Category Archives: F-35

The Israeli F-35I “Adir” Declared Operational. So What’s Next?

Little less than a year after the first two aircraft were delivered to Israel, the Israeli Air Force F-35s have achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Dec. 6, 2017, the Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 Lightning II jets, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, operational.

“The declaration of the squadron’s operational capability is occurring at a time in which the IAF is operating on a large scale in a number of fronts, in the constantly changing Middle East”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF in an official blog. “The operational challenge, which is becoming more and more complex each day, receives an excellent aerial response. The ‘Adir’ aircraft’s operational status adds a significant layer to the IAF’s capabilities at this time”.

The Israeli Air Force has so far received 9 aircraft that have been assigned to the 140 Sqn (“Golden Eagle”) at Nevatim airbase. The first two aircraft were delivered on Dec. 12, 2016. Five have been chosen for the assessment that has been conducted to declare the fleet IOC. As a side note, the status of the F-35 was grounded after suffering a birdstrike last month, sparking speculations that it might have been hit by the Syrian Air Defenses during a covert air strike, is unknown. Anyway, the Israeli F-35 is the first outside of the United States to be declared operational, preceded only by the U.S Marine Corps and U.S Air Force. The Italian Air Force, that has received 8 F-35s so far, has not declared IOC yet (at least officially).

“The inspection examined missions and scenarios that include all of the operational elements required to fly the ‘Adir’, from the ground to the air”, shared Lt. Col. Yotam, Commander of the 140th (“Golden Eagle”) Squadron, which operates the “Adir”. “I am confident in the division’s capability to reach operational preparedness and feel that the pressure is positive and healthy”.

What does IOC mean? Using U.S. Air Force lingo, it means that the IAF has enough operational aircraft, trained pilots, maintainers and support equipment to conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems. In simple words, it means the aricraft are capable of flying actual combat missions.

Throughout 2018, the “Golden Eagle” Squadron is expected to integrate six more fighters, while the next aircraft are scheduled to land in Israel early in the summer.

“We have yet to complete our acquaintance with the aircraft. We still have tests, development of combat doctrines and extensive learning before us”, concluded Lt. Col. Yotam in the official statement. “We haven’t stopped learning thinking and developing upon being declared operational. The establishment of the division doesn’t end with this inspection, it just begins. Will the ‘Adir’ participate in the next military campaign? I have no doubt. An aircraft like this brings capabilities to the IAF that it didn’t have before; it is an important strategic asset”.

An Israeli F-35A departs Nevatim. (Credit: IAF)

The IAF has always been enthusiastic and vocal about the fifth generation aircraft: “As the Middle East grows more and more unstable, and as groups that threaten to destroy us race to stockpile weapons, we need to stay a step ahead of the game. The F-35 gives us the edge we need to take on groups and armies with even the most advanced technology,” said the IDF in a blog that preceded the delivery of the new aircraft.

In a farewell interview with Haaretz, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, former IAF Commander said: “Not everything is perfect […] There are some things you only learn on your feet. This happens with every plane that we add. But when you take off in this jet from Nevatim [IAF base], you can’t believe it. When you ascend to around 5,000 feet, the entire Middle East is yours at the cockpit. It is unbelievable what you can see. The American pilots that come to us didn’t experience that because they fly there, in Arizona, in Florida. Here they suddenly see the Middle East as a fighting zone. The threats, the various players, are in short range as well as in long range. Only then do you grasp the tremendous potential this machine has. We already see it with our own eyes.”

“This jet brings us everything we’ve dreamed of doing, in one package,” said another senior air force source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor media outlet earlier this year. “It’s all concentrated on one table for us. As we all know, the F-35 can reach places in a way that others can’t. But in addition, it integrates high-level operational capabilities as well as the ability to read and analyze a battle map. The earlier, fourth-generation jets are excellent at maneuvering and activating sophisticated weapons systems, but they are not able to collect intelligence and independently analyze battle movement. The F-35 can do all this by itself in real time, with only one pilot sitting in the cockpit. We have never had such an operational capability until today. Until now, attack aircraft were operated independently of air support aircraft. The former waited to receive analysis of the battle picture that came from the latter. But in the F-35, everything is on the same platform, and this is no less than amazing. When you connect that to several aircraft, you receive strategic capability for the State of Israel.”

