Author Archives: Tom Demerly

The Russian Knights Look Exceptional in their New Su-30s. Let’s Have a Look at Their First Display at LIMA 17.

Russian Aerobatic Team Shows Precision and Performance in Brand New Su-30s.

The LIMA 17 air show in Malaysia on Mar. 21-25th is the largest air show of its kind in the Asia/Pacific region.

As already reported here, this year’s show included the first performance of the Russian Knights in their new Sukhoi Su-30SM (NATO: “Flanker-C”) aircraft.

The Russian Knights flew four Su-30SMs at LIMA 17, having just received the aircraft after last year’s show season. Before 2017 the team flew the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-27UB aircraft, a prior generation version of the heavily upgraded new Su-30SM.

The flight demonstration began with some exceptionally well-practiced diamond formation flying by the Russian Knights. During the diamond maneuvers the team displayed excellent symmetry, especially during difficult rolling maneuvers when the outside and inside aircraft in the formation fly different profiles to maintain position. While the Russian Knights fly wider aircraft spacing than the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, their synchronization was impressive in the new Su-30SMs.

Weather conditions including broken, low overcast meant the Russian Knights flew a relatively low altitude demonstration routine mostly below the cloud cover. The high humidity in Malaysia made for spectacular vapor clouds under hard maneuvering by the Sukhois.

The team will eventually fly six of the aircraft, but only four demonstrated in Malaysia. At the end of the formation flying routine two of the Su-30SMs detached from the diamond to perform solo and opposing solo maneuvers. During this part of the show the first two aircraft landed and deployed their drag chutes, adding spectacle to the routine.

Landing with drag chute (credit: Suman Sharma, Chindits Defense)

At the end of the routine one aircraft demonstrated the vectored-thrust, super-maneuverable capability of the Su-30SM. This performance is unique to any flight demonstration team since it showcases the SU-30SM thrust-vectoring and canard wing capabilities. This included ultra-high angle of attack maneuvers and the impressive low-speed, pivoting turns combined with “cobra” style pitch-ups unique to the Sukhoi demo routines.

Russian Knights commander, air force Colonel Andrey Alekseev told media outlets in a press conference prior to the show, “It is the great honor for us to represent [the] Russian Air Force with the ‘best-in-the-world’ Su-30SM fighters here in Malaysia.”

In what seemed like major export marketing push for Sukhoi and UAC (United Aircraft Corporation) the Royal Malaysian Air Force also performed solo demonstration flights of their Su-30MKMs in subdued, tactical color schemes. One of the demo pilots identified as Royal Malaysian Air Force Colonel Gborg, gushed about the Su-30MKM, telling reporters, “This is the best fighter I have flown in my 20-year career!” Sukhoi/UAC supported the flight demonstrations with a marketing booth in the aviation industry exhibition hall throughout the show.

Two Pacific-Asian based aerobatic teams also flew at LIMA 17 making this a major show. The Tentera Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara’s Jupiter team flying the small, elegant KAI KT-1 Woongbi Korean-built single-engine turboprop, basic training aircraft and the South Korean Black Eagles jet team flying KAI-T50B advanced supersonic trainer flew along with the Russian Knights during the show.

Top Image credit: Sputnik News. Video by This Is Flight (@tif_live)

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Yemen SEAL Raid Likely Led to New Restrictions for Electronics on Flights

Leaks and Media Reports Suggest Laptop Ban Linked to Jan. 28 SEAL Raid on Yemen.

Unattributed quotes from “three intelligence sources” link evidence gathered during the U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 28, 2017 with the new ban on electronic devices including laptops in the passenger cabins of some airline flights.

Journalists Jana Winter and Clive Irving have published reports attributing the anonymous media leaks in at least one media outlet, the Daily Beast. It is possible that other media outlets will report on the connection between the events.

Winter and Clive wrote, “Information from the raid shows Al Qaeda’s successful development of compact, battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices believed to be strong enough to bring down an aircraft, the sources said.”

Winter and Clive did not name any sources for their report. It is an occasional practice in the intelligence community to intentionally “leak” reports for publication, and then measure public response to the leaks to make decisions about additional, more official media releases.

