Author Archives: Tom Demerly

Watch an A-10 Thunderbolt II Put Four Cannon Rounds on Target with Amazing Precision

Video Shows One Reason Proponents Say A-10’s Heavy Gun Still Remains Relevant.

Arguments about weapons systems tend to be circular and hard to win. The discussion about close air support, the retirement of the aging A-10 Thunderbolt II and the entry of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter along with the relevance of the recent Light Attack Experiment continue to swirl. But one thing that cannot be argued is the lethality and spectacle of the A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger 30mm, seven-barrel  Gatling-type cannon

This video was released on January 24, 2018 from the U.S. Air Force Central Command Public Affairs office. It is credited to the 94th Airlift Wing which, oddly enough, is primarily an airlift wing. The Defense Video Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) gave no reason why this video was released through an airlift wing, but it is likely due to logistics.

The video, shot from an unknown camera platform, shows an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II conducting a strike on a Taliban vehicle fleeing the scene of an attack in Kandahar province on January 24, 2018. The insurgents in the vehicle were armed with a DShK 12.7 mm heavy machine gun, which had been used moments earlier during the attack on Afghans.

The video is relevant to the close air support discussion for a number of reasons. Firstly, it showcases the accuracy of the GAU-8 weapons system, at least in this single instance. You can see that two 30mm rounds penetrate the hood of the vehicle, then one penetrates the roof of the driver’s compartment and a fourth round goes through the roof of the passenger area of the vehicle. Considering the speed of the vehicle and that the A-10 was, of course, moving also, this is a noteworthy degree of accuracy.

Needless to say more than rounds left the cannon, and there appears to be two separate firing passes shown in the video.

[If you are interested in the A-10, don’t miss our “BRRTTTT….deployments, war chronicles and stories of the last A-10 Warthogs” available both in ebook format and paperback version from Amazon.]

The video also suggests an interesting scenario where, if the A-10 attacked from above 5,000 feet or even much higher (especially if required to remain outside the envelope of anti-aircraft systems like MANPADS), this imagery may have been collected from another aircraft, not the A-10 conducting the strike. A likely candidate would be a remotely piloted aircraft providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and then maybe even target designation for the attacking aircraft. While we do not know if this was the case with this video, it is a common enough practice to suggest in this instance.

A 30mm round from a GAU-8 cannon used on a U.S. A-10 as seen at Davis-Monthan AFB. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

While it’s unlikely proponents on either side of the “Save the A-10” movement will be swayed by videos like this one, and these videos date back to the A-10s first operational deployment of the A-10 in 1991, they remain compelling. During its first operational deployment in the Gulf War the A-10 was credited with destroying approximately 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 non-armored military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces according to a 1993 report.

A-10 pilot celebrates (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

 

See How USAF Aggressors Jam Civilian GPS Signals in Training at Nellis Air Force Base

GPS Jamming is a New Story from Red Flag 18-1, But We Videotaped It at Nellis Last Year.

Despite the Jan. 27, 2018 accident with a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the massive tactical air training exercise Red Flag 18-1 continues from Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The training exercise extends throughout the sprawling 7,700 square mile Nellis Military Operating Area (MOA) ranges.

Aviation authority and journalist Tyler Rogoway broke the story of the U.S. Air Force jamming GPS signals on a large scale for training purposes during Red Flag 18-1 in an article for The War Zone last week. But earlier in 2017 we went inside Nellis AFB to get a firsthand demonstration of how easy and how quickly the U.S. Air Force can jam GPS signals for training purposes.

In our demonstration, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed us how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron was at Nellis AFB for the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo. Our reporters got a firsthand look at GPS jamming on media day. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. As you can see in the video, the signal bars on our test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as thought GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag 18-1. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron personnel showed enthusiasm for their mission and reminded us that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.

The unique insignia worn by members of the elite 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. Notice one version worn by the unit is in Russian. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.

