September 2016

Product Spotlight: From Interception to Defection

 

Hobby Master’s first MiG 25 Foxbat interceptor, based upon the mount flown by defecting pilot Viktor Belenko

“In terms of speed, MiG-25 can fly at mach 3.2 but after that flight – and it will be short one, I don’t know how long but it will be short one – but after that flight you must change its engines.”

– Lt. (Sg.) V. Belenko, Russian pilot who defected to the West with his MiG 25 interceptor

When it was first unveiled to the world in the late 1960s, the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG 25 “Foxbat” caused a great deal of consternation in the West, appearing as if the Soviets had gained the upper hand in fighter aircraft design. However, at a time when Western military planners were still unsure as to the exact purpose of the MiG 25, fate and a good bit of luck would turn things around and give the Soviets a headache of their own.

Inaccurate intelligence analysis caused the West initially to believe the MiG-25 was an agile air-combat fighter rather than an interceptor. In response, the United States started a new program which resulted in the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. NATO obtained a better understanding of the MiG-25’s capabilities on September 6th, 1976, when a Soviet Air Defence Forces pilot, Lt. Viktor Belenko, defected, landing his MiG-25P at Hakodate Airport in Japan. The pilot overshot the runway on landing and damaged the front landing gear. Despite Soviet protests, the Japanese invited U.S. Air Force personnel to investigate the aircraft. On September 25th, it was moved by a C-5A transport to a base in central Japan, where it was carefully dismantled and analyzed. After 67 days, the aircraft was returned by ship to the Soviets, in pieces. The aircraft was reassembled and is now on display at the Sokol plant in Nizhny Novgorod.

Look for the MiG 25 to carry a wide range of short- and intermediate range anti-aircraft missiles

To pay tribute to this amazing warbird, Hobby Master has announced their intent to build a 1:72 scale replica of the MiG 25P “Foxbat-A” interceptor (HA5601). More importantly, Hobby Master has chosen to recreate the aircraft flown by defecting Soviet pilot, Viktor Belenko, as its first foray into the land of the MiG, the same aircraft he flew from Russia to Japan in 1976, and returned to the Soviet Union some two months later.

We anticipate extremely strong sales for this aircraft when it gets released some time this coming March, so we advise placing your pre-orders as soon as possible since it is entirely possible we may not have enough for general sale once it does arrive.

 
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DARPA, the DoD and Lockheed-Martin queries, “How fast is fast?”

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According to a report published by Popular Mechanics, Lockheed-Martin won a contract valued at $147 million to develop, build, field and test a Mach 20 capable weapons system that could strike a target anywhere around the world in less than an hour. The goal, it goes on to say, “is to create a high-speed delivery system that could bomb targets thousands of miles away in an hour or less. It’s similar to what other countries, including Russia and China, are working on.

Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) will be an air-launched boost glide weapon system. The TBG itself is a aerodynamic, arrowhead-shaped vehicle fitted on the nose of a rocket. The rocket in turn is carried by a large aircraft such as a B-52 bomber, which would carry the rocket to high altitude and then launch it. The rocket boosts TBG to an even higher altitude, whereupon a scramjet or ramjet kicks in and quickly accelerates it up to hypersonic speeds. TBG then glides unpowered the rest of the way to the target.

How fast will TBG go? A nearly identical program concluded in 2011 reached speeds of Mach 20. At that speed, a hypersonic vehicle could travel from New York City to Los Angeles in 12 minutes, or London to Sydney in 49 minutes.

Hypersonic is the next frontier in weaponry. The super-fast speeds could make it possible to destroy a faraway but time-critical target—say, a North Korean missile fueling on the launch pad or a terrorist meeting in a remote location. Hypersonic speed also makes interception very difficult—and makes the actual vehicle a weapon when the kinetic energy of an object traveling at Mach 20 is transferred to a target.

Boost glide systems are difficult to shoot down. Their high speeds reduce reaction times, giving the defender less time to respond to the incoming threat. The launch profile of boost glide weapons is much like a traditional ballistic missile but stops short of entering low-earth orbit. This makes them tricky targets for existing, slower-moving interceptor missiles.

According to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which awarded the contract, Tactical Boost Glide will build on “knowledge and lessons learned from development and flight testing of previous boost glide systems, including the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2.” HTV-2 was that previous Mach 20 hypersonic program that last flew in 2011 for nine minutes. The stress of flying at Mach 20 subjected it to shockwaves one hundred times what it was designed to endure, as well as temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, before it was intentionally ditched in the Pacific Ocean.

Hypersonic weapons are also the next arms race. China is working on its own hypersonic weapon, the DF-ZF, which uses a DF-21 intermediate range ballistic missile instead of TBG’s bomber and rocket system. DF-ZF has been tested seven times, the latest in April 2016, with six tests judged by outsiders as successes. China’s hypersonic weapon travels at a more modest Mach 5 to Mach 10. The Russian Yu-71 system has been tested five times, with four failures.”

