Category Archives: Military Aviation

Almost Unnoticed, U.S. Air Force Begins MQ-9 Reaper Drone Operations out of Poland

USAF deploys its MQ-9 Reaper Drones to Poland.

USAF issued a short release, suggesting that the service has deployed MQ-9 Reaper UAV systems to Poland. The drones would be stationed at the Mirosławiec Air Base, which is the Poland’s airbase dedicated to host the unmanned platforms. The release issued by the Americans reads as follows:

The United States and Poland have a standing relationship to address issues of regional and global security. To advance those interests, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, the air component of U.S. European Command, is operating MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Miroslawiec Air Base as a visible expression of U.S. efforts to enhance regional stability. This mission, starting in May 2018, has been fully coordinated with the Polish government. It is designed to promote stability and security within the region and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners.

The release, as we can see, is laconic and went by virtually unnoticed. It was issued on May 21 and does not specifiy how long the deployment is going to last. The Mirosławiec Airbase only operates smaller UAV platforms, hence Reapers would be a major addition to its capabilities.

The news issued by USAFE sparked some doubts and questions among the experts and defense media practitioners in Poland. Since the Polish MoD cancelled some of its drone procurement plans some time ago, shifting the priorities, the USAFE assets may act as a complementary measure filling in the capability gap – this is an opinion that has widely circulated in the Polish defense media public sphere. The experts suggest that no further procurement in the area of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) would be pursued by the Polish MoD, making use of the US assets to complement the capabilities at hand even though, for what deals with JASSMs (Joint Air-to-Surface Strategic Missiles) that have been acquired by the Polish Air Force, there is concern about a capability gap when it comes to actually designating targets for this strategic weapon.

Dawid Kamizela who works an analyst for the Polish Dziennik Zbrojny outlet expressed his concern that the UAVs in Poland may not even boost the Polish ISR capabilities. In a conversation, he told us the following:

According to what we have seen when it comes to operational practice pertaining to the MQ-9, the detachment in Poland, most probably, solely deals with maintenance of the assets and take offs and landings. The core of the operational activities would be controlled from CONUS, and the intelligence gathered when the UAV is flying in the Polish airspace is also being sent to CONUS directly – it is not being collected in Poland, it does not even ‘touch’ any part of the Polish infrastructure. As worrying as it is, the above would mean that even if Poland receives any intelligence, it would not come in a form of raw data, but rather as an interpreted report. Taking the local awareness into account, along with the knowledge of local conditions and geopolitical factors, the US interpretation may differ from the conclusions that could potentially be formed by the Polish analysts in Warsaw. This sparks numerous doubts, when it comes to the actual boost of the Polish ISR capability.

The Polish military has no MALE UAVs at its disposal now, procurement is being planned as a part of the Zefir programme that has not, fortunately, been a subject to cuts. MQ-9 and Israeli Hermes 900 platforms are viable candidates here. The Israeli drones, as the Defence24 outlet notes, have already made their operational debut in the Polish airspace, during the NATO Summit hosted in Warsaw and the World Youth Day. Two Zefir packages, as Defence24 recalled, are to be acquired until 2022, with procurement of another two envisaged as an option after the aforesaid deadline.

An-124 cargo aircraft were used to transfer the MQ-9s in Poland.

According to the unofficial information we have obtained, the Reapers arrived in Poland on May 9 and they were transported via the NATO SALIS solution by two An-124 airlifters that landed at the Poznan airport.

Image Credit: USAF, An-124 Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

Check Out This Stunning Shot Of Trump’s MV-22 Osprey Escort Over New York City

“Green Tops” MV-22 osprey tilt-rotor aircraft fly the President’s supporting staff and Secret Service agents.

On May 23, Donald Trump traveled to New York City in one of the Presidential VH-3D helicopters operated by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One).

Here’s a video of the Marine One helicopter flying over NYC the POTUS shared on his favorite social media:

The clip was probably filmed by one of the escorting U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. In fact, “Marine One” (when President of the U.S. travels aboard the VH-3D or any other chopper operated by HMX-1, the helicopter uses the radio callsign “Marine One” by which the aircraft is known) was escorted by green-painted MV-22 Ospreys (also referred to as “Green Tops”) that fly the White House Staff during the President’s travels.

The tilt-rotor aircraft fly also the Secret Service agents that follow “Marine One” and take care of its valuable passengers in case the helicopter goes down due to a failure.

Usually, at least two or three Ospreys accompany “Marine One”. For instance, when last year Trump traveled to Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding facility to visit pre-commissioning unit USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN78), the two VH-3Ds were escorted by three MV-22s.

