Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

Have A Look At These Unique Photos Showing Baltic Air Policing Jets (Flying With Live Missiles)

Aircraft providing Baltic Air Policing as seen from a privileged point of observation.

The images in this post were taken by Bartosz Bera/RBS Photos from a C-27J Spartan plane during an air-to-air photo shooting with a Portuguese Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet providing Baltic Air Policing duties from Siauliai airbase in Lithuania.

Baltic Air Polcing is a NATO-driven operation, whose aim is to provide air-assets for the Baltic States, which are unable of ensuring security within their airspaces, due to the lack of relevant fighter force.

As it may be clearly observed, due to the spike in Russian activities in the region the BAP is currently four times as strong as it was before the Ukrainian crisis.

pair5_logo

The images were taken last year, before both the PAF and the RCAF detachment were rotated and they are particularly interesting: even though that one does not represent the standard combat configuration (which is kept confidential) the fighters were carrying live missiles on their pylons during the photo session.

hornet9_logo

BAP jets have been quite busy lately as a consequence of a surge in Russian Air Force missions in Europe’s northern and mid-eastern region. Still, no airspace intrusions within the Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian territories have been noted.

pair12_logo

Nonetheless, in his report for Interia.pl, Bartosz Bera explained that in case of Estonia the situation has been different: although quite short (just some seconds) intrusions by Il-20 spyplanes have been recorded nearby the Vaindloo, Osmussaare, Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands.

hornet1_logo

pair4_logo

Image Credit: Bartosz Bera/RBS Photos

 

New Russian Air Force Aerobatic Team (the fifth one) to Debut during the Moscow Victory Day Parade

A new aerobatic team is about to debut in Russia.

According to ITAR-TASS agency, a new Russian aerobatic team is to debut publicly for the first time on May 9, during the Victory day Parade, over the Red Square in Moscow.

Named Krilya Tavridi, the new team flies as a 4-ship formation of Yak-130 (NATO reporting name – Mitten) combat trainer, a two-seat jet developed by Yakovlev and intended for advanced pilot training and light attack.  The Yak-130, which is a cousin-design of the Italian Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master Advance Jet Trainer, features performance that coupled with its avionics make it particularly effective for training future Russian pilots of 4+ and 5th Generation fighters. 

Ultimately, 6 aircraft are to be used, 2 more will be added to the group’s inventory later on.

Some of the maneuvers that will be performed by the team include “Nesterov loop”, “Tulip”, “Barrel” and other aerobatic elements, as stated by Igor Klimov, the spokesperson of the Russian Air Force.

Klimov said that the pilots flying the Mittens have been trained in formation and individual aerobatics within the altitude range from 300 to 1,500 m. The training was carried out with help of the Yakovlev company test pilot team, and began back in Oct. 2013.

The name of the team is quite interesting: it obviously carries a political message, since Krilya stands for Wings, while Tavrida is a historical name used in Russia in order to refer to the Crimean peninsula – all that translates into English as Wings of Crimea.

Russia currently has 4 aerobatic teams: Russian Knights with Su-27P/UB Flankers out of Kubinka, Strizhi, who operate the MiG-29 Fulcrums from Kubinka, Sokoli Rossiyi (Falcons of Russia), who operate the Su-27 from Lipetsk, and Berkuts, that operate Mi-28N Havoc helicopters from Torzhok base.

Does an Air Force need five aerobatic display teams? Most probably, no.

Image credit: Wiki/Ronnie Macdonald

 

Polish Fulcrums join Italian Typhoons to provide NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission

Polish Air Force Mig-29s once again deployed to Lithuania for Baltic Air Policing.

According to a press release issued by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense, four Polish MiG-29 Fulcrums have deployed to Šiauliai airbase, Lithuania, in order to augment the NATO presence provided within the scope of Baltic Air Policing Mission.

