Category Archives: Military Aviation

First Australian F-35 has arrived for training at Luke Air Force Base

The first Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jet landed at Luke Air Force Base marking the first international partner F-35 to arrive for training at the airbase in Arizona.

On Dec. 18, the first Australian F-35A Lightning jet arrived at Luke Air Force Base where it will be used for pilot training beginning in 2015.

The aircraft, known as AU-2, was flown on its 90-minute transit from Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to Luke by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd “Torch” LaFortune. It was then assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, that already operated a fleet of 17 F-35s.

The arrival of AU-2 at Luke AFB marks the first of 10 international partners starting training in the US. The second F-35A for Australia, designated AU-1, is scheduled to arrive at Luke Air Force Base in the next few days.

The RAAF is expected to operate 72 such multi-role planes from two airfields, Williamtown, in New South Wales, and Tindal, in the Northern Territory, along with the current fleet of Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet (some of those are deployed in the UAE to support U.S. led campaign against ISIS) and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

As a side note, Luke AFB is the base where fuel trucks have been given a two layer coating of “solar polyurethane enamel” (whose outer color is white) to prevent fuel stored in the tanks from over-heating with consequent F-35 engine issues.

RAAF F-35 Luke taxi

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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

 

Russia surpassed U.S. in production of new combat planes, Russian United Aircraft Corporation says

According to the Joint Stock Company UAC (United Aircraft-building Corporation), Russia has produced more combat aircraft than the U.S., in 2014.

As reported by Russian media outlets, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio station, Vladislav Goncharenko, deputy head of the military aviation programmes department at UAC (the a Russian holding which encompasses Irkut, Mikoyan, Sukhoi, Ilyushin, Tupolev, Beriev and Yakovlev), Moscow has surpassed the U.S. in the number of produced combat aircraft.

Whilst in 2013, UAC companies delivered 68 planes, 100 aircraft, 95 of those are combat planes for the Russian Air Force were produced and delivered in 2014.

Along with the production of more planes, UAC subsidiaries have carried out the modernization of existing aircraft and the development of new weapons systems, Goncharenko said.

Even though we don’t know the corresponding U.S. figures, the number of new aircraft delivered to the front-line units of the Russian Air Force is a clear sign Moscow is strongly supporting its renascent military power.

For sure “quantity” does not always come with “quality” and, most probably, U.S. technology will still be ahead of Russian (or Chinese) one for several decades. However, it’s impossible to foresee the outcome of a dogfight in which few, advanced American 6th Generation fighter jets, face outnumbering Russian 5th Generation warplanes.

In the meanwhile, PAK-FA T-50 prototypes have been quipped with Himalayas EW defense systems to increase jamming resistance and self-protection capabilities. The delivery of the first production PAK-FA 5th Generation stealth jet to the Air Force is planned for 2016 whereas new type of combat and reconnaissance drone will appear by 2018. 6th Generation aircraft are being studied as well.

By 2020, 55 PAK-FA fighters will be in service with the Russian Air Force.

H/T to @Missilito for the heads-up

 

Italian Eurofighter Typhoons ready to take over lead role in NATO Baltic Air Policy

Four Italian Air Force Typhoons will provide Baltic Air Policing duties from Siauliai airbase, Lithuania.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, the Italy will take over the role of lead nation in the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP).

Four Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jets will deploy to Siauliai airbase, in Lithuania, where they will relieve the four Portuguese F-16s at their second rotation at the eastern border of NATO.

Currently committed to the operation are also four CF-188s of the Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as German Air Force Eurofighters out of Ämari, Estonia, and Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s out of Malbork, Poland that will replaced by Polish MiG-29s and Spanish Eurofighters scheduled to deploy to Šiauliai, Lithuania, and Ämari, Estonia, respectively.

Aircraft providing BAP are regularly scrambled to intercept, identify and escort Russian Air Force planes (including spyplanes and bombers) flying in international airspace close to the airspaces of NATO countries.

With the participation to the BAP, Italy will become the very first nation to provide air policing tasks over four foreign airspaces: Iceland (on rotation), Slovenia, Albania (task shared with the Hellenic Air Force) and Lithunia.

 

Has Algeria secretly taken delivery of a Boeing C-17 airlifter? No

Local witnesses said a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter was delivered to the Algerian Air Force. But it was a Qatari cargo.

Updated Dec. 16, 12.00 GMT

A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter, sporting what initially believed to be the roundel of the Algerian Air Force, arrived in Algiers, on Dec. 10, according to Secret Difa 3, a blog focusing on defense topics in the Maghreb region.

The report is based on the testimonies of some locals who have seen the giant cargo land at the Houari Boumediene airport at 5:09PM LT.

However, the same source later found that the airlifter belonged to the Qatari Emiri Air Force.

Anyway, Algeria has never hidden its intention to acquire some C-17s (six to eight) in order to renew its fleet of transport aircraft and, according IHS Jane’s, last year Algerian authorities were in the early stages of negotiations with the company for a number of different types of aircraft, including the Globemaster.

In April 2013, a C-17 of the 446th Airlift Wing has undergone extensive testing in Algeria, including landing at the highest Algerian airfield in Tamanrasset, in the south of the country.

The interest of Al Quwwat aljawwiya aljaza’eriiya in the C-17 is a sign that after procuring Su-30MKA, Mig-29S and Yak-130A jets and upgrading the existing fleet of Su-24s, Mig-25s and Mi-24s, Algeria is planning to upgrade its inventory with aircraft able to support anti-terrorism and border surveillance tasks across the country.

Image credit: Christopher A. Ebdon