Indeed, what makes the F-35 one of the world’s most advanced aircraft is its high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. However, electronic intelligence capabilities similar to those that the Israeli aircraft can put in place to get a pretty detailed view of the Middle East, can be used by neighbouring nations to spy on their fifth generation jet.

According to the same sources who talked to Al-Monitor, the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: 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.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

An Israeli “Adir” flies alongside a “Sufa”

Although it was just declared operational, it will take a few years to “completely” understand and exploit the stealth jet’s capabilities. Even more so, considered that the Israeli F-35s will have some domestic modifications and components provided by Israeli companies, that the IAF has not even begun the process of installing and integrating on the jet. Indeed, the IAF F-35As will be different from the “standard” F-35s, as they will employ national EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).

As we have already reported, IAF may also purchase some F-35Bs, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, that would allow the Israeli to have a squadron or two of multirole aircraft able to take off and land from austere/dispersed landing strips should Iran be able to wipe out IAF airbases with precision weapons.

So, Israel’s “journey” with the F-35 jet has just begun.

Poland Launches “Harpia” Programme To Procure A New Multirole Combat Aircraft

Warsaw eyes new combat aircraft to replace the Su-22 and MiG-29 jets.

According to the announcement made by the Armament Inspectorate on Nov. 23, Poland has eventually initiated the procedure to acquire new fighter aircraft for the Polish Air Force.

The new assets would be replacing the fleet of Soviet-era Su-22 Fitters and MiG-29 Fulcrums, still part of the Polish Air Force’s inventory. The Armament Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry of Defence announced that it is willing to carry out a market analysis – this is one of the first stages of the analytical-conceptual phase of procurement with regards to operational requirements.

Two Polish Air Force MiG-29s. The Fulcrum is one of the type that Warsaw will replace within the “Harpia” programme.

The interesting fact is that the requirement has been defined for a “Multi-role Combat Aircraft”, within a programme that has been given the name “Harpia” (harpy eagle), along with “Airborne Electronic Jamming Capabilities.”

It is assumed, as the Polish Media Outlet “Dziennik Zbrojny” points out, that the analytical-conceptual phase with regards to procurement of the multi-role combat aircraft may last until December 2018, nonetheless, as procurement is complicated, steps may be made to extend the aforesaid term.

When it comes to the other operational requirement, concerning the Electronic Warfare, the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD expects the potential bidders to present offers related to EW pods or modules that could be potentially integrated with the fighter aircraft.

Any entity interested in participation in the aforesaid market analysis may submit their requests until Dec. 18, 2017.

Even though the market analysis has been announced, the tight procurement schedule adopted by the Polish MoD leaves little space for extra spending – as currently Poland pursues costly programs such as Orka (new generation submarine) or Wisła (medium range air/missile defense program).

The insider talk suggests that F-16V could be the possible way to go for the Polish MoD. Meanwhile, Eurofighter GmbH also launched quite intense marketing campaign in Poland with regards to Harpia this year – e.g. by sending two Eurofighter aircraft to attend the Radom Air Show static display.

Considering the generational progress and capabilities made available by the type, the Polish could also consider the F-35 Lightning II even though this does not seem to be the path the Polish Air Force intends to take. Nonetheless the procurement is still in its infancy and it is too early to try to guess what the final decision will be.

A U.S. F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, performs for a crowd of nearly 100,000 people at Le Bourget Airport, France, during the Paris Air Show, June 23, 2017. The Paris Air Show offers the U.S. a unique opportunity to showcase their leadership in aerospace technology to an international audience. By participating, the U.S. hopes to promote standardization and interoperability of equipment with their NATO allies and international partners. This year marks the 52nd Paris Air Show and the event features more than 100 aircraft from around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz

Shopping for Fighters: Is the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17 Thunder the Real “Joint Strike Fighter”?

Cheap, Easy, Available: Asia’s JF-17 Thunder Contrasts U.S. and Russian Tactical Aircraft.

