Author Archives: David Cenciotti

This Updated Chart Shows (Most Of) The Assets Involved in Apr. 14 Air Strike On Syria

This revised chart provides a good overview of the assets that took part in the Trilateral strikes on Syria last month.

As our readers already know, in the night between Apr. 13 and 14 the U.S., UK and France launched air strikes against Syria. By means of an OSINT analysis, we were able to determine the presence of most of the aircraft which took part in the operation, most of those could be tracked online via information in the public domain, hours before their involvement was officially confirmed.

Based on the “picture” we have contributed to build up, the popular one-man site CIGeography has prepared an interesting chart to visualize the type and number of the assets that have taken part or supported the strike. Although this is a revised version of an original chart posted on Apr. 29, it still contains some inaccuracies: for instance, just 6 out of 8 French C-135FR tankers are shows; at least 11 US tankers supported the American aircraft at various times; two RQ-4s are shown in the chart although we have tracked just one example [#10-2043 – a serial that is still subject to debate] and no other Global Hawk is known to have been committed, etc. Moreover, little is known about the aircraft that operated from the UAE and Qatar bases (including the EA-6B Prowlers, known to have supported the B-1s) and whose presence and number could not be determined by means of online flight tracking; still, it represents the only available chart that summarizes the types, the airbases and the weapons used to attack Syria last month.

Make sure you follow @CIGeography on Twitter and Facebook. You can also buy one of the posters based on this and other charts CIGeography has produced here.

Russian Su-30SM Crashes In Syria. Both Pilots Dead.

A Su-30SM Flanker has crashed into the Med Sea shortly after taking off from Hmeymim airfield.

On May 3, 2018, at 06:45 GMT, a Russian Su-30SM belonging to the contingent deployed to Latakia, in northwestern Syria, crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Hmeymim airfield. Both aboard the Flanker-derivative 4++ Gen aircraft were killed in the accident.

The Russian MoD said “a bird strike may have caused the crash”. According to journalist Babak Taghvaee, local witnesses said the aircraft was one of 43rd OMShAP examples (hence belonging to the Russian Naval Aviation) recently deployed to Syria to protect Russia Navy assets in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

A Syrian journalist also snapped some shots of the aircraft impacting the sea:

Previously, on Mar. 6, 2018 a Russian Antonov An-26 (NATO reporting name “Curl”) crashed near Hmeymim Air Base in Syria; 33 people died in the accident.

Image credit: Alan Wilson/Wiki and Mohammed Ghorab

Why Is A Swedish ELINT Aircraft Operating Off Lebanon and Syria These Days?

A Swedish Air Force heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP aircraft used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) missions has joined the long list of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

On May 1, 2018, a Swedish Air Force S102B Korpen has started operating in the eastern Med.

The aircraft is one of two SwAF’s S102B Korpen aircraft, heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP business jets used to perform ELINT missions. These aircraft have been in service with the Swedish Air Force since 1992, when they have replaced the two TP85s (modified Caravelle airliners formerly belonging to the SAS airline) that had been operated for 20 years since 1972. They are equipped with sensors operated by ELINT personnel from the FRA (the Radio Establishment of the Defence), capable to eavesdrop, collect and analyse enemy electronic emissions. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, the Korpen jets routinely conduct surveillance missions over the Baltic Sea, flying high and fast in international airspace off the area of interest. The most frequent “target” of the S102B is Kaliningrad Oblast and its Russian installations. For this reason, the Swedish ELINT aircraft are also frequently intercepted by Russian Su-27 Flankers scrambled from the Kaliningrad exclave’s airbases.

Anyway, it looks like the Swedish airplane has now pointed its sensors to the Russian signals in Syria, deploying to Larnaca, Cyprus: the example 102003/”023″, using callsign “SVF647”, was tracked, by means of its ADS-B/Mode-S transponder, twice on May 1, flying off Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, more or less in the very same way many other aircraft (U.S. Navy P-8s, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 and RC-135s) have been doing for some weeks.

Here’s the first mission in the morning on May 1:

Here’s the second mission, later on the same day (21.40LT):

Considered the quite unusual area of operations, one might wonder why the Swedish S102B is currently operating close to the Syrian theater, so far from home. We can just speculate here, but the most likely guess is that the aircraft is collecting ELINT off Syria to acquire new baseline data for assets that are deployed there and which may either be currently or imminently deployed in Kaliningrad. Possibly surface vessels too, which might add to the Baltic Electronic Order of Battle. “I think they are just acquiring ELINT that is unique to Syria and might have applications in the Baltic,” says a source who wishes to remain anonymous.

For sure, with all the Russian “hardware” deployed to Syria, often referred to as a “testbed” for Moscow’s new equipment, there is some much data to be collected that the region has already turned into a sort of “signals paradise” for the intelligence teams from all around the world.

Top image: Peter Bakema/Wiki and @ItaMilRadar

Rock Band Honors Gary Powers With New Song on U-2 Incident Anniversary

“Powers Down” is a tribute to Francis Gary Powers, the late U-2 pilot recipient of the Intelligence Star, by rock band One Man Mambo.

