Monthly Archives: February 2012

C-27J slippery runway surface landing and take off training in Norway

The Italian Air Force has recently conducted training activity on frozen runway at Bardufoss, Norway, with a C-27J, pilots and crews belonging to the 98° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade).

It was the first time that the Spartan was involved in this kind of training, previously undertaken by the Italian C-130Js and G-222s, whose purpose is to acquire or keep cold weather environment ops as well as “slippery runway surface landing and take off” currencies required to operate in the current out-of-area scenarios as Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Actually, the capability to operate on frozen runways can be important during domestic activities as well: when snow storms and icing conditions prevent normal flight operations, the ability to reach certain remote airfields can allow the supply of relief goods such as food, water and medicines.

Image credit: 46^ Brigata Aerea

Photo: Iranian maritime patrol aircraft buzzes the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz

“Tower this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby”

“Negative Ghost Rider, pattern is full”

Many of you remember this memorable quotes from Top Gun movie. Imagine the same request radioed by an Iranian maritime patrol aircraft to the Air Boss of USS Abraham Lincoln, as the American supercarrier sailed through the Strait of Hormuz.

Obviously, the Iranian Fokker 27 that you can see in the following screenshots (from a BBC Persian footage) did not request any permission to buzz the “Island” of the flattop and was closely monitored from many miles away. Nevertheless they are interesting as they show a close encounter that is quite common in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

Iranian Navy Fokker F27s have already performed low passes on other aircraft carriers in the past. Since they are turboprop reconnaissance planes they don’t pose a real threat to the Strike Group that doesn’t need to take any defensive action other than tracking the surveillance plane all time.

Aircraft carriers don’t even need to change their course if a spyplane pops up on the radar, provided that it is not armed and it doesn’t show an aggressive behaviour.

Something different happens if a more threatening formation approaches the supercarrier. For instance, when two Russian Tu-95s buzzed the USS Nimitz in the Pacific, the carrier launched some F-18s to intercept and escort the “intruders”.

Not only planes pay visit to the Carrier Strike Group in the Gulf: Iranian speedboats can be seen in the following screenshot, in close proximity of the Lincoln and accompanying ships.

Special feature: all the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs.

Update May. 27, 2012 20.15 GMT

Bjørn Holst Jespersen (@bjoernen_dk on Twitter) is a long time contributor of The Aviationist.

He has helped me preparing the daily reports about the Libya Air War and has provided valuable analysis of the images of the U.S stealthy drone captured in Iran, to determine, using perspective drawing techniques, both the size and the orientation of the building where the RQ-170 was showcased.

This time, based on the article he has posted on his blog,  the Danish architect has offered the readers of  this website an interesting analysis of some (if not all) the weapons used by the Assad forces in Syria based on the images and footage he has collected in the last two weeks.

[Read also: Mysterious drone overflying clashes in Syria could be a new type rarely seen outside Iran. And here’s a new picture (maybe)]

240 mm mortar – either M240 or 2S4

The images below are screen-dumps from a video (@Brown_Moses must be credited for the head up).

They seems to be stems of large calibre mortar rounds. And by comparing to the size of the persons carrying the ordnance-parts they appear to be more than 200 mm.

Wikipedia has a list of heavy mortars. It is not long, and the only “active” mortar listed of a calibre of this size is the Russian made towed 240 mm mortar M240 or the later self-propelled 2S4 (also 240 mm calibre).

Image and drawings of mortar round form British Ordnance Collectors Network.  image of  2S4 mortar is screen-dump from video on BitnikGr’s channel.

The shell (or grenade) is about 1.5 meter long and has a weight of 130 kg with 32 kg of explosives.

Bjørn says this is the largest calibre mortar still being used worldwide. And even if it is said to have some accuracy in this context he believes it can be categorized as an “indiscriminate weapon”. Probably aiming at terrorizing the people in the besieged areas through general destruction.

122 mm howitzer – 2A18  (D-30)

Image credit: U.S. Department of State

On Feb. 10. 2012, the U. S. Department of State published a series of satellite images showing artillery deployed by the Syrian regime against different cities. The image above is one of two related to Homs.

According to the image presented as identifying the type of artillery deployed it is a Russian 122 mm howitzer.

Howitzers are characterized by having a muzzle velocity of the projectile that is slower than other cannons. They fire their projectiles (shells) at a higher angle which makes the projectiles hit at a steeper angle. This makes a Howitzer capable of hitting targets where the direct line of fire is blocked – in this case – by buildings.

By looking at Wikipedias list of howitzers it appears that they are made in three sizes: 155/152.4 mm, 122 mm and 105 mm, with the 105 mm size being less common.

Shell fragment


Left image is from @ArabSpringFF. Drawing credit wiki.

The image above shows a fragment of a stabilizer-stem from an artillery shell. For comparison purposes, a drawing of an example of a 122 mm grenade is on the left on the same illustration. But please notice: the specific weapon it was fired has not been identified.

Bjørn comments: “I haven’t seen any certain photo-documentation of 122 mm grenade fragments found inside Homs.”