The Polish jets are set to join the Italian Eurofighter Typhoons, already stationed in Lithuania, with the leading role within the mission. The reinforcement of Baltic Air Policing is a part of the NATO reassurance program, which has been taking place with the aim of providing additional air-assets for the states in the region since Apr. 2014. The reinforcement operation is directly linked with the Ukrainian crisis and the growing Russian presence in the Baltic region.

Polish MiGs come from the Minsk Mazowiecki 23rd airbase, along with over 100 military. Last time the Poles took part in the Baltic Air Policing was between May and August last year, which (notably) happened in the early days of the Ukrainian crisis.

During that deployment the Polish AF had the role of leader of the operation. It’s the sixth time the Polish MiG-29 jets are called to monitor the airspace over the Baltic states which are not in possession of their own airspace monitoring capabilities.

The Polish fighters will act under command of Lt. Col. Piotr Iwaszko, who is also the pilot flying the Polish MiG-29 demonstration act during the airshows all around Europe.

According to the General Command of the Armed Services of Poland, the main task which is to be fulfilled by the Fulcrums is to prevent any intrusion within the airspace of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Secondly the jets are to provide support for military and civilian aircraft in emergency situations.

It is worth noting, that this is the 37th rotation which is taking place within the BAP operation since the very beginning of the mission, which started back in March 2004. At that date the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the NATO alliance.

As a consequence of the Ukrainian crisis, NATO largely reinforced its presence in the Mid-Eastern Europe, not only in Lithuania. Just recently, Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons have deployed to Estonia, while on Jan. 8. the Belgian F-16 fighters have arrived at Malbork, Poland to replace the Dutch Fighting Falcons stationed there.

 

Top image credit: Pawel Duma via http://www.airpolicing.wp.mil.pl

 

Norway, Poland and The Netherlands to Acquire Shared Aerial Refueling Capability

European Defense Agency has published a Statement according to which the Netherlands, Norway and Poland have expressed their will to start negotiations with the Airbus Defence & Space Company, regarding acquisition of the MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) aircraft.

As shown by the Air War in Libya in 2011, tankers are among the most important assets in any modern military air campaign. Several European air forces lack the (somehow basic) capability to project the air power by supporting their front line fighter jets and attack planes with aerial refuelers and, in light of the ever shrinking defense budgets, they are looking at the “pooling and sharing” principle to optimize resources.

Therefore, whilst Sweden, has already started collective aerial refueling activities with the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767, (along with France and the UK), Norway, Poland and the Netherlands have decided to create a joint tanker force based on the Airbus A330 MRTT.

Back in March 2012, Defense Ministries of these countries declared that they were willing to further develop the air-refueling capability among the European air forces. This initiative has also been endorsed by the European Council, which considers it to be one of the four key programs within the scope of operational capability development. What is interesting, more partner states are invited to participate in the program, further on the road, which means that they may join the initiative later on. Initial Operational Capability is expected to be obtained by 2019.

The Netherlands, along with Norway and Poland decided to use NSPA (NATO Support Agency) support and to ask OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement) for help within the scope of starting the relevant negotiations with the Airbus Defence & Space company.

According to altair.com.pl the negotiations do not mean that any agreement would be signed afterward. Indeed, the release published on the official website of the European Defense Agency states that “(…) engagement in further negotiations does not constitute a commitment by EDA, NSPA, OCCAR or the Participating nations to place an order either as a result of this dialogue or at a subsequent stage.”

Market research, carried out via the means of targeted requests for information, has revealed that only the MRTT aircraft meets the requirements formulated by the parties. The tanker is to be equipped with two refueling systems – a flying boom as well as underwing pods with hoses, in order to facilitate refueling of a variety of aircraft (even though, so far, the three participating nations are using the F-16 as their main fighter, which is refueled via the rigid boom-based system).

Another important issue which should be noted is the fact that Airbus MRTT is not dedicated solely to refueling tasks, as it is also quite capable transport aircraft. The transport capabilities may be useful in case of strategic airlift or MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) operations.