Obviously, such a system would be unmanned since it is inconceivable that a man could survive traveling at such incredible speeds while transiting low-earth orbit. And, if the vehicle is designed as an all-inclusive kinetic energy weapons system, then it would mean that the pilot was forfeiting his life in the process of carrying out the mission, perhaps other competing nations are willing to pay if they have similar systems in mind that are traveling at less stressful speeds, as PM suggests.

Of course, all of this falls under the purview of the recently announced doctrine dubbed Prompt Global Strike and flies in the face of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), first put forth in the 1950s and obviating the need for huge atomic arsenals. Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a United States military effort to develop a system that can deliver a precision-guided conventional weapon airstrike anywhere in the world within one hour, in a similar manner to a nuclear ICBM. Such a weapon would allow the United States to respond far more swiftly to rapidly emerging threats than is possible with conventional forces. A PGS system could also be useful during a nuclear conflict, potentially replacing the use of nuclear weapons against 30% of targets. The PGS program encompasses numerous established and emerging technologies, including conventional surface-launched missiles and air- and submarine-launched hypersonic missiles, although no specific PGS system has yet been finalized as of 2015.

 
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Forces of Valor Makes an Encore Performance

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Waltersons, the new owners of the Forces of Valor marque, made sure their newly announced 2016 lineup was on display at the 56th All Japan Models & Hobby Show 2016 held in Tokyo, Japan. Shown is one of their relaunched warships, complete with its new display plinth and etched metallic name plate. Also highlighted were some of the past 1:32 scale favorites, which may come with updated paint schemes and revised packaging to differentiate them from the Unimax releases. Its not clear when these items will make it into the retail channel, so for now we would suggest not counting on them making it under the Christmas tree or by the Hanukkah bush. They’ll likely show up towards the end of the year.

 
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The Cold War Anew?: Russia Revives the KGB in the Form of the MGB

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News out of Russia seems to be getting more and more dire by the day, as hard line members have seemingly gained control over the Duma, the lower house of parliament, taking three-quarters of its 450 seats, its largest ever majority. And, according to the UK Telegraph, Russia plans to shake-up its security forces, reviving an old organization that conjures up the darkest days of the Cold War.

“[The] MGB (Ministry of State Security), would be created from the current Federal Security Service (FSB), and would incorporate the foreign intelligence service (SVR) and the state guard service (FSO), under the plans.

It would be handed all-encompassing powers once possessed by the KGB, the Kommersant newspaper said, citing security service sources.

Like the much-feared KGB, it would also oversee the prosecutions of Kremlin critics, a task currently undertaken by the Investigative Committee, headed by Alexander Bastrykin, a former university classmate of President Putin. The Kremlin has not commented.

The MGB is not a new designation. It was the name of the state security apparatus for eight years during Joseph Stalin’s bloody rule. It was renamed the KGB after Stalin’s death, and disbanded in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when its powers were distributed among a number of  newly-created security services.” This all comes less than 24 hours after taking a majority stake of the Duma.

The history of the MGB is as feared as its role in the former Soviet Union. The MGB was just one of many incarnations of the Soviet State Security apparatus. Since the revolution, the Bolsheviks relied on a strong political police or security force to support and control their regime. During the Russian Civil War, the Cheka were in power, relinquishing it to the less violent State Political Directorate (GPU) in 1922 after the fighting was over. The GPU was then renamed The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) in 1934. From the mid-1930s and until the creation of the KGB, this “Organ of State Security” was re-organized and renamed multiple times depending on the needs and fears of the leadership. In 1941, the state-security function was separated from the NKVD and became the People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), only to be reintegrated a few months later during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1943, the NKGB was once again made into an independent organization in response to the Soviet occupation of parts of Eastern Europe. SMERSH—anecdotally derived from a phrase translated as “Death to Spies”—which was designed to be a counter-intelligence unit within the Red Army to ensure the loyalty of the army personnel. Following the end of the war, both the NKVD and the NKGB were converted to ministries and redubbed the Ministry for Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Ministry for State Security (MGB). The MGB and MVD merged again in 1953, orchestrated by Lavrenty Beria, who was then arrested and executed. The KGB took on the mantle of the NKGB/ MGB and, in 1954, broke off from the reformed MVD.

 
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Calibre Wings Shows Off its Wares

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At the 56th All Japan Models & Hobby Show 2016 held in Tokyo, Japan, Calibre Wings revealed the first set of photos of their soon-to-be-released pair of F-14 Tomcat fighters. Expected in October, the inaugural pairing of Tomcats will be based upon both an A and B variant of the fleet defense fighter: the first from VF-1 “Wolf Pack”, then embarked upon the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), during Operation Frequent Wind in 1974 while the second was attached to VF-103 “Jolly Rogers”. Each plane shows off the unique tri-stanchion display stand developed expressly for these models along with the product packaging.

