Monthly Archives: March 2017

Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s and Typhoons fly to Sudan to train with the Sudanese MIGs and Sukhois for the very first time

Blue Shield-1 exercise underway in Sudan. An interesting opportunity for the Saudi pilots to train with Russian-built combat planes.

The Royal Saudi Air Force has deployed 4 F-15C Eagles and 4 Eurofighter Typhoons, from the 2nd Wing based at King Fahd Air Base, to Sudan for the first time.

The Saudi combat planes have arrived at Merowe Air Base, located about 330 km to the north of Khartoum, to take part in Ex. Blue Shield-1, a joint aerial exercise with the Sudanese Air Force, until Apr. 12.

The Saudi Eagles arrive in Sudan

A Eurofighter Typhoon after landing at Merowe Air Base, Sudan.

Two RSAF Eurofighter jets taxi after arriving in Sudan.

The Sudanese Air Force is taking part in the drills with 24 aircraft including MiG-29 Fulcrum, Su-25 Frogfoot and Su-24 Fencer jets as well as Mi-17 Hip helicopters.

Taking part in Blue Shield-1 exercise are also 24 Sudanese aircraft, including these Su-25 Frogfoots.

Sudan’s Air Force Su-25s and MiG-29s based at Merowe Air Base.

Blue Shield -1 exercise is the very first aerial exercise between the two nations therefore it represents an interesting opportunity for the RSAF pilots to train flying with and aganist Russian “hardware.”

Interestingly, the RSAF hasn’t deployed any twin seaters to Sudan, which will not give the Sudanese any chance for orientation rides aboard the Saudi “western” aircraft.

A RSAF F-15C depicted taxing at Merowe Air Base.

The Saudi F-15S and Typhoons have taken part in the air strikes in Yemen, as part of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, since Mar. 26 2015. A RSAF F-15S crashed in the Gulf of Aden during the opening day of the air war; its two pilots ejected safely and were recovered from the sea by a USAF HH-60G rescue helicopter. Although Houthi and Iranian sources stated that the Eagle was shot down, Saudi and Arab coalition authorities denied such reports.

Those deployed to Sudan are the “legacy” Eagle, less advanced than the “S” and F-15SA, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, and the most modern Eagle variant ever produced: they are equipped with the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a digital glass cockpit, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mouted Cueing System), Digital Electronic Warfare System/Common Missile Warning System (DEWS/CMWS), IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) system, and able to carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AGM-84 SLAM-ERs, the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) on 11 external hardpoints.

The RSAF has received its first of 84 F-15SA at King Khalid Air Base (KKAB) in Saudi Arabia via RAF Lakenheath, on Dec. 13, 2016 (the day after the Israeli received their first 5th generation F-35I).

The Saudi flight line in Sudan.

The RSAF EF-2000s on a taxiway at Merowe Air Base, Sudan.

Saudi Eagle and Typhoons at their parking slots at Merowe Air Base, north of Khartoum.

In 2015 Sudan moved away from its longstanding alliance with Iran and joined the Saudi-led air coalition against Yemen’s Shia Houthi militia group.

H/T to Mohamed Khaled (@MbKS15) for providing additional information about the exercise. Image credit: Fahad Rihan

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Tanker Cell departure: how multiple KC-135 tankers launch in sequence and rejoin after take off.

Take a seat inside the cockpit of KC-135 Stratotanker number 4 in a 5-ship “Tanker Cell.”

You don’t happen to see five KC-135 tankers launching in sequence too often: when needed, the aerial refuelers (sometimes coming from different airbases) normally rejoin in flight and from fly in cell formation until reaching the “racetrack” for the rendezvous with the receivers.

However, especially during the Cold War, several Stratotankers might be requested to depart in sequence at very short notice to support the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command: in that case they KC-135s as well as the B-52s would perform a MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off), something they still train for quite regularly nowadays.

This video was filmed back in 1991 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, and shows five Stratotankers departing in a so-called “Tanker Cell” with two R-Model tankers leading the cell, and all the rest A-Models trailing them.

