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Firebird Aircraft Can Fly With or Without a Pilot

Northrop Grumman has been developing the Firebird optionally crewed aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft can accommodate a crew of two or operate autonomously via a satellite communication system. The switch can be performed by two people in four hours with basic tools. The Firebird can fly for 40 hours uncrewed or 19 hours with a pilot onboard. The air vehicle has three hardpoints and an internal bay that can carry a 1,700-pound mission payload. A variety of sensors and electronic warfare systems can be carried.

Development of the Firebird (at left) began in the late 2000s, with an initial concept aircraft flying in 2010. Flight-testing of an enhanced configuration began in 2012. A further improved variant was unveiled in 2018. Flight trials concluded in 2019 and Northrop Grumman announced sales to commercial firms in July of that year. Testing of new capabilities continued in 2020 and 2021, including a 9,000-mile journey around the U.S. to demonstrate its ability to fly to a location with a pilot and quickly convert to the uncrewed configuration to perform a mission. 

GQL-111 Gets Chinese Troops Across Obstacles

NORINCO in China has developed a truck-mounted mobile bridge system. The GQL-111 is an 8 x 8 truck carrying a scissor-bridge section that can cross a 50-foot (15-m) gap. Up to five sections can be linked to cross gaps of up to 250 feet (75 m). Pontoons can be used with the bridge sections for some river crossings. Each bridge can accommodate up to 50 metric tons. A variant has been developed with a capacity of up to 60 metric tons. Each section can be deployed in about 11 minutes. 

In operation, the GQL-111 (at right) launches the bridge section over the rear of the truck. A large suspension section holds the weight of the span until the supports at the far end are in place. The bridge-laying system is in service in China. It has also been exported to Burma, Ethiopia and Peru. China donated at least one system to Peru in 2019, while at least three GQL-111s were seen in Ethiopia in early 2021.

Iran Steps Up Indigenous Sub Capabilities

The Fateh class is the largest submarine design to be developed indigenously in Iran. The boats displace about 600 tons and are powered by a diesel-electric propulsion system. Four torpedo tubes are fitted at the bow, which can launch Valfajr heavyweight torpedoes or Jask-2 anti-ship cruise missiles. Two reserve torpedoes or missiles can be carried in addition to those in the tubes. Alternatively, eight mines can be carried. The boats also have a bow-mounted sonar and four retractable masts, including an optical mast and electro-optical mast. Radar and electronic intelligence sensors may also be fitted.

The Fateh (shown at left) was launched in October 2013, but she did not enter service until 2019. At least two other subs in the class are known to be under construction. Iranian officials have claimed that later models may be equipped with an air-independent propulsion system, which would increase the time they could spend submerged. The Fateh first participated in an Iranian naval exercise in 2020. She fired a torpedo for the first time during a drill in September 2021.

Italian Subs Soldier on With Replacements on the Horizon
Military Periscope dives deep on Italian submarines this month, with updates to the Salvatore Pelosi-, Primo Longobardo- and Salvatore Todaro-class boats. The Italian navy also has its eye on an improved version of the Salvatore Todaro class to replace the older subs.

Maritime systems are a theme this month, with a new record for Russia’s Belgorod special-mission submarine, which is designed to carry the Poseidon nuclear torpedo; the Chinese Yu-7 torpedo; German Interactive Defense and Attack System for Submarines; the British Sea Sentor torpedo defense system; and the U.S. AN/BQQ-5 sonar system.

The Leopard 2A5 tank record has the latest updates to the German-built tank family, while the Israeli ELM-2112 ground and coastal surveillance radar; the S713 and S723 Martello ground radars; and the German 30-mm Mk 30 cannon, which has been fitted to naval and combat vehicle mounts, have been made current.

Aviation has not been neglected, with a new record on the Iranian Kaman-22 medium-altitude, long-endurance uncrewed aircraft and updates to the Israeli IAI 201 Arava cargo aircraft; Japanese J/APG-2 active electronically scanned array radar; the French BLG-66 Belouga and BLU-107/B Durandal bombs; and the Russian 23-mm GSh-23 aircraft cannon.

French Scorpion Modernization Continues
Paris continues its military modernization through the Scorpion program for ground forces and the procurement of new frigates and submarines for the navy. This and more is now available in our France record.

Other updates include the order of battle for Kyrgyzstan and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) militant group in the Philippines, which has been demobilizing following an agreement with Manila, although splinter groups remain a threat.

The Turkish Hezbollah and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Mexico records have also been made current.

Army Pushes Combat Vehicle Modernization
Despite some hiccups, the U.S. Army’s efforts to upgrade its combat vehicle fleet are moving forward, due in part to some changes in how it procures such equipment, as Nations Editor Kevin Ivey explores in “Army Eyes New Generation Of Combat Vehicles.”

The Army has also been given the lead in unifying the U.S. military’s counter-small uncrewed aircraft system (C-sUAS) capabilities, which involves not only buying equipment but streamlining doctrine, policies and training. Weapons Editor Brody Ladd has the story in “Big Army Takes On Small Drones.”

A flurry of recent activity in North Korea, including weapons tests and political changes, have Pyongyang watchers on alert. Reuben Johnson reviews the latest developments in “Reading The North Korean Tea Leaves.”

Finally, extremism has been on the rise around the world. There are growing concerns that some activist groups could become more extreme and cross the line into terrorism. Andy Oppenheimer considers the possible threat of borderline terrorism in “Crossing The Line.”