 
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If You Like ’em Big, then 2017 Could be Your Year

blueprints

For several years, collectors have been wondering when or even if Forces of Valor would get around to releasing their next big 1:16 scale tank. Dubbed their Extreme Metal Series, these vehicles were certainly “extreme” in nature, oftentimes weighing more than 20 pounds and accompanied by all sorts of accessories, equipment and other items that helped them to stand out from the pack. While most retailed for around $400-$500, many have escalated in value, oftentimes commanding prices two or three times what they originally went for.

Under Unimax, their original owners, its been a long time since anything new was introduced, much to the consternation of collectors worldwide. Indeed as the Company pared down inventory of their last vehicle, a US M4A3 Sherman tank, and wound down operations to get out of the business, it looked as if the series might be doomed, with no new product in sight. Fortunately, all that may have changed. Now a member of the Waltersons family, who purchased the line in its entirety, the new owners of Forces of Valor seem to be genuinely interested in reinvigorating the brand from top to bottom. On Facebook, they let it be known that a new 1:16 scale vehicle is indeed in the works and slated to be shown for the first time at the upcoming Nuremberg Toy Fair in February.

Its not clear what they have in store for us, although they have indicated that, in an effort to preserve the value of the original set of vehicles, they have no intention of reintroducing any of the former liveries. That’s not to say they wouldn’t consider offering, say, an Otto Carius Tiger I tank, or perhaps Richard Wilfred Harry Erich Freiherr von Rosen’s King Tiger, who passed away in 2015. Or, they could pivot in an entirely new direction and offer, say, the “Easy 8” Sherman tank that Brad Pitt commanded in the feature film, Fury. So, while we’d love to speculate, the purpose of this post was just to whet the appetite of the collecting community and get them geared up for the Nuremberg Toy Fair which is just a few months away. We don’t know what they plan to offer, however, if any information should surface before the show, which is entirely possible, we will let everyone know as soon as possible.

Update: According to a Facebook post from the All Japan Hobby Show, Waltersons plans to build a mid production Tiger I heavy tank as its next 1:16 scale vehicle and have it ready for shipment some time in 2017. No details were provided concerning the livery, commander, production numbers and attendant accessories, and no information was given about the price or anticipated date of delivery.

 
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Unmanned But Not Unarmed

vikhr

The depth and breadth of new military vehicles undergoing testing or joining the Russian Army is truly staggering, given their supposed stance of neutrality following the demise of the Soviet Union. The military analysts at Jane’s report that a completely new vehicle was unveiled at the Russian-sponsored Army 2016 Expo, sounding alarms across the West and chills in NATO circles.

“Designated as an unmanned combat ground vehicle (UCGV), the Vikhr (Whirlwind) is based on the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).

“The fully modular combat UCGV is based on the BMP-3, as this IFV features a reliable and easy-to-maintain chassis. However, it can be integrated with other types of armoured combat vehicles with a combat weight of 7-15 tonnes, for instance, modified BMP-1 and BMP-2 IFVs, Ural heavy trucks, or BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers [APCs],” an industry source told IHS Jane’s . He added that Vikhr is intended for fire support and combat reconnaissance on the battlefield.

The vehicle is equipped with an advanced remote-control sensor package device that includes an electo-optic suite, an automatic target tracking device, a laser rangefinder, a thermal imager, and a ballistic computer.

Vikhr is armed with a stabilized 30 mm Shipunov 2A72 automatic cannon, a coaxial 7.62 mm Kalashnikov PKT/PKTM machine gun, and six ready-to-launch 9M133M Kornet-M (AT-14 Spriggan) anti-tank guided missiles.

“The 2A72 main gun of the Vikhr robotic system can be replaced by a single or twin-barrel 23 mm 2A14 anti-aircraft cannon, 12.7 mm NSVT or Kord heavy machine guns, or a 30 mm GSh-6-30K six-barrel naval automatic cannon. The vehicle can use surface-to-air missiles such as the Igla [SA-18 Grouse] or 9K333 Verba man-portable air defense systems, as well as Shmel-M reactive flamethrowers. We can also integrate foreign artillery systems with the Vikhr vehicle,” the source said.

According to official data, Vikhr has a combat weight of 14.7 tons, a payload capacity of 4 tons, an operating range of 600 km, a maximum road speed of 60 km/h, a swimming speed of 10 km/h, and can be remote controlled to a distance of 10 km. The vehicle’s combat module weighs 1,450 kg.”

It’s not clear how the Vikhr will be integrated within the Russian Army, operating in tandem with manned systems or alone and independently.

 
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Kalashnikov Tackles the Tank

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Best known for their family of robust automatic firearms, it would appear as if Kalashnikov is testing its footing on new ground in an effort to address Moscow’s war aims in the 21st Century. According to Popular Mechanics, “the BAS-01G Soratnik (loosely, “Comrade -in-arms”) is something of a departure: the company’s first venture into combat robots. Soratnik is a 7-ton robot tank developed in response to a request from the Russian Ministry of Defense for a vehicle to support infantry in action. It has a road speed of 25 mph and can be operated remotely at a range of up to six miles. More importantly, it can also operate independently with varying degrees of autonomy. The Russians do not necessarily share U.S. concerns about keeping a human in the loop when lethal force is involved, and seem willing to give their killer robots a freer rein.

The Soratnik’s standard armament is, of course, a 7.62mm Kalashnikov PKTM machine gun, but it can also be fitter with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, grenade launchers, or, for anti-tank missions, eight Kornet guided missiles with a range of three miles. It also bristles with various day and night sensors and secure communications gear.

Soratnik also explore the new trend of having robots operate in groups. According to Kalashnikov, it can go into action with two small Zala drones, made by one of the company subsidiaries, which would spot targets for the Soratnik to engage.

According to the company, they have customers lined up inside the Russian military and abroad. It will face plenty of competition. The similar URAN-9 combat robot is set to enter service this year, and in addition to various Russian machines seen previously, the Army 2016 show also saw the launch of the Vikhr (or “Whirlwind”), an unmanned version of the BMP-3 personnel carrier.

Kalashnikov still seems to be popular with the Russian elite. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented the company with a prize at the show for “achievements in the development of weapons, military and special equipment.” Perhaps their success will continue, and one day the name Kalashnikov will be associated with robots rather than assault rifles.”

 
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Product Spotlight: My Oh My, It’s Nine O Nine!

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“Why, it’s a flying fortress!”

– Richard Williams, reporter for the Seattle Times, upon seeing a B-17 heavy bomber for the first time

With sales of its first 1:72 scale B-17 far outstripping expectations, Air Force 1 drew back the curtain on its next Flying Fortress. Due out this December, the second “G” model is based upon “Nine O Nine”, a heavy bomber that was attached to the 323rd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, then deployed to Bassingbourn, England, during 1944.

Indeed, “Nine-O-Nine” was a Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress heavy bomber that completed 140 combat missions during World War II, believed to be the Eighth Air Force record for most missions, without loss to the crews that flew it.

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The original aircraft, a block 30 B-17G manufactured by Boeing, was nicknamed after the last three digits of her serial number: 42-31909. “Nine-O-Nine” was added to the USAAF inventory on December 15th, 1943, and flown overseas on February 5th, 1944. After depot modifications, she was delivered to the 91st BG at RAF Bassingbourn, England, on February 24th, 1944, as a replacement aircraft, one of the last B-17s received in factory-applied camouflage paint.

A former navigator of the 91st BG, Marion Havelaar, reported in his history of the group that “Nine-O-Nine” completed either 126 or 132 consecutive missions without aborting for mechanical reasons, also believed to be a record. M/Sgt. Rollin L. Davis, maintenance line chief of the bomber, received the Bronze Star for his role in achieving the record.

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Her first bombing raid was on Augsburg, Germany, on February 25th, 1944. She made 18 bombing raids on Berlin. In all, she flew 1,129 hours and dropped 562,000 pounds of bombs. She had 21 engine changes, four wing panel changes, 15 main gas tank changes, and 18 changes of Tokyo tanks (long-range fuel tanks).

After the hostilities ceased in Europe, “Nine-O-Nine” was returned to the United States on June 8th, 1945, and was consigned to the RFC facility at Kingman, Arizona on December 7th, 1945, and eventually scrapped.

 

 
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Tom Hanks Puts to Sea

us-destroyer

No stranger to World War II, it would appear as if renowned actor, Tom Hanks, will once again turn back the hands of time and set his sights on yet another aspect of the Second World War. A number of sources are reporting that Hanks is writing and intends to headline in a naval-themed drama entitled Greyhound, which is based on a destroyer prowling the Atlantic Ocean in search of deadly U-boats. Deadline first reported on this project, which will center on a longtime Naval officer who finally gets to command his own Navy destroyer in World War II. He must fight off his own demons and self-doubts to prove to himself that he belongs in command, while an enemy commander is going through a similar experience. The title of the movie is taken from the name of the ship itself. The budget for the drama is reportedly set at around $35 million, although its not clear at present if this will be developed as a feature film similar in concept to Saving Private Ryan, or created as a multi-part cable series more akin to Band of Brothers or The Pacific.

 
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