Monthly Archives: August 2016

USAF QF-4 Phantom is shot at by an F-35 with two AIM-120s during last unmanned mission (and survives)

During the last flight, the unmanned Phantom served as an aerial target and was shot at by an F-35 with two AIM-120s. Nevertheless, the aircraft landed safely back home.

The U.S. Air Force has just released some information about the QF-4 drone‘s last flight along with a video and some photographs. Interestingly, the aircraft that have flown as unmanned aerial targets for several DoD and foreign military sales customers testing next generation weapons, flew its last sortie supporting an F-35 mission on Aug. 17.

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According to Lt. Col. Ronald King, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1 commander, the aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). We don’t know the exact scope of the weapon test, the RoE (Rules Of Enagement), the scenario and whether the QF-4 was expected to escape the downing. Maybe something went wrong, the missile launch failed or was cancelled, or just missed (because no missile has a probability of kill of 100 percent). However, it’s at least worth of note that the unmanned Phantom landed back at Holloman Air Force Base completely unharmed in spite of being targeted by the (controversial) 5th generation fighter and shot at with 2 radar-guided air-to-air missiles.

Update 1:

The reason for the QF-4 not being shot down is probably that the test was not a test of the AIM-120 missile’s ability to hit a target (something that has been proved in the past) but on the F-35’s ability to track the target and guide the AMRAAM until this reached the kill envelope. Once the missile starts self-guiding to the drone the test is accomplished and there is no need to waste a costy unmanned aircraft: the AIM-120 is directed to self-destruct before impact.

However some readers point out that previous tests saw some controversial “misses” (“the drone was beyond visual range and the AIM-120C was directed as planned to self-destruct before impact”) whereas other tests (for instance those with the AIM-9X) involving QF-4s or even more expensive QF-16s eventually led to knocking down the drone with direct hits (“After launch, the missile successfully acquired the target and followed an intercept flight profile before destroying the drone, achieving the first F-35 Air-to-Air kill or “Boola Boola,” which is the traditional radio call made when a pilot shoots down a drone.”)

Will keep you updated if more details emerge and the expected outcome of the mission is clarified.

Anyway, the unmanned mission on Aug. 17 served as the final unmanned flight before the QF-4 program ends in December year, and the 82nd ATRS, Det. 1 transitions to flying QF-16s. Until then, the unit will fly the Vietnam era F-4 as a manned aircraft.

Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. is the only base with a QF-4 mission. However, the 82nd ATRS, based out of Tyndall AFB, Florida, has been flying QF-16s since September 2014.

“It’s certainly bittersweet,” said King in a USAF release. “The F-4 served faithfully in Vietnam and as late as the Gulf War. So, for it to be pulled out of the boneyard to continue serving its country is a testament to this airplane — to the designers, the test pilots who first flew it, to the maintainers who’ve worked on it all these years — what a testament to what they’ve been able to do, and what a great airplane it was. Forty-five years later, we are still flying these airplanes to test the latest and greatest equipment we have.”

Image credit: U.S Air Force

 

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Meanwhile, U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jump jets continue to pound Daesh in Libya

USMC Harriers aboard USS Wasp launch “frequent” airstrikes against ISIS in Libya.

Operation Odyssey Lightning kicked off on Aug. 1, when the U.S. launched a new round of air strikes against Islamic State positions in northern Libya following a request by the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat Daesh in Sirte.

Although the first raids were conducted by U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones as well as by AH-1W helicopters operating from the U.S. amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, since then, the majority of the attacks were launched by the AV-8B and AV-8B+ Harriers with the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (Reinforced) – VMM-264, the composite squadron that constitute the Aviation Combat Element of the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit).

From the beginning of Operation Odyssey Lightning to Aug. 29, the U.S. aircraft have completed 92 airstrikes.

The STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft have carried out Precision Guided Munition attacks on a wide variety of targets, including Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, trucks with mounted heavy artillery, supply trucks and many “enemy fighting positions.”

Based on the images released by AFRICOM so far, the Jump Jets (both AV-8B and AV-8B+ variants) have almost always carried 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) along with two drop tanks (with the AV-8B+ carrying also the Litening targeting pod) during day and night missions.

The following videos show some interesting footage filmed on the flight deck of USS Wasp during the Libya air campaign.

Noteworthy, six British handlers from Culdrose, UK, are serving aboard the amphibious assault ship to get real life experience of safely operating fast jets and helicopters on a flight deck and prepare to what they’ll be doing on HMS Queen Elizabeth in a couple of time.