For instance, among the various theories surrouding the capture of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran in 2011, one mentioned a GPS hack. This is what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Eventually there is an explanation for the mysterious capture of the U.S. stealth drone by Iran. In an exclusive interview to the Christian Science Monitor, an  Iranian engineer (on condition of anonymity) working to reverse engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel hacked while it was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border, says they were able to exploit a known vulnerability of the GPS.

In simple words, in a scenario that I had more or less described in my last post which described also the known threats to the drone’s Position, Navigation and Guidance system, the Iranain electronic warfare specialist disrupted the satellite link of the American robot and then reconfigured the drone’s GPS setting the coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the Sentinel thought it was its home base in Afghanistan.

They jammed the SATCOM link and then forced the drone into autopilot reconfiguring the waypoint of the lost-link procedure to make it land where they wanted.

Such techniques were tuned by studying previously downed smaller drone, like the 4 U.S. and 3 Israeli that could be exhibited in Iran in the next future.

Although we don’t know what really happened to the Sentinel drone during its clandestine mission (in the above article our own Cenciotti was skeptical about the version mentioned by the anonymous Iranian engineer), it’s pretty obvious that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag 18-1 the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.

The 527th SAS displayed press clippings about GPS jamming incidents around the world at Nellis AFB. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

Everything We Know About The Russian Su-25 Frogfoot Jet Shot Down in Syria

Russian Loss Comes During 24-Hour Increase in Airstrikes in Syria’s North-Western Idlib Province.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft was shot down over the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria, on Feb. 3, 2018. The aircraft, RF-95486/06 Blue (ex Red), was involved in airstrikes in region and had just fired rockets on a ground target.

Video seen on social media shows what appears to be a person, claimed to be the Russian Su-25 pilot, descending by parachute after the aircraft was hit. The BBC reported that Russia’s defense ministry said: “The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Based on report and the above videos the aircraft was hit by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System): most probably a Chinese FN-6 passive infrared homing (IR) man portable air defence system known to be in the hands of the Jidahists.

According to reliable sources within the Russian military who spoke to TheAviationist.com, the pilot did reach the ground and then engaged unknown ground forces. Our Russian source tells TheAviationist.com that photos from the scene show the pilot’s personal firearm and that, “One store [ammunition magazine] is completely empty, the other two are consumed more than half. The pilot led the fight.” The source claimed the weapon shown in the photos is a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS. This weapon is widely carried by Russian military and federal law enforcement.

Additional sources on Russian social media report that the pilot carried a grenade and may have detonated it close to himself as insurgent forces closed in on him. There is no official confirmation of this information.

Sources on Twitter claimed the pilot used a grenade in addition to his pistol to engage ground forces. (Photo: via Twitter)

Anyway, the pilot was captured and killed. The Russia-based, independent Conflict Intelligence Team posted photographs they say showed the dead body of the pilot and a paper recommending a man named Major Roman Filipov for a state award that was allegedly filled out by Russian air group commander Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Aksyonov.

Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified Defense Ministry source as confirming that the pilot was Filippov. According to the newspaper, he was a Ukrainian pilot from Crimea, the Ukrainian region that Russia annexed in 2014.

Video from alleged to be from the crash scene clearly show the wing of an Su-25 with Russian markings along with a damaged engine and fire among debris.

Video at the crash scene confirmed the aircraft is a Russian Su-25. (Photo: YouTube)

TheAviationist.com showed the Arabic language news broadcast to a translator in Dearborn, Michigan, who told us that the reporter in the video, identified as “Journalist Moazom Al-Chamie”, says the aircraft was shot down by a shoulder fired missile after being spotted by drivers in a truck. The reporter also goes on to say that another Russian Su-25 remained in the area after the incident, and that the men shown in the video hoped to shoot it down as well.

According to Iranian journalist Babak Taghvaee the Su-25 shot down on Feb. 3 was one of six Su-25s of RuAF’s 368 ShAP recently deployed from Sevastopol, Crimea to Hmeymim Air Base, Syria.

The loss of this Su-25 is the 11th Russian aircraft destroyed by enemy action or in accidents during the Russian involvement in the Syrian campaign. Considering the number of combat sorties flown by the Russians over Syria, and the increasing number of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), these losses could be characterized as low for a campaign of this size.

