Category Archives: Rogue States

U.S. F-22 Stealth Jets Perform Raptor’s First Ever Air Strike In Afghanistan Employing Small Diameter Bombs

U.S. F-22 Raptor Stealth Aircraft Carried Out First Raid In Afghanistan.

“Over the past 24 hours, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted combined operations to strike seven Taliban drug labs and one command-and-control node in northern Helmand province. Three of those strikes were in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qalah district and one in Sangin district,” says an official NATO press release.

The night air strikes targeted plantations of poppy (processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin) in Helmand Province: opiates have become a global health, economic and security problem, and the Taliban are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s opium production. “It’s estimated that more than $200 million of this economy goes straight into the Taliban’s bank accounts.”

Noteworthy, for the very first time, U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptors took part in the air strikes in Afghanistan “principally because of their ability to mitigate civilian casualties and inadvertent damage by employing small diameter bombs during U.S. airstrikes.” The F-22s, operated alongside B-52 bombers, Hellfire missiles fired from drones, and U.S. Marine Corps-operated High-Mobility Rocket Systems that were “pivotal in the first night of strike successes.”

The U.S. Air Force Raptor stealth multi-role jet had its baptism of fire flying Swing Role missions in support of the air war on ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014. Tasked for air-to-ground missions, the F-22 can carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, along with AIM-120s AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) radar-guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder IR-guided missiles.

Since software increment 3.1 embedded back in 2012, the F-22 can also drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets, equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range. These bombs are particularly useful to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.

Along with the ability to carry PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), in the last few years the aircraft were also given a radar upgrade that enhanced the F-22 capabilities in the realm of air interdiction and the so-called “kinetic situational awareness”: as we have often explained in previous articles, the role that the Raptor plays in Operation Inherent Resolve is to use advanced onboard sensors, such as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to gather valuable details about the enemy targets, then share the “picture” with attack planes as the F-15E Strike Eagles.

Interestingly, in an interview given at the end of 2013, General Hawk Carlisle said 5th generation aircraft would provide forward target identification for strike missiles launched from a surface warship or submerged submarine, in the future. The PACAF commander described the ability of the F-22s, described as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft,” to provide forward targeting through their sensors for submarine based T-LAMS (cruise missiles).

The F-22s were supported by KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, also based at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, during their first action in Afghanistan in the night of Nov. 20.

 

 

Russia Unveils New Tu-160M2 Strategic Super Bomber Update

The Newest Version of the Massive Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Was Rolled-Out This Week.

Russia has rolled out the latest upgrade of the world’s largest supersonic strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-160M2 “White Swan” NATO codename “Blackjack.

While the original version of the Tu-160 first flew in December of 1981, the program was halted with collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine acquired several of the aircraft that were subsequently traded back to Russia in a bombers-for-natural gas deal.

“While ostensibly an improved variant of the Soviet-era Tu-160, the Tu-160M2 is a new bomber in all but name” according statements published in Russian media from the Russian Aerospace Force.

By appearance and Russian claims, the Tu-160 appears to be an impressive aircraft, with the completely updated “M2” version purported to be even more capable. The Tu-160 in its previous variants held a number of records for speed in its weight class. It remains the largest, fastest strategic bomber in operation, second only to the developmental U.S. built XB-70 Valkyrie in size, weight and performance. It is also the world’s largest variable-geometry swept wing aircraft, significantly larger and heavier than the U.S. B-1B strategic, supersonic variable-swept wing bomber.

This latest version of the titanic “Blackjack”, as it is known in the west, is expected to make its first flight in late 2018 and enter into full-rate production by 2021 according to Russian media.

“The first Tu-160M2 is expected to make its first flight by the end of 2018, followed by full-scale production in 2021,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air Force, told media in the rollout ceremony at the S.P. Grobunov assembly facility in Kazan, in southwest Russia on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

The newly built Blackjack will initially be capable of performing the same missions as the existing Blackjack fleet and will subsequently be modified and upgraded to the M2 standard.

Analysts note that the full-scale production date has been rolled back from 2019 to the new 2021 date announced today.

The Tu-160M2 is intended to be the basis of Russia’s strategic strike capability, but funding for the project has faced challenges.

All reports suggest the only similarities between the new “M2” version of the Tu-160 are the name and the airframe. All avionics, sensors and communications equipment are reported to be new. The aircraft is also intended to be re-engined with four new, upgraded Kuznetsov NK-32 engines with afterburners.

Interestingly, the rollout of the new Tu-160M2 seems to have quieted discussion of the conceptual Tupolev PAK-DA flying wing stealth bomber, a project shown in drawings since 2008. Early reports suggested the PAK-DA would be entering service in 2025-2030. A statement today during the Tu-160M2 rollout downplayed low-observable technology, saying that the Mach 2+ speed of the Tu-160M2 and the use of stand-off weapons negated the need for stealth. Key new weapons on the Tu-160M2 are the KH-101 and KH-102 long range, low-observable cruise missiles. These large, capable, precision missile systems have ranges in excess of 1,000 miles.

The Tu-160M2 will operate alongside the aging Russian Tu-95 Bear turboprop long range maritime patrol and strategic bomber in the foreseeable future, mimicking the U.S. reliance on their B-52 Stratofortress legacy heavy bomber alongside the B-1B (conventional) supersonic strategic bomber.

Image credit: United Aircraft Corp Russia.

 

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.

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.

 

Salva

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

Salva

Salva

Salva