Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt attack planes have arrived in Poland

Four U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft have arrived at Polish Powidz AB.

Last month, when the U.S. deployed 12 A-10s to Germany as part of the first TSP (Theater Security Package) we wrote that the aircraft might be temporarily stationed in Poland. Apparently, our assumptions turned out to be founded: on Mar. 24, four Thunderbolts have arrived at the 33rd Powidz Transport Air Base, near Gniezno, in the Greater Poland District.

The purpose of the visit is yet unknown. Most probably the Thunderbolts will be involved in the exercises related to Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is a NATO programme aimed at providing reassurance for the Mid-Eastern European countries (against the Russian threat).

The arrival of the attack aircraft was preceded by arrival of two USAF C-130 Hercules transports, one from the 86th Airlift Wing stationed at Ramstein AB and another one from the 302nd Airlift Wing from Colorado Springs, both part of the rotational USAF Aviation Detachment.

We do not have any information related to length or plan of the unexpected visit. Notably, one of the Warthogs was piloted by a female pilot.

Image Credit: 3rd Transport Aviation Wing, cpt. Włodzimierz Baran, Polish Air Force. More photos here.

 

Russia is working to modernize its strategic aviation to maintain a deterrence capability

Russian Strategic Aviation modernization programs involve Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers.

According to the rumors reported by the Polish Altair media outlet, the Kazan-based KAZ (Kazanskiy Aviatsyonniy Zavod) facility would be ready to start building brand new Tu-160 Blackjacks.

15 more bombers are needed to maintain Moscow’s strategic deterrence capability: out of 12-13 Tupolevs of this type in the Russian Air Force, only 5 examples are combat capable, only one of those has been modernized since it entered active service.

The news of Soviet-era production lines reopened or sold to China have emerged in the last years and denied shortly thereafter so the rumors should be taken with a grain of salt. Anyway, provided the news is well-founded, the decision to reactivate the production line of the Tu-160 would be a sign that it is probably easier and more cost-effective to build new Blackjacks and refurbish the existing ones, instead of waiting for a completely new strategic bomber R&D program, as the PAK-DA.

Indeed, many believe the Russian industry lacks technology and resources to produce the PAK-DA, the next generation strategic bomber, a subsonic flying wing-shaped aircraft with radar-evading capabilities, advanced electronic warfare systems and able to carry new nuclear-capable long-range cruise missiles, destined to replace Moscow’s aging fleet of Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers.

According to some analysts the troubled development of the Sukhoi’s PAK-FA, Russia’s fifth generation stealth fighter jet, that still lacks a proper power-plant, is the proof that Moscow’s aerospace industry is simply unable to develop futuristic combat planes.

It is estimated that reactivation of the Backfire production line would cost more than USD 2 billion, while price tag for a single Tu-160M bomber is believed to be around USD 250-350 million.

However, there are many other problems that make the re-opening quite unlikely: as Altair news outlet noted, Tupolev lacks in digital documentation (the documents are being transformed into digital form now, as A claims) and human resources. Production process also involves titanium processing which always has been painful for the Russians. It was visible e.g. back in the 1970’s, when MiG-25 was designed. The airplane, instead of being made out of thermally resistant titanium, was made mainly out of steel. What is more, some components of the Tu-160 bombers came from Ukraine – acquisition of these, in the current geopolitical context, would be difficult at best.

Russia is currently in a dire situation economically, hence the news about the relaunch/modernization of the Blackjacks raises some doubts. If that is not enough, TASS agency claimed that Moscow is also going to upgrade ten examples of the Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers. The modernization is going to focus on radio-electronic portion of the aircraft, including navigation and landing-assistance systems. All in all, Russian MoD claims that about 70% of the Russian strategic aviation inventory is to be modernized by 2020.

Dealing with strategic bombers, Russians have decided to deploy the Tu-22M3 Backfire-C (which is a smaller brother of the Blackjack) to bases in the Crimean peninsula. This was announced by the Russian Ministry of Defence back on Mar. 17; even though the U.S. is banned from introducing aircraft carriers into the Black Sea, considered the threat posed to flattops by air-launched cruise missiles, the Pentagon now has one more reason not to do it.

