Friday, September 17, 2021

The Sea Ceptor System with Soft Vertical Launch

It’s one thing to have a Don Quixote type tilt with a windmill, it’s still another to have that same windmill come back and smear excrement (I’m sorry egg, to be politely P.C.) in your face. 

Just this month, having been long retired, this author celebrated his 85th birthday. In a previous blog post, published several years ago (2013), a parallel to this very same subject was addressed in some detail; .

 Not having quite as fast a draw as I once had, it was not until today that I discovered a Royal Navy missile defense system that had an I.O.C.(2018), three years ago. Shame! The Sea Ceptor missile is truly generations of technology more capable than anything available to the early U.S. Navy Aegis system. It’s the SVL (Soft Vertical Launch), an integral element of Sea Ceptor, that I found "intriguing". For those who may have taken the time to scan the afore-mentioned blog post, striking design similarities should be obvious (see following images).

It suffices to say I have no one else to blame but myself, at the time just lacked the assertive personality to have pushed back a lot harder. "No guts, No glory!" However, I’m certainly going to go on written record at this time.

To better accommodate the reader, in addition to its silo’s circular configuration, I’ve taken the liberty of bolding the text on certain other specific design features and capabilities. 

A new missile for evolving threats – Sea Ceptor

GWS-35 Sea Ceptor was officially accepted into RN service in May 2018 (Let's see, 1963 to 2018 is 55 years). MBDA (a joint venture between BAE Systems, Leonardo and Airbus – the leading European missile manufacturer) developed Sea Ceptor based on their Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM). CAMM was the answer to the MoD’s requirement for an affordable modular missile using common parts for use on land, at sea or in the air. The Future Local Area Air Defence System (FLAADS) project aimed to control costs through reuse of existing technology, while delivering weapons that could cope with high-speed, hard-manoeuvring modern threats. The British Army is replacing its Rapier air defence missile with CAMM (known as Sky Sabre) while CAMM technology has been used to upgrade the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) for the RAF.

CAMM incorporates the tail fin control technology and rocket motor from ASRAMM. The blast-fragmentation warhead is derived from the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-Air Missile that entered service with the RAF last year. Some internal electronics from the Sea Wolf Block 2 missiles are also incorporated. Otherwise, Sea Ceptor has little in common with Sea Wolf, Weighing 99kg and 3.3m in length, it is considerably bigger and capable of Mach 3. Most significantly it has far greater range, officially capable of interceptions between 1 and 25km, although the missile reportedly travelled up to 60 km during trials. This has important tactical implications. Sea Wolf provided point-defence for the ship itself and a few others in close company, Sea Ceptor can now defend more than 1,000 km² around the ship, offering an area air defence capability. This will allow the frigates to operate in more loose formation with the aircraft carrier or high-value Unit, important for anti-submarine operations, while still contributing to the air defence.

As the air threat to surface ships has evolved with increasing speed and sophistication, being able to intercept faster and at a greater distance becomes imperative. The ability to make high-G manoeuvres in the terminal phase and better resistance against jamming are all important improvements over Sea Wolf but it is the guidance system that is greatest step-change. CAMM / Sea Ceptor utilises the powerful track-while-scan ability of the multi-function Artisan 3D radar. Artisan has a maximum range of about 200km and can detect small object travelling at Mach 3 more than 25km away. It can track up to 800 objects simultaneously and is highly resistant to ECM and interference. Artisan provides initial target data to Sea Ceptor and updates the missile in flight via the two-way Platform Data Link Terminal (PDLT). Most importantly, the missile itself has an advanced active radar seeker head for use in the terminal phase which removes the need for dedicated fire control radars. Numbers are classified but it is clear that a salvo of missiles could be launched simultaneously against multiple targets.

Sea Ceptor is clearly optimised for defending against saturation anti-ship missile attacks, which could overwhelm the limitations of legacy systems based on target illumination fire-control radars.

CAMM features another major innovation, soft vertical launch (SVL). A very rapid chemical reaction in a gas generator in the base of the missile canister ejects the missile out of the tube via a piston with enough momentum to get about 30m above the ship. Small lateral thrusters then fire in sequence to turn the missile horizontal before the main rocket motor ignites. This ‘cold-launch’ method reduces the heat signature and has a better minimum intercept range, compared to conventional VLS which have a greater turnover arc. It also reduces stress on the vessel’s structure and avoids the risks of a missile with a burning rocket motor jammed in its cell. SVL also saves smoke and exhaust gas efflux enveloping the ship which can lower visibility for several minutes in light winds.

The 'mushroom' farm. The 32-cell silo on HMS Argyll. Note how each cell is offset from the vertical. If the rocket motor should fail to ignite after soft-launch, the missile will not fall on the ship. Sea Ceptor is longer than the Sea Wolf the silo was designed for, so each cell protrudes above the silo top slightly.

