Category Archives: Rogue States

Everything We Know (And Don’t Know) About Israel Launching World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35 Stealth Aircraft

The Israeli Air Force Has Launched World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35I Adir, IAF Chief Says.

Israel is the first country to have used the F-35 stealth aircraft in combat, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said on Tuesday, in remarks that were made public through the IDF’s official Twitter account.

According to Haaretz, the Chief of IAF also presented images, that have not surfaced thus far, showing the F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon and said that the stealth fighter did not participate in the last strike in Syria but did in two previous ones.

“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,” he said.

According to local media, speaking at Herzliya conference (held earlier this month) Norkin also said that more than 100 surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli jets over Syria.

Whilst the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, this is the first time the IAF officially acknowledges, with very little details, the baptism of fire of its 5th generation aircraft.

Indeed, as some journalists have pointed out, it’s not completely clear where and how the F-35s were actually used. Did they strike in Syria and/or Lebanon? What kind of mission did they carry out? Actual air strike (i.e. dropping bombs) or “simple” armed (electronic) reconnaissance?

In the last few months we have observed a series of unconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is had been used to attack Syrian targets. The most recent one, that we completely debunked here, dates back to the end of March, when an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace was reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who had talked to Al-Jarida, two Adir stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

As reported back then, there were a lot of suspicious things in that story the most important of those was probably the media outlet that broke the news, Al-Jarida, often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages. In fact closing the previous article about the “mission over Iran” I wrote:

“The mission over Iran seems […] just a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.”

Fast forward to today news, the combat debut of the F-35I has been officially confirmed by the Israeli Air Force Chief. With no more details as to where and how the Adir were committed, it’s hard to make any further analysis. For sure, what can be said is that the IAF has proved once again its ability to pioneer combat testing of new aircraft. Although we don’t know the real stategic value of the missions undertaken by the 5th generation aircraft, it’s clear the Israeli have considered the sorties worth the risk. A risk that has become more real on Feb. 10, 2018, when one F-16I Sufa that had entered the Syrian airspace to strike Iranian targets in response to an Iranian drone that had violated the Israeli airspace (before being shot down by an AH-64 Apache helicopter) was targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses and crashed after a large long-range outdated SA-5 missile (one of 27 fired against the jets), hit the Israeli F-16. In that case, in spite the on board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

Although the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error” many sources suggested that the first downing of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions.

What kind of missions? Hard to say. We can’t but speculate here but unless there was some really critical target to hit in a heavily defended airspace, the F-35s might have been initially involved as part of larger “packages” that included other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support where the Adir jets would also (or mostly) exploit their ELINT abilities to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s systems. In fact, along with its Low Observability feature, the F-35 provides the decision makers high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield: in other words, not only can the F-35 conduct an air strike delivering bombs but it can also direct air strikes of other aircraft using standoff weapons. The F-35s are known to be able to carry out a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less the same task considered for the USMC F-35B that have flown this kind of missions in exercises against high-end threats in 2016.

Once again it’s worth remembering that along with the inherent risk of flying a combat mission with a brand new technology, as already reported here, the heavy Russian presence in Syria may cause some concern and somehow limit the way the Israeli used or are going to use the F-35 in combat: the Russian radars and ELINT platforms 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. 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).

Actually as pointed out by Israeli political analyst Guy Plopsky, unlike Haaretz and other local media with English pages, other Israeli media outlets (in Hebrew) quoted IAF chief as specifically stating that the IAF had “struck twice” with the F-35 on “two different fronts in the Middle East“, suggesting IAF Adir may have carried out weapons delivery…

This was later confirmed in an official post on the IAF website: “We performed the F-35’s first ever operational strike. The IAF is a pioneer and a world leader in operating air power”.

Anyway, let’s wait and see if other details emerge. For the moment let’s just take note of the first officially-confirmed combat use of the controversial F-35 Lightning II.

Top image credit: IAF

 

Footage From Inside A Russian Tu-95 Bear Strategic Bomber As It Is Escorted by U.S. F-22 Raptors Off Alaska Last Week

The Russian Air Force has released a video that includes a short clip filmed from inside a Bear bomber escorted by two F-22 stealth aircraft.

On May 12, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to intercept and visually identify two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.

Alaska ADIZ detail

According to NORAD, the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.

Nothing special then, considered that these close encounters occur every now and then, as reported last year.

What’s a bit more interesting this time is the fact that the Russian Air Force has released some details and footage about the training activities conducted by its long range bombers. During the last round of “winter period” training, five long range missions were launched involving strategic missile carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as long-range Tu-22M3 bombers: these flights brought the Russian aircraft over the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Japan, East China, Black, Barents, Norwegian, Northern, Bering and Okhotsk Seas.

