing his actions and policies, but so far there is no hard evidence that this is the case. Regardless, the United States would have to be very interested in know what the two countries might be coordinating.

While it was unusual for the Rivet Joint to pop up on public accessible flight tracking software, at least historically, it’s certainly not unusual for the aircraft to be flying in the region. When it comes to Cuba, for instance, Rivet Joints have long flown routes from bases in the United States to gather strategic intelligence about that island, run by a regime that is a long-time American adversary, irrespective of any ties it has to Venezuela. These sorties were, at least for a time, were given the nickname Bitter Wind.

Mention of Bitter Wind

RC-135s, flying from sites in the United States and forward bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Dutch island of Curaçao, also routinely take part in counter-narcotics operations in Central and South America. Beyond Bitter Wind, we know that intelligence gathering sorties as part of missions nicknamed Beach Wind, Seminole Wind, and Shula Wind have all taken place in or around Central or South America thanks to documents the author previously obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

Front to back, two US Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) radar planes, an RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, and two KC-135R Tankers at the US forward operating location on the Dutch island of Curaçao.

RQ-4 Global Hawk flights nicknamed Beach Axe have occurred in areas under the purview of both U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Northern Command. The former oversees operations in Central and South American, as well as the Caribbean, while the latter is responsible for the area around the United States itself, as well as Canada and Mexico.

A portion of the table of contents from a 2009 US Air Force internal history describing various Global Hawk missions, including Beach Axe and Seminole Axe

The Air Force has also nicknamed U-2 Dragon Lady sorties over Colombia, specifically, as Seminole Emerald and Seminole Game. With all this in mind, the Beach Wind missions most likely involved Rivet Joints operating in areas adjacent to the Caribbean, at least in part, while Seminole Wind missions may have involved flights directly over Colombia.

Mention of Seminole Game multi-intelligence" U-2 flights over Colombia, as well as Lake Game flights over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, from a 2010 US Air Force internal history. The Lake Game missions were in support of the humanitarian response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which also impacted the neighboring Dominican Republic to a lesser extent." />

Beyond intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, the U.S. Air Force also regularly deploys a wide variety of combat aircraft, even including B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the Caribbean to support counter-drug operations. These missions, which you can read about in more detail here, are billed as training exercises that give aircrews a unique opportunity to search for and track real-world targets in a maritime environment.

Also, on Feb. 14, 2019, @CivMilAir, another active online plane tracker and friend to The War Zone spotted a B-52 making a somewhat unusual flight over Florida. Gismo 84 and this bomber might have been part of a larger surge of assets to support a particular counter-narcotics operation.

In August 2016, the Air Force took part in a similar effort, known as Operation Big Week. This involved the deployment of B-1s, B-52s, E-8C Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) battlefield management command and control aircraft, among other assets, in the Caribbean.

None of this is to say that increased attention from plane spotters on the region due to the crisis in Venezuela hasn’t uncovered curious and suspicious aerial activity. But it has also shone a light on the extensive and routine, if largely unpublicized activities of U.S. government aircraft, including U.S. military planes, across Latin America, as well.

So, Gismo 84’s trip into the Caribbean could have been tied to the crisis in Venezuela, but it may well have been just business as usual.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Photos Show F-14 Used In Top Gun 2 Production Snared In Carrier’s Crash Barricade

Just yesterday, we reported that the F-14 Tomcat used in the production of Top Gun 2, as well as Tom Cruise, were spotted aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Now, new photos have come to light showing that same aircraft entangled in the ship's crash barricade. As we noted in our previous piece, this is the first time a Tomcat has been on the deck of an operational U.S. Navy carrier in years. In addition, we have also obtained more information on where this particular Tomcat, which is now dressed-up for the film with phoenix-like insignias, came from.

The fact that the F-14 is set up to appear as if it made an emergency landing into the ship's barricade indicates that this is likely the culmination of a tense action sequence in the film. The barricade is a nylon net that is attached to the ship's arresting gear system that 'catches' a stricken airplane that cannot, or has a very low probability of, 'trapping' normally aboard the ship by catching one its arresting wires.

The ship's barricade risers are erected on the USS Theodore Roosevelt during Top Gun 2 two production.

The barricade is also used if an aircraft has only one shot at landing and there are no other divert airfields available that it can safely make it to. The usual alternative to a barricade engagement is an ejection, a dangerous affair that is even more perilous out in the open ocean and especially in bad weather conditions. An ejection also means the total loss of an aircraft, the airframe that may be packed with packed with sensitive technologies sinking to the ocean floor.