Develop it faster, build it cheaper and make it more available. From electronics to automobiles, the Asian doctrine of the 20th century. With the rush toward globalization and the blurring of borders in the internet age, manufactured products in every category move across borders and subvert political boundaries with impunity.

Tactical combat aircraft may be the next category.

Traditionally, high level defense and aerospace programs have been slow to move toward global distribution largely because of regional security concerns, partially because of technology concerns, and definitely because of economic concerns. But those concerns may be taking a back seat to the new priorities of updating old air forces as new political boundaries and alliances are drawn, and old ones are erased.

Enter the Chinese and Pakistani co-manufactured PAC JF-17 Thunder tactical aircraft, also referred to as the CAC FC-1 Xiaolong or “Fierce Dragon”. The JF-17 is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed from a joint venture between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China.

In the ethos of eastern imports competing with western aircraft like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program, the JF-17 Thunder can be hawked as “better, cheaper, faster” to many end users who could not afford to participate in the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program for political or financial reasons or both. While the “better” and “faster” are certainly doubtful, the “cheaper” is set in stone. For many countries, that is the single most important acquisition metric; affordability.

Global political change has mandated the need for new mass-market, non-western import/export multi-role tactical aircraft. When the former Soviet Warsaw Pact defense industry collapsed along with the Iron Curtain at the end of the Cold War it left huge inventories of largely Russian-built tactical aircraft in service with third world air forces.

The Russian-built MiGs and Sukhois in African and Arab service were sturdy, easy to maintain and designed to operate in austere conditions. They were perfect for air forces in developing nations. When countries engaged in a greater or lesser degree of political alignment with the former Soviet Union, the price of the Russian-built tactical aircraft went down, sometimes to zero in lend-lease or other political machinations.

But those old Eastern Bloc, Cold War Russian planes supplied to banana republic countries and oil nations with shifting global agendas are wearing out, and many of the lines that separated the countries who use them have been erased and redrawn in the Arab Spring and the new Africa. These changes have created a market for a new, affordable, regionally capable fighter plane. The Chinese and Pakistani JF-17 may fill that need.

The JF-17 many fill a low-cost, more available niche for many nations (Photo: PAC/CAC)

The generic looking, “no-brand” JF-17 is what most people would sketch on a napkin to show what jet fighters look like. It is quite unremarkable by 5th generation combat aircraft standards. If U.S. wholesale retailers Costco or Sam’s Club sold fighter planes, they would sell the JF-17. The JF-17 probably may have more in common with the 1950’s F-100 Super Saber than the current F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In numbers, a JF-17 Thunder costs (approximately) between $25 million USD-$32 million USD, depending on the tranche and avionics version. Contrast that with the $94 million to $134 million USD price tag of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If you are a sales agent for the Chinese/Pakistan consortium building the JF-17 one of the first lines in your pitch at the Paris or Dubai Air Show will be, “For the price of one F-35 you can fly almost four JF-17s!” Then you open your slick PowerPoint (in one of 6 languages) and back up your sales pitch with shorter training cycles for air crew, lower maintenance cost, easier and faster acquisition, and on and on.

New upgrade proposals and capability expansion for the JF-17 program make a versatile and affordable option. (Photo: PAC/CAC)

If you are selling the JF-17 Thunder it is unlikely you will be courting the same prospective market as F-35 program participants. And you will certainly do well to also stay away from comparisons about capability, because comparing an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in any version to the JF-17 Thunder is like comparing a Bomar Brain pocket calculator from the 1970’s to a new MacBook Pro computer. They are completely different products.

But the JF-17 is still a capable aircraft that is well-engineered for a burgeoning market of basic tactical aircraft consumer nations. To date, operators include Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan. Countries that have indicated, at some point, an interest in the project include Argentina, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.

Given the dynamic nature of global politics and fluid changes in alliances the JF-17 fills a niche for many countries. That alone is reason to be familiar with it.

Top image credit: Shimin Gu

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Norway’s First Three F-35 Jets Have Just Landed At Orland Air Force Station

The first three 5th Generation stealth aircraft have arrived in Norway.

