Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Bell ARH-70 was in line to replace the aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior series of light armed reconnaissance helicopters for the US Army

In an effort to keep production and acquisition costs down for the US Army, the project attempted to develop a product using existing yet proven components. The Bell ARH was born from this requirement and was essentially a militarized form of the successful civilian-minded Bell 407 product. The new helicopter system shared a visible resemblance to the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior it intended to replace. The ARH-70 came about from the US Army's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program after the official cancellation of the stealth-minded, two-seat RAH-66 Comanche light attack helicopter. Initial production forms would have been given the designation of ARH-70A.

The Bell ARH-70 helicopter was developed for the US Army as a possible direct replacement to the successful but aged Kiowa Warrior series of light armed reconnaissance mounts.

The RAH-66 Comanche

The RAH-66 Comanche proved something of an embarrassment for the US Army. Development of this platform had now stemmed multiple decades with little to show for the endeavor. It was reasoned (and rightfully so) that continued support of the program - as promising as it may have been on paper - was to only skyrocket financially beyond scope. As such, the fledgling program was axed in 2004 in favor of upgrading existing fleets of still-viable platforms such as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior or the MH-6 "Little Bird".

The Call Goes Out

In December of 2004, the requirement was sent out by the US Army and interested parties responded with their proposals. Chief among the returns was the Bell Model 407 (billed as an upgraded OH-58 Kiowa Warrior) and a Boeing response (essentially an upgraded MH-6 "Little Bird"). Bell eventually won out and was awarded the multi-billion dollar production contract on July 29th, 2005. The contract called for some 368 production examples and required two prototypes along with two preproduction samples, this later changed to require four pre-production worthy examples instead.


First flight of a demonstrator ARH was achieved on June 3rd, 2005. Further flights ensued and ultimately included additional avionics, mission-specific systems and the selected Honeywell HTS900-2 series turboshaft engine. The engine was trialed only on demonstrators and on the ground to verify its base qualities to this point. After some program delays, the first true ARH-70 prototype (Prototype #2) went airborne on July 20th, 2006, less than one year since the awarding of the Army contract. Prototype #4 was of note for it was forced to make a crash landing at a gold course after suffering an engine failure, this recorded on February 21st, 2007. Though neither of the pilots was harmed in the crash, the airframe was deemed a complete loss and a setback for the ARH program.

Ballooning Costs

Ultimately, delays and product costs soon crept up on the ARH-70. The US Army halted the project for the time being, giving Bell one month to get its act in order. For the interim, Bell used its own money to further develop the systems until the US Army agreed to pick up the project once again by the middle of 2007. The rising costs forced an automatic and direct DoD review of the program under the existing Nunn-McCurdy Act. In the 2008 Defense Budget, no money was deviated to furthering the ARH-70. A final attempt to offer the ARH-70 as an export product to help recover some cost fell to naught and the ARH-70 remained in limbo for the time being. At one point, it was expected that some 512 total systems could be purchased by the US military alone, the additional examples over the original agreed upon total being delivered for use by the Army National Guard to replace their aged AH-64 Apaches.

End of the Road

The ARH-70 program proved too much to be a viable option for the US Army, despite the mount reaching all required performance parameters. The Army Acquisition Executive Office for Aviation called for the DoD contract to be terminated in full. The US Department of Defense officially acknowledged the request and did not promote the multi-million dollar expenditure to the US Congress, effectively killing hope for Bell and their new little machine. By this time, a single ARH-70 example had nearly doubled in per-unit cost to an estimated $14.5 million USD. According to Bell, the contract was 53 percent complete at the time of its cancellation on October 16th, 2008, with some 1,500 test flight hours having been recorded.

ARH-70 Walk-Around

Design of the ARH-70 followed suit with the OH-58 series family of light helicopters. The two-man crew was seated in a side-by-side arrangement well-forward in the fuselage. Each position featured redundant controls and large, transparent, bulging forward windshields offering excellent visibility. Each pilot maintained their own automobile-style doors, hinged at two points forward, for entry and exit into their respective cockpit seats. Optics and special mission equipment could be mounted externally under the chin portion of the fuselage. The passenger cabin was located directly behind the cockpit and accessed via side access doors. Weapon stub pylons emerged from the fuselage underside and could carry limited munitions for an offensive reach. Landing skids were affixed to either fuselage underside and supported at two fixed points. The single engine was fitted high atop the fuselage above and behind the crew cabin. Exhaust jettisoned upwards at the rear of the engine compartment. The engine drove a four-bladed main rotor and a two-bladed tail rotor. The empennage was raised at the rear of the crew cabin and engine compartment, capped by a tall vertical tail fin. Additional vertical fins were set along the sides of the tail system along horizontal planes. The tail rotor was set to face the portside of the aircraft.

Crew accommodations amounted to two pilots in the forward cockpit and up to six passengers in the main cabin.


