Russian Tu-16os launch Syrian air strike from Kola Peninsula, in far northwest Russia, in a global strike show.
During the night between Nov. 19 and 20, the Russian Air Force conducted a very long-range strike mission against IS targets in Syria: two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers departed from Olenegorsk airbase, in the Kola Peninsula around 21.00z but, instead of taking the usual route through the Caspian Sea and Iran, went westbound, skirted the airspaces of Norway and the UK, flew over the Atlantic until Gibraltair, entered the Mediterranean sea and flew eastbound towards Syria and then eastbound along the usual corridor, back to Russia.
This video, released by Russia’s MoD shows the Tu-160s (and Tu-95) being armed and launched for the night mission.
Interestingly, the Blackjacks launched their cruise missiles (most probably the new, stealthy KH-101s that they have been using since they launched the first air strike on ground targets in Syria) from the Mediterranean Sea for the very first time. Here’s an image (there are more available on Twitter) of the Tu-160 flying over Syria, with an escorting Su-30SMs.
During the first part of their 13,000 km long journey, the Russian strategic bombers remained in international airspace and were intercepted and visually identified by some NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) fighters scrambled to escort the Tu-160s. Among them, the RAF Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth.
Taken by Filip Modrzejewski, editor in chief of the Foto Poork website, these amazing photos show two of the Hungarian JAS-39M Gripen jets taking part in the Baltic Air Policing operation as seen from a Lithuanian C-27J Spartan.
The mission of patrolling the Baltic skies has been intensified by NATO since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis amid growing tensions with Russia. The main aim of the operation is to bolster and expand the air defense capabilities of the Baltic Republics (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), that are in possession of limited military inventory and unable to guard their sovereign airspace alone.
This rotation of the Baltic Air Policing deployment began on Aug. 31.
Hungary acts as the lead nation, operating its jets from the Šiauliai airbase, while additional support is being provided by the German Eurofighters, stationed – as usually – at the Ämari airbase in Estonia.
As Filip Modrzejewski told us, this photo-shoot was especially challenging, since the airspace was cloudy up to FL240, and the only gap between the cloud layers could have been found at 4 000 feet, where the pictures were taken.
The plan foresaw that the Gripens would be joined by the German Eurofighters, flying from Amari, however the Germans joined the formation briefly before leaving again for their deployment base where the weather was quickly deteriorating. The Luftwaffe’s jets were forced to return to Estonia at a supersonic speed!
We were onboard an Italian Air Force KC-767 tasked to refuel Eurofighter Typhoon and AMX jets involved in the largest NATO exercise in decades.
On Nov. 3, we were given the opportunity to take part in an aerial refueling mission in support of Ex. Trident Juncture 2015, the largest NATO exercise in more than 10 years.
Aboard an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767 MM62228 belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of 14° Stormo (Wing) using callsign “Breus 15,” we launched from Pratica di Mare airbase and headed to the working area located near Ponza island, over the Tyrrhenian sea, to refuel Eurofighter Typhoons with 37° Stormo, based at Trapani airbase, in Sicily, and AMXs, with 51° Stormo, from Istrana airbase, but temporarily based at Trapani.
The images in this post show the aircraft being refueling using the hose-and-drogue system: the KC-767 is a NextGen Tanker equipped with both the hose and the flying boom and, unlike all the previous boom-equipped refuelers, uses an adveniristic remote boom operator’s station located behind the cockpit.
Indeed, whilst in the KC-135, the “boomer” (as the operator is nicknamed) is prone and moves the flying boom in the receptacle watching the receiver through a rear observation window, in the KC-767 (and future KC-46 that will replace the KC-135E in the U.S. Air Force), the boomers, move the boom or control the refueling operations of the probe-equipped planes using a joystick and through the video from a series of cameras mounted on the tanker’s fuselage.
The advanced camera system feeds a Remote Vision System (RVS) that can provide high-definition stereoscopic imagery to the vision goggles attached to a sort-of flight helmet worn by the boomer during the air-to-air refueling.
The KC-767 is one of the tanker types supporting TJ2015; other aerial refuelers include the Canadian CC-130, the Dutch KC-10 and the U.S. KC-135 deployed at several airbases across southern Europe.
All images by The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli
Exercise Trident Juncture 2015 kicked off at Trapani airbase, Italy.
On Oct. 19, Trapani airbase, Sicily, Italy, home of the 37° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force, hosted the opening ceremony of Exercise Trident Juncture 2015, the largest NATO exercise in more than 10 years.
Running from Oct. 3 to Nov. 6 (with the live exercise taking place from Oct. 19 onwards) at 16 different locations, Trident Juncture 2015 is an advanced and much realistic exercise involving around 36,000 troops from more than 30 nations (27 NATO Allies plus partners), more than 230 units, more than 140 aircraft and more than 60 ships.
The aim of TJ 2015 is to train the troops of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and other Allied forces, to increase their readiness to respond to a wide range of challenges. In other words, with the Russian military build-up at the eastern and southern flank of the alliance, its goal is to send a clear message to any potential aggressor: “The exercise will show that we can protect all our allies from any kind of threat,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander in Europe.
The opening ceremony included an air power demo featuring Italian Air Force KC-767 tanker and Typhoon, Tornado and AMX combat planes, Spanish F-18s, Polish, Greek, American and Portuguese F-16s.
The Italian Air Force has deployed several assets to Trapani (MOB – Main Operating Base) of the exercise and will take part in the drills, with 6 Eurofighter Typhoon, 7 Tornado (IDS and ECR) and 4 Amx ACOL jets; 4 more Typhoons will operate from their homebase at Grosseto while a Predator drone will perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions from Amendola.
Also supporting TJ45 are a C130J and a C27J from Pisa, along with a KC-767 tanker from Pratica di Mare.
Image credit: NATO, The Aviationist’s photographers Alessandro Borsetti and Giovanni Maduli
The Italian Air Force has recently begun training its first Eurofighter and Tornado pilots on the Alenia Aermacchi T-346A at Lecce airbase, in southeastern Italy.
At the beginning of September, the Italian Air Force has launched the very first training course on the T-346A (M-346 “Master”) at 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce-Galatina.
The course, that started 6 months ahead of schedule, is a swing role class held by 212° Gruppo (Squadron) and attended by four Italian pilots who will convert to the Typhoon and Tornado combat fleets upon successful completion of the training, which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).
The four Italian pilots will be trained for 9 months in accordance with a new “experimental syllabus” designed by the squadron’s Instructor Pilots (IPs) in the last months and currently based on 170 training events, 50 percent of those carried out in flight and the remaining 50 percent in the simulator.
In fact, with the “Master,” the training syllabus can be split 50-50 between ground and air segment: half of the flight hours is flown in the simulator and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane with a significant cost reduction. Indeed, thanks to an integrated training system (ITS), student pilots can attend ground lessons and practice the training missions in extremely realistic simulators several times before their knowledge and skills are evaluated by an IP, both at the sim and in flight.
The T-346A is a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) with impressive performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting technologies such as a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.
The plane itself is just the air segment of the ITS that includes ground-based facilities, academics, simulators, and mission planning and debriefing stations developed to fill the gap between the flight schools and the operational unit and to prepare the pilots to operate Gen. 4th and 5th multirole aircraft in high-threat/high performance environments.
Indeed, while current pilots are being prepared for the Typhoon or Tornado aircraft, in the near future, courses will be aimed at training attendees destined to the F-35 Lightning II.