The F-16IQ jets will be stationed in the U.S. until air bases are readied for the new planes and, above all, secured; in the meanwhile, the Iraqi pilots can be trained in a safe environment by the U.S. instructors of the Arizona ANG’s 162nd Wing, that already own an established experience with foreign students from the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore and Japan.
The training pipeline includes 14 Iraqi student pilots which will get qualified and combat capabable with the Fighting Falcon in about 300 flying hours. Then, they will return to their home and defend their own country with the new jet.
The Aviationist’s photographer Tony Lovelock was at Tucson at the beginning of February and took the pictures of the Iraqi F-16C and D models involved in local training sorties.
After the Tomcat retirement, the Rhino (as the F/A-18E/F is nicknamed by its aircrews) has not only quickly become the backbone of every Carrier Air Wing (CVW), but it has also replaced some of the oldest Legacy Hornets on the American flattops. Having fulfilled such a difficult task, the Super Hornet has demonstrated to be one of the best multirole jets available today. But could an advanced version of the F-14 have been even better?
That said, one might wonder whether integrating the same technology in the F-14 would have been possible.
By 1987, Grumman realized that the potential for growth had not yet been reached by the F-14 airframe, and they proposed to the U.S. Navy four advanced versions of the F-14, as told by Tim Callaway in Issue 13 “Grumman F-14 Tomcat” of Aviation Classics magazine.
The F-14D Quickstrike was the first proposal: featuring an enhanced version of the APG-71 radar, this advanced Tomcat version would have carried stand off weapons such as the Harpoon, HARM and SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile) missiles.
Requiring only new software and minor modifications to existing F-14Ds, the Quickstrike would have been a cost-effective attack platform but it didn’t meet the Advanced Tactical Fighter specification and the U.S. Navy chose the shorter ranged F/A-18E/F.
The second proposal was the ST21, the Super Tomcat for the 21st Century. The latter would have been a structural upgrade to the existing F-14Ds, that would have introduced a new wing glove design and single piece windscreen, while sensors positioned in front of the under fuselage weapons rails would have supplemented the chin pods. Moreover the ST21 would have also received a new engine the F110-GE-129 of 13,154kg of thrust, which would have provided a supercruise speed of Mach 1.3 featuring also thrust vectoring nozzles for greater maneuverability. These new engines would have supplied to the ST21 a tremendous acceleration alongside with a greatly increased range of the aircraft.
Another modification to the standard F-14D would have been the AST21, the Attack Super Tomcat for the 21st Century.
This advanced Tomcat would have been fitted with additional extra bomb pylons under the engine nacelles, a nuclear weapons capability, a modified radar with a Forward Air Controller (FAC) mode and an Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP) to improve survivability in the air to ground environment. The last proposal, as Callaway explains, was the ASF-14 Advanced Strike Fighter.
The ASF-14 would have been a totally new aircraft with the F-14 shape and it would have taken advantages of the new materials and new technologies developed for the Advanced Tactical Fighter and Advanced Tactical Attack Aircraft programs.
None of these proposals has been built and we’ll never know if an advanced Tomcat would have been better than the actual Super Hornet, but for sure these two fighters are two different aircraft as explained by Ruzicka, who told to Rogoway that the better way to understand the differences between the F-14 and the F/A-18E/F is using the analogy of a muscle car to a mini-van, “with the Tomcat being the former and the Super Hornet being the latter. The muscle car doesn’t have much to it in the way of fancy technology, just some raw speed and the coolness of a Steve McQueen movie, but it gets the job done. The mini-van on the other hand is a very nice car, complete with DVR’s for the kids, Air Conditioning, power windows, and lots of places to put your sippy cup. It’s a great car—-but it’s still a mini-van.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a backstage photo, depicting the tough work conditions on board of the Spartan.
Fortunately, the mission was flawless and the results, amazing!
Even though RAF jets were scrambled on Feb. 18 to intercept two Tu-95MS bombers off the Cornwall coast, the footage was probably filmed on Jan. 29, when two Bears, accompanied by Mig-31 Foxhound long-range interceptors, were refueled twice by Il-78 Midas aerial refuelers and were intercepted and escorted by RAF Typhoons, Norwegian F-16s and French Mirage 2000s at various stages of their trip.
Indeed, the video briefly shows also an armed French Mirage shadowing the Russian Bear.
The attack that took place against Iraq on Feb. 16, 2001 was one of the largest strike missions conducted by U.S and British aircraft during Operation Southern Watch.
Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, to enforce the no fly zone (NFZ) that was set to narrow Iraqi airspace, two different operations were conducted: the Northern Watch, which started in 1997 succeeding to Operation Provide Comfort, to monitor the airspace above the 36th parallel, and the Southern Watch, that began in 1992, to control the airspace south of the 32nd parallel, extended to the 33rd parallel in 1996.
Iraq soon decided not to respect the no fly zone, and Iraqi air defense systems began to attack both Northern and Southern Watch aircraft, even though the SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites were more active against Southern forces: many no fly zone violations occurred since 1992, with Iraqi fighters that crossed the no fly zone several times. Nevertheless the main threat to the allied aircraft was posed by the Iraqi SAM and anti-aircraft artillery batteries that soon became the target of several air strikes. As the ones conducted during Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and the powerful raid conducted by Joint Task Forces Southwest Asia, on Feb. 16, 2001.
As explained by the U.S. Marine Corps historian Fred Allison to Giampaolo Agostinelli for his book “Where Sea Meets The Sky,” about 70 aircraft were involved in this air strike, a quarter of those released weapons. Among the strike aircraft which took part in the mission there were eight U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and an element of Royal Air Force Tornado GR1s from bases in Kuwait, with fourteen F/A-18s belonging to Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 312 (VMFA-312) Checkerboards and to Strike Fighter Squadron 105 (VFA-105) Gunslingers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Truman (CVN-75).
The mission was launched after sunset and the Hornets refueled from an Air Force KC-10 tanker over Kuwait. The F/A-18s were the last aircraft to reach their targets over Baghdad, with the Iraqi gunners already alerted from the previous strikes: their first Gunslingers jets launched their SLAM-ERs which hit their targets with great accuracy as demonstrated by the TV data sent back by one that hit Al-Taji air base that, when slowed down, showed a man outside the building smoking a cigarette.
Then, Checkerboards Hornets delivered their JSOWs from 36,000 feet while the sky was erupting “into a blaze of AAA and SAMs.” But in the rarefied air at FL360, the F/A-18s were too slow to maneuver away from the SAMs, so they lit the burners for a steep dive descending into the thicker air where the pilots could maneuver more effectively against the surface to air missiles.
Moreover in addition to the SAMs launches, the Hornets drivers were notified that also a MiG-23 Flogger had taken off from Al-Taqaddum airfield below them. Luckily for them (and with great Tomcat crews disappointment) the MiG escaped immediately towards north.
Then with the afterburners still ignited, the Hornets avoided the last Iraqi SAMs and reached the tanker on a racetrack on the border of Kuwait. Suddenly a British voice came over to the radio: a Tornado was being targeted by a SA-6 which was receiving good tracking information from its radar.
Three seconds later another voice radioed: “Magnum!”: a VAQ-130 (Electronic Attack Squadron 130) Zappers EA-6B pilot had just launched an AGM-88 HARM missile which destroyed the Iraqi SAM site.
The mission ended after the safe recovery of the aircraft onboard the Truman’s deck. As Allison recalls: “The mission had lasted slightly more than four hours and had accomplished its purpose. The Iraqis shut down their radars and there were less attacks on coalition aircraft over the NFZ, at least for a time…”