RAF Tornados, supported by Voyager tanker and a Reaper UAV, have extended the UK’s airstrikes to Syria.
Hours after the UK parliament approved to extend the airstrikes to include Syria, Royal Air Force Tornado attack planes, deployed to Akrotiri, Cyprus, flew their first raid on terrorist targets inside Syria, early in the morning on Dec. 3.
The Tornados, supported by a Voyager tanker and a Reaper drone, dropped their Paveway IV guided bombs against six targets on an oilfield at Omar, “one of the ISIS’s largest and most important oilfields,” according to the MoD.
The six British “Tonkas” committed to Operation Shader flew their first mission against ISIS on Sept. 27, 2014 destroying the first ISIS target, a “technical” (an armed pick-up truck), in Iraq, on Sept. 30. Since then the RAF Tornado jets, have carried out hundreds of strike (and armed reconnaissance) missions against Daesh targets.
Although the payload may vary according to the type of mission the RAF Tornado GR4s have often carried a mixed load out with a single rack of three Brimstones and two Paveway IV 226kg bombs along with the Rafael Litening III targeting pod.
The Brimstone, is a fire-and-forget anti-armour missile, optimized for use against fast-moving platforms, first fielded during 2008 after an urgent operational requirement and used on the RAF Harriers during operations over Afghanistan.
With a warhead of 9 kg and a range of 7.5 miles, the Brimstones are an extensive redevelopment of the AGM-114 Hellfire and can be used on fast jets, helicopters and UAVs. They use a millimeter wave (mmW) radar seeker with a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, and are perfect to destroy a vehicle with very low collateral damage risk, and an accuracy of about 1 – 2 meters. That’s why these small guided missiles have become the RAF weapons of choice since the Air War over Libya back in 2011.
Interestingly, one of the 8 RAF Tornados deployed at Akrotiri could be regularly tracked online during its transit from Cyprus to Iraq via Israel, Jordan, accompanied by a Voyager tanker: the example #ZA556 (the only “visible” aircraft in a formation of at least two planes) can be often spotted on Flightardar24.com as it flies into Israel, then into the Jordanian airspace before turning its transponder off to enter the Iraqi airspace.
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