During the late 50s, with the approval of Pakistani Government, U.S. President D. Eisenhower established a secret intelligence facility in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), equipped with a runway that allowed U-2 spy planes to perform secret missions over the majority of the Soviet airspace.

On May 1, 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris, pilot Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Badaber on board its “Dragon Lady” Item 360 for a mission over the Soviet Union. The task was to photograph ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk and then, landing at Bodo, Norway.

The flight was hardly a surprise, since Soviet defenses were pre-alerted by the U-2 unit “10-10” piloted by Bob Ericson: some weeks before, he had overflown some of the top secret military installations such as the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the SAM test site, the Tyuratam missile range and the Dolon airbase with its Tu-95 strategic bombers.

According to some Russian sources, just after the U-2 was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered all the air unit commanders on duty “to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane’s course, and to ram if necessary (see for details: http://www.webslivki.com/u11.html – Russian language only).

Some fighters took off immediately but like the previous alerts, all the attempts to intercept the foreign plane failed. Eventually the U-2 was hit and shot down by the first of three S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles fired by a defense battery.

According to Russian sources, it is interesting to know how Pilot Gary Powers, after successfully bailing out from the plane, was soon captured by the Russians and was found with a modified silver coin which contained a lethal saxitoxin- tipped needle…to be used in case of torture!

After the event, the whole Soviet air defense system was obviously in red code but the lack of coordination brought to a curious incident often hidden by the ordinary tale of facts: the SAM command center was unaware that the foreign plane had been destroyed for more than half so that at least 13 further anti-aircraft missiles were fired, one of them shooting down a MiG-19 and killing his pilot, Sergei Safronov.

The episode became of an outstanding relevance among the international community and represented one of the higher peaks of the face off between the two nuclear superpowers.

On May 1, 2018, 58 years after the incident, One Man Mambo, a rock band founded in 2016, releases a tribute to Francis Gary Powers.

“Gary Powers’ U-2 mission over the mighty Soviet Union has fascinated me since I took U.S. History in high school” said band member Lazar Wall in an email to The Aviationist. “Particularly impressive were the ramming attempts by a Sukhoi fighter jet, and the unfortunate death of a Soviet pilot whose MiG got hit by friendly fire. The Iron Maiden song Aces High, about Spitfires and ME-109s in the Battle of Britain, was definitely an influence on Powers Down. Our band released its first aviation-related song at the end of last year. Flight 2933 is a tribute to the Chapecoense players and staffers from Brazil who perished in a 2016 air accident.”

The song, titled “Powers Down” will be on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services May 10.

Meanwhile, here’s the lyric video of the song, in case you are interested in a quite unusual (at least by our standards) way to honor one of the world’s most famous pilots:

Top image credit: CIA / RIA Novosti

The description of May 1, 1960 incident is taken from our previous article “Airspace Violations – Episode 5” that you are strongly suggested to read for more details.

U.S. B-52 Bomber Performs Show Of Force Over Moroccan Range During Exercise African Lion 2018. And Here Are Some Interesting Details.

A Stratofortress bomber flew over Morocco as part of a round-trip Global Power mission from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

On Apr. 20, a USAF B-52 made several bombing runs over a range near Tan Tan, Morocco, as part of Ex. African Lion 2018, an annual multilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of African partner nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures.

The American strategic bomber launched from Barksdale AFB, home of the 2nd BW (Bomb Wing), using callsign Mytee 51. It crossed the Atlantic Ocean and before engaging the Moroccan range was joined by two 48th FW F-15Cs and two RMAF F16 Block 52+ from Ben Guerir Air Base, a former U.S. Air Force base located about 36 miles (58 km) north of Marrakech which served as a Transatlantic Abort Landing (TAL) site for the Space Shuttle, and MOB (Main Operating Base) for the exercise.

Airspare was MYTEE52 and was showing on ADSB and recovered somewhere south in Florida for some reason. (credit: @aircraftspots)

 

Along the way, the B-52 was supported by several U.S. Air Force KC-135 tankers, including Qid 259 and 260 from RAF Mildenhall, UK.

100th ARW KC-135Rs were launched from RAF Mildenhall to support the B-52 mission. Image credit: @aircraftspots

A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 191st Air Refueling Squadron refueled both the B-52 and its escorting aircraft, including the RMAF F-16s whilst the package was also escorted by at least one Mirage F1 (shown in the picture below).

A Royal Moroccan air force F-16 prepares to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 191st Air Refueling Squadron, during Exercise African Lion April 20, 2018. Various units from the U.S. Armed Forces will conduct multilateral and stability operations training with units from the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces in the Kingdom of Morocco. This combined multilateral exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures while demonstrating the strong bond between the nation’s militaries. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield)

H/T to our friend @aircraftspots for providing the details about the routing, callsigns etc you can find in this post.