Monthly Archives: June 2016

This Airbus A340-500 is Italy’s new Air Force One

Here’s I-TALY, the new A340 of the Italian Air Force VIP fleet.

The above photograph was taken on Jun. 30, as the new Italian Air Force Airbus A340 was performing ILS approaches to runway 16L at Rome-Fiumicino airport.

The aircraft is a A340-500 airliner that was leased from Etihad Airways for State Flights, replacing the ageing A319CJ in service with the 31° Stormo (Wing) based at Ciampino whose task is bringing the Italian Prime Minister, the Head of State and other members of the Government in every place of the world with its specialized fleet of executive aircraft.

The aircraft does not carry the typical military registration (MM – Matricola Militare) but a rather appropriate civilian “I-TALY.”

The wide-body arrived in Italy from Abu Dhabi on Feb. 1, 2016, flying as EY8569.

Image credit: Giovanni Maduli

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[Photos] Eurofighter Typhoons escort three British and American F-35Bs arriving in the UK for the first time

Here are some cool photographs of the first British F-35B welcomed by the RAF Typhoons and escorted to the first landing in UK.

On Jun. 29, the first British F-35B Lightning II, piloted by RAF pilot Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols and accompanied by two U.S. Marine Corps airframes and by a pair of U.S. Air Force KC-10 tankers and USMC KC-130Js, landed at RAF Fairford airbase, UK, at the end of the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant’s first transatlantic crossing that marked the first landing of an F-35 in the UK.

An event that was broadcast live by the U.S. Marine Corps on their Facebook page.

F-35B arrives with escort

Using callsign “Tabor 01,” the flight flew to the UK from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 and Farnborough International Airshow in the next few weeks.

The first UK appearance of the controversial 5th Gen. stealth aircraft was initially planned to take place in 2014 but it was cancelled shortly before the four USMC F-35Bs started their transatlantic trip after a runway fire incident involving an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, on Jun. 23, 2014, caused a temporary fleet-wide grounding.

F-35B arrives with escort 2

Interestingly, the formation was welcomed into the British airspace by three RAF Typhoons.In this post, some cool photographs released by the British MoD of the formation heading to Fairford along with the escort fighters.

F-35B arrives with escort 3

Image credit: Crown Copyright. H/T UK Defence Journal

Here’s how an Integrated U.S. Force Secures a Critical Airfield in Contested Space

Awesome images of A-10s, C-17s and C-130s involved in JFEX exercise.

The battle went unnoticed by most.

On Saturday, Jun. 18 a joint aerial friendly force faced a very capable and determined adversary.  The adversary fielded a world class air force combined with advanced radar and surface to air missile sites that create an Anti-Access/Area-Denial zone (A2/AD).

Within that zone, lay the target –  a critical airfield.  Operational plans called for a combined force of 39 C-17As and C-130H&Js to land equipment and drop paratroops from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division onto the airfield and secure it.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

This is the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, or JFEX.

JFEX takes place twice a year as one of the final assignments for those participating in the U.S. Air Force Weapons School (USAFWS).  The Weapons School represents the highest level of training offered by the USAF.  Those selected to participate are typically instructors on their platforms (aircraft/systems), and have demonstrated leadership excellence. Weapons School graduates are among the finest leaders and advanced integration warfighters on the planet.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield. on the NTTR. Overhead, F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and more keep the skies and ground clear of threats during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield. on the NTTR. Overhead, F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and more keep the skies and ground clear of threats during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) provides the ideal venue for the exercise.  The restricted NTTR features advanced radar systems, surface to air missile sites (SAM), scores of ground targets as well as the unimproved Keno airfield.  These systems are configured to create the most challenging and realistic A2/AD threat.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 437 AW/315 AW, Charleston, SC "cleans" the runway during take off from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 437 AW/315 AW, Charleston, SC “cleans” the runway during take off from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

In addition to the transports, the joint Blue force utilized 33 aircraft of 9 platforms (F-16CM, F-15C, F-15E, EA-18G, B-52, A-10, E-3, RC-135J, E8, MQ-9).  Advanced command and control capabilities were complemented by Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) on the ground in the vicinity of the airfield.

A-10C of the 66 WPS, Nellis AFB turns away from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX. The A-10C offered close air support in the immediate victinity of the airfield during the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

A-10C of the 66 WPS, Nellis AFB turns away from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX. The A-10C offered close air support in the immediate victinity of the airfield during the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

The Red Force included 10 aircraft (8 F-16s and 2 A-4s) complemented by a ground force that included U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).  The adversary ground threat combine and coordinate with Red air flying F-16s out of Nellis AFB.  Together, they form a dynamic and unpredictable adversary that must be forcibly neutralized.

