Weapons of the War in Afghanistan
|Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, Afghanistan.|
In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day.
Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan.
For our eleventh installment let's take a look at the most common fixed-wing aircraft of the war in Afghanistan. These can be anything from supply & Transport aircraft, to fighter jets and bombers. Fixed-wing aircraft play a large part in the war, dropping precision munitions on enemy ground targets designated by friendlies on the ground.
Part III: The United States (Continued)
C-17 Globemaster III
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is a large military transport aircraft. It was developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) from the 1980s to the early 1990s by McDonnell Douglas. The C-17 carries forward the name of two previous piston-engined military cargo aircraft, the Douglas C-74 Globemaster and the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. The C-17 commonly performs tactical and strategic airlift missions, transporting troops and cargo throughout the world; additional roles include medical evacuation and airdrop duties. It was designed to replace the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, and also fulfill some of the duties of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, freeing the C-5 fleet for outsize cargo.
Boeing, which merged with McDonnell Douglas in the 1990s, continued to manufacture C-17s for export customers following the end of deliveries to the U.S. Air Force. Aside from the United States, the C-17 is in service with the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, NATO Heavy Airlift Wing, India, and Kuwait. The final C-17 was completed at the Long Beach, California, plant and flown on 29 November 2015.
The C-17 is 174 feet long and has a wingspan of about 170 feet. It can airlift cargo fairly close to a battle area. The size and weight of U.S. mechanized firepower and equipment have grown in recent decades from increased air mobility requirements, particularly for large or heavy non-palletized outsize cargo.
The C-17 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines, which are based on the commercial Pratt and Whitney PW2040 used on the Boeing 757. Each engine is rated at 40,400 lbf of thrust. The engine's thrust reversers direct engine exhaust air upwards and forward, reducing the chances of foreign object damage by ingestion of runway debris, and providing enough reverse thrust to back the aircraft up on the ground while taxiing. The thrust reversers can also be used in flight at idle-reverse for added drag in maximum-rate descents. In vortex surfing tests performed by C-17s, up to 10% fuel savings were reported.
For cargo operations the C-17 requires a crew of three: pilot, copilot, and loadmaster. The cargo compartment is 88 feet long by 18 feet wide by 12 feet 4 inches high. The cargo floor has rollers for palletized cargo but it can be flipped to provide a flat floor suitable for vehicles and other rolling stock. Cargo is loaded through a large aft ramp that accommodates rolling stock, such as a 69-ton M1 Abrams main battle tank, other armored vehicles, trucks, and trailers, along with palletized cargo.
Maximum payload of the C-17 is 170,900 lb, and its maximum takeoff weight is 585,000 lb. With a payload of 160,000 lb and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 ft, the C-17 has an unrefueled range of about 2,400 nautical miles on the first 71 aircraft, and 2,800 nautical miles on all subsequent extended-range models that include a sealed center wing bay as a fuel tank. Boeing informally calls these aircraft the C-17 ER. The C-17's cruise speed is about 450 knots (Mach 0.74). It is designed to airdrop 102 paratroopers and their equipment.
The C-17 is designed to operate from runways as short as 3,500 ft and as narrow as 90 ft. In addition, the C-17 can operate from unpaved, unimproved runways (although with greater chance of damage to the aircraft). The thrust reversers can be used to move the aircraft backwards and reverse direction on narrow taxiways using a three- (or more) point turn. The plane is designed for 20 man-hours of maintenance per flight hour, and a 74% mission availability rate.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet and related twin-seat F/A-18F are twin-engine carrier-capable multirole fighter aircraft variants based on the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The F/A-18E single-seat and F/A-18F tandem-seat variants are larger and more advanced derivatives of the F/A-18C and D Hornet. The Super Hornet has an internal 20 mm M61 rotary cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. Additional fuel can be carried in up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air refueling system.
Designed and initially produced by McDonnell Douglas, the Super Hornet first flew in 1995. Full-rate production began in September 1997, after the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing the previous month. The Super Hornet entered service with the United States Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006; the Super Hornet serves alongside the original Hornet.
The Hornet and Super Hornet share many characteristics, including avionics, ejection seats, radar, armament, mission computer software, and maintenance/operating procedures. The Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft at about 20% larger, 7,000 lb heavier empty weight, and 15,000 lb heavier maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33% more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% over the "Legacy" Hornet. The empty weight of the Super Hornet is about 11,000 lb less than that of the F-14 Tomcat which it replaced, while approaching, but not matching, the F-14's payload and range. As the Super Hornet is significantly heavier than the "legacy" Hornet, the catapult and arresting systems must be set differently. To aid safe flight operations and prevent confusion in radio calls, the Super Hornet is informally referred to as the "Rhino" to distinguish it from earlier Hornets.
The Super Hornet, unlike the previous Hornet, is designed so it can be equipped with an aerial refueling system (ARS) or "buddy store" for the refueling of other aircraft, filling the tactical airborne tanker role the Navy had lost with the retirement of the KA-6D and Lockheed S-3B Viking tankers. The ARS includes an external 330 US gal tank with hose reel on the centerline, along with four external 480 US gal tanks and internal tanks, for a total of 29,000 lb of fuel on the aircraft. On typical missions a fifth of the air wing is dedicated to the tanker role, which consumes aircraft fatigue life expectancy faster than other missions.
