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Miramar Air Show launches Friday with a salute to Vietnam veterans

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The pilot in the No. 5 Blue Angels jet this weekend thought his flying career was over two years ago.

Then Cmdr. Frank Weisser returned to the Navy’s flight team, filling an unexpected opening last summer after a deadly crash left the squadron down a pilot. Previously, he flew with the team from 2008 to 2010.

“I hadn’t flown for three years. So just reintroducing myself to aviation in general was a big jump for me,” said Weisser, 39, who was working a desk job in Germany when he got the call.

Now Weisser will be one of the stars of the Miramar Air Show, which again features a daily performance by the flashy blue-and-gold Navy F/A-18 Hornets, in addition to Marine Corps aircraft and civilian stunt pilots.

This year, the annual three-day air show will pay special tribute to Vietnam veterans.

At two pinning ceremonies daily, at 10:15 a.m. and 1:55 p.m., veterans of that war are eligible to receive a lapel pin honoring their service.

The effort is led by the Pentagon's Vietnam War Commemoration Office, which is marking the 50th anniversary of the escalation of the conflict, which stretched from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975.

A half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., will also be on display. The wall lists 58,318 names of those lost during the war. Visitors can take etchings of the names on the wall with paper provided, officials said.

Vietnam veterans will have an opportunity to tell their stories on film, and members of the public can record personalized messages of thanks to those who have served.

The idea to highlight the Vietnam era came from Col. Jason Woodworth, commanding officer of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

He was attending a Veterans Day parade in Poway when he realized that most of the vets in attendance were no longer from the World War II or Korean War periods.

“They had people stand up based on what war they had fought in, and three-fourths of the crowd stood up when (they said) Vietnam,” Woodworth said Thursday. “So we said, maybe it’s time to really recognize these people a little better than we have in the past.”

It’s a story that’s close to home. The Vietnam War was costly for the Marine Corps.

Nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1975. More than 13,000 were killed and 88,000 wounded, nearly a third of all American casualties.

Still largely a joyous flexing of American military power, the air show is meant to spotlight the service members who operate the flying machines and delight the taxpayers who fund them.

About 400,000 people are expected to attend the free event between Friday and Sunday.

The estimate marks a slight drop from the past, possibly explained by the permanent cancellation of the Saturday twilight show. Organizers decided that holding two shows on one day stretched resources in an unsafe way.

The rest of the event is largely unchanged, with the Blue Angels team as the marquee act.

The team is renowned for putting the rib-shaking power of naval aviation on display.

Blue Angels Nos. 1 through 4 — known as the “diamond” formation -- do stunts that highlight the grace and finesse of their jet, which was the Navy’s foremost fighter until the recent rollout of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The showstopper for the “diamond” planes is when they fly with each plane’s wings only 18 inches apart from his wingman.

Blue Angels Nos. 5 and 6 showcase the maximum performance of the aircraft.

“We show you how fast it can go, how low it can go, how high it can go, the G-forces it can hold, how tight it can turn,” said Weisser, who pilots No. 5.

Some of those data points: How fast the F/A-18 can go is classified. But, at the air show, they fly just shy of the speed of sound.

Weisser said he sometimes withstands a force of 7.5 G’s. That means his usually 200-pound body feels like it weighs 1,500 pounds, he said. There’s also danger of passing out.

“It becomes a very physical endeavor for us,” No. 5 said. “Everyone is capable of doing it, but there’s a bit of an endurance to it.”

Weisser said that Blue Angels pilots focus on legs and core strength in their physical training. It doesn’t help to be a big bodybuilder with a strong upper body when trying to pull G’s, he said.

Two tragedies in recent years have marked the Blue Angels’ performance.

The team’s “Fat Albert” C-130 cargo plane won’t be appearing this weekend. It was grounded along with all C-130T aircraft after a similar plane crashed in Mississippi during a July training flight, killing 15 Marines and one sailor.

Last year, the Fat Albert plane also did not perform with the Blue Angels at Miramar. Back then the aircraft was getting a 10-month maintenance overhaul.

Also, the June 2016 death of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, who was Blue Angels No. 6, has changed at least one maneuver.