Ground launched rocket streaks in front of C-17A's incoming for airdrop on Keno field in the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Ground launched rocket streaks in front of C-17A’s incoming for airdrop on Keno field in the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Col. Michael Drowley, Commandant of the USAFWS, notes that “…weapons school graduates are challenged to solve very difficult problems, given the smaller force size, integration is the key to success.”   JFEX demands the advanced platform and service integration that is anticipated in future warfare.

Air Mobility Command C-130J-30 of Little Rock AFB, AR overflies Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).  The "J's" ramp is open as it prepares to drop U.S. Army paratroppers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Air Mobility Command C-130J-30 of Little Rock AFB, AR overflies Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016). The “J’s” ramp is open as it prepares to drop U.S. Army paratroppers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

With primary air and ground threats neutralized, the massive force of C-17As and C-130H and Js appeared over the field on cue.  Some of the transport aircraft had flown direct to the central Nevada location from distances as far as Fort Bragg, NC.  Throughout the operation, A-10s remained low and close to the airfield neutralizing any dynamic threats.  F-16CMs, F-15Cs and B-52s circled high overhead responding to ongoing SAM and air threats.  The exercise involved nearly 600 participants and went smoothly, though high surface winds led to an abort of the paratrooper jump.

F-15C of the 433 WPS launches flares while providing Defensive Counter Air over Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

F-15C of the 433 WPS launches flares while providing Defensive Counter Air over Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Effective training challenges are those that are more difficult than real world scenarios.  Judging by this JFEX, the 2016-A class of Weapons Officers are ready for any challenge an adversary brings.

A-10C from Nellis, AFB provides Close Air Support at Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEC (Dec 2015)

A-10C from Nellis, AFB provides Close Air Support at Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEC (Dec 2015)

Heartfelt thanks for the support provided by the USAF ACC 99 ABW PAO, specifically SrA Joshua Kleinholz, and Susan Garcia, U.S. Weapons School. Photo contributions by photographer Eric Bowen, JFEX Dec 2015.

Top image: Erik Bowen

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F-15E Strike Eagles unable to shoot down the F-35s in 8 dogfights during simulated deployment

“0 losses in 8 dogfights against F-15E Red Air”

The U.S. Air Force F-35A fleet continues to work to declare the Lightning II IOC (initial operational capability) scheduled in the August – December timeframe.

Among the activities carried out in the past weeks, a simulated deployment provided important feedbacks about the goal of demonstrating the F-35’s ability to “penetrate areas with developed air defenses, provide close air support to ground troops and be readily deployable to conflict theaters.”

Seven F-35s deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to  Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, to carry out a series of operational tests which involved local-based 4th Generation F-15E Strike Eagles belonging to the 366th Fighter Wing.

In a Q&A posted on the USAF website, Col. David Chace, the F-35 systems management office chief and lead for F-35 operational requirements at ACC, provided some insights about the activities carried out during the second simulated deployment to Mountain Home (the first was in February this year):

“The F-35 recently deployed from Hill to Mountain Home where crews, maintenance and support personnel conducted a number of missions. During that deployment, crews attained a 100 percent sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94 percent hit rate with 15 of 16 bombs on target.
These numbers provide a positive indication of where we are when it comes to stability and component performance.”

“Feedback from the events at Mountain Home will feed into the overall evaluation of F-35 capabilities. The second evaluation will take place in the operational test environment with F-35 mission sets the Air Force intends to execute after IOC. All reports will be delivered in July and feed into the overall F-35 capabilities report. The ultimate goal is to provide a needed capability to the warfighter to execute the mission. It is not calendar-based or event-based.”

“The feedback from unit operators in place today has been very positive for the F-35, not just concerning performance but the ability the aircraft has with other platforms. In particular at Hill, integration with the F-15E (Strike Eagle) has gone very well. We’ve also been demonstrating the ability to put bombs on target. All of that information will be provided to us in the formal IOC readiness assessments.”

The following interesting chart accompanies the Q&A.

It shows some stats about the deployment.

F-35 deployment

The fourth column shows something interesting: during the exercise, the F-35s were challenged by some F-15Es and suffered no losses.

Even though the graphic does not say whether the F-35s did shoot back at the F-15Es some analysts (noticing also the “pew pew pew” in the chart….) have suggested the JSFs achieved stunning 8:0 kill rate against the Strike Eagle.

