Author Archives: Tom Demerly

U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Has Just Dropped Largest U.S. Conventional Bomb on ISIS Cave Complex in Afghanistan

First Ever Operational Use of the GBU-43B MOAB Suggests Target Was of Strategic Value.

A U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II has dropped the first operational GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) on a cave complex target in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated members of the so-called Islamic State were using the cave complex. Both personnel and equipment were targeted in the strike that occurred at approximately 1800 hr.s local.

The massive, 11-ton, parachute deployed GBU-43B is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military. The “MOAB” produces shock, overpressure and blast effects equal to tactical nuclear weapons without residual radioactive fallout or the political ramifications associated with nuclear weapons.

The GBU-43B MOAB is deployed from a specially adapted MC-130 Combat Talon II using a system of rollers and a deployment sled. The bomb is attached to the deployment sled then pulled from the rear cargo ramp using a drogue parachute. Once pulled out the back cargo door of the MC-130 the sled falls away from the 30-foot long bomb. The bomb uses guidance wings and a system of stabilizers to maintain consistent ballistic flight trajectory and control its descent rate for more precise guidance. The MOAB uses a satellite guidance system along with internal gyros. GPS target coordinates are initially slaved from the launch aircraft then programmed into the weapon prior to release in close proximity to the target. Once released at medium to high altitude depending on target stand-off requirements the weapon uses its internal GPS for its terminal guidance to the target.

The GBU-43B is primarily intended to produce an “overpressure” or localized barometric shock wave effect to neutralize its target. The 9,500-kilogram bomb uses 18,700 pounds of H6 explosive, a combination of RDX explosive made of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, conventional TNT explosive used in commercial dynamite and aluminum powder. The high-energy H6 explosive is made in Australia according to sources and is also used in concussive weapons such as mines and depth charges to produce a similar overpressure effect.

The shock wave generated by the massive release of energy from the explosion is transmitted through the air and into solid objects such as reinforced bunkers and cave complexes. This often results in their collapse. U.S. military officials also note a significant psychological impact to the employment of the GBU-43B MOAB because of its massive blast and the ability to produce a large mushroom-shaped cloud in certain atmospheric and terrain environments mimicking the appearance of a nuclear strike. There is no radioactive component to the GBU-43B.

According to several sources this was likely the only GBU-43B in the operational theater. Unless production has resumed, there are likely only 15 (14 now) operational GBU-43B MOAB weapons in U.S. inventory. The use of the weapon suggests that the target attacked was of strategic importance to the conflict in the region. Because of the special equipment and planning required to employ the GBU-43B this operation likely took a number of days minimally to plan prior to execution. No bomb damage assessment information has been released about the strike yet.

The MOAB should not be mistaken with the MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) bunker buster bomb.

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.