According to Anthony Burleson, the user who posted the video to Youtube, “it was a rare procedure, however we had training requirements to maintain for cell takeoffs. There was a period when tanker spacing used to be 12 seconds, lol.”

“My early copilot training, during the last few years of SAC, used aircraft spacing of 12 seconds for the MITO. That was the standard spacing for the Minimum Interval Take Off for any combination of the KC-135 and the B-52.”

As you may imagine, things could become pretty tense in case of abort by one of the aircraft, especially the leader:

“[… ] an abort by any of the 5 ships would certainly create a gaggle to be dealt with at a moments notice. Being collectively briefed, if lead were to abort, #2 would assume the lead and so on. Safety is paramount within a training sortie; however, it was a great feeling when the cell would launch without a hitch,” Burleson explains in a comment.

Twelve KC-135 Stratotankers from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron taxi onto the runway during exercise Forceful Tiger on Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 1, 2015. During the aerial exercise, the Stratotankers delivered 800,000 pounds of fuel to approximately 50 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris)

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All U.S. F/A-18 Hornet models affected by oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression issues

Legacy and Super Hornet showing a concerning steady increase in “physiological episodes” that U.S. Navy calls “No.1 safety issue.”

The F/A-18 Hornets of all variants seems to be affected by a serious issue: oxygen shortage, or hypoxia, is plaguing the fleet of Legacy (A/B/C/D), Super Hornet (E/F) and Growler (EA-18G).

As reported by Bloomberg News, the F/A-18 of all models have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since May 1, 2010.

Navy officials testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee called the problem the “No.1 safety issue.”

And what is even more concerning is the fact that there seem to be little clue as to what is causing the issue.

The “lack of overall progress” is “of great concern,” said Representative Niki Tsongas, the top Democrat in the panel.

While investigating the issue (with a task force of 62 people), the U.S. Navy has also enhanced “reduced-oxygen training” so that pilots can quickly identify the symptoms of hypoxia. Two aircraft carriers have installed chambers for aircrews exposed to decompression.

According to Bloomberg News, 130 out of 383 episodes “have involved some form of contamination,” according to a Navy and U.S. Marine Corps official statement. 114 involved an environmental control system component failure, 91 involved “human factors” and 50 concerned a component failure with the on-board oxygen generating system.

Older versions of the plane, the A through D models, have problems with cabin pressure whereas the Super Hornet and Growler issues “would appear to point to the onboard oxygen generating” system to which the Navy’ has already made changes.

It’s not clear whether the issue affects also other international Hornet operators.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the U.S. forces face the oxygen deprivation issue.

A similar problem plagued the F-22 Raptor fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based stealth jets.

In that period, the F-22 were experiencing 26.43 instances of hypoxia or “hypoxia-like” problems for every 100,000 flight hours, compared to 2.34 instances per 100,000 hours for the F-15E and 2.96 for the latest version of the F-16 (the Hornet was not part of the data set released back then.)

After lifting the flight ban, the Pentagon restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) failed.

In May 2012, two 1st Fighter Wing “whistleblowers” appeared on CBS 60 minutes to explain why they were “uncomfortable” flying the Raptor (before changing idea few days later).

The flying branch eventually determined a valve that regulated oxygen flow into the Raptor pilot’s pressure vest was too weak and F-22s were given a new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) that automatically dispenses oxygen when OBOGS is not providing enough. 

Various problems

The news that all the kind of Hornets might be choking their pilots comes in the wake of a Super Hornet and Growler fleet-wide grounding and (concerning but for the moment totally unrelated) increase in crash rate, especially among the oldest models.

Nine incidents involved “Legacy Hornets” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the second half of last year, with the latest loss on Dec. 6, 2016, when a USMC F/A-18C crashed off Kochi causing the loss of its pilot.

In the wake of the Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets. Unfortunately, few days after the ban was lifted, two more F/A-18Cs were lost.

