Monthly Archives: December 2016

Year 2016 in review through The Aviationist’s Top 5 articles

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end.

Ordered by pageviews, the following 5 posts got the most pageviews and comments among the articles published on the site, and can be used to review year 2016.

Needless to say, we covered many more topics during the past year, that saw us discussing F-35, Air War on ISIS, Russian campaign in Syria, Turkish Failed Coup, RC-135 spyplanes buzzed by Su-27s, Special Operations tracked online, A-10, North Korea, Eurofighter, and much more.

Please use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) “Here’s what I’ve learned so far dogfighting in the F-35”: a JSF pilot’s first-hand account

Mar. 1, 2016

A Norwegian pilot shared his experience flying mock aerial combat with the F-35.

As we reported last year, the debate between F-35 supporters and critics became more harsh in July 2015, when War Is Boring got their hands on a brief according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

Although we debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighter, and explained that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat, we also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by WIB involved one of the very first test aircraft that lacked some cool and useful features.

Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, has just published an interesting article, that we repost here below under permission, written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, one of the Royal Norwegian Air Force experienced pilots and the first to fly the F-35.

“Dolby”  has more than 2200 hours in the F-16, he is a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate, and currently serves as an instructor and as the Assistant Weapons Officer with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

He provides a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the F-35 looks like to a pilot who has a significant experience with the F-16. His conclusions are worth a read.

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2) Russian Su-33 crashed in the Mediterranean while attempting to land on Kuznetsov aircraft carrier

Dec. 5, 2016

Less than three weeks after losing a MiG-29, it looks like the Russian Navy has lost another aircraft during Admiral Kuznetsov operations: a Su-33 Flanker.

Military sources close to The Aviationist report that a Russian Navy Su-33 Flanker carrier-based multirole aircraft has crashed during flight operations from Admiral Kuznetsov on Saturday, Dec. 3.

According to the report, the combat plane crashed at its second attempt to land on the aircraft carrier in good weather conditions (visibility +10 kilometers, Sea State 4, wind at 12 knots): it seems that it missed the wires and failed to go around* falling short of the bow of the warship.

The pilot successfully ejected and was picked up by a Russian Navy search and rescue helicopter.

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

Jun. 27, 2016

“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):

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4) Exclusive: all the details about the air ops and aerial battle over Turkey during the military coup to depose Erdogan

Jul. 18, 2016

F-16s, KC-135Rs, A400Ms: known and unknown details about the night of the Turkey military coup.

Here below is the account of what happened on Jul. 15, when a military takeover was attempted in Turkey. It is based on the information gathered by Turkish defense journalist Arda Mevlutoglu, by analysis of the Mode-S logs and reports that have been published by several media outlets in the aftermath of the coup.

Shortly after 22.00 local time on July 15th, air traffic control (ATC) operator in Akinci 4th Main Jet Base (MJB), an airbase located to the northwest of Ankara, contacted his counterpart at Esenboga Airport ATC. Akinci airbase is the homebase of 141, 142 and 143 Filo (Squadrons) of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) equipped with F-16Cs.

4MJB operator informed that two local-based F-16s were going to take off, fly at 21-22,000 feet and coordination with Esenboga ATC could not be possible.

Shortly after, two F-16s calsign “Aslan 1” (“Lion 1”) and “Aslan 2” (“Lion 2”) from 141 Squadron took off from 4MJB.

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5) Russia has just deployed its most advanced spyplane to Syria

Feb. 15, 2016

A Russian Air Force Tu-214R is about to land at Latakia, Syria.

The Tu-214R is a Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. In other words, a quite advanced spyplane.

As we have already explained here in the past, it is a special mission aircraft equipped with all-weather radar systems and electro optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground: these images are then used to identify and map the position of the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.

The aircraft is known to carry sensor packages to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions: the antennae of the Tu-214R can intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) so as it can build the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy forces: where the enemy forces are operating, what kind of equipment they are using and, by eavesdropping into their radio/phone communications, what they are doing and what will be their next move.

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Note: the Tu-214R has carried out two deployments in Syria throughout the year, the first one lasting just a couple of weeks and ending on Feb. 29, the second one from Jul. 31 to Dec. 9, 2016.

 

You can track U.S. Navy private contractor dogfights online

Flightradar24 lets you track ATAC’s fleet of private contractor aggressors that fly out of NAS Point Mugu and NAS Fallon.

Whilst most of the interesting aircraft (namely fighters and attack planes as Special Ops platforms are still there) are hidden on Flightradar24.com, the popular online tracking system still provides the opportunity to follow ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company) aggressors flying tactical flight training missions for U.S. Navy, Air Force and Air National Guard assets.