You can read more about the barricade and watch other videos of it in action by checking out this past article of mine.

It's worth clarifying again that this aircraft is not flyable. There are no flyable Tomcats anywhere in the world outside of Iran. Getting one back in the air in the U.S. would be nearly impossible due to bureaucratic red tape and cost, among other factors.

As for the origins of the Tomcat used in the production, the jet is F-14A #159631, the 178th Tomcat Grumman built, which has called the San Diego Air And Space Museum's Gillespie Field Annex in El Cajon home for years.

F-14A #159631 at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California.

Multiple sources have told us the elements had taken their toll on the jet, which has sat outside for years. It was in need of restoration with certain components showing alarming signs of corrosion. Clearly, lending the plane to star in Top Gun 2 would give the beleaguered airframe stardom unlike any other Tomcat that calls a museum or gate guard position home. Lending the jet to be used in the movie would turn the F-14 in need of help into a top attraction and the production budget of the film clearly helped clean it up for shooting.

With that in mind, the phoenix symbols now painted on its airframe sort of have a second meaning outside the movie's plot. This retired plane was really given a second shot at life and will surely be treasured going forward.

We will continue to give you updates as Top Gun production aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt unfolds. Stay tuned!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

The Ford Mustang Could Score a New, More Powerful Turbo Engine in 2020

A vehicle identification number document filed by Ford with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests that Ford could offer a third, more powerful turbocharged engine, according to a report by Hagerty. The VIN paperwork is for the 2020 model year so Ford could be about to announce a new, third engine choice in the regular, non-Shelby Mustang.

You can view the relevant chunk of the VIN decoder sheet Ford filed with the NHTSA over on Hagerty's website here, which shows the existing options for Mustang engines as well as a new "D" for a 2.3-liter inline four, listed as "TBA" in horsepower. The other new engine option for next year, per Bozi Tatarevic, the Hagerty writer who spotted the new turbocharged VIN registration, is the J on the sheet, which is the GT500 5.2L V-8.

(Curiously, the sheet also lists the current V8 option as producing 435 hp instead of 460, but errors on VIN registration sheets are relatively common, Tatarevic told The Drive. In other words, I wouldn't panic about a neutered GT V8 based on this doc.)

According to unnamed sources at Ford who spoke with Hagerty, this new "D" engine is likely a higher-power variant of the current EcoBoost engine, tuned for more performance than the current base-model Mustang offers in 2019. While no exact figures were mentioned for what TBA could be, the Focus RS gets 350 hp from a slightly modified version of the same EcoBoost engine, and that would be just enough of a boost over the 335 hp V6 Chevrolet Camaro to make sense.

Ford dropped its base V-6 Mustang from its lineup this year in light of the fact that the fact that the 310-hp EcoBoost model, which came with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, was only $1,000 more for a significant bump in power. The only other engine choice is the V-8 that comes in the GT trim, which is an $8,960 jump in price, not to mention a big jump up to 460 horsepower.

There's clearly room for something in the middle, and not offering a middle option isn't a good look when the Chevrolet Camaro offers a range of three engine options—including a middle V-6-powered Camaro with 25 more horsepower than the EcoBoost Mustang.

A Ford spokesman would not comment on the matter to Hagerty, telling them that the company "is always elevating Mustang and will share more exciting news this spring." That being said, this is one Mustang rumor that makes decent business sense, and the VIN sheet seems to back up that it could happen.

Boeing Is Building Big Orca Drone Subs For The Navy To Hunt And Lay Mines And More

The U.S. Navy has hired Boeing to build four Orca extra-large unmanned undersea vehicles, or XLUUVs. The service plans to use the Orcas to explore and refine future concepts of operation for underwater drones of this size, which could include gathering intelligence, emplacing or clearing naval mines, attacking other ships or submarines, conducting stand-off strikes, and more.

The Pentagon announced that the Navy had awarded Boeing the contract for the Orcas, worth $43 million, in its daily service-wide contracting announcement on Feb. 13, 2019. Separately, the Chicago-headquartered defense contractor said it is partnering with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls on the project in a Tweet on Feb. 15, 2019.

“The Orca XLUUV will be modular in construction with the core vehicle providing guidance and control, navigation, autonomy, situational awareness, core communications, power distribution, energy and power, propulsion and maneuvering, and mission sensors,” the Pentagon announcement said. It “will have well-defined interfaces for the potential of implementing cost-effective upgrades in future increments to leverage advances in technology and respond to threat changes.”