The crash rate has affected the ability of the USMC to perform training activities while committing to support real operations: out of a requirement for 171 aircraft, the service had only 85 Hornets available for training according to a report emerged last year.

In order to address the shortage of operational fighters the Marine Corps has launched a plan to upgrade 30 retired legacy Hornets (currently stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) to a standard dubbed F/A-18C+: once upgraded these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work lately. Still, they might not have a fix for the hypoxia issue.

“Trump’s favorite jet”

As a side note, in their story on Bloomberg News, Roxana Tiron and Anthony Capaccio call the Hornet “Trump’s favorite fighter jet.”

This is due to the fact that Trump has been advocating the Super Hornet since December 2016, when the then president-elect posted a pretty famous tweet that favored the Boeing combat plane over the Lockheed Martin F-35C.

 

 

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RAF Typhoons to deploy to Romania to provide Air Policing in the Black Sea region

British Typhoons heading to southeastern Europe to provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) from Romania.

On Mar. 27, the UK MoD (Ministry of Defence) has announced that four Typhoon combat planes, belonging to the 3 (Fighter) Squadron will fly from RAF Coningsby to Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase in southeast Romania, to support NATO’s Southern Air Policing mission from May to September 2017.

During QRA tasks Typhoons typically fly with two 2,000-lt drop-tanks (although this option will likely not be needed for Romania, as noted by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly), four Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs), four AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), along with the internal Mauser 27 mm cannon.

With the deployment to Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase, the Royal Air Force will become the first air arm to support NATO air policing mission to reassure local allies in the Black Sea region that is frequently “visited” by NATO  intelligence gathering and maritime patrol aircraft as well as Russian combat planes, some of those buzz U.S. warships and spyplanes operating in the area.

Some NATO members provide air policing tasks for allies that lack aircraft and radars to do so autonomously (Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia).

NATO has been protecting the Baltic skies since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance. The Baltic air policing mission started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. Slovenia’s airspace is covered by Hungary and Italy. Albania is covered by Greece and Italy.

The Italian Air Force covers Albania (sharing the task with the Hellenic Air Force) and Slovenia (with the Hungarian Air Force) and is currently supporting Icelandic Air Policing mission in Iceland; NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) mission started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. It is supported by various air forces on a rotational basis and covers Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) headquartered at Ramstein, Germany oversees the NATO Air Policing mission with 24/7 command and control from two Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs); one in Torrejon, Spain, and one in Uedem, Germany. CAOC Uedem is responsible for NATO Air Policing north of the Alps and CAOC Torrejon for the south. The CAOC decides which interceptors will be scrambled according to the location of the incident.

The mission of patrolling the skies along NATO’s eastern border was intensified following the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The arrival of the British Typhoons is the last of a series of measures “to deter a Russian aggression over the Black Sea.

Image credit: Eurofighter / Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

Here are some photographs of the Italian Tornado IDS attack planes during their winter air-to-ground training campaign in Sardinia

The 154° Gruppo has recently completed a two-week deployment to Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia.

From Mar. 3 to 17, six Tornado IDS jets belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi airbase have deployed to Decimomannu, Italy, to carry out air-to-ground training activities in the Sardinian ranges.

The images in this post, taken by photographer Giampaolo Mallei, show the Tornado of the “Red Devils” (from the unit’s badge) carrying different loadouts: most often, the “Tonkas” flew with a Thomson CSF CLDP (Convertible laser Designation Pod) with both TV and IR capability, along with a single laser-guided GBU-16 or two CBLS pods with BDU-33/Mk-106 practice bombs.

Along with the air-to-ground role, the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS fleet are often involved in reconnaissance missions both at home, in support of civil protection and police forces (as done in the aftermath of the earthquakes that hit Central Italy last year), and abroad: from Nov. 23, 2014 to Jun. 15, 2016, four ItAF A-200A jets (this is the designation of the Tornado in accordance with Italy’s Mission Design Series) have taken part in the air war against ISIS carrying out “recce” missions with the RecceLite pod from Ahmed Al Jaber in Kuwait.

Image credit: Giampaolo Mallei