The cost of upgrading the Type 23 frigates missiles has been kept down by using the existing ship footprint and infrastructure as far as possible. The existing Silo has been used, although modified to take the longer missile. The main weight of the cells is carried on shock-proof mountings by the deck below, instead of the silo top in the case of Sea Wolf. The deck has been strengthened to cope with the shock loadings generated at launch. The removal of the Fire Control Radars and replacement by the small PDLT is a considerable saving in top-weight. This reduces the stress on the ship or could be used as a growth margin to fit additional equipment on the superstructure. There are four launch management system cabinets, one for every eight missiles and other below-decks control equipment in the operations room and in the old Sea Wolf radar offices. Overall the amount of equipment is reduced and some of the existing cabling has been re-used.

The delivery of Sea Ceptor into service has been relatively quick. MBDA invested around £2 Billion in its development and were rewarded with a £483M demonstration contract for Sea Ceptor in January 2012. To reduce costs, development and de-risking work was carried out entirely on land and benefited from the Type 997 (Artisan) radar already proven in service. Missile test firings were conducted at the Vidsel range in Sweden while Integration and development was done in Bristol, Stevenage and at the Type 23 Land Based Test Site (LBTS) at Portsdown Technology Park. A further £250M contract to supply the equipment for the frigates was signed in September 2013. The number of missiles purchased, their individual cost and their delivery schedule are not in the public domain.

Sea Ceptor will be fitted to the Type 26 frigates which will carry up to 48 missiles in two separated 24-cell silos. It is also very likely that the Type 31e frigates will carry the system, although with a smaller number of cells. It is expected that Artisan radars and the control equipment will be transferred to the new frigates from the Type 23s as they decommission. While the system has been fully proven and de-risked, there are integration and timing challenges that will be involved with this migration process.

A flexible friend

It is possible the Type 45 destroyers could be fitted with Sea Ceptor. Their Sylver VLS cells that hold Aster 15/30 (Sea Viper) missiles could be adapted with quad packs that allow 4 CAMM to fit inside each cell. Theoretically, a Type 45 could, for example, be outfitted with 30 x long-range Aster30 and 72 x quad-packed Sea Ceptor. Trading 18 x Aster15 for 72 x Sea Ceptor would make sense and add significantly to each ship’s firepower. Sea Ceptor uses around 70% of the same technology as the PAAMS carried by the Type 45, so integration should be fairly straight forward. The Sampson radar offers even better performance than Artisan, potentially offsetting the reduced range and performance of Sea Ceptor compared with Aster15. Quad-packed Sylver is a theoretical niche capability for the UK and France but Lockheed Martin has already tested and proven the quad-pack concept for their Mk 41 VLS Extensible Launching System (EXLS). Mk 41 is utilised by many navies across the world and Sea Ceptor is an attractive proposition for cost-effective medium-range naval air defence. (It’s an unlikely scenario but a single Type 26 frigate could potentially carry a total of 144 Sea Ceptor missiles if also quad-packed into its 24 x Mk 41 cells!)

CAMM are assembled in Bolton, Lancashire, although the component supply chain is global. MBDA is a European company but CAMM is primarily a British product and already something of an export success. Lockheed Martin Canada is fitting Sea Ceptor to the New Zealand Navy’s ANZAC Frigates as part of a major Systems Upgrade (FSU) project. Chile has also contracted LM Canada to upgrade their ex-RN Type 23 frigates and they will receive the system. Brazil has selected Artisan and a 12-cell Sea Ceptor installation for its Tamandaré class corvettes being constructed by TKMS in Germany. The Royal Navy, New Zealand and Chilean navies have now established a ‘Sea Ceptor users group’ to share experience and best practice with the system.

CAMM/Sea Ceptor appears to be a rare example of a highly successful UK procurement project, affordable, delivered on time and meeting all requirements. Through its acquisition, the RN has quietly gained a step-change in defensive capability, which is very much needed in the face of ever more demanding air and missile threats. Operating inside the Sea Viper umbrella of the Type 45 destroyers, the frigates can provide the next line of defence for the carrier battle group with an equally credible weapon system.

