The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been developing drones that can be launched and recovered by a C-130 Hercules transport. The X-61 Gremlin, built by Dynetics, weighs 1,500 pounds and can carry a payload of 145 pounds. Potential operational payloads include electro-optic sensors, radar, laser designators, electronic warfare systems and kinetic munitions. The Gremlin also features autonomous capabilities, enabling several to cooperate with minimal supervision.
The Gremlin (at left) is designed to be launched from wing pylons or rotary launchers on the C-130 and then recovered via a unique towed, stabilized system deployed from the rear ramp. The program was launched in 2015, with the docking system first flown in February 2019. The Gremlins air vehicle made its first flight in November 2019. Test flights in 2020 included attempts to recover air vehicles in flight. None was successful, although several attempts in October 2020 came within inches of success. Further trials are planned for 2021.
Ukraine has fielded an indigenously developed mobile mortar system. The Bars-8MMK features a 120-mm smoothbore mortar integrated with a Bars-8 4 x 4 armored vehicle. The mortar is deployed through the rear door and can be made ready to fire in 30 seconds. It can be stowed and ready for movement 20 seconds after a round is fired. The mortar deployment and fire-control systems are automated and can be controlled from inside or outside the vehicle. A digital data transfer system enables information to be shared and received from a variety of sources.
The Bars-8MMK (at right) is based on a commercial Dodge Ram chassis. Its armor provides NATO Standard Agreement 4569 Level 2 protection against small arms and shell fragments. It has a top speed of 75 mph (120 kph). Sixty mortar rounds can be carried in the Bars-8. The mortar has a range of 5 miles (8 km) and a maximum rate of fire of 12 rounds per minute. The mobile mortar was first displayed publicly in 2017. Testing took place in 2018 and an initial batch of operational systems was fielded in 2019.
Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in Germany is building four new diesel-electric submarines for Singapore. The Invincible class, the first new-build subs purchased by Singapore, will replace the Challenger- and Archer-class boats that were acquired secondhand. The Type 218SG design features the hull of the TKMS Type 214 design with elements of the Type 212a design, such as the X-shaped rudder. The subs will be climatized for tropical conditions and have a strengthened bottom for operations in shallow waters.
The Invincible class (left) is armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes at the bow. A unique combat system has been developed for the class. Singapore ordered the first two boats in 2013, with first steel cut the following year. A follow-on contract for two more subs was inked in 2017. Work on those boats began in 2018. The lead sub in the class, Invincible, was launched in 2019. Delivery was scheduled for 2021, but this has reportedly been pushed back to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final two subs are set for delivery starting in 2024.
Bangladesh Arms Up With Ex-Chinese Subs
Submarines were an area of focus this month, including a new record for Bangladesh's Chinese-built Nabajatra class and updates for South Africa's Manthatisi class and Algeria's Messali el Hadj class. In addition, the U.S. Navy's Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile has been made current.
Updated ground platforms include the Italian Centauro 8 x 8 tank destroyer, Serbian Soko SP RR self-propelled howitzer and radars, such as the Czech Retia Through-Wall Vision (ReTWis) and Israeli ELM-2106, as well as a new record for Germany's WOTAN medium cannon, which has been installed in Lance turrets to equip Lynx infantry fighting vehicles.
Aviation has not been neglected, with a new record covering Boeing's Airpower Teaming System, the market leader for "loyal wingman" drones, now available. In addition, the Canadian CL-415 waterbomber/utility aircraft, Brazilian MAA-1 Piranha air-to-air missile and Russian 12.7-mm UBK-12.7 aircraft gun system have been updated.
Russia's Military Modernization Presses Forward
The Russian armed forces records have all been updated, with the Overview and Army pages completed this month. The order of battle for Bahrain has also been made current.
Morocco Makes Gains in W. Sahara
The dispute over Western Sahara has long been frozen. It returned to attention late last year when the Polisario Front announced the end of a 30-year truce with Morocco. Nations Editor Kevin Ivey has the latest developments in "Thawing Conflict in the Desert."
As technology has advanced, armed forces around the world have sought new roles for uncrewed systems. In one key sector, Australia has taken the lead with its Airpower Teaming System, which is designed to operate alongside crewed aircraft. Weapons Editor Brody Ladd reviews the tech in "Drones Level Up."