On Nov. 3, at about 15.57 local time, the first three F-35A jets (AM-8, AM-9 and AM-10) destined to the RNoAF (Royal Norwegian Air Force) and delivered directly to Norway have landed at Ørland Air Force Station, in central Norway.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A, at an estimated cost of about NOK 70 billion (+7.3B USD), including weapons and support, to replace its fleet of ageing F-16s, that will be replaced in 2021. The first two aircraft were delivered in 2015 followed by another two in 2016 and three more ones earlier in 2017, but these aircraft were based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they are used for Norwegian and partner country pilot training.

The first three RNoAF F-35s on the ground at Orland Air Force Station, Norway. (RNoAF)

The landing of the three F-35 at their new homebase at Ørland Air Force Station marks the first direct delivery from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility to Norway, where all the remaining planes will be delivered, at a rate of six new jets per year from 2018 onward.

The arrival will be officially celebrated on Nov. 10, 2017, on the day of the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s 73rd anniversary.

Top image credit: Lockheed Martin

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USAF F-35As Deploy to Japan For Pacific Command Theater Security Program Ahead Of Trump’s Asia Trip

Air Force F-35A Deployment Joins U.S. Marine F-35Bs to Add Capability Near Korea.

In what appears to be a continuation of U.S. preparedness in the Asian theater amidst tensions with North Korea, the U.S. Air Force has deployed the first two of twelve F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters to Kadena Air Base in the Okinawa prefecture of Japan.

The F-35As deployed to Kadena are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, the “Rude Rams” of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah. The twelve F-35As will be supported by 300 Airmen from Hill AFB also deployed to Kadena. They are currently scheduled to remain in the region for six months according to the USAF.

USAF General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said in an official statement that, “The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet.” Gen. O’Shaughnessy went on to say, “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

An F-35 Lightning II, from Hill Air Force Base Utah, prepares for take-off at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oct. 13, 2017. The aircraft was on its way to the 2017 Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in South Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)

The move of a significant number of combat-ready F-35As to Kadena, the largest and busiest U.S. air base in the far east, follows the August 9 deployment of three B-2 Spirit strategic bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing in Missouri to Anderson AFB in Guam (even though it must be noticed B-2s can perform round-trip missions from their homebase in CONUS as proved recently). This build-up of the most advanced U.S. air combat assets is significant. It reinforces the ongoing military pressure being applied in the region largely as a result of escalating weapons testing by North Korea.

The U.S. has also positioned the Ohio-class nuclear submarine, the USS Michigan (SSGN-727) for operations from Busan Naval base in Yongho-dong, South Korea beginning on October 13, 2017. The arrival of this submarine is significant since it is currently configured to deploy U.S. Navy SEAL special operations teams using miniature submarines from special well-decks mounted on top of its hull.

The USS Michigan (SSGN-727) with well decks mounted on top of its hull to support the deployment of SEAL delivery vehicles. (Photo:Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA)

Navy SEAL special operations teams are trained to provide a number of roles in support of any potential air campaign in the region, including reconnaissance, target designation and search and rescue of downed air crews in denied areas.

The beginning of the naval exercises with the USS Michigan and other ships in the region took place between Oct. 16 – 26. An official U.S. Navy statement saying the operations would promote “Communications, interoperability and partnership” reinforces speculation that the submarine may be preparing to support larger potential combined air operations with the U.S. Navy, Marines and the Air Force.

Earlier this year we spoke with an F-35A pilot from Hill AFB after his unit made Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in August of 2016 and then deployed to Lakenheath, England, Bulgaria and Estonia in 2017. Since then the tempo of operations for the Hill AFB F-35As has been especially busy.

The U.S. Marines have already operated their F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the joint strike fighter from Okinawa, Japan when they deployed two aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) of Marine Aircraft Group 12 at Iwakuni, Japan to Kadena back on June 26, 2017. The Marine Corps mission was to familiarize the F-35B operations team with the airfield at Okinawa. VMFA-121, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017.

The deployment of 5th Gen. aircraft to Japan comes as President Trump prepares for his first official visit to Asia (and Japan), amid growing nuclear tensions with North Korea.