In conclusion, both the launch system proposed by the author while at General Dynamics/Pomona in 1963, and the Sea Ceptor launch system, circa 2018, incorporate the following same attributes:

• Vertical launch with angled launch tube to avoid “dead launch” hitting ship

• Cylindrical missile storage container and launch tube

• “Cold launch” with gas generator and sabot piston

• Avoids potential burning rocket motor jammed in cell

• In event of missile malfunction, instantaneous ability to switch targeting/launch data to another missile

• Capable of simultaneous engagement/multiple launch against multiple targets, and/or types (AAW/ASW/SSW)

• Lower center of gravity and physical profile of entire launch complex

• No heavy, complex, electro/mechanical amplidyne launcher drive vulnerable to damage and/or malfunction (operability/maintainability/survivability/)

• Entire missile inventory in magazine not rendered useless because of launcher malfunction and/or combat damage


The only difference being, that the one launching system could  have been operational in the fleet at the very least over 55 years ago, albeit without as sophisticated a missile. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Last Gordon Highlander, Locomotive That Is

 The Gordon Highlanders, as a regiment of the British Army, served the kings and queens of Great Britain for two hundred years from 1894 to 1994. The span of time that locomotives (steam or diesel) of the same name, served Great Britain as part of their railway system was much shorter. The first. a steam locomotive, entered service in 1920. It is briefly discussed in a recent blog post; The last, an iconic massive diesel locomotive, entered service in 1961, and was retired in 1981. It is this diesel, both in real and model form, that is the subject of this post.

There were 22 of the British Rail Type 55 Class “Deltic” diesel locomotives built between 1961 and 1962 by English Electric for British Railways. They utilized a modified Napier Deltic power unit initially designed for marine application for the Royal Navy. Thus, the name “Deltic”. They were named after regiments of the British Army, following the tradition of predecessors, the famous Royal Scot Class steam locomotives, and winning racehorses. One, D9016, was specifically called the “Gordon Highlander”. When they entered service they were the most powerful diesel (producing about 2,750 drawbar horsepower) ever built, and set a range of land speed records for all locomotives between 113 and 125 mph (varying conditions). For those readers who might be interested in more technical details see; .


The following are a few images and videos of the actual diesel in service in order that the reader can make a direct comparison with the Bachmann HO gauge model replication. The one video shown below that indicates video unavailable may be seen by clicking on the indicated "Watch on YouTube".

The reader is invited to observe the short ladders on the corners of the locomotive, and the various hoses fitted between the two bumpers. All of these are replicated in the model, but not shown in the photographs. In the fourth YouTube video cited below, "Deltics. The Magnificent Seven", D9016 "Gordon Highlander" can be seen on one, if not its last, trip.

The Bachmann Branch-Line scale model was apparently commissioned and issued as an uncatalogued exclusive limited edition. In response to my personal query, at least one company representative stated that, “I cannot find any details of a Bachmann Branchline model of the Class 55 Deltic No. D9016 ‘Gordon Highlander’ in our records. I wonder if the model to which you refer was renamed/renumber from a different model by a third party?” What is particularly curious is the packet of extensive correct add-on parts, and the attachment of correct silver on red embossed foil metal plates [Gordon Highlander]. As a result it is currently difficult to establish what organization or company was able to commission the production of the model, year(s) of manufacture, and number of sets produced. (Author's note: Subsequently it has been recently confirmed from a representative of TMC (The Model Centre), an extremely professional cottage industry located in North Yorkshire, Great Britain, that between 2005 and 2010 they produced 250 of this specific model. Obviously relatively rare.) It did come DCC Ready. This provides illumination for cab lighting (both ends), sign number, and pair of red back lights, in an analogue model. Like its full-scale counterpart (weight:99 long tons), the model is heavy, at 611 gr (21.55 oz),, and 10.50 in. (excluding couplers) in length.

The accompanying various small fittings which significantly enhance the accuracy and appearance of the model are tedious to attach, with the exception of the couplers. Personal option has been to attach everything but those parts which might potentially interfere with the range of normal intended movement of the bogies. Based upon the author's review, this "Gordon Highlander" limited edition has the most extensive set of add-on fittings of all other known versions of the Type 55 Class "Deltic" issued by Bachmann. Also due to the physical size of the six-wheel bogies, and the design of the dual drive shafts (one to each bogie), it is most strongly recommended (personal experience with delicate surgical reinstallation of a thrown drive shaft) that on curved track smaller than second radius (22’’, 26” or 28” radius EZ Curved Track all work well), only very slow speed operation should be attempted on 18” radius curved track.


It is also amazing how smooth and quietly the engine runs, unlike the actual diesel which is quite loud. With the full DCC augmented sound effects operating the actual engine noise, at a scaled level, is well replicated. 


This specific “Gordon Highlander” comes in the original two-tone dark green with lime yellow lower strip livery of British Railways, which is reminiscent of the colors in the set of the Gordon tartan.


The following images and videos depict the Bachmann HO gauge locomotive. Personally am extremely impressed by what to me is a superior operating model both in accuracy and operation, although I’m obviously biased. However, several other model railroad enthusiasts in model railroading forums, and the cited YouTube videos express equivalent kudos. The reader can make their own assessment based on the images.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Another Tilt at a Windmill by Don Quixote

 In addition to a few “Forrest Gump” type moments during my dual professional careers as a military systems engineer, and naval intelligence officer, I also experienced some other Don Quixote encounters in tilting with windmills, beyond previously described events chronicled in this blog. This one however turned out to be a lot more favorable.

