The Aviationist’s Top 5 stories of 2012 December 27, 2012Posted by David Cenciotti in : Yearly summary , 2comments
Here below you will find the Top 5 blog posts of year 2012.
Actually, these are not the five articles that got most pageviews: in fact, among the most read ones, I’ve picked those that might be used to characterize the year and ordered them chronologically so as to give readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end based on what was posted by The Aviationist.
Unfortunately a lot of topics that were covered in 2012 don’t appear in this selection including Syria uprising, Israel offensive in Gaza, Korean peninsula crisis, Turkish Air Force Phantom shot down in Syria, nEUROn, Iranian UAVs, X-47B and other U.S. drones. Use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.
1) Exclusive: What nobody else will tell you about the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters deployed near Iran
Posted on Apr. 30
The news that multiple F-22 stealth fighters were deployed “near Iran” has already been reported by the most important media outlets all around the world.
However, nobody has been able to provide some important details that could be useful to better understand the scope of this overseas deployment: when did the Raptors deploy? How many aircraft were deployed? Where?
And, above all, are those plane capable to perform strike missions in addition to the standard air-to-air sorties?
Thanks to the information provided by several sources, The Aviationist is able to fill the gaps, provide a more accurate view of the deployment and debunk some myths that fueled the media hype.
The six F-22 Raptors currently at Al Dhafra, UAE, belong to the 49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. They flew as “Mazda 91″ to Moron, Spain, on Apr. 17 and departed again for their final destination on Apr. 20.
Since they spent some 4 days in Spain, during their stay, the stealthy planes were photographed by several local spotters that were able to provide the exact list of all the examples involved in the deployment:
#04-4078, #04-4081, #05-4093, #05-4094, #05-4098, #05-4099.
If they were not willing to let the world know of such deployment they would not make a stopover in Spain, during daylight.
They are all Block 3.0 (or Block 30) examples meaning that neither of them has received the latest upgrade (Block 3.1) that has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter.
Therefore they are hardly involved in any build-up process in the region, since their role in case of war on Iran would be limited to the air-to-air arena: mainly fighter sweep (missions with the aim to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft prior to the arrival of the strike package), HVAA (High Value Air Asset) escort and DCA (Defensive Counter Air).
Image credit: U.S. Air Force
Considered the limited effectiveness of the Iranian Air Force, it is much more likely that the F-22s involved in any kind of attack on Iran would be those of the 3rd Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska, that was the first U.S. Air Force unit to receive the Block 3.1 planes and has already started training in the air-to-surface role.
Furthermore, the deployment is among those scheduled several month in advance and this is not the first time the F-22 deploys in the United Arab Emirates. In November 2009, some 1st Fighter Wing’s Raptors from Langley AFB, flew to Al Dhafra, to train with the French Air Force Rafales and the RAF Typhoons during exercise ATLC 2009. The episode is quite famous because in late December of the same year the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 in aerial combat. In fact, although the U.S. Air Force pilots told that their plane was undefeated during the exercise, the French were killed once in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”) and one Raptor was claimed as killed by a UAE Mirage 2000 during a mock engagement.
Here’s the famous capture released at the time and published for the first time by Air & Cosmos magazine.
Image credit: French MoD via Air & Cosmos
2) The mysterious U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle detachment in Djibouti. Are they conducting covert air strikes in Yemen?
Posted on May 11
Although their presence over there is not a secret (since it was announced about 10 years ago and you can see some by simply pointing Google Earth on Djibouti International Airport, as done in this interesting OSGEOINT analysis) what’s still unclear is what eight U.S. F-15Es are currently doing in the Horn of Africa.
They are reportedly serving in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, as an Expeditionary Squadron of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, based at Al Dhafra, in the United Arab Emirates, and responsible for the “war on terror” in the region, but what’s their actual mission remains a (sort-of) mystery.
Little information can be found on official sources: among the press releases of the Task Force you will only find a news about the change of command that took place on May 6. It confirms what we already know: previous detachment was provided by the U.S. Air Force in Europe’s 48th Fighter Wing through the 492nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from RAF Lakenheath in the UK, and the new one, the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is provided by the 4th FW from Seymour Jonhnson AFB, NC.