The whole Russian activity which additionally involves exercises which are being carried out in the Western and Central Military Districts. The drills have been ordered by Putin on Mar. 16, and are supposedly aimed at testing the quick reaction capabilities of the Russian Army. It additionally involves training in deployment of the Iskander and Iskander-M strategic missiles (which, by the way, constitute a breach of the INF treaty) in the Kaliningrad area, north of Poland. This may cause further tensions in the region.

Strategic aviation also involves strategic transport operations. Russia Today claims that not only are the Russians working on a prospective strategic bomber (the already mentioned PAK-DA, designed by Tupolev bureau), but they also started works on a strategic transport PAK-TA airplane, which is to be capable of reaching speeds of up to 2,000 km/h and transport payload of 200 tonnes at distances of 7,000 km.

RT claims that 80 new cargo aircraft are to be built by 2024. This seems to be a completely unrealistic statement, considering the status of the Russian economy, in the light of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation due to the Ukrainian crisis.

As our analysis shows, the Russian strategic aviation still has a deterrence potential. However, the West, throughout the last few decades, has been preparing itself for irregular conflicts, such as the Afghan war. As we can see – this can be, currently, considered to be a mistake. Thus we may expect that NATO would revise and change its military strategy, in order to tailor it to a conventional conflict – we have certainly entered a new phase of a sort-of Cold War 2.0 – since even though Russia faces financial problems (due to the Western control placed over the oil prices, and currency exchange rate between Russian Ruble and US Dollar), it is still involved in relevant arms development programs.

Image credit: Pavel Adzhigildaev/Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Benelux starts joint Air Policing operations

This could be a European Precedent

A couple of weeks ago, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed an agreement which is to regulate joint air defense operations carried out in their airspaces.

Signed by the Ministers of Defense of the Netherlands and Belgium, and Luxembourg’s Dutch Ambassador, the agreement, that ratifies that the signing countries will rotate the air policing duties, is a follow-up to a letter of intent signed by the countries back in Oct. 2013 that will have to be ratified by the respective governments, a process that could take about a year according to IHS Jane’s.

The memorandum may be treated as a precedent by other European Union member states, whose air forces, as a consequence of the ever shrinking defense budgets, lack some (basic) capabilities, including the ability to protect the sovereignty of their airspace round the clock.

However this is nothing new in Europe, where air arms are trying to embrace the “pooling and sharing” concept to save some money and NATO has carried out regional Air Policing missions, including the one in the Baltic (BAP), for quite some time now.

Anyway, the Benelux countries are willing to begin the joint air space security operation, starting from 2017.

According to the IHS Jane’s report on the issue, the fighter force of Belgium and the Netherlands will defend the countries, providing proper QRA (quick reaction alert) capabilities. Obviously, not only will the defensive operations cover the issue of military threats, but they will also be dealing with renegade aircraft. This means that a new scheme of air policing is to be implemented next year must take every situation into account.

Its legal implications are quite interesting. According to Jane’s, Belgians would be able to ask the Dutch fighters to shoot down renegades in the Belgian airspace and likewise, the Belgian F-16 could be authorized to neutralize such threat in the Dutch airspace.

This is a precedent in the European law, hence additional time is needed to discuss the legal character of the new operation. For example, according to euobserver.com, Luxembourg’s authorities have already excluded any use of lethal force over their territory.

When it comes to Luxembourg, the situation here is quite similar to that of Lithuania. The country has no relevant fighter force, hence help from the neighbors is required to provide air policing.

The situation is also interesting equipment-wise, since the Royal Netherlands Air Force is looking forward to replace its F-16s with the F-35, which will be probably delayed due to the problems related to the Lightning II program. The Belgians are going to replace their F-16s as well. Here the Rafale is a viable candidate, however the joint air policing operations may lead to different choices (including the F-35).

What is more, we can’t help but notice that the joint air-policing initiative is probably aimed at bolstering the Benelux capabilities to deter potential Russian intruders, who so far not only have been active in the Baltic area, but also within the airspace of UK and have often skirted the Dutch airspace.

