The night operations have become a mainstay of Red Flag. Given most modern air campaigns begin with night operations, these Red Flag exercises are a valuable training opportunity for pilots and crews to safely experience a complex, coordinated exercise in the dark.
The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag Exercise 14-3 took place Jul. 14-25 at Nellis Air Force Base, over the NTTR and adjacent airspace. Participants in 14-3 were primarily of USAF origins, with the exceptions of aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and a French Air Force C-130.
Missions typically took place twice a day – from about 2 -3:30 pm, and 9:00 – 10:30 pm.
Night missions usually include but are not limited to CAP (Combat Air Patrol), Interdiction, Deliberate and Dynamic Targeting, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), and Combat Search and Rescue.
Nighttime in the Nevada desert is deathly quite and dark providing one with a spectacular view of the cosmos (with only slight interference provided by the lights of Area 51 and the town of Rachel). Given the proximity to Area 51, I can’t help but ponder what stories these night skies would tell if only they could talk. I could stay awake all night for that conversation! The impact of the cosmos and the solitude (helped by the lack of a wireless signal) moves me to ponder humanity’s aspirations – both noble, and misguided.
As the darkness deepens the solitude is broken by the radio chatter of AWACS, air-to-air refueling operations, tactical squadrons, and air-to-air chatter as the aircraft stage.
I am pleasantly surprised as the night permits a global sense of the exercise. The tankers that are unseen in daylight far to the east – are now clearly visible flying their tracks due to their navigation and anti-collision lights. It appears (for safety) all aircraft fly with their navigation lights illuminated and strike aircraft also utilize their strobes (their may have been exceptions).
As aircraft patrol overhead, their paths are easy to follow, and one can clearly see their afterburners kicking on and off as they maneuver. Flares illuminate the night sky, and strike aircraft make their way to designated targets at what appears to be medium altitudes.
Sonic booms reverberate in the mountain valleys, and then a growing roar to the east forces my eyes closer to the horizon. Two strike aircraft in trail undoubtedly utilizing LANTIRN roar past a few hundred feet off the deck on range ingress, and a few moments later return on egress. Most probably an F-15E as the F-16s are no longer equipped with that kind of pod.
At medium altitude two B-1B’s in trail formation pass directly overhead with afterburners blazing as they accelerate on range ingress executing their attack. Some moments later on egress they return, flares deployed every few seconds as they disappear quickly to the east.
The 20 minutes of intense activity fades back to a high altitude dance with a few final aircraft flying CAP, and then the stillness of the Nevada desert takes back the night.
Buffeted by the desert wind, and with a final gaze at the cosmos I surrender to sleep hoping that the day will surpass the night.
Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.
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When it comes to the new bomber, USAF plans to order 80-100 airframes. These are to be long range and have stealth capabilities. The full operational capability would be achieved circa 2025.
The bomber is to use as many ready parts as possible to reduce the risk of failure. Price of a single airframe is estimated to be as little as $550 million.
Additionaly, a unmanned version of the bomber and a new long range missile are also going to be developed within the scope of LRS-B initiative.
The LRS-B budget for 2012 tax year was $581 million. $6,3 billion are planned for the period of 2013-2017.
AirForce Times has run an article stating that the wife of Capt. Jeff Haney who died when his F-22 Raptor crashed in Alaska in November 2010 has agreed to a binding settlement after launching a lawsuit with the main contractors for the jet.
Anna Haney wife of Capt. Jeff Haney filed the lawsuit in May, stating that the jet is “dangerous and defective” and was the reason that her husband had been killed.
In the AFT article John Gagliano, the attorney for Anna Haney, confirmed that a settlement had been reached but refused to provide any further details as to what the settlement terms are.
In fact according to court documents from the U.S District court for the northern district of Illinois, the settlement terms are confidential and the recording of the proceedings that took place on Aug. 8 is to be sealed. It’s though that the settlement will be approved during September in a special meeting.
Only last month the Pentagon announced that a primary cause of the hypoxia type symptoms suffered by some Raptor pilots was that of a faulty valve on the G vest worn by the pilots. There are some pilots who still are reluctant to believe that this is the cause of the problems that have affected the jet.
Based on the Air Force investigation, Capt. Jeff Haney crashed as a consequence of a human error.
Several online news outlets, including the British Newspaper The Guardian, have been running news articles stating that British exchange pilots in the U.S flew armed American Predator drones during the Libyan conflict. The disclosure had slipped out during a parliamentary answer, some 10 months after the end of the conflict, during which the British Government had insisted that no British armed drones had been used. Whilst technically still true the MOD (Ministry of Defence) has since admitted that RAF personnel on an exchange program had indeed flown the armed predators during the conflict whom became a key part of the air war.
During the conflict, between April and October (2011), the Predators performed some 145 air strikes according the figures released by the Pentagon; it remains unclear how many of those air strikes were flown by British personnel. The Guardian quoted a RAF source as saying that the British pilots would have followed British ROEs (Rules Of Engagement) rather than U.S. ones. “If they were asked to go beyond their own nation’s rules, then they would refuse to do so.”
The Defence Minister Lord Astor had “let the cat out of the bag” on Tuesday Jul. 26 during questions and said “Her Majesty’s government do not use armed remotely piloted air systems against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan. However, UK personnel flew armed remotely piloted air systems against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011, in support of the NATO humanitarian mission authorised under UNSCR resolution 1973.”
The MoD was quick to make a statement on the subject: “There were no and are no UK remotely piloted air systems operating outside of Afghanistan. The UK armed forces routinely embed UK personnel with allied nation units (and vice versa) via exchange programmes. As confirmed by Lord Astor, UK personnel embedded within a US unit flew armed remotely piloted air systems missions against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011,” the spokesman said to The Guardian.
In 2007, to operate its MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drone alongside the USAF in support of UK ground forces in Afghanistan, the Royal Air Force formed 39 Sqn at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
British Reapers provide real-time video imagery to ground commanders, with the capability to attack ground targets if required.
First of all, the U.S. Air Force has finally narrowed down the root cause of the hypoxia like symptoms that have been plaguing the F-22 missions in the last couple of years.
“We have eliminated one of the hypotheses that the air force scientific advisory board postulated as a potential root cause for the hypoxia-related incidents and that was contamination. We have the data that has confirmed that” said USAF chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz in an article appeared on Flighglobal.
Indeed, USAF has collected data which suggests the problem is with the pilot’s life support system and specifically hardware defects associated with it. “Part of that is the upper pressure garment of the g-suit assembly [...] Part of that has to do with hose and valve and connection hardware in the cockpit.”
The modifications are going to be fully tested and should be starting to be installed next fall. In the meanwhile, the current restrictions to 40,000 feet, to fly within 30 minutes from an airport as well as some maneuvering limitations which are in force on the F-22 fleet will continue until the modifications are implemented on the aircrews equipment.
With the changes, SECDEF Leon E. Panetta gave the go ahead to the deployment of a squadron of F-22s to Kadena, in Japan, that will take place in the next coming days. Panetta has in fact approved the Air Force’s plan which foresees a gradual lifting of restriction which will allow the service to resume normal F-22 operations over time (including the air space patrol flights in Alaska, currently undertaken by other types of aircraft), ensuring the safety of the pilots.
The hop to Kadena, Okinawa, was allowed along a route over northern Pacific and by lifting the limitation about the distance from the nearest landing field (extended to 1.5 hrs). The aircraft will be accompanied by KC-135 tankers that will have to carry at least one F-22 pilot, whose task will be to give Raptor pilots advice should the need arise.
It’s not clear how the F-22 (more or less secretly) deployed to UAE last spring, considered the restrictions to fleet.
The oxygen deprivation problem isn’t the only problem that continues to affect the U.S. Air Force.
Something which has been going on as long but has received far less publicity is the series of issues experienced by the AMRAAM missile.
The problem with the AMRAAM, described by Strategy Page isn’t F-22 specific to be fair (although the AIM-120 is the Raptor’s main air-to-air missile), as it deals with the rocket motor that powers the missile in flight.
It has been found that if the missile experiences low temperatures (like those that can be found at high altitude) the motor becomes unreliable.
The USAF tests a few missile when ever it receives a new batch of missiles, it was during this test that the problem was found, as such there have been no deliveries for 2 years whilst the manufacturer looks into the cause.
Although the AMRAAM entered service some 20 years ago (1992) the missile has gone through some upgrades during that time and it’s likely that components in the rocket motor have been slightly changed. And the result is this problem.
The manufacturer continues to look into the problem whilst the USAF holds onto the funding to pay for these faulty missiles.