Monthly Archives: July 2017

This Cool Video Shows A U.S. C-17 Airlifter Flying At Low Level Through The Mach Loop for First Time

A cool footage of the big C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in the Mach Loop low level training area!

Some unpopulated areas of the UK, designated ‘Low Flying Area’ (LFA), as LFA-14 (Scotland), LFA-17 (Lake District) and LFA-7 (North West Wales), have been chosen for training activities of RAF at altitude as low as 250 feet.

LFA-7, used also by U.S. units as well as allied air arms and aerospace industries, has a series of valleys lined by steep sides with mountains either side rising to around 1,000 meters that allows the pilot to do training circuits at ultra-low level altitude.

UK aviation enthusiasts have nicknamed LFA-7 the “Mach Loop” after the small town at the circuits’ most southern point: Machynlleth.

Well, the “Mach Loop”  has just “scored” another first: earlier today a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III (belonging to the 315th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Charleston, S.C.) made two low-level passes through the valley area!

Aviation photographer and Mach Loop regular Paul Williams has just filmed the following really amazing video of the big airlifter maneuvering through the famous Mach Loop at very low altitude (notice the “condensation clouds generated by the aircraft as it flies through the valley in front of the photographers.)

H/T Tom Demerly for finding this!

 

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We Ran a Simulated ICBM Attack on the United States to Find Out: Could We Stop One?

We Went Inside Northrop Grumman Demonstration of Critical Anti-Ballistic Missile Technology.

Sometime in the future, diplomacy may fail.

An overnight incident in the Pacific between a U.S. Navy vessel and an adversary nation submarine causes a collision. A U.S. Air Force surveillance plane is fired upon as it flies near an international airspace boundary. A rogue nation continues ballistic missile testing.

What happens when it becomes a real world crisis with an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)?

A missile launch indication from U.S. Air Force Space Command surveillance satellites happens at 0234 Hrs local. It is 1734 GMT, 10:34 AM in San Francisco, California in the United States. Sunday morning.

Silent lighted icons flash red on a U.S. early warning display. Red circles appear around them. They are automatically given a series of numerical designations: speed, altitude. Sea based radars add to the intelligence picture. More data becomes available. Algorithms extrapolate trajectory, acceleration, apogee, reentry and deceleration into the atmosphere. They calculate the missile’s potential impact point.

Missile launch (credit: Northrop Grumman)

I sit in a chair watching the arc of the incoming ICBM headed to the United States’ west coast. The missile reaches its apogee, its maximum altitude in near space, and begins its terminal attack phase. It happens fast. I realize I am sweating. This feels very real. As real as today’s headlines. As the missile descends toward its target it begins to slow, but it is still moving faster than a rifle bullet.

The United States homeland is under attack by ICBMs launched from a rogue nation. It is the first time a nation state has attacked the U.S. homeland since WWII. A shooting war has started.

Intelligence analysts know the threat of real damage is moderate, but that doesn’t help. The warhead is likely small, crude by modern standards. It may not even function. The guidance system is not very precise. Chances are just as good that this warhead will land short in the Pacific or go long into the California mountains as it will detonate over the intersection of Market Street and 6th Street in the Financial District of San Francisco. It could spread radioactive material over several city blocks depending on the altitude it detonates at. It may even fail to detonate.

But that is not the point of this attack. The point is for a rogue nation to send a clear signal to the U.S. government: We can reach you. We have the will to attack. You are not safe.

Given recent headlines the ballistic missile threat to the United States is in the spotlight. What is the U.S. doing to counter the intercontinental ballistic missile threat?

Recently The Aviationist visited a secure facility at Northrop Grumman to learn more about the present and future of ballistic missile defense for the continental United States. We participated in a chilling drill to intercept an ICBM fired from somewhere on the Asian continent (Editor’s note: at the request of Northrop Grumman officials, we agreed not to name any potential adversary nation specifically).

Inside Northrop Grumman’s facility. (credit: The Aviationist.)

Northrop Grumman’s Ken Todorov, Director of Global Air and Missile Defense, told TheAviationist.com, “This literally is rocket science.”

Todorov directed us through a simulated ICBM intercept over the northern Pacific using Northrop Grumman’s technology contributions to our nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense Systems. Several new technologies are showcased within Northrop Grumman’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. These systems are not yet operational, but they are must-haves for the nation’s ICBM defense. Given the threat from rogue nations in the Pacific region, Northrop Grumman’s new technologies are not just critical, but essential to our nation’s defense in the immediate term.

Without systems like GMD our west coast is, for the first time in history, under threat of nuclear attack from an ICBM in control of a rogue nation.

A constant stream of data from a wide array of sensors tracks the incoming ICBM. We see the track on our large monitor, nearly the width of the room, and on our individual monitors. It’s eerily quiet.

View to a kill: We run a simulation of an ICBM attack on the U.S. west Coast. (credit: TheAviationist.)

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Ft. Greely, Alaska.” The systems operator tells us. The track of an ascending missile appears on our screen. It arcs upward gaining momentum, curving to match the downward trajectory of the incoming ICBM.