 

Russians have started working on a new engine for their 5th generation stealth fighter

The Russians have started the test and design works, aim of which is to provide the Russian 5th Generation fighter with a relevant power-plant.

If there is one field in which the Russians seem to fall behind in aircraft development – it is definitely the propulsion systems for the new jets.

Currently, prototypes of the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA (Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii—Future Tactical Air System) which is the Russian 5th Generation fighter design, use the Saturn AL-41F1 engines, which are a series production model used by the Russian 4.5 generation fighters, such as Sukhoi Su-35.

We must remember that childhood of T-50 PAK-FA has been quite troublesome and engines have already been cause of some quite embarrassing incidents in the near past.

The current engine should not be mistaken with the NPO Saturn AL-41F engine, which has been designed for the Multi-Role Frontline Fighter, also known as MiG-1.44. The engine used by the PAK-FA prototypes is actually an updated variant of the AL-31F power-plant.

According to altair.com.pl, NPO Saturn corporation representatives recently announced that the prototype of the second engine is expected to be ready for flight testing in 2015. The new engine, shall be ready for the series production by 2020, with the first prototype being completed by 2016, and flight tests planned to happen in 2017.

At least such statements were made during the Aero India 2015 expo by Vladislav Masalov, who is the chief of the ODK company working on the jet propulsion systems.

In the meanwhile, numerous media outlets report that Russia and India are going to sign a contract, regarding the future development of a 5th Generation Fighter in 2015. According to IHS Jane’s, Yuri Slyusar, who is the CEO of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), stated that the parties are at the final stage of negotiations. The preliminary agreement has already been signed. The program is to involve the UAC company on the side of Russia and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited company for India. Slyusar confirmed the fact that the new generation engine testing program is under way.

It is yet unclear, when we may expect the PAK-FA or the Indian fused design to be introduced into service in the front-line units though.

Image credit: Dmitry Zherdin/Wiki

 

Stunning Photographs of the Polish Mig-29s and Italian Typhoons of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing

Amazing shots of the NATO interceptors over Lithuania

The photos in this post were taken over Lithuania, at the beginning of February, thanks to a cooperation between the Lithuanian Air Force, Polish Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare.

Typhoon front view

Taken by photographers gathered around the Foto Poork portal, the images are really unique as they show the jets carrying live missiles (including the Italian Typhoons at their first NATO Baltic Air Policing rotation) right before the sunset, a mixture which has yielded spectacular results. Notably, one of the shots features the Polish Fulcrum flown by a very well-known Polish MiG-29 pilot Grzegorz “Iceman” Czubski, with the afterburners lit, which is simply stunning.

Mig-29 afterburners

In a conversation with The Aviationist, Filip Modrzejewski who is the editor-in-chief of the foto.poork website, said that the organization of an air-to-air photo-shoot is quite challenging. First of all, the track needs to be placed at a proper altitude, and it needs to be planned in detail, which would make it possible to achieve high level of safety. Second, the weather conditions need also to be taken into account – since photography is very much weather-dependent.

Typhoon formation

Pre-flight briefing is equally important – during such shoots there is no place for spontaneous maneuvers – both the photoship (Lithuanian C-27J Spartan in this case) and the fighters need to know exactly what flight-path will be used. Formation flying skills are equally important.

AP8R1094

Safety of the pilots is one thing – safety of the photographers should also be taken into equation. Each of the photographers uses a special safety harness, in order not to fall out of the photoship during the shoot. When it comes to the photo-taking process itself – it may be challenging due to the fact that people on board may be subjected to g-forces.

Mig-29 sunset turn

Camera batteries are also an issue here, due to the low temperatures. It is not recommended for the photographers to switch the lenses or memory cards during the flight, for safety reasons.

Mig-29 sunset

Here’s a backstage photo, depicting the tough work conditions on board of the Spartan.

Backstage

Fortunately, the mission was flawless and the results, amazing!

Image credit: Foto Poork