Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Here’s The Video Of the Russian Su-27 Flanker Buzzing A U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries Over The Black Sea

For the first time in a few years, the U.S. Navy has released the video of the dangerous interaction between a Navy spyplane and a Russian fighter.

On Jan. 29, a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27.

According to the U.S. Navy “This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27’s jet wash. The duration of the intercept lasted two hours and 40 minutes.”

“The Russian military is within its right to operate within international airspace, but they must behave within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions.

The U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.”

We have often reported about alleged unprofessional intercept maneuvers performed by Russian or Chinese fighters on U.S. spyplanes. Here’s what we have reported last year:

This is not the first time a Chinese or Russian fighter pilot performs a Top Gun-like stunt or aggressively maneuvers close to a U.S. aircraft.

In February 2017, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200 and a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft were involved in what was defined by U.S. officials as an “unsafe” close encounter over the South China Sea.

Last year, on Apr. 29, 2016, a Russian Su-27 Flanker barrel rolled over the top of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft operating in the Baltic Sea. The Russian jet came within 25 feet of the U.S. intelligence gathering aircraft.

Another Su-27 had carried out the same dangerous maneuver on another US Rivet Joint over the Baltic on Apr. 14, 2016.

Previously, on Jan. 25, 2016 another U.S. RC-135 intelligence gathering jet was intercepted over the Black Sea by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135.

On Apr. 7, 2015 another Su-27 flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U over the Baltic Sea.

On Apr. 23, 2015 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that crossed the route of the U.S. aircraft putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

In 2014, a Chinese Flanker made a barrel roll over a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance plane 135 miles east of Hainan Island, a spot where a dangerous close encounter of another U.S. electronic surveillance plane with the Chinese Navy took place back in 2001: on Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters. One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

Interestingly, unlike most (if not all) the previous incidents, this time the U.S. Navy has released footage of the Su-27 buzzing the EP-3. You can also see the coordinates where the close encounter occurred. BTW, here’s the track the EP-3E Aries II followed during its mission out of Souda Bay:

To be honest, the Flanker does not seem to be as close as five feet during this pass, although the camera zoom may be a factor here. Moreover, the whole intercept lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, so this may be one of the few passes performed during that time, not the closest one.

What do you think?

Here Are The F/A-18C Hornet Jets That Enforced The No-Fly Zone Over Davos During World Economic Forum 2018

We went to Meiringen to see the Swiss “Legacy” Hornets involved in the WEF 2018 air defense.

From Jan. 22 to 27, Swiss Air Force F/A-18C/D Hornet jets contributed to the security of the WEF international conference at Davos, Switzerland.

The aircraft operated out of Meiringen (and Payerne too), flying CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) that saw the aircraft carrying two live AIM-9X Sidewinders at the wingtips and either two live AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles) or one AIM-120 and the ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, particularly useful to perform long-range visual IDs. All the Hornets had the “STBY 121.5” marking on their 1,200 lt centerline external fuel tank: a message to any intercepted aircraft to switch their radio to the international VHF emergency frequency 121.5 MHz to get instructions from the interceptor and the air defense radar.

The F/A-18C J-5011 from the Fliegerstaffel 11 “Tigers” with the special tail color scheme seen returning to Meiringen after a WEF sortie. (All photographs: Alessandro Fucito)

The Swiss Hornets standard configuration included the centerline fuel tank, two AIM-9X and two AIM-120 AAMs. Some aircraft flew with one AIM-120 and the ATFLIR pod.

At any given time, each CAP station involved six Hornets: two aircraft flying the assigned racetrack, two heading to the CAP racetrack to relieve the first pair and another two returning to base at the end of their “on station” time. This year, no F-5E/F Tiger took part in the operation…

A Swiss AF Hornet about to land at Meiringen airbase. Note the 121.5 text, meant as a message to an intercepted aircraft to switch the radio to the international emergency frequency 121.5 MHz.The Austrian Air Force contributed to the enforcement of the NFZ too, with its Eurofighter Typhoons.

