Category Archives: Rogue States

U.S. B-1 Lancer Bombers Escorted By F-15 Jets Fly East Of North Korea, North Of The DMZ: Four Reasons Why This Time It Is Interesting.

This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

On Sept. 23, hours after the latest threats from Kim Jong Un who said that Pyongyang will soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.

This time, the show of force is a bit more interesting than usual, for four reasons:

1) it is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century;

2) unlike all the previous ones, the latest sortie was flown at night, hence it was not a show of force staged to take some cool photographs;

3) no allied aircraft is known to have taken part in the mission at the time of writing, whereas most of the previous B-1 missions near the Korean Peninsula involved also ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) and/or JASDF (Japan’s Air Self Defense Force) jets;

4) it was a U.S. Air Force job: no U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jet took part in the show of force this time, even though the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter has taken part in all the most recent formations sent over Korea to flex muscles against Pyongyang. The photo here below shows the “package” assembled for Sept. 14’s show of force.

Munitions from a U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) bilateral mission explode at the Pilsung Range, South Korea, Sept 17, 2017. The U.S. and ROKAF aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced attack capabilities by releasing live weapons at the training area before returning to their respective home stations. This mission was conducted in direct response to North Korea’s intermediate range ballistic missile launch, which flew directly over northern Japan on September 14 amid rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programs. (U.S. Army photo by SSgt. Steven Schneider)

According to the U.S. Pacific Command, today’s mission is” a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat. North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community. We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies.”

Top image shows a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, receives fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker Sep. 23, 2017. This mission was flown as part of the continuing demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of its homeland and in support of its allies and partners. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger)

 

These Spyplanes Are Watching North Korea’s Next Test

U.S. and South Korean intelligence gathering aircraft are monitoring Pyongyang’s next move.

Kim Jong Un says North Korea may soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean and, based on the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders, it looks like several aircraft operating from their deployment bases in Japan and South Korea are interested in collecting signs of missile launch preparation.

In fact, despite their pretty clandestine roles, many U.S. spyplanes can be tracked online, using a standard browser to visit a public tracking website or COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) equipment.

For instance, here are the most interesting aircraft operating around the Korean Peninsula in the last few days. Needless to say, these are the ones whose transponder exposed their presence; many others are probably operating in the very same area, but adhering to stricter OPSEC rules that require the aircrew to completely turn off their transponders.

As already reported in detail, the RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft is the asset whose activities may give a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea.

 

The RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, are able to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, whose purpose was to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography when the RC-135S launched from Shemya AB, Alaska, to monitor the Soviet activities in the Sakhalin peninsula: although the aircraft still feature the black paint on the aircraft’s right hand side, the current electro-optical sensors are able to remove glare from photographs. Moreover, the current Coobra Balls are equipped with optical and electronic sensors on both sides of the fuselage. RC-135S crews are augmented by several ground based, phased-array radar systems, such as the COBRA DANE radar at Eareckson Air Station in Shemya, used to provide radar coverage over the Northern Pacific.

Another aircraft that is often tracked in the region is the WC-135 Constant Phoenix, one of the two aircraft operated by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, with mission crews staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center able to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

The Constant Phoenix, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crew made of up to 33 personnel, flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events. The aircraft was first deployed to Kadena in April this year. Since then it has been tracked mainly in the aftermath of each nuke detonation.

 

The aircraft is equipped with external flow devices used to collect airborne particulate; for this reason, the Constant Phoenix “Nuclear Sniffer” is usually launched after the claimed nuke tests, to detect fission fragments by their characteristic decay radiation and verify the nuclear test and get some important details. For example, by looking for isotopes that could only be produced in a high intensity high energy neutron flux, analysts can determine if bomb was indeed a hydrogen bomb.

These Aircraft Sampled Air For Radioactive Particles To Determine If North Korea Actually Detonated A Hydrogen Bomb

 

Another interesting aircraft that was recently tracked online is the South Korea’s Boeing 737 Peace Eagle airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft. This aircraft (that in the Turkish Air Force service can be spotted every now and then on Flightradar24.com circling at high altitude over southern Turkey most probably monitoring the movements of the Russian and Syrian planes)

Although the aircraft could be involved in routine AEW tasks monitoring the activities of the North Korean assets close to the DMZ, the Peace Eye embeds a variety of ESM (Electronic Support Measure) sensors that can be used to detect, intercept, identify, locate, record, and/or analyze sources of radiated electromagnetic energy augmenting the intelligence gathered by U-2S, RC-135V, RQ-4 Global Hawk, U.S. Navy EP-3E and P-8 and other assets that undertake ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) tasks on North Korea.

Anyway, OSINT as well as the analysis of the aircraft movements by means of ADS-B may give a pretty good idea of what happens around North Korea as Pyongyang prepares for a new test. One may wonder why such missions can be tracked online. This has been the subject of many articles. Considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine, Libya, or Korea, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even everyone can monitor them. It’s a way to show the flag and prove that somebody is watching. Still, we can’t completely rule out the possibility it’s just a mistake.

Anyway, regardless to whether it is done on purpose or not, point your browser to ADSBexchange or follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friends @CivMilAir (who helped with the preparation of this article) and @aircraftspots, to get an idea of what is happening in the airspace around the Korean Peninsula.

 Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Here’s The Video Of The Syrian Su-22 Fitter Being Shot Down By A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet

F/A-18E Super Hornet vs Su-22 Fitter near Raqqa, as seen through the Hornet’s ATFLIR.

On Jun. 18, F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria).

The VFA-31 Tomcatters, also embarked on USS George Bush (CVN-77) supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the Mediterranean Sea back then, have included footage of the aerial engagement, filmed with their ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, in their 2017 OIR cruise video.

Here below you can see the relevant part of the cruise video, the one that shows the AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) hitting the Syrian Sukhoi (from two different angles – maybe because other Hornets filmed the scene) and then the Fitter crashing into the ground.

 

RAF Reaper Drone Footage Shows The Moment A Hellfire Missile Stops A Public Execution By Targeting An ISIS Sniper

Here’s the footage of a RAF Reaper drone unleashing Hellfire missile to stop a public execution in Syria.

The news of a successful RAF MQ-9 Reaper air strike on Islamic State militants to stop a public execution in Abu Kamal, Syria, was made public in May this year; yesterday, the UK MoD released the actual footage of the drone attack.

The clip show two handcuffed prisoners being unloaded from a van in front of a large group of spectators. Instead of targeting the militants on the ground, because that would have also killed civilians, the drone targeted a sniper standing guard on a nearby roof.

The explosion sent the crowd fleeing and the civilians and fighters scatter before the killing can be carried out.

Although the MoD refused to say whether the drone was remotely piloted from RAF Waddington or from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada the mission was overseen from the combined air operations centre (Caoc) based at al-Udeid airbase, in Qatar.

The RAF Reapers are employed in accordance with the so-called Remote Split Operations (RSO): the aircraft is launched from an airbase in theater under direct line-of-sight control of the local ground control station. Then, by means of satellite data link, it is taken on charge and guided from either Creech AFB or Waddington. When the assigned mission is completed, it is once again handed over to a pilot in Afghanistan, who lands it back to the forward deployment airfield. The 1-second delay introduced by the satellite link is not compatible with the most delicate phases of flight; hence, aircraft are launched and recovered in line-of-sight by the deployed ground control station.

The Royal Air Force 39 Sqn operates a fleet of five Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) whose main mission in ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) along with the task of providing armed support to forces on the ground, engaging, if required, “emerging targets in accordance with extant UK Rules of Engagement and the UK Targeting Directive.”

The Reaper drone is armed with GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. “The Rules of Engagement (ROE) used for Reaper weapon releases are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft;the weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, this may include deciding not to release a weapon. Reaper is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to employ weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew. The majority of the weapons employed from reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage. Regardless of the type of weapon system employed, a full collateral damage assessment is conducted before any weapon release; this is irrespective of whether that weapon is released by a manned or remotely piloted aircraft,” says the RAF website.

Each Reaper aircraft can be disassembled into main components and loaded into a container for air deployment worldwide.

Russian Air Force Tu-22M Backfire Damaged In Runway Overrun Accident During Zapad 2017 Exercise In Western Russia

A Russian Air Force bomber skidded off the runway in western Russia.

On Sept. 14, 2017, a Russian Air Force Tu-22М3 RF-94233 / 20 “RED” suffered an incident when it overran the runway at Shaykovka airfield, in western Russia. On the very same date a flight of six Backfire bombers flew a mission over the Baltic Sea that, according to our sources, was probably aimed at simulating a naval attack on the Baltic Fleet.

The ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) was part of the larger “Zapad 2017,” the anti-terror military drills (with purely defensive aims according to the Russian MoD) taking place in Belarus and three regions in the western part of Russia from Sept. 14-20 and involving about 12.7K troops (including 7.2K of Belarusian troops, about 5.5K Russian troops and 3K of them – on the territory of Belarus), about 70 aircraft and helicopters, up to 680 pieces of military hardware including about 250 tanks, up to 200 guns, MLRSs and mortars as well as 10 warships.

The Tu-22 is a Soviet-era supersonic, swing-wing, long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber. It was developed during the Cold War and, with a range of about 6,800 kilometers and a payload of 24,000 kg, it is still considered a significant threat to many latest generations weapon systems: a fast platform to launch cruise missiles, conventional or nuclear weapons in various regional war scenarios.

Especially when it carries the Raduga Kh-22 (AS-4 ‘Kitchen’) long-range anti-ship missile, a 13,000-lbs a missile with a range of 320 nautical miles, the Tu-22 can be “useful” to aim at aircraft carriers and to pursue an anti-access/area denial strategy.

Along with launching air strikes on ISIS in Syria from mainland Russia (and Iran, in 2016), Tu-22s are particularly frequent visitors over the Baltic Sea where they often perform routine training flights, some times escorted by Su-27 Flanker aircraft,  flying in international airspace without transponder, without establishing radio contact with any ATC agency: their presence there is taken pretty seriously as they carry out their mock attacks at day or night, flying at very high (or even supersonic) speed, making lives difficult for the NATO interceptors supporting the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) from the airbases in Lithuania and Estonia, that are scrambled to ID and shadow them.

Back to the runway overrun incident, the four crew members escaped the aircraft safely, as the reports and photos seem to confirm.

Tu-22M3 RF-94233 in the grass after running off the runway at an airbase in western Russia.

And it looks it wasn’t the first time it happened to a Tu-22 Backfire:

Image credit: via @Missilito and @galandecZP