In the later part of May 1973, I had reached the rank of a senior Lieut-Commander in the Naval Intelligence Reserve. For my two weeks active duty annual training I was assigned to the headquarters of Commander, 3rd Fleet, on Ford Island, Hawaii. The fleet had originally been established 15 March 1942, under the command of Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey Jr. In 1973 it was under command of VADM William T. Rapp.

I never had the privilege of personally meeting FLTADM William F. "Bull Halsey. However, I was serving in the USS Princeton (LPH-5) when the ship was used as a location (pier side Long Beach, CA) for the movie "The Gallant Hours" when it was made in 1960. The following is an image of FLTADM Halsey circa 1945, followed by one I took of Jimmy Cagney portraying the admiral, talking to Dennis Weaver (TV series Gunsmoke 1955), with Ward Costello to the right hand side. Suffices, Jimmy Cagney was extremely well cast for the role.

The following photograph is of VADM William T. Rapp, who obviously I did meet during my active duty tour.

VADM Rapp was similar in stature to ADM Halsey, also a naval aviator, and of a very similar personality, a veritable bulldog. His office and headquarters intentionally reinforced the comparison with photographs and memorabilia from ADM Halsey’s WWII era. With my designator having changed from 1100 (unrestricted line) to 1635 (intelligence) I was assigned to ADM Rapp’s N-2 (Intelligence) shop which was under command of CDR Earl Bowersox, with his assistant LCDR Bill Armbruster. Both of these gentlemen were extremely competent and intensely dedicated. I was there with a close friend LCDR Albert “Larry” Tuma from the same Naval Reserve Intelligence Unit, at the time located at Terminal Island, Long Beach, CA. The duty afforded both of us, who were approaching selection for promotion to Commander (major career point), a great opportunity for a significant fitness report from a three-star admiral.


CDR Bowersox had conceived and was advancing a concept regarding the projected employment of the Soviet Navy’s Pacific Fleet. LCDR Tuma and I were given the task of further analyzing the thesis, and articulating same in a finished intelligence document to be forwarded to the Chief of Naval Operations for concurrence, endorsement and promulgation as guidance to the entire United States Navy. Commander Bowersox had the title, “AVANT GARDE, The Threat Package Concept”, all we had to do was to develop and co-author the report under his “guidance", i.e. direction, all in two weeks. Suffices a bit of a challenge. As the contents were classified “SECRET-NOFORN”, although nearly 5 decades later, I can’t discuss the document further.


As LCDR Tuma and I were unaccompanied by family, we could devote a lot of hours to the assignment, my contribution principally being the technical knowledge, and LCDR Tuma, the ability to research the supporting reference documentation. We completed our final draft, and both received outstanding fitness reports.


Returning to my civilian job the following Monday, I took the opportunity to mention to my immediate boss, that I had a unique opportunity, without any substrative details, due to “Need to Know” requirements, regardless of his having the requisite security clearances. He more or less “patted me on the head, and blew me off”, directing me to return to my rather mundane task of reviewing and editing one-function engineering drawings.


Approximately six weeks passed and my boss called me into his office and told me that retired navy CAPT Tom Buell, one of our Honeywell sales representatives, who worked in our Washington,DC (Tysons Corner,VA) offices had visited one of his friends in the Pentagon’s E Ring. Continuing in a typical rather haughty tenor he advised me that one of Tom’s friends had given him a copy of a very recent document from the CNO’s office that was being promulgated for fleet wide guidance. Apparently that officer thought Tom had the need to know. My boss advised that perhaps I should review the document in order that I was up to date on the latest navy thinking on the Soviet Naval threat. Suffices he hadn’t even bothered to glance at the title page, just inside the document’s front cover, in which CDR Bowersox had very graciously acknowledged me as the principal author by full name, rank and affiliated unit. It was with a rather sadistic mind-set that I pointed the fact out to him. Needless to say, no significant response was forthcoming, while he ate crow, big time.


Given that opportunity, as well as several others with 3 star fleet commands, afforded me being selected for promotion to Commander, and subsequently to Captain.





Monday, May 17, 2021

A Brief Note from Arnhem Jim

The author would like to take this brief opportunity to apologize to all followers, as well as new readers of the Arnhem Jim log, for the recent absence of any new posts. My sincere thanks for your sustaining and encouraging support during these challenging times. The past year 2020, as well as the current year, will certainly go down in history as unprecedented. In reflection I am personally amazed that given all the circumstances, I was able to produce the number of posts I did. Am certain like the vast majority of the world’s population I have experienced a combination of angst and depression. The latter has not exactly been conducive to original thought, let alone productivity. Personally, I would question any individual’s veracity who contends they haven’t experienced some level of one or both maladies during the course of recent times.