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Watch the Red Arrows display team fly through the famous Mach Loop in formation

Earlier today the Red Arrows flew through the famous Mach Loop in two formations. And someone was there to catch the awesome sight!

On Aug. 29, the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows display team hit the Mach Loop low flying area in Wales.

Paul Williams was there and filmed the two sections of five Hawk aircraft flew through the loop named after the nearby town of Machynlleth.

Although the area is regularly engaged by jets flying low-level training missions as low as 250 ft from the ground, the “Reds” are quite a rare sight at the location. Furthermore, even if they have already been photographed in Mid Wales while practicing low level flying in singles, this is the first time the Red Arrows are filmed flying in (two) formation(s) though the Loop.

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Yet another crazy ultra-low altitude pass by a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 aircraft!

New video shows a Ukrainian Frogfoot performing an insane low pass!!

Reportedly filmed at Lutsk airbase, the clip below shows a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 performing a low passage along a taxiway of the military airfield in northwestern Ukraine.

According to the user who uploaded the footage the aircraft was flying at less than 1 meter of altitude, even though the jet was probably a bit higher (someone says 2.5 – 3 mt).

It’s not the first time Ukrainian pilots fly low and fast and get filmed. In the past we have reported about the Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails at very low altitude, an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s and Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower, and also an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway.

Generally speaking Su-25 pilots are trained to fly at very low-altitude (where they can be particularly vulnerable to MANPADS as those in the hands of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine) to perform their Close Air Support missions. Still, this seems to be a bit too low!

Polish Air Force Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the F-16 service with An Awesome Air-To-Air Photoshoot

Poland celebrated the 10th anniversary of the F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 52+ service with an unbelievable air-to-air photo sortie.

This year is special when it comes to the relationship between the Viper and the Polish Air Force since it has been 10 years since Poland has acquired this slick airframe, significantly modernizing the inventory which remains at disposal of the military aviation units.

The anniversary provides an interesting opportunity to sum up the history of the relationship between the Lockheed’s jet and the Polish Air Force.

Within the Polish Air Force, the F-16 “Jastrząb” (Jastrząb – Northern goshawk – is the Polish name for the F-16 jet) is being used for a variety of missions, including air-superiority, close air support or reconnaissance with the application of the Goodrich DB110 pod.

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The Polish Air Force’s F-16 aircraft are stationed at two main locations, namely the Krzesiny-Poznan airbase and Łask airbase, with the latter one being located close to the city of Łódź. Currently, Poland has its F-16 aircraft from Łask deployed to Kuwait, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve performing the recce role.

Being a part of the Warsaw Pact up until the late 1980s, Poland Armed Forces have operated Soviet equipment for decades. MiG-15s, MiG-17s, MiG-21s, MiG-23s, Su-22s, Yak-23s, MiG-29s were (and in some case still are) flown by the Polish Air Force (with the Fulcrums, in particular, procured at the end of the Soviet Union’s existence).

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The Air Force’s structure was also largely similar to the organization patterns utilized in the East.

Beginning in 1989 the geopolitical landscape changed and Poland started to have ties with the West until it became a NATO frontline nation, joining the alliance in 1999. Prior to that event, the Armed Forces suffered reductions and cuts, along with a restructuring process.

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With the entry into NATO the operational tasks for the Polish Armed Forces, including the Air Force, were redefined: Poland was tasked with stopping the potential adversary during the initial phase of the conflict, with air superiority being one of the cornerstones of the applied strategy. Hence the main task for the Polish Air Force is to provide control within the Polish Airspace, as a part of the NATO IADS (Integrated Air Defence System), and secondly, the air branch is to provide support for the other armed services, including the Navy and the Land Component.

The main element of the Polish air defense modernization process was in the acquisition of the F-16 aircraft used by three out of seven squadrons of the Polish Air Force, alongside the MiG-29 and Su-22 fast jets.

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The first glimpse at the future of the Polish Air Force could be caught at the beginning of the nineties: between Aug. 23 and 25, 1991, an Air Show took place at the Ławica airport in Poznan, during which U.S. Spangdahlem-based F-16C airframes made their first ever appearance in Poland.

In 1994 Poland joined the “Partnership for Peace” program. The initial plan contained within the “Armia 2012” modernization program assumed that 160 new fighter aircraft were to be acquired. The tender procedure which was announced at the time did not even reach the implementation stage,  as the MoD’s leadership changed and the multi-role jet tender was postponed.

