RF 13-3 is the first to include real-time intelligence by ISR platforms thanks to the involvement of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, via its 526th Intelligence Squadron.
Indeed, the 526th IS has developed a scenario with realistic environment for ISR platform to collect against, that includes enemy communication tactics and procedures.
Among the most interesting platforms taking part to the exercise is an MC-12W that, just like RF 12-3 last year, supports ground forces tracking high-value and time-sensitive targets, including people, as well as provide tactical intelligence and airborne command and control for air-to-ground operations.
Considered the amount of Aggressors launched during the sorties I’ve witnessed, I strongly believed that, compared to 12-3, the air threats were sensibly higher: last year the MC-12W at their first RF were used in a “permissive” scenario, with limited risk to be intercepted by enemy planes.
Such scenario was probably made a bit more difficult with enemy fighter planes (and need to rely on huge escort, that included F-22 Raptor stealth fighters).
EC-130H, EP-3, RC-135 are among the other interesting assets, both providing Electronic Warfare capabilities to the RF participants; SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) planes include U.S. Navy E/A-18G Growlers, U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers and U.S. Air Force F-16CJ aircraft.
The Royal Australian Air Force deployed to Nellis two E-7 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft, while UK’s Royal Air Force is taking part to the RF 13-3 with both the Tornado GR4 and the Typhoon FGR4.
Other participating weapon systems include the F-15E (from the 48th FW based at RAF Lakenheath) and the 53rd Wing’s F-15C, the 509th BW B-2 Spirit, and support assets (E-3s and KC-135s among the others).
Australian minister for Defence Stephen Smith and minister for Defence Material Jason Clare have announced that the Australian Government has decided to acquire the “Growler” electronic warfare system for Royal Australian Air Force Super Hornet fleet of 24 jets.
The Growler system allows the Super Hornet to jam the electronic systems of aircraft and land based radar and communications.
The deal worth some 1.5 billion USD will mark out Australia as the only country outside of the U.S. to operate the EA-18G Growler system.
Of the 24 jets that Australia has procured, 12 are already wired for the Growler system: in May 2009, the Government announced its decision to wire half of its “Rhinos” (actually, this is the Super Hornet nickname within the U.S. Navy fighter pilot community) for potential conversion to the Growler configuration.
The Growlers will be operational from 2018, the purchase of the equipment is being made through the United States Foreign Military Sales process.
Although Lockheed Martin officials have criticized the choice (since the F-35, that Australia is committed to buying in up to 100 examples, will have some advanced electronic warfare capabilities), with a fleet of 12 EA-18Gs the RAAF has opted for a small but extremely effective force capable to perform of Electronic Warfare/Electronic Attack as well as SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) missions, few other non-US nations can rely on.
Reports coming out of Seoul suggest that its reclusive neighbour North Korea has started to wage a jamming campaign against the most wired country in the world, with the intention of jamming GPS signals.
553 civilian airliners reported that their GPS equipment had failed whilst approaching Incheon and Gimpo airports, South Korea’s major civilian air hubs during the period Apr. 28 to May 6. A further 120 ships also reported that their GPS equipment had failed.
Both aircraft and ships have a back up system should the GPS equipment fail, therefore, although it was not a failure as the rocket launched in mid-April, the jamming had limited effect.
It was also found that the hills and tall buildings of Seoul also disrupted the jamming efforts, which were traced to an area within North Korea.
South Korean and American electronic warfare experts are now studying the effects of the jamming on Seoul and its civilian residents, while intermittent problems for GPS devices and cell phone connectivity are still being reported.
This is the third time this sort of jamming event has taken place but, in spite of its effectiveness, is by far the most powerful so far. For most of March 2011 North Korea directed a jamming signal at Seoul but nothing like the scale of the current attack. The jamming works by transmitting on the same frequency as the intended target, washing out the signal.
Military aircraft have remained unaffected due to them having GPS receivers that are resistant to this type of jamming.
Although no one will admit to how this is achieved for obvious reasons, it’s also worth noting that both Russia and China sell a GPS jamming devices. In particular, China has a truck mounted system but has not really sold in any large numbers (which must bring into question the validity of jamming GPS signals).
In the lead up to Gulf War 2 Saddam Hussein reportedly bought GPS jammers to try and thwart JDAM munitions but this had very little effect on the campaign as JDAMs, as done by planes, revert to an internal navigation system (with a reduction of accuracy) should the GPS fail.
The usual military reponse to jamming is to bomb the source of the interfering signal, but on this occation, not wanting to inflame an already delicate situation, South Korea has lodged a complaint with both the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), stating that the North are breaking UN rules and endangering passengers safety. More or less.