Both the “White Tops” (VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns), that usually fly the POTUS and accompanying VIPs at home and abroad as part of the Executive Flight Detachment, and the “Green Tops” (12x MV-22 Ospreys) that fly the supporting staff, are based at Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington DC.

The helicopters of Executive Flight Detachment actually operate extensively out of an alert facility at Naval Support Facility Anacostia, in Washington DC, much closer to the White House than Quantico.

A stunning WH photo (the top one in this article), taken by photographer @AndreaHanks, showing two VH-3Ds and two escorting MV-22s (a third Osprey was probably the camera ship), was shared on Twitter by CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

Top image: WH photo by Andrea Hanks

Remembering Three of the Fallen F-105 Thunderchief Heroes of the Vietnam Era

The Remarkable Exploits of Three Thunderchief Pilots Are a Must-Read on Memorial Day.

It’s Memorial Day in the United States, part of a long three-day weekend where people in the U.S. reflect on the high cost of freedom and liberty as they remember those who sacrificed their lives for it. While it is a somber holiday it is also a celebration of heroes. Heroes who set the highest bar for selflessness, honor and sacrifice. It is a day when we recalibrate what it means to be an American.

There are a remarkable number of great American stories to be told on Memorial Day. Realistically, far too many to tell in a single day. I find these stories daily in research about military aviation history. Even after years I unearth new names and heroic exploits every week. It is a seemingly endless tablet of remarkable tales etched into the bedrock of freedom’s foundation. And as history arcs forward into the future, the foundation is expanded by more and more heroes.

There is one era that produced images that are particularly iconic to me. Images that shaped my boyhood impression of what it means to be a hero. It was the era of the early U.S. involvement in the air war over Vietnam. In particular, one group of pilots repeatedly shows up in photos of medal winners and in heroic tales. They were the “Thud drivers”, the pilots of the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

The F-105 Thunderchief itself was an ambitious aircraft. It’s journalistically and politically indelicate to write about any historical military aircraft as “bad” or “dangerous”, so we will handle the F-105 and its history over Vietnam objectively and respectfully. Early in its history, during 1961, the F-105 had the lowest rate of accidents of any jet fighter in the history of the Air Force. But by June of 1964 accidents in the F-105 Thunderchief increased remarkably. There were a reported 33.7 accidents per 100,000 flying hours in the F-105 by half way through 1964, a massive increase compared to earlier years.

Republic F-105D-30-RE Thunderchief (SN 62-4234) in flight with a full bomb load of M117 750 lb bombs. Normally drop tanks were carried on the inboard wing pylons. This aircraft was shot down on 24 December 1968 over Laos while being assigned to the Wing Headquarters, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB. Major Charles R. “Dick” Brownlee was the pilot of the lead aircraft (s/n 62-4234, call sign “Panda 01”) in a flight of four. The flight was conducting an afternoon strike mission against Route 911, between the Ban Karai Pass and the city of Ban Phaphilang, Khammouane Province, Laos. At 15:47h the aircraft attacked a truck moving along Route 911. 62-4234 was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire. Major Brownlee’s aircraft exploded at roughly the same time he ejected from his aircraft. The next day a rescue attempt of heavily injured or dead Brownlee failed, but a member of the rescue team, CMS Charles D. King, was captured, too. Both men are listed as missing in action. The location was on the northern edge of a large valley and just east of Route 911, approximately 16 km southwest of Ban Thapachon (location 170600N 1055600E).

Especially during this era in the Thunderchief’s history, it was best to stick to observations that acknowledged its curvaceous, needle-nosed fuselage, artfully shaped wings that leave one with the visual impression of speed, and its remarkable performance. Even more so than the F-104 Starfighter, the F-105 Thunderchief was what most Americans visualized when they heard the term “Jet Fighter” in the 1960’s.

The Thunderchief looked the part of a supersonic fighter. It did not, however, deliver great survivability during this era. It was not because the Thunderchief was somehow cursed. It may be fairer to suggest its mission was cursed.

It’s also best not to discuss the calamitous employment of the F-105 by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds that ended in a fiery aircraft disintegration on May 9, 1964 at an airshow venue in California. That F-105 broke apart after receiving initially undetectable damage earlier in its career while midair refueling. The Thunderbirds only flew the F-105 in six shows before they switched back to the North American F-100D Super Sabre. The Thunderbird F-105 crash killed USAF Capt. Gene Devlin in aircraft 57-5801.