The undertaken analysis suggested that the new fighters would be utilized both within the framework of national defense, as well as within NATO deployments. The task range for the jets included air superiority, air interdiction, close air support, navy support and reconnaissance.

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Meanwhile, at the end of the year 2001, Germany decided to deliver, for free, 23 MiG-29 jets for the Polish Air Force, as the Fulcrums were being withdrawn by the Luftwaffe at the time. This, in a consequence, led to a decision which resulted in limitation of the multi-role fighter acquisition plan down to 48 examples.

The relevant tender began in 2001, involving three offers: Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52+, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, and SAAB/BAe Gripen. The F-16 won the tender, with the highest rating and the corresponding decision was announced on Dec. 27. 2002. The contract, concerning the procurement of 36 F-16 single-seaters and 12 F-16D twin-seaters, was concluded on Apr. 18 2003, with prospects of receiving the first airframes manufactured by the Lockheed Martin company in 2006.

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The first Polish F-16C jet, no. 4040, made its maiden flight on Mar. 14. 2006 and was delivered, along with 4 other examples, on Nov. 11 2006.

“C” airframes were given serial numbers ranging from 4040 to 4075, while the “D” variant received the numbering ranging from 4076 to 4087.

The main operational task fulfilled by the jets is focused solely on the air-to-air role, however each of the three squadrons has its extra specialty, with the 3rd Fighter Squadron dealing with training, 6th Fighter Squadron dealing with air-to-ground operations and 10th Fighter Squadron focused on recce activities.

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When it comes to the direct legacy, the F-16 replaced the old MiG-21 Fishbed aircraft which were stationed both in Łask, as well as in Krzesiny.

The Łask airbase, at the moment, is a home for a single squadron of the F-16 jets, contrary to Krzesiny, which hosts two squadrons, however, the base located in the central Poland has the DB-110 reconnaissance pod at its disposal, and the Łask crews specialize in recce sorties, as mentioned above.

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When it comes to the air-to-air ordnance used by the Polish Vipers, the inventory includes  Raytheon AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM and Raytheon AIM-9X Super Sidewinder missiles. The air-to-air weapons system is complemented with a Northrop Grumman (Westinghouse) AN/APG-68(V)9 radar and IDM Link 16 suite, ensuring that the jet has net-centric capabilities at its disposal.

The air-to-ground weaponry  includes the AGM-65G Maverick Missiles, along with Mk 82 and Mk 84 bombs, complemented with Paveway laser guided and JDAM satellite kits. The inventory above also includes the AGM-154C JSOW stand-off weapon. However, this, however does not exhaust the air-to-surface ordnance remaining at disposal of the Polish jet.

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The F-16 is one of the cornerstones of the Polish deterrence policy, also known under the name of “Polskie Kły” [Polish Claws]. As a result of the aforementioned arrangement, the Polish MoD decided to acquire AGM-158 JASSM missiles for the jets, with a prospect of procuring the JASSM-ER extended range variant. We have described the JASSM procurement in several articles in detail.

The Polish Air Force’s Vipers also employ the Sniper XR targeting pods and the Link-16 communications suite. Sniper XR pod creates a prospect for the Polish Air Force’s jet to utilize EGBU-12 and SDB air-to-ground ordnance, as well as the AIM-120D and new AIM-9X air to air missiles.

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Poland is also looking forward towards acquisition of the Orbital ATK AARGM anti-radiation missile which was vividly marketed during the last year’s Radom Air Show and the Kielce MSPO Defence Salon.

Noteworthy, it was not until last year that the Polish Air Force established a Tiger Demo Team is based at the aforementioned Krzesiny airbase and made its first international appearance during the RIAT air show this year.

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Within the presented photo-set, the jet carrying the Polish flag in the cockpit is the Demo Team’s airframe.

The photographs we are presenting are unique, due to the fact that it is the first time when 4 Polish F-16 jets are presented together, in the air, flying with the conformal fuel tanks on top of their fuselages – such configuration has never been photographed and captured before. Two airframes come in the C variant, while the remaining two jets are in the D version.

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The shots captured by Filip Modrzejewski were taken from the rear ramp of the CASA C-295M transport aircraft of the Polish Air Force. The main portion of the photo-shoot took place over the Greater Poland voivodeship, also over the centre of Poznan and the Ławica airport.

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Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork

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