Tag Archives: NATO

U.S. airborne communication plane could be tracked on the Web for 9 hours during air strike that killed Taliban leaders in Afghanistan

At least seven Taliban militants were killed following a NATO air raid Afghanistan. Noteworthy, a sign of the developing operation may have been a U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN plane orbiting over southeasern Ghazni province, clearly visible on Flightradar24.com.

Although many military aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders they are usually turned off during real war operations. In fact, by automatically broadcasting the plane’s callsign, GPS position, speed and altitude, these special transponders provide information about the plane can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft (thus enhancing situational awareness) and also by commercial off-the-shelf or home-built receivers.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder have a network of several hundred feeders around the world who make the flight information received by their home kits available for anybody on their websites, or by means of their smartphone apps.

Even though some pilots have confirmed they are well aware of the above mentioned websites and for this reason are instructed to turn off their transponders when involved in real operation, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, some of the aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net.

Three years later, a U.S. plane involved in war mission over Afghanistan could be monitored for several hours as it circled at 41,000 feet to the southeast of Ghazni.

The aircraft did not broadcast its mission callsign, but based on the hex code FR24 could identify it as a Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Within the U.S. Air Force, the modified jet is designated E-11A.

BACN is technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to exchange tactical information and communicate.

By orbiting at high-altitude, BACN equipped air assets provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky regardless of the type of the supporting aircraft and in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment. In the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead and moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal. In such situation, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from the battlefield while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

The BACN system is also deployed onboard EQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs.

Anyway, the E-11A could be tracked on FR24.com for about 9 hours, from 21.54 UTC on Aug. 10 to 06.45 UTC on Aug. 11, when the aircraft got out of the flightradar24 coverage while returning back to Kandahar airfield (?). At the same time a NATO air strike in the same zone killed seven Taliban and wounded four.

Next time NATO is preparing a similar operation, the presence of the orbiting E-11A could expose and jeopardize the imminent air strike.

H/T to Jerod Harris for the heads-up.

Image credit: screenshot form flightradar24.com

 

How the U.S. F-15s intercepted Russian Bear bombers in the GIUK Gap: tensions and hilarious moments above Iceland

The tight gap between Greenland Iceland and the UK (“GIUK Gap”) was once the main “highway” used by Soviet bombers and maritime reconnaissance aircraft flying to Cuba, monitoring NATO maritime activities or simply probing local air defenses.

The mission to intercept the Soviet Tu-95/Tu-142 was assigned to the 57th FIS (Fighter Interceptor Squadron) “Black Knights”, ldeployed to Keflavik air base, in Iceland, since November 1954. The 57th FIS flew several types of aircraft such as the F-102, the F-106 and the F-4E, before receiving the F-15C/Ds  in November 1985.

The Eagles belonging to the 57th FIS were fitted with CFTs (Conformal Fuel Tanks) which boosted their range allowing the F-15s to intercept and shadow the Bears much further out and for longer time.

A former Black Knights pilot, Lt. Col. Tim “Sweet Lou” Kline described to Steve Davies for his book F-15 Eagle Engaged how an intercept against the Bears took place:

“They were long intercepts. […] we’d be sitting there waiting, looking down at the water-the icebergs in the cold water-and getting our gas from the tanker while we waited, hoping our refueling equipment worked because we were away from Keflavik. Sometimes we could be out there six hours.”

Thanks to the standard CFTs, the F-15 demonstrated to be the perfect aircraft to intercept the Bears in the GIUK Gap.

“When they did show up, they’d still at altitude. Oftentimes we would simply go ‘pure pursuit’ on the raw return because to obtain a lock on would not only give away our presence but also allow the ‘Bear’s’ EWO (Electronic Warfare Operator) to begin tuning in his EW gear and start ‘dueling electrons’ with the APG-63 (the F-15 doppler radar). It was important to not let them know what range we could actually get a lock on at and other information that would prove valuable intelligence to them,” Kline explained.

If the aircraft were Soviet Navy maritime reconnaissance aircraft, instead of flying at cruising level “they’d ramp down to about 300-500ft altitude and slow down to about 230 knots to start dropping the sonobuoys and we would ‘call the drops’ so AWACS could plot their locations for Intel. When they were done they would turn around and go back northeast to Russia.”

Sometimes, during bad weather interceptions, the Soviets turned into the F-15 trying force the fully loaded and bit less responsive Eagle into a dangerous attitude.

Interestingly, at the apex of the Cold War tension, the 57th FIS mechanics fabricated a fictitious EW (Electronic Warfare) pod from a normal baggage pod. To make it more realistic, the fake pod was fitted with various unused UHF, automobile and other types of antennas and was mounted beneath one of the underwing pylons of one of the local F-15s. When the Eagle carrying the faux EW pod intercepted the Bear, the pilot rolled out alongside the Soviet aircraft with the pod fully visible to the Russian aircrew which took a lot of pictures of the previously unseen pod: how much time that Soviet intelligence officer had to waste in trying to identify the new “EW pod” remains a mystery.

