It won’t be easy to strike all ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq. But the U.S. has already amassed several “useful” weapons systems in the region.
Last year, when the U.S. (and France) seemed to be about to launch air strikes on Syria and its chemical weapons, we explained that the air campaign would probably be a limited air war, opened by the usual rain of cruise missiles shot by warships, submarines and bombers with little to no involvement of the so-called “tacair”, the tactical airplanes.
13 months later, the scenario has changed a bit.
Several F-15E Strike Eagles and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets carrying their PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), are already flying over Iraq hitting ISIS targets five times a day, and they prepare to expand their mission to attack terrorist targets located in Syria.
Whilst last year there was no sign of imminent deployment of F-15s, F-16s or F-18s squadrons to airfields across the region, several warplanes, along with support assets (including tankers and ISR – Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance – platforms) are not only in place, but they are also flying daily missions over Iraq since July.
Since U.S. planes are already freely flying inside Iraqi airspace, it is quite likely they will continue to do so to perform surgical attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq. The aircraft are deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, and Al Dhafra, UAE, but they could also count of Jordan airbases, some of which already host some U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets and Air Force F-16s.
On the other side, Syrian targets will be more difficult to hit: unless Washington will be allowed to use Syria’s airspace any incursion could theoretically require plenty of Electronic Warfare cover and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) support to make Syrian Air Defense harmless. In other words, the unathorized use of Damascus airspace would not be cost-effective along with causing diplomatic issues, as it would require the U.S. to fight a war against Syria (by blinding or destroying Syrian radars and SAM – Surface to Air Missile – batteries) and against ISIS in Syria. And don’t forget that some Syrian Arab Air Air Force planes are fighting their war against local rebels and this raises two issues: deconfliction with SyAAF planes and the risk of being shot down by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) or other Anti-Aircraft weaponry in the hands of the Free Syrian Army.
A more clandestine approach is probably ahead, with a war made of drone strikes, stand-off weapons, and some limited stealth air strikes.
Dealing with drones, as said, they are already operating in Iraq, hence, they could extend their current mission to perform Strike Coordination And Reconnaissance missions in or close to Syria from Incirlik, in Turkey, that has been used as a drone forward operating base, for several years.
Cruise missiles could be fired U.S. destroyers theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles as the USS Cole, currently in the Sixth fleet area of operations.
Some more cruise missiles could be fired by U.S. strategic bombers that would perform some global reach, round trip missions from the US (as well as from Diego Garcia): for sure, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers‘ r/t sorties from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to be followed by some more B-1 air strikes as done during the Libya Air War in 2011, and possibly B-52 ones.
High flying U-2 Dragon Lady aircraft and Global Hawk drones flying from Incirlik, Sigonella or Al Dhafra are already getting the required imagery and will perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) should the need arise.
Planes and helicopters that operate from aircraft carriers and huge ships face space constraints, weight limits, challenging weather conditions and, usually, unavailability of a nearby divert airfield: that’s why in spite of a lot of training and skills, something goes wrong every now and then.
The following video shows some famous and other less known mishaps, close-calls and incidents aboard U.S. and foreign aircraft carriers and warships at sea.
Obviously there are many other videos available on the Web. Let us know which one in your opinion is the most shocking or somehow interesting footage showing a carrier deck mishap.
LCDR Fred Staudenmayer, who was the first RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) to command an East Coast F-4J operational USN squadron (the VF-33 Tarsiers from Jun. 21, 1973 to Jan. 19, 1974, had several chances to intercept Tu-95s and Tu-16s during his deployment in the Mediterranean sea.
Staudenmayer explained one of these close encounters with Soviet bombers in Peter E. Davies book F-4 Phantoms U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Gray Ghosts:
“I once launched against a Soviet Tu-95 Bear that was almost upon the carrier when initially detected by our pathetic ship’s radar. […] I had the radar operating and detected a huge radar blip at about twelve miles, followed right away by a visual, and we were able to join up on his wing before he passed over the carrier at about 500 ft. This was always the goal and the politically correct thing: be on Bear or Badger’s wing, showing the world that you were escorting these uninvited visitors. […] During a cruise in the Bay of Biscay in USS Independence we had a large number of Soviet over-flights, thirty or forty as I recall, and we intercepted all of them (with assistance from sensors external to the Fleet!).”
