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The U.S.’ Post 9/11 Weapons Tech

by John Reed on September 9, 2011

Being part of Military​.com, it wouldn’t be right if we here at DT didn’t do something to recognize the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. We figured we’d list off some of the most significant advances in weaponry that have occurred over the last decade — some driven by the wars spawned by that day, some independent of them. We gradually saw a shift away from extremely high-end weaponry designed to defeat major armies in favor of tech that could be fielded quickly and rapidly adapt to the needs of “low intensity” warfare. Case in point; the F-22 Raptor buys being cut while buys of relatively low-tech drones and propeller-driven ISR planes were dramatically increased . However, now that those wars are winding down, we may see a return to high-end tech at the cost of low-end tech.

You’ll find our list below, set up in no particular order. We’ve kept it to major weapons systems that have become operational in the last decade. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

The rise of unmanned vehicles: Yes, UAVs existed before 9/11 but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw them pressed into mass production as full-on spy planes and attack aircraft that are in the process of replacing manned aircraft. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in November, 2001, the Pentagon had less than 100 of the early model MQ-1 Predators and it had yet to master the art of using them in combat. By early February 2002, Predators armed with Hellfire missiles were killing al Qaeda operatives, the beginning of the controversial drone bombing campaign that garners so much attention today. Soon after, the Pentagon would unleash the Predator’s bigger brother, the MQ-9 Reaper and field the RQ-4 Global Hawk — though, the Global Hawk still hasn’t replaced the U-2 Dragon Lady as Air Force planners had hoped would have happened by now. Don’t forget the dozens of micro-UAVs operated by small units of troops on the ground giving them unprecedented situational awareness. Hundreds of UAVs of all sizes have now joined the fights in the Middle East and are seen as one of the most important weapons in the U.S. arsenal. A few years ago, the demand for UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan became so high that the Air Force began pulling pilots from fighter planes to fly UAVs. As the second decade of the 21st Century begins, we’re seeing the development and fielding of stealthy, jet-powered drones like the Navy’s X-47B  and UCLASS planes that are designed to perform high-end strike and reconnaissance missions that were always the domain of the manned-aircraft. Keep in mind that the robot planes have been joined by thousands of ground robots that are doing everything from explosive ordnance disposal to scouting for bad guys. Just recently, the Army announced that it is sending robotic jeeps to Afghanistan to haul soldiers gear on patrols.

 

Advances in electronic warfare: As U.S. troops began to fall victim to Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq, the Pentagon scrambled to find ways to defeat the insurgents weapon of choice. While up-armored Humvees and eventually MRAPS were fielded in the fight against IEDs military officials began applying electronic warfare in ways they had never planned. Hundreds of millions were spent developing a range of vehicle-mounted and handheld IED jammers (some worked others were notoriously bad) that were carried on the deadly Middle Eastern roads. Navy EW personnel were put in land billets to share their expertise with troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the Air Force’s big spy planes were brought into the effort. The RC-135 Rivet Joints helped intercept insurgent communications. The E-8 Joint STARS used their powerful ground-scanning radars, originally designed to spot Soviet tank columns, to find disturbances in the earth where insurgents had buried bombs. Even the EC-130 Compass Call was pressed into service using its electronic attack gear to prematurely detonate IEDs. All sorts of new EW technology has been developed with the aim of identifying enemy signals,  hacking insurgent communications and disrupting electronic IED detonation tech. This surge of EW gear and a steep learning curve led to the Pentagon eventually dominating the electronic landscape of Iraq — eventually, special operators, the CIA and the NSA were able to listen to all communications in the country as they systematically dismantled bomb making networks and insurgent groups. Not surprisingly, the success of EW in targeting insurgents and defeating IEDs in Iraq has led to Afghan insurgents moving toward more low tech bombmaking techniques.  Still, you can bet the advances made in EW over the last decade (many of which are classified) will no doubt continue to influence the ways wars are fought. Don’t forget that work on high-end jammers, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s Next Generation Jammer built for the 21st century also continues.