CNN reported that a Somali passenger jet was damaged by a “sophisticated” laptop bomb that got past X-ray machines at the Mogadishu airport (Somali Police Authority via CNN)

One U.S. Navy special operations team member, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, was killed during the January 28 raid on the Al Qaeda installation in the Yakla Region of Baida Province, Yemen. A U.S. Marine MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft from the USS Makin was destroyed by a U.S. airstrike after it was abandoned on the ground following damage from a hard landing in the operation.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security officially cited the Oct. 31, 2015 destruction of the Russian MetroJet (Kogalymavia) flight 9268 as a bomb over the Sinai Desert after departing Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, Egypt. Homeland Security officials also named the Djibouti-bound Daallo Airlines flight D3159 damaged on Feb. 2, 2016 as being linked to the reasons for the recent changes in airline security. These incidents likely contributed to the motive for the U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 28, 2017 and this subsequent recent change in airline security.

In the Russian Metrojet attack a laptop bomb was suspected while a bomb carried by a man traveling in a wheelchair damaged the Daallo flight. The Daallo flight bomber detonated his bomb, possibly contained in a laptop, cell phone or his wheelchair, near the starboard wing root of the aircraft. The bomber presumably felt the most structural damage could be done near the wing root, intending to detach the wing in flight. The Daallo Airlines Airbus A321-111 survived the attack and returned to Aden Adde International Airport in Somalia, Mogadishu for an emergency landing.

An additional flight, EgyptAir flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, crashed on May 19, 2016 over the Mediterranean, killing all 66 passengers and crews. Numerous subsequent reports indicated that traces of explosives were found on the bodies of victims from the flight recovered at sea.

Major media outlets like CNN and the BBC have not yet reported on any alleged connection between the U.S raid in Yemen on January 28 and the changes in airline security. Over a month ago David Sanger, writing for The New York Times, reported, “It’s hard to call this [raid] much of a success yet, because we don’t know what the value was of the information they were trying to exploit, which came mostly from computers and cell phones. And from everything we have heard, they haven’t had a chance to assess that yet.” That report was published in the New York Times on February 2. These emerging reports and new airline restrictions may suggest the intelligence gathered in the raid may now have yielded some actionable outcomes.

Top image: Damage from a bomb detonated on board Daallo Airlines Flight 159 Over Somalia on February 2, 2016 (credit: GoobjoNews).

 

New North Korean Propaganda Video Shows Fake Attack on USS Carl Vinson and B-1B Lancer destruction

Bizarre Video Continues North Korean Saber Rattling, Appears Comical.

In the strange style of propaganda videos released by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a new clip posted to YouTube ahead of the latest North Korea missile launch test that apparently ended in failure, depicts a missile attack by the North Korean military on the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). It also shows the destruction of a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber. Finally the video seems to suggest mass destruction of U.S installations in South Korea and the Pacific.

Unusual and incongruent messages have been common from North Korea during the past several years with the threatening rhetoric escalating toward the United States since the U.S. Presidential election. This weird video is one more example of the saber rattling from the state-run media.

Contrasting this threatening message is the emergence of the new Wonsan Airshow hosted at Kalma International Airport in 2016 and scheduled to be repeated in 2017. The show was a remarkable first look at several North Korean aircraft types and the first time western airshow enthusiasts had the opportunity to see any of these aircraft.

Translations from North Korean media contain excerpts that read, “We will strike with treasured sword of justice, North Korea ready for war with Trump!”

Along with this war of words North Korea has escalated testing of offensive weapons.

In late January U.S. spy satellites detected new activities at the Chamjin strategic missile manufacturing facility southwest of the capitol Pyongyang. On Mar. 6, North Korea fired four intermediate-range ballistic missiles which fell into waters off Japan.

Then, earlier today, a new test with missiles failing seconds after launch.

Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean forces are taking part in the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, attended for the first time by some U.S. Marine Corps F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

 

Are Low-Cost “COIN” Air Forces the Future of Tactical Air Power?

For Nations Without Big Defense Budgets, Small Tactical Air Forces are the Trend.

Small, inexpensive, easy to operate combat aircraft with precision strike capability and long loiter times to provide close air support.

Versatile, scalable rotary wing assets that do double duty as gunships and utility/rescue helicopters.

Aircraft that can be disbursed to unimproved airfields and operated from roadways or even fields while being concealed on the ground.

In the era of the multi-billion dollar Gen 5+ superfighter and hundred-million dollar stealth bombers, is the low-cost counterinsurgency or “COIN” air force the next big defense trend? Many aircraft and systems manufacturers, along with their nation-clients, are betting “yes”.

