On Sept. 4, the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron sent a solo B-1B over the Gulf of Mexico and its sea ranges to prove the concept that Lancers (or “Bones” as the swing wing bombers are dubbed) can be used to attack surface targets whilst at sea; in other words, the goal of the mission was to assess and improve the B-1′s capabilities.
According to the Dyess AFB website the B-1 released six munitions, including a 500lb GBU-54 laser guided bomb as well as 500lb and 2000lb joint direct attack munitions (JDAM).
Lt. Col. Alejandro Gomez, 337th TES special projects officer said: “This evaluation solidifies what our crew members have already known: We can strike surface targets. The knowledge we gain from these events gives combatant commanders assurance that we can be called upon to complete the mission.”
The mission, called a “a maritime tactics development and evaluation” or TD&E ,saw the B-1 being given the goal of detect, target and engage small boats using currently fielded and available weapons, released in all weather conditions.
The dramatic photo in this post was taken during the mission and shows that the B-1 was very effective in doing its goals: the term “using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” springs to mind as the GBU-10 is captured a split second before annihilating a small rigid hulled boat.
A U.S. Navy document has revealed the requirements that would be the guideline for UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike)drone program.
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
The key performance perimeters (KPPs) selected for the program, leaked to the press, are the operational range and maximum price.
UCLASS drones are to be introduced in the U.S. Navy by 2020. The contest for the drone is to be conducted in 2014. When it comes to KPP the minimum range of the drone is 600 Nautical Miles, and price per orbit has not to exceed $150 million. Keeping in mind that multiple UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) are required to keep a single orbit, this means that the flyaways cost includes the amount of drones needed to ensure the capability to patrol 600 miles away from a carrier in a 24 hour period; it does not mean a single drone will cost 150 million USD.
The UCLASS has to have ability to have operational radius of 1200 NM with aerial refueling.
Some more details about the UCLASS payload also have leaked: drones will have to be able to carry 1,360 kg of armament, one third to be air-to-ground weapons. 500 lbs JDAM bombs should constitute the basic munition for the drone.
Drones will be still just a complement for traditional manned aircraft, as the payload of UAS is much smaller than that of conventional fighters.
On Oct. 16, a conventional take off and landing (CTOL) version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, completed the first weapon drop, releasing a huge 2,000 pound GBU-31 BLU-109 warhead Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).
Flown by U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Phillips, the F-35A AF-1, dropped the bomb over the China Lake test range from the left internal weapons bay.
The F-35A is designed to carry a payload of up to 18,000 pounds using 10 weapon stations, four of those are internal to maximize the aircraft’s stealthiness (obviously, anything carried on the six underwing pylons make the aircraft a bit less radar evading…).
On Sept. 22, 2006 after 36 years of service, the last F-14 Tomcat was retired by its main operator, the US Navy, at NAS Oceana. Although six years have passed since then, there are many unknown facts to be told or simply to be remembered about the last Grumman’s (now Northrop-Grumman) fighter.
One of these often untold stories dates back to Apr. 2003 when, in the midst of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Tomcats of the VF-154 Black Knights were embarked aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63).
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) ordered to VF-154 to detach five of its F-14A (BuNos 158620, 161296, 161288, 161292 and 158624) and five of its crews to Al Udeid air base, in Qatar. This was the first time in history that US Navy aircraft were tasked to fight a war from both ashore and at sea at the same time.
The five Black Knights’ Tomcats were dedicated to provide Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC(A) and Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR) for Coalition fast jets (such as USAF F-16CGs and F-16CJs, RAAF F/A-18As and RAF Tornado GR-4s) deployed to Al Udeid.
The VF-154 Tomcats crews also had to train USAF F-15E crews to conduct FAC(A) and SCAR missions.
During this shore-based period a VF-154 F-14A (BuNo 158620 callsign “Nite 104”) crashed because he suffered a single engine and fuel transfer system failure forcing the crew to eject.
However during this special period the five Black Knights’ crews were able to accomplish more than 300 combat hours dropping more than 50,000 lbs of ordnance.
These results were possible even if the Tomcat had some disadvantages when compared directly to some of the attack planes mentioned above: for example, the Strike Eagle has a maximum payload far superior than the one of the Tomcat and the F-14A could only employ Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) and it was not able to use Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) due to a lack of a digital databus (the Bs and Ds-models Tomcat could use JDAMs).
Still, the F-14 had also some advantages: the AN/AAQ-25 LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting, Infrared, for Night) pod used by Tomcat crews was more capable than the USAF’s AN/AAQ-14 and also than the first AN/AAQ-28s Litening II. In fact the AN/AAQ-25 provided the Tomcat with the capability to point the pod to chosen waypoints without the employment of radar, an ability that the F-15E didn’t have. The F-14s were also equipped with a Programmable Tactical Information Display System (PTIDS) and 20 cm X 20cm screen that provided the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) with a better display than the Weapons System Officer (WSO) in the F-15E.
All these features made the F-14 a really impressive attack platform- as a Tomcat driver once explained: “With the Strike Eagle you can put the bomb on the building. With the Tomcat you’ re putting the bomb into the third window from the left, from miles away”.
Traveling at 400 knots at an altitude of 4,200 ft, F-35 BF-3, a STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing) JSF variant, released an inert 1,000 lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) separation weapon over water in an Atlantic test range.
Here is the text of the NAVAIR and the Joint Program Office press release:
“While this weapons separation test is just one event in a series of hundreds of flights and thousands of test points that we are executing this year, it does represent a significant entry into a new phase of testing for the F-35 program,” said Navy Capt. Erik Etz, director of test for F-35 naval variants. “Today’s release of a JDAM was the result of extraordinary effort by our team of maintainers, engineers, pilots and others that are consistently working long hours to deliver F-35 warfighting capability to the U.S. services and our international partners.”
The release was the first time for any version of the F-35 to conduct an airborne weapon separation, as well as the first from an internal weapons bay for a fighter aircraft designated for the U.S. Marine Corps, the United Kingdom and Italy.
The milestone marks the start of validating the F-35’s capability to employ precision weapons and allow pilots to engage the enemy on the ground and in the air.
“[Using an internal weapons bay] speaks to how much capability the JSF is going to bring to the troops,” said Dan Levin, Lockheed Martin test pilot for the mission. “Stealth, fifth generation avionics, and precision weapons … coupled with the flexible mission capability of the short take-off and vertical landing F-3 5B is going to be huge for our warfighters.”
An aerial weapons separation test checks for proper release of the weapon from its carriage system and trajectory away from the aircraft. It is the culmination of a significant number of prerequisite tests, including ground fit checks, ground pit drops and aerial captive carriage and environment flights to ensure the system is working properly before expanding the test envelope in the air.
Aircraft and land-based test monitoring systems collected data from the successful separation which is in review at the F-35 integrated test force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin Photo by Layne Laughter