By the way, the Strike Eagles recently spotted at Moron airbase, Spain, were on their ferry flight to Camp Lemonnier and not to Afghanistan (as initially believed).
Image credit: Air Force
Even if the American military presence across the world is usually very well advertised, the U.S. keep a low profile on the operations launched by the Air Force’s Strike Eagles from Eastern Africa.
The reason for such prudence maybe that, along with the Reaper drones, even the F-15Es are conducting air strikes in Yemen (and Somalia).
Indeed, counter terrorism operations with attacks aimed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including drone strikes but also naval bombardments, cruise missiles and air strikes, have increased a lot in the last years: the most recent air strikes brought the 2012 total to more than 15, about as many in the previous 10 years combined.
Some of the air strikes in Yemen were reportedly launched with the support of warplanes believed to be Yemeni Air Force ones. But there are also chances that U.S. conventional planes have been involved in air-to-surface operations officially or unofficially credited to the Yemeni government.
As happened on Mar. 11, 2012, when local residents reported that planes bombarded the town and a senior Yemeni official confirmed the U.S. inolvement by saying that “The U.S. did not inform us on the attacks. We only knew about this after the U.S. attacked” to the CNN; or on Mar. 18, when an air strike was claimed by the Yemeni government, even if the local Air Force was unable to launch an aerial bombardment as most of its personnel was on strike.
Air strikes with conventional planes are considered less respectful of the local nation’s sovereignity than drones’ attacks and this could be the reason for keeping the eventual F-15E involvement in the area a bit confidential.
Robots can silently fly for several hours and use their few missiles/bombs when needed. That’s why drones are the weapon of choice to fight Qaeda in Yemen.
However, when you need to quickly reach a distant target and hit it with a considerable payload, you might find a Strike Eagle a better platform to undertake the task.
H/T to Guido Olimpio for providing some of the links you can find in the article.
3) Farnborough 2012: “Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch” Typhoon pilot said after dogfighting with the F-22 at Red Flag Alaska
Posted on Jul. 13
Although a Royal Air Force Typhoon took part to the daily air display, the most interesting thing at Farnborough International Airshow 2012 was the opportunity to get some more details about the recent participation of the German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons to the Red Flag.
As we have already reported, the Typhoons and the Raptor had the opportunity engage each other in dissimilar air combat training but only a part of the story about the outcome of the mock engagements has been reported so far: the one about the German commander saying that the F-22′s capabilities are “overwhelming,” a statement that, according to Eurofighter sources, was taken out of context.
Indeed, Typhoon pilots at Farnborough said that, when flying without their external fuel tanks, in the WVR (Within Visual Range) arena, the Eurofighter not only held its own, but proved to be better than the Raptor.
Indeed, it looks like the F-22 tends to lose too much energy when using thrust vectoring (TV): TV can be useful to enable a rapid direction change without losing sight of the adversary but, unless the Raptor can manage to immediately get in the proper position to score a kill, the energy it loses makes the then slow moving stealth combat plane quite vulnerable.
This would be coherent by analysis made in the past according to which the TV it’s not worth the energy cost unless the fighter is in the post stall regime, especially in the era of High Off Bore Sight and Helmet Mounted Display (features that the F-22 lacks).
Obviously, U.S. fighter pilots could argue that, flying a stealthy plane they will never need to engage an enemy in WVR dogfight, proving that, as already explained several times, kills and HUD captures scored during air combat training are not particularly interesting unless the actual Rules Of Engagement (ROE) and the training scenario are known.
However, not all the modern and future scenarios envisage BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements and the risk of coming to close range 1 vs 1 (or 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3 etc) is still high, especially considered that the F-22 currently uses AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, whose maximum range is around 100 km (below the Meteor missile used by the Typhoon).
Moreover, at a distance of about 50 km the Typhoon IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system is capable to find even a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ a Eurofighter pilot said.