Dealing with the attack profile followed by the F-4s during the interception: ”As a general rule, our attack profile started from a low or mid CAP (Combat Air Patrol) station (5,000 or 15,000 ft), and depending on ranges, etc. we would be in climbing attack, usually trying to attack from below. Not too much thought was given to vertical separation, sun position, hiding in the clouds, etc. These were all-weather attack profiles,” Staudenmayer recalled.
The main Bear and Badger weapons were their long range air-to-surface missiles, which caused several concerns to the Phantoms crews according to Staudenmayer:
“As the Soviet air-to-surface missiles got faster and more formidable capable our CAP stations got pushed further and further out. The goal was to be in a position to destroy the targeting or launch aircraft prior to missile release. Nevertheless, we usually trained against descending supersonic missile simulation […] We always thought we had a pretty good capability against such missiles, and an outstanding capability against Bears and Badgers.”
The F-4s belonging to the VF-11 Red Rippers were also involved in many Tu-16 interceptions, and William Greer told to Davies how several of them took place at night:
“Many intercepts were run at night, and the Badger would frequently shine a rather bright and distracting light at the escorting Phantom pilot. VF-11 rigged up a very strong spotlight, powered from the Phantom’s electrical system, and the first time we hit the Badger with that their performance became somewhat more restrained. I once intercepted a Bear while returning from my cruise in USS Enterprise, and with the aid of my two years of Russian at the Naval Academy, some white cards and a grease pencil, exchanged brief notes with the crewman occupying the rear gun sighting position.”
Another U.S. Navy Spook (as the legendary Phantom was dubbed by its personnel) pilot, Steve Rudloff, who experienced several Bear encounters, revealed that despite the tense moments, funny events took place during these interceptions, as happened when one Tu-95 rear gunner offered a bottle of vodka to him: “ On Alert 5 (the high alert condition for crew members on the deck) aircraft for a brief time the back seat was equipped with a copy of Playboy magazine. I took off and intercepted a Bear, and in retaliation for the vodka I flashed the magazine centerfold, getting a hearty smile and a thumbs-up in response. We were always taking pictures of them, and vice versa. We were more than willing to take our oxygen masks off and let them get pictures.”
Moreover as explained by Rudloff, Phantom pilots experienced also chatty times with Soviet aircrews: “There was a point on one of my cruises where we actually spoke to some of Bears crew members. We indicated which frequency we were on and talked to a crew member who spoke English. He told us he lived in Moscow. Suddenly there was some talk in the background in Russian, and the conversation ceased, even though we tried to raise him again.”
Image credit: U.S. Navy via F-4 Phantom II FB page
This things happen once every some million flights.
The KA-6D was a tanker version of the A-6 attack aircraft obtained by converting existing Intruder airframes: radar and bombing equipment were removed and replaced with an internal hose-and-reel refueling package, with the drogue fairing protruding from underneath the rear fuselage.
One of the most famous events that involved a KA-6D during its operational life spanning from 1963 to 1997, took place on Jul. 9, 1991 to a VA-95 Green Lizard Intruder during an aerial refueling mission overhead its aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).
On that day, Lt. Mark Baden and Lt. Keith Gallagher, who were the pilot and the bombardier and navigator (BN) of the Intruder “Lizard 515”, experienced a very unusual incident: a partial ejection from the aircraft. Both the crew members released their accounts of the mishap to Approach Magazine in November 1991 and the full story is today reported on www.gallagher.com.
Gallagher himself explains: “Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will, and when you least expect it.” (And, of course, we all know that Murphy was an aviator). […] Fortunately for me, however, he failed to follow through. On my 26th birthday I was blindsided by a piece of bad luck the size of Texas that should have killed me. Luckily, it was followed immediately by a whole slew of miracles that allowed me to be around for my 27th. We were the overhead tanker, one third of the way through cruise, making circles in the sky. Although the tanker pattern can be pretty boring midway through the cycle, we were alert and maintaining a good lookout doctrine because our airwing had a midair less than a week before, and we did not want to repeat.”
After the third fuel update call, Lizard 515 aircrew decided that the left outboard drop was going to require a little help and as recommended by NATOPS (which is The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program, responsible for rules and regulations governing safe and correct operation of all naval aircraft), they applied positive and negative Gs to force the valve open.