However, the “zero losses” may simply mean that the F-35s were able to complete their assigned strikes without being shot down by the aggressors of the Red Air: considered that the F-15Es were probably equipped with the AN/APG-82 AESA radar and the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod), the fact that the Strike Eagles performing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) were not able to “find” and/or “engage” the almost-IOC F-35s can be considered a huge achievement for the pricey, troubled 5th generation multirole combat plane.

Actually, this is not the first time the F-35 proves itself able to fly unscathed through a fighter-defended area: not a single Lightning II was shot down during Green Flag 15-08, the first major exercise conducted, more or less one year ago, on the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, during which the F-35 flew as main CAS (Close Air Support) provider.

At that time, several analysts claimed the participation of two test aircraft in the exercise was just a PR stunt, since the aircraft was still quite far from achieving a combat readiness required to really support the troops at war.

Let’s see what happens this time…

 

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Up close and personal with the B-52 bombers deployed to the UK for drills in Europe

We had the privilege of being invited to RAF Fairford on the 11th June 2016 to meet squadron personnel from the United States Air Force 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB.

Over the period of Jun. 2 and 3, 2016, three B-52H Stratofortress bombers arrived direct from their home base of Minot, North Dakota.

The three aircraft deployed are 23rd Bomb Squadron “The Barons” aircraft:

60-0007/MT B-52H Stratofortress

60-0037/MT B-52H Stratofortress

60-0044/MT B-52H Stratofortress

A total of 250 U.S Air Force personnel have been deployed to RAF Fairford in support of these aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Col. Kieran Denehan, 5th Expeditionary Operations Group commander explained the reason for the deployment “We are here primarily to support two exercises the first one is BALTOPS2016 and the second one is Saber Strike.”

“BALTOPS” is primarily a Maritime exercise around the Baltic Sea involving 17 NATO and non-NATO partner countries with the B-52’s role being Maritime interdiction & Mining operations.

“Saber Strike” is a land exercise over multiple locations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania involving in excess of 10,000 NATO personnel. The B-52 will be working with foreign JTACS (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) and Army units.

B52_Aviationist_2016_05

Major Devita, 5th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron commander, informed us that this years exercise there was more involvement with the CAOC (Combined Air Operations Centre) in Uedem, Germany to seamlessly integrate both the Air and Maritime assets.

Both exercises ran concurrently and due to the B-52s many different roles it was possible for the strategic bomber to take part in both exercises within the same mission although they would usually only fly one at a time due to the complex planning of each missions individually.

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Major Devita did state that on a couple of occasions over the course of the deployment both would be flown in a single mission increasing the duration of the sortie past the 10 hour mark.

The mission that we witnessed launching from RAF Fairford during the visit involved two B-52s involved in a mine laying in the Baltic Sea. The B-52s would be working directly with German Eurofighters, Polish and American F-16s as well as Swedish JAS39 Grippens. Other air assets where also to be involved however not working directly with the B-52s. The sea borne maritime forces would then recover the dropped inert mines as part of an anti-mine operation simulating an enemy having laid mines in friendly waters.

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Lt Col Maginness, 23rd Bomb Squadron Commander, gave an overview of the B-52s capabilities in today’s world: “if it is an Air to Ground munition the B-52 can carry it”. These munitions include laser guided, GPS guided and freefall bombs (dumb bombs), mines and the cruise missile.

The Sniper targeting pod is able to perform NTISR (non-traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) missions. This imagery can be collected, examined and translated into target coordinates for the B-52 or passed on to other players in the area. It can also be collected for other agencies for further analysis and future mission planning. The B-52 has an extensive & robust ECM suite (electronics counter measures), which allows the crew to examine the electronic threat and again analyse an appropriate response.

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Future upgrades, including a fully digital communications suite called Connect and the ability to carry SMART weapons internally the laser & GPS guided munitions that are currently carried on the external wing mounted points have both been funded and upgrades taking place on the fleet.

With upgrades over the years and future upgrades coming online the B-52H is an extremely capable platform and with the huge range of the aircraft (unrefueled air 2 air) it is still a very viable asset to mission planners. With a first flight in 1952 and an out-of-service date of 2040 it’s not inconceivable that we will see 80-year-old B-52s finally retiring to the desert. Another amazing fact about its longevity is that the United States of America has only existed since 1776 so by final retirement the B-52 will have existed for almost 1/3rd of the total time that the United States of America has.

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Once again Macks Aviation Photography would like to extend their thanks and appreciation to Sahara Fales, SrA, USAF of the 5th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs office in providing the opportunity to take part in this event, special thanks go to Col. Kieran Denehan, 5th Expeditionary Operations Group commander who is justifiably proud of the men & women under his command on this deployment, all of whom made this article possible.

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