Tag Archives: stealth

These may be the only F-22’s Achilles’ heels in a dogfight against 4th gen fighter jets

Considered almost unbeatable in the air-to-air role, the F-22 successfully debuted in combat, taking part in air strikes against ISIS targets. But what if the F-22 found a 4th Gen. opponent?

Even though we don’t know much details about them, missions flown by the F-22 Raptor over Syria marked the combat debut of the stealth jet.

As already explained, the radar-evading planes conducted air strikes against ISIS ground targets, in what (considering the 5th Generation plane’s capabilities) were probably Swing Role missions: the stealth jets flew ahead of the rest of the strike package to cover the other attack planes, dropped their Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) on designated targets, and escorted the package during the way back.

Considered that it could not carry external fuel tanks (to keep a low radar signature), the F-22 were refueled at least two or three times to make it to North Syria and back to the UAE, flying a mission most probably exceeding the 6 – 7 hours flying time.

Raptor’s stealthiness is maintained by storing weapons in internal bays capable to accomodate 2x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, some AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (the number depending on the configuration), as well as 2x 1,000 pound GBU-32 JDAM or 8x GBU-39 small diameter bombs: in this way the Raptor can dominate the airspace above the battlefield while performing OCA (Offensive Counter Air) role attacking air and ground targets. Moreover its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-119-PW-100 engines gave to the fifth fighter the ability to accelerate past the speed of sound without using the afterburners (the so called supercruise) and TV (Thrust Vectoring), that can be extremely useful, in certain conditions, to put the Raptor in the proper position to score a kill.

All these capabilities have made the F-22 almost invincible (at least on paper). Indeed, a single Raptor during one of its first training sorties was able to kill eight F-15s in a mock air-to-air engagement, well before they could see it.

These results were achieved also thanks to the specific training programs which put F-22 pilots against the best US fighters jocks in order to improve their abilities to use the jet’s sophisticated systems, make the most out of sensor fusion, then decide when and to execute the correct tactic.

The Raptor has a huge advantage against its adversaries as demonstrated by the F-22’s incredible kill ratio against USAF Red Air (which play as enemy air forces during exercises) and its F-16s and F-15s, during the exercises undertaken in the last decade: for instance, during exercise Noble Edge in Alaska in June 2006, few F-22s were able to down 108 adversaries with no losses, while during the 2007 edition of the same exercise, they brought their record to 144 simulated kills.

In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses.

As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss.

Still, when outnumbered and threatened by F-15s, F-16s and F-18s, in a simulated WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfight, the F-22 is not invincible.

Raptors refuel

Apparently along with the Rafale, one aircraft which proved to be a real threat for the F-22 is the Eurofighter Typhoon: during the 2012 Red Flag-Alaska, the German Eurofighters not only held their own, but reportedly achieved several kills on the Raptors.

Even though with don’t know anything about the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) set for that training sorties and, at the same time, the outcome of those mock air-to-air combat is still much debated (as there are different accounts of those simulated battles),  the “F-22 vs Typhoon at RF-A” story, raised some questions about the threat posed to the Raptor by advanced, unstealthy, 4th Gen. fighter jets.

In fact, even though these aircraft are not stealth, Typhoons are equipped with  Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) systems and IRST (the Infra-Red Search and Track), two missing features on Raptors.

The Typhoon’s HMD is called Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS). Just like the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) which is integrated in the U.S. F-15C/D, F-16  Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F, HMSS provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery. Information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly – for the Typhoon) , enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision.

The F-22 Raptor is not equipped with a similar system (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts). The main reason for not using it on the stealth jet is that it was believed neither an HMD, nor HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons that are fired using these helmets, were 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.

Sure, but the risk of coming to close range with an opponent is still high and at distances up to 50 km an aircraft equipped with an IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system, which can detect the IR signature of an enemy fighter (that’s why Aggressors at Red Flag carry IRST pods….), could even be able to find a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ as a Eurofighter pilot once said.

Summing up, the F-22 is and remains the most lethal air superiority fighter ever. Still, it lacks some nice features that could be useful to face hordes of enemy aircraft, especially if these include F-15s, Typhoons, Rafales or, in the future, the Chinese J-20 and Russian PAK-FA.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this post.

Top it off: Tankers refuel RED FLAG-Alaska

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Camouflage color schemes: how many Marines can you count in this photo?

Camouflage color schemes are not only important for fighter planes’ survival in combat.

The following image, released by the U.S. Marine Corps shows Marines with Scout Sniper Platoon as they mingle with members of Special Shooting Team at the Hijudai Maneuver Area, Oita, Japan on Aug. 21.