The Aviationist’s Alessandro Fucito went to Meiringen and took the photographs you can find in this post.

Take off at dusk for this Staffel 11 F/A-18C Hornet. This year, the venerable F-5 Tiger jets did not take part in the WEF air defense efforts.

Check Out This F-16C From Nellis Air Force Base’s Aggressor Squadron Wearing The Have Glass V Paint Scheme

To our knowledge, there are three new F-16Cs (including this one from the 64th AGRS) sporting the Have Glass V paint scheme.

The photos in this post (released by the Australian Department of Defence within a set of shots taken at Nellis Air Force Base where the Royal Australian Air Force has deployed with four EA-18G Growlers, one of those involved in a take off incident on Jan. 27) are particularly interesting as they show an F-16C at Nellis Air Force Base wearing a brand new Have Glass 5th generation paint scheme.

The aircraft, serial 86-0280, is an F-16C assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron, a jet previously painted with the Arctic and Desert color schemes. At this link you can find a shot of the aircraft in Arctic livery (but make sure to visit the rest of Bruce Smith’s Flickr gallery for other outstanding photographs of this as well as many other jets operating out of Nellis).

F-16C jets belonging to the 64th (and 18th) AGRS have been sporting different paint schemes for decades now. “Arctic”, “Blizzard“, “Splinter” and “Desert” are just a few of the “exotic” paint jobs used on the F-16s to make the Aggressor jets as similar as possible to the real threats and put the pilots in training against the Red Air in a similar situation to what they would see during an engagement with the opposing combat air forces. For this reason, such “themes” have become a distinguishing feature of U.S. Air Force Aggressors to make their fighter jets similar to a Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

However, as the shots in this post seem to prove, even the Aggressors have started flying with F-16 painted with the Have Glass V: the “Have Glass 5th generation” is the evolution of the standard Have Glass program that saw all the F-16s receiving a two-tone grey color scheme made with a special radar-absorbing paint capable to reduce the aircraft Radar Cross Section. Indeed, all “Vipers” are covered with RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) made of microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft. The Have Glass V is the latest version of the special paint.

An F-16C Aggressor from the United States Air Force prepares for another sortie from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. *** Local Caption *** The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a contingent of approximately 340 personnel to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for Exercise Red Flag 18-1, taking place from 29 January to 16 February 2018.
Established in 1980 by the United States Air Force, Exercise Red Flag centres on the world’s most complex reconstruction of a modern battlespace and is recognised as one of the world’s premier air combat exercises. The exercise involves participants from the United States Navy as well as the United Kingdom.
For 2018, an AP-3C Orion, E-7A Wedgetail and a Control and Reporting Centre have been deployed on the complex, multi-nation exercise. Four EA-18G Growler aircraft from Number 6 Squadron have also been deployed for the first time on an international exercise, since being transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force in January 2017.
Training alongside allied nations is critical to the success of Air Force units on real world operations; helping develop further familiarity with foreign terminology, methods and platforms.

We don’t know yet why the F-16C AF 86-0280 was given the somehow standard HG V paint scheme (is it going to be handed over to another Squadron or are the Aggressors going to fly a few aircraft in standard color scheme?), still the Viper in the dark grey Have Glass livery looks pretty cool.

Our reader and friend Stephan de Bruijn informed us that two more 64th AGRS birds were spotted on Nov. 29, 2017, with the HG V livery: 91-0374 and 90-0740. You can find two shots from Stephan in the comment thread. Actually it’s not clear whether these Vipers belong to the Aggressors too: in fact, according to some sources these F-16s, are assigned to the Weapons School. According to Dennis Peteri, both 90-0740 and 91-0374 left OT/422nd TES for WA/16th WPS sporting HG V. 64th AGRS only operate Block25/32 aircraft while 374 and 740 are Block 42s. So, at the moment, the AF 86-0280 should be the very first HG V of the 64th AGRS.

If you have further details let us know.

