Category Archives: Military Aviation

Report: 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo Celebrates USAF 70th Anniversary at Nellis AFB

Expo Showcases USAF Heritage, Capabilities and Breaking Barriers in Military Aviation.

It is the premiere U.S. Air Force air show: the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This year’s Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force with displays and demonstrations rarely seen at any other air show. The theme of the show is “Breaking Barriers” and showcases advances that have crossed gender and race in the U.S. Air Force.

Nellis Air Force Base is adjacent to the sprawling Nellis Range farther north. The range covers a total of 4,500 square miles. It is home of the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada National Security Site, Tonopah Test Range, Groom Range, Tikaboo Valley and the fabled “Area 51”. To the southwest is “Star Wars Canyon”, one of the premiere low-flying training areas in the world. It is one of the few places where lucky aviation photographers can photograph real world, low-level flight training- if they’re lucky.

Part of what differentiates Aviation Nation from other air expos and air shows around the world are the unique Air Force units that live at Nellis, and those units’ capability to demonstrate the air force mission better than anyone. While Aviation Nation only covers two days of the year, the capabilities and missions demonstrated during the expo are lived every day by the officers and airmen of Nellis.

One of the most unique and dynamic demonstrations at Aviation Nation is the USAF Warfighter Demo, a combined air and ground demo that showcases the unique Aggressor units and their capability to simulate opposing forces and tactics. The demo also highlights Air Force air superiority capabilities, close air support and Combat Search and Rescue missions and capabilities.

For the first time at an airshow the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its role in both close air support and also air superiority in a single mission. The F-35A flew in the Warfighter Demo alongside the A-10C Thunderbolt II. The demo reinforced the role of F-35A as a complementary asset to the A-10C, and an aircraft that can use its advanced capability to fill the role of the A-10C in addition to performing the air dominance mission.

The demo began with a simulated attack on Nellis Air Force Base performed by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron. F-15 Eagles on ready alert responded by taking off to contest the aggressors. A pair of F-35A Lighting IIs arrived and the Aggressors were quickly routed by the F-35s and F-15s.

A pair of F-15 Eagles leap off the runway at Nellis AFB during the Air Combat Demo. (All photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Following the air combat phase of the demonstration a simulated rescue of a downed airman featured HH-60G rescue helicopters and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft providing close air support. The new component of the close air support demonstration was seeing the F-35As transition from their air superiority role in the first demo to the air support operation in the second phase of the demo, providing simulated close air support along with the A-10Cs during the rescue demo. The message in the demo was clear, the F-35A can perform the close air support mission. While this was only a demonstration, it did provide at least the visual insight that the F-35A can do close air support (CAS). The demo showed the low altitude, close support capability of the F-35A alongside the A-10C for the first time at Aviation Nation.

A pair of F-35As performed close air support (CAS) alongside A-10s in the Air Combat Demo.

Highlights of the veteran, military and media day at Aviation Nation on Friday, November 10, 2017 included a surprise visit by USAF Air Combat Command Commander, General James M. “Mike” Holmes. General Holmes inspected a specially painted F-15 Eagle honoring the city of Las Vegas in the wake of the tragic mass shooting on October 1, 2017.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command (right) inspects the special livery F-15 Eagle.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes with members of the team responsible for the special F-15 and surprise F-16.

There was the surprise unveiling of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (shown in the top image) also painted in a new, commemorative livery honoring Las Vegas and the memory of victims lost and survivors recovering from the October 1st mass shooting.

The Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo takes place this weekend, Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, 2017 at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Admission is free to the public.

U.S. Consindering Sale Of E-8C JSTARS Surveillance Aircraft To South Korea

According to a South Korean newspaper, Washington might sell the E-8 aircraft to Seoul. Meanwhile, a JSTARS frequently operates south of the DMZ.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint U.S. Air Force – Army program.

The JSTARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. It uses a multi-mode side looking radar to detect, track, and classify moving ground vehicles deep behind enemy lines. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting: through an antenna that can be tilted to either side of the aircraft to develop a 120-degree field of view, the JSTARS can cover nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) and detect targets from a distance of 250 kilometers. Although the E-8C’s role is to build and update the picture of the battlefield, focusing on ground and moving targets, the the radar has also limited AEW-like capabilities: it can also detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low, slow-moving fixed wing aircraft even though these are partially hidden in the ground clutter. Surveillance data can be relayed in near-real time to the Army and Marine Corps common ground stations and to other ground command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, or C4I, nodes.

In other words, the E-8C, currently operated by the U.S. Air Force through the 116th ACW, is a key asset, that has not been exported outside the US. However, South Korea officially requested the JSTARS system during a Security Consultative Meeting with the United States late last month, The Dong-A Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, reported on Nov. 3.

South Korean defense officials, including Defense Minister Song Young-moo, cited the JSTARS as a top priority system with which to cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. […] Washington responded by expressing it will to positively consider the request. In a joint statement after the security meeting, the two allies agreed to strengthen cooperation in the South Korean military’s acquisition of state-of-the-art U.S. weapons systems.