The team were taking part to Exercise Forest Light 12-01, a series of bilateral training exercises with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force,  practicing stealth and proper shooting techniques.

The effectiveness of camouflage was already proved by the Israeli Defense Forces with a stunning image of the guerrilla warfare specialists from the elite Egoz reconnaissance unit blended with the landscape of northern Israel.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

China's J-18 Snowy Owl: Myth or Reality?

Over the past year or so, rumours on the Internet have persisted that China has been building a stealthy STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft in a similar vein to the F-35 Lightning II. Pictures of said aircraft are non existant but the rumour mill still persists that it’s either real or will be at some point in the future.

It doesn’t take long looking on the chinese defense forums and websites to see the odd snippet of information, although there is a lot of miss information out there also, of which some could be started by the Chinese government to hide what they are really up to.

The common theme does seem to favour an engine set up similar to the F-35B which in itself wasn’t a new design. Take a look at the Russian Yak 141 and you will see the lift fan at the front and the swivelling jet nozzel at the rear. There is even talk that the engine will be a modified version of what is planned to go into the well documented J-20 when it reaches production. Is this definite? of course not, it doesn’t even appear to be off the drawing board yet and probably will remain so for quite a while (if not indefinately).

Above image of a Russian Yak-141: Chinese Internet

So what will the fabled J-18 Snowy Owl look like if it were to take to the skies?

Well, many analysts favour the canted twin vertical stabilisers high wing design in a similar vein to the F-35 with some sort of lift fan at the front just behind the cockpit. It’s interesting to note that the Yak141 had two lift fans one behind the other and it’s suspected that the J-18 would be the same. The big question is: would it sport one or two engines at the rear?  The rendering below seems to favour two engines both with the swivelling nozzels and a smooth low RCS (Radar Cross Section) fuselage internal weapons bays and other stealthy features.

Above render source: Tiexue.net

Assuming for a moment the aircraft is real and it’s near to flight testing how would China use it?

It has been widely reported that China’s first Aircraft Carrier has been under going sea trials. Again it has been widely reported that China has a navalised version of the J-15, itself  a copy of the Sukhoi SU-30, which is real and is flying so it is hard to see the need unless there is some sort of unknown plan to build smaller carriers in the vein of the USS Wasp to provide maritime support of amphibious forces.

The STOVL project is going to be a huge technological exercise and that is going to take time. The J-18 is likely to remain rumours and internet chatter for a long time to come, and in true Mythbusters style, this Myth is busted at least for now.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

U.S. aircraft carriers face Iranian stealth subs in the Persian Gulf. And remote controlled ones too…

Although the U.S. Navy has just rescued sailors of an Iranian boat in distress for the third time in 10 days, Tehran doesn’t seem to appreciate the aid that the American warships are giving to Iranian civilian mariners in the Persian Gulf.

In an interview with the Fars News Agency, Rear Adm. Farhad Amiri said that Iran’s ordinary submarines, covered with coatings that make them stealth, since “do not allow sound to travel through them and do not reflect waves sent by sonar systems”, could by the worst threat U.S. aircraft carriers will have to face next time they cross the Strait of Hormuz.

Since they American flattops can’t track them, Iranian submarines have acquired the ability to hide at the proper depth and “when the submarine lies on the sea bed, it can easily target an aircraft carrier that is passing nearby,” Amiri said.

Being one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the U.S., aircraft carriers are one of the most ambitious targets of any anti-American country. That’s why they are also some of the most heavily defended assets which does not travel alone (as done by the Chinese trainer Varyag) but alongside a Strike Group (once known as Battle Group) including ships, supporting vessels and a nuclear submarine, whose task is, among the others, to defend the flattops from underwater attacks.

So, although I’m unable to determine whether the threat posed by the Iranian subs is real or not (actually unable to say whether the subs are really stealth because they don’t even exist…), I would still bet on the Carrier Strike Group. Especially considering the usual claims made by the regime in the last years.

According to Mehr News agency, in a couple of month Iran plans to launch new 500-ton submarine Fateh (Conqueror) submarine, whereas Iranian researchers have built a new 3-kg smart remote-control sub, with a submerged speed of 19 kts, capable to carry out surveillance missions for…one meter (I hope there was a problem with the translation otherwise this would remind me of the surveillance drone that resembled a radio-controlled scale model more than a modern drone).

Top military aviation stories of 2011: drones up and downs, stealth projects exposed and Libya's 7-month-long war.