Russian observers remarked that an absence of infra-red decoy flares being ejected from the Su-25 shown in the videos is unusual. It is common to see a series of bright flares ejected from an aircraft as a countermeasure to heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.

Video seen on social media showed Su-25 attack aircraft over the same area being engaged by anti-aircraft guns. One video showed an Su-25 taking a near miss as a proximity fused anti-aircraft round detonates near its left wing root.

Following the downing of the Su-25 reports began to appear on Twitter that numerous air strikes were occurring in the area where the aircraft was downed.

The Russian Sukhoi Su-25 is a successful, heavily armored ground attack aircraft roughly comparable to the U.S. A-10 Warthog. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

Top image credit: Ilya the Nightingale

Australian EA-18G Growler Jet Damaged in Incident at Nellis Air Force Base

Aircraft Photographed with Smoke from End of Runway. Crew Reported as Uninjured.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft is being reported as damaged in an incident that occurred at 10:45 AM local time on Jan. 27 at Nellis AFB, outside Las Vegas, Nevada, according to a statement issued by Nellis AFB and quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The aircraft, one of a contingent of four Australian EF-18G Growlers at Nellis AFB for the Red Flag 18-1 air combat exercise, is part of the 340-person contingent of the Royal Australian Air Force participating in this year’s first Red Flag Exercise.

Red Flag is a large-scale, highly realistic air combat exercise originating from Nellis AFB and taking place over the large air combat training ranges that surround the area.

Early reports in both Australian and U.S. media say the aircraft is from the RAAF No. 6 Squadron who are participating in Red Flag now. There are also reports that the Australian EF-18Gs are “operating alongside US Navy EA-18Gs” at Nellis as indicated in a January 2018 article on Combat Aircraft magazine’s website.

Australian journalist Elena McIntyre of Ten News Sydney reported in a tweet that an “RAAF Growler apparently experienced a critical engine failure during takeoff at Nellis AFB, before skidding off the runway. Pilot and ground crew are safe.”

According to an article in Australia’s Air Force magazine, the first RAAF EA-18G Growler instructor pilot began flying the electronic warfare aircraft in the U.S. at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the United States in November 2013. Production of the first of 12 RAAF EA-18G Growlers began in 2015. Before that, RAAF flight crews trained on the U.S. EA-18Gs with the U.S. Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron 129, “The Vikings”, permanently stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, in Washington state.

Photos from the accident that appeared on Twitter show the aircraft sitting upright, intact, with the canopy open and the leading-edge slats and arrestor hook down. There appears to be discoloration on the left vertical stabilizer from dark smoke also seen in photos that appeared on Twitter.

RAAF photos distributed prior to the incident show the four aircraft at Nellis AFB, with one of them painted in a special color scheme with a bright blue and yellow tail and upper fuselage. Based on the photos shown on Twitter the aircraft involved in the incident appears to be one of the other three aircraft without the special color scheme.

EA-18G Growlers from Number 6 Squadron arrive at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for Exercise Red Flag 18-1. *** 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.

The RAAF received their first EA-18G Growlers in 2017. The aircraft are to be operated from the Australian RAAF Base Amberley about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Brisbane.

So far there has been no official report about the status of the Red Flag 18-1 flight operations following the incident, even though no much disruption is expected.

Myanmar to Buy Six Sukhoi Su-30 “Generation 4+” Combat Aircraft from Russia

Multirole Sukhoi to Become Primary Combat Aircraft of Myanmar Air Force.

Myanmar has confirmed its commitment to purchase six new Russian-built Sukhoi Su-30 multi-role advanced tactical aircraft. Russian news agency TASS quoted the Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen Alexander Fomin, as saying the new Su-30s will, “become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force”.

Myanmar, bordered by China, India, Laos, Thailand and Bangladesh, currently operates a significant number of MiG-29 aircraft, quoted as being around 39 aircraft with little reliable information about how many are combat-ready. According to reports from several Asian and western media outlets including FlightGlobal.com, Myanmar also may have orders for 16 Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 fighters.