Thunderbird pilot Capt. Gene Devlin died in an F-105 crash on May 9, 1964. (Photo: USAF and Aerospace Museum of California)

Thunderbird pilot Capt. Gene Devlin’s F-105 crash on May 9, 1964 was the 15th accident in an F-105 in only five months during 1964. But it would get worse. Only four days after Devlin’s crash in California, a Nellis AFB F-105D lost its engine on takeoff and crashed into the Las Vegas suburb of Woodland North. The results were catastrophic. A mother and three children died on the ground where the aircraft crashed. The impact leveled seven houses and destroyed two cars. More homes burned near the crash scene. The pilot did not survive either. Following that horrific run of accidents that culminated in the Woodland North calamity the Air Force grounded all F-105s until a cause for the accidents was determined. A number of problems with the F-105 were subsequently discovered and corrected during inspections and the aircraft were returned to service in time for the escalation of the Vietnam War.

A U.S. Air Force Republic F-105D Thunderchief attempting to dodge an SA-2 missile over North Vietnam. (USAF)

It is fair to acknowledge the Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a plane thrust into a mission that was largely misunderstood, frequently evolving, and very different from what the “Thud” was originally designed for, low-level, supersonic nuclear strike missions. As a result, the “Thud” earned its unfortunate nickname by raining out of the Southeast Asian skies with frightening regularity, often taking with it the lives of America’s finest.

The USAF Thunderbirds only flew the F-105 in six demonstrations. (Photo: USAF and Ron Rentfrow)

But also in fairness, the F-105 Thunderchief shouldered the majority of the USAF’s burden of bombing heavily defended targets in North Vietnam. In the first five years of the American involvement in the air war over Vietnam, the F-105 Thunderchief flew 70% of all attack missions. Regardless of your assessment of the Thunderchief, the odds were always stacked against it. In all, a staggering 382 Thunderchiefs were lost in Vietnam, nearly half the total number that was built.

Different from the aircraft itself the men who flew the F-105 Thunderchief, like USAF Captain Samuel E. Waters, were absolutely dependable no matter the odds or the mission. Capt. Waters was the type of a man you think of when you picture a jet fighter pilot. Chiseled features, serious countenance, heroic look, stony glare.

A USAF photo F-105D Thunderchief Pilot Capt. Samuel E. Waters. (Photo: USAF)

Unlike his outwardly attractive but structurally dubious aircraft, Capt. Waters had intrinsic mettle. He was a hero. An icon. The worthy subject of statues in town squares or the name of a new high school.

Capt. Samuel E. Waters died 51 years ago on Tuesday December 13, 1966 over the dense jungle region of Ha Tay Province, North Vietnam. It was, according to some records, the first day the U.S. launched airstrikes on the capital city of Hanoi. The 29-year old combat pilot was a member of the 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing.

It is already difficult to sort through accurate records about Captain Samuel E. Waters. According to three websites and social media posts, Capt. Waters was flying Republic F-105D Thunderchief #61-0187 the day he died. His target was the Yen Vien railroad yard just ten miles south of the city center outside Hanoi. He had successfully bombed his target and was exiting the area when his aircraft was struck by an SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile (SAM). He managed to nurse his wounded Thunderchief for about 15 miles before it finally succumbed to damage from the missile.

A U.S. Air Force Republic F-105D Thunderchief trailing fire and smoke just after interception by an SA-2 missile on February 14, 1968. The SA-2 did not actually hit an aircraft — the warhead was detonated by a command from the tracking radar or by a proximity fuse in the missle when it neared the target, throwing deadly fragments over a wide area. The pilot, Robert Malcolm Elliot (1929-1968), was killed. His body was not recovered until 1998. (USAF)

What struck me about the photo I found of Capt. Samuel E. Waters was that his image, and the similar images of men, fighter pilots, like him shaped my impression of what a real man truly was. What a hero is. In small suburbs and country towns people talked about these men. Men like Capt. Waters.

Another remarkable hero of the Thunderchief era was Lt. Karl W. Richter. Richter was an Air Force Academy graduate from 1964. He began training to fly fighter aircraft after graduation and subsequently volunteered to go to Vietnam. Richter learned to fly the F-105 Thunderchief at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He immediately volunteered to ferry an F-105 over to Thailand where he knew he would be put in the action. Once he arrived in Thailand he was assigned to the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, a hub of F-105 action over Southeast Asia.

Lt. Richter flew his first F-105 Thunderchief combat mission only four days after arriving in Southeast Asia. He eventually completed 198 combat missions over Vietnam in a number of aircraft including the F-100 Super Sabre and the O-1A Bird Dog light Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft. Richter also shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 on September 21, 1966 using the cannon on his F-105. At only 23 years old and still a First Lieutenant, Richter was the youngest USAF combat pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the Vietnam conflict at the time.

