Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Spike in Russian Air Force activity in Europe may be a reaction to large US Strategic Command bombers exercise

Usually, after every Global Thunder, the Russians launch similar long range bomber missions.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Strategic Command concluded its largest yearly exercise. On the very same day, the Russian Air Force launched three packages which included of a mix of bombers and escort fighters for a total of 19 warplanes (26 if we consider also the close encounter on Oct. 28): a surge in missions flown close to European airspaces that NATO defined “unusual.

A mere coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Exercise Global Thunder 15 (first exercise for FY 2015, hence the 15) “is a command and control exercise designed to train Department of Defense forces and assess joint operational readiness across all of USSTRATCOM’s mission areas with a specific focus on nuclear readiness.”

Conducted in coordination with North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 15 (attended by tactical warplanes with the aim to train homeland defense forces), Global Thunder 15 is a realistic exercise during which nearly every USSTRATCOM component, task force, unit, command post and bomb wing takes part in the training events which are aimed at improving all the Command capabilities: space, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global strike, and ballistic missile defense.

On a 24-hour period, yearly Global Thunders foresee intense B-52 and B-2s perform their MITO departures and going up to the Arctic and back, controlled by several E-6B Mercury aircraft.

Some strategic bombers route up over Nova Scotia and up past Thule/Greenland and either go all the way around North of Canada and back down through Canada/Alaska or they turn round and go back the way they came. Other waves go up over Alaska first and come back down viceversa.

A one-day simulated nuclear war.

Richard Cliff, a reader of The Aviationist and military aviation expert noticed that, usually after every Global Thunder, the Russians seem to launch similar long-range bomber missions, as those that caused the alert scrambles by NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cells across Europe.

Therefore, Global Strike proves Russian bombers are not the only ones to fly in the Arctic or perform simulated long-range nuclear missions. At the same time, the exercise may be one of the reasons behind the spike in the Russian activities in Europe (even though we can’t but notice that the amount of close encounters has increased in the last couple of years regardless to whether there was a US Strategic Command in the same period or not).

Global Thunder 15

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

“Soviet mission markings” on a U.S. RC-135U spyplane used to monitor the Ukrainian crisis

Some interesting markings were noticed on the fuselage of a U.S. surveillance plane at RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. The reason behind them, is (somehow) unknown.

Traditionally, fighter jets that scored an air-to-air kill sport special markings (that may have the shape of stars, crosses, roundels, downed aircraft’s profile or silhouette, etc) painted on the sides. Similar markings (bombs, missiles, type of target etc) are also worn by fighter bombers to show the amount of ordnance spent by that specific aircraft against ground targets.

During “peacetime” operations, similar markings are sometimes applied to those aircraft that have scored simulated kills during mock air combat training, have dropped a new kind of weapon (on the range, for testing purposes), or have flown a specific mission. Needless to say, the markings which celebrate virtual kills are less significant than those earned during a conflict…..

However, not only tactical planes and fast jets wear these markings, as the image on this post, taken last month at RAF Mildenhall by photographer Gary Chadwick proves.

The photo shows the “mission markings” applied above the crew entry hatch, on the left hand side of the RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14849 “OF” with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron/55th Wing of the U.S. Air Force: five hammer and sickle symbols along with the silhouettes of four aircraft carriers (outline reminds that of U.S. flattops rather than Russian Navy Admiral Kuznetsov).

The RC-135U is believed to be involved in missions to monitor the Ukrainian crisis since August 2014.

The Combat Sent is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes that can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals. It provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information, performing signal analysis by means of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software, including the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System.

RC-135U refuel

Above: RC-135U refueled by KC-135 over Norway during mission out of RAF Mildenhall, UK, in September

On Apr. 23, a U.S. RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker in one of the most dangerous close encounters since the Cold War.

Top image credit: Gary Chadwick

 

U.S. Air Force pilot reaches 9,000 flying hours on the B-52 Stratofortress bomber

A U.S. Air Force pilot has celebrated 9,000 flying hours on the B-52.

Lt. Col. Steve Smith, with 93rd Bomb Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, has the most flying hours in the B-52 Stratofortress: on Oct. 8, 2014, he has reached 9,000 flying hours in the iconic strategic bombers.

Smith, achieved the milestone during a flight from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. As the image shows he celebrated the 9,000th flying hour in a “Buff” with a special shoulder patch.

By the way, the next aviator is 2,000 hours behind him.

B-52 9000 FH

 

Operation Allied Force: B-52 Stratofortress bombers involvement in the Air Campaign over Kosovo

The little but decisive role played by B-52s during Kosovo crisis.

The iconic U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber, symbol of the U.S. nuclear deterrence, has taken part in all the wars fought by Washington in the last 50 years (Syria, so far, is the only exception).

Among the conflict that saw the involvement of the “BUFFs” there is also Operation Allied Force, the air campaign conducted against Serbia in 1999.

As recalled by Bill Yenne in his book “B-52 Stratofortress The Complete History of the World’s Longest Serving and Best Known Bomber” the first calls for NATO to intervene with military airpower in response to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, date back to the summer of 1998.