Although no detail about the Sukhoi Su-30 variant that Myanmar will operate has been made public, some sources believe it will probably be a version closely related to the Su-30SME  unveiled at the Singapore Airshow in 2016. When the Su-30SME export version for Singapore was announced at the Singapore Airshow, Irkut Corporation President Oleg Demchenko was quoted by Jane’s Defense as saying, “The Su-30SME is an upgraded modern platform based on Russian equipment. As the basic Russian Su-30SM version develops, the capabilities of the export Su-30SME will also expand.” This claimed modular expandability is a feature of the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and is attractive to potential buyers since it provides an open-source, modular approach to keeping tactical aircraft current in technology and capabilities.

According to data published by Jane’s Defense, the Sukhoi Su-30SME export version, likely similar to the version that will go to Myanmar, will have a normal take-off weight of 26,090 kg. and a max take-off of 34,000 kg. Interestingly, the quoted thrust in Jane’s Defense was 25,000 kg, putting the thrust-to-weight ratio of the Su-30SME below 1:1. Operational range is quoted as 1,280 km and top speed is said to be Mach 1.75.

Jane’s Defense tells us the Su-30SME uses two AL-31FP afterburning jet engines with thrust vectoring nozzles for enhanced directional control. The combination of two of these powerplants on the SU-30SME give the aircraft a combat payload of up to 8,000 kg spread among 12 external hardpoints on the fuselage and wings.

If there is one area the Su-30SME and related versions may be down-speced relative to western counterparts it may be avionics connectivity, or the ability to share data gathered by the aircraft’s sensors with other aircraft and weapons systems. As described, the avionics suite of the Su-30SME sounds like an essentially “closed loop” system without mention of datalink capability, a potential force-multiplier. The Su-30SME can carry externally mounted infrared and laser targeting pods for ground target acquisition and terminal precision weapon guidance. The fire control radar can acquire and track 15 targets simultaneously in air-to-air mode while being able to manage four attacks simultaneously. Passive, non-emitting sensors on the Su-30SME include an electro-optical targeting sensor combined with a laser inertial navigation system. There is also a helmet-mounted target designator, and satellite GPS navigation system compatible with the GLONASS and NAVSTAR formats. It is likely, however, that if a datalink system in not already available among the avionics suite for the Su-30SME and related versions, that capability will likely be developed soon.

A Sukhoi Su-30 on display at the MAKS airshow. (Photo: Sukhoi)

Anyway, whatever the version Myanmar will get, the sale of these six Su-30s is significant not only because of the country’s history and role in the region, which is somewhat volatile; more significantly it continues a significant run of sales successes for the Russian aircraft industry.

But while the Russians have seen unit sale growth in their military aircraft exports, their “ticket average” or cost per aircraft unit sale still trails the U.S. Those lower ticket averages per aircraft may be a part of their success. Russia has been able to offer highly capable tactical aircraft to countries that cannot participate in most western defense consortiums for both economic and political reasons. As the air forces of some African and Asian countries have become obsolete and degraded by age the new Russian military empire formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union has moved in to fill the supply vacuum of military aircraft.

However, the dollar volumes (if not unit numbers) worldwide still favor the United States aircraft suppliers. Five of the top six arms producing companies in gross sales as reported in 2006 were US-headquartered companies. All were primarily aerospace. Those companies were Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics. That trend has continued after 2010 with the introduction of massive programs like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, often quoted as the most expensive defense project in history.

There was no mention of the date of delivery for the six aircraft to Myanmar or if there would be a potential for follow-on acquisition of more aircraft. An interesting mention in the Myanmar Times on Jan. 23, 2018 said that the aircraft will be, among the others, “suitable for Myanmar’s counter-insurgency operations.” That may hint at some of the aircraft’s tasking in the region, even though the Yak-130 advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft that Myanmar Air Force already flies (six out of 12 examples have already been delivered) is probably more suitable to undertake that kind of mission.

Top image credit: TASS