As explained by Gallagher, when the pilot moved the stick forward: “ I felt the familiar sensation of negative “G”, and then something strange happened: my head touched the canopy. For a brief moment I thought that I had failed to tighten my lap belts, but I knew that wasn’t true. Before I could complete that thought, there was a loud bang, followed by wind, noise, disorientation and more wind, wind, wind. Confusion reigned in my mind as I was forced back against my seat, head against the headrest, arms out behind me, the wind roaring in my head, pounding against my body. “Did the canopy blow off? Did I eject? Did my windscreen implode?” All of these questions occurred to me amidst the pandemonium in my mind and over my body. These questions were quickly answered, and replaced by a thousand more, as I looked down and saw a sight that I will never forget: the top of the canopy, close enough to touch, and through the canopy I could see the top of my pilot’s helmet. It took a few moments for this image to sink into my suddenly overloaded brain. This was worse than I ever could have imagined – I was sitting on top of a flying A-6!”
The sensations experienced by Gallagher during this wild ride were extreme: “I couldn’t breathe. My helmet and mask had ripped off my head, and without them, the full force of the wind was hitting me square in the face. It was like trying to drink through a fire hose. I couldn’t seem to get a breath of air amidst the wind. My arms were dragging along behind me until I managed to pull both of them into my chest and hold them there.”
While he was still trying to breathe, Gallagher thought that Baden would never have tried to land and he decided to start the ejection sequence once again: “I grabbed the lower handle with both hands and pulled-it wouldn’t budge. With a little more panic induced strength I tried again, but to no avail. The handle was not going to move. I attempted to reach the upper handle but the wind prevented me from getting a hand on it. As a matter of fact, all that I could do was hold my arms into my chest. If either of them slid out into the wind stream, they immediately flailed out behind me, and that was definitely not good.”
In the meanwhile, Baden contacted the aircraft carrier: “Mayday, Mayday, this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I need an emergency pull-forward!”
The reply arrived immediately: “Roger, switch button six.”
Baden switched to the UHF frequency preset on Channel 6 and said “Boss (the Air Officer who has to rule the flight deck), this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I need an emergency pull-forward!”
The Boss replied: “Bring it on in.” At this point Baden looked at his BN’s legs still moving and understood that Gallagher was not dead. So when the Boss came up and asked if the BN was still with the aircraft, Baden replied “Only his legs are still inside the cockpit.” Fortunately, the Boss understood what Baden meant and asked him if he was heading to the aircraft carrier for landing. When Baden confirmed he was returning to “homeplate,” the Boss told him that the aircraft carrier was ready to recover Lizard 515.
But Gallagher’s conditions were really frantic: “The wind had become physically and emotionally overwhelming. It pounded against my face and body like a huge wall of water that wouldn’t stop. The roaring in my ears confused me, the pressure in my mouth prevented me from breathing, and the pounding on my eyes kept me from seeing. Time had lost all meaning. For all I knew, I could have been sitting there for seconds or for hours. I was suffocating, and I couldn’t seem to get a breath. I wish I could say that my last thoughts were of my wife, but as I felt myself blacking out, all I said was, “I don’t want to die.”
While Baden headed to the USS Abraham Lincoln, he thought that he didn’t want to perform a perfect landing (the footage of which can be seen in the video below): “I had no intention of passing up any “perfectly good wires.” I touched down short of the 1-wire (the perfect carrier landing is dubbed OK 3 and it took place when the pilot engages the third of four wires placed on the carrier deck) and sucked the throttles to idle. The canopy shards directly in front of the BN’s chest looked like a butcher’s knife collection. I was very concerned that the deceleration of the trap was going to throw him into the jagged edge of the canopy.” Then after the landing Baden realized that Gallagher was still alive when he said: “Am I on the flight deck?”
When Baden and Gallagher knew what really happened, it became obviously how much the Intruder BN had been lucky.
Gallagher’s parachute had deployed and wrapped itself around the tail section of the plane then the timing release mechanism had fired and released the BN from the seat. The only things holding him attached to the plane were the parachute straps.
For this well executed emergency landing Lt. Mark Baden was awarded the Air Medal for his decisive action on that day and the LSO (Landing Signal Officer), LCDR Mike Manazir, received the “Bug Roach Paddles Award” for his part in the recovery. The crew of the Lincoln was recognized for a well-executed emergency pull-forward – LT Baden had the jet on deck about six minutes after the emergency began.
The Captain of the Lincoln would later read over the PA system, a portion of a letter written by Michelle Gallagher (LT Gallagher’s wife) where she thanked the crew of the Lincoln for saving her husband’s life, while the injuries suffered by the BN were later described by Gallagher himself: “My most serious injury was that 1/2 my right arm (the shoulder, bicep, and forearm) was paralyzed due to a stretched nerve in my shoulder. In addition, my left shoulder was damaged as well. I have all of the damage of someone who dislocated his shoulder, but it was not dislocated when I landed. My supposition is that it dislocated, and popped back in upon landing. Other than that, I was just extremely beat up. Via physical therapy, I recovered within 6 months. My right shoulder “came back” in about 1 month, my forearm in about 2-3 months, and my bicep returned in about 4-5 months. I had to re-do all of my physiological qualifications (swimming, etc) to prove that I was OK, but I flew again 6 months to the day after the accident.”