On May 12 mission off Alaska, the F-22s (that were filmed while shadowing the Bear, as the clip below shows) remained with the Tu-95s for 40 minutes.

“As for the last such flight, only one pair of US Air Force F-22 fighters have escorted our aircraft. Just one, it says that a certain effect of surprise has worked. Usually, during the execution of such flights, we are escorted to five or seven aircraft, while escorts are carried out by fighters of various states. I want to note that during this flight no one intercepted anyone. US Air Force planes accompanied our aircraft in the airspace over neutral waters. The pilots acted in the air correctly. No violations were recorded,” said commander of long-range aviation Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash in an article published by Zvezda.

While it’s somehow hard to believe that the large strategic bombers caught someone by surprise, the video is interesting, especially the short part where you can see a pair of F-22s from the window of a Russian Bear.

China Launches First Domestically Built Aircraft Carrier

New Carrier Continues Expansion of Chinese Expeditionary Capability.

China launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier earlier for sea trials this week at the northeastern port of Dalian, in the south of Liaoning Province, China. The new ship has not been named yet and carries the temporary designation “Type 001A”.

The new Type 001A is a slightly larger vessel than China’s previous aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that was purchased from Ukraine in 1999 and originally built in 1985 in the then-Soviet Union as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser. Liaoning has had three names: first christened as the Riga under Soviet use, then renamed the Varyag and finally the Liaoning after the Chinese purchase in 1999. Analysts report the primary role of the Liaoning has been a training vessel for the development of Chinese carrier doctrine and operations.

The new Type 001A is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide as compared to the slightly smaller Liaoning that is 304 meters long and 70 meters wide. Both ships displace roughly 50,000 tons, significantly less than the Nimitz-class carriers with a loaded displacement of between 100,000–104,000 tons. The U.S. Nimitz-class carriers are also longer at 333 meters.

Like the older Soviet-era carriers and the existing Russian Kuznetsov carrier along with the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the new Chinese Type 001A uses a ski-jump style launch ramp. India is also building a new ski-jump aircraft carrier, the Vikrant class carrier, formerly known as the “Project 71 Air Defense Ship” (ADS) or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program.

Unlike the other carriers however, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class uses two superstructures and may have a provision for the removal of the ski-jump launch structure in favor of an electromagnetic catapult in the future.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is an emerging technology in new aircraft carriers. The U.S. has already demonstrated and installed the EMALS launch capability on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier in service since 2017. China is considering the use of electromagnetic launch systems on their planned next generation aircraft carrier, the Type 002. China has reportedly already experimented with aircraft modified to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult in anticipation of the next-gen Type 002 development.

One reason China may be pursuing the EMALS launch system for future carriers could be an inherent limitation to their current launch system. According to intelligence outlet Southfront.org the Chinese are currently limited in launch weight with their existing Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. That means China’s J-15 tactical aircraft already tested on the carrier Liaoning are limited in take-off weight. The aircraft must sacrifice fuel and/or weapons load to get airborne from the short take-off ski jump ramp. China will develop a new combat aircraft to fly from the decks of their planned Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft carrier.

China launched their first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on Sunday. (Photo: AP/China)

Earlier this week an unnamed source told the Navy Times that the first trial of China’s new Type 001A, “May just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks. Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

While China’s progress in aircraft carrier technology has been moving forward rapidly the testing protocols for the new Type 001A suggest a cautious approach to the program. One certainty is that China’s massive investment its aircraft carrier program confirms their ambitions to project security for its national interests and the interests of its allies well beyond its coastline.

Top image: China’s current flight operations onboard their carriers are limited in take-off weight by their deck design. (Photo: via Southfront.org)

Turkey’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft Makes Maiden Flight

Here’s the first Turkish F-35 stealth jet.

On May 10, 2018, the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force performed its maiden flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas. Piloted by US Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson, the aircraft (serial 18-0001) took off at 14.47LT and landed at 16.00LT. The photo in this post was taken by Highbrass Photography’s Clinton White during Tukey’s F-35’s (designation AT-1) first sortie.

Turkey should be officially delivered the first of 100 F-35As on order, on Jun. 21, in the U.S.

Chased by a LM two-seat F-16 the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force flies over Ft. Worth.

Two TuAF pilots are currently being trained in the U.S.; after the training is completed, and another stealth aircraft is delivered, the F-35 jets are planned to be brought to Turkey in September of 2019. The trained pilots will fly the two F-35s from the U.S., accompanied by a refueling plane, the Turkish Anadolu Agency reported.