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.” A second lighted trajectory traces across the screen, originating from the continental U.S. west coast. Two U.S. missiles are in the air, with new proposed Northrop Grumman technology melding the intercept data and targeting information to help provide mid-course intercept data.

The lines converge silently toward one another, beginning to form a brightly lighted “Y” shape on the displays. We all follow the lighted display across the screen, the ICBM arcing downward, the interceptors arcing to meet them.

“This is a bullet hitting a bullet in the exo-atmosphere” Todorov tells us, gesturing to the three missile tracks as they converge together on the big screen. The projectile we are trying to hit is moving at 10,000 MPH now, and it is about the size of a trashcan.

There are four phases of ICBM flight.

The boost phase is the most difficult to intercept the vehicle in, but is where the launch is detected. The ascent phase is vulnerable to detection by the Aegis weapons system and interception by RIM-156 and RIM-174 Standard Missiles launched from land or at sea from U.S. Navy surface ships like the Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh-Burke class destroyers. In the third phase, the “mid-course” phase, the incoming ICBM could be targeted by the exo-atmospheric THAAD missile system or additional systems still in development.

Northrop Grumman technology has the capability to make all these systems perform better together, and improve the likelihood of intercepting missiles before they reach the United States or any user nation.

The lines on the big display in front of us converge.

They complete the big “Y” shape over the eastern Pacific off the California coast. There is no sound. In an instant all three missile designators disappear. The intercept was successful.

Missile tracking system close-up during ICBM launch simulation (credit: The Aviationist)

Using several new key technologies from Northrop Grumman we killed the incoming ICBM over the pacific before it reached the United States.

Later we see video of a successful, actual test intercept of an ICBM target during a demonstration of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the ballistic missile defense system on May 30, 2017. A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The “anti-missile” missile was armed with an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle projectile. It successfully intercepted and destroyed a simulated ICBM launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific with a direct collision at re-entry speed and high altitude. The demonstration was widely regarded as impressive proof of the capabilities of the ballistic missile defense system.

Northrop Grumman’s contribution to missile defense is significant. At the beginning of 2017 Ken Todorov told media that, “Members of Congress face a myriad of difficult questions about how to best protect our homeland from a growing number of threats. In this era of declining budgets, it is critical our top national priorities provide those at the “tip of the spear” with the tools to protect our homeland from existing and emerging threats.”

The headlines confirm the ICBM threat from the Pacific region is real, making the need for missile defense perhaps the most urgent defense agenda for the United States.

Note: The Aviationist.com wishes to thank Lauren A. Green, Manager, Branding and External Communications for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and the entire team at Northrop Grumman for their kind assistance with this article.

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Russian Tu-95 Bear Bombers Escorted By Su-30SM Jets Carry Out Air Strike In Syria Using Kh-101 Strategic Cruise Missiles

Russian Global Strike show of force in Syria.

On Jul. 5, Tu-95MS Bear strategic missile platforms conducted an air strike on ISIS targets the Russian MoD reported.

The Russia Air Force bombers, launched from Engels, near Saratov in the southwestern part of Russia and the base hosting Russian Long Range Aviation strategic bombers, and supported by Il-76/78 tankers and Su-30SM fighters, that provided air cover, attacked targets located on the border of the provinces of Hama and Homs, in Syria.

“As a result of the missile strike 3 large warehouses of weapons and ammunition, as well as a command post of terrorists near the town of Akerbat were destroyed. This was confirmed by data of objective control,” says the Russian MoD release, that also highlights the use, from 1,000 km, of the Kh-101 strategic air-launched LO (Low Observable) cruise missile.

The Raduga Kh-101 missile is believed to use a combination of inertial guidance and satellite navigation using the Russian GLONASS system, with opto-electronic flight correction system;  it features a CEP (Circular Error Probable) of less than 30 feet.

This is not the first time the Russian bombers use the cruise missile (with a maximum range of 4,500 km) that can also be equipped with a nuclear warhead. On Nov. 17, 2015 the Russian Air Force launched 25 heavy bombers against ISIS ground targets in Syria, including 5 x Tu-160 Blackjack, carrying the then new Kh-101 cruise missiles. It was the combat debut for the Russian stealthy cruise missile.

Between Nov. 19 and 20, 2015 the Russian Air Force conducted a very long-range strike mission against IS targets in Syria that saw two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers depart from the Kola Peninsula, skirt the airspace of Norway and the UK, fly over the Atlantic until Gibraltar, enter the Mediterranean sea and then eastbound towards Syria to launch the stealthy KH-101 cruise missiles. More recently, both on Nov. 17, 2016, and Feb. 17, 2017, Tu-95s (able to carry 8 Kh-101s) fired the LO cruise missiles against targets in Syria.

Interestingly, although not trackable online, the radio activity listened by radio hams and aviation enthusiasts on the HF frequencies used by the Russian strategic bombers could be a hint that some Bears (or Blackjacks) were airborne:

 

Image credit: Russia MoD

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Wanna Know If A New North Korean Missile Test Is About To Take Place? Look For This U.S. Aircraft Online…

You can monitor online the U.S. RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft used to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight.

Early in the morning on Jul. 4, North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time.

The ICBM, referred to as Hwasong-14, reached a height of 2,802 kilometers, according to the state-run Korea Central Television (KCTV). The missile was launched from Panghyon, in North Pyongan province, and flew into waters east of the Korean Peninsula after traveling for about 930 kilometers.

The latest missile launch, as well as the previous ones, was almost certainly monitored by the U.S. Forces deployed to the region, using a variety of aerial, ground-based, sea-going assets.

The U.S. Air Force relies on its small contingent of RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft. Based at Offutt Air Force Base, outside Omaha, Nebraska, and  flown by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, these intelligence gathering aircraft are often deployed where needed to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography.

A Cobra Ball taking off from Kadena on May 31, 2016 (screengrab from YT video by okuchan2006)

Unsurprisingly, two Cobra Ball aircraft  (61-2662 and 61-2663) are currently deployed to Yokota Air Base, Japan, from where it is launched when there are signs of an imminent North Korean test. What is far more surprising is the fact that, in spite of their important role, RC-135S aircraft are among the military planes that can be tracked online by exploiting the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders.

By observing the activities of the RC-135S in Japan you may have a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea. For instance, last night, the fact that the Cobra Ball was airborne from Yokota might suggest that the U.S. intelligence had detected activities at the launch site and was preparing to monitor the test. This is the reason why I tweeted the following (later confirmed by the news of the ICBM test):

And that was not the first time. Just a coincidence? Most probably not, considered that the Cobra Ball does not fly that much and almost all sorties tracked online in Japan coincided with North Korea’s tests.

Here are some examples:

On Apr. 15, North Korea test-fired an unidentified land-based missile from the naval base in Sinpo. An RC-135S was flying over Japan:

On May 13, North Korea test-fired an intermediate range ballistic missile, from a test site on the country’s West Coast. That launch reached a then-record altitude of around 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) and a Cobra Ball was airborne to watch and collect data:

On Jun. 20, a Cobra Ball and WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” flew over Japan. It was later unveiled that the spy satellites had detected new activity at the North Korean nuclear test site.

So, if you want to know when Kim Jong Un is preparing for a new test, you may try to look for a Cobra Ball or Constant Phoenix airborne over Japan on ADSBexchange or simply follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friend @CivMilAir who provided us with most of the updates on the RC-135 and WC-135 flights in the area.

 

KC-135R In Special Tiger Color Scheme Commemorates The 100th Anniversary Of 141st Air Refueling Squadron

KC-135R with tiger motif.

The photographs in this post were taken on Jun. 22 at McGuire Air Force Base, NJ, by Richard Porcelli.

They show a special 141st Air Refueling Squadron (108th Wing, NJ ANG) KC-135R that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the organization of the then 141st Aero Squadron. The tiger motif was applied to the tanker in honor of the squadron commander, Capt. Hobart “Hobey” Baker.

141st ARS Special Color

The paint job applied to the KC-135R 62-3508 is quite similar to the one sported by another Stratotanker of the 141st ARS: the KC-135E 59-1456 that took part in Tiger Meet RIAT Fairford in 1997.

Formed in October 1917, the 141st AS was sent to Europe in December 1917 and finally entered combat from Tour Airfield, France, in April 1918.

The squadron commander, Capt Hobey Baker, was a star Princeton University athlete, especially in ice hockey and also football. Some of the records he set at Princeton still stand. He then joined the Army reserves and volunteered to go to Europe in early 1917.

After advanced training in France, he joined the 103rd Aero Squadron (formed from the Lafayette Escadrille) where he was credited with 0.25 victories (a Fokker DVII shot down on May 18, 1918). He then transferred to the 141st Aero Squadron, becoming commander, and got credit for a further 1.2 victories, also Fokker DVIIs (1.0 on Oct 20th and 0.2 on Nov 5). Baker was killed on December 21, 1918 (the day he was to return to the US) while taking a final flight on a recently repaired SPAD XIII.

100th anniversary nose art

The 141st AS was deactivated in 1920, then reactivated as the 341st Fighter Squadron/348th Fighter Group, the leading P-47 outfit in the Pacific War. They fought in New Guinea, the Philippines, and ended up in the Japanese occupation force. They were disbanded in 1945 while in Japan. After WWII, the 141st Fighter Squadron was reformed as part of the 108th Fighter Group, New Jersey ANG. It flew fighters (F-47D, F-51D/H; F-86E, F-84F, F-86H, F-4D/E) until conversion to the tanker role in 1991.

The unit emblem is still today the Bengal tiger (a Princeton Tiger in honor of Capt. Baker) with orange and black markings playing with a German helmet and Iron Cross.

The engine cover of the aircraft 62-3508

H/T Richard Porcelli