F-105 Thunderbird pilot Lt. Karl W. Richter. (Photo: USAF)

Lt. Karl W. Richter was shot down on July 28th, 1967 at the age of 24. He was leading a bombing attack on a North Vietnamese bridge when he was struck by automatic anti-aircraft fire (AAA). Richter managed to eject from his F-105 and parachuted into rocky terrain where he sustained life-threatening injuries including a broken neck. Although a rescue force was able to retrieve him quickly, Lt. Richter died in the rescue helicopter on his way back to safety.

There are several statues of Lt. Karl Richter at prominent locations around the U.S. commemorating his remarkable courage and career. Perhaps the most significant inscription is on the one displayed at Maxwell AFB in Alabama. Below the chiseled figure of F-105 Thunderchief fighter pilot Lt. Karl W. Richter the Biblical inscription of Isaiah 6:8 reads:

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.”

It is not only a fitting inscription for the lives and sacrifices of F-105 Thunderchief pilots like USAF Capt. Gene Devlin, Capt. Samuel E. Waters and Lt. Karl W. Richter, but for every service person we remember on Memorial Day in the U.S. who gave their lives for freedom and security.

Top image: Crews of the F-105D and F-105G Thunderchiefs in Thailand. (USAF)

Image Of Israeli F-35 Flying Off Beirut (With Radar Reflectors) As Well As More Details About The Adir’s First Strikes Emerge

A photograph of an Israeli Air Force F-35 flying (more or less..) “over” Beirut has been made public. Interestingly, the image seems to prove the stealthy aircraft was flying with radar reflectors.

As reported yesterday, the Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth aircraft have had their baptism of fire taking part in air strike in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity” the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world. Interestingly, Norkin also presented an image showing an IAF F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon that was not released in first place but surfaced on social media on May 23.

Here it is:

The somehow blurry image is interesting for at least a couple of reasons: first of all, it shows the aircraft flying at high altitude off (rather than “over”) Beirut. Second, it seems to show that the aircraft was also operating with radar reflectors (highlighted in the image below), hence not in “stealthy mode”:

Highlighted in a screenshot from Israel Television News Company one of the F-35’s four radar reflectors.

Here’s what radar reflectors, also known as RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, are as explained in a previous article this Author posted here at The Aviationist earlier this year:

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] 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.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area

The two radar reflectors installed on the right side of the F-35. The other two are on the other side.

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

According to Nir Dvori, the journalist who first published the image of the stealth aircraft off Beirut seemingly flying with RCS enhancers, “they test [the F-35] in all kind of options. Fly with and without reflectors”. Indeed, the use of RCS enhancers would simply mean that stealthiness was not required for that specific mission during which they preferred to hide the aircraft’s stealth features preventing the enemy to collect data about the aircraft and test their radar hardware against the Lightning II. Moreover, the F-35 appears to be flying off Lebanon, accompanied by another aircraft (the photo ship), possibly another F-35 or a completely different type – even a G550 like those that continuously fly off Lebanon and Syria and are trackable by means of their Mode-S transponders. This means that the photo might well have been taken during a simple “recon” mission rather than a combat one. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:

Not all the missions that the F-35 has so far carried out needed this [stealth] capability. They took part in an airstrike on a Hamas tunnel on the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not have radar, but F-35s were used on this relatively simple mission as part of the process through which its proves it various capabilities. More complex operations against Iranian and Hezbollah targets north of Israel would have utilized its stealth capabilities and some of these did not necessarily involve the F-35 launching missiles itself.

Therefore, it seems confirmed that:

  1. Not all F-35 missions required stealth capabilities
  2. The Adir jets were also used against “easy” targets
  3. The F-35s have taken part in missions during those the Adir did not drop bombs (therefore, it probably acted as “combat battlefield coordinator,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence possibly sharing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft).
  4. The image seems to prove the F-35 have flown at high-altitude off Beirut (someone says it might have been in international airspace, 12 Nautical Miles from the coast, when the shot was taken, but this can’t be verified based on the screenshot only).

Disclaimer: to our knowledge and based on the sources available on the Internet, those four bumps highlighted in the images you can find in this post are indeed radar reflectors. Several magazines and publications also refer to them as RCS enhancers or Luneberg lenses. Still, if we are wrong and these are EW signal emitters as someone claims, please let us know. Furthermore, the top image is a screenshot from a slide presented during a IAF conference not an actual photograph.