In addition to self-imposed quarantine, the record-breaking temperatures (113 deg F.+ for weeks) has added a supplemental challenge.


All that having been said, I would encourage all readers to use the full chronology of the past eleven years of posts as a handy reference base for any questions you might have regarding Operation Market-Garden, the Battle of Arnhem/Oosterbeek, and British Airborne Forces during World War II.


Obviously readers are encouraged to continue posing any questions, as well as submit any corrections/additions, to all of the archived posts. It has been my very good fortune to learn a great deal from the combined knowledge of the readership of the Arnhem Jim blog.


A continuing Slàinte Mhòr! to All,

Arnhem Jim 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

British Army Coloured Field Service Caps 1937 to 1941

 Unlike the almost universally unpopular Broderick cap, the Field Service Cap (also referred to as the side cap or forage cap) first introduced into the British Army in 1894, saw a much-welcomed rebirth in 1937. This author has had a few recent inquiries from readers asking assistance in identifying from WWII black and white photographs containing an individual wearing a coloured field service cap, the regiment or corps. Surprisingly, given a combination of the crown, body, piping, and peak, and the cap badge (sometimes obscured), the owner’s regiment or corps can, if not identified outright, be narrowed down significantly.

In conducting research for one lady, I discovered that there were no less than 126 separate authorized caps. This was established in a table by the late Brian L. Davis, contained in his definitive reference, British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two, Which is both acknowledged and gratitude expressed. Some were solely differentiated by cap badge, however a significant number were in a combination of colours. As colorful as they are, I thought it would be of potential interest to compose a post showing a representative sample. I’m indebted to a book entitled Military collectables, by Joe Lyndhurst, which is acknowledged and gratitude expressed. It includes two pages of photographs of the actual caps. In addition several publishers produced a whole series of coloured pamphlets throughout the entire span of WWII. The series of drawings depicted in 1941 by George Philip & Son (and cited by Brian Davis) while not quite as colorful and accurate, are the best known contemporary reference of all the caps in use during the period from 1937 - 1941.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Not You Again Don Quixote - Another Windmill?

On the Internet today (10 November 2020) at a blog site called the SANDBOXX News (, there appeared a very interesting, at least to this author, post. It was entitled, B-1B Gunship: Boeing’s plan to put big guns on the Lancer. It was written by Alex Hollings, a former Marine specializing in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. Fundamentally it advanced the concept of converting the Rockwell B-1B Lancer Bomber from a supersonic heavy payload bomber to a high performance version of the Lockheed AC-130H and J Spectre Gunships. With full acknowledgement and expressed gratitude to both the SANDBOXX and Alex Hollings the entire article is repeated herein;

B-1B Gunship: Boeing’s plan to run big guns on the Lancer

 Alex Hollings | November 9, 2020

The B-1B Lancer has long served as America’s only supersonic heavy payload bomber, but for a time, Boeing considered extended its life as a high-speed gunship that would combine the firepower of the Spooky AC-130 gunship with the speed and maneuverability of an oversized fighter.

 The Rockwell B-1B Lancer is a viable sweep-wing bomber straight out of the Cold War, complete with massively powerful engines that grant it both immense speed and a payload capacity that exceeds that of the gargantuan B-52 Stratofortress. The first B-1 took to the skies in 1974, but the platform itself didn’t enter service until more than ten years later, thanks to the complex and rapidly developing technological environment of the Cold War. Slated to be replaced by platforms like the AGM-86 cruise missile and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber before it even entered service, the B-1B Lancer has defied the odds for over four decades.

The B-1B can fly like this with the equivalent of three school busses worth of bombs in its weapons bays. (USAF Photo)


Today, it’s once again expected to be sent out to pasture in favor of the next stealth bomber, the forthcoming B-21 Raider, but in 2018, Boeing began toying with the idea of stretching out the Lancer’s shelf life by adding close air support to its mission profile.


How do you take a supersonic bomber and turn it into a close air support titan? According to patents filed by Boeing, it’s as simple as adding some really big guns.

The patent actually depicts a number of different cannon-mounting solutions for the B-1B Lancer, including a system that places a retractable cannon in the Lancer’s large weapons bays. What makes these patents of particular interest is that they seem to require very little in the way of permanent modifications to the aircraft itself, meaning the conversion could be less expensive than broader overhauls. The lower the cost of such an effort, the more feasible it becomes — especially in terms of the B-1B, which is renowned for its high cost of operation.

By making the weapon retractable, it minimizes aerodynamic drag when the weapon is not in use. (US Patent Office)


Based on the illustrations, it appears as though Boeing doesn’t have its heart set on a specific cannon, and even shows two different sizes of them mounted in the same apparatus. Visually, these cannons look very similar to M230 30mm cannons or the Bushmaster cannon, which can run from 25mms to 40mms in size, as The Warzone has pointed out.