Image credit: CPL David Gibbs / © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

H/T Gordon Bradbury for the heads-up

Interesting Photos Show U.S. Air Force F-35A Stealth Jets Deployed To Japan About To Launch Without Radar Reflectors

Some recent photos of the Hill AFB F-35s deployed to Kadena Okinawa, seem to suggest the 5th Generation fighters have started operating in “stealth mode”.

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] 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.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area.

The two radar reflectors on the right side of the F-35A (the remaining two are located in the same positions on the left side). Image credit: LM (hightlight by Author)

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

The lack of reflector on the top left position of this F-35 is pretty evident in the following photographs:

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, goes through pre-flight checks prior to taxiing Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

 

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, performs pre-flight checks prior to a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, communicates with Maj. Matthew Olson, F-35A Lightning II pilot from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, before a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is deployed under U.S. Pacific Command’s theater security package program, which has been in operation since 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

For comparison, the following photo shows one of the 388FW F-35A jets on the ground at Kadena in November 2017 with the radar reflector.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Charles, 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, goes through pre-flight procedures Nov. 16, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Rotational forces are integral to increasing our military combat capabilities, which are essential to U.S. power projection and security obligations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Obviously the lack of radar reflectors is not a big deal: during their deployment to RAF Lakenheath last year, F-35As of the 388th FW have flown without reflectors some local sorties with the 48th FW F-15E Strike Eagles (for example on Apr. 26, 2017). However, photographs of deployed F-35s without Luneburg Lenses are pretty rare and, for this reason, interesting and newsworthy.

 

 

The First F-35B Assembled Outside The U.S. Delivered To The Italian Ministry Of Defense Today

The first Italian-build Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II aircraft was delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense and assigned to the Italian Navy at the Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility today.

As planned, the Italian Ministry of Defense was delivered its first F-35B STOVL variant of the Lightning II aircraft at the FACO in Cameri, northwest Italy, on Jan. 25.

The aircraft, that had been spotted flying last week, was assigned to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) during a ceremony attended by General Claudio Graziano, Chief of Italian Defense General Staff; Admiral Valter Girardelli, Chief of the Italian Navy; Italian Air Force Lt. Gen. Francesco Langella, Director ARMAEREO; Air Commodore Charles Docherty, F-35 Joint Program Office; Fillipo Bagnato, Director of Leonardo Aircraft Division; and Mr. Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed Martin F-35 Program Management Vice President.

Unfortunately, as happened during almost all the milestone events linked to the F-35 in Italy, no media representatives were invited/allowed to attend the ceremony and the few details about the ceremony we are able to report come from an official press release from Lockheed Martin. Indeed, whereas the delivery of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian MoD has kept a “low profile” about the F-35 program (in spite of the several firsts scored by the Italian Air Force with the 5th generation aircraft).

As already explained in the past, despite the cuts (from 131 to 90 examples, with the “promise” to consider more cuts if needed…), the program has attracted a significant chunk of Italy’s defense budget: for this reason the F-35 surely the most famous defense program in Italy. And the most controversial. In Italy the F-35 is still a “sensitive” subject: a large part of the public opinion, as well as many Italian lawmakers have always been against it, because they believe that the investment as a Tier II partner and no significant industrial gains couldn’t co-exist with the country’s fragile public finances. However, the Italian Government has been able to save the F-35 and ensure the Italian Air Force its 5th generation aircraft to replace the ageing (and for this reason costly) AMX and Tornado fleets, and the Navy its F-35Bs to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.

Anyway, to date, nine F-35As and one F-35B have been delivered from the Cameri FACO, which is the only F-35B production facility outside the United States. Four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and five are at Amendola Air Base, Italy.

The Cameri FACO is also programmed to produce 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and retains the capacity to deliver to other European partners in the future. The FACO is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin with a current workforce of more than 800 skilled personnel engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-Off/Landing F-35A and F-35B STOVL aircraft variants and F-35A wing production.

Top image: Italy’s first-built F-35B, aircraft BL-1, was delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense and assigned to the Italian Navy at the Cameri, Italy, Final Assembly & Check-Out (FACO) facility, Jan. 25. (Ministry of Defense Photo)