Update, Dec. 28 21.35 GMT

A quick look at the main events and news I’ve covered on this blog during 2011 helped me to identify the topics that can be used to characterize the year that is coming to an end.

Before I start, please let me spend a few words about this blog.

Articles on these subjects, along with many more blog posts for a total of 231 articles in the last year only, were read on average by more than 3,200 daily unique visitors worth +1,200,000 unique visitors from all around the world in 2011!

Thank you all for reading my articles (not only on the website but also on “traditional” magazines) and for you continuous support. The impressive amount of visitors and their demand for both updates and the usual professional analysis of the most important aviation and defense news  will probably lead me to seek the help of some additional writer….

“Libya Air War”, “F-22 grounding”, “Stealth Black Hawk down”, “Captured RQ-170 drone in Iran”: these are the headlines that more than any other have may have changed the perception of military aviation we had at the beginning of the year; an year that has sent us some interesting “messages”:

There’s an increasing need for drones. Robots are cheaper than conventional planes (as their hourly cost is about a fifth the cost of a manned plane), expendable, persistent and effective, especially in Libya-like scenarios  (read below for more info on this subject…) where they do not face hi-altitude anti-aircraft missiles. They are not only useful in combat, they are also used to perform reconnaissance and surveillance in areas hit by natural calamities or along the borders for national security purposes. That’s why air forces and other operators have drones on the top of their shopping lists.

Drones are vulnerable. The virus that infected the Predators’ Ground Control Station has demonstrated that even the most important assets, those that are isolated and not interconnected to public networks, are not immune to the same malware that travels on the web. But, as we have learnt with the recent capture of the stealthy Sentinel drone in Iran, combat robots face also many known threats to their Position, Navigation and Guidance system, such as jamming and spoofing, even thought it still not clear whether the CIA-operated “Beast of Kandahar” currently in Iranian hands (that could possibly study it to reverse-engineer its on board systems) crash landed some 250 km from the Afghan border for a complex cyber attack or (most likely) because of a technical glitch.

Drones are remotely controlled by humans. Hence, they often fall becaused of pilot errors. In fact,  although their pilots don’t risk their lives they lack some motion-induced feelings that manned platform pilots have and can react to quickly. Furthermore, airmen who remotely fly attack drones have been experiencing emotional stress caused from long hours of work and ever-increasing workloads to such an extent that there are many on the edge of mental illnesses.

Black projects and advanced stealth tech are not only speculation: the existence of a Stealth Black Hawk helicopter whose designation is not MH-X (and most probably of a Stealth Chinook too), was exposed in May 2011 by the first images that circulated on the Internet of the tail part of one of the helicopters involved in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, at Abbottabad, Pakistan. Black projects, supposed to remain secret, are now a reality and they not only live in conspiracy theories and rumors. They exist and take part in special operations “behind the enemy lines”.

Advanced stealth tech is not only U.S. stuff: with the “epic fail” of the RQ-170 and the Stealth Black Hawk’s tail survived to the destruction, chunks of stealth tech and an entire once secret drone are in the hands of some of the worst U.S. friends/enemies: Pakistan, Iran, China and maybe Russia. Probably, not a big deal. Surely, a leap forward in their knowledge of American wartech.

It was a tough year for Lockheed Martin’s stealths. Targeted also by the Iranian satire for losing a CIA drone, LM has had a bitter year, that was made a little sweeter by the decision of the Japan’s Ministry of Defense to select the costly and troubled stealthy F-35 as the future fighter of the JASDF. The F-22 fleet was grounded for four months since May, after an accident a worrying series of disorientation and hypoxia-like syntoms complained by 14 pilots. In spite the root cause of the air-deprivation episodes was not fully identified, and the on board oxygen system was under suspiction before pilot error was blamed for a Raptor crash in Alaska, the next generation fighter plane, believed to be able to face outnumbering Chinese fighters in the future, returned to normal activity at the end of October and will be next year’s only single-ship demo team of the U.S. Air Combat Command.

War against Iran is already started. Even if some observers think that the U.S. is on the verge of a conflict with Iran after Tehran’s regime threatened to stop ships moving through the Strait of Hormuz, a covert war on Iran’s nuclear program, involving computer viruses, drones and PSYOPS is already in progress.

Wars can come unannounced and air forces can’t be found unprepared for that. The air campaign in Libya from March to October 2011 eventually led to the declaration of the full liberation of the country by the National Transitional Council but the way it was planned and executed by a coalition of NATO and non-NATO members has raised many questions. From various reasons, Operation Unified Protector  seemed more an opportunity to promote specific air forces and their weapon systems rather than a means to achieve a clear military objective.