There would, in fact, be some benefit to Boeing’s approach to mounting these weapons on the B-1B as compared to the new AC-130J Ghostrider gunship and its predecessor, the Spooky AC-130. In the C-130-based gunships, the massive 105mm cannons are longitudinally mounted in a fixed cowling on the left side of the aircraft. In order to engage targets, Ghostrider gunships have to bank and circle over the target area to point the large cannon in the right direction.

By extending a cannon apparatus down from beneath the belly of the B-1B, the weapon can rotate a full 360 degrees while making target adjustments through a fire control module. This would allow a B-1B gunship to keep its weapon oriented on the target while the aircraft conducts various maneuvers.

However, there are also some significant limitations that one can’t help but consider when pitching the idea of a B-1B Gunship. Because the B-1B is designed to serve as a high-speed bombing platform, it almost certainly can’t maintain the low speeds achievable in an AC-130, despite its swing-wing design. The B-1B is also far more expensive to operate per hour than the still-in-production AC-130.


On the other hand, a B-1B Gunship could reach trouble spots far faster than any AC-130. The B-1B tops out at a blistering Mach 1.2, as compared to the AC-130 Ghostrider, which can’t exceed 420 miles per hour.


“They’re tuned for down low and mid-level altitudes, so you pretty much get pushed back into your seat,” Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, told me in 2019 during an interview for Popular Mechanics.


“The acceleration just keeps on coming—you can go right through the sound barrier pretty quick,”


Not as crazy as it might seem?

Despite being designed to penetrate Soviet airspace by flying fast and low, the B-1B Lancer has nonetheless found itself serving in a close air support role at times throughout the past two decades of the Global War on Terror. Thanks to the addition of a Lockheed Martin-sourced Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, the Lancer can now deliver ordinance more precisely than ever before. The bomber’s massive fuel stores and heavy payload capabilities allow the B-1B to loiter over a combat zone for hours, before using its onboard fire control system to manage targeting data relayed from ground troops or its sniper pod to deliver ordnance with pinpoint accuracy.


“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.


“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”


However, it seems clear that American ground forces don’t like to rely on precision-munitions from high-flying or far-flung weapons systems when they’re engaging the enemy. The long-standing love affair between U.S. military grunts and the A-10 Thunderbolt II speaks to this preference. When it comes to engaging the bad guys, ground troops prefer aircraft that actually have their eyes on the target.


However, a B-1B gunship may be able to split this difference by utilizing a combination of precision-guided bombs and onboard cannons. As it stands, B-1B Lancers are already capable of putting on quite the spectacle when delivering air support to ground troops.


“If I’m talking to a guy on the ground and I have my sensor on him … we can drop weapons seven miles away, or we can drop lower, drop them closer,” said Lt. Col. Dominic “Beaver” Ross, director of operations for the 337th Test and Evaluations Squadron.


“We’re not going to drop them as low as an A-10, but we are going to do shows of force where we’re 500 feet overtop of their head.”


Will a B-1B Gunship ever actually happen?


That’s tough to say, but for now at least, it seems unlikely… but that doesn’t mean the end for this concept or these patents. The premise of installing modular close-air support cannons in an aircraft like the B-1B could easily be modified for use in other aircraft as well. In fact, the Air Force is already experimenting with the idea of using modular weapons systems in aircraft that were intended for cargo carrying purposes.


Currently, the B-1B is expected to slip into retirement in the later end of the 2020s, as more B-21 Raiders roll off the assembly line and into service. While the forthcoming stealth bomber promises to be the most advanced aircraft of its type ever to take to the skies, it doesn’t offer many of the same capabilities the B-1B does. Like the B-2 Spirit it will also replace, the B-21 is expected to be subsonic, leveraging its stealth more than its speed to accomplish its missions.


Geopolitically, the B-21 may also be more complicated to use than the B-1B. The Lancer was converted into a strictly non-nuclear bomber platform in 2011, in accordance with the START Treaty between the United States and Russia. Retiring the B-1B will mean using nuclear capable B-21s for conventional airstrikes, which, because of its use a nuclear-weapon delivery bomber, could exacerbate tensions with America’s diplomatic opponents. Headlines claiming America is sending “nuclear bombers” to any region B-21s are deployed to would technically be accurate, despite misrepresenting the role these bombers may play.


In that regard, the B-1B may see some lawmakers and defense officials championing its continued service as has happened in the past. When a new airframe is slated to replace an old one, but lacks the capabilities of its predecessor, there will always be some arguing in favor of old and reliable.

While it seems unlikely that we’ll see B-1B gunships in the air any time soon… In the rapidly shifting world of defense priorities, one can never say never."