As countries like Iraq and Afghanistan emerge from the long Global War on Terror and develop their own indigenous air forces the trend for local area defense and simple tactical air solutions is growing quickly. At the same time, strategic air combat capabilities, such as long-range heavy bombing, low observable long-range precision strike and long-range intelligence gathering have fallen to nations with much larger economies like the United States, Russia, England, France and China.

The emerging industry in light, inexpensive, adaptable, scalable and integrated tactical air arsenals is booming, while massively expensive projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are under constant criticism and scrutiny from budget concerns.
Noted strategist, author and think-tank contributor Thomas PM Barnett, formerly a member of the Center for Naval Analyses and author of “The Pentagon’s New Map” opined, “a Leviathan force, used in a Leviathan manner, will rarely work.” Barnett was writing about the Global War on Terror and the use of global force to oppose and defeat a local insurgency. It is often like trying to remove a small tumor with a chainsaw.

Another key aspect of the growing trend in light tactical air power is that it empowers nation states with their own air force. The value of this is as much socio-psychological as it is tactical. Nations can fight their own wars, their own way, without the imposing presence of an aircraft carrier battle group off their coast.

Perhaps one of the best examples of a light, inexpensive counterinsurgency air force is Afghanistan. The Afghan Air Force operates two strike platforms, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68C turboprop powered, low wing, two-seat attack airplane and the MD Helicopters MD-530F Cayuse Warrior light utility/attack helicopter powered by Rolls Royce’s 650 shp 250-C30 engine. The two aircraft are well suited for ease of training and close air support.

Afghan Air Force MD-530F Cayuse Warrior helicopter fires its two FN M3P .50 Cal machine guns during a media demonstration, April 9, 2015, at a training range outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston/Released)

Some reports suggest the aircraft may be a little “too” effective and easy to use. A February 8, 2017 story by Shawn Snow and Andrew DeGrandpre published in Military Times reports that, “the loss of innocent life caused by Afghan-initiated airstrikes doubled to 252 [in 2016], according to the U.N.” from the same period in the prior 2015 year. The report went on to say, “Afghanistan’s primary attack pilots are firing their weapons during four of every 10 combat missions, a rate more than three times greater than that of their U.S. Air Force counterparts.”

As a partial response to the frequency of airstrikes by Afghan assets and the exposure of civilians to collateral damage American officials working with the Afghan Air Force have begun to accelerate training for indigenous Afghan forward air controllers.

Regardless of the potential for reduced discretion when prosecuting ground targets (or, perhaps, because of it…) the demand for inexpensive counterinsurgency air support aircraft is booming. It has created heated contract competitions between manufacturers like Embraer and Beechcraft and introduced new brands into the marketplace like IOMAX and their highly capable, purpose-built Archangel counter-insurgency, close air support and precision strike aircraft.

The IOMAX Archangel is completely re-engineered from a basic agricultural (crop dusting) aircraft configuration. Instead of carrying pesticides or fertilizer it carries a full complement of precision guided air-to-ground weapons and highly effective countermeasures with a two-person crew. While the direct comparison is not at all fair, a country can purchase almost 20 of the IOMAX Archangel tactical aircraft with maintenance spares for the cost of one F-35A joint strike fighter. That is the size of the entire proposed acquisition of Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos for the Afghan Air Force. The IOMAX Archangel is already in service with the Royal Jordanian Air Force in the border patrol and interdiction role.

IOMAX Archangel (credit: IOMAX)

The conversation about low-cost, “bush-plane” style counter insurgency aircraft fitted with sophisticated data sharing, intelligence collecting and precision targeting capability is a fascinating one. For many countries that don’t need a strategic, long range, stealth air asset and can’t afford one, but do have to manage a persistent guerilla or insurgent threat, this new generation of “smart” light attack aircraft may just be the “Gen 5.25” combat aircraft of the next decade and beyond.

72 Year Ago This Week: The First Ever Jet Airstrikes. A titanic failure for the Germans.

The First Ever Jet Airstrike Was a Disaster. Here’s The Bizarre Story.

When gunners spot them, they are stunned: their speed. No propellers.

From out of the northeast, rocketing down from medium altitude in a shallow dive intended to improve bombing accuracy the Germans are back again. It is one more day of airstrikes on the prize. This is the third set of airstrikes today.

But this one is different. The planes are flying much faster. And have no propellers.

The first jet airstrike in history has begun. German Arado Ar 234 medium bombers and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter/attack jet aircraft are launching a last-ditch airstrike on this key target in a desperate attempt to halt the allied advance.