Another hilarious moment dates back to the time when one F-15 pilot showed off a Playboy nude centerfold across the expansive side of the Eagle’s canopy, for the Soviet aviators entertainment. Once they saw it, they responded by running the Bear air to air refueling probe (which was encased in a long cylindrical tube extending above the nose and would be run out to clog up into the drogue basket) in and out, and in and out of its protective sleeve.

The Black Knights did not survive too long after the end of the Cold War: in fact the F-15s of the 57th FIS ensured the QRA service at Keflavik until Mar. 1, 1995 when they were eventually disbanded.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force via 318fis.com

 

[Photo] KFOR Multinational Multi-Helicopter formation over Kosovo

Eight combat helicopters belonging to four different air arms have taken part in a multinational mission over Kosovo. And here are some interesting shots.

The pictures in this article were taken on Jul. 12, by Cpt. Rory J. McCarthy, a UH-60 pilot who flew aboard an Mi-171 during a multinational multi-helicopter mission which included two Croatian Mi 171sh, one Swiss AS-532 Cougar, one Slovenian AS-532 Cougar, and four U.S. UH-60/A Blackhawk choppers.

The mission was flown to prepare the aircrews to operate with troops on board, to fulfill a tactical exercise requirement KFOR, the NATO-led international peacekeeping force, has in Kosovo.

KFOR Multi-ship UH-60

As a part of the NATO Multinational Task Force, KFOR helicopter detachments support a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement Kosovo wide. On order, Croatian, Slovenian, Swiss and U.S. helicopters work together to move 90 Crowd Riot Control (CRC) equipped troops Kosovo wide on short notice.

In addition to troop transport, select helicopters are equipped for MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation), fire fighting, airborne and SPIES (Special Patrol Infiltration and Exfiltration System) operations.

KFOR Multi-ship takeoff

Image credit: Cpt. Rory J. McCarthy

 

Russia launches surprise war games in the Baltics alongside NATO drills

Moscow has deployed several assets to the Baltics to conduct exercise alongside NATO Saber Strike.

Last week, the U.S. Air Force deployed three B-52 strategic bombers to RAF Fairford, in the UK, to attend Saber Strike and Baltops exercises in the Baltics.

The Stratofortresses were then joined by two B-2 Spirit bombers involved in a quite unusual overseas deployment.

Saber Strike is a U.S. Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise which focuses on the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2014 is an annual multinational maritime exercise held in the Baltics with assets from 13 participating nations.

This means there’s a lot of assets operating in the Baltics these days. That’s the reason why Moscow decided to conduct surprise training of first strike forces, marines, paratroopes and bombers, deploying several aircraft to the Kaliningrad region, close to the NATO war games.

The following video shows some of these assets, including Su-34 Fullback attack planes and A-50 AWACS aircraft (one of those was intercepted by NATO Baltic Air Policing QRA on Jun. 11) as well as SA-9-N Tor, the navalized variant of the all-weather low to medium altitude, short-range surface-to-air missile system used to counter planes, choppers, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and short-range ballistic missiles.

 H/T to Steppen Wolf for sending the link over to us.

 

U.S. Global Hawk UAS flew from Italy to Norway during largest ever test of NATO’s intelligence capabilities

Huge Global Hawk Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) flew from Italy to Norway, during NATO trial dubbed Unified Vision 2014.

A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk, flew from its base at Sigonella, Italy, to Norway, as part of Exercise Unified Vision 2014.

The RPV, flew from the airbase in southeastern Sicily, in the Mediterranean (from where the huge drone conduct daily missions over Africa), to Northern European countries, including Norway, to showcase the capability of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system to route one of its planned five Global Hawks across the busy European airspace.

Indeed, one of the goals of UV 2014 was to prepare the introduction of the AGS capability and to improve data sharing with other ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) systems provided by various NATO and partner nations.

The Global Hawk flew to Norway, cruising at more than 50,000 feet, well above commercial airliners testing the effectiveness of existing ATC procedures to ensure seamless integration of High Altitude Long Endurance UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) within the existing aviation framework.

During the drills, the RQ-4 crossed UK airspace for the first time.

Taking place from May 19 to 29, UV14 saw the participation personnel from 18 NATO nations and three partner nations; 2,000 people attended the exercise that tripled its size since the edition held in 2012.

The drills gave participating arms the opportunity to test their latest ISR equipment and enhance their ability to use, fuse and share data gathered by national and allied assets in a scenario tailored on most recent operational experiences (especially ISAF operation in Afghanistan).

What makes this kind of exercise particularly useful is the fact that they are quite realistic: surface-to-air missile systems are turned on and active GPS jamming is admitted; something almost impossible to do in most parts of the world, because of the interferences with commercial aviation.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

 

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