About artillery shells

Artillery shells are NOT just oversized rifle projectiles: as can be seen in the illustration above, they are complex objects launched by a cannon using an explosive charge. For easier understanding they could be called cannon-bombs.

Just to give readers a basic idea, a typical shell carries an amount of high explosives (maybe 25% of total weight) that is detonated at impact by a fuse-mechanism. When the shell explodes the steel case is blown apart – fragmented – into melting hot pieces of shrapnel. And the purpose of the shrapnel is to kill or wound persons, which it does. The blast itself will also kill or wound people, but within a smaller radius compared to the shrapnel. Primarily it will cause material damage were it hits.

BM-21 Grad

Image credit: U.S. Department of State

According to the photo above, the weapons deployed here is the Russian made multiple rocket launcher BM-21. It launches the 122 mm so-called Grad missile. Here is a link to a video showing how it is operated.

Grad missiles are a continuation of a rocket type Russia/ Soviet Union began producing during WWII. Back then the Soviets nick-named it Katyusha which is still sometimes being used. Generally speaking, Grads are relatively powerful, cheap to produce, fast to fire, slow to load and inaccurate.

Today’s Russian Grads are about 3 meter long and weight about 70 kg. They have a range of up to 40 km (Iran has made models with range up to 75 km). Typically they will explode and fragment on impact (see description of shells above), but they can also be used to carry cluster bombs, mines or chemicals.

“To my knowledge, firing Grads into a city can only be described as an indiscriminate attack,” Bjorn says who also adds “I haven’t seen any photo-documentation of Grad missile fragments found inside Homs, but Katyusha rockets have been mentioned in reports.

73 mm rocket, RPG-7 and more

The image above is a screenshot from France 24, February 22/23. A group of Syrian opposition fighters/defenders in Homs showed some of the ordnance fragments they have collected.

Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C, D and E could be:

A: I’m quite sure this part is from a munition like the one in the image below. If so; then it’s a 73 mm grenade. Here is a link to a Pakistani version. I have also noticed that that the Russian made  BMP-1 (an infantry fighting vehicle) has a 73 mm gun. And since the BMP-1 have been in several videos I believe those are the ones that have been firing them.

B: stabilizer from a RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade, mainly used against tanks and other armoured vehicles).

C: sustainer motor from an RPG-7 grenade/rocket.

D: tail end of a 73 mm PG-9. This too is main gun ammunition for the BMP-1. Notice the two broken off fins in the center frame below. Fragments of this ammunition seems to be less common than those of the grenade/rocket under “A“. An explanation for this could be cost: by the look of it this type of ammunition appears much more sophisticated in design and must be significantly more expensice to produce.

E: this one has an unusual colour. It seems to me like it is some kind of tube with holes that have been cracked and partly flattened. The original diameter of this part can not have been more than about 5 cm. I don’t expect to be able to id this one, but I believe it is from the rear-end of either a mortar shell or a small missile/rocket.

Image credit: Pakistan Ordnance Factories web site

Cluster munitions?

Screenshots from this video on syriapioneer’s channel

Two frames stitched together showing a series of explosions said to be from the same shell or rocket. Although some believe that cluster bombs could have caused them, according to Holst Jespersen this video linked by @ArabSpringFF seems to show that the number of sub-munitions is lower and more separate than usual cluster bombs.

107 mm rockets and more

Photo tweeted by @ArabSpringFF on february 8. for identification.

Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C and D could be:

A: these are parts of a mortar stem, and judging from the images I’ve seen it’s a type of shell that is used very often in this conflict.In another photo, I believe I have been able to measure the size of the fins to be more than 100 mm and less than 130 mm. And to my knowledge this will make it a shell for a 120 mm mortar. That is the largest caliber among the mordern infatery mortars in Wikipedia’s list and it could look something like this.I have not been able to determine the specific shell-type but here is an example.

B: according to this video (at about 1:02) this part is from a 107 mm rocket.

C: these two parts seems to match a 107 mm rocket that have been identified by New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers in this blog post. And here is a video to get an idea of how it works. And another that I just couldn’t resist linking to.
Apart from flying in the general direction it is pointed, this weapon has no precision, which will make it an indiscriminate weapon in this context.

D: when comparing this to the one marked “C” there is no doubt this is of a larger calibre. To my knowledge there are only two to choose from (more or less): 122 mm and 152.4 mm. And since I believe the step up to the 152.4 mm to be too large I’m leaning towards this being from some kind of 122 mm calibre shell or rocket.

S-5 Rockets

The following video was sent to The Aviationist from another source. It shows what look like S-5K rockets. These rockets could come from the Mi-24 Hind helicopters seen overflying the area of the clashes, even if this is just speculation since no video of aerial attack has emerged so far .

Tank shelling

This video was uploaded on Mar 30 and is said to be from Homs. Bjørn believes the tank has fired one round just before the video starts – and later the footage shows three more rounds being fired.

The tank seems to be a T-72, but the video is a low-resolution one to rule out any other Russian T-model.