In 2017, the Navy awarded XLUUV developmental contracts to both Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The latter firm had proposed a vehicle with a shape more in line with an enlarged torpedo.

An artist's conception of Lockheed Martin's Orca proposal.

Boeing’s Orca design has a boxier hullform more akin to a small submarine and is derived from an earlier private venture known as Echo Voyager. This XLUUV was itself an evolution of previous work done the company had done on large unmanned undersea vehicles called Echo Seeker and Echo Ranger.

The most obvious difference between the Echo Voyager and the new Orca, at least based on Boeing’s concept art, is the replacement of the earlier undersea drone’s propeller with a shrouded propulsor. This improves propulsion efficiency and reduces noise, the latter factor being especially important for underwater military craft, where silence is essential to survival. Many modern military submarines, including the U.S. Navy’s Seawolf- and Virginia-classes, have similar propulsors for exactly this reason.

Otherwise, it looks likely that the new Orcas will borrow significantly from the 51-foot long, 50-ton Echo Voyager’s design, including its modular payload bays. The Orca’s basic performance may be similar, as well.

Boeing experimental Echo Voyager.

The diesel-electric Echo Voyager has a maximum speed of around nine miles per hour underwater and can dive to depths up to 11,000 feet deep. Its batteries give it range of more than 150 miles at a speed of around 3 miles per hour, before it needs to surface and use its air-breathing diesel generator to recharge.

Boeing has said that Echo Voyager could carry enough fuel to allow it to operate autonomously for up to six months at a time, covering total ranges of around 7,500 miles. With just one fuel module in its modular payload bays, it would still have a full range of more than 6,500 miles. It has its own sonar-enabled obstacle avoidance system, as well as an inertial navigation system.

Orca may also leverage experience Huntington Ingalls gained while working on its own large unmanned undersea vehicle project, called Proteus, in cooperation with Bluefin Robotics and Battelle. Proteus is a significantly smaller vehicle, though, at around 25 feet long, and is limited capability-wise compared to Echo-Voyager
.

The range and payload capacity of Boeing’s earlier design would have already made it attractive to the Navy, which has been actively looking at potential missions for a drone submarine of this size since at least 2000. That year, the service issued its first unmanned undersea vehicle strategy white paper.

In 2004, it released a new Unmanned Undersea Vehicle “master plan.” As of 2011, there was reportedly yet another update to the overarching strategy, but it has remained classified. But public briefings since then have shown that the Navy’s plans for future XLUUVs remain largely unchanged.

A US Navy briefing slide from October 2018, outlining unmanned undersea vehicle plans in the near- and long-term. The concept art of notional XLUUV configurations has been around since at least 2017.

Orca’s immediate mission will likely be mine and counter-mine warfare. The threat of naval mines is only increasing and proliferating to even non-state actors. The Navy itself recognizes the value these weapons would have in various operational scenarios and is looking to expand its own capabilities in that regard, which you can read about more here.

The Navy already uses much smaller unmanned undersea vehicles to scout for hostile mines without necessarily having to put manned ships at risk. Even the relatively large Orca would be better able to get into harder to reach areas, especially narrow and shallow waterways, where traditional minesweepers simply may not be able to maneuver.

With their endurance and autonomy, multiple Orcas could help clear a broader area in less time, as well. Naval mine hunting and sweeping have historically been a slow and painstaking affair that would be especially difficult to do rapidly under enemy fire.

The ability of the Orcas to operate across extended ranges and do so autonomously and discreetly, means they offer a novel way to deploy mines, as well. The underwater drones could not only help set up maritime minefields quickly within strategic chokepoints, but they could also potentially penetrate into denied areas well away from conflict zones to threaten enemy ports, shipyards, and other facilities.

A US Navy graphic from 2004 describing potential XLUUV payloads, including mines and mine-neutralizing systems.

This could include seeding mines in rivers and canals, as well. This kind of distributed mine warfare could only hamper the free movement of hostile naval forces, disrupt maritime logistics chains, and otherwise force an opponent to diverse limited resources to protecting rear areas.