It looks like the delivery of the first F-35 fighter will take place in spite a number of U.S. congressmen have urged the U.S. administration to suspend the procurement of these fighters to Turkey because of the latter’s decision to buy Russian S-400 advanced air defense systems:  indeed, there’s widespread concern that the Turkish procurement could give Moscow access to critical details about the way their premiere surface-to-air missile system performs against the new 5th generation aircraft. “If they take such a step at a moment when we are trying to mend our bilateral ties, they will definitely get a response from Turkey. There is no longer the old Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on May 6, according to Hurriyet Daily media outlet.

Make sure to visit Clinton White’s Flickr photostream for more cool shots!

The Israeli Air Force Has Just Released A Video Of A Pantsir-S1 Air Defense System Being Struck In Last Night’s Attack In Syria

Last night the Israeli Air Force attacked dozens of Quds force targets in Syrian territory. This video shows what seems to be a Delilah cruise missile hitting a Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system. Warning: graphic footage.

“On May 9, 2018, the Quds force, a special force wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, stationed in Syria, shot 20 rockets towards IDF posts in the Golan Heights. The IDF intercepted four of the rockets, preventing casualties and damage. This is the first time that Iranian forces have directly fired at Israeli troops.

In response, in the night on May 10, IDF fighter jets (mainly F-16I Sufa aircraft according to most sources even though the official IAF website’s release on the attack shows also a file photo of an F-15I) struck several military targets in Syria that belonged to Iran’s Quds force. “The IDF’s wide-scale attack included Iranian intelligence sites, the Quds force logistics headquarters, an Iranian military compound in Syria, observation and military posts, et cetera. In spite of a warning from Israel, Syrian aerial defense forces fired towards the IAF aircraft as they conducted the strikes. In response, the IAF targeted several aerial interception systems (SA5, SA2, SA22, SA17) which belong to the Syrian Armed Forces. All of the IDF’s fighter jets returned to their bases safely.”

An illustration showing the targets hit by the IAF on May 10. (image credit: IDF)

Among the targets hit by the Israeli combat planes there is also a Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 according to the NATO designation) as shown in the following footage.

The Pantsir-S1 is a Russian-built advanced, self-propelled combined gun/missile system that is made mobile on 8×8 trucks. The transportable gun/SAM system includes up to 12 surface-to-air missiles arranged into two 6-tube groups on the turret, and a pair of 30mm cannon.

The SA-22 was destroyed from what, based on the type of aircraft reportedly involved in the air strikes, the range of the missile and similar footage available online, seems to be a Delilah missile (actually, there is someone that suggested the missile might have been a Spike NLOS, but the use of a standoff missile seems much more likely).

The Delilah missile on an F-16I Sufa (image: Wiki)

The Delilah is a cruise missile developed in Israel by Israel Military Industries (IMI), built to target moving and re-locatable targets with a CEP of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) at a maximum range of 250 km.

The best description of the cruise missile comes from the IAF website:

In terms of its structure, the Delilah is almost identical to a typical air-to-ground missile. The front section includes the homing parts, which in the first models were televisional. Thus, the head of the missile includes an antenna for general guidance towards its target. The next section holds the various electronic parts including guidance systems and flight control. The part behind this holds the warhead and fuel supply. The final section is made up of a jet engine capable of producing 165 pounds of thrust and the control surfaces that turn the missile towards its target.

Examining the technical data alone raises the question of why the Delilah is considered such an important missile. After all, there are missiles capable of flying further and faster and carrying warheads many times larger which are available on the global weapons market. The answer lies in the fact that the Delilah is seen more as a “loitering missile” than a cruise missile.

In general typical air-to-ground missiles are launched in the general direction of their target. A navigational system (such as GPS) takes them to the spot where intelligence indicates that the target lies. If the missile is autonomous (“fire and forget”) then the plane that launched it can simply leave. The missile flies towards the target. When it identifies it, it strikes it with the help of its final guidance system. When the target is not where it is expected to be, the missile is simply written off. An example of this sort of weapon is the US Tomahawk missile, at least in its early models.

When a missile is fitted with an electro-optic guidance system, it broadcasts an image of what is in front of it, back to the aircraft that launched it.  The image from the homing device is shown on a special screen in the cockpit, usually facing the navigator’s chair in a two-seater aircraft. The navigator can send the missile instructions, and make small changes in its flight path. However, these changes can only take pace during a relatively short period of time, and are comparatively minor. From the moment that the missile begins its final approach, no changes can be made. The result is that although he has some control, the navigator is actually very limited. If a missile approaches a target, which at the last minute turns out to be moving, or the wrong target altogether, then the missile misses. Thus, there have been many events like the one in Yugoslavia in 1999 when an electro-optic bomb launched from a US combat airplane was launched at a bridge. Seconds before impact, a passenger train reached the bridge and all the navigator could do was watch in horror, knowing that many civilians would be killed. It is here that the Delilah’s unique ability enters the picture.

