Monthly Archives: March 2018

Italian Air Force Tornado ECR Jets Are Deployed To California To Test Their New AGM-88E Advanced Anti Radiation Guided Missile

The Italian “Tonkas” are currently deployed to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake along with four Eurofighter Typhoons and a C-27J Spartan.

A small contingent of nine Italian Air Force aircraft is currently deployed to California. Four Tornado ECR (EA-200B in accordance with the Italian MoD Mission Design Series), belonging to the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi; four Eurofighter Typhoon jets (F-2000A), belonging to the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo respectively from Grosseto, Gioia del Colle and Trapani; and one C-27J Spartan with the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigate) from Pisa, have been operating out of NAWS China Lake, California, since the end of February as part of an operation dubbed “Blazing Shield” that saw the aircraft cross the Pond via Lajes, Azores, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, accompanied by two KC-767A tankers of the 14° Stormo and a C-130J of the 46th Air Brigade that provided oceanic SAR support along the route.

The Tornado ECR jets of the 155° Gruppo (Squadron) at China Lake. The aircraft are ECR RET8 “IT Full MLU” (Credit: ItAF)

The main goal of “Blazing Shield” is the Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) of the Tornado ECR (a variant specialized in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses missions) with the new AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti Radiation Guided Missile) the a follow-on variant of the HARM (High Speed Anti Radiation Missile), the missile used for SEAD missions, developed under a US and Italian joint acquisition programme led by the US Navy. The AARGM features new software, improved ability to geo-locate and neutralize the threats thanks to a multi-mode seeker that embeds a passive radar and an active millimeter wave seekers.

The OE&T involves a joint team led by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV – Italian Air Force Test Wing) and includes two live fire events in the China Lake ranges.

As a side note, along with the AGM-88B and E, the Italian Tornado ECR can carry JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions)as part of the Tornado ECR RET8 “IT Full MLU” retrofit program. The 155° Gruppo (Squadron) has achieved the mission capability qualification with the new GBU-32 JDAMs (the same carried by the Tornado IDS), with a DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) mission in 2016.

It’s the first time the Italian Typhoons deploy to China Lake. The Tornado ECR have been already deployed there during the first firing campaign with the AGM-88 HARM in 2002.

In addition to the activity with the “Echo”, the deployment provides an opportunity to validate and improve the self-protection capabilities of the Eurofighter, Tornado and C-27J platforms, in order to expand their ability to operate in all the theaters. During their stay in the U.S. the aircraft have also had an opportunity to perform low level sorties paying visit to the famous Jedi Transition (also known as the Star Wars canyon).

The Italian Spartan on the ramp at NAWS China Lake.

The aircraft are due to return to Italy towards the end of April.

Top image: file photo of a Tornado ECR (credit: Giovanni Maduli / The Aviationist)

Here’s Why The Claim That Two Israeli F-35 Stealth Jets Entered Iranian Airspace Does Not Make Any Sense

Two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, report says. Most probably, just fake news or PSYOPS.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an article, that is slowly spreading through the social media, about an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who talked to Al-Jarida, earlier this month, two Aidr stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

Here’s an excerpt (highlight mine):

“The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program. It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF.

The source added that the seven F-35 fighters in active service in the IAF have conducted a number of missions in Syria and on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He underlined that the fighter jets can travel from Israel to Iran twice without refueling.

There are many weird things.

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

And, above all, although the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

Although the IAF has a long history of pioneering new aircraft and use new weapons systems in real combat pretty soon, this has usually happened for quite complex and daring missions with a real stategic value. In this case, flying a couple of its few new F-35s for a “simple” reconnaissance mission over Iran would not be worth the risk. And what would be the purpose of carrying out this mission and leaking the news? A “show of force” for deterrence? Or to demostrate the world (and the regional opponents) the IAF’s ability to freely operate inside the Syrian and Iranian airspaces, especially after suffering the loss of an F-16I earlier this year?