Anyway, the Typhoons scored several Raptor kills during the Red Flag Alaska. On one day a German pilot, recounting a succesfull mission ironically commented: “yesterday, we have had a Raptor salad for lunch.”
Above images (credit: The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli) show the Typhoon at Farnborough International Airshow 2012.
[Read also the follow up post: F-22 Raptor kill markings shown off by German Eurofighter Typhoons. "The F-22 is not invincible" saga continues.]
4) Marine Attack Squadron loses eight Harrier jets in worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War
Posted on Sept. 16
On Friday Sept. 14, at around 10.15 p.m. local time, a force of Taliban gunmen attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.
About 15 insurgents (19 according to some reports), wearing U.S. Army uniforms, organized into three teams, breached the perimeter fence and launched an assault on the airfield, that includes the U.S. Camp Leatherneck and the UK’s Camp Bastion, where British royal Prince Harry, an AH-64 Apache pilot (initially believed to be the main target of the attack) is stationed.
The attackers fired machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars against aircraft parked next to the airport’s runway. Two U.S. Marines were killed in the subsequent fighting whereas eight of 10 AV-8B+ Harrier jets of the Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were destroyed (6) or heavily damaged (2): the worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War.
The VMA-211 “Avengers” is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It deployed to Afghanistan in April and relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1.
According to Wikipedia, the VMA-211 last suffered this level of losses on Dec. 8, 1941.
Considered that the U.S. Marine Corps are believed to be equipped with slightly more than 120 AV-8B+, the attack on Camp Bastion has wiped out 1/15th of the entire U.S. Jump Jet fleet and a large slice of the Yuma-based squadron. A serious problem for the USMC, that was compelled to buy second hand RAF Harrier GR9s to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will be replaced by the F-35B.
Furthermore, the VMA-211 was the only Marine Harrier unit in Afghanistan: until the destroyed airframes will be replaced (most probably, by another Squadron), the coalition ground forces can’t count on the CAS (Close Air Support) provided by the Harrier.
Tom Meyer has contributed to this post.
Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps
5) China unveils its brand new stealth fighter: the J-31 “Falcon Eagle”. But it’s a copy of the F-22 Raptor
Posted on Sept. 16
Pictures of a previously unknown brand new fighter jet have started to appear online over the weekend.
Built by the Shenyang company, the new aircraft, could be the answer of the aerospace firm to the Chengdu J-20, whose two prototypes have already become quite famous across the world since the first images of the large, short-take off and landing stealth plane, leaked on the Chinese defense forums about two years ago.
Image credit: Tixue.net
The new aircraft, coded 31001 (hence, believed to be designated J-31) it’s a sort of copy of the F-22 Raptor the most advanced (and troubled), (multi-role) fighter jet in the U.S. Air Force inventory: same nose section, same twin tails and trapezoidal wings along with the distinctive lines of the stealth design. Anyway, even if it has two engines, the new aircraft doesn’t seem to feature thrust vectoring capabilities. At least on this first prototype.
It has also some F-35-like features, as the air intakes and wings dimensions.
The J-31 is smaller than the J-20, from which it differs for the grey paint job and the presence of a colored emblem on the tails (in place of the typical red star) with the text 鹘鹰, Chinese for “Falcon Eagle”
Image credit: Tixue.net
Although it’s almost impossible to say whether the new aircraft will eventually reach production phase, for sure it proves that China has at least two stealth projects for future combat capable aircraft.
Considered all the cyber attacks targeting Lockheed Martin stealth projects in the last years, one could believe Chinese hackers were able to put their hands on some useful technical drawings of the Raptor. Still, it would be the avionics, radar-evading features, equipment and weapons, rather than the shape, to make the difference in a dogfight. Unless the Chinese will build some thousand examples such jets.
Related articlesMaritime Security, weapons , 1 comment so far
Introduced some 40 years ago, Sea Dart missile, a ship lunched anti-aircraft and anti-missiles with a range of around 80 miles, was fired for the last time on Apr. 13.
The test firing, as part of the large Joint Warrior exercise off Scotland’s East Coast, was to demonstrate that the system was still effective after all these years.