Exercise Joint Stars 2018 put Italian Armed Forces most advanced “hardware” to test

F-35, T-346, Typhoon, AV-8B, CAEW among the assets involved Italy’s largest exercise supported (for the first time) by the U.S. Marine Corps too.

From May 7 to 19, more than 2,000 military, 25 aircraft and helicopters, dozens of land, naval and amphibious vehicles belonging to the Italian Air Force, Navy, Army were involved in the first phase of Italy’s largest joint drills this year: Exercise Joint Stars 2018. The aim of JS18 is “to achieve the highest possible level of interoperability among the Armed Forces, with an intelligent use of all specialties, to achieve a common goal, thanks also to the development and integration of common procedures “.

Joint Stars 2018 was designed to train commands and forces on the various types of missions that could be required in future national, multinational and coalition operations and is “a valuable opportunity to achieve, through the joint training of the Italian Army, Navy and Air Force synergy and economies, as well as to share resources and maximize interoperability in the Defense field, refining the capacity for intervention with a joint force.” Unlike the previous editions, the scenario included operations conducted within an environment degraded by cybernetic and chemical-biological and radioactive threats (CBRN).

A KC-767 escorted by Typhoon, T-346, F-35, Tornado IDS, AMX and AV-8B overflies “Deci”.

The first phase of JS18 saw the integration of four “federated” exercises within a LIVEX (Live Exercise), an exercise made of actual assets. In particular, the LIVEX integrated Exercise “Vega 18” led by the Italian Air Force; “Mare Aperto 2018” led by the Italian Navy; “Golden Wings” led by the Italian Army; and “Ramstein Guard 6-2018” exercise conducted by NATO. For the very first time this year, the JS drills saw the participation of a contingent of the U.S. Marine Corps.

An Italian Navy Harrier breaks overhead for landing in Decimomannu.

Italian Army Chinook.

The MOB (Main Operating Base) of the exercise was Decimomannu, in Sardinia, that hosted most of the participating assets, including the Italian Navy AV-8B+ Harrier II and NH-90, the Italian Army CH-47 and A-129 Mangusta as well as the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and KC-130J aircraft, that took part in the airdrop onto the airfield and in a large Joint Personnel Recovery mission.

The U.S. Marine Corps Super Hercules during the airdrop onto Decimomannu airfield, MOB of JS18.

Dealing with the Italian Air Force, JS18 saw the involvement of all the most advanced “hardware” currently in service.

F-35A, Predator drones, G550 CAEW but also Eurofighter, Tornado and AMX jets flew missions aimed at achieving “Information Superiority” on the battlefield: indeed, access to and control of information has always played a crucial role in military operations. The Italian Air Force responds to this challenge with the use of highly specialized aircraft assets such as Predator, CAEW and F-35 and high-tech systems, such as the “RecceLite” and “Litening III” pods on Eurofighter, Tornado and AMX.

The F-35A Lightning II also flew as Aggressors in complex missions against the Eurofighter Typhoons.

Noteworthy, the Italian F-35A were involved also as Aggressors, alongside the T-346 aircraft: for instance, an air defense mission saw four Typhoons supported by one CAEW (“Blue Air”) fly against two T-346 and two F-35s (“Red Air”) supported by a NATO Da-20 EW (Electronic Warfare), whose role was to degrade the effectiveness of the interceptors radar and radio systems by using radar jamming and deception methods.

The T-346A of the 212° Gruppo (Squadron) from 61° Stormo were part of the Red Air.

The MQ-1C (Predator “A +”) and MQ-9A (Predator “B”) UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) were tasked with ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions; the CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft, acted as AEW as well as “flying command post” proving particularly useful to support land, naval and air forces; the brand new F-35A Lightning II stealth aircraft made use of their high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated “picture” of the battlefield that could be shared in real-time with all the players.

MV-22, CH-47 NH-90 and a pair of A-129 involved in a PR (Personnel Recovery) mission.

Taking part in a Joint Stars exercise for the very first time were also the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 and KC-130J.

Typhoon, Tornado IDS and AMX jets performed tactical reconnaissance missions on terrestrial targets using “RecceLite” and “Litening III” pods, whereas HH-139, HH-101, HH-212 helicopters along with the Eurofighter jets undertook SMI (Slow Mover Intercept) missions against NH.500 helicopter and Siai 208 light aircraft that played the “slow mover” role.

An AMX ACOL comes to landing in Decimomannu after a JS18 mission.

All the photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist’s photographers Giovanni Maduli and Alessandro Caglieri.