SpaceX to naval Iron Dome: Breaking Defense’s 10 most read stories from 2022

SpaceX to naval Iron Dome: Breaking Defense’s 10 most read stories from 2022
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Breaking Defense goggles. (Graphic by Breaking Defense; original image via Getty)

WASHINGTON — This year was a busy one in the world of defense, from the geopolitical earthquake that was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to unveilings of and contract awards on some of the most high-profile US military programs.

As I noted last year, Breaking Defense is proud to count among its readers policymakers, industry leaders and defense practitioners, and it’s mostly for them that we break stories or dive headlong into the details of complex, sometimes inscrutable defense news. But every now and then a story hits a broader audience, and we’re happy to watch it’s wider appeal.

The list below is a reflection of the latter, the most popular stories on the site for 2022.

[This article is one of many in a series in which the Breaking Defense staff looks back on the most significant (and entertaining) news stories of 2022 and look forward to what 2023 may hold.]

1. SpaceX beating Russian jamming attack was ‘eyewatering,’ DoD official says

Edging out the top spot this year was a report by Breaking Defense air reporter Valerie Insinna that captured the surprise — and maybe a little jealousy — in the reaction to how quickly Elon Musk’s SpaceX adapted to Russian attacks against Ukrainian users.

“The way that Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that ability,” Dave Tremper, the Pentagon’s director of electronic warfare, said at the time. “We have to be able to change our electromagnetic posture, to be able to change very dynamically what we’re trying to do without losing capability along the way.”

2. Poland considering Italian, Korean alternatives to backfill Mig-29s

There was not shortage of news about European nations jockeying for new fighter aircraft this year, but for one reason or another, this report from our correspondent Reuben Johnson really took off.

Johnson’s report came after a botched effort to transfer Poland’s old fighters to Ukraine, with hopes of getting F-16s from the US in return. Though that effort faded, Johnson reported Poland hadn’t given up on obtaining more advanced aircraft, and was looking further abroad. Five months later, Warsaw indeed inked a $705 million deal for South Korean made FA-50 fighters.

3. Meet ‘Phoenix Ghost,’ the US Air Force’s new drone perfect for Ukraine’s war with Russia

Pentagon briefings about US assistance to Ukraine became somewhat routine as the conflict went on, but that doesn’t mean the department lost its ability to surprise. For instance, in a mid-April statement came a surprise: a new, previously secret drone was announced as part of the latest arms package.

In this story, Insinna returns to the list with a report discussing what little information was known about the Phoenix Ghost, including how the Pentagon said it was “developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas.”

4. Ukraine’s Turkish-made drones face off against advanced Russian military

Perhaps the most prescient story on the list, just a day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Breaking Defense’s (now former) land warfare reporter Andrew Eversden wrote a profile of Ukraine’s fleet of Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktars drones.

The drones turned out to be critical to Ukraine’s successful defense, and the war has since evolved into a drone-heavy conflict.

5. Why new ammunition is a ‘daunting’ challenge for the Army’s new rifle

Breaking Defense Editor-in-Chief Aaron Mehta jumped in the fray for this April report about the Army’s  choice for a new infantry rifle and squad weapon — along with worries over how it’ll get enough ammunition in the new caliber.

While both legacy rounds have significant stockpiles built up over the years, getting ammunition levels to where they need to be is a “daunting, daunting indeed,” challenge, Brig. Gen. William M. Boruff, joint program executive officer for armaments and ammunition, said at the time.

6. Space Force commander cannot ‘forgive’ Russia for ‘reckless’ ASAT test

One of the fascinating, long-running space stories of the year was America’s international push for a ban on destructive anti-satellite tests — one that Breaking Defense’s intrepid space reporter Theresa Hitchens expects to gather steam in 2023.

Why the push? Space debris is becoming a dire issue for both civilian and military space operations, and anti-satellite tests can exponentially compound the problem. I pinch-hit for Hitchens to pen this report about a Space Force official lambasting Russia for an incident in 2021 when it blasted one of its own satellites into thousands of pieces.

7. After setting ultra-endurance record, Army Zephyr drone keeps flying, whether it wants to or not

The Army’s Zephyr done became something of an obsession of mine in 2022. Eversden pitched a story about the extremely lightweight, long-winged unmanned aerial vehicle breaking an endurance record, but only during the course of reporting did he uncover an uncomfortable fact for the Army: they couldn’t bring the thing back down.

8. Lockheed delivers high-energy laser four years in the making to US Navy

Few military topics capture the public imagination like the long-promised operational use of lasers to take out enemy assets. In this August story, reported by Breaking Defense’s naval reporter Justin Katz, defense giant Lockheed Martin finally turned over a laser known as High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) to the US Navy.

“HELIOS represents a solid foundation for incremental delivery of robust and powerful laser weapon system capabilities,” Rick Cordaro, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s advanced product solutions, said at the time.

9. As classified B-21 bomber nears flight, secret facility sees more curious ‘probing’

Months before Northrop Grumman unveiled the B-21 bomber in an elaborate, high-powered ceremony in the California desert, Insinna visited the Air Force’s secretive Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., where the plane was being developed.

There, she learned from officials that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the facility attracts more than a little attention from aviation enthusiasts — and that sometimes some of those people take things too far.

10. Naval Iron Dome successfully tested, as Iran hits another tanker

In November, after Iran was blamed for a drone attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman, the Israeli Navy announced it had successfully tested an air defense system based on its famed Iron Dome system. The C-Dome, as it is known, is designed to go on ships and provide the same protection from rockets, missiles and small drones that Iron Dome does on land.

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