HMS Edinburgh the last of the Royal Navy’s Type 42 Destroyers fired the Sea Dart as both as a Solo and as a salvo of 2 missiles at aerial Mirach target drones, which can fly at 10ft or 40,000ft for up to 90 minutes and are around 13 feet in length.
Image credit: Navynews.co.uk
Edinburgh’s Weapon Engineering Officer, Lt Cdr Stephen Carbery, in Charge of Sea Dart said: “This system has been at the heart of maritime operations for three decades, defending units and task groups from air attack since the Falklands conflict in 1982 through to Libya last year”.
HMS Edinburgh is due to be deployed for the last time next year and will usher in an end of an era both for Sea Dart, which is being replaced by Sea Viper, and the Type 42 Destroyer, which is being replaced by the new Type 45 Destroyer.
Image credit: Navynews.co.uk
The first Type 45 Destroyer, the HMS Daring, has commenced its first deployment “East of Suez” and is currently defending the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group along with its US counterparts.
Image credit: Navy News Facebook Page
Sea Dart first saw combat in the Falklands conflict in 1982, downing seven aircraft, and then saw action again during Gulf War 1 when a missile fired from HMS Gloucester shot down an Iraqi Silkworm missile as it headed for the USS Missouri in what was the first time a missile shot down another missile in combat.
Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com
RAF’s E-3D AWACS fleet grounded by a mystery fault April 14, 2012Posted by Richard Clements in : Military Aviation , 4comments
Media outlets in the UK have today reported of a press release from the British Ministry of Defense according to which the RAF’s fleet of seven E-3D AWACS aircraft has been grounded due to a technical issue discovered during routine maintenance.
The report doesn’t explain what the actual problem is (The Sun reported it as a crack in the dome) but it must be a major one to ground a whole fleet of such important planes nor it says if this fault is likely to affect all other E-3s or Boeing 707 derived aircraft in other U.S., NATO or other air forces service.
U.S. AWACS provide homeland security and air space management “services” to U.S. and allied planes in Afghanistan and all around the world.
The press release has been very keen to point out that there is no affect on operational capability as there are other aircraft that can perform the same task.
However, the only other aircraft in RAF inventory with similar capabilities is the Sentinel R.1, the air segment of the Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system, that has proved to be particularly effective in Libya. The Sentinel use a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to detect and track enemy ground forces so it is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) asset that, unlike the E-3, is not specialized in AEW (Airborne Early Warning) whose primary role is to detect, identify and track enemy aircraft (and guide fighter planes to intercept them).
Indeed, E-3D AWACS will be among the most important assets of the air contingent destined to ensure the security of this year’s London Olympic Games. Provided that the flight ban is lifted.
Once further details are released The Aviationist will provide an update.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
Image credit: RAF /Crown Copyright
- Typhoons sonic boom during terrorist hijack alarm causes chaos in UK (theaviationist.com)
- Sky spies grounded by cracks (thesun.co.uk)
- London Olympics security: Major Exercise takes place in the skies of the UK (theaviationist.com)
- More than 70 combat planes involved twice a day in world’s most realistic training exercise: welcome to the Red Flag 12-3 (theaviationist.com)
U.S. drones to be nuclear powered? April 11, 2012Posted by Richard Clements in : Drones , 2comments
It has emerged that Sandia National Laboratories, the U.S. government’s principle nuclear research and development agency, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman are working on powering the next generation of drones with nuclear power.
With nuclear powered drones, endurance could stop being measured in hours and would be measured in months with excess power used to power better communications and surveillance equipment.
Sandia and Northrop started the project to try and resolve three problems associated with drones with what they call “ultra-persistence technologies”: insufficient “hang time” over a potential target, lack of power for running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems, and a lack of communications capacity.
The Sandia-Northrop project team looked at power supplies for large to medium sized UAVs before finally settling on nuclear power: not surprising, since Northrop Grumman patented a Helium Powered nuclear reactor as long ago as 1986 and its widely known designs for nuclear powered aircraft date back as far as the ’50s.
