Taking place between May 9 and 20 at Cambrai airbase, in northern France, NATO Tiger Meet (NTM11) has been attended by about 60 planes and helicopters belonging to the Austrian, Czech Republic, German, Hellenic, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish, Swiss and Slovak air forces.
From a simple meeting of flying units sharing a Tiger (or feline) emblem, the NTM has become a multi-national mid-size exercise offering a two-week program that includes all types of air-to-air and air-to-ground and a wide variety of support missions, comprising CSAR and large COMAOs. The 2011 edition was to be the biggest ever organised; unfortunately, many units cancelled their participation because of their commitment in “Unified Protector” the NATO led air campaign in Libya.
Nevertheless the NTM lived up expectations with some interesting participants: the F-16 Block 52 of the Polish Air Force’s 6 Sqn from Poznan, equipped with AIM-120, AIM-9X, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) and Sniper pod, at their first appearance at the Tiger Meet; the Spanish Air Force EF-18s carrying the IRIS-T air-to-air missile at wingtips; the Swiss Hornets with AIM-9X coupled to JHMCS.
The ItAF took part to the NTM11 with the 21° Gruppo of the 9° Stormo based at Grazzanise, a Sqn with many Tour of Duty in Afghanistan, whose AB.212ICOs performed CSAR and Combat Recovery missions as well as Special Forces support and Non-Combatant Evacuation operations. As usual, there was also a certain number of eye-catching Special Colours or Tiger markings: an operational nonsense, since they only increase visibility of the aircraft whose deleterious effects are however mitigated by the fact that future air-to-air scenarios are BVR (Beyond Visual Range) rather than WVR (Within Visual Range), meaning that the enemy will hardly get so close to see the special colour scheme….
The F-18F Super Hornet was one of the highlights of the recent Farnborough 2010 not only because the multi-role aircraft displayed during the Air Show, but also because Shelley Lavender, Vice President and General Manager Boeing’s Global Strike Systems unveiled the new Super Hornet International Road Map, a disclosure that may indicate that slippage in the F-35 program has encouraged the company to market the Super Hornet more aggressively in order to persuade some countries that are evaluating the F-35 to opt on the F/A-18E/F.
The upgrade equip the Super Hornet, whose effectiveness in combat has been proven in years of operations in Irak and Afghanistan (that I was able to witness in October 2009 during my visit to the USS Nimitz involved in combat operations in support of Enduring Freedom) with conformal fuel tanks, enhanced performance engines, enclosed weapons pod and other systems. The modifications, include:
Conformal Fuel Tanks
Enhanced Performance Engines
Spherical Missile/Laser Warning
Enclosed Weapons Pod
Next Generation Cockpit
that could be retrofitted to any Block II aircraft. The most interesting change is a stealth-configured weapon pod designed to accommodate a range of weapons, including four AMRAAMs, or a mix of two Mk82-class bombs and two AIM-120 missiles. The external pod would help to reduce the Super Hornet’s RCS (Radar Cross-Section) by removing missiles and bombs from external underwing pylons. Furthermore, the internal IRST (Infra-Red Search & Track) is another interesting upgrade. IRST offers a passive way to locate and target enemy aircraft – one that won’t trigger radar warning receivers. When coupled with medium-range IR missiles an IRST system offers a fighter both an extra set of medium-range eyes, and a stealthy air-to-air combat weapon. For instance, the Italian F-2000s are equipped with the IRST.
So far the systems that provide long range thermal imaging against air and ground targets was integraded in the Super Hornet in quite an unusual way: modifying a 480 gallon centerline fuel tank to carry 330 gallons of fuel + the IRST system. This approach would allow refits to 150 existing Super Hornets even if the drawback was that a centerline tank with IRST needed to stay on the airplane in combat, compromising its aerodynamic performance and radar signature (fuel tanks are often jettisoned in combat to improve manoeuvrability).
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