Alex Hollings

Now for the Don Quixote Part - A Rather Interesting Retrospective and Discovery

In 1993 this author was working on the McDonnell Douglas C-17A Program in Long Beach, California, as a Manager for the Improvements & Derivatives Program. Several of my own concepts, as well as others from members of the group were compiled and published in a brochure (cover and pages shown below) One of my concepts was to modify the C-17A Globemaster II to an up-scaled Super Spectre version of the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre gunship series, already highly successful having been well proven in combat operations. That was 25 years before the Boeing Company filled for Patent No.: US 9,963,231 B2 dated May, 8, 2018. The principal argument advanced in opposition to the concept was that the C-17 was too expensive an asset  for exposure at the projected operational altitudes for the threat environment. Apparently several ill-informed yet influential individuals thought it would be flying at the same altitudes as the AC-130 gunships. Any patent application never even entered the discussions. As those familiar with the aerospace industry McDonnell-Douglas ceased to exist in 1997, having been acquired by Boeing. Having had the opportunity to work for Boeing early in my career as a young engineer, and passed it up at that time for very good reason (hire and lay-off with individual contracts) suffices to say I retired the next year.


However, I believe even the casual reader will notice the rather pronounced similarities in the projected Boeing modification of the Lockheed B-1B and the concept that was proposed in the McDonnell Douglas corporate brochure for the C-17A in 1993. I'm seriously interested as to who within Boeing might have found a copy of the brochure, or are we talking sheer coincidence. I'll probably never know.


As was the case in other previous episodes presented in this blog, Don Quixote was unseated from his mount by yet another windmill.

For those readers who may have a further interest the following video is provided.



Monday, October 19, 2020

A Different Kind of Gordon Highlander for My Toy Soldier Collection

As the reader can infer from the title of this post, this author intends to take a diversion from the scope of normal subject matter of this blog. There is a connection, as soon will be revealed, which I hope will prove interesting.

A longtime self-confessed “magpie” or “gallimaufry” (Scottish for bits and pieces) type collector, I consider myself extremely fortunate in my mid-eighties to have somehow avoided being afflicted to date with the model train bacteria. Have to admit that growing up I did have, on loan from my uncle, an early Lionel electric train set which was returned for his children, as my interest in toy soldiers had started. There also was a General Mills Kix Cereal 1947 combination printed on the box and mail-in premiums of cut-out trains which were a popular sales promotional (now having become a collectable antique).

The other singular exception being the more recent collection of a limited number of the Lionel/Hallmark (nominally N gauge - being introduced in 1996) Christmas tree ornaments over the years. Judging from my most recent Internet research it can become highly addictive, and an extreme and continuous drain on the sporran. None the less, I feel it safe to say that model train collectors are an extremely prolific breed, and for quite some time have far outnumbered, and continue to outnumber, toy soldier collectors.

In any event I would be totally less than candid if I did not readily admit to a life-long fascination with small scale toy trains/model railroading, and the engineering precision the hobby incorporates, somewhat analogous to a jeweler or horologist (watchmaker).  

 However, very recently an opportunity appeared on e-Bay that was too good to pass up. This is obviously a rationalization at best. It was an HO scale locomotive set comprised of the engine, tender, and corridor brake 3rd class coach by Bachmann of a classic LMS “Royal Scot” Class 4-6-0 6P 6100 Series. For those who might not know the letters stand for London, Midlands and Scottish Railway Company. However, more specifically the model I have acquired is Engine 6106 “Gordon Highlander” of the series. 70 actual locomotives were built in the Class, starting in 1927, with the majority being named after regiments of the British Army. Based on my research to date the model was first offered in 1998. Given my family surname, Scottish ancestry, and interest in British/Scottish military history, the reason for my personal interest immediately becomes rather obvious.

A brief segue occurred to the author. Is it merely a coincidence that the distinctive deep maroon livery of the LMS is the same colour originally selected for that of the famous "Red Beret" of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army?


Although several model train manufacturers have produced excellent models of various configurations of the "Royal Scot Class" in various scales, to the best of my knowledge the Bachmann Company is the only one to have produced a "Gordon Highlander" in LMS maroon livery. It was produced in OO gauge. (Author's Note: Both Wrenn and Graham Farish produce a "Gordon Highlander", but neither in the classic LMS maroon livery). In my personal opinion, for an OO scale size, I think they did a great job, but will let the reader be the judge of that, hopefully based on the images presented. The high end connoisseur manufacturer of  toy trains, the British Company named Wrenn offer a Royal Scot Class "Gordon Highlander"  locomotive in black livery. Wrenn's OO gauge version of the Royal Scot Class in LMS maroon livery is shown, with acknowledgement and gratitude, in the last two images below. One other observation, unlike toy soldiers and military miniatures, model train makers do not take creative artistic license. The exceptions known to the author (there are always exceptions) being the popular "Gordon the Tank Train" series, and the Harry Potter "Hogwarts Express", but neither one passed off as an actual train. As a consequence the models are an extremely accurate replication of exactly the real thing, with the possible exception of the level of detail practically not attainable in some of the physically smaller scales such as N and Z gauge.