Indeed, on Feb. 10, 2018, Israeli F-16 fighter jets entered Syrian airspace, striking 12 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was shot down over Israel by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. One F-16I Sufa crashed during the air strikes, after being targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses. Many sources suggested that the first loss of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions. This is true, even though rushing a new and somehow immature aircraft into combat has some inherent risks.

In his story about the F-35I IOC (Initial Operational Capability) at The War Zone, journalist Joseph Trevithik wrote:

With limited numbers of the jets on hand, the IAF will have to decide whether or not to make a statement or make sure the aircraft it does have are in reserve for contingencies that absolutely require their advanced capabilities, such as quelling a more imminent threat against Israel itself or attacking targets over-long range that are defended by an advanced integrated air defense assets.

I completely agree.

This is what I wrote here at The Aviationist about the F-35 Adir’s possible involvement in the air strikes on Syria, you can expand it to consider the even more dangerous scenario in Iran:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

There have been a series ofunconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.

Anyway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will update this post accordingly.

Brand New B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Patch Appears on Ebay

B-21 Combined Test Force patch has already been prepared at Edwards AFB. Here are some interesting details.

At least officially, there are no existing prototypes of the B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force’s next stealth bomber built by Northrop Grumman and destined to  replace the B-1 and B-2 fleets.

In 2016, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first artist rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, that showed a concept quite similar to the B-2’s flying wing design; then, more recently, on Mar. 3, 2018, Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, Commander of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, publicly announced that the aircraft will be tested at Edwards: “the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future,” he said in his address at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and Business Outlook Conference.

B-21 raider concept (NG)

The fact that the aircraft will be tested “in the near future” seems to suggest that a prototype of the new platform has already been built or is about to be readied for testing.

Meanwhile something interesting, that might confirm the B-21 is something more than a concept, popped up on eBay: journalist and photographer Steve Douglass, has just found a B-21 Combined Test Force patch.

Flying units under the 412nd Operations Group of the 412nd TW are called flight test squadrons (FTS) and the squadron commander also usually fulfills the role of Combined Test Force, or CTF, Director.

“The CTF is an organizational construct that brings together the government developmental test and evaluation personnel (i.e., military personnel and government civilians and support contractors), the operational testers or representatives of the warfighters who will eventually employ the aerospace system in combat, and the contractors who develop and test the aerospace system.

Members of the CTF formulate the test program, develop the criteria for flight test missions, execute flight test missions, analyze data from the test flights and report on the results. The CTF military personnel, government civilians, and contractors all work together as a team. This concept enables a cheaper, faster, and more effective test program and produces a more effective aerospace system for the warfighter.”

For instance, the 411th Flight Test Squadron acts as the F-22 Raptor CFT whereas the 419th FTS acts as the Strategic Systems (B-52, B-1, B-2) CFT. Provided it is genuine, the new patch may suggest the existence of a B-21 CTF dedicated to the new bomber.

Interestingly, the patch features the text “Praenuntius” that means “Harbinger” and the Roman numerals XVII (17) with the latters [speculation on] possibly pointing to a squadron: the 417th FTS, officially inactivated on Feb. 14, 2012, formerly part of the 412th OG at Edwards AFB….

The seller has explained that organizations, personnel and infrastructure at Edwards AFB are all beginning to stand up in preparation for the testing and he purchased the patch there from personnel who are standing up the testing of the new aircraft. We don’t have many details about the aircraft but collectors can get the patch ahead of the unveiling.

By the way, at the time of writing the patch costs $31 (6 bids) but it is probably going to become more expensive…

The patch on eBay. (screenshot from ebay).

H/T Steve Douglass for the heads-up. Image via eBay/deannaandgordon

On This Day In 1970 An F-4J Shot Down A North Vietnamese MiG-21. It Was The First Kill Scored By A Top Gun Graduate

The first time a Topgun graduate shot down a MiG.

On Mar. 28, 1970, an F-4J Phantom II (BuNo 155875) belonging to VF-142 off the USS Constellation (CVA 64) aircraft carrier shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 from Kien Ann airfield during an aerial engagement.

The U.S. Navy fighter, radio callsign “Dakota 201”, was piloted by LT Jerome Eugene Beaulier and LT Stephen John Barkley. Beaulier had attended the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s first Topgun course, run by VF-121 instructors (VF-121 was the West Coast RAG – Replacement Air Group). The NVN Fishbed, piloted by Nguyen Van Truang, aged 28, was shot down using an AIM-9D Sidewinder. The pilot was killed.

This was the first Navy kill since 1968 and the first from a pilot graduated at the famed “Topgun” school. According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the next time Phantom crews engaged MiGs over Vietnam in 1972, it marked the beginning of an intense period of combat in which Navy and Marine Corps F-4 crews shot down 26 enemy airplanes in less than 12 months.

According to “U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-70” by Brad Elward and Peter Davies, the F-4J BuNo 155875/NJ-201 served with VF-142 until it was destroyed, following an in-flight fire on Apr. 26, 1973: according to records, it had logged 1540 Flight Hours, most of those in combat, and had nearly completed its third WestPac cruise (first one aboard USS Constellation in 1970; second and third one with USS Enterprise in 1971-1972 and 1973 until it was lost).

H/T National Naval Aviation Museum

 

Houthi Rebels Released FLIR Video Of Attempted Shoot Down Of UAE Air Force F-16E/F Block 60 Jets Over Yemen

Video allegedly shows two UAE Air Force F-16s targeted by Houthi Surface to Air Missiles.

A composite video that includes FLIR footage allegedly showing the attempted shoot down of what should be (based on claims) a flight of two F-16E/F Block 60 of the UAE Air Force flying over Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa has emerged on Mar. 27.

The video shows unidentified missiles being fired at night, whereas the FLIR footage shows the F-16s releasing flares to evade the incoming missile(s). The second part of the clip (with a timestamp dating the incident to Mar. 26 around 21.27 LT) is quite similar to the one released at the beginning of January, when a RSAF F-15 Eagle was targeted (by a modified R-27T based on claims that Houthis have modified a number air-to-air missiles to be launched from pick-ups) and allegedly shot down. At that time the video was alleged to have been obtained using a ground-mounted forward-looking infra-red sensor usually mounted on helicopters for surveillance and targeting: most probably a Flir Systems ULTRA 8500.

The clip released yesterday is also filmed from the right side of the aircraft and shows the aircraft maneuvering (note: 4 minutes before the missiles approaches the alleged UAE Viper), releasing flares and flying through or close to clouds of debris or extinguished decoys. Then you can clearly see the missile narrowly miss the F-16.

The attempted shoot down comes one week after another video showed a modified Russian-made R-27 air-to-air missile allegedly being fired at a Saudi F-15 Eagle (or UAV, according to some sources)  has been public.

Noteworthy, along with the modified Vympel R-27T air-to-air missiles, the Houthi rebels may have been delivered some Sayyad 2C Surface to Air Missiles from Iran.

The Sayyad-2 is an improved version of the Sayyad-1 missile, an Iranian indigenized system of a Chinese development of the Russian S-75 (SA-2 “Guideline” in NATO designation – yes, the SAM system that brought down Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 in 1960). It’s a two-staged air defense missile capable to destroy targets with a low Radar Cross Section (RCS) flying at low, medium and very high altitude (with a claimed ceiling of 80,000 feet). According to unverified data contained in articles published by Iranian media outlets in the past, the Sayyad-2 travels at 3,600 km/h (2,500 mph), has a range of 80-100 km (some sources say just 60 km), includes ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) equipment and carries a 200-kilogram warhead.

The existence of this surface-to-air missile system, that should also integrate North Korean technology, was made public in April 2011 but the first photographs of the SAM system at work emerged during “Great Prophet 6” drills in 2012.

If confirmed, the presence of the Sayyad-2 batteries would pose a significant threat to the Saudi-led coalition aircraft supporting Operation Decisive Storm over Yemen.

Interesting comment by one of our readers on Twitter who has noticed what looks like a booster detachment:

A UAE AF F-16E Block 60 (Image credit: U.S. Air Force).