Then, on Oct. 10 of the same year, the US Secretary of Defense William Cohen ordered the deployment of six B-52H from the 2nd Bombardment Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base to RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.

Two more Stratofortresses arrived at the UK base on Feb. 22, 1999 as part of the military build-up in Europe in anticipation of a war in the Balkans which would involve strategic bombers as well as several tactical planes, forward deployed at several airbases located in Italy and few other European countries. By the end of the war, 25 B-52s belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base and 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base would take part in the air strikes.

The aircraft were annexed to the 2nd Air Expeditionary Group that included B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing from  and KC-135s of the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Operation Allied Force was launched on the night of Mar. 24.

Among the 250 U.S. combat planes that conducted the first air strikes there were also seven B-52s carrying AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs) aimed at the Serbian IADS (Integrated Air Defense System). Between 30 and 50 air-launched cruise missiles, targeted Serbian air defense sites, during the opening stages of the air campaign.

Initially, the B-52s followed an 8-hour round trip route that brought them above Spain and central Mediterranean Sea before reaching the launch area circumnavigating Southern Italy. Then, they were reserved special corridors across Central Italy that made the missions sensibly shorter, with a good impact on the crew and airframes’ turn over.

As soon as most of Serbian air defenses were made harmless, the B-52 transitioned from stand-off weapons to general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units, dropped on Serbian army positions and staging areas.

Two more B-52Hs arrived from the 5th Bombardment Wing at Minot AFB in North Dakota, to Fairford on Apr. 29: like the Viet Cong and the Iraqi Republican Guard, Milosevic would soon discover the tremendous power of a B-52’s bomb load is a horrible thing to endure, and experiencing it firsthand is a horrible way to make that discovery.

Leaflets written in Serbian, that warned bombardments by B-52s, were also dropped over the Kosovo capital, Pristina. As reported by Yenne, the BBC translated their warning message: The Yugoslav Army forces are warned to leave Kosovo, because NATO is now using B-52 bombers to cast Mk 82 bombs, weighing 225 kilograms each… Every B-52 bomber can carry more than 50 such bombs. These aircraft will be after you until they drive you out of Kosovo… and prevent you from committing atrocities… If you want to survive and see your families again, you should abandon your units and firearms.”

B-52 sunset

As the amout of air strikes peaked between the end of May and beginning of June, some of the most persuasive missions of the war were flown by the B-52s on the first weekend of June 1999 at a place on the Kosovo – Albania border called Mount Pastrik, where the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) was fighting a sizable Serbian army force.

The results of the raids were reported by several networks around the globe such as the CNN which on Sunday, Jun. 6 stated that the NATO used B-52 bombers Saturday night into Sunday to strike areas in Kosovo, near its border with Albania. There was also military activity along the border between Albania and Kosovo.

Other B-52 strikes concentrated in an area near Gorshub, in Yugoslavia, just inside the border. The mountain plateau was also the scene of a day-long artillery and mortar battle between Yugoslav forces and KLA. Further details were added by the Reuters that on Wednesday, June 9, reported that a NATO B-52 bomber caught two Yugoslav Army battalions in the open after Serbia stalled on pulling its troops out of Kosovo . The B-52 dropped sticks of gravity bombs on the troop concentrations near the Kosovo – Albania border Monday, carpeting a hillside area where some 400 to 800 soldiers were estimated to have been in the field. Moreover the Reuters added that NATO military spokesman Gen. Walter Jerts confirmed that “heavy bombers had been diverted at short notice to attack troops in Kosovo.”

The same day Dana Priest of the Washington Post wrote that “at least a month ago, NATO commanders began using B-52s to herd troops on the ground into more open and vulnerable areas (because there are no NATO troops on the ground to do this). […] On Monday, a pair of B-52s and B-1Bs dropped 86 Mk 82s… on a concentration of several hundred Serb troops near Mt. Pastrik region.”

Few days after this air raid, on Jun. 10, NATO ratified the terms of an international peace plan and stopped the seventy-eight-day air campaign. Two days later as told once again by Dana Priest “Slobodan Milosevic unexpectedly capitulated…Milosevic signed an agreement allowing the invasion of 50,000 NATO soldiers – but as peacekeepers, not warriors.”

A great achievement, reached also thanks to the BUFF aircrews who played a small but vital part in Operation Allied Force.

Written with David Cenciotti

 Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

 

Spectacular Photo of U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with the full moon in the background

A quite unusual photo caught a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s CV-22 Osprey with the full moon in the background.

Taken close to RAF Mildenhall, UK, on Oct. 7, 2014, by Gary Chadwick, the spectacular photo in this article shows a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with the 7th SOS (Special Operations Squadron) flying a night mission with a full moon in the background.

The 7th SOS is a component squadron of the 352nd SOG (Special Operations Group) whose role is infiltration and exfiltration of troops from hostile, sensitive, behind-the-enemy-lines locations.

Along with the Ospreys, the Squadron flies the MC-130H Combat Talon II (that will eventually be replaced by the MC-130J Commando II) that, along with supporting special operations (including PSYOPS) in contested airspace, in adverse weather conditions, at low-level and long range, can also perform HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) missions.

Image credit: Gary Chadwick