For this reason it lasted much more than expected, in spite of the total lack of threat posed by the Libyan Arab Air Force and the extensive use of  legacy as well as brand new technologies, including drones, new generation fighters and EW assets, stealth bombers on Global Power missions and cruise missiles.

Indeed, beyond the marketing slogans of the manufacturers, eager to put their products under the spotlight, and the statements of the high rank officers of some services involved in the air campaign (often with the only task of performing endless orbits above the desert to wait for an enemy fighter that never showed up), Operation Unified Protector was an example of how the Air Power should not be used.

So, which were the “lessons identified” in Libya by coalition members that will hopefully become “learned” in the next few years?

1) The need for more drones to perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) as well as strike missions.

2) The need for more tankers: along with 80% of all the special operations planes (RC-135s, U-2s, E-8 Joint Stars, EC-130Js providing Electronic Warfare, SIGINT, PSYOPS, etc.) more than any bomber, the real added value of Washington’s contribution to the Operation Unified Protector were the obsolete KC-135s and KC-10s which offloaded million pounds of fuel to the allied planes.

3) The need for more bombs in stock: many air forces involved in the air strikes ran short of bombs after the first 90 days of the war.

4) The need for light bombs that can prevent collateral damages. Even if the Paveways and the French AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire  – Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon) performed well, the war reinforced the need for lighter weapons as the dual-mode Brimstones, small guided missiles with a range of 7.5 miles, a millimeter wave radar seeker, a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, that proved to be perfect for small targets, individuals and fast-moving vehicles.

4) The need for low-cost combat planes: even if the multi-role Eurofighter Typhoon and the “omnirole” Dassault Rafale were at the forefront before, during and after the war because they were shortlisted in the India’s Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft “mother of all tenders”, the war in Libya reinforced the need for cheaper planes (as the Italian AMX) to contain the cost of prolonged operations.

Above image courtesy of Nicola Ruffino

5) Helicopters must be used in combat within strike packages, i.e. the French way.

British Apaches on board HMS Ocean flew in pairs and completed roughly 25 combat sorties striking 100 targets in the coastal areas of Brega and Tripoli. Another 40 missions were cancelled due to insufficient intelligence information and the residual threat posed by Libyan anti-aircraft systems.

On the other side, French combat helicopters flew within strike packages and conducted 90% of NATO helicopter strikes in Libya destroying more than 600 targets, including what was left of Gaddafi’s armored and mechanized forces. French helicopters were crucial to the successful take of Tripoli and the final victory.

Back to the UK’s AH-64s embarked operations exposed several shortcomings of the Apache, such as the  need for both a floating device and a new canopy jettison system that could improve the crew’s survival probability in the event of ditching.

6) As happened in Serbia, an air campaign must focus on a quick achievement of the air superiority and a subsequent intense use of the air power against the ground targets. The way the air campaign was conducted and planned in Libya, contributed to transform what could have been a quick victory into an almost deadlocked battlefield: during the whole operation, no more than 100 air strike sorties were launched on a single day, with the daily average of 45.

By comparison, during Allied Force in Serbia in 1999, on average, 487 sorties were launched each day, 180 being strike sorties, even if in the opening stages of the war and towards the end (when the air strikes against the Serbian ground forces became more intense), the alliance flew more than 700 daily sorties with roughly one third being bombing missions. A modern war  in such a low-risk scenario is always an opportunity for air forces to show their capabilities, to test their most modern equipment in a real environment and to fire live ordnance.

Successful results during the Libyan air war have given them the opportunity to request the budget needed to save some planes from defense cuts and the RAF Sentinel R1 saga’s happy ending can be considered a confirmation of this.

However, some sorties led to some curious or rather embarrassing episodes, like the French Tiger that landed on a beach to pick up a Free Libya flag,  the alleged air-to-air kill of Libyan combat planes that were grounded and unserviceable, or the very difficult to explain RAF Tornado’s Storm Shadow missions from the UK.

As mysterious as the real shape of the Stealth Black Hawk.

Other interesting 2011 topics (based on pageviews)

Utøya island attack: another example of news helicopters faster to the scene than police choppers

Blue Angels’ almost crash: the risk of Controlled Flight Into Terrain during formation aerobatics

After the Argentine Air Force IA-63 Pampa crazy flyby the Argentine AF A-4AR’s fuel tank disintegrating after a high-G maneuver….

NATO Tiger Meet 2011: a real exercise with some interesting “hardware” rather than a gathering of friends