Category Archives: Military Aviation

Here’s where a U.S. spyplane sought terrorists behind Bardo museum attack in Tunisia

A civil registered U.S. King Air used to track high-value and time-sensitive targets, including people, has conducted some missions over western Tunisia.

From Mar. 21 to 26, a U.S. Beechcraft King Air 350ER has conducted reconnaissance missions over the western Tunisia regions where jidahist terrorists behind the Bardo Museum attack have been hiding.

The news, exposed by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, was unveiled by Tunisian bloggers who noticed the civil-registered plane on Flightradar24.com: in fact, although it was probably involved in an intelligence gathering mission, the King Air “N351DY” did not turn off its ADS-B transponder and could be clearly tracked on the popular website (as already happened to other U.S. spyplanes over Afghanistan…) as it circled over the Jebel Chambi mountain between 22,500 and 24,500 feet.

Noteworthy, the aircraft operated by Pantelleria airport, a little Italian island off Tunisia: most probably, deploying the plane to a Tunisian airport was not safe, Sigonella airbase, in Sicily, from where U.S. Global Hawk and Predator and Reaper drone operate, was too far and Pantelleria was chosen as the closest base for the clandestine task.

The N351DY is registered to Aircraft Logistics Group LLC, based at Oklahoma City, known to have cooperated with Pentagon in the past.

The plane is the civil version of the MC-12W, an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform operated by the U.S. Air Force and equipped with a full array of sensors, a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and satellite communications datalinks, a robust voice communications suite as well as an electro-optical infrared sensor with a laser illuminator and designator.

The Air Force MC-12W, Army King Airs as well as several civil-registered King Airs (which appear similar to general aviation aircraft during their covert missions), are actually spyplanes used for several Special Operations and particularly capable to “find, fix, and finish” bad guys.

Here below is the track the plane flew on Mar. 22. On top of the article you find the route of Mar. 26’s mission, the last that could be tracked on FR24.

N351DY Mar 22

Image credit: Flightradar24.com

 

A quick look at why the F-16N was the best plane to simulate soviet “bandits” in adversary missions.

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is the western world’s most prolific fighter of the last 40 years.

Even if medium and long-range air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-120 AMRAAM,  have been integrated in the F-16 since 1986 for BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements, the Viper (the universal F-16’s nickname) was born in response to LWF (Light Weight Fighter) program, for a small and agile fighter: the U.S. Air Force needed a small, cheap, maneuverable airplane to flank the F-15 Eagle, its air superiority fighter, and face the small Soviet fighters, such as the MiG-21 in close combat.

Indeed the Viper can maneuver against any opponent, proving to be the ideal adversary (or “aggressor” in the Air Force jargon) aircraft for both U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy training programs. Arguably the best version of the Fighting Falcon having played the bandit role has been the F-16N.

Born in response to the need of the Navy to replace its aging fleets of A-4 Skyhawks and F-5 Tigers adversary fighters, the F-16N was a basic F-16C Block 30 with the General Electric F110-GE-100 engine.

The F-16N was typically equipped with the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) pod on the starboard wingtip and to completely simulate adversaries, the ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and the ALE-40 chaff/flare were also incorporated.

To save weight the internal cannon was removed and the aircraft could not carry air-to-air missiles, even though it retained the APG-66 radar from the F-16A/B models.

Twenty two single seat F-16Ns along with four two seat TF-16Ns were delivered in the late 1980s to the Navy and four units flew the jet: the VF-126 Bandits and the Fighter Weapons School both based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, the VF-45 Blackbirds based at NAS Key West and the VF-43 Challengers based at NAS Oceana.

According to Rick Llinares & Chuck Lloyd book Adversary America’s Aggressor Fighter Squadrons, since the U.S. Navy didn’t own any Fulcrum or Flanker, the F-16N was the best fighter to replicate the then new fourth generation Russian fighters and finally F-14 and F/A-18 crews could fight against a real different aircraft. In particular, against the Tomcat, the nimble F-16N was a very challenging adversary, as by the video below.

Unfortunately the F-16N began to experience the wear and tear due to the excessive g’s sustained during many aerial engagements and in 1994 the Navy decided to retire the type since the costly repair to keep the Viper flying can’t be afforded. But even if as bandit the F-16N was replaced by the F-5 which was the fighter the Viper intended to replace, the F-16N still remains the best adversary fighter ever flown by the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, at NAS Fallon, Nevada, currently operates some F-16A in the aggressor role, like the one in the image below.

F-16N Giovanni Colla

Image credit: Giovanni Colla. Top Image: National Naval Aviation Museum FB page.

 

Watch a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J refuel two F-35B Joint Strike Fighters

If you suffer air sickness, this footage is not for you.

Here’s a B-roll showing two U.S. Marine Corps KC-130s flying with two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters over Beaufort, South Carolina, during an aerial refueling mission on Mar. 19, 2015.

The KC-130 is an extended range tanker transport aircraft modified for aerial refueling of aircraft equipped with an IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe: in other words, F-35B and C, the variants for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy.

 

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