The MRAP: As we mentioned earlier, the fight against IEDs led to the fielding of an entirely new class of ground vehicle for the U.S. military when the thin-skinned yet highly-mobile Humvees proved far too vulnerable to explolsives to use on patrol. A vehicle was desperately needed that could carry infantry troops yet provide them levels of protection normally afforded by heavy armored vehicles like tanks. Enter the MRAP. As you know, they’re big trucksvcentered around blast deflecting hulls and lots of armor. Now, we’re  seeing the design scaled down to accommodate the terrain in Afghanistan that limits the use of big trucks.  We’ll see how many of them the military hangs on to after the Iraq and Afghan conflicts end — though, many of the lessons learned from fielding MRAPs are being incorporated into the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, one of the trucks that will replace the Humvee.

Cyber warfare: We write about it all the time here at DT. It’s gone from something no one talked about to becoming a universally fretted about topic. We see new reports of cyber espionage, hacking and full on attacks every week. The Stuxnet virus unleashed against the Iranian nuclear program is a great example of a full on cyber attack that had physical results. With technology so widely available, many worry that almost any rouge group or a nation state will be able to cripple a nation’s critical infrastructure. Before 9/11, heck before 2006–7 it was hard to get senior leaders at the Pentagon to take the cyber threat seriously. However, in the last few years, we’ve seen all four services establish cyber fighting arms and watched as the Pentagon stood up U.S. Cyber Command.

Fifth generation fighters: On 9/11 the USAF’s most potent fighter was arguably the F-15 Eagle. In 2005, the F-22 Raptor became operational ushering in a new era in manned aerial combat. Many believe it’s hands-down the best fighter ever built. However, with the last decade’s focus on irregular warfare, the Raptor came under fire as a jet that was built to meet threats that never materialized and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates cut the Raptor buy to 187 jets. Adding insult to injury, the plane has yet to see combat and has been grounded for months now due to problems with toxins seeping into its oxygen system. Still, opened the door for the development of not only the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but fifth gen planes around the world like Sukhoi’s T-50 PAK FA and China’s J-20. It remains to be seen how all of these planes with their stealth designs, high-speeds and maneuverability and most importantly their advanced sensors and EW gear will change air warfare around the globe.

Tiltrotor tech: Like the Raptor, the V-22 Osprey wasn’t out of testing on 9/11.  However, by the end of the decade, the Osprey has become an integral part of the U.S.’ vertical lift fleet after decades of development troubles that garnered it a ton of critics. The revolutionary birds can fly at near-C-130-speeds to targets far beyond the range of most helicopters and then swoop in for a vertical landing. This has opened up a range of options to mission planners that were never before available. Since their first combat deployments in 2008, Marine Corps MV-22s and Air Force CV-22s have been used to do everything from CSAR missions in Libya to special operations raids in Afghanistan, carrying bin Laden’s body to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and even ferrying the Secretary of Defense around the ‘States. And yes, they’ve seen real combat. Still, the Ospreys have experienced teething problems, particularly with dust and sand seeping into their massive engines, leading to higher than normal maintenance rates.

The Littoral Combat Ship: Yup, these little ships have finally come on line and the Navy is going to buy both classes of LCS for a minimum of 22 ships. We’ll see how the prove themselves since they have yet to  recieve their full weapons suites or work out all the problems with their plug-in mission modules. Oh, and they’ve had some issues with corrosion. Still, Navy officials have high hopes for the controversial vessels which they see as extremely flexible platforms for fighting close to shore.

Soldier tech: From more advanced body armor and flame resistant uniforms and sweet mountain boots (for troops in Afghanistan) to better radios and the XM-25 counter-defilade grenade launcher, ground troops have received numerous and often life-saving advances in their individual gear over the last decade. For more on how the grunt’s gear has evolved since 9/11 check out this piece at sister site, Kit Up!

We could go on about everything from the Small Diameter Bomb and the M982 Excalibur guided artillery round to new blue force tracking tools and data sharing devices (we should also mention the Army’s Stryker armored vehicle that came online very soon after 9/11), and we’re sure you can too, so please do in the comments.

 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance_HBomb September 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Another mention could be post-9/11 digital camouflage.

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Lance September 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm

digi cam is not all that BIG in a advantage only USMC woodland/desert have been effective ACU and ABU have been a embarrassing mistake. USMC Force Recon has gone back to old woodland pattern and Navy units still use BDUs too.

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User4 September 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm

All the optics for rifles these days.

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China #1 September 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Hyper sonic technology

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Thunder350 September 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Isn't that the thing that crashed into the pacific?

Twice?

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RoboSat September 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Satellite robots to destroy other satellites in space.

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TinyRobots September 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Nano robots from 'the Day the Earth Stood Still"

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China #1 September 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Huawei's industrial and end user technology, thanks PLA.

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Henry September 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm

DARPA doing Cold Fussion. Cool!

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Lance September 9, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Well MRAPs and F-22s have been helpful but improvements to older weapons have been key this deacde to current weapons. newer unarmored HUMVEEs newer striker vehicles and M-9 to M-9A1 now and new M-4A2 on its way are bigger improvements over the few new toys which came last several years.

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brenden September 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

CLS/medical devices. Standard issue tourniquets, better training for every single soldier, IV's (which have been discontinued), etc. This saved many lives and the low level tech dealt into everything that is issued in an IFAK is amazing in my mind.

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TieHerUp September 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Quick Clot is the Bomb!!!

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kjjhk September 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

rails and weapon accessories. also why defense-tech and kit-up exists

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Guest September 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Lightweight, mobile, and precision GPS guided artillery. The HIMARS, M777, and the Excalibur munition come to mind.

The widespread use of precision/sniper rifles in regular troops, such as the Mk14 EBR, M110 and such.

Also, the Stryker family of vehicles is a major one.

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Itone September 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I'm most impressed with the development and fielding of the Boomerang. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boomerang_%28counter

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Rob September 11, 2011 at 10:40 am

Technology has been our biggest weakness. Technology allowed 9/11 to happen. Our enemies use our technology against us.

The web is exposing all of our secrets, opening our wallets & feeding our enemies.
It also exposes everything about us, our location, our friends, our family, our social habits, our countries fears, and our weaknesses.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of our technology. I believe we have underestimated our enemies & for so long now. Technology is no good with bad tactics and wrong strategies.

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ffjbentson September 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

How about EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that can knock out 200+ sq. miles of the enemies electronic gear, the electric rail gun, air and land based lasers that shoot down ICBM's or mortar shells, the SM-3 which can shoot down missiles or satellites, SDB (small diameter bombs),….Etc.

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brenden September 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

agreed about the CRAM and Phalanx systems. Even though they are loud as heck when your standing right in front of them, they sure do work and hit those incoming rounds!!

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blight September 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Playing with EMP is playing with fire. It's very much a last ditch system…and it leaves you vulnerable to second-strike. Even with EMP shielding, you will probably be fighting similarly hardened enemy offensive systems (at which point if you cannot take their systems down, why try the EMP?)

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Thunder350 September 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

There were reports that the US used a EMP weapon during the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Why fight a enemy, when you can just knock out their systems and destroy whats left?

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Guest again September 11, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Some more miscellaneous new things that come along in the past decade, some major, some pretty minor:

Small munitions such as the Griffon and Small Diameter bomb.

Not exactly an offensive system but the UH-72 Lakota was the first new helicopter since the Apache.

The C-27J Spartan light cargo plane.

For the Coasties:
The new National Security Cutters, Response Boat-Small, Response Boat Medium, and HC-144 Ocean Sentry. The Sentinel class cutter.

For the Navy
The San Antonio class LPD, the Virginia class submarines, a whole buttload of Arleigh Burkes, the USS Jimmy Carter, the Mk54 Torpedo, Lewis and Clarke cargo ships, the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jet.

The new XM2010 sniper rifle. Also, the M320 and M26 detachable grenade launcher and shotgun. The MK17 SCAR-H for SOCOM.
The Marine Corps new M27 IAR.

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Guest again September 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Also, the Marines new M32 MGL

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dbpollard September 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Ok, somebody tell me the Littoral Combat Ship doesn't look like the Imperial Star Destroyer off of Star Wars. If nothing else, that's some pretty sleek hardware. I can't wait to see what sort of weapons hookups they install on them.

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charles222 December 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Now that you mention it, it does.

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eric franklin April 10, 2014 at 11:03 am

they probally have more than we know so they arent giving away secrets ok they probally have technology on railguns and robots but thats not are buissness

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