The JSTARS, which played key roles in the Gulf War and Iraq War, was deployed to South Korea in November 2010 for the first time to closely monitor the North Korean military’s movement immediately after the North’s artillery attack on South Korea’s frontline island of Yeonpyeong Island. It was also deployed to South Korea during last month’s joint naval exercise on the South Korean waters, along with a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier battle group.”

Actually, a U.S. E-8C has been operating over South Korea, not far from the DMZ, for a few weeks. In fact, even though the presence of the JSTARS not far from North Korea is not a surprise, since the aircraft is probably constantly updating the position and monitoring the movement of the North Korean forces along the border and across the peninsula, it’s at least worth of note that an aircraft has frequently showed up on flight tracking websites since Oct. 21, more or less when Seoul voiced its interest in the asset.

Once again, the aircraft could be tracked online because of its Mode-S transponder.

Oct. 31:

Nov. 2:

As said, the presence of an E-8 (99-0006) in the skies over South Korea is pretty normal. We don’t know whether the aircraft had South Korean observers on board or was involved in a sort-of demo but what’s really unusual is the fact that such a “strategic surveillance aircraft” could be tracked online. However, as we have already reported several times, many millitary aircraft, including spyplanes and drones remain visible on flight tracking websites regardless to whether they are involved in an operative mission or a ferry flight and years after we started highlighting the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders. So much so this author tends to believe those aircraft purposely broadcast their positions for everyone to see, to let everyone know it was there. A new way to wage Psychological Warfare and deter Pyongyang.

H/T Patrick Casey for the heads up and thank you again to our friend @CivMilAir for the outstanding coverage of milair traffic around the world.

 

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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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First Prototype Of Brazilian KC-390 Military Cargo Aircraft Almost Crashed During Stall Tests Last Month

Pilots of the KC-390 were only able to recover the aircraft 300 meters from the ground.

Embraer has grounded the first prototype of the new KC-390 military cargo jet after a stall test incident on Oct. 12. According to the Brazilian planemaker, the scheduled test pushed the aircraft beyond its operating limits, however Brazilian Aero Magazine media outlet, that has talked to an engineer involved in the project who asked to remain anonymous, something else happened in the skies near Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport, the private airport located near Gavião Peixoto, Brazil, owned and operated by Embraer: an incident that almost ended in a tragedy.

As reported by Aero Magazine, the KC-390 registered PT-ZNF was performing critical pre-stall tests, that involved high-AOA (Angle Of Attack) and  ice formation on wings. During the maneuver, an equipment used for the tests, detached from its place and rolled to the back of the cargo compartment causing a sudden change in the center of gravity (CG) of the aircraft. As a consequence of the rapid displacement of the CG the pilots lost control of the airlifter, that stalled and started to spin towards the ground. Reportedly, the pilots were able to recover the aircraft as it was only 1,000 feet (about 300 m) above the ground, and landed the KC-390 safely in Gavião Peixoto airfield.

Analysis of the track based on the KC-390 ADS-B transponder using the popular Flightradar24.com plane-tracking website suggests that the cargo prototype plunged from about 20,000 feet to around 3,000 feet, between 13.25UTC and 13.28UTC, with a peak vertical speed of -30,976 fpm. However, based on the ADS-B raw data, the area where the test flight was taking place is not covered by receivers at altitudes below 2,800 feet, therefore it is possible that the aircraft was recovered well below 3,000 ft and that the transponder signal was detected once the aircraft had climbed again to a safe altitude after recovering from the spin.

The track followed by the KC-390 during Oct. 12 test flight. Note the vertical speed of about -31,000 fpm at 11,375 ft.

Two KC-390 prototypes have been built, the second one being example PT-ZNJ that made its first flight on Apr. 28, 2016. PT-ZNF made its maiden flight on Feb. 3, 2015.

H/T Jaime Maia for the heads-up

Poland Deploys Its F-16 Jets For Blue Flag 2017, Israel’s Largest Ever Exercise

Blue Flag is the largest ever aerial exercise in Israel.

Gathering more than 100 aircraft from 8 countries, Exercise Blue Flag 2017, underway at Ovda, in Israel, is the biggest exercise ever organized by the Israeli Air Force. Combat planes from the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India, Italy and Israel are taking part in the drills.

The main focus of the exercise has been placed on reconnaissance, air-strikes and SEAD operations.

As the Polska Zbrojna outlet reports, Poland has sent six F-16 jets and 120 soldiers to participate in the operation. Starting from Nov. 2. the Polish pilots were involved in briefings, with the first missions scheduled for the subsequent weekend.

The exercise involves large multinational flight-groups with a variety of aircraft types in a classic COMAO scenario. The Polish pilots are stating that the experiences gathered during the operation would be invaluable, with the flights taking place over the whole territory of Israel, over the deserts, the sea, at night and during the day.

One of the issues that the pilots need to get ready for is the fact that the air over the operational theater in Israel would by much more dusty, with a possible impact on operation of the sensors, as one of the Polish pilots, Col. Przemysław Struj, said within his statement for Polska Zbrojna.

Nonetheless the experience is not be entirely new for the Polish crews as the Polish F-16 aircraft have already taken part in a Blue Flag exercise in the past and have supported Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led air war on ISIS, from Kuwait. However, for some of the pilots the Blue Flag operation will be a first-time flying over the desert. The scenario also assumes usage of means of electronic warfare.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski