Author Archives: David Cenciotti

The Royal Saudi Air Force Has Prepared A Series Of Special Color Jets For The Kingdom’s 88th National Day Celebrations

The photographs of the special colored Tornado, Typhoon, F-15S, F-15C and MRTT have already emerged.

On Sept. 23, Saudi Arabia will celebrate the 88th Saudi National Day. As part of the celebrations, five special colored aircraft (an F-15C belonging to the 13th Sqn; an F-15S from the 92nd Sqn; a Tornado from the 7th Sqn; a Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn; and a MRTT belongign to the 24th Sqn) will perform flyovers alongside the Saudi Hawks display team in three cities Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran.

Our friend  has shared with us some previews of the special painted aircraft.

Here they are:

The F-15S belonging to the 92nd Sqn.

The F-15C from the 13th Sqn.

The Tornado IDS form the 7th Sqn.

The Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn.

The image of the specially painted A330 MRTT was shared on Twitter:

All the RSAF involved in the flyovers have taken part in the air strikes in Yemen, as part of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, started on Mar. 26 2015.

Interestingly, the F-15SA, the most advanced production Eagle ever produced, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, was not given a special color scheme and won’t take part in the celebrations (at least not as part of the 88th National Day formation). The “SA” are equipped with the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a digital glass cockpit, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mouted Cueing System), Digital Electronic Warfare System/Common Missile Warning System (DEWS/CMWS), IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) system, and able to carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AGM-84 SLAM-ERs, the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) on 11 external hardpoints.

The RSAF has received its first of 84 F-15SA at King Khalid Air Base (KKAB) in Saudi Arabia via RAF Lakenheath, on Dec. 13, 2016.

 

U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton Drone Performs Gear Up Landing At Point Mugu

The crash landing has caused some 2M USD damage to the UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

An MQ-4C Triton experienced a technical failure that forced it to perform a gear up landing at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) at Point Mugu on Sept. 12, the U.S. Navy confirmed

“The Navy says as a precautionary measure, the pilots shut down the engine and tried to make a landing at Point Mugu but the aircraft’s landing gear failed to deploy and the aircraft landed on the runway with its gear up, causing some $2 million damage to the plane,” KVTA reported.

No further details about the unit have been disclosed so far, however, it’s worth noticing that two MQ-4C UAVs – #168460 and #168461 – have started operations with VUP-19 DET Point Mugu from NBVC on Jun. 27, 2018.

Here’s what we have written about that first flight back then:

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C “Triton” Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform that will complement the P-8A Poseidon within the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems: for instance, testing has already proved the MQ-4C’s ability to pass FMV (Full Motion Video) to a Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). An advanced version than the first generation Global Hawk Block 10, the drone  it is believed to be a sort of Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawk hybrid, carrying Navy payload including an AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, that gives the Triton the ability to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission that can last as long as 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

The U.S. Navy plans to procure 68 aircraft and 2 prototypes. VUP-19 DET PM has recently achieved an Early Operational Capability (EOC) and prepares for overseas operations:  as alreadt reported, Point Mugu’s MQ-4Cs are expected to deploy to Guam later in 2018, with an early set of capabilities, including basic ESM (Electronic Support Measures) to pick up ships radar signals, for maritime Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance mission.

The Triton is expected to reach an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in 2021, when two additional MQ-4Cs will allow a 24/7/365 orbit out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Image: file photo of an MQ-4C of VUP-19 Det PM during its first flight (U.S. Navy)

NORAD Released A Photo Of A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Shadowing A Russian Tu-95MS Bear Bomber During Intercept Off Alaska

This time the Bear bombers were escorted by Su-35 jets.

On Sept. 11, at approximately 10 PM EDT, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets “positively identified and intercepted two Russian Tu-95MS A“Bear-H” bombers west of Alaska.

Nothing special then, considered that a similar intercept had occurred on Sept. 1. However, this time the Russian bombers, flying in international airspace but inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) – a special zone, that can extend well beyond a country’s territory where aircraft without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft – were accompanied by two Russian Su-35 “Flanker” fighter jets.

F-22s are among the aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scrambled by NORAD in support of Operation Noble Eagle, launched in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent a recurrence of Sept. 11, 2001-style air attacks in U.S. and Canada.

This is not the first time some Flanker jets operate alongside the Russian bombers on their long range sorties. Indeed, this is what this Author wrote commenting the previous intercept earlier this month:

Such close encounters are quite frequent and may also involve fighters, as happened in 2017, when the Bears were escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and an A-50 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft. Anyway, this is the second time that Russian Bears pay a visit to the Alaskan ADIZ: on May 12, 2018, two F-22s were launched to perform a VID and escort two Tu-95 on a similar mission in the Northern Pacific.

In fact, in May 2017, a “mini-package” of two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95MS Bear bombers escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets and supported by an A-50 Mainstay flew inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), and was intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

Here’s what we wrote back then:

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

[…]

In my opinion the “mini package” was launched as a consequence of the increased flight activity in Alaska related to the Northern Edge exercise, confirming that the Russians closely observe what happens in the Alaskan area.

This time, they wanted to showcase their ability to plan a complex long-range sortie as well as the Flanker’s readiness to escort its own HVA (high value asset), the Bear, during operations at strategic distance.

The composition of this package is also worth a comment.

The presence of the Mainstay should not be underestimated. It was flying well behind the Flanker and Bear aircraft with a specific purpose. As an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform the A-50 is believed to embed some ESM (Electronic Support Measures): in other words, it is able to detect far away targets as well as able to sniff radar, radio and data link emissions. Furthermore, Raptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Luneburg lenses: this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars. In such conditions, although it can’t “characterize” the clean F-22’s signature, the Mainstay can at least gather some data about the interceptors’ radar emissions (if any) and observe and study their tactics.

Therefore, as frequently happens on both sides since the Cold War, on May 3, the Russians most probably carried out another simulated long-range strike mission but with a precise ELINT (ELectronics INTelligence) objective: the Flankers and Bears were acting as a “decoy” package to test the American scramble tactics and reaction times, whereas the Mainstay, in a back position, tried to collect as much signals and data as possible about the US fighters launched to intercept them.

General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD Commander, commented the latest event in a public release as follows: “The homeland is no longer a sanctuary and the ability to deter and defeat threats to our citizens, vital infrastructure, and national institutions starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace. NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, as well as fighters to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response.”

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

Let’s Have A Look At The Loadout Of The Two U.S. Air Force F-16s That Reportedly Operated Off Libya Last Saturday

Looks like two F-16s from Aviano were involved in a somehow “mysterious” mission over the Mediterranean Sea during last weekend.

As the overnight trilateral strike on Syria on Apr. 13 and 14 has proved, an OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) analysis based on flight tracking websites ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT and other information shared via social media, may provide a clear “picture” of the air asset involved in a raid as the operation unfolds and well before the involvement of this or that asset is officially confirmed.

Every day, aviation enthusiasts,  journalists and, generally speaking, anyone who has an Internet connection a computer, laptop or smartphone, can track flights in real-time via information in the public domain.

As happened on Saturday Sept. 8, 2018 when most of the flight tracking experts noticed something weird off the coasts of Northern Africa: an “eye catching” gathering of aircraft.

If the constant presence of an RQ-4 Global Hawk, an EP-3E ARIES II or another spyplane in the southern or eastern Med Sea is something normal considered the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions flown in the region since 2011, the presence of a pair of F-16s from Aviano Air Base (supported by one or two KC-135 tankers) off Libya (at least based on the position of the accompanying aerial refueler) is something really unusual. Moreover, the 31st FW’s jets rarely fly on weekends if they are not deploying somewhere or returning from a deployment. And, above all, they don’t carry Live armament, unless they are involved in real combat operations.

KC-135 QID564 on final for landing at Aviano.

On Sept. 8, two F-16s belonging to the 555th Fighter Squadron/31st FW launched from Aviano, reportedly operated off Libya, where they were supported by KC-135R tankers with the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall, and then returned home.