Image credit: Airbus

 

U.S. Air Force has approved mass production of the stealthy JASSM air-launched cruise missiles

According to Lockheed Martin the U.S. Air Force granted a consent to start mass production of the extended range variant of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, also known as AGM-158B.

The JASSM-ER has successfully completed the USAF program of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Out of 21 launches, 20 were successful. USAF plans to acquire 100 ER variant missiles within Lot 11 and 12, specified by the contract signed in Dec. 2013.

According to Lockheed Martin, more than 1500 examples have been produced so far. Target quantity to be delivered to the USAF is 4,900 missiles.

Lockheed Martin stated that the decision undertaken by the U.S. Air Force means that the flying branch is confident the new missiles can provide an effective first-strike capability in dense air defense environments.

AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile is capable of striking targets at ranges of at least 925 kilometers (ca. 500 miles), and it is armed with a dual-mode penetrator equipped with a blast-fragmentation warhead.

The missile itself has been designed, similarly as the A variant, with stealth features. Missile uses two-mode GPS/Infra-Red guidance system, which contributes to its precision strike capabilities.

So far, solely the B-1B bombers possess a capability of using the ER variant of the missile. The basic version, the AGM-158A, can be dropped by B-2s, B-52s, F-16s and F-15Es. However, back in April this year press releases by USAF suggested that JASSM-ER is to be also integrated with F-15E, F-16 and B-52H fleets.

Whilst Australia and Finland use the A-variant of the missile with their F/A-18 Hornets, the baseline JASSM is also to be procured soon by the Polish Air Force for the F-16 Block 52+ planes.

As explained earlier this year, the Polish deal, a bit expensive at the first sight (with 40 missiles worth about $250 million), should also include a modernization bundle for the Polish Air Force F-16 fighters.

The Polish Vipers are to be upgraded up to the M6.5 standard, in order to facilitate use of the new weapons system. The upgrade includes modification in the avionics to improve Link-16 data exchange system and IFF capabilities, the update of the AIDEWS defensive suite, as well as modernization of the Sniper targeting pods. Nevertheless, a larger Mid-Life Update program should be undertaken by the fleet in the next few years, according to the Polish media outlet Dziennik Zbrojny.

According to the official information released by the Polish Ministry of Defense, Minister Tomasz Siemoniak expressed the Poland’s will to procure the ER variant as well even though it is yet unclear whether the M6.5 upgrade would provide the Polish Vipers with the -ER capability in advance.

Poland has signed Letter of Acceptance, regarding procurement of the first 40 missiles on Dec. 11. 2014 at Krzesiny AB, near Poznan.

The agreement falls within the US Foreign Military Sales program and the first deliveries are to take place in the second half of 2016. One additional missile is to be delivered for test firing purposes. Initial Operational Capability is planned to be achieved by 2017, as the F-16 modernization program is to be started in the 2nd half of 2016, at a pace of 2 fighters per month.

The JASSM-ER can be considered to be a strategic weapon, so it will most probably boost Poland and NATO’s deterrence capabilities in eastern Europe: will it be an effective deterrent? Hard to say. For sure, the air-launched cruise missiles are not the only measure the Polish Armed Forces are acquiring at the moment to face the Russian threat. There are additional programs, including the procurement of NSM (Naval Strike Missile) systems.

Secondly, as one of The Aviationist readers pointed out, the M6.5 upgrade for the F-16 fighters may mean that they would be capable of using the AIM-120D air-to-air missiles that have been reserved exclusively for the USAF so far.

These missiles may provide a significant boost of the Polish Viper’s air-to-air capabilities, which would be implemented in the shadow of JASSM deal, but this claim has not been officially confirmed. The Air Force has already stated that it analyses potential implementation of new armament that may be used by the Viper thanks to the envisaged upgrades.

Lastly, as Polish MoD Secretary of State said the use of the JASSM missiles will not be externally limited by the US Authorities. This means that Poland will be free to use the missiles at its own will, if needed.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin