Author Archives: Alessandro "Gonzo" Olivares

What These Pictures Of Two Russian Yak-130 Jets That Crash Landed Almost Simultaneously in Russia Say About The Causes Of The Mishaps

Two Yak-130 Jets Have Crashed Simultaneously in Armavir and Borisoglebsk Last Month. And Here’s An Investigation On The Root Causes.

According to several reports, two Russian Air Force Yak-130 Trainer/Light Attack (LA) Aircraft (Tail number 43white/RF-44496 from Borisoglebsk airbase and 55red/RF-44583 from Armavir) crashed almost simultaneously in two different places on Wednesday June 21, 2017. Information about incident has not released by the RuAF (Russian Air Force).

The Yakovlev Yak-130 is a subsonic two-seat advanced trainer originally developed by Yakovlev and Aermacchi (now Leonardo).

Along with the advanced jet trainer role, the “Mitten” (Yak-130 NATO’s nickname), able to replicate the characteristics of Russian Gen. 4 and 4++  combat aircraft, is capable of fulfill Light Attack (LA) and Reconnaissance tasks and it can carry a payload of 3,000 kilograms, including guided and unguided weapons, external fuel tanks and electronic pods.

The LA version, dubbed YAK-131 and equipped with mechanical radar (Phazotron) or Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA), is planned to replace the Su-25 Frogfoot.The Russian Air Force has also developed a reconnaissance variant of the Mitten, dubbed  Yak-133.

The Yak-130 bear a significant resemblance with Italian M-346 “Master”, produced by Leonardo Company and already operated by the ItAF (Italian Air force), IAF (Israeli Air Force), RSAF (republic Singapore Air Force) and Polish Air Force. This Author has been one of the first pilots and IP (Instructor Pilot) on the Italian T-346 (ItAF designation of the baseline M-346).

At the moment, the RuAF has not given any official information about the dual accident and the possible causes are still under investigation. However, local sources reported the first crash occurred during a normal flying training and has involved the Yak-130 (55 red/RF-44583) that belong to the Armavir Flying School.

Soon after the first crash, a second Yak-130 (43 white/RF-44496) belonging to the Borisoglebsk Air Force Base was forced to land on the runway.

INVESTIGATION ON GEAR UP LANDING. (55 red/RF-44583 Armavir)

In my career as a combat pilot, I’ve had the opportunity to undertake many different training courses. One of those was the Flight Safety Office (FSO) which include the investigation section with a simulated crash to “solve.”

By means of the methodology and approach used to investigate real incidents I’ll  drive you in a very simple and basic investigation. We will analyze all the available details and see whether it is possible to determine the causes of these crashes.

55 red/RF-44583 from Armavir after the crash landing (via Ilya.A—Petya.A’s bro)

Close up view of the left air intake of the Yak-130 (via Ilya.A—Petya.A’s bro)

First of all, what we can do is a “picture analysis” and looking at the picture of 55 red/RF-44583 you can notice some of important details useful to understand the landing or crash dynamics:

  1. The aircraft landed on the belly without any other damage or structural breaks: this means the aircraft touched the ground with a correct and normal attitude used during a normal landing. Therefore, we can assume the pilot “planned” to land on the grass;
  2. The aircraft had the LEF (Leading Edge Flap) in down position: this means the pilot lowered the LEF with the intent to land like he was on the runway;
  3. The canopy seems to be open in a normal way (no damage or glass rupture): in other words the two pilots abandoned the aircraft “normally” soon after the jet stopped. This detail suggests the pilot purposely landed there and did a soft touch down with no other consequence;
  4. Looking at the air intake, you can see the internal section extremely clean without any FOD: this means the engine was not running and it didn’t suck anything. One possible reason is a flame out or the pilot decided to shut down the engine seconds before the touchdown to avoid any fire.

After a FIR (First Impression Report), the second step is to merge all the above consideration in order to elaborate a possible scenario. Based on the above points, the two pilots most probably attempted an emergency landing with one or both engines not operating.

Now let’s move to the possible causes that forced the Yak-130 to land out of the runway and let’s try to understand WHY the pilot did take the decision to land on grass field.

First consideration is that the emergency was TIME CRITICAL, otherwise they could have enough time to fly and steer toward a suitable airfield. Based on my experience the most important hint comes from the picture of the air intake: this picture seems to suggest engines or thrust problems that forced the pilot to perform a forced landing out of the runway. Let’s explore possible reasons:

  1. The aircraft was completely out of fuel. This situation seems quite unlikely, almost impossible, unless aircraft showed false fuel indications (a case of multiple emergencies, that is to say fuel transfer failure combined with false fuel indication) because pilots use to plan the fuel required for all training tasks: the fuel to recovery to the base with enough fuel in case they need or to practice some visual pattern; and the fuel to divert to the alternate in case of problem with the home base;
  2. The aircraft had a fuel transfer failure and the crew suddenly found to have less fuel available to return home or to the nearest suitable airfield;
  3. The aircraft had a double engine flame out (this option can be also caused by the point 1 and 2) and the pilots were forced to find a suitable “strip” to land.

Of course I don’t know the RuAF SOP (Standard Operations Procedures) and the YAK-130 emergency check list procedures for the above emergencies.

In case of double engine flame out, due to fuel or engines malfunction, most of the military aircraft procedures require the pilots to eject unless they can safely recover or land the aircraft. Landing on the grass without gear is not a safe recovery but in this case (I want to remember that we don’t know too many details about the reason of crash and we are conducting an investigation based on a picture) pilots took a very brave decision and the option to land without landing gear was in the end a smart decision to soften as much as possible the touchdown on an “unprepared field”. In this case pilots took a huge risk but they were extremely lucky to land without further problems (such as fire, structural damage, unintentional ejection seat activation and so on.)

Although we can’t rule out multiple failures, such as engine flame out and landing gear system failure, my instinct and experience suggest that the gear up landing was done on purpose.

INVESTIGATION ON NOSE GEAR UP LANDING (43 white/RF-44496 Borisoglebsk)

The 43white/RF-44496 from Borisoglebsk (via Ilya.A—Petya.A’s bro)

Looking at the picture, the aircraft seems to have landed normally with few damages. This assessment helps limiting the range of possible failures that may have caused the gear up landing, because we can assume the aircraft was operating efficiently.

Since the plane seems to have landed normally (making engine failure less likely unless this has happened in the vicinity of the airfield) we can focus on a possible landing gear system malfunction. Therefore, let’s have a look at some details:

  1. The aircraft has the LEF down and we already know why and what this may mean;
  2. Only the main landing gear is down: this may have been caused by nose landing gear malfunction, structural damage due to bird strike, nose landing gear not completely locked or hydraulics malfunction;
  3. The main gear doors seem to be in open position. Most of the military jets, when reporting landing gear malfunction or hydraulics system failure, have the option to use the emergency gear lowering system. When the pilot activates the Emergency lowering system this overrides the normal gear system using enough pressure to lower the gear but not enough to close the gear doors. On the other side I cannot be 100% sure about this because of the picture resolution; still, during incident investigations it is important to take how systems work into proper consideration.

At this point, merging all the above points we can assume that the aircraft had some problem with landing gear system or hydraulics system and the pilot decided to land without nose gear.

During a nose gear-up landing it is paramount for the pilot to comply with the following action list:

  • Be very precise on approach with speed and attitude;
  • Perform aerodynamic braking during landing roll;
  • Before the HT (Horizontal Tail) loses lift, the pilot needs to gradually reduce the back pressure on the stick to allow a soft touchdown between the ground and the airframe;
  • Re-apply again the back pressure on the stick as soon as the nose touches the ground to reduce the weight on the nose trying to minimize the damage.
  • Avoid to use the brakes;
  • Shut down the engine in order to avoid engine mechanical failure and reduce thrust and, consequently, the landing distance.

According to my experience most of the aircraft are allowed to land with a symmetric configuration like: NO GEAR, ONLY MAIN GEAR, ONLY NOSE GEAR.

Summing up, based on a few pictures we can conclude that:

  • the aircraft 55 red/RF-44583 from Armavir had some problem with fuel quantity/transfer or with both engine and the pilot was forced to land on the grass
  • the aircraft 43 white/RF-44496 from Borisoglebsk had some problems with landing gear system or hydraulics system.

 

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Red Flag Memories: Combat Pilot Explains How RF Has Evolved And Why The F-35 Is A Real Game Changer In Future Wars

Red Flag is not a “joke” as some critics have said. It’s an exercise that continues to evolve to replicate the most modern scenarios, where 5th Gen. aircraft are pivotal to the final success.

Red Flag is one of the biggest high-intensity exercises in world. It is designed to simulate the first 10 days of a conflict with hundreds of assets involved. A friendly force (Blue Air) against an enemy force (Red Air) in a scenario designed to provide pilots with real combat experiences so that they can improve their skill set before heading into actual combat. Something evident in the Red Flag motto as well: “Train as you fight, fight as you train”.

I took part in RF twice during my career: in 2002, I was at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for a “standard” RF, whereas in 2010 I deployed to Alaska for the so-called Red Flag-Alaska (read here about the epic transatlantic flight we undertook to take six Tornado bombers back to Italy after RF-A..).

RF has the ability to bring the pilot into a unique realistic scenario, and is also a place where new tactics are born, developed or put to test.

I remember more than 70 aircraft scheduled to depart from Nellis AFB one morning; one big COMAO per day with a scenario featuring different type of threats (Surface-to-Air and Air-to-Air), targets and ROE (Rules of engagement).

Believe me, RF is much more than a normal large-scale exercise!

Ever-changing scenarios

After attending two RFs I can assert I’ve seen scenarios changing a lot throughout the time.

In 2002 we had a well-defined set up, we knew where the enemy was, how it would react to our presence, where the threats were located etc.; in 2010, we faced a “border line” scenario with enemy elements embedded in friendly forces or civilian population, where CDE (Collateral Damage Estimation) was extremely important, where target VID (Visual IDentification) or  EOID (Electro Optical IDentification) were the main success factors in the simulated air campaign. In other words, 8 years apart, the RF scenario had evolved to adapt to the ever-changing “combat environment.”

The most recent RFs prove that the exercise continues to change.

For instance, while maintaining the standard coalitions scheme (Blue and Red forces), RF 17-1 had the two teams involved in a “crisis” instead of a war situation. On top of that, not only does the scenario has introduced the latest and most sophisticated and capable threats that require a change in tactics, but it has also moved on a higher level, focusing on the importance of  “battlefield information management,” a kind of task the much debated F-35 is going to master.

Today, taking part in a RF means joining pilots, ground forces, intelligence analysts, cyber and space operators, for testing and training operations at Nellis as well as the Nevada Test and Training Range north of Las Vegas.

All the participants have only one goal in mind: working together to FITS “Find, Identify, Track and Strike” the adversary, to attack forces in a multi-domain battlefield which is based on what we have encountered so far in theater and what we may expect to find in the future wars. This is the real core business and the big change of the most recent RFs.

A RF mission is usually made of 20-25 adversaries: not only aircraft, but also ground-to-air threats, moving and unknown threats etc. In other words, the old fixed scenario has become much more “dynamic” requiring a real-time “combat battlefield” coordinator.

Therefore, the most recent RF scenarios aim to develop the ability to fuse all the combat capabilities. In this context, the F-35 brings to the package the ability to penetrate deep into the most complex and “unknown” environments providing the “overall control” of the battlefield. The F-35, as well as any other modern aircraft with similar sensor fusing ability, can also work in a complementary fashion with the 4th generation fighters, sharing the information with all the other “players” while providing its own amount of fire power to the team.

Stealth technology (capability to survive and operate effectively where others cannot) combined with 5th generation features (i.e. superior information management), were pivotal to achieve the overall RF’s mini-campaign results.

Maintainers from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings conduct conducts preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 24, 2017. Airmen from the active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW fly and maintain the Lightning II in a total force partnership, capitalizing on the strength of both components. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Although the reliance on a single capability or asset will not be enough to succeed in the future scenarios, the F-35, as a “combat battlefield” coordinator, is a “game changer”: it brings new flexibility, new capabilities and, above all, helps enhancing the “survivability” of the coalition packages.

In a “crisis” situation, the coalition needs to timely react to a fast evolving scenario. With the ability to collect, manage and distribute intelligence data, during RF 17-1 the F-35s were able to geo-locate the threats and target them with the required (simulated) weaponry. Even when the F-35s had expended all their ordnance they were requested to stay in the fight and assist the rest of the package by collecting live battlefield data and passing it to older 4th generation fighters via Link-16.

This is the value-add of 5th generation fighters: their ability to suppress enemy targets while contributing to dominate the air and battlespace supporting “legacy” aircraft.

Believe me, it’s not easy to be fighter, striker and tactical battlefield coordinator at same time! So whatever the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) or the role of the F-22 that teamed with the F-35 were, the 20:1 kill ratio against the aggressors is a pretty impressive achievement.

Analysing the RF 17-1, it is quite impressive (at least from an old-school fighter pilot’s standpoint) to hear that the F-35 flew right on top of the threat, did its job performing successful strikes and providing command and control tasks to other COMAO assets, before returning home unscathed.

The Red Flags I attended in the past did only feature “conventional” fight with no 5th generation asset involved. My job as wingman was to keep visual contact with my leader, follow him while he managed the air-to-air picture and, if everything went well, reach the TGT (target) area, using terrain masking, without being targeted by the red air or ground-to-air systems . Less than a decade ago, the friendly forces did not have the capability to target advanced surface-to-air missile threats with an aircraft like the F-35A and exercise planners were obliged to simulate the engagement of the most heavily defended targets with long-range “standoff” weapons – like Tomahawk cruise missiles – a kind of air strike that would require an outstanding intelligence coordination and would not fit too well in case of moving targets.

An Italian Air Force Tornado takes off at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska on June 18, 2010 in support of training exercise Red Flag – Alaska. More than 1,300 personnel including members of the Italian Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force have deployed to Alaska to participate in RED FLAG-Alaska 10-3. U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.

That changed significantly with the advent of new generation aircraft. The wingmen flying 5th gen. aircraft today, act as air battle managers who are able to “see” the battlefield in a way an F-15 or an F-16 pilot will never see, whereas their leaders can drop PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) on ground targets or engage enemy fighters.

In 2002, everybody came in into fight, moving from BVR (Beyond Visual Range) and eventually to WVR (Within Visual Range) for a big merge; today, the adversaries roughly know where the stealth fighter *could* be, but they don’t know exactly where they are, how they will approach the target or maneuver to engage the enemy.

Summing up, the real added value of 5th Gen. aircraft (both during RFs and in case of real wars) is their ability to perform information distribution, real-time battlefield management, and dynamic FITS (Find, Identified, Track and Strike) reducing the risk of attrition or collateral damage.

 

Dissecting The Latest Close Encounter Between U.S. F-22 Raptors And Russian Su-35S Flankers Off Alaska

Let’s have a look at what happened in the airspace off Alaska a couple of weeks ago.

On the night of May 3, 2017, two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95MS Bear bombers, this time escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, flew again inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

The “mini” package was intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

The Su-35S was deployed at Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia in Syria at the beginning of 2016, to provide cover to the Russian warplanes conducting raids in Syria in the aftermath of the downing of a Su-24 Fencer by a Turkish Air Force F-16. During the Syrian air war the aircraft carried Vympel R-77 medium range, active radar homing air-to-air missile system (a weapon that can be considered the Russian counterpart of the American AIM-120 AMRAAM) along with R-27T (AA-10 Alamo-B), IR-guided air-to-air missiles (however, the Flanker E jets escorting the Tu-95s off Alaska, did not carry any weapon.)

Shortly after being deployed to Syria the Su-35S started shadowing US-led coalition aircraft: a German Air Force spokesperson explained that the Russian Flankers were among the aircraft used by the Russian Air Force to shadow the GAF Tornado jets carrying out reconnaissance missions against ISIS; a VFA-131 video that included footage from the cruise aboard USS Eisenhower in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, in Syria and Iraq showed a close encounter with what looked like a Su-35S Flanker-E filmed by the Hornet’s AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod.

Although we have no confirmed reports of “close encounters” between the F-22 and the Flanker in the skies over Syria, what makes May 3 episode particularly interesting is the fact that this was the first time the U.S. Air force Raptors saw the Su-35S near the U.S. coasts.

Moreover, it’s worth noticing the “readiness in flight” posture of the stealth fighters.

Indeed, according to USAF, the Raptors were “committed” by North American Aerospace Defense Command to intercept the Russian aircraft while already in air patrol not too far away. It’s not clear whether the F-22s were already flying because involved in “Northern Edge”, Alaska’s largest and premier joint training exercise with MOB (Main Operating Base) at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) was one of the measures introduced to enhance the readiness of the U.S. Air Force Air Defense assets as a consequence of the “unprecedented level activity of Russian bombers” recorded in the last months.

Anyway, the American premiere stealth fighters were already flying and thus could be quickly diverted by NORAD to “greet” the Russian package, this time supported by an A-50 Mainstay surveillance plane from distance.

The presence of Mainstay and Flanker confirms what this Author has already explained in the previous report about the key factors to take in consideration when planning a long-range strike sortie.

In my opinion the “mini package” was launched as a consequence of the increased flight activity in Alaska related to the Northern Edge exercise, confirming that the Russians closely observe what happens in the Alaskan area.

This time, they wanted to showcase their ability to plan a complex long-range sortie as well as the Flanker’s readiness to escort its own HVA (high value asset), the Bear, during operations at strategic distance.

The composition of this package is also worth a comment.

The presence of the Mainstay should not be underestimated. It was flying well behind the Flanker and Bear aircraft with a specific purpose. As an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform the A-50 is believed to embed some ESM (Electronic Support Measures): in other words, it is able to detect far away targets as well as able to sniff radar, radio and data link emissions. Furthermore, Raptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Lunenburg lenses: this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars. In such conditions, although it can’t “characterize” the clean F-22’s signature, the Mainstay can at least gather some data about the interceptors’ radar emissions (if any) and observe and study their tactics.

Therefore, as frequently happens on both sides since the Cold War, on May 3, the Russians most probably carried out another simulated long-range strike mission but with a precise ELINT (ELectronics INTelligence) objective: the Flankers and Bears were acting as a “decoy” package to test the American scramble tactics and reaction times, whereas the Mainstay, in a back position, tried to collect as much signals and data as possible about the US fighters launched to intercept them.

 

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Here’s Why The U.S. Air Force Scrambled An E-3 Sentry Alongside Two F-22s To Intercept The Russian Bombers Off Alaska

For two days in a row, Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flew near Alaska’s airspace.

On Apr. 17 the U.S. Air Force scrambled two F-22 Raptor stealth jets, one E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft and a KC-135 tanker (according to some reports, others don’t mention the Stratotanker’s presence) to intercept two nuclear-capable Bears flying roughly 100 nm southwest of Kodiak.

The stealth jets took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and intercepted the Russian aircraft inside the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), “the airspace over land or water in which the identification, location and control of civilian aircraft is performed in the interest of national security.”

ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.

North America ADIZs

The F-22 escorted the Tu-95s for 12 minutes (27 for some sources) before the Russian bombers headed back.

On the following night, that is to say few hours after the first “visit”, the Bear flew again inside the ADIZ but this time, the US Air Force opted to not scramble fighter jets but only the E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System). It’s not the first time the Russian Bears fly in the ADIZ, not even the first time that no fighter jet is scrambled to meet them.

Alaska ADIZ detail

“Combined scramble”

Let’s have a look at the first episode. It’s worth of note that along with the 5th generation interceptors, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) called for an alert take off by an E-3 Sentry. Most of times, QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) take offs by armed interceptors are supported by tanker aircraft, not by AEW assets: the fighters are guided to the unknown aircraft by ground air defense radars. That’s why I want to draw your attention on this “combined scramble.”

Launching the AEW along with the fighters is a “tactics” that allows the Air Defense to extend the radar coverage and to better investigate the eventual presence of additional bombers or escorting fighters flying “embedded” with the “zombies” (as the unknown aircraft are usually dubbed in the QRA jargon). At the same time, the presence of an E-3 allows the Raptors to improve their situational awareness while reducing the radar usage and maximizing as much as possible their stealth capability (even though it must be remembered that F-22s in QRA usually carry fuel tanks that make them less “invisible” to radars).

A combined AEW/F-22 scramble provides a more effective way to counter a possible “strike package”.

A long range sortie is not easy to plan. Even more so a strike sortie: the bomber are not only required to fly inbound the target (TGT) and reach a convient position to simulate the attack and weapons delivery, they also need to take in consideration many other factors. First of all “what is your goal?” Do you want to train for a realistic strike? Or do you want to “spy” or show your presence or posture?

Other factors are distance from own country, opponent’s defense capability, minimum risk routing according to the threats, presence of DCA (Defensive Counter Air), supporting assets, etc.

Usually, during a strike sortie, bombers are considered the HVA (High Value Asset), the one that must be protected. For this reason during the planning phase they are always escorted by fighter and protected by the Ground to Air threats by means of SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), EW (Electronic Warfare) and everything is needed to let them able to hit their targeted.

However, escorting a strategic bomber is not always possible (nor convenient): considered their limited range, the presence of the fighters would heavily affect the long range planning, requiring support from multiple tankers along the route.

For this reason, although the Russians visit the West Coast quite often, they usually are not escorted by any fighter jet (as happens, for instance, in the Baltic region, where Tu-22s are often accompanied by Su-27 Flankers).

However, it’s better to be prepared and trained for the worst case scenario and this is probably the reason why NORAD included an E-3 AEW in the QRA team: to have a look at the Tu-95s and make sure there was no “sweep” fighters or subsequent “package”.

Based on my experience, the ones of last week were just simulated strike sorties with the only aim to test the U.S. tactics and reaction times. Something that happens quite frequently. There is also the chance the Bears were sent there while another Russian spyplane was in the vicinity to “sniff” the Raptors electromagnetic emissions. However, there are no reports of Il-20 ELINT aircraft in the area.

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) lands at U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay. AWACS provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces and is considered to be the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley. (RELEASED)

Top image: file photo of a Raptor taking off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

 

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Italian Air Force T-346A and RAF Hawk T2 jet trainers conduct joint training at Decimomannu airbase

The Italian and British most advanced jets conducted some Air-to-Air sortie in 1vs1 and 2vs1 scenarios combined with rear seat exchange for a cross training and experience sharing during their firing campaigns in Italy.

On Mar. 31, the 212° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 61° Stormo (Wing) from Lecce Galatina airbase, has completed the first Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground training campaign of the year at Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia.

The deployment lasted two weeks and involved six examples of the most advanced jet trainer in the world, the T-346A (as the M-346 is designated in Italy) “Master” operated by the ItAF as well as the Israeli, Polish and Republic of Singapore Air Force.

The pictures in this post, taken by Gian Luca Onnis (one of the most active aviation photographers in Sardinia), show the T-346As carrying two BRD 4-250 (Bomb and Rockets Training Dispenser) loaded with four Low-drag BDU-33D/B bombs for use in the ranges.

3-ship formation departs the range

The image at the top of the article shows the Master at the Apex of a PUP attack (is the top point of the Pull Up Attack).

The 212° Gruppo is responsible for Phase IV pilot jet training and this deployment represents the last part of the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Training) track, the most advanced and challenging segment of the fighter jock training during which trainees are called to perform air-to-air as well as air-to-ground sorties with multiple threats and complex set ups, to deliver state-of-the-art multirole training.

Every scenario can be used thanks to the advanced ETTS (Embedded Tactical Training Simulation) which simulates air-to-air and ground-to-air threats and moving targets, and it is also capable to generate synthetic targets overlapped with real features on the ground allowing a realist Targeting Pod usage.

Drop of a practice bomb

The 212° Gruppo is also involved in the Aggressor role, taking part in the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) at Albacete, Spain, with a state-of-the-art trainer and its accompanying simulation system to deliver the perfect “Bandit”: fast, maneuverable and very well equipped.

The Aggressor also dubbed “Red Baron” is part of the TLP’s “Game plan” and together with the Red Forces is also one of the most important “training tool” in the exercise.

In my experience as Instructor Pilot of 212° Gruppo in charge of advanced tactics and combat of the LIFT course, I have taken part in TLP exercise as part of Red Forces. The Aggressor role isn’t easy: pilots need to use all their experience to adhere as much as possible to the requested threat profile in order to make the scenario as realistic as possible and be useful to the Blue Forces training. Many time people think to the Aggressor as a fighter pilot tasked to engage all aircraft and shot them down; in reality, with new scenarios, sometimes border line and not well-defined, the Aggressor’s task is to “incite or harass” the Blue Forces in the right place, in the right moment, with the correct “numbers” (speed, Aspect Angle – AA – etc). In order to do that, the Aggressor is requested to know in-depth the Blue plan, how and where the “package” is flying second by second.

Among all the missions that I’ve flown I’ve had the possibility to face several different scenarios: for instance, one of my task has been to “POP UP”, undetected, just before the attack to disrupt the strike package’s plans and force the attackers to look after me.

Hawk formation take-off

Decimomannu AWTI (Air Weapons Training Installation) provides a full integrated training installation with air-to-air and air-to-ground as well as an EW (Electronic Warfare) range. For this reason, is one of the best places for trainees who need to gain experience at planning and executing missions tactically.

As the Italians carried out their missions with the T-346s, the Royal Air Force’s No. 4 (Reserve) Sqn from RAF Valley was also deployed to Decimomannu for the first time.

Part of the 4 Flying Training School (4 FTS) also known as the fast-jet ATTU (Advanced Training and Tactics Unit), No. 4 (R) Sqn is responsible for tactical weapons training, a role carried out with the Hawk T2.

Whilst advanced flying training is assigned to the 208 (Reserve) Sqn, flying the Hawk T1, RAF students assigned to the 4(R) Sqn will learn how to use the Hawk as a weapons platform, flying in tactical formations at low level to attack targets. Students will basically learn how to drop bombs, strafe targets and the basics of air-to-air combat. Indeed, the Sardinian deployment was part of the A/A training.

The 4(R) Squadron chose Decimomannu for the deployment mainly for the presence of the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation) range availability and the permissive weather conditions allowing simulation of “full war” scenarios.

The ItAF and RAF training squadrons also conducted some joint training sessions: air-to-air sorties in 1vs1 and 2vs1 scenarios combined with rear seat exchange for a cross training and experience sharing. The cross-training was absolutely exciting and an important opportunity to share different aircraft performance. According to the Italian pilots, their British colleagues were extremely impressed by the T-346A’s superior thrust and agility during the fight.

RAF Hawk T2 on the ground at “Deci”

All images: Gian Luca Onnis