Indeed, as pointed out by Bob Cheatham, one of our avid followers from California, most of ATAC’s jets can be tracked as they practice dogfights almost daily off San Diego, inside the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division-managed Point Mugu Sea Range that features 36,000 square miles of controlled sea and airspace, and allows for testing in a real-world environment.

ATAC’s Hawker Hunter flying a mission off San Diego. (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham)

“Growing up in the 70s & 80s, I was a huge fan of Pt. Mugu’s VX-4 Evaluators (F-4 & F-14s), so now I find it interesting to see most of these maneuvers passed on to a civilian contractor that actually shows up in the clear on ADS-B!” Cheatham explained in an email to The Aviationist.

N328AX is an ATAC’s Hawker Hunter F.58 formerly belonging to the Swiss Air Force (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham).

“Using the N-registration alerts on FR24, I track practice dogfights almost daily off San Diego between ATAC‘s Hunters & Kfirs (and who knows who else that isn’t on ADS-B?!) Now that I’ve programmed alerts tracking most of their fleet, I’m also seeing missions in the Atlantic off South Carolina & Florida too.”

IAI Kfir mission (FR24 screenshot courtesy of Bob Cheatham)

ATAC, acquired in July 2016 by Textron Inc.’s new Textron Airborne Solutions company, has been performing air-to-ship, air-to-air and research & development missions in support of DoD for the last 20 years using a fleet of fast jets that includes 6x IAI Kfir C2, 2x L-39ZA Albatros and several Hawker Hunters.

The company provides advanced Adversary support at all levels of the US Navy’s air-to-air training programs, from Fleet Replacement Squadrons to the Navy’s graduate level “TOPGUN” program.

Indeed, the ATAC’s Kfir can be often spotted at NAS Fallon (where the top shot was taken by aviation photographer Kedar Karmarkar): if you look for one of the Israeli jet’s serial numbers (for instance, N402AX) in FR24’s database, you’ll find several flights of the supersonic fighter at the Naval Fighter Weapons School in Nevada.

A Kfir from NAS Fallon. Note that part of the track is outside of FR24 coverage.

But adversary training at Point Mugu and the Top Gun school at NAS Fallon are not the only activities ATAC jets carry out.

According to the company’s website “ATAC also trains the U.S. Air Force, specifically in the European theater supporting the United States Air Forces, Europe (USAFE) with JTAC Training, as well as CONUS F-15 Operational Readiness Evaluations, “Red Flag/Northern Edge” exercises, and has been entrusted to provide support for Air Force F-22 Raptor crews.”

ATAC is not the only company to provide live Red Air aggressor training services for the U.S Air Force and U.S. Navy: Draken International; and Discovery Air Defence Services, a subsidiary of Discovery Air, are also regularly awarded contracts to perform such services.

Top image credit: Kedar Karmarkar

 

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Last December a U.S. Air Force B-52 tested the AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile over Utah

The AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile was tested by the Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Air Combat Command’s 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron recently.

The U.S. Air Force tested the ability of its strategic bomber force to configure, load, fly and deliver an unarmed version of the AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.

The AGM-86B is a standoff weapon designed to be launched from outside of a combat area, allowing aircrews to accurately strike distant targets without exposing themselves to enemy fire.

Powered by a turbofan jet engine that propels it at sustained subsonic speeds, the relatively small missile deploys wings, tail surfaces and engine inlet after launch.

It’s able to fly complicated routes to a target through use of a terrain contour-matching guidance system. The AGM-86C/D CALCM (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles), that carries a conventional blast/fragmentation payload instead of nuclear payload, uses an onboard Global Positioning System coupled with its INS (inertial navigation system) to fly.

B-52H bombers carry six AGM-86B/C/D missiles on each of two externally mounted pylons and eight internally on a rotary launcher, giving the B-52H a maximum capacity of 20 missiles per aircraft.

AGM-86B launched by a B-52H (U.S. Air Force file photo)

As part of the Nuclear Weapon Systems Evaluation Program, or NucWSEP, “a stockpile-to-target evaluation of a nuclear weapon system designed to provide U.S. Strategic Command valuable data used in deciding stockpile requirements and for operational planning” the U.S. Air Force launched the long-range standoff weapon from a B-52 bomber.

To make it simple, in order to validate that the U.S. deterrence force is safe, secure and reliable round-the-clock, the Air Force Global Strike Command conducts periodic evaluations where 49th TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) personnel and front-line unit perform an end-to-end assessment of the bomber force weapon delivery capabilities.

The process to conduct such a weapons test takes months

“After the 2nd BW was selected to perform the NucWSEP, 2nd Munitions Squadron Airmen got to work. A primary and back-up missile were randomly selected from the stockpile and checked to ensure that all test requirements were up-to-date,” , says an Air Force release.