On 8 September 2006, VFA-211 F/A-18F Super Hornets expended GBU-12 and GBU-38 bombs against Taliban fighters and Taliban fortifications west and northwest of Kandahar. This was the first time the unit had participated in an active combat capacity using the Super Hornet.
During the 2006–2007 cruise with Dwight D. Eisenhower, VFA-103 and VFA-143 supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and operations off the Somali coast. Alongside "Legacy Hornet" squadrons, VFA-131 and VFA-83, they dropped 140 precision guided weapons and performed nearly 70 strafing runs.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol, and aerial firefighting. It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. Over forty models and variants of the Hercules, including a civilian one marketed as Lockheed L-100, operate in more than sixty nations.
The C-130 entered service with the U.S. in the 1950s, followed by Australia and others. During its years of service, the Hercules family has participated in numerous military, civilian and humanitarian aid operations. In 2007, the C-130 became the fifth aircraft—after the English Electric Canberra, B-52 Stratofortress, Tu-95, and KC-135 Stratotanker—to mark 50 years of continuous service with its original primary customer, in this case, the United States Air Force. The C-130 Hercules is the longest continuously produced military aircraft at over 60 years, with the updated Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules being produced today.
During the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the ongoing support of the International Security Assistance Force (Operation Enduring Freedom), the C-130 Hercules has been used operationally by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, the UK and the United States.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom), the C-130 Hercules was used operationally by Australia, the UK and the United States. After the initial invasion, C-130 operators as part of the Multinational force in Iraq used their C-130s to support their forces in Iraq.
Since 2004, the Pakistan Air Force has employed C-130s in the War in North-West Pakistan. Some variants had forward looking infrared (FLIR Systems Star Safire III EO/IR) sensor balls, to enable close tracking of Islamist militants.
C-130J Super Hercules
The Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. The C-130J is a comprehensive update of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, with new engines, flight deck, and other systems. The Hercules family has the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. During more than 60 years of service, the family has participated in military, civilian, and humanitarian aid operations. The Hercules has outlived several planned successor designs, most notably the Advanced Medium STOL Transport contestants. Fifteen nations have placed orders for a total of 300 C-130Js, of which 250 aircraft have been delivered as of February 2012.
The C-130J is the newest version of the Hercules and the only model still in production. Externally similar to the classic Hercules in general appearance, the J-model features considerably updated technology. These differences include new Rolls-Royce AE 2100 D3 turboprops with Dowty R391 composite scimitar propellers, digital avionics (including head-up displays (HUDs) for each pilot), and reduced crew requirements. These changes have improved performance over its C-130E/H predecessors, such as 40% greater range, 21% higher maximum speed, and 41% shorter takeoff distance. The J-model is available in a standard-length or stretched -30 variant.
As a cargo and airlift aircraft, the C-130J's crew includes two pilots and one loadmaster (no navigator or flight engineer), while specialized USAF variants (e.g., AC-130J, EC-130J, MC-130J, HC-130J, WC-130J) may have larger crews, such as navigators/Combat Systems Officers or other specialized officer and enlisted air crew. The U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J uses a crew chief for expeditionary operations. The C-130J's cargo compartment is approximately 41 feet long, 9 feet high, and 10 feet wide, and loading is from the rear of the fuselage. The aircraft can also be configured with the "enhanced cargo handling system". The system consists of a computerized loadmaster's station from which the user can remotely control the under-floor winch and also configure the flip-floor system to palletized roller or flat-floor cargo handling. Initially developed for the USAF, this system enables rapid role changes to be carried out and so extends the C-130J's time available to complete taskings.
In mid-June 2008, the United States Air Force awarded a $470 million contract to Lockheed Martin for six modified KC-130J aircraft for use by the Air Force and Special Operations Command. The contract led to C-130J variants that will replace aging HC-130s and MC-130s. The HC-130J Combat King II personnel recovery aircraft completed developmental testing on 14 March 2011. The final test point was air-to-air refueling, and was the first ever boom refueling of a C-130 where the aircraft’s refueling receiver was installed during aircraft production. This test procedure also applied to the MC-130J Combat Shadow II aircraft in production for Air Force Special Operations Command.
With the addition of the Marine Corps's ISR / Weapon Mission Kit, the KC-130J tanker variant will be able to serve as an overwatch aircraft and can deliver ground support fire in the form of Hellfire or Griffin missiles, precision-guided bombs, and eventually 30mm cannon fire in a later upgrade. This capability, designated as "Harvest HAWK" (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit), can be used in scenarios where precision is not a requisite, such as area denial. The aircraft retains its original capabilities in refueling and transportation. The entire system can be removed within a day if necessary.
The Super Hercules has been used extensively by the USAF and USMC in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canada has also deployed its CC-130J aircraft to Afghanistan.
|Shawn Garlow in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.|
For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:
For Use of Photos by Shawn Garlow
Labels: 1-26 INF, Afghanistan, C-130, C-130J, C-17, Cactus Tactical, F/A-18E/F, Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Kunar province, Operation Enduring Freedom, War In Afghanistan, Weapons of War