As the photographs in this post (taken outside Aviano on that day by photographer Claudio Tramontin) show, the Vipers carried 3x AIM-120C AMRAAM and 1x AIM-9X air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 2x GBU-54 500-lb laser-guided JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions along with external fuel tanks, a AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod as well as the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod): a configuration that gave the F-16s the ability to perform DCA (Defensive Counter Air) with AAMs as well as engage (moving) ground targets with precision and minimal collateral damage. Pilots worn the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Sight).

The two F-16s returning to Aviano AB with their load of aam and JDAMs.

While the purpose of their mission is unknown (we can speculate they were “on call” or supporting other assets or after a target that eventually did not show up or could not be attacked, etc) what is sure is that they did not use any of their ordnance: the aircraft returned to Aviano with all the weapons they had on departure.

One of the two F-16s involved in the rather unusual mission on Sat. 8, 2018. All images credit: Claudio Tramontin.

The situation in Libya has dramatically deteriorated in recent weeks, due to heavy clashes in Tripoli. A rocket attack on Mitiga International Airport (reopened on Friday Sept. 7, following clashes between rival militias caused, flights to the Libya capital to be diverted on Tuesday.

Watch Night Stalkers’ MH-60 Black Hawk and MH-6 Little Bird Helicopters Fly Underneath The Brooklyn Bridge in NYC

The footage, showing U.S. Army’s elite unit’s helicopters was filmed during the exercises carried out by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) last April.

Last April, some MH-60s and MH-6s helicopters belonging to the 160th SOAR “Night Stalkers” carried out a series of exercises in New York City. As reported by Tyler Rogoway at the War Zone back then, between April 17 and 18, the U.S. Army choppers flying over Lower Manhattan during flights that saw the helicopters, likely carrying special operators, flying between skyscrapers.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units. They fly MH-47G Chinooks, MH-60L/M/K Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds and, since Nov. 19, 2013, the  MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone, advanced derivative of the Predator  specialized in providing direct operation control by Army field commanders. It can fly Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA); convoy protection; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection as well as providing live aerial imagery to ground patrols carrying also PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions).

160th SOAR mainly operate at night (hence their name) in attack, assault, reconnaissance, infiltration and exfiltration, and any kind of known or unknown special operations you may imagine. Indeed, the “Night Stalkers” are quite famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced. During the years we have also speculated about the existence of stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks as well.

Anyway, just the Little Birds and Black Hawks can be seen in the footage filmed during the New York training last April.

The helicopters flying low over the East River were probably carrying special operators involved in a simulated terrorist attack on a vessel as reported by Rogoway who wrote that along with reports and videos of the choppers flying low level at night, there “were also reports that a Staten Island Ferry went sailing down the Hudson River flanked by police boats. It is possible that the special operators rappelled onto the vessel in response to a mock terrorist attack or hostage scenario.”

If you can’t see the video click here.

Not only are the Night Stalkers involved in urban training even though most units carry out such training far from residential zones: in 2017 we took part in “Realistic Urban Training” (RUT), a live fire assault on an “urban complex” on the ranges at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, CA. The activity was part of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) workups to the deployment to the Pacific on the U.S.S. America (LHA-6) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) The MEUs, the smallest Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) numbering about 2,200 Marines, are “broadly capable, forward deployed forces prepared to quickly respond to a global crisis of a humanitarian or military nature”. That’s why they conduct RUT to assess the combat capabilities of the MEUs to exfiltrate forces or secure and hold ground, even when the contested space is a large city.

Kinetic “urban operations” are carried out using live armament in “fake towns” specifically built to practice firing rockets, guns and laser-guided training rounds. Such as  “Yodaville” near Yuma, Arizona, within the Urban Target Complex or R-2013-West, an isolated town built in 1999 and surrounded by terrain similar to that you can find in the Middle East or Asia. Yodaville provides the most realistic target environment for pilot and ground controllers to improve their skills in CAS (Close Air Support) conducted in urban areas – aka UCAS (Urban CAS). UCAS sorties are also launched as part of MOOTW (Military Operations Other Than War) to assist civilians during NEOs (Non-combatant Evacuation Operations), as happened in the past, in Saigon or Tirana.

H/T to @thenewarea51 for sharing this on Twitter!