Kuss crashed just after takeoff during a practice flight for the Great Tennessee Air Show.

Kuss had attempted to do a “split S” maneuver after takeoff but was too low and going too fast for the procedure, according to the Navy judge advocate general investigation.

The “split S” is a sharp vertical takeoff followed by an inverted swoop back toward the ground.

Instead, Blue Angels pilots will perform an Immelmann turn, which is considered less complicated. The pilot performs the sharp vertical takeoff, flips to an inverted position while flying parallel to the ground, and then rights the craft while still parallel.

The wild card for this weekend will be the weather — in particular the cloud cover. The skies of Miramar were cloudy on Thursday while pilots did practice flights for the show.

There are four different versions of the Blue Angels performance, depending on the conditions.

During a “high show,” with a cloudless sky, the planes can fly as high as 15,000 feet, said Blue Angels public affairs officer Lt. Joe Hontz.

“We do everything we can to make it a high show,” he said.

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S-61 Sees 50 Years of Service in Malaysia

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The Royal Malaysian Air Force has been operating the Sikorsky S-61 for 50 years, Sikorsky said. The five decades of continuous service was celebrated Sunday.

In late 1967, the first S-61 was delivered to Malaysia. The initial order was for 10 aircraft. Since it began its service, the Nuri has performed a variety of missions, including transport and search and rescue. The Nuris are based in Butterworth, which is in western Malaysia, and Kuching, which is in eastern Malaysia. The fleet recently received an upgrade, including avionics and glass cockpit.

Sikorsky said that pilots have flown more than 24 million flight hours in S-61 aircraft around the world. It is used for both military and civilian service.

The S-61, according to the manufacturer, marked the end of reciprocating engine installations at the company, and marked the beginning of the era of the lighter, more compact turbine engines. The aircraft served all branches of the U.S. military, and flew with commercial airlines. However, it was first designed for anti-submarine warfare for the U.S. Navy. Starting in 1959, Sikorsky said it produced 794 aircraft based on the original S-61.

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Russian plans to upgrade T-80 and T-90 jeopardise Armata programme

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The Russian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) 7 September announcement that it was revising plans to permanently remove 10,000 armoured vehicles from its inventory and upgrade T-80 and T-90 series main battle tanks (MBTs) could jeopardise the future of the Armata programme. The announcement together with the reduction in potential orders for the T-14 MBT and the continued decline in Russian defence spending have led some sources to claim that the Armata programme has been cancelled.

Under previous plans, 10,000 reserve vehicles, made available after downsizing the Russian armed forces, were to be melted down by 2020. The revised plan stated that only 4,000 vehicles would be broken down, with the remaining 6,000 kept as a strategic reserve. Russia also plans to upgrade the T-80 to the T-80BVM standard and the T-90 to the T-90M standard as part of a USD417 million contract signed earlier this year. The T-80BVM includes a significant armour upgrade, and the T-90M appears to incorporate many of the improvements from the T-14, such as the commander’s sight with an integrated remotely operated weapon station.

Initial development of the Armata started out with high hopes, but estimates of the number of vehicles to be procured have plummeted downwards since the T-14 and T-15 were unveiled. In 2015, UralVagonZavod (UVZ) CEO Oleg Sienko announced that 2,300 vehicles would be produced by 2020. In 2016, Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov announced the far more sober figure of 100 before 2020, and later in the year, this figure fell to just 70 vehicles, due by the end of 2019. Borisov’s latest announcement, in August 2017, restates his figure of 100 vehicles by 2020, although this presumably includes the approximately 20 vehicles currently undergoing trials in the Russian armed forces.

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CASC unveils next generation USV concepts

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China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) outlined its plans for a new family of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) at the 2017 International Ocean Science and Technology (OST) exhibition in Qingdao.

The platforms are aimed at addressing a range of maritime security and naval requirements, and are under development by the Beijing-based 13th Research Institute of CASC’s Ninth Academy. The new USV designs include the 8.5 m long B850, which is intended to conduct high-speed maritime patrol and interdiction missions, the 11.5 m long A1150 for hydrographic survey, and the 15 m long C1500, which is optimised for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations.