Power for the ARH-70 was supplied from a single Honeywell HTS900-2 turboshaft engine delivering 970 shaft horsepower. This powerplant could supply the airframe a top speed of 161 miles per hour with a cruise speed of about 130 miles per hour. Her range was listed at 186 miles with a service ceiling equal to 20,000 feet. Empty weight registered at 2,598lbs with a maximum take-off weight equal to 5,000lbs.


As an armed reconnaissance helicopter and as in the OH-58D before it, the ARH-70 was intended to carry a rather modest arrangement of weaponry. Primary hitting power was to be supplied y a 1 x GAU-19 series 0.50 caliber Gatling gun fitted to an outboard pylon as well as Hydra 70 2.75-inch (70mm) rockets, also on an outboard pylon. Additional offense/defense could come from crew-served light weapons that might be fielded by the passengers from the cabin.

The Arapaho Name

Although referred to in a few official media reports under the designation of  'Arapaho', this name was never officially assigned to the ARH-70 product. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The M1/M59 Long Tom could be found in multiple theaters of war during World War 2 and saw action in Korea and Vietnam

When the American military went to Europe in World War 1 in 1917 they were in short supply of just about any war-making implements including that of heavy artillery.

One of the best of the day became the French-made Canon de 155mm GPF heavy gun. At the end of the war, General Pershing had a number of the GFP's brought back stateside to be reviewed and improved upon for use in the United States Army. American Army engineers worked on modifying the existing French-based system and, by 1926, a number of prototypes had been revealed. Work continued off and on (Army funding lacked) into the 1930's and ultimately produced a mating of the original French GFP with a new British breach system - the Asbury. The T4 gun prototype was fitted onto the T2 carriage prototype and entered service as the 155mm Gun M1 on Carriage M1. When the new gun was introduced to American troops they bestowed her with the affectionate name of "Long Tom".

The Army placed an initial quantitative order for 20 Long Toms and several arsenals began production. The main improvements to the original French design were the L/45 modified barrel mounted on the new M1 heavy-split tail carriage using the Asbury breach.

The carriage had four double-tired road wheels mounted at the front end of the carriage, two sets to either carriage side. This placement acted as the stability point between the weight of the gun and the carriage and made the firing gun more accurate. Additional upgrades to the gun required the model designation to be changed to the "M1A1" (modified breech ring) in 1941 and, by 1944, continuing production changes ultimately birthed the "M2" designation (again, modified breech ring). The M1A1E1 became a prototype with a chromium-plated bore while the M1A1E3 was another prototype featuring liquid cooling.

The M1 Carriage was redesignated to M1A1 after undergoing a process of refurbishment.

The M1/M2 shell used was a 43.1 kg (95lb. ) projectile and, when fired at a 45-degree angle, it would send a High Explosive (HE) round some 25,395 yards out - up to 15 miles away - with a high rate of accuracy.

A qualified crew of 15 men could fire more than 40 rounds per hour consisting of high-explosive, chemical, smoke, or illuminating shell types. The gun elevation, up to 63-degrees, gave the crew a wide arc of fire.

The gun proved reliable in practice and became the standard heavy gun in the US Army arsenal. Its success was further driven home by its sales to allied nations around the globe.

The weapon was used in large numbers during World War II, the Korean War and the Viet Nam conflict. Many nations continued to use the gun well into the 1980's. After World War II, the US Army bestowed upon the M1/M1A1/M2 the new designation of "M59" during a reorganization period.

The standard tractor used for towing the M1in World War II was the M4 High-Speed Tractor which also doubled as an ammunition carrier.

By 1942, the manufacturer Allis Chalmers produced a tracked tractor that weighted 14.2 tons but offered no armor protection for the driver. The Waukesha 6-cylinder gas engine produced 210 horsepower and 14.7 horsepower per towing ton. This vehicle gave the heavy gun a means to deploy over 290 km of territory with a maximum speed of 53 km/h. Once the M4 arrived at the firing position with the Long Tom, the crew needed about 30 minutes set up time before firing the first round. Long Tom was delivered to UK and French forces via Lend-Lease in numbers totaling 184 and 25 respectively. Her combat debut occurred in North Africa in 1943 as part of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion. She saw further actions in Europe and the Pacific and was most often times transported by way of the Mack NO 6x6 7 1/2 ton utility truck until that mode of transportation gave way to the tracked M4 mentioned above.

She provided "steel rain" along many fronts and fought on in battles during the North African campaign, against the caves on Peleliu, into the numbers of North Korea and in the jungles of Vietnam.

The Long Tom was the primary armament of the 155mm Gun Motor Carriage M40 tracked self-propelled gun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Akagi served the Japanese Empire through the assault on Pearl Harbor but sunk later in the Battle of Midway

The IJN Akagi was born from a battlecruiser class design consisting of the Akagi and the Amagi. These cruisers were under construction by the time of the end of the First World War and the Washington Naval Treaty signed enacted after that conflict limited naval production throughout the globe. As such, construction of these battlecruisers was stopped and considerations were made to dismantle them. The Imperial Japanese Navy, however, proceeded to transform the Akagi and Amagi battlecruisers into a full-fledged fleet carriers (the Amagi would later be destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923).