But it isn’t going well.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany is the most heavily defended target from air attack ever. Since the allies seized the bridge in a lightning attack a few days ago around March 7th they have emplaced more anti-aircraft guns surrounding this key bridge than any other single target on earth. In the upcoming 10 days of the German Luftwaffe campaign against the Ludendorff Bridge approximately 367 combat aircraft will attack the target. The Germans throw everything at Ludendorff, fighters, bombers, frogmen, artillery and now the secret German super-weapons, the jet bombers and fighters. The Allies claim to shoot-down 30% of the German planes. None score an effective hit on the bridge.

Bridges are a notoriously difficult target to hit with fast jets. The Germans are learning this difficult lesson for the first time in history today. The U.S. Air Force relearns it years later between 1967 and 1972 during protracted (and largely ineffective) airstrikes on the Long Biên (“Paul Doumer”) Bridge. They finally develop a new secret weapon, a “guided bomb” directed to its target by a laser beam. The Americans destroyed the North Vietnamese bridge on the first try with laser-guided bombs in 1972.

A damaged bridge

The Germans have crude guided bombs now including the “Fritz” radio-guided dive-bomb, but neither the new Arado jet bombers nor the smaller Messerschmitt jets can carry the large Fritz guided “smart” bomb.

As the hours to seize the bridge from the Allies turn into days the Germans become increasingly desperate. Luftwaffe Chancellor Hermann Göring proposes a suicide attack with bomb-laden Me 262 jets. No volunteers come forward or a technical shortcoming of the aircraft’s aiming device- or both- prevents the desperate tactic.

Göring forms a secret, special unit named the “Gefechtsverband Kowalewski”. It is an elite cadre of handpicked, jet-qualified strike pilots from Kampfgeschwader 76, the 76th Bomber Wing formerly located in Norway. The first jet attack pilots in history.

On March 13 the Germans hurl 19 of the special Ar 234 medium bombers and 30 Messerschmitt Me 262 A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II Kampfgeschwader 51 against the target. They are led by special Luftwaffe jet pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher. Bätcher led a previous (unsuccessful) March 7th mission against the Ludendorff problem and lived to tell. He knew the target well. It takes a brave man to volunteer to return, but the German situation is increasingly desperate.

Arado AR234

It will be the first all-jet airstrike on a ground target in aviation history. Even with a full complement of heavy 1,000kg bombs weighing more than a ton the bombers can press home the attack run at over 660 km/h (410 mph), a nearly unheard of speed at the time. They are so fast the American anti-aircraft units will have trouble hitting them. Speed is their primary defense. For six days the III Gruppe/KG 76 pilots attempt to hit the bridge in nine separate strikes.

First jet airstrikes illustration (author unknown)

Seated in the bubble nose of their incredibly fast Arado jet bombers the pilots have an excellent view. The sky is entirely aglow with bursting anti-aircraft shells, the thickest they have ever seen. Diving into the fiery cauldron seems like certain death. Shrapnel from the thick flak peppers the Arados and Messerschmitts. Every one that survives is damaged by flak. And whether it is the concentration of the flak or the speed of the new jet bombers or the inaccuracy of the unguided “dumb” bombs, every single bomb misses the bridge.

The jet strike is a titanic failure for the Germans.

The German losses are devastating. Seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied fighters, are destroyed in that raid alone. The Americans estimate that from Mar. 7th to the 17th they have shot down 109 German planes, and likely destroyed 36 more. Total losses for the Germans now total nearly one-third of their dedicated strike force.

The Germans have developed and fielded a revolutionary new weapon, the jet attack aircraft, but they have not developed the tactics and weapons necessary to capitalize on the new aircraft’s speed and power. The early German jets are also dangerous to fly and require an absurd amount of maintenance. Jet fuel is increasingly scarce as the war continues to go poorly for the Germans.

In a last desperate measure the Germans launch a huge ballistic missile strike on the Ludendorff Bridge using their super-weapon, the V-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the first of its type. But its crude gyro-controlled guidance system is so poor some missiles land on civilian villages miles away. Only one missile lands close to the bridge, missing the main span and doing no damage to stanchions on land. The missile strikes are also a failure.

While the German’s last-ditch campaign with their new super weapons fails, it heralds the arrival of the jet age and predicts the new direction of air war. They simply didn’t have all the details worked out, and the last months of a desperate war are a poor place to perfect a revolutionary new technology. Thankfully.

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