These same qualities also open up the potential for a far greater array of missions in the future. If Orca can slip into enemy territory to plant mines, it can also do so to gather intelligence, already a well-established mission for larger manned submarines. It might also be able to act as a decoy, mimicking the signature of larger ships or submarines. The Navy has expressed an interest in finding a way for XLUUVs to carry electronic warfare packages to otherwise blind enemy sensors to incoming threats, but it is hard to see how this would work unless they're while running on the surface or very close to the surface.

Beyond that, there’s the possibility that the Orcas, or a follow-on XLUUV design, could carry weapons themselves to carry out attacks on surface ships or submarines. The Echo Voyager’s payload bay was already large enough to accommodate light and heavyweight torpedoes and Boeing says that design could accept external payloads, as well.

Combined with their autonomous capability and long range, packs of future XLUUVs networked together might also be able to persistently monitor and track potential threats, such as increasingly advanced Russia or Chinese submarines, holding them perpetually at risk across a broad region, such the Pacific. This is a mission the Navy has also envisioned for its future fleets of unmanned surface vessels. The service would require an underwater drone that could travel much faster than Orca to adequately perform this particular mission, though.

Lastly, Orcas might even eventually be able to launch strikes against targets ashore using stand-off cruise missiles. The Navy has described the ability for underwater drones to rapidly and discreetly position themselves close to a crisis area could make them valuable for time-sensitive strikes. It has also said that in the past that this particular mission set is a relatively low priority for XLUUVs.

Another US Navy graphic describing potential time-critical strike missions for future XLUUVs and how they might carry the stand-off weapons.

The Navy’s ongoing plans for an over-arching network architecture, part of which is known as the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), that will link all of its ships, submarines aircraft, and other assets, means that XLUUVs might perform any combination of these missions in direct cooperation with manned platforms, as well. It also means that a group of the underwater drones might include various versions carrying only sensors packages or just weapons, to maximum payload space while working together as a team.

The Orcas are also set to be a stepping stone in the Navy's plans for what it calls Large Diameter Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (LDUUV) that submarines such as the Virginia-class could launch and recover much closer to the actual target area. The service is working on concepts for more robust submarine motherships as part of its Large Payload Submarine program, which you can read about more here.

There's nothing to say that the Orca, or a future XLUUV, couldn't work in conjunction with a submarine mothership either. Using a larger, manned platform to deploy any sort of large underwater drone would let designers trade range for added payload capacity. The arrangement would also allow the unmanned vehicle to loiter in and around the target area for a longer period f time, which could be very useful for intelligence missions.

The Navy does not have a fixed schedule for when XLUUVs like the Orcas might actually take on any of these missions operationally. But the four drone submarines will give the service the test force it needs to fully explore the capabilities of this new category of craft.

In 2017, it stood up its first ever dedicated unmanned undersea vehicle unit, Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron One (UUVRON 1), specifically to take the lead in the development and testing of craft such as the Orca. The Pentagon’s contracting announcement says that Boeing and its partners will have built all four Orcas by 2022.

If this schedule holds, the next few years look to be an exciting time for the Navy and the development of new and impressive undermanned undersea capabilities.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

MIT Claims New Tech Could Help Self-Driving Cars ‘See’ Through Fog and Dust

Most self-driving car testing takes place in places like California, Arizona, and Nevada, and there's a reason for that. The sensors these cars rely on to navigate are less reliable in poor weather and other low-visibility conditions. But MIT claims to be developing new tech that could help with that.

MIT's experimental sensor reads radiation at sub-terahertz wavelengths, which are between microwave and infrared radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. That means they can be detected through fog and dust, according to MIT. The lidar sensors used in most autonomous cars currently testing on public roads rely on infrared wavelengths, which are more likely to be disrupted in those conditions, MIT claims.

But sub-terahertz sensors have some drawbacks. The sensors require strong signals to work, and this previously required bulky and expensive equipment, according to MIT. That's why the technology has never been tried in self-driving cars before.

Researchers developed a prototype sub-terahertz sensor that fits on a chip, yet is sensitive enough to provide useful information even in the presence of significant signal noise, MIT claims. That's thanks to what researchers call "decentralization," which relies on an array of individual pixels placed on the chip. They can be used to determine the distance to nearby objects, similar to lidar, but can also be "steered" in a certain direction to enable high-resolution images of the environment, MIT claims.

As with all research, it's worth noting that promising results in the lab may not scale up to a usable real-world product. This sensor tech is one of several recent MIT research projects relevant to self-driving cars. The university also developed an experimental algorithm to help cars execute lane changes and a navigation system for rural roads that may not be well mapped.