In a addition, and subsequent to the initial acquisition of the "Gordon Highlander", have been able to locate another 4 Bachmann, and 3 Hornby models in matching scale and LMS livery, the first one is a uniquely British coach. It is called a Brake Gangwayed (BG), or Full Brake Coach first offered in 2011. It has a guard's compartment in the center and two large highly secure areas to either side (fore and aft) for the storage of valuable luggage, as can be seen in the following image.

The second is a more conventional 57 ft Corridor 1st/3rd Class Coach, and can be seen in the following image.


The third is the so called former LMS 57 ft Porthole Corridor 1st Class Coach (actually not put in service until 1950) in the next images (model followed by actual coach).

The fourth is a Hornby model of a 68 ft Dining Car (note 6 wheel bogies incorporated for requisite load carrying capacity, comfort and stability) which was introduced into service in 1932 (Running Number 238), and seen here. As both a model and as the real coach, this is a big car (44 tons).

Author’s note: In an attempt to replicate a LMS Stanier 66 ft “QL” (BR “RFO”) First Class Vestibule Diner, of correct vintage, to accompany the previously described LMS 68 ft Dining Car, the closest I could come s a Bachmann 39-476 LMS 60 ft “Porthole” Open Vestibule Coach BR in Maroon livery (obviously later Period III- 1947). The following first image is the correct actual LMS Vestibule Diner, circa 1934, and the second image is a sixth OO gauge Bachmann “equivalent” model.

I have been further advised by experts that my ratio of coaches should be 3:1, Third class to First class. In order to partially rectify this, have acquired an additional LMS 57 ft Corridor Third Class coach (again Period III) to add to the rake, making a total of seven coaches (image follows).

The eighth is a Hornby model of a classic Royal Mail Coach complete with operating pickup and delivery stations. These Traveling Post Offices (TPO's) were normally composed in completely separate rakes, and not in a passenger rake.


Given the date and composition of this specific rake, the original locomotive number 6106 would be in error, having been rebuilt in September 1949, and renumbered 46106 (see image below). 

For those who may not know, the LMS was a massive British railroad monopoly, having been formed on 1 January 1923 under the Railways Act of 1921. Besides being the world's largest transport organisation, it was also the largest commercial enterprise in the British Empire and the United Kingdom's second largest employer, after the British Postal Service. The LMS also claimed to be the largest joint stock organisation in the world.

The “Royal Scot” Class was introduced in 1927, with the “Gordon Highlander” being built in September 1927 (rebuilt 1949), and was in service until being withdrawn in December 1962, with a final short commemorative guest trip in April 1963.

The lead locomotive of the class the "Royal Scot" Engine 6100 was even shipped to the United States in 1933 where it performed a public relations tour including the Chicago World's Fair during the course of its route.

The following images, although not of exactly the same train, are of the Royal Scot Class, intended to provide a direct comparison of the model to the real thing.

The following image is a late photo of the "Gordon Highlander" renumbered with the revised number 46106 and livery of the British Railway System, however still in service. It appears in the first video cited below. Not certain of the exact date, but probably in the early 1960s. The BR style smoke deflectors being fitted in December 1952 are correctly included in the model.

Besides the zenith of the classic steam locomotive era in the 1920s and 30s, personified in the "Royal Scot Class", there was an earlier generation steam version "Gordon Highlander", and a follow-on diesel locomotive version, both shown below.

The steam locomotive which preceded the “Gordon Highlander “ of the “Royal Scot Class” was the Great North of Scotland Railway’s Heywood ‘F’ Class No. 49 “Gordon Highlander”. Eight of the locomotives entered service in 1920, being built by the North British Locomotive Company Ltd. No. 49 remained in service until being withdrawn in 1957. It remains today, restored on museum display.

The diesel locomotive configuration “Gordon Highlander” is one of 22 British Rail Class 55 engines which were built in 1961 and 1962 by English Electric, which gained the name “Deltic” based on their Napier Deltic power units. The engines were withdrawn from service at the end of 1982, with 6 units preserved and still running today.

In addition as a NROTC Midshipman during the summer of 1955, I had been able to take a train excursion from Edinburgh to London as a liberty during my midshipman training cruise. Although I can’t remember the specific train I was on, it was overnight and feel certain that the actual “Gordon Highlander” had made the same trip, over the very same rails, hundreds of times. Obviously the train model is truly a great personal remembrance.

For those readers who may be real train enthusiasts the following videos should prove to be of significant interest (the first video including the above photograph of the "Gordon Highlander");

Bachmann OO Gauge LMS Royal Scot Series "Gordon Highlander" video.