“Once the missiles had been validated, they were loaded onto a Common Strategic Rotary Launcher and prepared for the mission. The 49th TES then installed instrumentation equipment into both the primary and secondary missiles.”

“After all the items were installed and the tests completed, the launchers were loaded onto two B-52 Stratofortresses by a certified weapons load team. After takeoff, the aircrew flew the B-52 to the Utah Test and Training Range and launched the weapon, striking the target.”

So, along with contributing to drug-interdiction operations acting as NTISR (Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms, the Buffs still undertake strike training sorties to ensure deterrence.

 

U.S. B-1, B-52 bombers acted as non-traditional ISR platforms during a big drug-interdiction operation

For one week U.S. Air Force’s Southern Command undertook a surge of its operations against the trafficking of illicit drugs into the United States, using bombers flying as NTISR (non-traditional intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) aircraft.

U.S. Southern Command oversees an area covering more than 40 million square miles, a region whose major challenge is the war against trafficking of illicit drugs into the US.

For one week in August 2016, the Southern Command surged its anti-drug smuggling operations with bombers, KC-135 aerial refuelers, E-8 Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) and E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft that expanded their work supporting the United States Coast Guard and the JIATF-South (Joint Inter Agency Task Force South), the U.S. agency leading the fight against narco-traffickers.

Dubbed the “Big Week”, the operation saw the involvement of B-1 Lancers and B-52 Stratofortresses that were assigned the difficult task of flying over large areas of the ocean in search of suspected trafficker boats acting as non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) platforms.

The heavy bombers contributed to the surveillance mission sharing the data collected by the targeting systems and onboard sensors with multiple Naval-Coast Guard assets, something they usually don’t train too often.

Still, NTISR is a sort-of secondary mission for all the U.S. bombers performing on-call CAS (Close Air Support) in Afghanistan or Iraq, where they augment traditional ISR efforts by means of their targeting pods with downlink capabilities.

The operation resulted in six metric tons of cocaine seized or disrupted, illegal drug which never made it into the United States.

Stratotankers were important to expand Big Week’s operational reach keeping Air Force bombers in the air and adding critical hours to the surveillance mission, whereas intelligence personnel provided the required informational flow between aircraft, maritime, and intelligence assets so that, once detected, drugs could be taken off the water.

Big Week allowed the joint interdiction team to test their training in a real-world environment, cooperating with agencies and in a scenario and area they don’t typically operate out of.

According to the U.S. Air Force”Big Week was a vast operation, meant to show how members of different agencies and services could operate in a joint environment against a common threat. Big Week proved that a determined and organized drug interdiction team could effectively challenge illicit drug trafficking into the United States.”

 

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Many U.S. pilots wore a traditional red “Santa” hat while flying over Iraq on Christmas Day.

U.S. F-16 pilots flying on Dec. 25, celebrated Christmas Day wearing a Santa Hat.

It’s probably a tradition, still you won’t find too many pictures of fighter pilots wearing a Santa Hat on their flight helmet while joining the tanker for AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) during a combat mission.

According to the U.S. Air Force, “many pilots wore a traditional red “Santa” hat while flying on Christmas Day,” in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Those in this post were taken from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq on Dec. 25, 2016, and they show F-16 belonging to the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont ANG (Air National Guard) based at Burlington, VT, known as “The Green Mountain Boys.”

This ANG squadron, flying F-16C/D Block 30s is part of the 158th Fighter Wing, and will be the first ANG group to operate the F-35.

The top image is noteworthy because it shows an interesting load out made of an air-to-air complement for air intercepts with tanks for extended range, as well as a LITENING targeting pod and SDB (Small Diameter Bombs.)

The GBU-39 SDB is a small 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating bomb with a blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets. It is equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range that open upon release allowing the GPS-guided bomb to glide for several miles before hitting the target with accuracy: launched at high-speed from high altitude it can travel for as much as 50 miles, allowing the attack plane (be it an F-16, F-15E or AC-130W, the largest aircraft to carry this kind of weapon) to remain outside the range of most SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries.

As we have already reported here, among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy from distance and reduce collateral damage.

Back to the Santa Hat, in August 2015, a post about a lace-trimmed ejection seat headrest cover in a North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum generated a pretty interesting comment thread about non-standard/non-fire retardant things in the cockpit….

An F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, Dec. 25, 2016. Many pilots wore a traditional red “Santa” hat while flying on Christmas Day. F-16s are providing precision guided close air support during Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to weaken and destroy Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant operations in the Middle East region and around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo | Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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