Even if the news of the once stealthy American drone are slightly fading, on Dec. 26, the Islamic Republic News Agency IRNA, published the images of an electric rone built by students of Islamic Azad University in the city of Heris, East Azarbaijan province.
Similar to a small-scale Learjet business jet (actually, almost identical to the Hondajet as suggested by its markings) sitting on a table, the ultra-light amateur drone is capable of flying 35-minute reconnaissance missions at night, with a maximum speed of 250 km/h and a minimum of 50 km/h. It can cover a distance of 10 km and operate at an altitude of 9,000 feet.
Powered by two electric engines and capable of flying on a single engine, the drone can scan the ground and dispatch the data to a ground station. As reported by the IRNA, according to the Head of the technical team involved in manufacturing the drone, Nasser Nazari Heris, it took only four months to design and manufacture the drone.
In the meanwhile, on Dec. 24, Iran’s Navy launched the massive 10-day naval exercise “Velayat 90” in the area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden. Iranian submarines, warships, and other naval vessels with their accompanying helicopters are attending the drills. I’ve read no reports about drones taking part to the exercise. So far.
Official statements aside, the only things we can be sure of are the images of the drone showcased in what looks like a gymnasium of a school, made available by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard website.
Whether you belong to the “party” of those who believe the drone is real or you think it is a fake, those pictures ,alongside the footage released by the State TV, are the only proof that the one in Iran is indeed the elusive ‘bot dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar”.
Bjørn Holst Jespersen is a Danish architect who has been following the developments of the saga of the Beast of Kandahar on this blog since the beginning. I’ve asked him to check if the gymnasium where the drone was showcased is compatible with the one pointed out a few days ago by a source as the location where the Sentinel was hidden.
Using perspective drawing techniques, by extending lines and establishing vanishing points to subdivide areas using diagonals, he has studied the photographs of the captured RQ-170 to determine both the building and drone size as well as the orientation of the gym.
Here is what he was able to ascertain from the images.
It seems the gym-space is 36-meter long (6×6 meter sections) and about 20-meter wide. The building/drone size is calculated on the basis of markings on the floor. “The assumptions that I have based the reconstruction on are that the circle in the middle is a standard centre circle for basketball, and that there are markings (white lines) for volleyball” Bjørn says.
“Markings correspond and point to a constructive section being 600 cm centre to centre (this is established by extending the lines until they hit the wall) corresponding with standard size Iranian brick that I googled. This together makes a strong case for the length of the building: the bricks can be larger than standard, but that would make the 300 cm markings for volleyball too wide and also make the 360 cm diameter basketball centre circle too large” the Danish architect explains.
“The width of the building was harder to get a handle on but based on the same assumptions I don’t see the gym-space being more than 20-meter wide. With walls and overhang this would be about 22 meters…unless the court is placed asymmetrically(!).
By establishing the vertical sun-angle the solar-time (using this calculator) can be determined. This gives the compass-direction to the sun. By establishing the horizontal angle of the entering sun, the orientation of the building can be ascertained, giving an AM and a PM value.
“The drawing explains “which ray” I calculate. Since the lengths of the sides of the horizontal triangle is calculated from counting bricks, the brick size becomes irrelevant, but the counting could be wrong as could the estimated “entrance point” of the ray. Furthermore, the calculation is based on the end-wall leaving no gap behind the last steel frame. The further back the wall is, the more the horizontal angle will fit the building pointed out by the source.”
“The vertical solar angle is possibly lower than I have assumed due to 3 layer of bricks being 18 cm instead of 20 as I have used (have done some more googling since). This will set the time of day to 09.33 AM or 02.27 PM. If this is the case (and the horizontal angle is correct) the building pointed out by the source will be only 5 degrees off” Bjørn says.
According to Google Maps/Google Earth the size of the building identified by the source as the one where the drone is/was hidden is significantly bigger than that the architect has found (about 5 meters longer and some meters wider too).
However, as Bjørn says: “I cannot entirely exclude that I have made some error or – less likely – that the building is larger than the gym-space. I cannot even say how precise the measuring on Google Maps is. But if the building only has the gym-space, and the measuring on Google Maps is precise I’m close to excluding it as the right location. The ratio of length vs width looks about right.
Dealing with the orientation of the tiped off building: “compared to my the sun-angle study it seems to be about 5 degrees off at AM. This is more than I would like to accept as a margin, but realistically, it is still quite possible. (PM is impossible unless photos are mirrored).”
The two reference figures inserted in the satellite images at the bottom are not exact in size, only in orientation. The tiped off location is still within the margin of error – even though close to falling outside. Both because of the orientation, but mainly because of the size which seem too big.
So, if the U.S. were studying a raid on this gymnasium near Kashmar to free their drone, maybe it’s better they reconsider it…. :-)