The B850 High Speed Patrol USV is based on a 8.5 m rigid-hull inflatable boat seaframe outfitted with a diesel propulsion system with a proposed maximum speed of 40 kt and operational endurance in excess of 24 hours, or out to a range of 107 n miles. The design is also expected to be capable of operating in conditions of up to Sea State 4.

Standard mission equipment for the B850 will comprise an electro-optical/infrared turret with high definition day/night observation capabilities and integral laser rangefinder, a navigation radar, and satellite communications array, as well as a long range acoustic device. It is also capable of carrying a small multirotor unmanned aircraft system to extend its surveillance range.

The B850 is typically outfitted with a forward-mounted remote weapon system armed with a 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine gun, although it can also be armed with anti-frogmen rockets for facility or force protection operations. An eight-tube launcher system was shown on the display model at OST 2017.

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Exercise reveals Azerbaijani Army Dana SPH and RM-70 MRL

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The Azerbaijani Army showed Czech-designed Dana 152 mm self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) and RM-70 Vampir 122 mm (40-round) multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) for the first time during a five-day exercise that began on 18 September.

An Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence press release indicated that the exercise involves participation by 15,000 troops, over 150 armoured vehicles, including tanks, and up to 120 artillery systems of various calibres and ranges.

Video footage showed at least nine Dana SPHs and eight upgraded RM-70 Vampir MRLs in traveling mode entering the exercise area. According to local media, both systems were purchased in 2016 and participating in the exercise for the first time.

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Pentagon budget 2018: Stop-gap funding harming readiness, stalling acquisitions

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The Pentagon is concerned that its current stop-gap budget will further lower military ‘readiness’ levels by keeping funding at the prior year’s levels and barring new programmes.

US President Donald Trump on 8 September signed stop-gap legislation to fund the US government, including the Department of Defense (DoD), through 8 December.

It contained a temporary appropriation, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), to fund the government in fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) at FY 2017’s levels. CRs cause problems for US military planners as they typically bar ‘new start’ programmes and do not easily accommodate changed priorities.

In an 8 September letter, made public on 12 September, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a CR – even if only for three months – would negatively impact maintenance, equipment acquisitions, and training for all the service branches.

For example, Mattis said the army will delay supply transactions "and then later have to pay more" to get parts built or shipped quicker.

The army will have delays in new start programmes such as the M109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer, Interim Combat Service rifle, M3E1 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS), Lightweight 30 mm cannon, and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles (AMPVs), Mattis said.

He added that the US Navy "will delay the induction of 11 ships, which will exacerbate the planned ship maintenance" in FY 2018. The navy will also "reduce flying hours and steaming days for those units not deployed or next to deploy" and will "delay the replenishment of spares and repair parts", according to Mattis.

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Bahrain F-16V procurement and upgrade approved

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Bahrain has been approved to procure 22 new Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons and to upgrade its existing fleet of 20 aircraft, in two separate deals valued at a combined USD3.86 billion.

The approvals, announced by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 8 September, comprise USD2.78 billion for the procurement of 22 new F-16V-standard fighters, and USD1.08 billion for the upgrade of 20 F-6C/D Block 40 aircraft to the same F-16V configuration.

In terms of the procurement of new F-16Vs, the proposed deal includes ancillary equipment, training, and support. The contract to modernise the existing aircraft includes a simulator, ancillary equipment, training, support, targeting pods, and limited quantities of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

Also referred to as the F-16 Block 70/72, the F-16V features the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (derived from the F-16E/F Block 60 AN/APG-80 and also known as the Scalable Agile Beam Radar [SABR]), a new Raytheon mission computer, the Link 16 datalink, modern cockpit displays, an enhanced electronic warfare system, and a ground-collision avoidance system.

The former Obama administration delayed approval of the sale of new-build F-16Vs to the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and the upgrade of the service's existing Block 40 fleet due to political concerns; however, in late March 2017 the Trump administration notified Congress that the sales could proceed. No reason has been disclosed as to the delay between the administration's notification and the DSCA's recent announcement.

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