The Akagi was ordered in 1920 and laid down later that year. The vessel was launched five years later and fully commissioned in 1927.

  She featured two hangar decks with stacked flight decks. The thinking behind this design was to allow the fighters to be able to scramble directly from their hangars and land on the top-most flight deck when returning. On paper this seemed like a sound idea but when put into practice, the results were not as effective. As such, the Akagi was taken back in for some re-working from 1935 up to 1938. In this new effort, the additional flight decks were eliminated which allowed for more space to carry more aircraft (). A more contemporary island superstructure was also added to the design, though this was placed in the not-so-traditional port side of the vessel.

With the Akagi fully ready, she was put into action in the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 torpedo, dive bombers and fighter planes at the island chain. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid taking off the deck of the USS Hornet caused quite a stir in Japan, showing the Empire that it was not immune to the reach of the American military. The Akagi was sent in, unsuccessfully, to find and destroy the carrier. Shortly thereafter, the Akagi was called to take part in the invasion of the island of Java and several actions against British Royal Navy cruisers off India by 1942.

The Akagi's involvement in the Second World War came to an abrupt end at the Battle of Midway on June 4th, 1942. Facing off against the USS Intrepid, the Akagi was assaulted by American navy warplanes and struck once - thought critically - by dive bombers. The explosion ignited an inferno aboard her hangar decks (containing fuel and fully-laden aircraft ready for take-off). A second American bomb landed externally - though close enough - to jam her rudder and the Akagi became a helpless vessel burning through the night. By morning, with most of her crew evacuated to other ships, the Akagi was ordered sunk by her own destroyers and was eventually torpedoed. Some 260 personnel perished with her.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Type 81

7.62x39 Type 81-1 assault rifle, folding butt version, left side

Type 81 assault rifle appeared in the early 1980s. This is a further development of the Type 63 / Type 68 rifles, and it is easily distinguished by the separate pistol grip, handguards and buttstock instead of the SKS-style wooden stock found on earlier types. The Type 81 was more than a single assault rifle – it was a family of infantry firearms, much like the Soviet Kalashnikov AK / RPK family. Type 81 weapons were made as an assault rifle with a fixed butt, an assault rifle with a folding butt for paratroopers (Type 81-1), and a heavy barreled Type 81 Squad Automatic weapon / light machine gun, fitted with a bipod and issued with 75-round drum magazines instead of the typical 30-round boxes. Despite being externally somewhat similar to the AK-47, it is significantly different from it, with its most easily distinguishable feature being an exposed muzzle part of the barrel, with the foresight moved back. This was done to be able to fire rifle grenades from the barrel. Type 81 rifles replaced some obsolescent Type 56 assault rifles and carbines, as well as Type 63 / Type 68 rifles, in most PLA units, and saw some action in border clashes between China and Vietnam during the late 1980s. This rifle was also exported through the NORINCO state company into several neighboring countries. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the Type 81, under designation of Type 87, served as a development platform for the next generation of PLA small arms, being used as a test-bed for 5.8 x 42 ammunition.

The Type 81 is a gas operated, magazine fed, automatic rifle. It uses a short-stroke gas piston, located above the barrel, and a two-position gas regulator, along with a gas cut-off valve for launching rifle grenades. The gas system, as well as the bolt group with the AK-47 type rotating bolt, is reminiscent of those of Type 63 rifles. Type 81 rifles also retain the bolt hold-open device, which catches the bolt in the open position after the last round has been fired from magazine. The fire selector – safety switch is located at the left side of the receiver, just above the pistol grip, and can be easily operated with the right hand thumb. The late production Type 81S rifles have a separate SKS-type safety switch just behind the trigger. The open sights are marked from 100 to 500 metres, with the front sight being mounted just ahead of the gas block, leaving the front portion of the barrel free for the rifle grenade launcher. Ammunition is fed from Type 56 (Kalashnikov) 30-round magazines, or from 75-round drums intended for the Type 81 light machine gun.

5.8x42 Type 87-1 experimental assault rifle, used to develop and test 5.8mm DBP87 cartridge for QBZ-95 rifle

At the first glance, the Type 81 assault rifle looks much like the KalashnikovAKM, but, on closer inspection, there are some significant external differences, most notably in the receiver cover shape and front sight location. There is also a significant gap between the trigger guard and the magazine on Type 81 rifles, while on AK-47 type rifles the magazine is adjacent to the front of the trigger guard. On Type 81 rifles the obsolete spike-shaped non-detachable bayonet, preferred by the PLA before, is also replaced with the more "modern" detachable knife-bayonet. Most probably this was required to leave the significant portion of the muzzle area of the barrel unobstructed, which is required for launching of rifle grenades.

Type 81S (late production export version with fixed butt) assault rifle (top) and Type 81 MGS light machine gun (bottom)

Caliber: 7.62x39 mm M43
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt
Overall length: 955 mm (730 mm with butt folded for Type 81-1)
Barrel length: 445 mm
Weight: 3.5 kg
Rate of fire: 650 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 30 rounds



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