[…]

The Delilah’s operation is similar to what is described above; it, too, possesses a “Man in the Loop” mechanism, where the navigator controls the final direction of the missile. However, in the case of the Delilah there’s a key difference: as the missile makes the final approach, if the target has moved or if there’s a need to cancel the attack (for example, if civilians are spotted near the target), all the navigator needs to do is press a button in the cockpit which instructs the missile to abort its approach and return to linger. Thus, situations in which a missile is wasted on a target that has disappeared, or in which civilians are accidentally killed can be prevented. In the same way the use of a missile on a target that has already been destroyed can be prevented, saving valuable ammunition.

This is not the only value in the Delilah missile’s ability to linger. One can imagine a situation in which the target’s precise location is not known with any certainty, for example if it is a portable anti-aircraft launcher or land-land missile launcher. In this case the Delilah can be launched in the general direction of the target, based on intelligence reports. The missile would fly in the direction of the target, all the while surveying the territory with its homing equipment. The image appears in the cockpit, the Delilah serving effectively as a homing UAV. The Delilah patrols above the territory searching for its target.  The missile’s long range can be exchanged for a prolonged stay in the air above the target. When the navigator identifies the target, or what is thought to be the target, he instructs the missile to fly towards it. If he has identified it correctly then the missile is directed to attack it. If he has not found the target then the missile is instructed to abort its approach and return to searching.

The Delilah missile’s ability to both loiter and carry out repeated passes makes it the ideal weapon for attacking mobile sites like rocket launches. Everyone recalls the difficulty the US Air Force faced during the 1992 Gulf War when it attempted to locate and destroy the Iraqi “Al-Hussein” rocket launcher that was used to fire at Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Americans knew roughly where the rockets were being launched from but had difficulty locating the launchers themselves. As a result fighter planes were sent for long patrols over western Iraq every night. On many occasions the Americans identified the point where the missile was launched from, but by the time a counter-strike had been arranged the missile launcher had left the scene. It’s in these sorts of operational profile that the Delilah performs best, perhaps better than any other weapons system. In these cases the Delilah can be launched towards the area intelligence expects the missiles to be launched from. The Delilah will fly above the area and search for missile launchers. When a launcher is identified, it will be immediately struck by the missile. If it’s discovered that the target has not been identified correctly, for example if it’s a dummy launcher or another vehicle that looks like a launcher (such as a petrol tanker), the missile receives the instructions to end its approach and continue to search for the real target.

“The Delilah is a system that can strike very precisely at critical, sensitive points from a great distance”, explains Brigadier General (reserve) Arieh Mizrachi, who was once CEO of IMI.”If we want to attack a command bunker, for example, and we know where it is situated and exactly which window we need to hit then we can do it. We can always make another approach and place the missile exactly where we want it. The extreme precision of the missile makes it possible for us to paralyze the enemy by striking their critical point. For example, if we send the missile through a window of a division’s control center, then no one will be left to give orders, and we’ll have silenced the whole division. It’s important to understand that the target does not need to be a large command center. The ‘Delilah’ lets us strike at the brain of the enemy, even if it’s a small mobile target like a command armored personnel carrier. Similarly, we can strike at a ship’s command center without needing to sink the whole ship. This holds true for many other kinds of target like airports, logistics centers and so on. The moment we identify the critical point, the Delilah lets us hit it”.

[…]

“The training needed to operate the Delilah lasts a few months, and because of its complex capabilities, not everyone successfully completes it”, explains First Lieutenant A., an F-16D navigator in the “Scorpion” Squadron who is trained on the Delilah. “The training process is long, complex and challenging. You start with simple scenarios, hitting a large target in open space, and advance to small targets that are located in densely populated areas”.

“Despite the intense cooperation between the pilot and the navigator, the fact remains that the missile is operated from the navigator’s cockpit. In the first stage you launch the missile and it flies towards the target you’ve given it. Later in the flight, you take control of the missile and direct it wherever you want. If you need to, you can press a button and the missile will loiter. The role of the pilot is to tell me when I’ve reach the point where I need to tell the missile to fly, and I can no longer tell it to continue to loiter”.

“Even though you are not physically in the same place as the missile, and in fact are far away, the whole time you feel that you are part of it. The fact that you can fly the missile wherever you want, whilst you yourself fly to an area that is not under threat, gives you safety”.

Anyway, here’s the footage:

As said, the Delilah is a standoff weapon: it means the aircraft can use it while remaining at safe distance.

As a side note, according to our sources, a KC-707 tanker that supported the F-16I. Yesterday, more or less when the jets were attacking the targets in Syria, a KC-707 was operating in the southern part of Israel.

We can’t be sure the tanker was supporting the raid (the fact an Israeli aircraft could be tracked online during a combat mission is somehow surprising), still worth a mention.