Four frames from the video posted above showing smoke after one tank shell fired (sec 0:01) and three more shell being fired (sec 0:13, 0:41, 1:17). Source: hoole19 YouTube channel.

Left: image of a 125 mm tank shell from here. Right: frame from video posted above.

Assuming it’s a T-72 it will most likely have a 125 mm smoothbore main gun, and it could be firing shells like the one in the image above. More examples here.

It is not clear to me what has happened up to this, but during the video there is no sounds of other weapons being fired or any other sign of provokations, which make it look like this shelling is random terror.

Indian Navy Dornier 228 films Costa cruise ship adrift in the Indian Ocean

The video below was filmed by an Indian Navy Dornier Do 228. It shows the Costa Allegra cruise ship adrift in the Indian Ocean.

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The Indian Navy has deployed one Dornier to Seychelles under a government to government treaty. The patrol aircraft is stationed at Victoria, is operated for Exclusive Economic Zone surveillance and anti-piracy patrols by Indian aircrew in response to requirement projected by the Seychellois government.

According to this press release, the airplane will fill the gap until a new Dornier under manufacture at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, India, is handed over to the Seychelles government.

Here’s an image of an Indian Navy Do.228.

In the meanwhile, helicopters have been used to deliver food and satellite phones on board.

Air strikes over Libya

At a few minutes past midnight on November 1st, 2011, after radioing a “thank you” to the Malta ATC controller, ‘OUP 355’, an E-3 AWACS of the NATO Airborne Early Warning Component, began an en-route descent to Trapani airbase, in Sicily.

Since the beginning of the NATO operation at 06.00GMT on March 31st, over 26,500 sorties were conducted, including more than 9,700 strike sorties. These figures do not take into account the first part of the war, from March 19th until the Transfer Of Authority to NATO, when assets flew a significant number of missions under their respective national commands within the U.S.-led Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Eventually, the air war in Libya was able to end the systematic violation of human rights and the repression of demonstrators, bringing the declaration of the full liberation of Libya by the National Transitional Council and the consequent stabilization of the region. However, the involvement of some weapon systems over Northern Africa became so well known (and, in some cases, overrated) that many have seen the use of air power over Northern Africa as a way to promote various forms of technology; a sort of really expensive marketing operation spurred by the desire of visibility rather than the need to achieve a quick military objective.

But, beyond the advertising slogans of the manufacturers eager to get export orders and the statements of the high rank officers involved in the air campaign always struggling to preserve their budget from cuts imposed by the global financial crisis, which were the truly decisive weapon systems in Libya?

Drones

Capable of silently flying for several hours carrying a wide array of sensors, well above the ceiling of the anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) played an important role in Libya. The first drones to operate in the Libyan airspace were the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the US Air Force, based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, in Sicily, the main operating base of the NATO Air Ground Surveillance Global Hawk program. The Global Hawks were the first UAS to be deployed at the beginning of the war when they were used to perform high altitude battle damage assessment sorties on targets located in regions with a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat.

On April 21, President Barak Obama authorized the Department of Defense to use armed Predators in Libya and MQ-1s began flying strike sorties in the areas of Misratah and Tripoli. During the air campaign, U.S. Predators launched 145 air strikes firing hundred AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and also took part in the operation that led to the capture and killing of Gaddafi in Sirte, when an MQ-1 teamed up with a mixed flight of a Mirage F1CR and a Mirage 2000D and attacked the huge convoy used by the Libyan dictator in his attempt to flee the city. Also conducting some shorter range ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) activity from U.S. Navy ships off the coast were some MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, one of which was lost (for unknown reasons) during a reconnaissance mission over Northern Libya on June 21.

Alongside the US drones at Sigonella were the French Harfang (a modified version of the Israeli IAI Heron drone) of the Escadron de drones 01.033 “Belfort” from Cognac, while Italy committed to perform unarmed ISR missions using two Italian Air Force Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones that were remotely controlled from the Mobile Ground Control Station at Amendola airbase in southeast Italy. Belonging to the 28° Gruppo of the 32° Stormo the Italian drones flew their first OUP sortie on August 10 and were mainly used to conduct sorties deep inside Libyan territory, over targets that could not be easily reached by other assets.

In Libya-like scenarios and, generally speaking, in Crisis Support Operations where they do not face numerous high-altitude anti-aircraft missiles, drones have proved to be both effective and cheap: they ensure the coverage of a vast area of interest with the same amount of weapons as a manned aircraft, but at about a fifth of the cost per flight hour. This is of significant advantage in a period of financial crisis, as some nations could divert their ever shrinking budgets from expensive noisy manned fighters to cheaper silent unmanned aircraft.

Aerial tankers

Even if the majority of tactical planes involved in the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone and in the air strikes in Libya were stationed in either Southern Italy or Greece, each fighter sortie in support of OUP averaged 8 hours and required five air-to-air refuelings. As a result, at least 6 or 7 tankers were orbiting in the airspace off the Libyan coast at any given time during the war, without taking into consideration those flying to and from their home bases.

[Read the rest on Global Aviator]

Image credit: France MoD