The story of the C-130 Hercules that landed on USS Forrestal
Even if, nowadays, the C-2 Greyhound is the biggest transport aircraft designed specifically for carrier operations, on Oct. 30 1963, in an attempt to investigate the possibilities of using the C-130 for logistic support for U.S. fleet, a Hercules made an experimental landing on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59).
With the successful test, which took place in moderately rough seas in the North Atlantic 500 miles off the coast of Boston, the Hercules became the largest and heaviest aircraft to ever land on an aircraft carrier, a record that stands to this day.
The COD concept was born to resupply aircraft carriers with urgently needed items. At the beginning of the 1960s, the airplane used for such task was the Grumman C-1 Trader, a twin piston-engine aircraft with a limited payload capacity and 300-mile range, the Chief of Naval Operations ordered to assess the possibility of operating a bigger transport airplane aboard the Norfolk-based USS Forrestal (CVA-59).
As explained by Joseph Earl Dabney in his book Herk: Hero of the Skies the C-130 was selected for its stability and reliability, combined with a long cruising range and the capability of carrying large payloads.
The crew for this historic test consisted of Lt. James H. Flatley III, pilot; Lt. Cmdr. W.W. Stovall, copilot; ADR-1 E.F. Brennan, flight engineer; and Lockheed engineering flight test pilot Ted H. Limmer, Jr.
When Lt. James H. Flatley III was told about his new assignment, he thought somebody was pulling his leg. “Operate a C-130 off an aircraft carrier? Somebody’s got to be kidding,” he said.
According to Dabney a KC-130F refueler transport (BuNo 149798), on loan from the U.S. Marines and delivered on Oct. 8, 1963 was chosen for the historical trial.
Lockheed’s only modifications to the original plane was a smaller nose-landing gear orifice, an improved anti-skid braking system, and removal of the underwing refueling pods. “The big worry was whether we could meet the maximum sink rate of nine feet per second,” Flatley said. But, the Navy was amazed to find they were able to better this mark by a substantial margin.
The initial sea trials started on Oct. 30 1963 and were conducted into a 40-knot wind: however the crew successfully performed 29 touch-and-go landings, 21 unarrested full-stop landings, and 21 unassisted takeoffs at gross weights of 85,000 pounds up to 121,000 pounds.
At 85,000 pounds, the KC-130F came to a complete stop within 267 feet, about twice the aircraft’s wing span as remarked by Dabney on his book.
The Navy discovered that even with a maximum payload, the plane used only 745 feet of flight deck for takeoff and 460 feet for landing. These achievements were confirmed by Lockheed’s Ted Limmer, who checked out fighter pilot Flatley in the C-130 and stayed on for some of the initial touch-and-go and full-stop landings. “The last landing I participated in, we touched down about 150 feet from the end, stopped in 270 feet more and launched from that position, using what was left of the deck. We still had a couple hundred feet left when we lifted off.”
The plane’s wingspan cleared the Forrestal’s flight deck “island” control tower by just under 15 feet as the plane roared down the deck on a specially painted line.
As explained by Dabney, Lockheed’s chief engineer, Art E. Flock was aboard the USS Forrestal to observe the testing. “The sea was pretty big that day. I was up on the captain’s bridge. I watched a man on the ship’s bow as that bow must have gone up and down 30 feet.”
The speed of the ship was increased 10 knots to reduce yaw motion and to reduce wind direction: in this way, when the plane landed, it had a 40 to 50 kts wind on the nose. “That airplane stopped right opposite the captain’s bridge,” recalled Flock. “There was cheering and laughing. There on the side of the fuselage, a big sign had been painted on that said, “LOOK MA, NO HOOK.”
The analysis of data collected by the U.S. Navy during the tests highlighted that the C-130 Hercules could carry 25,000 pounds of freight, fly for 2,500 miles and eventually land on a carrier. However, the procedure was considered a bit too risky for the C-130 and the Navy decided to use a smaller COD aircraft. For his effort, the Navy awarded Flatley the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In the video below you can see the trials conducted by the Hercules on the USS Forrestal and described in the article.