The project team found that nuclear power provided far more time on target and intel per mission than any other power source by quite a margin. It was also the most cost effective power source in that it eliminated the need for expensive support infrastructure near hostile territory.
And it would enable drones to carry more weapons or reconnaissance sensors.
Sandia went out of its way to say that the project is now complete and that no equipment was built or tested and this project was nothing more than a feasibility study, perhaps showing how sensitive this technology is.
There are worries that public opinion would not accept the idea of such a potentially dangerous technology, hence Sandia’s rather over the top statement.
Fears of this technology are understandable after the amount of drones that have been lost, both during combat operations and training. The risk is turning the drone into a sort of dirty bomb or the sensitive technology falling into the wrong hands of terrorists or enemy forces.
Therefore there will be no nuclear powered drones. For the moment….
Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com
Dambusters test adveniristic helmet for RAF Tornado crews. Most advanced combat planes have similar helmets, except the F-22. April 5, 2012Posted by Richard Clements in : Military Aviation , add a comment
According to a press release issued today, BAE Systems has developed a new helmet mounted cueing system for Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 crews.
Similarly to American Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) or the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) the system projects information in front of the pilots eye giving instant information of points of interest.
The RAF raised the Urgent Operational Requirement last April (2011) and the system is now being tested operationally by 617 Squadron of the RAF, which has a very rich history of using new technology in combat.
Image credit BAE Systems
The squadron was formed in 1943 at RAF Scampton during world war two and was specifically formed with hand picked crews who flew modified Avro Lancaster bombers to deliver the ground breaking Barnes Wallis designed “Bouncing Bomb” on an attack on four dams in the Rhur Valley (Germany). Later in the war, it was the first squadron to drop the 21,000lb “Grand Slam” on German U-Boat pens, and it was also the first RAF Squadron to use Storm Shadow operationally during operation “Telic” in Iraq during 2003.
History has repeated itself since this new system has been integrated onto aircraft which are now operational in the hostile theater of Afghanistan.
In the BAE’s press release Wing Commander Kurt Hill, FAST Tornado Capability Manager said: “The Tornado HMCS capability has greatly enhanced the crews situational awareness and resource management, enabling the rapid identification of points of interest in the Homogeneous Afghan environment.”
Martin Taylor, BAE Systems Combat Air Support Director said: “Over the coming months, we will continue to work with the customer, to provide the capability across the wider Tornado fleet.”
The new Helmet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS) has passed all of its operational requirements and is now making it easier to indentify the enemy on the ground in very fluid firefights.
Image credit: Richard Clements
The integration of the HMCS on the Tornado fleet shows that both fighter and bomber combat planes might need to improve their situational awareness and capability to engage ground targets with helmets that project symbology on the visor. However, even if U.S. F-15C/D, F-16 Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F pilots use the JHMCS and the F-35 will have a similar helmet, the multirole F-22 Raptor won’t have one.
Here’s what The Aviationist wrote about the lack of helmet mounted display on the F-22 in a previous post about the Eurofighter Typhoon HMSS:
“There are various reasons why the most advanced (and much troubled) air superiority fighter lacks both helmet mounted display and HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons: confidence that capability was not needed since no opponents would get close enough to be engaged with an AIM-9X in a cone more than 80 degrees to either side of the nose of the aircraft; limited head space below the canopy; the use of missiles carried inside ventral bays whose sensor can’t provide aiming to the system until they are ejected. And also various integration problems that brought the Air Force to cancel funding.
Did the F-22 need HOBS? Sure, as it would have improved its lethality even further. Indeed, although simulated 1 F-22 vs 3 JHMCS F-16Cs engagements proved that the Raptor can master even challenging scenarios such an extra feature would have been a useful addition when facing large formations of Gen. 5 fighters like the Chinese J-20.”
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
- M-346 advanced combat trainer’s HMD (Helmet Mounted Display) tested in night configuration (theaviationist.com)
- KC-767 boom operator’s stereoscopic vision goggles: introducing the adveniristic Remote Vision System (theaviationist.com)
- Tornado GR4 Livery Marks 100 Years of RAF Squadron (femaleimagination.wordpress.com)